BOOK REVIEW – To Retain Command of the Mississippi: The Civil War Campaign for Memphis

51rj4o6tmgL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_By Edward B. McCaul, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN (2014)

Reviewed by Robert P. Largess

Seldom has a naval campaign been more critical to the future of the United States than the drive to control the Mississippi River and split the South in two during the Civil War. Along with the naval blockade, it formed part of Gen. Winfield Scott’s grand strategy “The Anaconda Plan” to strangle the South. It produced solid progress towards ultimate victory and the Union’s winning general, Grant, while Lee outmaneuvered his Union counterparts in the east for two years. But it is especially interesting from the viewpoint of the history of the US Navy, whose small blue-water force had to adapt to the shallow passages and intricate currents of inland waterways, and the riverboat men and pilots who used them. It had to adapt as well to the tactics, organization, and politics of the US Army, and the complex chains of divided command that sprouted up on the way to the many combined operations victories that reduced the Southern strong points barring the river, from Island No.10 to Vicksburg.

Indeed, it is all too easy to see this Union success as inevitable, the result of superior military strength, plus naval and industrial resources that the South lacked. But would it have been possible for the South to defeat this effort? Dr. Edward B. McCaul says yes – the potential was there, and the South made a manful and intelligent effort to seize it and turn the tide of invasion by assembling its own River Defense Fleet to directly challenge the Union’s Western Flotilla. The key to the Union force were the eight “City-class gunboats,” “Eads boats,” or “Pook turtles,” named after their builder and designer, respectively. They were the Navy’s first ironclads, and among its hardest-fighting and most successful ships. McCaul argues strongly that Joseph Montgomery, creator and commander of the Southern River Defense Fleet, developed ships and tactics to exploit the weaknesses of the Union armored gunboats. Indeed, he “gave the Confederacy its greatest naval victory, and if he had been better supported and luckier, could have delayed the capture of Vicksburg until at least 1864, which could have changed the outcome of the war.”

The window of opportunity for doing so was centered on April- June 1862 and the naval battles of Plum Point and Memphis, which McCaul has meticulously researched, and describes with a superb combination of clarity, vividness, and tactical analysis. McCaul is clearly a man of many talents – college dean, professor of Engineering, with a Ph.D. in History. He steers us masterfully through the shoals of the river, nineteenth-century technology, and the human relationships of the stormy leaders of the Civil War era, such as Montgomery, Foote, Davis, and Ellet.

The armored gunboats were the Union’s greatest asset, powerfully effective against enemy forts and ships. But their low speed – barely enough to go upstream against the current – was a critical deficiency. They could pass Confederate forts quickly and safely going downstream, getting back above them was a very dangerous procedure; it meant a long period of exposure to close-range enemy gunfire. Also, it made it impossible for them to pursue an enemy gunboat which managed to pass THEM, and get upstream above them. Capt. Joseph Montgomery (the river pilot who taught Mark Twain his craft) organized and led an asymmetrical force of fast, maneuverable river steamers, lightly armed and protected, but with bows strongly reinforced to act as rams. He hoped to fight the Union ironclads, sink them, or at least bypass them and seize control of the river upstream, threatening Union river ports and shipping with impunity.

On May 10, 1862, Montgomery seized the initiative and aggressively attacked the Union gunboats supporting the bombardment of Fort Pillow at Plum Point, Tenn., successfully ramming and sinking the Cincinnati and Mound City and withdrawing with little damage. Perhaps nothing like this sharp but decisive melee between self-propelled and maneuverable craft had occurred since the days of rowed galleys, and it proved the effectiveness of the ram – at least on the river. The ascendancy of armor over the gun for the next few decades left the ram as the quickest way of actually sinking an enemy ship outright, by breaching the watertight integrity of its hull. Their lesser maneuverability made it difficult to employ by sea-going ships, but it did claim the Re d’Italia at Lissa, and a number of other ironclads in peacetime collisions! Still, as McCaul says, Plum Point was the Confederacy’s greatest naval victory, and opened the possibility of a disastrous loss of Union control of the River.

What saved the day for the Union was the appearance of its own force of fast converted rams, conceived and commanded by another brilliant but highly individualistic and volatile amateur, the gifted and famous civil engineer Col. Charles Ellet Jr. His “Ram Fleet” was under his independent command, reporting directly to Secretary of War Stanton, with no clear chain of command with the Navy’s Western Flotilla. Thus relations between Ellet and the new Navy commander Commodore Charles H. Davis were initially extremely uncomfortable, to say the least. Meanwhile, after the fall of Fort Pillow, the Confederate force fell back on Memphis, where it was immobilized for lack of coal, preventing it from retreating further downstream to safety under the guns of Vicksburg.

On June 6, Davis attacked him there with his five armored gunboats, in full view of a crowd of perhaps 15,000 Memphis citizens. His boats were deployed in a line abreast formation spanning the river. Unable to steer well with the current behind them, they were proceeding downriver stern first, maintaining their tight formation and letting the current carry them downstream onto Memphis and the Confederate fleet. This time, Montgomery hesitated to ram, in the face of Davis’s close formation and heavy gunfire. Meanwhile Davis was hoping for Ellet’s support though they had made no plans for coordinated action. But Ellet was already headed downstream, and when he saw Davis’ force was in action, he charged through its line to launch a slashing ram attack on the Confederates – like Phormio at Naupactis! “When the Queen of the West rammed the Lovell just forward of its wheelhouse the impact was tremendous. Although both boats were damaged the Lovell’ was almost cut in half…only five out of 80 men survived the sheer speed at which the boat sank.” You’ll need to read McCaul’s account to capture the full drama, surprise, and shock of this brief, confused, and savage action. Fortuitously perhaps, but the ironclads and rams played their proper roles in perfect synchrony, as Ellet’s ram attack threw the Confederates into complete chaos, under the supporting gunfire of the ironclads. Montgomery’s fleet was wiped out as a threat, with only two out of seven boats escaping downriver.

This book is a small masterpiece of exhaustive research, strategic and tactical analysis, and clear and vivid description. It contains complete (if small) maps, diagrams of the battles, brief descriptions of each of the ships involved, and capsule biographies of Davis, Ellet, and Montgomery, as well as extensive notes and bibliography. In its focus on these two battles, it gives a definitive treatment of a very significant but neglected topic. But McCaul’s perceptive mastery of his background material makes this book required reading for anyone interested in the Civil War campaign on the Mississippi. This writer could claim to be reasonably familiar with the subject – I went to Vicksburg four years ago to see the battlefield, the River, and the salvaged remains of the last of the Eads boats, the USS Cairo – but this book left me with the sense that I hardly understood the conditions of warfare on the River, and its tactics, strategy, and significance, until reading it.  Indeed, this is must reading for anyone interested in the US Navy in the Civil War, the campaign in the West, and riverine warfare in general: A gem of a book.

Robert P. Largess is the author of USS
Albacore; Forerunner of the Future” and articles on the USS Triton, SS United States, and the history of Lighter-Than-Air.  


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BOOK REVIEW – The Sailor’s Homer: The Life and Times of Richard McKenna, Author of The Sand Pebbles

41EHDhOPoML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_By Dennis L. Noble, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Mark Lardas

Richard McKenna was a forecastle sailor who wrote with skill. His literary career was short – two dozen short stories, a half-dozen essays, one completed novel and one novel left unfinished by death. That short published corpus made him the voice of the enlisted sailor of the twentieth century United States Navy.

McKenna was shrouded in obscurity. His background was shadowy, his heirs ephemeral, and the papers he left behind largely forgotten.  Some confuse McKenna with Jake Holman, the protagonist of McKenna’s sole novel, The Sand Pebbles.

The Sailor’s Homer: The Life and Times of Richard McKenna, Author of The Sand Pebbles, by Dennis L. Noble reveals the authentic Richard McKenna.  As the first serious biography of McKenna, it shows what a dedicated author can do with the right materials.

Noble became fascinated by McKenna after reading The Sand Pebbles. They had similar careers. Both were long-time enlisted (Noble in the Coast Guard) who wanted to write. He long dreamed of writing a biography of McKenna, but lacked the information he felt necessary for a comprehensive biography. Then Noble learned the staff of the Richard McKenna Charter High School in Mountain Home, Idaho, had McKenna’s papers, long-forgotten and believed to have been lost. These, along with McKenna’s service records, allowed Nobel to create a revealing and intimate portrait of McKenna.

The author shows how a boy from an impoverished family grew up to become an author who combined literary excellence with popular appeal. He starts with the influence that Mountain Home had on McKenna. McKenna grew up poor. His family lived in a tent after the family farm was repossessed. McKenna is shown as an inveterate reader who both lettered in sports and became student council president.

Noble follows McKenna’s career in the Depression-era Navy, including McKenna’s formative years in the Asiatic Fleet as engineman and machinist. Noble also shows McKenna developing into a chief through sheer excellence. All the time, McKenna was reading, writing and observing his surroundings. Noble reveals the perspective the era’s enlisted sailors through McKenna.

The book’s biggest surprise is how different McKenna was from the alienated and isolated Jake Holman. McKenna is revealed as a man popular among his shipmates despite an introverted personality, and as a first-rate sailor; the model of a chief petty officer.

Another surprise is the relatively prosaic nature of McKenna’s service in World War II. He served aboard Mount Vernon, a troop transport, running the refrigeration plant. Although shot at a few times, the ship was never hit, and spent most of the war shuttling soldiers. World War II is almost anticlimactic compared to his years in the Asiatic fleet.

The book contains McKenna’s short story, “Hour of Panic,” which reflecting McKenna’s writing abilities and his life experiences.

The Sailor’s Homer is a masterful book, a first-rate biography of a complex and overlooked author. Noble shows how to write a nautical biography.


Mark Lardas is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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BOOK REVIEW – Harnessing the Sky: Frederick “Trap” Trapnell, the U.S. Navy’s Aviation Pioneer, 1923-1952

Trapnell_Harnessing the SkyBy Frederick M. Trapnell Jr. and Dana Trapnell Tibbits, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

Individuals who were “present at the creation” of seminal events or organizations tend to be popular subjects for biographies, especially if their influence was of great strategic importance. When those individuals are not well-known despite their efforts, it often helps hook the reader knowing that an oversight has been corrected. The history of aviation and especially naval aviation in many ways is the history of America’s rise to a global power. A who’s who of aviation pioneers could very serve as a Venn diagram to American Technological, Military and Industrial prowess. Naval aviation adds an extra element of danger to this diagram. Naval aviators can boast to have one of the dangerous professions in the world. They can take comfort in the fact that their aircraft have been rigorously evaluated the entire way by the manufacturers and by test pilots. Frederick “Trap” Trapnell was one such pilot. In his career spent 1923 to 1953, he evaluated nearly every new naval aircraft from open-cockpit biplanes to the first generation of jets. The fact that his name is not as well-known as other aviation pioneers is unfortunate, but his son Frederick M. Trapnell Jr. and granddaughter Dana Trapnell Tibbits have set out to right this wrong with this volume.

