BOOK REVIEW – They Were Heroes – A Sergeant Major’s Tribute to the Combat Marines of Iraq and Afghanistan

Devaney_They Were HeroesBy Sergeant Major David K. Devaney, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired). Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2015)

Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart

This book is not for the fainthearted to read. Within this book, we encounter fifty-one men, who with the exception of one individual, are all enlisted. The title of the book, however, is slightly deceiving. Included within the book are stories of U.S. Navy Corpsman who served side by side with the Marines. Twenty-six of these stories take place in Iraq and twenty-three in Afghanistan. Two stories concern two enlisted Marines who served a tour as Casualty Assistance Calls Officers and who were later killed in combat. The fifty-one men included in this book represent a cross section of the United States – three are immigrants and the others were born in states ranging from Rhode Island to Hawaii.

The author follows the same format in documenting what these fifty-one individuals did in order to protect their fellow Marines. The reader is first introduced to the individual, then his fellow Marines tell in their own words what happen, and then if a medal was issued to the individual being highlighted the individual’s medal citation is presented. A number of Marines and Corpsman we meet within the book are not the holders of one or more of the many different types of medals of bravery that the United States awards, but are instead posthumous recipients of the Purple Heart. As one reads each of the accounts, one is struck by the randomness by which heroic actions gain official recognition.

The author does an excellent job bringing the memories of those who survived the action to life. The intensity and confusion of each encounter recorded is vividly written so that the reader is drawn into the battle. What is of interest that the majority of the actions recorded in this book are incidents of random violence perpetuated by individuals who are often indistinguishable in dress from the surrounding general population. I highly recommend that everyone should take time to read Lieutenant General John Kelly’s tribute to Corporal Jonathan T. Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter.

This is an excellent book about men in combat. The book should stand the test of time and become one of the essential books concerning Marines in combat. I highly recommend purchasing and reading this book and then donating it to your local high school library. The only negative comment I can make about the book is a lack of pictures of the individuals highlighted.

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Charles H Bogart is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

 

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BOOK REVIEW – A Common Virtue: A Novel

A Common VirtueBy James A. Hawkins, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2014)

Reviewed by Colonel Curt Marsh, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)

A Common Virtue is the first novel by author James Hawkins, a former Marine who served during the Vietnam War. The story is about a Marine officer and a young enlisted Marine who lead in the establishment of the Marine Force Recon organization. The story flows fairly well and the combat scenes are vivid and well told.

The story starts with Captain Rivers, an experienced leader of Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) that were experiencing high casualty rates and not obtaining the intelligence that was desired. His plan is to reduce the LRRP size from 10 Marines to something less and to use more stealthy tactics. He recruits Lance Corporal Jackson, a talented but young combat veteran who he quickly promotes up to Sergeant. They embark on their first patrol together as a two man team which turns out to be productive but becomes rather hairy. They eventually end up with four man recon teams. The story then follows Jackson who is awarded a field promotion to Second Lieutenant and is sent back to Quantico to attend Officer Candidate School. He then returns right back to Vietnam to assist in setting up 3rd Force Recon.

I had a flashback to W.E.B. Griffin’s Brotherhood of War and The Corps series when Jackson meets up with another candidate, Bill Williams, who turns out to be very rich, as his family owns some fancy hotels including the Hotel Delmonico in New York City. (A similar plot device used by Griffin.) They become good friends and Williams seems cut out to be a good Marine officer, but this story line is not developed beyond their OCS experience. I presume this is a set up for a follow on book and possibly a series.

Hawkins used another plot devise that bothered me. He correctly references some of the real senior Marine officers in Vietnam at the time, but he also creates characters that are a little too close to real people. For instance, Jackson helps save a “Major Kruzak” during a large assault by the North Vietnamese Army on a fire base. Major Kruzak’s father happens to be a Marine Lieutenant General. Do not confuse him with the real future Marine Commandant Charles Krulak and his father Lieutenant General Victor Krulak. There are other instances of this conflation of real people and fiction.

I initially questioned the overly familiar banter and the constant use of some slang (such as “REMF”) between the officers that didn’t quite ring true to me as a post-Vietnam Marine officer. I passed to book over to a friend who served in Vietnam as a Marine infantry Captain in the same area and at the same time covered in this novel. Here are his comments:

“I found the novel, A Common Virtue, by James A Hawkins to be a riveting book that

held my attention from the first chapter through to the end. From my prospective as a Captain with the 26 Marine Regiment at Khe Sanh 1968, I found this Novel to be very accurate. The names have been changed, but I recognize many of the characters such as Colonel Lownse played by Colonel MacDonald. This book is accurate from beginning to the end. Captain Rivers and Sergeant Paul Jackson are very real Marines. The Mustang Marines like Sergeant Jackson were very highly respected Marines in Viet Nam. This book takes me back nearly 50 years to the days I spent at Khe Sanh with my good friend Lieutenant Jack Blize a Mustang Marine as tough and brave Marine as you will find and to Sergeant Nichols a fearless sniper in my unit. I could picture their faces as I read this wonderfully exciting novel.”

Col. Jim Leslie, USMC (Ret.)

I did have a few “inside baseball” criticisms, such as the employment of Close Air Support (CAS) and Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS). He also misidentifies the “Blacksheep Squadron” as VMFA-214 flying F-4 Phantoms rather than as VMA-214 which flew the A-4 Skyhawk. This may be a minor point, but it reveals some lack of research. Regardless, this is an excellent novel that covers an important period in the Vietnam War where the Marines were adjusting tactics to meet the challenges of a determined enemy. It clearly received the “stamp of approval” from one who was there and also provides the story of how the Marine Force Recon units were established. The primary characters are well developed and Hawkins seems to be setting the stage for a follow-on book or series. I do hope he avoids reusing other writer’s plot devices. However, with that minor criticism, I highly recommended this book for anyone interested in getting an intimate perspective of combat Marines in the Vietnam War.

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Colonel Marsh is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews

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BOOK REVIEW – Sheppard of the Argonne

Weatherly_Sheppard of the ArgonneBy William Weatherly [Capt. George Jackson, USN (Ret.)], iUniverse (2014)

Reviewed by Jason McHale

What if the Washington Naval Conference collapsed and its terms were never ratified? What if the post-World War naval buildup continued unabated until the Second World War?

Sheppard of the Argonne is set in an alternate history where those questions become an engrossing narrative.

In Sheppard of the Argonne, the assassination of the head of the Japanese delegation to the Washington Naval Conference, Baron Tomsaburo Kato, causes the collapse of the disarmament talks and the continuation of post-World War naval building programs by all nations. Along with this change to the timeline, certain technologies have been accelerated while others remain essentially true to reality. This creates a world where the big guns and heavy armor of the battleships and battlecruisers still rule the day and the aircraft carriers stand to support them on the high seas.

