Welcome to Navy History Matters—our weekly compilation of articles, commentaries, and blogs related to history and heritage. Every week we’ll gather the top-interest items from a variety of media and social media sources and then link you to related content at NHHC’s website (history.navy.mil), your authoritative source for Navy history.
Compiled by Brent Hunt, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach Division
H-Gram 059: Desert Storm and Vietnam War
In his latest H-Gram, NHHC Director Sam Cox continues with coverage of the U.S. Navy during Operation Desert Storm in February 1991. After non-stop, massive Coalition airstrikes, Vice Adm. Stan Arthur ordered four carriers into the Northern Arabian Gulf, which dramatically increased bomb tonnage per sortie, doubled sorties per day per carrier, and greatly increased the effectiveness of Navy air strikes on the Republican Guard and the Iraqi army units occupying Kuwait. This contributed substantially to the destruction and demoralization of Iraqi ground forces in advance of the Coalition ground campaign. Also discussed in this H-Gram is the Son Tay Prisoner of War camp rescue attempt, and Vietnam War activities through 1971. The largest night carrier operation of the war occurred Nov. 20–21, 1970, when carriers USS Ranger and USS Oriskany launched more than 50 aircraft over North Vietnam and along the coast as a diversion for the daring U.S. Army/Air Force attempt to rescue POW’s just 23 miles from Hanoi. For more, read H-Gram 059 at the Director’s Corner.
Zumwalt Ends Practice of Enlisting Filipinos as Mess Stewards—50 Years Ago
On Feb. 11, 1971, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt ended the practice of enlisting Filipinos to serve as mess stewards. After it ended, Filipinos could enlist in the Navy in any enlisted rating they were considered qualified by means of education, prior experience, and security qualifications. The steward rating was eventually discontinued in December 1974. Members of the former steward rating were merged with members of the commissary rating in January 1975 to form a new mess management specialist rating. Zumwalt implemented a number of initiatives during his tenure as CNO that were long overdue. Upon his selection as CNO in 1970, Zumwalt vowed to improve living conditions in the Navy, promote the first females and African Americans to flag rank, allow females to become naval aviators, and eliminate belittling and abrasive Navy regulations that negatively impacted Sailors. For more on the legacy of Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., go to NHHC’s website.
The Formative Years of the U.S. Navy Medical Corps, 1798–1871
For more than 50 years, the Navy has recognized March 3, 1871, as the anniversary of its corps of physicians (Medical Corps). It is an important date in the history of Navy medicine, but it does not represent the beginning of uniformed physicians or the advent of the Navy Medical Department. Rather, the passage of the Appropriations Act of March 3, 1871, raised the status of physicians in the Navy, granted them rank, acknowledged their role as a staff corps, and established the title “surgeon general” as the Navy’s top medical officer. In 1871, 153 physicians were serving in the Navy and some could boast of careers extending back more than 40 years into the early years of Navy medicine. For more, read the recently published essay by historian André B. Sobocinski at NHHC’s website.
Perseverance: Harriet Pickens and Frances Wills
In 1942, during World War II, Congress amended the Naval Reserve Act of 1938 that barred women from the Naval Reserves, but the act did not permit African American women to serve in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). At the time, there was not a lot of support for African American advancement. Although they faced an uphill battle, the African American community continued to lobby Congress to permit African American women to serve in the WAVES. It was not until October 1944 when Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who supported integration, along with support from President Franklin Roosevelt, announced that African American women could serve as WAVES. Just a few months later, Lt. (j.g.) Harriet Pickens and Ensign Frances Wills were commissioned as naval officers. For more, read the blog by NHHC’s K. Denise Rucker Krepp at The Sextant. For more on the African American experience in the U.S. Navy, go to NHHC’s website.
Immunization and the Fight Against Disease: A Short History of Vaccines in the U.S. Navy
Late last year, the Navy Medical Center San Diego became one of the first U.S. military facilities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Within days, media outlets began taking photographs of Sailors and Marines, who were being vaccinated against the deadly disease. Although the vaccine is starting to be administered to select groups of people, the eradication of the disease will take some time. However, the administration of the COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is another important chapter in the Navy’s long history with vaccines. For almost as long as there has been a Navy, medical personnel have relied on vaccines to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and lessen the impact on operational readiness. The practice of vaccination began back in 1796 with Dr. Edward Jenner, who first immunized an 8-year-old child against smallpox. The following year, surgeon Edward Cutbush reported he had vaccinated 12 Sailors on USS United States against smallpox. For more, read the blog by historian André B. Sobocinski at The Sextant. For more on Navy medicine, go to NHHC’s website.
How the U.S. Navy's Nuclear-Powered Submarines Have Quietly Dominated the Seas for Decades
Launched in 1954, USS Nautilus was the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, and the first submarine to cross the North Pole under the Arctic polar ice pack. It had a number of advantages over its predecessor—diesel-powered submarines. It could travel faster, go deeper, and steam longer distances without the disadvantages of refueling and charging batteries. Although Nautilus was state-of-the-art at the time, she was considered an experimental submarine. Her successor, USS Seawolf, was also experimental. More than 10 classes of nuclear-powered submarines, each with their own unique features, followed Seawolf and Nautilus. For more, read the article. For more on the submarine force, go to NHHC’s website.