Biographies of subjects closely tied to great historical endeavors often rely heavily on personal papers or accounts of those close to them. The authors faced an challenge in that even with a close family connection, Trap’s professional life had little paper records; and much of it was of a highly classified nature. As they recount, a single box of salvaged personal items including log books, letters a lock of red-gold baby hair, and photographs reaching back more than one hundred years helped reconstruct the life of a person who traveled light and shunned both clutter and sentimentality.

This does not mean that Trap did not interact with important figures throughout his career. Admiral Arleigh Burke was a classmate at the Naval Academy. He was always on the cutting edge of naval aviation from the Washington Naval Conference to the Cold War. Although Trap may not stand in the front of the crowd, he did certainly influence those groups.

There are seventeen chapters and an epilogue in the volume; beginning with the situation immediately preceding the Second World War, then chronologically moving from Trap’s birth in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1902, to his death in San Diego in 1975. The first chapter covers his early life including his matriculation at the US Naval Academy and initial service as a surface officer on the battleship USS California. (Aviation was not a commissioning designator in the 1920s) He soon became known as an officer who was not afraid to complete the same chores as his sailors; including the claustrophobic assignment cleaning and repainting the narrow space between the ships double-hull. After a year on board the battlewagon, Trap was assigned for a year to the light cruiser USS Marblehead, where he was fascinated by the two float planes carried for reconnaissance and gunnery spotting. He mingled with their crews, learning of the excitement surrounding the construction of the carriers USS Saratoga and USS Lexington. After just over a decade, naval aviation seemed to be growing in importance. Trap applied for transfer to aviation, graduating with his wings in March 1927.

He soon proved an excellent “stick and rudder” man, joining the San Diego-based “Red Rippers” after only a year. Acrobatics teams would prove to be a direct line to test piloting; but he was still officially a fighter pilot assigned to USS Lexington. An exercise in 1929 pitting Lexington against her sister Saratoga in the Panama Canal Zone illustrated that naval aircraft could have a decisive effect on military targets. They also required an ability to master all problems associated with naval and aviation affairs, especially weather. Soon after, Trap won entrance to the Caterpillar Club, referred to as such since he used a silk parachute to escape a falling airplane. While the parachute saved his life; his ability to discern when an aircraft was not operating properly was equally important. This would prove an excellent asset in his later career as a test pilot. That stage of his career would commence in December 1929. His assignment to the Naval Test Section at Naval Air Station (NAS) Anacostia near Washington, D.C. coincided with his first marriage to the author’s mother.

Operating from a moving vessel requires aircraft with different capabilities and structural tolerances than their land-based cousins. Not only did this add an extra element of danger, in terms of performance the first two decades of carrier aircraft design also suffered a performance lag. While army air force fighters were concerned with performance, naval fighters also needed to be stored in smaller hangers, able to land on a moving platform and take off and land in a much smaller space. Because of this, biplanes were preferred; and were in naval inventory long after the USAAC/USAAF had retired theirs. Trap flew nearly every design that entered naval service, from single-engine fighters to larger flying boats. Some of these led to greater designs like the Consolidated PBY flying boats, while others were evolutionary dead-ends, such as Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk, designed for use with the rigid airships USS Macon and USS Akron. He was assigned as Chief of Naval Flight Test Section from 1940-1941, and would use that position to do all that he could to get the United States on a proper war footing.

When he took over Flight Test Section, the war in Europe had been raging for a year. The aircraft used in the Battle of Britain were far faster and more heavily armed than anything in the US Navy inventory, or furthermore anything that was on the horizon. The problem could be dealt with in two ways: develop techniques to allow the slower Brewster Buffalo and Grumman Wildcat (especially the latter) to hold their own against German or Japanese aircraft, and develop better aircraft. The Flight Test Section would endeavor to do both. They would also work with aircraft manufacturers at every step of the way to make sure that any aircraft design that the Navy (and Marine Corps) was interested in would meet required wartime specifications.  Trap’s influence and insistence led to Chance-Vought completely redesigning their F4U corsair fighter, and to Grumman shifting its efforts to the F6F Hellcat, a larger, faster relative to the smaller Wildcat. These aircraft would eventually sweep the skies over the Pacific of Japanese aircraft. There was an element of luck to this. In July 1942, a Japanese Zero fighter had crash-landed on the Aleutian island of Akutan. It was recovered by the United States, and after repair, used to test out American aircraft and tactics for defeating it. One of the first Us pilots to fly the Zero was Trap. This was not the only non-Naval fighter he tested. At about the same time that the Hellcat was reaching fleet service, Trap flew to Muroc Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) to fly the first American jet fighter, the Bell P-59 Airacomet. While it was outmaneuvered by propeller fighters at low altitude, its performance was steady and harkened to the future of aviation, both land-based and naval.

After leaving the Flight Test Center, Trap was given command of the escort carrier USS Breton. His predecessor had not been popular; and Trap’s ability to get things ready for the final stages of the Pacific War echoed his first service on the USS California. He would later serve as Task Force Chief of Staff to Admiral Arthur Radford. From the end of the war to the end of his career, Trap would serve as the commander of the Test center at NAS Pawtuxet, MD and the carrier USS Coral Sea. Both billets would see him oversee the deployment of the first generation of carrier-based jet aircraft. After sick leave he served on the boards of several naval contractors, the high point being his 1957 induction into the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP). The biography he jokingly submitted to his induction ceremony seems to sum up the man nicely:

I was born naked in 1902 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and attended Pingry School in that town and the Naval Academy-from which I graduated without distinction in 1923. This led to serving 29 years in the United States Navy, 26 of which were in the semi-respectable status of Naval Aviator. Practically all of my shore duty was in Flight Test where I became familiar with the lingo and some of the primitive procedures of the 30s and 40s. I commanded a couple of patrol squadrons and the carriers USS Breton and USS Coral Sea-without going aground-noticeably. So in 1951 I became a Rear Admiral. In 1952 the medicos caught up with me and grounded and retired me. Since 1953 I have been loosely associated with Grumman Aircraft and have resided in Long Island. I am very happy in my status as an Honorary Fellow of SETP, where I can harmlessly indulge my opposition to any further progress in any direction.

This is a fine volume overall. The authors were the first individuals I encountered at a recent McMullen Naval History symposium; and the excitement and knowledge for the subject that they displayed in person is readily apparent in the book’s pages. The only criticism would be to include a few more illustrations of the aircraft that Trapnell flew. This book will appeal to anyone interested in naval history, naval aviation or aviation in general.


Nathan D. Wells is an adjunct instructor of History at Quincy College in Quincy, MA.


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BOOK REVIEW – Privateering: Patriots and Profits in the War of 1812

41G0H8-c1jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_By Faye M. Kert, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Louis Arthur Norton, Ph.D.

During the War of 1812, the burgeoning United States Navy was at a disadvantage when engaging Britain, the world’s most formidable sea power. One method of leveling the maritime “battlefield” was the employment of a privateer fleet. Faye Kert is an eminent Canadian maritime historian who has written extensively on the topic including Prize and Prejudice: Privateering and Naval Prize in Atlantic Canada in the War of 1812 and Trimming Yankee sails: Pirates and Privateers of New Brunswick. In Privateering: Patriots and Profits in the War of 1812, Kert writes about privateering from several new points of view. She first examines privateering as a business venture with profits and losses. She then discusses the characteristics of owners, specially designed ships, and the captains and crews that plied the oceans on quests for vulnerable prey. The book includes a great deal of tabular data about captures and dispositions of the bounty, the latter being especially difficult to find elsewhere. She finally appraises American, Canadian and, to a lesser degree, both British and European privateering efforts during the war.

According to her tables during that time period, 246 American and roughly 36 Atlantic Canadian vessels carried letters of marque, government issued licenses granted to vessels,. Only a few achieved great success chasing their quarries in places like the coast of North America, the English and Irish Seas, off Spain, Africa, South America and among the Caribbean Islands. Each was a maritime commercial venture, a unique complex business without a simply defined method, but highly dependent upon different captains and crews of differing abilities.

Not unexpectedly, most of those who dared to pursue this profession risked their lives with no guarantee of a prize. Successful privateers usually had strong leadership, a disciplined crew, a well-designed vessel, and above all, unpredictable good luck. They fought the wind, weather and potentially deadly broadsides to seize rewards that, once taken, could be easily lost to recapture or natural perils. Perhaps because of the unfavorable odds, many vessels returned to port empty-handed, while others became prizes themselves. Still, the privateer fleet functioned as an effective supplement to the American Navy and caused the British to use their warships to escort convoys of merchant vessels to their ports of call.

Privateers used many tricks such as false flags and papers, or repainted and/or re-rigged ships to deceive potential quarry. The author’s narrative makes a complex topic lucid. Her descriptions of sea battles, both won and lost, are stirring and well done. Some profited from geography. Because the border of the then-Massachusetts district of Maine and that of New Brunswick, Canada, are contiguous, many ships in the area claimed neutral Scandinavian registry and thus profited from smuggling goods into both countries. The transformation from an American to Swedish vessel occurred so fast that some said that ships could sail from Eastport to Stockholm in a matter of only a few hours. There were the so-called “Mud-clippers,” overland freight movers not unlike privateers’ prey that imitated their maritime counterparts. Some newspapers lampooned this business by publishing “Horse-Marine Ship News.”

Kert covers all aspects of privateering from forming syndicate enterprises, obtaining letters of marque, recruiting officers and crews in various ports, to ship design and strategies. In addition, she highlights the social, monetary and political impact of this quasi-warfare endeavor. Ship owners and investors spread their risk by owning shares in several privateers sailing from different ports. Their captains were cautioned to expose their vessels, crews, and cargoes to a minimum of harm in taking prizes. Avoiding extensive combat helped manage risk and investment losses. The last chapter contains detailed accounts of successful and failed Canadian and American vessels from that war and their ultimate ends.

Dr. Kert summarized the effect of privateering and the United States Navy as follows: “the widespread hardship and annoyance generated by private armed warfare may have helped promote an end to the war, but it was the British blockade that ultimately decided the [outcome].” (p.37) The war caused material losses to the American people many times greater than the American Navy and privateers inflicted upon Great Britain during the conflict.

Privateering has few flaws, but an introductory glossary of terms would have been helpful to those unfamiliar with the topic. A reader can be easily confused in this particular maritime vernacular’s morass. Privateers were both people and vessels and a rogue privateer was a pirate. Letters of marque were government documents, occasional commercial vessels and as well as privateers. “Licensed” trade vessels largely sailed with immunity from capture and cargo confiscation. Some privateer vessels were variations on well-known designs modified for advantageous speed and maneuverability, but sailed under diverse names at different times from uncommon ports. Some, such as “shaving mills” or smaller oar propelled privateers, succumbed to a special privateer’s jargon. The author clearly defines them, but in some cases these definitions appear well into the book

In summary, this is an excellent read on many levels and is unique by adding the often-neglected Canadian perspective concerning this topic. Faye Kert’s scholarly, informative and concise work is highly recommended for inclusion in any maritime historian’s library.


Dr.  Norton is professor emeritus, University of Connecticut.