History and fiction are blended throughout the novel in creative ways. The major characters on all sides are works of fiction. This allows for creative freedom, and the reader is well rewarded for it. For example, the novel’s main character, Captain Sheppard McCloud, hero of Pearl Harbor, is a conflicted and damaged man. He fought his ship, the battlecruiser Shenandoah, courageously against the Japanese attack force but suffered mentally and physically in the process. His demons from that battle play a prominent role as we follow him into battle on the North Atlantic in command of the battlecruiser Argonne. Mounting the latest technology, including 18” guns and a Combat Information Center, Argonne is one of the most advanced ships in the US Navy’s arsenal. While McCloud doubts his own abilities, his commanders do not. They hope putting him back to sea after a prolonged recovery on shore will bring him back to fighting trim.

William Weatherly is the pen name of George Jackson, whose experience as a retired naval officer shines through as we watch McCloud handle the stresses of command while struggling with the responsibility he has to his crew, their families, his country, and himself. He is pushed to the breaking point by what others call his heroics and McCloud judges as his failures. During the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we discover a man who wants to do his best but sometimes fails to believe he possesses what is required to do so. This inner conflict drives a powerful narrative of what command at sea is like in wartime.

The narrative is written in an accessible and technical prose that will engage the naval enthusiast without putting off the average reader. George Jackson does not seek to tell the entire story of his different Second World War. He inserts just enough detail of outside events to make it clear that the war is quite different from what we know and spur the reader’s interest while not detracting from the central story of Captain McCloud and his date with a German fleet in the North Atlantic.

Sheppard of the Argonne is an exciting sea tale adventure that leaves the reader wanting to learn more about this different Second World War. It is a fine first entry into the literary world for a distinguished naval officer.

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Jason McHale is an adjunct history professor at Quincy College, Edmonds Community College and Southern New Hampshire University. He specializes in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War.

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BOOK REVIEW I, Horatio

Tortorice_I HoratioBy Donald A. Tortorice, Author House, Bloomington, IN (2014)

Reviewed by John R. Satterfield, DBA

I, Horatio is a fictional autobiography about Horatio Nelson, clearly a subject of note for those who care about naval history.

Nelson’s titles were read out loud to an assemblage of mourners at his funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This litany reflects his heroic status and naval achievements, as well as his legendary vanity and self-absorption:

“The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim.”

1st Viscount Nelson’s unquestionably epic status as a naval leader mixes with his equally epic character flaws, most notably in his abandonment of his wife Frances for the euphemistically described courtesan Emma Hamilton, herself the mistress and later wife of Sir William Hamilton, British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy and Britain’s government tolerated Nelson’s personal failings and scandals because his tactical skills, leadership abilities, imagination and initiative. His participation in naval battles like Cape St. Vincent (1797), the Nile (1798), Copenhagen (1801) and Trafalgar (1805) were instrumental in defeating Napoleon Bonaparte’s aspirations for European dominance. This complex, controversial and ambivalent character is the stuff of great biography. More than 100 works have appeared since the first official volume in 1809, with renewed interest and new books from the bicentennial of Trafalgar in 2005.

Author Donald Tortorice, a retired attorney, law professor, and former Vietnam War swift boat commander, has commendably attempted to take a new look at Nelson by producing a historical novel written in the first person.

Unfortunately, the attempt failed for this reviewer. Mr. Tortorice undoubtedly knows his subject, having studied and drawn inspiration from Nelson throughout his life. A successful faux autobiography cannot work, however, unless the reader suspends disbelief. The French call this dramatic attribute vraisemblance. When this narrative, attributable to Nelson, begins with his own assessment of his impact on British history after his death (something he could not possibly have known), vraisemblance vanishes and never returns. In fairness, speaking in first person is extraordinarily difficult, even more so when the writer must channel the mind of another dead for more than 200 years. Presentism and hindsight almost inevitably creep into the monologue throughout this volume. For example, Nelson’s voice often refers to Marines embarked on ships under his command using rifles when the Sea Service Brown Bess .75-caliber musket was the standard British naval firearm from the American Revolution until the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.

More importantly, the story involves little in the way of interior thinking that should be in the moment in all cases. It focuses instead on largely hindsight views of activities observed and documented by others, as well as in Nelson’s own correspondence, used liberally throughout the book as if it were contemporaneous conversation rather than historical record. One would expect, of course, for Nelson to think of himself in positive terms, but there is almost no expression of self-doubt, connivance or duplicity. These are modes of behavior that all of us practice and at least occasionally acknowledge in moments of honest reflection. Consequently, Nelson as the novel protagonist seems mechanically formal and distant from his surroundings, even when describing frequent sexual encounters with women throughout his life, a topic rarely addressed explicitly in biographical works.

Despite the author’s obvious devotion to Nelson, I would recommend this book only to readers whose aversion to substantive historical narratives would overcome their interest in learning about Nelson’s life. Good relatively recent biographies (averaging about 800 pages each) include Roger Knight’s The Pursuit of Victory (2006): the two-volume work by John Sugden Nelson: A Dream of Glory, 1758-1797 (2004) and Nelson: The Sword of Albion (2013): and Nelson (1996) by Carola Oman. Nelson’s correspondence is available in multiple volumes, and analyses of his career in command are also numerous. A particularly good one, used at the Naval War College when this writer completed the course, is Captain Geoffrey Bennett, RN (Ret.)’s Nelson the Commander (1972, repr. 2005).

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Dr. Satterfield teaches and writes about military and naval history. He is a member of the Nelson Society and the 1805 Club.

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BOOK REVIEW – Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, Vol. II

Dreadnought to Scapa FlowBy Arthur Marder, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2013)

Reviewed by Captain Winn Price, U.S. Naval Reserve (Ret.)

Of the first of five volumes that compose Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, this review addresses Volume II, subtitled “The War Years: To the Eve of Jutland 1914-1916.” These five books, which address World War I from the Royal Navy perspective, were first published in the 1960s.

In Volume I, we learned about the five reforms that Jackie Fisher, the First Lord of the Admiralty, brought to the navy leading up to the war. The Selborne Scheme focused on personnel and training – the broadening of the officers’ training and improving living conditions for the tars. HMS Dreadnought introduced a new standard for the ship-of-the-line, the battleship emphasizing a robust main battery. The final three reforms: Nucleus Crew Concept, Scrapping of Obsolete Men-of-War, and Redistribution of the Fleet were interrelated and reflected a major shift in strategy. The Royal Navy’s 19th century mission of extending and then preserving their empire was scrapped. Its focus became containing the German Navy and being ready to win the climatic, Mahanian-style fleet action. So how did the Royal Navy perform after these and other reforms?