Chief Heritage Training Fights Through COVID-19 Aboard Battleship New Jersey
for more than a decade, Navy chief petty officers and chief selects travel to Battleship New Jersey to participate in its annual Chief Petty Officer Heritage Academy. This year, with the challenges of COVID-19, the event was held virtually. The five-day event began each day with reciting the Sailors Creed followed by presentations. Various assignments included a virtual POW/MIA table, developing physical fitness videos, and organizing a virtual remembrance ceremony honoring the 20-year anniversary of the USS Cole bombing. For more, read the U.S. Navy release.
Last Naval Battle of the American Revolution
In January 1783, Capt. John Barry, commander of the Continental Navy’s Alliance, arrived in Martinique from France where he received orders from Robert Morris of the Continental Congress to sail to Havana, Cuba, to pick up 72,000 Spanish silver dollars that were to be used to finance the Continental Army. When he arrived in Havana, Barry discovered that Capt. John Green of Duc de Lauzun was also there with the same orders. The silver was already loaded on Green’s ship, so the captains decided to sail together in case they encountered the enemy along the way. On March 6, the ships departed Havana making their way to Jamaica. The next day, the American ships headed north, but ran into three British ships. They decided to head back to the Spanish and French fleet for protection, but as soon as they did, the British retreated. The following day, Green and Barry transferred the silver to Alliance, because it was a much faster ship. On March 10, as the ships approached Cape Canaveral, FL, the British ships found them again. For more on the last naval battle of the American Revolution, read the article.
One of the First Members of Modern Day SEAL Teams Has Died
One of the first Sailors to volunteer for a modern-era SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Team passed away late last month at the age of 90. Harry Beal, a native of Meyersdale, PA, joined the Navy in 1948 and served as a SEAL from 1962–1968. One of the highlights of Beal’s career as a special operator was in February 1962 when he was part of a team that recovered the space capsule Mercury-Atlas 6. John Glenn was the sole astronaut on the capsule. “The Force Master Chief and I were saddened to learn of our teammate Harry Beal’s passing,” said Rear Adm. H. Wyman Howard, head of Naval Special Warfare Command. “Naval Special Warfare’s thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and community as they celebrate his life. Our force stands on the shoulders of the Underwater Demolition Team, Scouts and Raiders, and Naval Combat Demolition Unit service members.” In January 1962, in response to President John F. Kennedy’s desire for the services to develop unconventional warfare, the U.S. Navy established SEAL Teams ONE and TWO. Their mission was to conduct counter guerilla warfare and clandestine operations in riverine and maritime environments. “Harry Beal and his fellow SEAL Team TWO plankowners set the standard that we strive to uphold—a standard for courage, grit, humility, integrity, discipline and accountability,” Howard continued. “It is our obligation to be stewards of their legacy of service to the nation.” For more on Beal’s life, read the article.
Webpage of the Week
This week’s webpage of the week is new to NHHC’s notable ships. USS Silversides was commissioned at Mare Island Navy Yard, CA, on Dec. 15, 1941, with Lt. Cmdr. Creed C. Burlingame in command. After shakedown off the U.S. west coast, the boat set sail for Pearl Harbor, HI. With World War II escalating on all fronts, Silversides steamed to Japanese home island waters—in the area of Kii Suido—on April 30, 1942, for the first of her many successful combat patrols. Over the course of the war, Silversides conducted 14 war patrols, earned 12 battle stars, and received a Presidential Unit Citation. According to Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee figures, Silversides was credited with sinking 23 enemy vessels for a total of 90,080 tons of enemy shipping. After the war, Silversides set sail for New London, CT, where she was decommissioned on April 17, 1946, and placed in reserve. She was later placed in service as a training-ship for naval reservists at Chicago, IL. Check this page out today. It provides a short history, suggested reading, biographies, interviews, articles, and selected imagery.
Today in Naval History
On Feb. 9, 1799, during the Quasi-War with France, frigate Constellation, commanded by Capt. Thomas Truxtun, captured the French 40-gun frigate L'Insurgente off Nevis, West Indies, in a hard fought victory. In succeeding months, she also encountered and seized two French privateers, Diligent and Union. After a brief voyage under Capt. Samuel Barron, Constellation, commanded again by Truxtun, sailed in December 1799 for the West Indies. On the evening of Feb. 1, 1800, she engaged the 52-gun frigate Vengeance in a lengthy, furious battle. Although Vengeance twice struck her colors and was close to sinking, she was able to utilize the cover of darkness to escape Constellation. More success came to her in May 1800 when Constellation recaptured three American merchantmen. At the end of the Quasi-War with France, Constellation returned to home waters where misfortune awaited the ship. Anchored in Delaware Bay on April 10, 1801, the ship was caught in heavy winds that laid her over causing extensive damage and subsequent repairs.
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