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BOOK REVIEW – Tin Can Diary: The War Diary of Earl W. Foxwell, Jr.’s Tour of Duty Aboard The Destroyer USS Edwards, DD 619

Foxwell_Tin Can DiaryBy Harry J. Foxwel, Self Published, Middletown, DE (2015)

Reviewed by Michael F. Solecki

The destroyer is a light, fast, maneuverable, and heavily armed class of warship originally designed in the late 1800s to “destroy” torpedo boats. By World War II, these ships were designed and used to escort much larger ships and convoys filling the role of anti-aircraft and anti-submarine protection. The nickname was dubbed by the sailors who sailed them because of the thin skin and relative light displacement allowing them to bob around the ocean like a tin can. The “haze gray” color, sleek hull design, and speed also afforded them the less sarcastic nickname of “greyhounds of the sea.”  The well decorated USS ­Edwards (DD 619) is a member of the Gleaves Class of destroyer; the online Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) records mistakenly list it as a Benson Class. Similar in most respects to the Benson class, the Edwards specs meets the minutely heavier displacement and faster Gleaves class. The ship specifications listed on the NHHC website are correct for the Gleaves Class; “Benson” appears to be a misprint on the website (also the Benson class hull numbers ended at DD 617, DD 618 being the Davidson of the Gleaves Class). Good catch, Harry. She spent most of her time during WWII as an escort/screening ship and it appears a pretty good one with some bombardment duties thrown in for good measure. She also gained quite a reputation in the rescue business as well.

The Tin Can Sailor whose experiences are the basis of this yarn is Fire Controlman Third Class Earl Washington Foxwell, Jr. Born in Cape Charles, VA, on July 20, 1926, Foxwell enlisted in the Navy nine days after his sixteenth birthday and ten days after Edwards was launched. On July 29, 1942, he enlisted in the Navy with his mother in tow. As was common in those days, he “misled” navy recruiters about his age by listing his birth year as 1926. On September 19, 1942, the day it was commissioned, the newly trained Seaman Foxwell boarded DD 619 for his soon to be exciting tour of duty and recorded his first diary entry. The diary was not so much about him as an individual but, of Edwards and its actions and duties.

Foxwell and Edwards had a rough couple of beginning months together. Their duties began with sea trials on October 2, 1942. They rammed a British tanker on her first day out and had to return to dry dock for repairs. A short time later, Foxwell was sent to gunner’s school and stopped home and over stayed his leave by two days, missed the ship and was declared a straggler. Upon his return, he received a few “mast” penalties. This part of the book has a few holes in the chronology but picks up on the pass through the Panama Canal on December 11, 1942. Together, Edwards took part in the battles for Guadalcanal, the Aleutians, Bougainville, Rabaul, the Gilberts (Tarawa), Marshalls, Palau, Wotje, Eniwetok, Tinian, and the retaking of the Philippines. Four days after the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945, Foxwell was released from duty, returned home, got a job as a machinist, and started a family.

The easy to follow format chronologically lists events from the original diary recorded by the author’s grandfather. The author intermingled official facts and Navy lore throughout, keeping the drone of a typical personal diary interesting and relevant to the ship’s story. I enjoyed the read; less than a hundred pages, many interesting relevant tidbits and a few relevant photographs for good measure. A nice mix of official and personal perspective on the life of a little known yet, great ship.

Mr. Solecki is an independent naval historian, holds a Master of Arts in Military History degree from Norwich University and is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and NOAA where he acquired, processed and disseminated environmental intelligence for the consequence management of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Anti-Submarine and Anti-Aircraft Warfare. He is currently an enforcement officer for U.S. Government and he performs technical peer reviews for several publishers of U.S. and Japanese naval history.

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BOOK REVIEW – The U.S. Naval Institute On Naval Cooperation

US Naval Institute Naval CooperationBy Samuel J. Tangredi, ed., Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Nathan Albright

As part of the U.S. Naval Institute’s wheel book series, this book offers a selection of papers on the subject of international naval cooperation that seeks to provide a handy source for naval officers and readers interested in naval affairs and the possibility of cooperation between the U.S. Navy and other navies around the world. Various aspects are discussed, ranging from ad hoc partnerships put into place to protect the rules of the road, to deeper alliances to confront piracy and provide disaster relief.  Unlike some of the previously published books in this series, there are no selections from books. Rather, all eighteen of the papers included in the slightly under 200 pages of main material are from the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings

Despite having the papers come from the same source, they show great variety.  The papers demonstrate a wide degree of scope in what defines the topic of international cooperation.  As the editor helpfully explains and concedes, “there is no official Department of Defense definition, but international naval cooperation describes a virtual myriad of programs and activities for one overarching goal: to enhance the interoperability of U.S. naval forces with foreign navies and militaries to achieve mutual strategic objectives (2).”  The rest of the book, which contains papers on topics divided into six sections:  1. alliances, coalitions, and partners; 2. international programs, visits, and exercises; 3. international law and diplomacy; 4. maritime security; 5. humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; and 6. encounters at sea. These demonstrate the broad scope of the author’s conception of naval cooperation.

Within this broad scope, there are many areas of interest to many naval officers as well as a still wider audience of those interested in naval affairs.  On the one side, some authors write about naval cooperation arguing the need for naval officers to be aware of and sensitive to international law and treaty. This is poignant, given the conflicts over the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, (which has never been ratified by the United States despite its voluntary adherence to most of its provisions), as well as the way in which the successful avoidance of or dealing with international incidents with potentially hostile navies, such as Russia and China. Other authors, including several officers from foreign navies, write about the importance of preserving NATO strength and also building up the naval infrastructure of African navies to combat piracy. They point out naval cooperation involves paying attention both to formal alliances as well as the wide variety of mutual strategic interests that bind nations together who may not otherwise find themselves as allies. One of the authors, Rear Admiral Terrence McKnight (author of the excellent Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia), has an insightful comment on international cooperation against piracy: “If one’s enemies happen to be pirates, then every state is your friend.  It doesn’t matter what region of the world you are from or what religion you practice, no one sides with pirates.  India, China, and the United States, along with many others including some of our very closest allies, are in the Gulf of Aden right now engaged in the very same fight against piracy (166).”

These and other essays suggest reasons why it is important for navy officers and lay readers interested in naval matters will find this work of value, despite the fact that many essays contain an excessive number of hard to read acronyms related to the bureaucracy of the United States Navy. Although the editor includes a helpful suggestion for further reading at the end of this book, a glossary of terms would be helpful, as not all of the authors ever actually completely define the various abbreviations they use for matters of naval arcana. The editing could have been a bit more robust to help some of the papers use the proper (usually past) tense and include some words that appear to have been left out and never corrected. Copy editing needed would fix a handful of minor grammatical errors.

Among the most obvious reasons why the book is worthwhile to read for a larger audience is the fact that it serves to discuss a matter often ignored in the education of naval officers, despite the fact that working with alliances and coalitions forms a major aspect of American policy and practice. Even shore leave qualifies as an opportunity for naval cooperation and building the reputation of the United States abroad through the power of one’s personal example. Likewise, the critical importance of “freedom of the seas” to the free passage of the vast majority of the world’s exports requires sound strategy, communication, cooperation, and diplomatic finesse to help build up the capabilities of nations to engage in peaceful international trade and avoid dangerous incidents that provoke conflict and endanger the economic strength of the world.

This book manages to present multiple perspectives on various controversial subjects, including the desirability and efficacy of increasing formal programs to deal with interaction between U.S. Navy personnel and the naval personnel and civilians of other nations, as well as the case for and against the ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although the editor expresses his own opinions through the use of occasional wit throughout his thoughtful introductions to the essays included in this work, this book ultimately provides enough information for the reader to come to his or her own conclusions when it comes to the state of contemporary naval cooperation between the United States and other maritime nations, as well as what steps can be taken to improve trust, build bridges with others, and increase the awareness of the long-term and indirect benefits of naval cooperation that are often not given sufficient public attention.


Nathan Albright resides in Portland, Oregon.

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Who Invented the X-Wing? Carrier Ops in the Star Wars Universe

Unless you have been hiding under a rock over the past year, you know about the current hysteria surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this Thursday and Friday. It is the most anticipated film of the year. For many, it’s the most anticipated film in a generation.

Everybody is getting involved in all things Star Wars. The Internet is filled with fan theory videos, long form articles, and memes about the film. Even the U.S. Navy is getting involved in the fun. Crewmembers of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower released a video on 18 November parodying the now infamous Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. The crew cleverly used various aspects of carrier operations and Navy life to recreate a shot-by-shot remake of the trailer. The “Sea Wars” video is now sitting at over 1.2 million views since it was posted to YouTube.

Finding parallels between the Navy and Star Wars is not a new concept. One could devote an entire monograph to the links between the films and the ships/organization of the United States Navy. We all know that BB-8 was originally not a droid, but USS Alabama (BB 8), even though a Google search for “BB-8” will tell you something different nowadays. For the sake of time, we will not go down that rabbit hole today. One image in particular always seems to pop up on the Internet.


The (obviously) Photoshopped image shows an X-Wing on the catwalk of USS Long Island after a “landing incident” in 1942. I know the Star Wars universe existed in a galaxy long ago, but only 73 years ago? The humorous image has been shared on websites like Pinterest, Aviation Humor, Flickr, and Reddit. I wanted to find out how this image came about. Like any self-respecting Star Wars fan, I love a good origin story. As I did with the Cap’n Crunch story, I dug deep into the bowels of the Internet to discover this image’s origin, hoping to find out a little more about naval history along the way.

Clearly, this image had to have an original that was recreated and repurposed through Photoshop. Thankfully, the image left a trail of crumbs any naval historian would recognize: the infamous Naval History and Heritage Command “cutline” at the top of the image. These cutlines were created by former NHHC (then Naval Historical Center) Photo Archivist Chuck Haberlein in the late 1990s as a way to easily identify images included on their website. Although they are merely informational, these cutlines themselves are a distinct marker to identify a photo within the U.S. Navy’s collection. The Star Wars image left the cutline unaltered. Using the NH number on the image, I was able to find the original image on the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website. The Photo Archivists at NHHC work like Jedi Masters to include high resolution photos of the Navy’s photo collection on their website.

Photo #: 80-G-12906 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighter, of Marine Fighting Squadron 211 (VMF-211) Rests in the flight deck gallery netting after suffering landing gear failure while landing on board USS <em srcset=

Long Island (AVG-1) off Palmyra Island, 25 July 1942. Note marking MF-5 on the plane’s fuselage and very weathered paint. The carrier’s SC radar antenna is visible atop her stub mast at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.” width=”640″ height=”501″ /> Photo #: 80-G-12906 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighter, of Marine Fighting Squadron 211 (VMF-211) Rests in the flight deck gallery netting after suffering landing gear failure while landing on board USS Long Island (AVG-1) off Palmyra Island, 25 July 1942. Note marking MF-5 on the plane’s fuselage and very weathered paint. The carrier’s SC radar antenna is visible atop her stub mast at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Commissioned in June 1941, USS Long Island spent most of her first days conducting experiments and training aviators operating out of Norfolk, Virginia. She and her crew departed for the West Coast in early May 1942. In early July, Long Island left San Diego for Pearl Harbor, arriving on the 17th. It was at that time where this training incident occurred off the Northern Pacific Atoll Palmyra Island with two squadrons of Marine Corps aviators, one of which was VMF-211. VMF-211 was one of the Marine Corps oldest flying squadrons. As such, they used the F2A-3 Buffalo Fighter, one of the more outdated planes used during the Second World War (The Midway experience with the Brewster Buffalo is the perfect example). Most planes and squadrons operating off Palmyra were used for base defense duty.