Dr. Barry Gough offers his answer in the first paragraph of his introduction:

“From the vaunted expectations of how such a well-trained, well-commanded naval force with its powerful traditions and pride, dating from the age of Nelson and before, would acquit itself, only disappointment ensued.”

In Volume II, author Arthur Marder provides a host of examples to confirm disappointment as an appropriate description of the first two years of the Great War at sea. The first test was finding and sinking the German battle cruiser Goeben in the Mediterranean. Despite the Royal Navy domination of the Med, Goeben escaped to Istanbul and “joined” the Turkish Navy. (See Captain John Rodgaard’s recent review)

The following month, three obsolete light cruisers of the “live-bait squadron” (yes, as they were known in the Channel Fleet) were sunk by the U 9 within an hour. The Battle of Coronel re-confirmed that not all obsolete ships had been purged from the British fleet the following month, when a superior German force sank the cruisers Good Hope and Monmouth with all hands. Revenge came off the Falklands when the same German squadron (led by SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau) was soundly defeated by British battle cruisers.

The modest but successful German raid on the coastal towns of Scarborough, Whitby, and Hartlepool shook the English public. The Battle of Dogger Bank provided more examples of mistakes and communications failures.

Less glamorous (but even more deadly) was the German mining campaign. Germany laid 25,000 mines around the British Isles. Their victims included 214 minesweepers, five battleships, three cruisers, and nearly 600 auxiliaries and merchant ships.

But the most colossal failure, Churchill’s attempt to create a second front during the Dardanelles campaign, left a host of ships on the bottom of the straits and an army ashore in a stalemate. Heads rolled in the admiralty and a new team was put in place by the end of the first nine months of conflict. At this juncture in the book, the reader might be tempted to double check the winner of World War I in Wikipedia.

Marder knows the Great War at sea. Many of the naval leaders were still living when he started researching and writing this five volume set. His interviews and correspondence with the key players ensures first person accuracy and an airing of the squabbles as some enduring disagreements survived decades after the war.

Marder’s view of the importance of leadership is underscored in the first chapter that delves into the British and German personalities. During the late Victorian period a service reputation was built on shiphandling, ship smartness, and drill performance. When war came some admirals made the transition to fighting officers, many did not. This malaise was described by Marder, as rooted in a “peacetime routine of ‘Follow senior officers’ motions’ [sic] and when in doubt ‘Request instructions.’”

As a yardstick for measuring admirals and captains, Marder introduces Adm. Sir William James’ three aces:

“The three aces…are the attributes of Nelson, ‘the perfect Admiral: 1. A gift for leadership, for drawing loyal, wholehearted service from officers and men. This was the most important ace. It transcended everything else. The finest leadership include the other aces. 2. Fertile imagination and a creative brain, as in the ability to plan battles.3. Eagerness to make full use of the brains and ideas of juniors and to take them into one’s confidence. The third attribute was particularly rare in the Navy of 1914-1918…There was a fourth Nelsonian attribute that was particularly important in war: offensive spirit.” (fn. 2 pg. 8)

Another element of naval leadership described by Marder is civilian oversight. Churchill, who initially did so much to prepare the RN for the pending war, eventually interfered and overstepped, which resulted in his dismissal for the Dardanelles fiasco. Former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour (1902-1905) was selected to replace Churchill and bring “patience, cheerfulness, and imperturbable calm…” Marder catalogues a list of super-human qualities, but then balances these virtues with “Serenity and union were restored to the Admiralty – but at a high price. Balfour was, let us face it, a lethargic man. His energy was desultory; he lacked sustaining power.” Lloyd George (P.M. 1916-1922) described Balfour as a ‘dawdler.’

Volume II becomes comparatively uneventful after the Dardanelles. “Watchful waiting” became the byword of the day. Germany’s High Seas Fleet cautious, waiting for the right moment to challenge the British Grand Fleet on the North Sea. The British warships lurked in Scapa Flow and the Firth of Forth waiting for the opportunity to pounce. In the last chapter Marder surveys the two fleets and their leadership on the eve of the only Mahanian fleet action of the war.

Eight excellent maps accompany this volume. As 2015 is the centennial of the first full year of the Great War, readers will find one anniversary date after another, as 1915 progresses. Although 447 pages take some dedication to complete, Marder’s prose about English seapower reward the reader’s engagement.

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Winn Price has completed the first in a series of maritime novels. The writing of the second novel has just begun and is primarily set in the South Pacific, The Kingdom of Hawaii, and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

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Former CNO, NHF Chairman Attends Centennial Anniversary

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)

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)


Former Chief of Naval Operations and distinguished NHF Chairman Admiral James L. Holloway, III, USN (Ret.) was on hand at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard on 11 May to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the office of Chief of Naval Operations. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and current Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, USN joined Holloway in celebrating this date, which marks the appointment of the first CNO in 1915, Admiral William S. Benson.

Admiral Holloway is the oldest living CNO today. Admiral Greenert took time out of his address to personally thank Admiral Holloway for his dedication as CNO and his mentorship to him. Following his brief address, Holloway and Greenert posed for pictures as they cut a cake commemorating the event.

In honor of the event, our partners at the Naval History and Heritage Command released a commemorative program book about the establishment of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. CNO Greenert presented special guests with the NHHC publication. The book, available online, tells the story of the establishment of the office and includes brief biographies on each of the forty CNOs from 1915 to present day.

Holloway served as the 20th Chief of Naval Operations from 1974 to 1978. Following his retirement from active duty in 1978, he served as a consultant and board member to many military and maritime organizations, including the Naval Historical Foundation.

Holloway served as the President of the Naval Historical Foundation from 1990 to 1998, the longest in the history of the organization. He moved on to become the Chairman of NHF from 1998 to 2008. He was named Chairman Emeritus after the position was taken over by Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.) that year.

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NHF Flix Vol. 1, Issue 1: The Sand Pebbles

The first of our new publication series NHF Flix is now available! Remember, you can continue to vote for your favorite Navy films on the NHF Flix page on our website HERE. We will be releasing these publications b-monthly.

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Swift Boat Sailors Association Visits Washington Navy Yard

A Swift boat veteran listens to Dr. Edward Marolda talk during their visit to the Washington Navy Yard and PCF-1 (NHF Photo)

A Swift boat veteran listens to Dr. Edward Marolda talk during their visit to the Washington Navy Yard and PCF-1 (NHF Photo)


By Matthew T. Eng

Nearly two hundred Swift boat veterans traveled into Washington, D.C. this past Saturday to view the Swift boat on display outside on the Washington Navy Yard waterfront and tour the exhibits at the National Museum of the United States Navy. Their excursion to the Washington Navy Yard was part of the organization’s 2015 Reunion, which began on Thursday, 7 May in Tysons Corner, VA. The Swift boat on display at the Washington Navy Yard, PCF 1, is one of two patrol craft preserved as static displays in the country. The other Swift boat display is located on the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, California. Staff members of the Naval Historical Foundation were on hand to greet the assemblage of veterans and cover the event. Also in attendance were staff members from the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, who took several oral histories from willing veterans throughout the morning of the 9th.

Swift boats were first used to patrol the South Vietnamese coastline during Operation Market Time in 1965. Historians have called Swift boat sailors the “workhorses” of Task Force 115, the Coastal Surveillance Force largely responsible for the Market Time operation. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary since the beginning of that operation. Swift boats were also heavily involved in the SEALORDS campaign in 1968, which was Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s successful interdiction strategy up the Mekong Delta. According to the Swift Boat Memorial website, between 3,000 and 3,500 Swift boat sailors served along the rivers and waterways of Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Of those men, fifty died from wounds suffered in combat. Their names are now inscribed on a plaque placed near PCF 1 this week to commemorate their sacrifice during the war.

DSC_8358Six buses filled with veterans and the loved ones arrived late in the morning on the 9th. It was heartening to see so many family members present with their relatives, with some families representing three generations. After a quick respite to stretch their legs, the assembled mass of people walked through the fence line gate of the Navy Yard to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail where PCF 1 has been on display since 1998. Former Senior Historian of the Naval Historical Center, Dr. Edward Marolda gave a brief introduction on the role played by Swift boat sailors during the Vietnam War, especially during the 1965 Market Time and 1968 SEALORDS operations. Marolda, himself an Army veteran of that war, has been studying that conflict for the majority of his professional career. As a member of the Naval History and Heritage Command’s (then called the Naval Historical Center) staff, Marolda actually rode on PCF 1 when she rode up the Anacostia to be transferred to the Naval Historical Center in 1995. “I have some small idea of what you all went through” Marolda mused to the veterans during his brief. He is the co-author of the Naval History and Heritage Command’s latest publication on the Vietnam War, Combat at Close Quarters: Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam. The book is not yet available online, but once the electronic version is complete, it will be posted on their website. Marolda had a chance to provide an advance copy of the book, which included photographs and information about Swift boats operations, to Association Chairman Dave Wallace.

With that, the throng of veterans had a few moments to look around and admire the craft and tour the nearby Navy Museum before getting back on their buses. Many paused to read the information contained on the three reader rails installed this past week by NHF through the determined efforts of staff member Captain John Paulson, USN (Ret.). Some of the veterans spent their time mingling with one another, swapping stories about close calls in combat or the rigorous training they endured back in Coronado. Coastal interdiction was often a dangerous guessing game for the crewmembers serving aboard Swift boats. Several stories of courageous actions under fire were shared between NHF staff members and veterans. “It’s both comforting and haunting to see this vessel here like this,” one veteran said to NHF Digital Content Developer Matthew Eng. “I have a hard time looking at her without bringing myself back to the heavy fighting I witnessed in 1969.”

Following their brief visit to the Navy Yard, the Swift boat sailors and their families traveled to the U.S. Navy Memorial to lay a wreath in honor of those lost during the war.

An Active Organization

Swift boat veterans and their families admire PCF 1. (NHF Photo)

Swift boat veterans and their families admire PCF 1. (NHF Photo)


The Swift Boat Sailors Association is one of the most active and engaging veteran organizations in the country. For a group of men that comprised a small but heroic part of the Navy’s fighting force during the Vietnam War, they are utilizing the Internet and social media to spread their voice and connect with past shipmates in a way many similar organizations could only dream of. One of their allies in cultivating their story online is Suzanne Edwards, the website author of the Swift Boat Sailors Memorial. We had a chance to chat with her about her ongoing project and cooperation with the Swift Boat Sailors Association. “I wanted to work with the veterans association and create something that is both informative and interesting to the sailors who lived through it and those who can use that information in the future,” Edwards said during their brief conversation. She plans to use technology to develop and curate photos, video clips, and selected stories for the site while actively seeking user participation in the future growth of the site. Please visit The Swift Boat Sailors Memorial page if you would like to donate your personal stories or photographs from the war.

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A Story of Two Commanders: Ballard Debuts WWII Documentary in D.C.

Wreck of U-166 (OET/Nautiluslive.org)

Wreck of U-166 (OET/Nautiluslive.org)


In 1942, Nazi Germany attacked the United States.

There was no grand event to set off the conflict like Pearl Harbor. There was only blood, oil, and sunken metal. The fate of the world did not rest in the hands of intrepid commanders with stars on their uniform. For a time, that responsibility was given to a select few brave individuals commanding warships to seek and destroy the Nazi threat.

Operation Drumbeat, 1942 (U.S. Navy Photo 80-G-43376)

Operation Drumbeat, 1942 (U.S. Navy Photo 80-G-43376)

America was no longer isolated. Following the attack at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the possibility of avoiding conflict against the Axis Powers grew thin. Now with their adversaries clearly defined by their own Congressional and Presidential decree, Nazi Germany saw the opportunity to strike – fast and hard. Like bloodthirsty wolves, a pack of U-boats brought the war to American waters. For citizens of the United States, especially those in cities along its coastline, it was a time of fear. For the German Navy, it was their “happy time.” This period during the second Battle of the Atlantic is more commonly known as Operation Drumbeat. Others call it like it was: the American Shooting Season.

Between January and August 1942, Nazi submarines caught the United States off guard in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, sinking hundreds of ships carrying vital materiel to the Allied war effort. For their efforts, Nazi Germany only lost twenty-two U-boats. Of these, the vast majority was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean. Only one met its end in the Gulf of Mexico, the Type IXC submarine U-166.

The ship entered the Gulf of Mexico in July 1942 to lay mines along the Mississippi Delta, sinking several vessels along the way from its transit from Trinidad. The final ship sunk by U-166 was the SS Robert E. Lee, a steam passenger ship. Unfortunately, for the U-boat, the vessel was not alone. Nearby on escort was the U.S. Navy patrol craft PC-566, commanded by then Lieutenant Hebert G. Claudius. He and the crew of PC-566 dropped a series of depth charges that they felt were sufficient enough to kill the German vessel. To him, a small field of floating debris and oil slick was enough evidence to confirm their victory. The U.S. Navy did not see it that way, and credited the actual kill of U-166 to a Coast Guard patrol craft two days later. The Navy subsequently gave Claudius an “F” rating for his action and relieved him of command.