The original photo of the Brewster Buffalo incident also appears on the NavSource website page dedicated to images from the Escort Carrier USS Long Island (CVE 1). Interestingly enough, they also show the image from a different angle.


So where did the doctored image of the X-Wing come from? Using a reverse image search yielded some interesting results. Where did it all begin?

Scrolling through the reverse image search database and the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), I was able to pinpiont what I believe to be the first use of this image. If we lend any credibility to Internet search engines, then the original X-Wing image aboard USS Long Island came from a Science Fiction blog called “Trekster.” Here is a screenshot of the image, posted to on 7 June 2006 with the tagline “Who Invented the X-Wing:”

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.34.48 AM

(Internet Archive)

It is unclear whether the admin for the Trekster website created the image or not. Unfortunately, the image begins to appear on the Internet ONLY after the 7 June date. The image itself was reposted on several websites, most notably the (now) popular German website Nerdcore. Or so I thought. Like Luke’s reaction to the dark side, I wasn’t going to give in so easily.

I was unconvinced that the 7 June post date was the earliest the world saw this image. I was right. Taking the idea that several German websites reposted the image, I shifted my focus and searched for the image and it’s correlation to German language pages. I found a website on Photoshop manipulations that included the image in it predated the Trekster site by one week.

The caption to the site reads: “I’m a big Star Wars fan, so this is a must: The “origin” of the X-Wing.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.44.51 AM

(Screenshot from

Is this the first time this image appeared on the Internet? Possibly. Clearly, the author grabbed this image from somewhere to include it on a post about Photoshop manipulations. Unfortunately, I could not hunt down the original author of the image. No spoilers to ruin here. Maybe the best things should remain a mystery. In the meantime, there are plenty of new images on the Internet out there that keep the spirit of the USS Long Island image alive, like this recent one of ANOTHER X-Wing on a carrier (this time, it’s an image taken from USS Harry S. Truman back in 2008).

 PERSIAN GULF (Feb. 7, 2008) Lt. Stephen Weeks, a "Shooter" on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), gives the signal for an F/A-18E Super Hornet to launch off ship. Truman and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 are deployed supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Justin L. Losack (Released)/Reddit/

PERSIAN GULF (Feb. 7, 2008) Lt. Stephen Weeks, a “Shooter” on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), gives the signal for an F/A-18E Super Hornet to launch off ship. Truman and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 are deployed supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Justin L. Losack (Released); Photoshop image from Reddit/

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Pulling Together Pull Together: The Making of an Issue (PART IV)

Pulling Together Pull Together Cover 4

A Blog Series by Matthew T. Eng

With base access at the Washington Navy Yard restricted, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak behind the process of producing the Winter 2015 (Vol 54, no. 4) issue of Pull Together. Disclaimer: The comments included in these posts are my own, and represent an “unfiltered” approach to writing about and communicating history. There’s a lot that goes on before each member gets their issue, and I want to share every bit of it with you. Read PART I PART II and PART III.

PART IV: Editing with the Bumpuses’ Dogs

If you have been following along with this blog series, you know that I did not make my 7 December deadline due to illness. After a very rough weekend/week dealing with a terrible sinus infection, I am happy to report that the first draft of the December Pull Together is complete! I went into the weekend having four main pages left:

Page 11: Naval History News: Advisory Council Wrap-Up
Page 12: McMullen Symposium Wrap-Up
Page 13: Awards Section Photo Gallery/NHHC News Items (?)
Page 14: IJNH Advertisement/Planned Giving/Navy Calendar Advertisement

Of course, there were a few other pages that needed a little bit of love, but the bulk of what I had to do was done. I knew I needed to do a “Season’s Greetings” photo on Page 15. Thankfully, I was able to recycle something I had done for social media around this time last year. I took my “Haze Gray Holidays” graphic and simply changed the words and dimension. After the week I had, it was nice to have something I could easily grab “out the box.”

Haze Gray Holidays rework

That was relatively easy. I had more trouble figuring out what to include in the “Naval History News” section. I didn’t want to merely repost text from former blog stories that I already wrote, or repost pictures already shared via social media. It’s my hope that SOME of the loyal readers of this blog or followers on Facebook are also loyal NHF Members (Are you not? You should join!). That idea was especially true for McMullen Symposium piece that is just beginning to generate some good commentary on the state of naval history (more of that to come). For that specific page, I ended up using commentary from the Knox Medal roundtable discussion that followed their award speeches during the 16 Sept. banquet.

The rest was merely cranking down the text from the latest issue of the International Journal of Naval History and designing a few small quarter-page advertisements. By the time the Redskins eeked out a victory against Chicago on Sunday, the first draft was complete. I looked forward to moving the notes on my wall of progress to the “edit” section on Monday.

Now What?

The next logical step in the progression of creating a publication from start to finish may be the most harrowing for any writer, designer, or developer: the editing process. Unfortunately, it’s the most crucial.

Ask a historian or author about the most dreaded part of the writing process, and they will likely give you one of two answers: starting a project or editing said project. I tackled the start with cautious ease. Now that I am starting at a 82 MB inDesign document on my computer desktop, all I can think about is how little of it may be left by the end of the week.

When it comes to editing, I talked about the concept of “murdering your darlings” in the first part of this series. It’s a big  As far as the editing process is concerned, the first stab at taking a rough something as coarse as rough copy and making it smooth is an outright massacre – but an important one. I was always taught that the writing process doesn’t begin until you edit. Although I don’t agree with that philosophy completely, I do believe that it is the most important step.

Monday morning came. I sent off the gathered page text to our copyeditor and sent a low resolution PDF of what I had to the other NHF staff members. I could kick back for the rest of the week while everyone else

I casually glance through the PDF after I sent it to my colleagues. Scrolling through I begin to see tiny mistakes about the layout and text that I never would dream of including were it going to press that day. A dangling participle on Page 4. A misaligned image on Page 10. An incorrectly labeled photograph on Page 14. How did I miss these? Did I have layout “beer goggles” on? Thankfully, my colleagues also spotted the (many) mistakes. by the mid-morning, we were already meeting to go over the document for the first round of editing.

I bet you would like to see the front cover design! That one is going to stay close to the vest until our members receive the publication in the mail.

I bet you would like to see the front cover design! That one is going to stay close to the vest until our members receive the publication in the mail.


If I had to come up with a metaphor for the editing process, I would have to use the turkey fiasco scene from one of my favorite films of this time of the year, A Christmas Story. In this classic scene, Ralphie’s family is terrorized by a group of dogs who run through their house just as their beautiful and succulent Christmas turkey is cooling in the kitchen. The dogs make quick work of the turkey, tearing it to shreds to the dismay of Ralphie’s foul-mouthed father. In this scenario, my colleagues are the hungry dogs, the turkey is the first draft of PT, and I (of course) am said foul-mouthed father. (Disclaimer: I don’t really think my colleagues are “dogs.” It’s just an analogy. Chill out)

They begin to go through the document with me, tearing out pieces that I noticed. They also pointed out errors and omissions to several sections that I overlooked. The turkey was beginning to shred. By the end of it, the hounds of the Bumpus household are out the door, and I am left with a former shadow of what it once was. I have a lot of corrections to make. Once the copyeditor comes back to me, the second draft will be the next to final step before sending it off to our printer for publication.


Editing will always be a large bandaid on the wound of your creative efforts. Once ripped off, however, you are left with something more substantial and professional. Without a second, third, or fourth eye on the draft, we run the risk of publishing something that is either in-factual or (gasp!) unprofessional. Nobody can do it by themselves – You’ll shoot your eye out. Heck, look at our title: we do not PULL ALONE; we PULL TOGETHER. It’s going to be a good week, turkey or no turkey.

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Pulling Together Pull Together: The Making of an Issue (PART III)

Pulling Together Pull Together Cover 3

A Blog Series by Matthew T. Eng

With base access at the Washington Navy Yard restricted, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak behind the process of producing the Winter 2015 (Vol 54, no. 4) issue of Pull Together. Disclaimer: The comments included in these posts are my own, and represent an “unfiltered” approach to writing about and communicating history. There’s a lot that goes on before each member gets their issue, and I want to share every bit of it with you. Read PART I and PART II.

Part III: Sinus Pressure and a Conversation with Goldilocks

I was making good time for the 7 December deadline for the first draft of the next issue of Pull Together. I WAS. Unfortunately, there is always something that gets in the way…some expected, some unexpected.

After a busy week last week that ended with our Board of Directors meeting last Friday, I was looking forward to a head start on work this past weekend. I had two main things to do: build the December 2015 issue of the International Journal of Naval History (IJNH), and of course, get the draft together for Pull Together. I wanted to advertise the latest edition of IJNH in the next issue, so I knew I had to get it out there beforehand. That was the plan. My ship was steaming at full speed. Then I ran aground. I became sick.

I began to feel bad around Wednesday afternoon. It started as a big headache, so I took some aspirin and kept going. My nose began to get stuffed up on Thursday. My throat felt like a bag of thumbtacks. Aspirin, Sudafed, tea, and cough drops to the rescue. By the time the board meeting was done on Friday, I came home feeling like hot garbage. The medicine increased, and so did my weariness that something else was going on. This wasn’t a normal cold.

Things continued to wear me down as the weekend progressed. I was able to finish the new issue of IJNH by Saturday evening. I was doing a lot of work, but not enough if I really wanted to get an acceptable draft of Pull Together in by Monday morning. On Sunday, my wife finally convinced me to go to the doctor. After a long wait at the doc-in-the-box down the street, I was diagnosed with a “severe sinus infection.” How serious? They had to give me three different kinds of medications and antibiotics, one of which was Codeine. Needless to say, I was not going to make the Monday deadline. My ship of productivity wasn’t exactly decommissioned; I was merely on inactive reserve status. After a day of coughing up unspeakable amounts of things on Monday, the meds began to work their magic this morning. Although I am not feeling at all near one hundred percent, I felt good enough to get some work done today.

The first thing I wanted to tackle was the section recapping the recent VIOLET SKIES conference. After figuring out the design that came from my initial sketch, I tapered down the story to an acceptable length for the full page spread that would also include adequate space for several images from the event. I was confident enough with the design to move on, but I wanted to get a second opinion. Any good historian or history professional knows a second opinion is worth its weight in gold. I went to the only person who could give me an unfiltered and unbiased opinion: my wife Angela. Everybody has an ideal reader that they go to when they want to make sure they are doing something right or wrong. For me, it is definitely her. Although she does not have a background in design, she is an expert of new media and professional writing. Surely, she would give me the news I needed to move on…hopefully. I sent her a message with the draft of the two pages, hoping she would tell me the good news. After feeling like dirt for half a week, this was the kind of validation I needed.

first try

Me: Hey, I sent you the images of the Violent Skies page. Just wanted to double check and see if you like it. Do you like it?

She came back with a one word answer. It was not the answer I was hoping for:

Angela: No.