He retired as a Navy Commander and died in 1981 without ever knowing the truth about his war action.

U-166 now lies 1,450 meters below the Gulf, discovered by archaeologists of C&C Technologies in 2001 in the same spot claimed by Claudius. Was it enough to clear his name and give him and his crew the credit they deserved? The evidence was clearly there in the Gulf of Mexico. All that was needed were the right group of individuals to help uncover the truth.

trailer_nat_geo_nova_5
These exploits in the Gulf of Mexico were the focus of Tuesday evening’s event at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Naval Heritage Center. Guests at the event were given a special sneak peak screening of NOVA/National Geographic’s newest documentary, “Nazi Attack on America,” which featured Ocean Exploration Trust president and founder Dr. Bob Ballard, himself a former Commander in the Navy Reserve. The documentary debuted last night. Along with the screening of the documentary, Dr. Ballard and several of his staff gave a broad explanation of their current 2015 season of exploration aboard E/V Nautilus and its ongoing projects with STEM education and telepresence technology.

U-166 (OET/Nautiluslive.org)

U-166 (OET/Nautiluslive.org)

Two Commanders separated in time and place but aligned in their pursuit to discover the truth. It was a night to celebrate the achievements of individuals working together as a cohesive unit, separated by more than seventy years, Dr. Bob Ballard and his team of brilliant scientists at the Ocean Exploration Trust helped undo an error made by the United States Navy in 1942.

Hebert G. Claudius used every man aboard PC-566 to sink the German U-Boat. The weaponry he used were depth charges, a crude yet effective piece of anti-submarine warfare. Dr. Ballard did not use weapons of war to uncover the truth behind the sinking of U-166. His crewmembers, which he calls the “Corps of Exploration,” are an elite group of scientists, engineers, communicators, educators, and students. “I’m going to use my technology to take on a detective story,” Ballard said in the documentary. For Ballard, who admitted once that he wanted to be Captain Nemo as a boy, he is truly living out his wildest dreams.

With Ballard in command of the expedition, the documentary goes into the process by which E/V Nautilus found several of the U-boat’s victims, only to discover the wreck of their aggressor only miles away from the wreckage of its last “kill,” the SS Robert E. Lee.

 Dr. Bob Ballard (President, OET), Kirk Wolfinger (Executive Producer), Clara Smart (OET Mapping Specialist), Paula Apsell (Sr. Executive Producer, NOVA), and Allison Fundis (OET VP of Education & Outreach)

Dr. Bob Ballard (President, OET), Kirk Wolfinger (Executive Producer), Clara Smart (OET Mapping Specialist), Paula Apsell (Sr. Executive Producer, NOVA), and Allison Fundis (OET VP of Education & Outreach)


Would Ballard and Nautilus help Commander Claudius clear his name? Admittedly, the production team (and E/V Nautilus) was unaware of what they would find once they got out there. “We were just hoping that something would come of the expedition,” said NOVA Sr. Executive Produce Paula Apsell in a Q&A session after the film screening. “We were fortunate with what Bob and his team found.”

Clara Smart, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rhode Island who was in attendance at the 5 May event, mapped the entire wreckage of U-166 with high-resolution images taken by their Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) Hercules. Once they reached the wreck site, Ballard’s team noticed something odd about how she sat on the sea floor. The bow was completely blown apart from the ship 140 meters away. The exploration members were sure this could not have occurred from damage caused by a depth charge, whose offensive purpose is to fracture the hulls of submarines.

With the expert use of the composite images collected from their ROVs and the help from a military historian, Ballard and OET were able to deduce that Claudius and PC-566 did in fact sink U-166 using depth charges. Given the explosion blast and the nature of conventional depth charges, it was discovered that a well-placed barrel fell onto the deck of the ship, which proceeded to drag it down to the necessary depth before exploding just below the explosive torpedoes.

Hebert G. Claudius, Jr. and Admiral Jonathan Greenert, USN (Stripes.com)

Hebert G. Claudius, Jr. and Admiral Jonathan Greenert, USN (Stripes.com)


A ceremony was held at the Pentagon on 18 December 2014 with Hebert G. Claudius, Jr., the son of Commander Claudius and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, USN and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. The low-key event recognized the success and official credit of the kill to Claudius and PC-566. For his efforts, his son accepted the Legion of Merit with a Combat “V” for Valor. Dr. Ballard was in attendance at the ceremony. He jokingly mused in the Q&A session afterwards that he was once “the superior officer to Admiral Greenert aboard NR-1 […] although I think he ended up doing a little bit better.”

For a man who has discovered everything from the Titanic to the origins of life in deep-sea vents, he is incredibly humble about his role in shaping the way we see naval history today. Science and technology contributions to the field of naval history are endless, like the ocean they explore. Dr. Ballard is living proof of this. If the earth is 70% water, the Navy has responsibility to protect it, and Ballard and the Nautilus to preserve and study it.

For more information about the NOVA documentary, please go here. Dr. Ballard’s team aboard E/V Nautilus is available to view 24/7 at www.nautiluslive.org. Please stay tuned for some exciting collaborations the Naval Historical Foundation is currently undergoing with the Ocean Exploration Trust.

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Hidden Treasures in PLANE Sight: NHHC Photo Archivists Tour the Udvar-Hazy Center

NHHC Photo Archivists Jonathan Roscoe, David Colamaria, and Lisa Crunk get the celeb treatment at the Udvar-Hazy Center Photo by Matthew Eng/NHf/Released)

NHHC Photo Archivists Jonathan Roscoe, David Colamaria, and Lisa Crunk get the celeb treatment at the Udvar-Hazy Center Photo by Matthew Eng/NHf/Released)


By Matthew Eng

I had the chance yesterday to accompany the three photo archivists of the Naval History and Heritage Command on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Museum technician Pat Robinson gave us a fantastic tour of the various departments and divisions located inside the Udvar-Hazy Center. We also had the pleasure of being accompanied by Roger Conner, the Air and Space Museum’s curator of vertical flight, unmanned aircraft systems, instruments & avionics.

The highlight of our visit was the special ground floor tour of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar. The birds-eye view from the glass above where visitors view the facility does not do it justice. The smell of engine oil around the room is intoxicating. It is a feeling of progress and a heavy respect for innovation. There is a real energy to the place that one cannot describe without being there. There are no engines humming, but you can feel the weight of history behind each artifact. It is truly a special experience being up close and personal to some of history’s greatest aircraft.