What was wrong with it? I told her I wanted constructive criticism. I was hoping for a little less, I guess. Then again, this profession is built upon constructive criticism. Take the recent discussion over something I wrote about the McMullen Naval History Symposium. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

“I don’t like the way everything is aligned,” she said. “I think the border around the pictures are distracting.” She also noted that, being a full page spread, the text and image should be right-justified on the second page. Roger that. She was absolutely right. I made the changes and sent her the next round.

second try

She still didn’t like it. The more I looked at it, the more I started to dislike it as well. Desktop publishing is a great way to take any ego you once had and squash it like a bug. “I think the bombs on the first page are distracting from the text,” she said. “It’s way too close.” She also questioned why the large quote did not go with the big picture. The best response I could give was, “I don’t know…I just needed to fit it in.” Not good enough. The quote, albeit loosely related, should probably match the picture nearby. So I decided to switch the photo and captions of Norwood and Dunn with Dr. Sherwood.

third try

It still wasn’t right. If this was a children’s story, page 6 and 7 of Pull Together would be the proverbial porridge and Angela would be Goldilocks. What’s a bear to do? I was beginning to get frustrated, which was entirely my own undoing. I asked her for advice, didn’t i? She was also right, which I also hated. The one thing we love to hear each other say at these moments are those three magical words. No, they aren’t “I Love You.” Those enchanting, life-giving words are “You Were Right.” And she was right. I was beginning to feel like Paul Rudd in a scene from Wet Hot American Summer where he doesn’t want to pick up dishes he spilled on the floor.

After a bit of back and forth, she got tired of telling me what to do and decided to sketch it out for me on her lunch break and send me what she thinks I should do with the second page catastrophe.


Okay. Got it. I decided to make it even more succinct and included a Dunn-centric photo on page 7. We finally agreed on the final version, give or take a few edits or typos that come with pre-production. She was right. That’s why she is my go-to on these matters.

final try

Two pages down. Fourteen more to go. I hope my sinuses clear soon, because I am going to need all my faculties to get this thing out as soon as possible.

Want to see the final product? Make sure to become a member of NHF and receive it in the mail just in time for the Holidays!

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Noted Historian Weighs in on Recent Naval History Scholarship

This past September, our Digital Content Developer posted a recap of the McMullen Naval History Symposium, which included his own personal thoughts on the state of naval history. The post elicited this essay by long-time NHF member Dr. Christopher McKee. We welcome such dialog on a subject so important to the nation. Please consider joining in on the conversation in the comment section, or sending your personal thoughts on this matter to

By Dr. Christopher McKee

In a 23 September post, Naval Historical Foundation Digital Content Developer Matthew T. Eng reported his impressions of the 2015 McMullen Naval History Symposium held at the Naval Academy in mid-September.   By way of introduction he quoted, with agreement, John Hattendorf’s report on a 1993 conference sponsored by Yale University and the Naval War College:  “… much of the work that was being published in the field [of naval history] was both relatively unsophisticated and outdated in its approach.”   Matthew Eng then goes on to add for himself:  “Unfortunately, that outdated approach remained relatively unchanged throughout the nineties and into the new millennium.   Naval history stayed two-dimensional and transparent in intention, form and purpose …. Very little was showcased to breathe new life into the discipline like other similar fields.”

I welcome with enthusiasm scholarly discussion that expresses differing points of view on the historiography of our profession.  Consequently, I read Mr. Eng’s essay with keen interest.  However—as the reader must suspect by this point—I am more upbeat about the writing of naval history than is Mr. Eng.   At a 2013 McMullen Naval History Symposium session honoring Harold Langley’s Social Reform in the United States Navy (1967) I suggested that the years since the late 1950s have seen an impressive array of first-rate, and often innovative, naval historical writing.

For present purposes, however, I will limit myself to questioning Mr. Eng’s contention that the writing of naval history remained mostly static and parochial even into the new millennium.  Here is my personal selection of nine titles published in the first decade of the twenty-first century that, in my opinion, compete with the best of scholarship in other fields of history and which have been brought to print by mainstream scholarly publishers.  The list is alphabetical by author and unashamedly subjective; it reflects my preference for work that is well-written, multinational and comparative.  With apologies to authors I may have overlooked, I have included only titles that I have actually read.   My hope is that students of naval history may discover, enjoy and profit intellectually from these books as much as I have—if they have not already done so.

The Age of the Ship of the Line
Dull, Jonathan R., The Age of the Ship of the Line: The British & French Navies, 1650-1815 (University of Nebraska Press, 2009)

Comparative naval history at its best; the British-French naval rivalry is examined in its broadest technical, political and economic contexts.  Dull’s companion study, American Naval History, 1607-1865: Overcoming the Colonial Legacy (Nebraska, 2012), is an insightful, if underappreciated, reinterpretation of its subject.

Liberty at the Waterfront

Gilje, Paul A., Liberty on the Waterfront: American Maritime Culture in the Age of Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)

A prize-winning social history of American (native-born and immigrant) mariners, men who moved seamlessly between naval and merchant marine service.  Gilje’s theme plays skillfully off the multiple meanings of the word liberty in the sailor’s mental world.   The text is complemented with a gallery of previously unseen images—a welcome change from the same old pictures too-typically pulled from ready-to-hand sources.

Jack Tar's Story

Glenn, Myra C., Jack Tar’s Story: The Autobiographies and Memoirs of Sailors in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Many sailor “autobiographies” were published in the nineteenth-century United States—and some of them were real.  Glenn skillfully separates the authentic from the fake, and uses their texts to explore such topics as patriotism, manhood, and the demand for human respect among these seafaring workers.

Historical Dreadnoughts

Gough, Barry, Historical Dreadnoughts: Arthur Marder, Stephen Roskill and Battles for Naval History (Seaforth Publishing, 2010)

Marder and Roskill dominated—often with an excess of personal acrimony—British naval historical writing in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.   In this parallel-lives biography Gough opens a fascinating window into the world of historians at work.  Historical Dreadnoughts is a true labor of love.


Leiner, Frederick C., The End of Barbary Terror: America’s 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Yes, there is United States naval history after the War of 1812.  There was a lot of important work for the Navy to do between 1815 and the Civil War; Leiner has charted the newest track into this unfortunately neglected period.


Skaggs, David Curtis, Thomas Macdonough, Master of Command in the Early U. S. Navy (Naval Institute Press, 2003)

Skaggs employs contemporary leadership and command theory to analyze this prominent officer’s naval career.   A fine biography, strong on analysis and interpretation.

510P6RXGJGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)

Spector, Ronald H., At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century (Viking, 2001)

A pioneering—and entirely successful—effort to break out of the single-nation focus of naval history.  From Tushima through the Cold War, Spector surveys the naval battles and maritime strategic rivalries of all the major contenders for dominance on the world’s oceans.


Taylor, Bruce, The Battlecruiser HMS Hood: An Illustrated Biography, 1916-1941 (Chatham Publishing, 2004)

Brilliant and innovative attempt to write a ship’s history in the French “total history” tradition: design, construction, armament, place in British naval policy between the wars, personnel and personalities, cruises, and death in battle.  Even Hood’s resident cats are included.  Richly and beautifully illustrated, but no coffee-table book.  Taylor has thrown down a challenge that no other historian has, to my knowledge, yet taken up.

Christopher McKee
Rosenthal Professor Emeritus
Grinnell College
Grinnell, Iowa
The Newberry Library
Chicago, Illinois

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Pulling Together Pull Together: The Making of an Issue (PART II)

Pulling Together Pull Together Cover 2

A Blog Series by Matthew T. Eng

With base access at the Washington Navy Yard restricted, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak behind the process of producing the Winter 2015 (Vol 54, no. 4) issue of Pull Together. Disclaimer: The comments included in these posts are my own, and represent an “unfiltered” approach to writing about and communicating history. There’s a lot that goes on before each member gets their issue, and I want to share every bit of it with you.

PART II: The Hard Is What Makes It Great

Unfortunately, there aren’t many updates. After the fairly long explanation of this blog project in the first post, there isn’t much to say. The creative process may be halted by the promise of turkey, stuffing, and gravy in the next couple days. Don’t worry – I will have plenty of energy (and leftover turkey sandwiches) to get me through the next few days. I don’t think there is any time to necessarily ENJOY the holiday, unfortunately. We have our last issue coming out within two weeks. There will be time for family, surely, but there will also be time set aside to try to get this done. Black Friday for me will be a wholesale on .psd files, edited text, and (of course) more organization. I think that is another byproduct of this profession. The amount of work you do at home is staggering, whether you want to or not. It’s just how it is. The historical profession is not a 9 to 5. If you find a job in history that is, let me know. I’ll say you will be hard pressed to find it.

I am reminded of one of my favorite scenes in film whenever I talk about stressful times like these:

For us, naval history is what gets inside of you. It lights me up with a sense of hope that SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, will get switched on to our great naval heritage. For my colleagues, I know they feel the same way. And so we work long hours in order to do it. Don’t let anybody tell you different: it’s the hard that makes it great. Anybody else in this field that tells you different is a liar…or they don’t have their heart in it. After all, if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it (or study some other niche field in history).


Progress on the Violent Skies layout for the issue.

Progress on the Violent Skies layout for the issue.


As you can see, I have at least started thinking about translating some of the ideas I had on paper into a digital format. Personally, I am not sure how I feel about the Violent Skies layout. I might change it. I’m sure I will change it…two or three more times. The layout for the events page is now two columns instead of three. I simply cannot fit everything in a three column spread for this. Anything less than a 12 point font on these types of publications is usually a personal guarantee that some member will (rightfully) complain. Let’s not do that. Nothing is moved over from my chart on the wall in my cubicle yet…but SOON. Did I mention that the fine folks at the Navy Yard finally turned on the heat? It’s blowing hot air that is at least 85 degrees, making our office like a sauna. I’ve needed to use a fan to cool me down these past few days. I’m sure that won’t last.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 11.06.48 AM

For some reason, I have decided to forego shaving until the project is complete. Is it solidarity? Probably not. I am most likely just lazy. Let’s see how long that (or my wife’s patience) will last.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Pulling Together Pull Together: The Making of an Issue (PART I)

Pulling Together Pull Together Cover

A Blog Series by Matthew T. Eng

With base access at the Washington Navy Yard restricted, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak behind the process of producing the Winter 2015 (Vol 54, no. 4) issue of Pull Together. Disclaimer: The comments included in these posts are my own, and represent an “unfiltered” approach to writing about and communicating history. There’s a lot that goes on before each member gets their issue, and I want to share every bit of it with you.

Part I: Murder Your Darlings

What makes naval history…history? How is it transmitted from one person to another? Is it spoken, drawn, painted, photographed, or written down? In the end, how effective was it in reaching the reader?

In the generations that preceded us, these kinds of questions were unnecessary. Naval history, like the pages it was printed on, existed in black and white. Within this niche genre of military history, the original social network of person-to-person communication between naval historians remained small and ultimately familiar. Most found yearly academic conferences and symposia the only way to know who was doing what in the field. That world does not exist today. Communication is not a two way street – it’s a superhighway. Information is both infinite and instantaneous. Naval history itself is on the rise. Followers and enthusiasts increase by the hundreds and thousands each day. Need convincing? Take a look at the Naval History and Heritage Command Facebook page for some solid evidence.