Some may view the museum’s restoration hangar as an aviation graveyard, but I see it differently. It is a place where the airplanes of yesteryear are put back together. It reminds me of the work being done at the Monitor Center and Conservation Lab in Newport News. Although the machines driving Monitor pale in comparison to the Glenn L. Martin twin-engines being restored inside the hangar in Chantilly, the similarities and respect for history are identical. To me, it is resurrection. The work done inside hangar is methodical and highly detailed. For a historian and lover of military history, the ability to see tangible history that most only read about in black and white is vital. It is why these museums must exist. To me, the facility is the aircraft equivalent of Graceland, and we got a behind the scenes tour of its Jungle Room.

"Flak-Bait" fuselage inside the Restoration Hangar Phoo

“Flak-Bait” fuselage inside the Restoration Hangar


One of the most recent projects inside the hangar is the full restoration of one of the Army Air Force’s most famous plane of World War II, the B26 Marauder “Flak-Bait.” “Flak-Bait” flew an impressive 202 missions in the European theater, and is so named for its many brushes with death. “Despite that,” Robinson said, “the aircraft never lost a single crew member.” The evidence was seen everywhere – bullet holes and flak marks pepper the entire aircraft.

We could not leave the room without seeing the other primary aircraft restoration project inside the Restoration Hanger, the Sikorsky JRS-1 amphibious aircraft. Originally designed by Igor Sikorsky for commercial use by Pan American World Airways (S-43), the United States Navy purchased 17 of the aircraft between 1937 and 1939 to be used for photo reconnaissance and observation.

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The JRS-1 now located inside the restoration hanger is the only aircraft in the Smithsonian’s collection that was actually stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Pat took the time to flip through photographs to show where exactly the aircraft was during the attack. According to the Smithsonian website, ten JRS-1s were at the base at the time of the attack, all of which survived.  They were immediately put into service after the attack, flying missions to search for the Japanese fleet. The planes were equipped with depth charges on their wings to deploy against enemy submarines.

Robinson and the rest of the crew at Udvar-Hazy are working to restore the aircraft to its original paint scheme. The silver-blue hue of the original paint scheme is clearly seen along the seaplane’s fuselage. The vertical green of the tail and cheery red along the engine cowlings are still visible. Robinson noted that this particular JRS-1 (designed 1-J-1) belonged to the unit commander. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is currently looking for any photographs of the Navy’s JRS-1 aircraft. Contemporary photos of the airplane, especially in color, will help specialists working in the hangar restore the plane to what it looked like just before World War II began.

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Ditty Bag: Convict Ship Success

Ditty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation
An Artifact and Collections Blog Series

Ditty Bag: Convict Ship Success


In 2000, NHF received a very interesting package. The small box contained three postcards, three short letters, and a model of a ship carved out of a small piece of wood. Ms. Mary Ballard had left NHF these contents without much explanation.

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Two post cards display photographs of sailors and a ship. The third depicts a drawing of the Australian convict ship Success.

convict ship
A letter penned by Ms. Ballard was sent to Jane’s Fighting Ships, a small group of British open-source intelligence publisher Jane’s Information Group. In her letter, Ms. Ballard describes the small carving as a piece of the ship’s rail which her brother had carved into a likeness of Success. The postcards were sent to her father, John .B. Kennedy, c.1914.

letter
The small model is a bit of a mystery, and exhibits the enigmatic qualities of the ship it resembles. Many legends and myths arose around Success.

boat model
Despite what the postcard reads, Success was built in 1840, right at the end of the convict system. She was a merchant ship used primarily in the East Indies and never carried convicts. Success did not make it to Australia until c.1847.

In 1890 Success was sold to a group that retrofitted the vessel to appear as a convict ship, complete with balls and chains places strategically in what appears to be prisoner cells. Success toured around Australia, Europe, and the United States, even making an appearance at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. There was a lot of literature perpetuating the myths of Success: her legendary convicts, notable cruelty of crew and prisoners alike. During World War II, Success was laid up in Lake Erie where she caught fire and sank.

concvict ship postcard
The postcard above reads:

Mr. J.B. Kennedy
2505 E. Grace St.
Richmond, V.A.

Convict Ship “Success”
Portsmouth VA
22 Jan. 1914

Dear John,

We anchored off Newport News Wednesday morning last week and remained there until Tuesday last, when we came on here, as we could not find a suitable dock at Newport News. we expect to be here quite a while. Give my kind regards to all the boys.

Best wishes,

Yours as ever

Robt. W. Oldsman.

Bibliography 

Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Brown, Ferguson & Son, Glasgow, 1959.

The History of the Convict Ship Success, and Dramatic Story of Some of the Success Prisoners. A Vivid Fragment of Penal History. c1912. 150 pp.

The history of the British convict ship “Success” and its most notorious prisoners: compiled from governmental records and documents preserved in the British Museum and state departments in London. The darkest chapter of England’s history. 1912. Published on board the convict ship “Success”: [publisher not identified].

Radford, Neil. “The Convict Ship ‘Success’: A Very Successful Hoax.” The Book Collectors Society of Australia. August 25, 2012. Accessed April 20, 2015.

“Shipwrecks and Maritime Tales of the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail.” Shipwrecks and Maritime Tales of the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail. Accessed April 20, 2015.

“The SUCCESS – Convict Ship.” Research- Naval Marine Archive. March 1, 2012. Accessed April 20, 2015.

Wardle, Arthur C., Official History of the “Convict” ShipSea Breezes magazine, Vol. 3 (New Series, 1947), p 73–74.

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05d807eDitty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation is a new artifact blog written by Emily Pearce, NHF Middendorf Curator. She will periodically write posts about various artifacts and accessioned items in the Naval Historical Foundation collection and their impact on naval history. You can view all of the collections highlighted in Ditty Bag on our Flickr page HERE. To contact Emily or to inquire about NHF collections, please email Emily Pearce at epearce@navyhistory.org.

For previous releases of Ditty Bag, Please go HERE.

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UPDATE: Victor Delano Funeral Arrangements

ob-main-delano18011411072990Last year, we posted a story on the passing of long-time friend of NHF and Pearl Harbor survivor Captain Victor Delano, USN (Ret.). We have received updates on Captain Delano’s funeral arrangement at the end of this week. The following information comes from Kate Delano Jahnig and the Delano family.

To read Captain Delano’s story on the NHF blog, go HERE.

The funeral will be held on Friday, May 1, 2015 at Ft. Myer and Arlington National Cemetery.

The service will begin at the Old Post Chapel in Ft. Myer promptly at 9:00 a.m. Everyone is asked to be there by no later than 8:30 a.m.  You will be required to use the Hatfield Gate entrance to Ft. Myer on Washington Boulevard at South 2nd Street, Arlington.  The address is Hatfield Gate, 2nd Street South, Fort Myer, VA 22211.  Following the service, we will proceed to the gravesite for the burial service with full military honors.

We are planning a gathering at the Chevy Chase Club after the service.

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NMHS Awards Dinner Recap: I Took My Wife on a Date

Several distinguished guests post for a picture during the NMHS Awards Dinner on 23 April.

Several distinguished guests post for a picture during the NMHS Awards Dinner on 23 April.


By Matthew T. Eng

I took my wife on a date. Well, it wasn’t quite a date, but I told her it was. I was working at an event in D.C., but dinner and drinks were involved. There were tiny hors d’oeuvres of bacon scallops and mushroom pastries filtering around. The dress code involved a cocktail dress for her and a business suit for me. It sounded like a date on paper – a fancy one at that. This wasn’t just a typical date for me, which would normally be a trip to Costco to eat food samples and a hot dog. Either way, she believed me.

I should take her out more…

Last night, my wife Angela and I attended the National Maritime Historical Society Washington Awards Dinner at the National Press Club. The Naval Historical Foundation helped coordinate and sponsor the event.

Angela has been to history-related like these before. She found most of them worthwhile and important, but rather lackluster in the end. I cannot blame her. The company is always good, but she is not a naval enthusiast. She is, however, a GREAT sport. She tolerates my obsession with naval history from time to time, to which I am always thankful. I am the guy at get-togethers that argues over the validity of using the word “blockade runner” in the Star Wars franchise because they do not resemble Civil War blockade-runners or even remotely touch on guerre de course strategy of U-Boats in the First World War. I assured her that yesterday’s line up of speakers, awardees, and guests would be different. I had an ace-in-the-hole. All I told her was that she’d “go fan-girl when she got there.” That was enough for her to get her dress on and go.

Angela is a keen observer of what she calls “fandom.” She herself is a lifelong lover of Japanese anime and Japanese culture. In order to gain her affection years ago, I attended an anime convention (or con) with her in Hampton, VA. The similarities between a historical society dinner and anime con are infinitesimal. It was something that meant a lot to her, and I wanted to support her. The same goes for last night.

To be honest, the world of anime is a world I do not understand. I can recall talking with several big names in the field of anime with her during that first con. “Can you believe we talked to somebody who worked on Ghost in the Shell,” she said to me. I shook my head in blind agreement, not knowing completely what it meant but knowing full well that it was special.

VADM Robin Braun, Chief of Navy Reserve and Commander, Navy Reserve Force.

VADM Robin Braun, Chief of Navy Reserve and Commander, Navy Reserve Force.

Greenert. Braun. Warner. Winkler. Dudley. These are individuals who keep history relevant and inspire others to do the same. These are my rock stars. They are my heroes. Maritime and naval history is my fandom. I am their fan. And they were all in Washington, D.C. last night.

The evening began as many other awards do, with conversation flowing freely all along the top floor of the National Press Club. When the dinner and awards presentation began, my wife and I shuffled into the large ballroom and sat down next to several distinguished guests I immediately recognized. She saw the glow in my eyes and knew that THIS meant the world to me.

The evening’s festivities centered on the presentation of three awards for distinguished guests in the field of maritime history. Unfortunately, the first recipient of the NMHS Distinguished Service Award, Senator Barbara Mikulski, could not be there. Thankfully, Senator John Warner accepted the award on her behalf. He entertained the crowd during her “acceptance” speech and included an anecdote about Mikulski’s contributions to maritime history and for women in the Senate. Above all else, Warner wanted to highlight the role that the Senator played in making that position one where women could make significant and lasting programs and partnerships for everyone, not just in the state of Maryland. Mikulski is more than just a champion for the Port of Baltimore and the maritime industry; she is a trailblazer for women everywhere.

NHF Chairman Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.) and Ambassador Middendorf present Greenert with an original 1975 Navy Jack.

NHF Chairman Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.) and Ambassador Middendorf present Greenert with an original 1975 Navy Jack.


For the Naval Historical Foundation, the big event of the evening was the presentation of our inaugural Distinguished Service Award to the 30th Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert. This award is presented to individuals “who make extraordinary contributions for the advocacy of naval history.” Before Admiral Greenert went up to accept the award, we showed a short video highlighting CNO’s legacy and commitment to our Navy and the proud history is continues to make today:

“We need to bring history back into the mainstream,” he said. “We need to get back to our roots, to what makes us who we are. We are Sailors, we go to sea.” NHF Chairman Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.) presented the award to Admiral Greenert. As always, Admiral Greenert was humble about his role in keeping the importance of naval history alive. I can only stand back and appreciate everything he has done for the field, from his support of the bicentennial of the War of 1812 to the current centennial of the Naval Reserve and Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. He is a CNO at a tie when history is celebrated, and we are all thankful that he has embraced it like an old friend. CNO also received an original “Don’t Tread on Me” Flag, the official U.S. Navy Jack, by Ambassador J. William Middendorf II. Middendorf conceptualized the flag in 1975, the same year Admiral Greenert graduated from the United States Navy Academy to begin his long and illustrious career in the Navy. For a man who appreciates history, the symbolism was perfect.

The evening’s ace-in-the-whole for me, however, was the recipient of the other NMHS Distinguished Service Award to media entrepreneur and philanthropist Harold F. “Gerry” Lenfest. Among the many contributions he has made throughout his life to the preservation of maritime and naval history, his most recent piqued the attention of my wife the most. Mr. Lenfest recently made a contribution of nearly six million dollars to the SS United States Conservancy, the group responsible for preserving the former luxury liner. “The SS United States is worth keeping and worth saving,” Lenfest once said.

Picture taken of SS United States in my wife's collection from the 1980s, Norfolk, VA.

Picture taken of SS United States in my wife’s collection from the 1980s, Norfolk, VA.

As much as my wife loves anime, sewing, or making crafts, she treasures the SS United States above all others. I once asked her why she loved it so much. It’s a story I never tire of:

“Years ago the ship used to be docked over near the Norfolk Naval Base. It sat there for many years. My dad owned a small boat at the time, and back then you could get really close to the ships. I remember waving to the men on the ships we passed from time to time, and they always waved back.