Main staples of life: coffee and computer. (Photo by Author)

The main staples of life for my creative process: coffee and computer. (Photo by Author)

Some things about the delivery of naval history are the same. For the Naval Historical Foundation, we still use our publication, Pull Together, as a central way to inform members about what we are doing. That is where most of the similarities stop. In today’s media-centric society, every factor listed in the first paragraph have to be carefully factored into the design of naval history-related content in a way that is both appealing and approachable for readers. Social networking surely aids the cause, but the way we present information must keep the readers’ attention in print as it does online. Because of this, I want to show our loyal readers, followers, and members how we make history happen in the upcoming issue of Pull Together, from start to finish.

I may need a disclaimer.

This is in no way a forum to amplify or glorify what I do/NHF does. It is not a showcase piece about hard work, even if that surely is a byproduct. ALL of my colleagues in naval history, from the dedicated men and women of the Naval History and Heritage Command to the educators of our nation’s historic ships, work hard to make our maritime past come to life. This is not an exercise of vanity; it is a lesson in honesty. I personally think few people are entirely honest about the writing process, especially online. This is as open and honest as I can be. The Foundation is located within the confines of a physical space heavily guarded and difficult to access (albeit possible). In the digital sphere, however, we are completely mobile and acessible. There are no walls separating us from the reader. This “Pulling Together Pull Together” column is one way we can provide everyone outside the walls of the Washington Navy Yard a “behind the scenes” picture of what we do.Before I offend anyone, I need to once again say that these opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the Naval Historical Foundation.

I’m So Excited. I’m So Scared.

tumblr_mohveuGknJ1qajc4eo1_250This will be my second foray into designing Pull Together. I am both excited and scared at the same time. Why? I am cautious going into this next issue because of my experience putting together the Summer 2015 issue of Pull Together. About 75% through my inaugural design project, my hard drive inexplicably crashed. I lost almost all of my files and had to do two weeks worth of work in two days to meet a publication deadline. After a few frantic days fueled gallons of coffee, I managed to work with the staff to get the issue out just before the McMullen Naval History Symposium. With several new portable hard drives at the ready (both physically and in the cloud), I think am ready for this next issue.

I’m learning desktop publishing as I go along. Like I said before, this is only the second time doing this for me. It’s stressful, but completely worth it. Even in my capacity as the “Digital Content Developer” for NHF, it’s a daily challenge to make sure I keep up to date with content development. There were no history classes to prepare me for this. No professor armed with elbow pads told me about time management and the necessity of using images of at least 300 dpi as embedded Photoshop files for print publications. Looking back, I wish there was! I study magazines and watch tutorial after tutorial online to make sure I give NHF members the best possible edition of Pull Together. It takes dedication. It takes patience. It takes hard drive space. Above all, it takes coffee; lots and lots of coffee. The stronger the better.

With a completion deadline set for the beginning of the first full week in December (ironically, Pearl Harbor Day), we have a lot of work to do. Let’s begin.

How it Starts

It all starts with an idea. Well…several ideas that will make up a short magazine either 16 or 24 pages long. To use some naval terminology, we are building an issue from the keel up.

My scribbles for the design process of the Violent Skies page (left) and Upcoming Events page (right)

My scribbles for the design process of the Violent Skies page (left) and Upcoming Events page (right)

Pull Together remains the brainchild of our historian, Dr. David Winkler. Each quarterly issue begins with him generating a broad outline for its contents. His thoughts on paper turn into a short discourse over emails. Content comes soon after. In a few days, or over the course of a week, something will begin to formulate on the computer screen. That is where I come in. It is my goal to take the words and turn the into something informative and pleasing to the eye. It’s truly an art form, for which I am a mere apprentice. Surely, I am not Barclay or Reuterdahl. My broad brush is a Macbook trackpad. With a little passion and a lot of patience, I will hopefully put the ideas together in time for our steadily approaching deadline.

We are planning to include a lot of information in this current issue. With only sixteen pages to fill, it is going to be a real challenge. We know we want to have several main components for this issue. Without spoiling it:

1. Chairman Message (More to follow on that)
2. Recap of Violent Skies Conference
3. Focus on Historians – several articles therein
4. Promo 2016 naval history events, conferences, and symposia

From the initial email listing a general idea and order to the pages, I set out to put down my own table of contents for the issue. Within two days, the order and content for each page has changed twice. It will change again. Organization is key, and my handwriting skills are as neat as I am organized. Luckily, this dog can learn some new tricks (thanks Google Drive!). I am finding that organization in the beginning is key. It’s already gotten to the point that I am typing out daily organizational notes and reminders, almost in tears from listening to Adele’s new album at the same time. I find it helps set the mood. My wife always says that a craft or sewing project is never complete until you bleed for it. I’d say for history, nothing is done until you’ve wept over it.

How I stay organized: My Scrum Burndown Chart. Confession: I got the idea watching the TV show Silicon Valley.

How I stay organized: My Scrum Burndown Chart. Confession: I got the idea watching the TV show Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately, other things get in the way. We are a small staff forced to master the subtle art of multi-tasking. There are emails and emails about said emails. Most have nothing to do with the next Pull Together issue, but are still nonetheless important and need to be answered in a timely fashion.  Some are informative, while others are simply redundant. Then comes the meetings about the emails. From there, the real work will be done for the issue: drafting, editing, redundancy, proofing, editing, redundancy. It’s an endless cycle until final copy Nirvana is fully achieved. Don’t worry: we are a LONG ways away from that. Did I mention things get redundant?

Editing down my Violent Skies article (Photo by Author)

Editing down my Violent Skies article for Pull Together (Photo by Author)

Along with the current Pull Together project, we are also putting together the final touches on a board meeting next month and working towards raising funds for a case to house a WWII mannequin inside the National Museum of the United States Navy. I am also working with Dr. Winkler to put out the next issue of the International Journal of Naval History, which I am also the digital editor of. To top it all off, my wife just bought me the video game Star Wars Battlefront. I would like nothing more than to blast some scruffy nerf herders all night, but I can’t. Time is of the essence (but I will find time to play the game, obviously).

One of the tasks I worked on today was condensing a five page summary article I wrote on the Violent Skies symposium back in October into two short pages. Using images I took from the event in the layout will make space even more valuable. Time to cut. If you told my eighteen year old self as a freshman in college that I would struggle to cut down writing to only a few pages, I am sure he would laugh profusely. I often think of a quote attributed to William Faulkner whenever I have to edit a piece down: murder your darlings. I grabbed my red pen and spent the afternoon trimming the fat.

I used the pen profusely to slice and dice my way through the full article. It hurts. They are your darlings, after all. I carefully tapered it down to just over two pages. Although it’s not enough, it will do for the time being. It’s way too early to set anything in stone. Perhaps I am worried about the overall design of the issue itself. The design needs to be catchy, which will require a large portion of space on the front of the two-page spread. Finding that I’d had enough of the “Mask of Red Pen Death,” I spent my last few minutes of work sketching out the physical appearance of some of the more challenging page layouts, including the events calendar and Violent Skies piece (shown above). By the end of the day, a rough outline is prepared to work with in the upcoming days. Full speed ahead.

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Message from the President: End of the Year Donation and Planned Giving

150511-N-AT895-151 WASHINGTON (May 11, 2015) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and retired Adm. James Holloway, former CNO, cut the cake during the centennial celebration for the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Navy staff at the Washington Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)

150511-N-AT895-151 WASHINGTON (May 11, 2015) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and retired Adm. James Holloway, former CNO, cut the cake during the centennial celebration for the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Navy staff at the Washington Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)


2015 has been a busy year for your Foundation, as you have seen in the pages of our Pull Together newsletters and through the stories on our website blog.  It was our particular privilege to participate in two special Navy centennial anniversaries this year:

  • The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Navy Reserve, marked by a number of ceremonies which prominently featured the Dave Winkler-authored coffee table book, Ready Then, Ready Now, Ready Always: More Than a Century of Service by Citizen Sailors (a great holiday gift by the way, for your favorite Navy Reservist—see our website at for details!).
  • The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the position and office of the Chief of Naval Operations. At a memorable celebration in May at the Navy Museum with the Secretary of the Navy presiding, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Commandant of the Coast Guard present, 30th CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenert was joined by NHF Chairman Emeritus and 20th CNO Admiral Jim Holloway to cut the birthday cake with the sword of 15th CNO Admiral Arleigh Burke!

All this reminds us of our mission statement that the Naval Historical Foundation preserves and honors the legacy of those who came before us. We educate and inspire the generations who will follow.

Your support makes a difference in our ability to accomplish that mission! We have been especially appreciative of the financial support that many of you are making to keep us on course—and the purpose of this end-of-year appeal is to ask you to continue that generous practice!

  • Mail in a donation using the enclosed form or via our website online giving option at
  • Consider making a pledge to join the 15 members whose level of giving has made them charter members of our Admiral James L. Holloway III Donor Society (Executive Director Todd Creekman can provide details);
  • Using the planned giving tips on our website, remember NHF in your will or with a stock or IRA donation before the end of the year;
  • Encourage a friend to join, or present that friend with a gift membership!

So what do your dues and donations, particularly from these year-end appeals, accomplish for naval history? One of our high visibility programs recognizes naval history excellence from middle school students to the pre-eminent naval historians of the 21st century:

  • The Captain Ken Coskey National History Day Naval History Prizes—middle and high school students.
  • The Captain Edward L. Beach Naval Academy History Department Prize—Naval Academy midshipmen.
  • The Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn NROTC Essay Competition—NROTC midshipmen.
  • The Commodore Dudley W. Knox Naval History Lifetime Achievement Award—career naval historians.     

Our STEM-H (H for History!) program has been so well-received that we are now partnering with the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, CA on a three-year grant.  The grant took effect in August, just in time to support our third annual STEM-H teacher fellowship program at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, CT.  The grant expands STEM-H programs to all Navy museums, including museum educator and teacher training by the USNA STEM Center.  USNA training focuses on project-based learning and the engineering design process, including materials and examples of basic lesson plans adaptable to each museum. Historic naval ship museum educators also fall within the scope of the grant, broadening Navy STEM-H outreach possibilities nationwide. 

USNA STEM Center workshops in the fall, spring, and summer in Annapolis are open to all Navy and historic ship museum educators and local teachers.  This year’s 25-26 September workshop included a special half-day session for museum educators from Groton, CT, Norfolk, VA, Great Lakes, IL, Newport, RI, Alameda CA and Washington, DC.  Travelling USNA workshops at historic naval ship sites for museum educators and local teachers are planned in winter 2015-2016 for Norfolk, VA and Alameda, CA, with more to follow.  The NHF portion of the grant enables STEM-H fellowship support for: educator travel to USNA workshops, teacher lesson planning efforts with educators at the Navy and historic naval ship museums, and the work to have all developed lesson plans shared on Navy museum, historic naval ship, NHF, and Historic Naval Ships Association websites.  Your continued support will permit us to work with more museums and ships to link teachers and students to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math through the lens of naval history!

We continued to reach out to our members at gatherings beyond our Annual Meeting, including:

  • An April National Maritime Awards Dinner in partnership with the National Maritime Historical Society at the National Press Club in Washington, DC where the NHF recognized Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert with a Distinguished Service Award;
  • The annual Submarine History Seminar in April in partnership with the Naval Submarine League;
  • A reception in May in conjunction with the kick-off of the North American Society for Oceanic History’s
  • annual conference at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California;
  • The annual Battle of Midway Celebration Dinner in June in partnership with nine other Navy and Marine Corps nonprofits—where we were joined by six hardy veterans of that pivotal battle;

A joint mid-October symposium with our four sister historical foundations titled Violent Skies: The Air War Over Vietnam—to commemorate the 50th anniversary of service and sacrifice by Navy men and women during the Vietnam War.

Your contributions are vital to our ability to carry out our naval history mission!  In return for your generous year-end tax-deductible contribution, you earn our sincere thanks for becoming a dedicated partner in the effort to connect Americans with their proud naval heritage!


Mitchell signature


John T. Mitchell
Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.)

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Free Trade and Sailors Rights: A Case for Cap’n Crunch

capn cover image

From Naval Intelligence to Cold War cruise books, there is more than meets the eye with one of cereal’s most iconic figures.

By Matthew T. Eng

I have a tendency to read into things. I ask too many questions Ask anyone who has been to the movie theater with me. It’s just in my nature. I was always taught to ask freely and think rationally. Isn’t that the mark of any good historian?

When it comes to matters of naval history and its relationship to popular culture, I always go the extra mile. If I can fit it into a conversation, I will. I cannot begin to explain how many times I argued how rebel blockade runners originated from the American Civil War, not the Star Wars film franchise. I once spoke at a film festival about the role of the Navy and Marine Corps in the 1990s sci-fi epic Starship Troopers. As a testament to my curiosity in my current position at the Naval Historical Foundation, I publish a weekly factoid about the Navy’s ties to popular culture on our social media sites. The posts sparked some interesting and insightful debate over the course of the last year. Every cornerstone of popular culture, from comics and novels to films and television, are analyzed. I’ve tackled everything from the creator of the Slinky to the use of and inspiration of the Navy in Pixar films. What would I read too much into next?

I ultimately decided to tackle one of my favorite breakfast cereals from childhood (and adulthood): Cap’n Crunch.

Cap'n Crunch as he appeared in his original 1963 Quaker Oats Commercial (via Youtube Screengrab)

Cap’n Crunch as he appeared in his original 1963 Quaker Oats Commercial (via Youtube Screengrab)

Created by television producer and animation pioneer Jay Ward of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame, the Cap’n Crunch persona grew among the mass appeal of children throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Ward found a way to compete with Kellogg’s lucrative brand tie-ins of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound in the commercial market. According to the Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns, cereal owner Quaker Oats (now PepsiCo) once used eighty percent of their advertising budget solely on Cap’n Crunch. It worked. He was heavily advertised as a man born on Crunch Island in the Sea of Milk, whose sole duty was to sail the seven seas with his precious cargo of sweet corn nuggets with his First Mate Sea Dog and crew of hungry kid sailors. The only thing stopping him from delivering his tasty breakfast treat to a store nearest you was his dreaded enemy, the shoeless pirate Jean LaFoote.

Children identified with the lovable style of Ward’s cartoon production and the vocal stylings of voice actor legend Daws Butler. By the turn of the century, however, Quaker Oats shifted focus on the brand in response to a decrease in sales. They soon relied on nostalgia to attract adults back to the cereal they once loved.

Times got even tougher for Cap’n Horatio Magellan Crunch in recent years. The delightful cereal mascot came under fire in June 2013 when news agencies and social media sites like Gawker and The Consumerist reported on a scandal that shook the breakfast world: was Cap’n Crunch really a Captain? 

(Foodbeast Article Screengrab)

(Foodbeast Article Screengrab)

The initial series of reports specifically questioned the character’s rank. In the most recent portrayal of Cap’n Crunch on cereal boxes, he is sporting a blue uniform with three stripes on his sleeve. Under U.S. Navy uniform regulations, that would make him a Commander. Gawker went so far as to call him “potentially [. . .] a criminal and a traitor.” The story even made it to the pundits at CNN. Foodbeast blogger Charisma Madarang wrote a slanderous article about the cereal mascot that ran with the headline “Cap’n Crunch is a Liar and a Fraud.” This was not exactly the kind of reception one might expect from a man who promised that the cereal cargo aboard his ship SS Guppy would remain crunchy ’til the end, even if it were drowned in a sea of milk.

The uniform debate dates back well before the 2013 scandal. When the first Cap’n Crunch commercial aired in 1963, he is shown wearing three stripes on a blue naval uniform and Napoleonic-style bicorne hat. Yet the same cereal box that debuted with the original commercials show him with only one strip on his sleeves. There was never any cohesion between the two. In subsequent years, Cap’n Crunch has oscillated between primarily two and three stripes on his uniform. If you take U.S. Navy uniform code to heart, the cereal could easily be called “Ensign Crunch,” “Lieutenant Crunch,” or “Commander Crunch,” given what the artists were drawing on that given day:

Rank Comparison (Quaker Oats/Wikimedia Commons)

Rank Comparison (Quaker Oats/Wikimedia Commons)

Some articles went so far as to include responses from official U.S. Navy representatives on the claim of Cap’n Crunch’s stolen valor. Public Affairs Officer Commander Chris Servello, who headed up the Navy’s news desk at the Pentagon (Servello currently serves as a spokesman for Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson), weighed in on the matter for The Consumerist:

“We have no Cap’n Crunch in the personnel records [. . .] we have notified NCIS and we’re looking into whether or not he’s impersonating a naval officer.”

That is surely a very serious accusation. LCDR Sarah Flaherty echoed a similar sentiment to Foreign Policy:

“You are correct that Cap’n Crunch appears to be wearing the rank of a U.S. Nav commander [. . .] our records do not show a ‘Cap’n Crunch’ who currently serves or has served in the Navy.”

In a deep and dark of the Internet, there is actually a site dedicated to signing a petition for Quaker Oats to promote Cap’n Crunch to an Admiral. The website petition felt it necessary to promote a man whose sole mission to deter pirates and deliver crunch corn flavor to kids around the world was worthy of such an honor. According to the out-of-date Geocities site, over 1,500 individuals signed the petition. Despite the grassroots campaign, Horatio remains just a “Cap’n.” Apparently, Quaker Oats might do good to read about the troubles that the United States Navy had in the early to mid-19th century with promotions based on seniority as opposed to merit. Then again, we don’t need a Civil War over cereals to rectify that  – there is no need to get a combined Army-Navy operation with General Mills here. We already have a definitive answer from the company on what they feel is the reasoning behind Cap’n Crunch’s name and rank:

As many veterans and active duty sailors know, Horatio Crunch is absolutely correct. According to a Navy website on terminology for Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, “Any naval officer who commands a ship is addressed by naval custom as “captain” while aboard in command, regardless of their actual rank.”

There you have it. Is the story over? Not quite.

This debate opens up an entire world of childhood-ruining possibilities: Is Count Chocula really a Count? Is King Vitamin truly cereal nobility? Who REALLY is Cap’n Horatio Magellan Crunch? Is he a product of stolen valor? Is the issue not with the man, but the uniform? What is his true connection to the United States Navy? I was ending my search with more questions than I began with. I had to know more.

As it turns out, it’s never been about the cereal. It’s the man behind the sweet corn crunch and the symbol he represents as a pop culture icon that gives him such a unique place in naval history. 

A Character of Naval Intelligence and Crunch’s Guerre de Course

Daws Butler (Hannah-Barbera)

Daws Butler (Hannah-Barbera)

Cap’n Crunch’s ties with the Navy go back to the very beginning. As previously stated, Cap’n Crunch was originally portrayed by celebrated voice actor Daws Butler. Butler is best known for his work with Hanna-Barbera voicing characters like Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, and Huckleberry Hound. In 1963, he found another avenue for success portraying the intrepid Cap’n Crunch. Prior to his meteoric rise as a voice actor, Butler served in the United States Navy during World War II. Most print sources about his wartime career are unfortunately scarce. One source on the Internet, the military network Together We Served, offered up some interesting information about him. According to records posted on the website, Butler barely met the requirements to join the Navy, as he was initially screened as too short for active duty. An amusing anecdote from Butler’s childhood friend Bill Hamlin about his strange path to service is included in his biography in Tim Lawson and Alisa Parson’s book, The Magic Behind the Voices:

“One day I walked in and Daws was hanging in the doorway with bricks tied to his feed. I said, ‘What in the heck are you doing?’ he said, ‘Doc says I can stretch an eighth of an inch this way.’ And, you know, he did! He became a navy man.”

Butler joined the Naval Reserve in 1942. After training at RTC Great Lakes, he went on to the Naval Intelligence School and the Officer of Naval Intelligence (ONI) where he served from 1943 to 1945. He left the Navy in 1946 as a Petty Officer Second Class Communications Specialist (Q-ESR-Communications Specialist). Butler’s page noted that he earned an American Campaign Medal, Navy Good Conduct Medal, and World War II Victory Medal. After leaving the Navy in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he rose to stardom as a recognized voice actor for some of the most iconic figures in animated television, including the beloved Cap’n Crunch. Butler died in 1988 at the age of 71.

Lafitte and LaFoote (Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Wikimedia Commons)

Lafitte and LaFoote (Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the character drew inspiration from Butler’s naval service? The Cap’n always knew trouble was at hand when Jean LaFoote, who was undoubtedly inspired by the War of 1812-era Privateer/Pirate Jean Lafitte, was nearby. In over fifty years, the Guppy’s precious cargo of cereal has remained firmly in the hands of the Cap’n and his crew. It’s the kind of long-term anti-piracy operation any country would be proud of. Is the cereal war between Cap’n Crunch and LaFoote simply an illustrated example of guerre de course strategy? A Layman’s Guide to Naval Strategy (Princeton University Press, 1942) explains it very clearly:

“The guerre de course (war of the chase), as strategists all the technique of commerce raiding, is ordinarily the recourse of the belligerent who is inferior generally, or at least inferior in the particular area where he practices it [. . .] It represents an attempt to deny in part to the enemy what that enemy has already succeeded in denying completely to one-self.”

Cap’n Crunch’s naval intelligence network won’t make the CNO’s yearly Navigation Plan, but it is nonetheless impressive.

A Character of Cruise Books

Cap’n Crunch’s naval connection cropped up again several decades after the end of World War II. Cold War Navy veterans may remember the cereal icon appearing in their cruise books during the 1970s and 1980s.