Anyway, the United States was special. My mom and dad told me it used to be a passenger liner and it was just sitting in Norfolk until someone decided to do something with it. Me, I had just recently developed a healthy fascination with the Titanic and it intrigued me SO MUCH that an abandoned passenger liner would still be afloat. I used to ask my dad to coast our boat up next to it all the time, probably every single time we passed it. I remember staring up at the lifeboats and seeing plants growing out of them. I always wished our boat was big enough so I could see inside one of the portholes. I wanted to walk on that deck. Just one time. I think, as a kid, I always imagined something preserved and perfect inside, but of course that’s nowhere near the truth.”

With the help of Lenfest and the Conservancy, that dream might become a reality. We have planned a trip to see it in Philadelphia for many years now, but have not due to scheduling conflicts and our recent move into the area. Now, here was the main essentially responsible for keeping the ship afloat in the flesh. This was no longer fandom for her. It was a deep sense of purpose and an emotional connection to her past.

When the evening ended around 9:30, we began to file out. Looking around, I could not find Mr. Lenfest. Looking a bit disappointed, my wife sat patiently as I wrapped up things with the other NHF staff members. While I went to the bathroom, my wife had a chance to talk to Captain Todd Creekman, USN (Ret.), NHF Executive Director. She explained her disappointment of not being able to meet Mr. Lenfest and tell him her story. “I’d be happy to introduce you to him,” he said. I did not see the look on her face, but it was apparently priceless.

Angela and Gerry Lenfest.

Angela and Gerry Lenfest.


By the time I got back from the bathroom, I had just enough time to snap a cell phone picture of Angela embracing Mr. Lenfest. It was a touching moment for me. It was nothing compared to what she felt at that moment. She had embraced the fandom. She had a chance to tell him how much the ship meant to her.

As she attempted to compose herself before she left, she continuously apologized to me for “making a scene.”

“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” she said over and over to me. The tears were still coming out.

“Why would you think that,” I said. “I am just grateful that you had a chance to tell him about the importance the ship has on your life.” She began to relax after that, and we ended the evening with smiles and laughter.

I hope I can find a way to top last night’s date. I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

You can see the postser we created in honor of CNO and the creation of the Navy Jack by clicking the image below.

Navy JACK NMHS_Final

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CNO Jonathan M. Greenert – NHF Distinguished Service Award

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Society of Sponsors Visit NHHC Facilities

The sponsors during their visit on 20 April inside the National Museum of the United States Navy (NHF Photo/Released)

The sponsors during their visit on 20 April inside the National Museum of the United States Navy (NHF Photo/Released)


By Matthew T. Eng

This past Monday, several members of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy came to the Washington Navy Yard to tour their facilities and interact with staff members of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). The Society itself has been around since 1908. According to their website, they are a group “composed of women who have taken part in the time honored tradition of christening a ship to be commissioned in the United States Navy, or a ship that sails with the Navy, supporting the fleet in some specific way.”  Dr. Barbara Billing, Society of Sponsors President, coordinated the trip with Phyllis Tolzmann of the NHHC Communications and Outreach Division staff. Dr. Pilling wanted to learn more about the breadth of activities offered at the Command and develop a future plan for accessibility to historical documents. As a Board Member of the Naval Historical Foundation, she also wanted to find out more about their relationship with NHF. In the end, the Sponsors developed a greater appreciation of Navy history, with many coming away learning much more about the ship they sponsor.

RADM Cox addresses the sponsors.

RADM Cox addresses the sponsors.

The day opened with an introductory meeting and Command over at the Naval History and Heritage Command Headquarters, located just above NHF offices. Rear Admiral Sam Cox, NHHC Director, spoke briefly about the mission of the Command and the important role that ship sponsors play in the creation of naval history. “We owe it to the public,” he said to the sponsors, “to remember their sacrifices and preserve the lessons learned.” For Cox, ship sponsors give a legacy and a name that “truly means something” for every sailor who serves onboard. It is that cohesion that formulates the esprit de corps of each ship in the fleet.

NHHC Deputy Director next gave a short presentation about the Command itself and the extraordinary progress they have made preserving naval history over the last decade. The greatest achievement to Kuhn was centralizing and consolidating the Navy artifacts to a facility in Richmond, VA over the last three years. That move propelled them forward “from a 68-year backlog of our Navy’s collection.”

The group moved next to Photo Archives.

Lead archivist Lisa Crunk shows some of the sponsors materials within their collection.

Lead archivist Lisa Crunk shows some of the sponsors materials within their collection.



David Colamaria, current photo archivist and former NHF employee who worked closely with the Society of Sponsors, greeted old friends and colleagues warmly when they arrived. “Your presence is everything in this collection,” Colamaria said as he waved his hand around the entire facility. He impressed the distinguished guests by showing them a number of photographs from the Society of Sponsors collection held there. Colamaria’s personal favorite items from the collection are the images taken at the annual Sponsor luncheon. The visit with Colamaria and lead archivist Lisa Crunk proved highly beneficial for historians everywhere, as several sponsors expressed a desire to donate their christening and commissioning photographs to the archive. Both Colamaria and Crunk were quick enough to pull some of their relevant files to show them more about their ships.

NDL Staff Member Alexandra McCallen inside the Special Collections room.

NDL Staff Member Alexandra McCallen inside the Special Collections room.


The sponsors moved downstairs from the archives and spent some time with Navy Department Library (NDL) Director Glenn Helm and his staff. NDL staff member Alexandra McCallen brought the women into the library’s special collections room where a display of material related to the sponsors was laid out for viewing. It was truly a rare treat for all involved. One sponsor in particular, Ms. Rosalie J. Calhoun (sponsor to ballistic missile submarine USS John C. Calhoun), noticed a typographic mistake of her father’s name in one of the books written about the sponsors. Admiral William L. Calhoun’s middle initial was incorrectly placed in Ships of the United States Navy and Their Sponsors, 1958-1990. Glenn Helm asked her to make the correction (with an acid free pen) and sign her name by it. The women were tickled that in some way, history was being made for the permanent record.

NMUSN Curator Jennifer Marland.

NMUSN Curator Jennifer Marland.


The visit to NHHC ended with a brief tour of several artifacts at the National Museum of the United States Navy (NMUSN). Curator Jennifer Marland showed the ladies several artifacts within the museum. Many of the women were particularly fond of the silver collection included in the NMUSN exhibit on the Steel Navy. Others were wide-eyed about the weight that history can have on our collective memory and understanding of American history. It is truly a powerful tool to remember and commemorate our past. “It’s been rewarding,” one of the sponsors remarked, “to see the connection of this history to some of the ships we have been a part of.”

Special thanks to Phyllis Tolzmann and Holly Quick for helping coordinate the event.

You can visit the Society of Sponsors website by going HERE.

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