Capn Cruise Books

Cruise Books of USS Lang, USS Merrimack, USS Mauna Kea, USS Morton, and USS Nicholson (Navy Department Library)

Here is a sample list of cruise books that included an image of Cap’n Crunch in its pages:

  • USS Morton (DD 948) – 1974
  • USS Rogers (DD 876) – 1974
  • USS Lang (FF 1060) – 1975
  • USS Mauna Kea (AE 22) – 1979
  • USS Nicholson (DD 982) – 1980-1981
  • USS Merrimack (AO 179) – 1983
  • USS Elmer Montgomery (FF 1082) – 1986-1987

Apparently, Horatio Crunch prefers to be seen in destroyers, frigates, oilers, and ammunition ships. Most of the cruise books listed above show him alongside other hand-drawn images from crew members, or as a standalone centerpiece on the page. The image of Cap’n Crunch is the same one drawn from the original artist conception in the early 1960s. The majority of these cruise books were printed by Walsworth Publishing Company in Norfolk, VA. I have yet to personally find a representative from the company to speak on behalf of the Cold War cruise books or the connection with his inclusion amongst the crew. Was he seen as a mascot? Was he a popular cereal amongst the crew?

Horatio Magellan Crunch: Admiral of the Navy?

Cap’n Crunch is still around today, regardless of the controversy. In fact, he openly embraces the criticism and moves forward in the sea of milk, full speed ahead. I couldn’t help but take it upon myself to figure out WHO (if anyone) Cap’n Crunch is supposed to represent. I combed through books on U.S. Navy uniform history without any true matches. The distinctive blue uniform of the cereal officer never completely matched anything wore by the United States Navy. If we just take his sleeves and appearance into consideration, however, there is one person who may fit the description: Admiral of the Navy George Dewey.

(Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Naval History and Heritage Command)

(Quaker Oats/PepsiCo/Naval History and Heritage Command)

Placed side by side, there are some parallels with his appearance and uniform. The white walrus mustache, button placement, and epaulettes share a striking similarity to uniforms worn by naval officers during the Spanish American War-era. Perhaps the white pants worn by Crunch are a throwback to the white ones worn by Dewey during the Battle of Manila Bay (The real Jean Lafitte was once a spy for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence). Is Sea Dog Charles Gridley?

Although they are not similar in size, an Admiral of the Navy’s uniform sleeve has three stripes and a single gold star: just like Cap’n Crunch’s. Could that be you, Admiral Dewey?

Am I “crossing the line” with this assumption? Yes. In all likelihood, it is a stretch. Yet it is always fun to use a figure of popular culture as a way to write about history. Forget the naysayers: Cap’n Crunch does have a place in naval history.

Cap’n Crunch sails under a flag of taste and crunch. He may not fly a United States ensign on the Guppy, but he is distinctly American. It is the man who represents the name, not the uniform. Whether he is a Commander, a Captain, or a facsimile of the highest ranking officer in U.S. Navy history, he will always be a leader amongst fans worldwide. O Cap’n, my Cap’n, I salute you with an open heart and an empty stomach.

You may crunchitize when ready, Gridley.

Print Sources:

Godin, Seth. Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. New York: Penguin Books (2004).

Lawson, Tim and Alisa Parsons. The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who’s Who of Cartoon Voice Actors. Jackson: The University Press of Mississippi (2004).

Mansour, David. From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing (2005).

Riggs, Thomas. The Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns, Volume 1. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group (2000).


“Cap’n Crunch.” Retroland.

“Daws Butler.” Together We Served.

Madarang, Charisma. “Today I Learned – Cap’n Crunch is a Liar and a Fraud.” FoodBeast (June 14, 2013).

Nissenbaum, Dion. “U.S. Navy: No Record of Cap’n Crunch Service.” Washington Wire (June 19, 2013).

“Promote Cap’n Crunch to Admiral.” Geocities Website.

Quirk, Mary Beth. “We Don’t Know How To Handle The Fact That Cap’n Crunch Has Been Living A Lie.” The Consumerist (June 17, 2013).

Quirk, Mary Beth. “U.S. Navy Weighs In On Cap’n Crunch Scandal: Oddly, He’s Not In Our Personnel Records.” The Consumerist (June 20, 2013).

Any use of Cap’n Crunch and Jean LaFoote are copyright Quaker Oats Company/PepsiCo.

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A Scaled Curse: Kennedy and the Curious History of the “Black Constitution” Model

Constitution model on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)

Constitution model on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”

                             – President John F. Kennedy, September 1962

The last thing you might think about after a beloved U.S. President is shot is where his ship models will go. If you were as avid a collector as John F. Kennedy was, however, it was very important. One such model currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy has an interesting and ominous tie to both Kennedy and White House history.

The Young Man and the Sea

John F. Kennedy had a lifelong relationship with the sea. As a young officer in the U.S. Navy, Kennedy one worldwide fame for his heroic actions as the skipper of PT-109 during World War II. That universal acclaim eventually began a political career that catapulted him from public office to the White House, where he adorned the Oval Office with a maritime/naval theme as a testament to his coastal ties. Among the more recognizable artifacts now currently in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum collection are several pieces of scrimshaw, a Fisherman’s prayer plaque, notable paintings of Navy battles, a ship’s clock/barometer,Commodore Barry’s flag, and of course, numerous ship models.

110529-O-ZZ999-007 FILE PHOTO (circa 1943) Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109. (Photo courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston/Released)

FILE PHOTO (circa 1943) Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109. (Photo courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston/Released)

Kennedy had a passion for ship models. He and his staff corresponded regularly with model ship designers about their work, often receiving the help of longtime friend Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings to seek out his favorite ships for his personal collection. The JFK Presidential Museum and Library has an entire folder of correspondence between Kennedy, Billings, and several model makers about prospective purchases. Among the collection today are the Danmark, Sea Witch, and Wasp. These ships are clearly seen in many photographs of Kennedy working in the Oval Office.

The ship he admired the most, however, was USS Constitution. His ties to the ship are as long and tied together as the ship’s rigging. As a young boy, Kennedy was taken to visit USS Constitution in Charlestown, Massachusetts by his grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald helped save the ship from demolition back in 1896 while serving as a Massachusetts Congressman. Kennedy’s office at the White House also included a set of bookends with replica models of 24-pounder cannons used aboard USS Constitution. The working replica bookends were made by Oscar Lee Richardson.

He even used the ship for political purposes early on in his Presidency. Under the guidance of Lem Billings, Kennedy famously presented a model of her to Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev during a luncheon at the Vienna Summit in June 1961. The model represented the relationship of the old style of warfare to the more current nuclear threat, hoping its symbol would assure no such exchange would occur.

He loved the ship so much that he had the White House Naval Aide, Captain Tazewell Shepard, Jr., write a letter to the Secretary of the Navy about the possibility of sailing Constitution from Boston to the 1964 World’s Fair in  New York City.

Captain Shepard ended the letter to SECNAV Fred Korth with a simple and to the point question:

“In essence, the President would like to know: ‘Is it feasible, and what would it cost.”’

Ultimately, the Navy decided that the ship at the time was not in good enough of condition to make the trip to New York. According to one naval advisor, “the President would certainly bear the responsibility and Massachusetts citizens would have another Tea Party” should she be damaged in transit.

Although he could not convince the Navy to sail Constitution to the World’s Fair, he did have a model of the ship in the Oval Office. Although it cannot be completely confirmed at this time, most sources say the model of Constitution was placed on the mantle in the Oval Office. In Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, author Sally Bedell Smith recalled how journalist and painter William Walton “found a model of the frigate Constitution and two paintings of the ship in battle” for display in the oval office. This could perhaps be the model in question. There are several photographs that corroborate this, courtesy of the JFK Museum and Library.

View from behind the President's desk in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Presidential Library and Museum/Image # JFKWHP-KN-C18712-A)

View from behind the President’s desk in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Presidential Library and Museum/Image # JFKWHP-KN-C18712-A)

If this is true, the model would be placed directly across the room from Kennedy’s Resolute desk near the doorway. It would a main focal point to the new redecoration scheme of the office in 1963. The carpet and decor remained largely the same since Truman’s Presidency in the 1940s, and the new face of the American people wanted to reflect a new direction. Kennedy himself had a flair for decoration and style, largely due in part to his trend-setting First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He ordered a major change in design and redirection during his time in office. The new redesign of the Oval Office was just being completed when the Kennedy’s arrived in Dallas in November 1863. By the time Mrs. Kennedy returned from the traumatic events, the entirety of the office was dismantled, including the Constitution model.

1963 Oval Office Renovation (Image: Kennedy Library/Viewed on

1963 Oval Office Renovation (Image: Kennedy Library/Viewed on

Interestingly enough, little evidence online suggests the model’s connection to the President. If you views the archives of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, you will find little mention of it. There are numerous items to view in their digital exhibit of Oval Office artifacts, but the model is not amongst those previously mentioned. Most descriptions of the  model is merely anecdotal. Photographs are too out of focus or small in resolution to fully confirm its place inside the office. Personal memoirs of those closest to the President also yield little confirmation. A fabulous photo spread done by Look Magazine photographer Alan Stanley Tretick (the same that published the famous image of John F. Kennedy, Jr. under the Resolute Desk) yields incomplete results. Despite this, it is a fact that the model was present in the White House at the time of the assassination in 1963.

The model changed hands over the years, eventually making it to the office of Reagan Press Secretary James Brady. Brady was critically wounded during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Brady died in 2014 in large part to the complications sustained from his wounds during the 1981 attempt.

A Cursed Ship?

Weekly World News, December 1, 1981 (Screencap via Google Books)

Weekly World News, December 1, 1981 (Screencap via Google Books)

Last year, U.S. News & World Report picked up on the curious connection between the Constitution model, Kennedy, and the White House, and wrote a story on their website. Dubbed the “Black Constitution,” reporter Nikki Schwab interviewed Captain Henry J. Hendrix, then Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, about the ship. Captain Hendrix told the story about the ship in the news article and commented how the White House returned the ship to the Navy and the possession of Curator of Ship Models, Naval Sea Systems Command after 1981. “I wouldn’t have it in my office, for instance,” said Hendrix in the interview. An article in the 1 December 1981 edition of the Weekly World News of all places ran a brief article with the title “Jinxed Ship Model Tossed Out.” In the article, one aide to Reagan is quoted with saying that “the ship wasn’t exactly in demand anymore.” Another individual commented that the model “was spooky [. . .] I don’t know why – but it is.”

The 1/8”:1’ scale ship now resides in front of the Constitution fighting top at the front of the National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington, D.C. A small description on the model case perfectly describes the model’s eery connection to an American tragedy:

“This exquisite model was on display in the Oval Office when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963. Eighteen years later it was in presidential press secretary, James Brady’s office when he was shot. After this second tragedy, the White House requested that the model be removed, and it was placed on display in The Navy Museum.”

The model, alongside countless others inside one of Washington, D.C.’s best kept secrets, is free to visit.

Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. The Kennedy White House: Family Life and Pictures, 1961-1963. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Graham, James W. Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat and the Sea. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2014.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Oval Office Exhibit Highlights Slideshow. (accessed November 1, 2015).
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Scrimshaw and Ship Models. (accessed November 1, 2015).
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. News Release: New Exhibit to Celebrate JFK’s Love of the Sea. (accessed November 1, 2015).
“Jinxed Ship Model Tossed Out.” The Weekly World News, December 1, 1981.
Learning, Barbara. Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
Schwab, Nikki. “Nobody Wants the ‘Black U.S.S. Constitution’ in Their Office.” U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2014. Accessed November 1, 2015.
Smith, Sally Bedell. Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.
White House Museum. Oval Office History. (accessed November 1, 2015)

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