Air Medals Awarded to Vietnam Naval Aviators

“This is Blackbeard on board Newport News with a shore bombardment force in Haiphong Harbor. We are engaged with several enemy surface units and need illumination to sort things out. Any aircraft in the area give me a call on guard. What we really need are high-powered flares. Blackbeard out.”

                                                                               Vice Admiral James L. Holloway III
Operation Lion’s Den
27 August 1972

Rear Admiral Patrick D. Moneymaker Remarks During the Air Medal Awards Ceremony (Howard Westney/Midway Museum)

Rear Admiral Patrick D. Moneymaker offers his remarks during the Air Medal Awards ceremony (Howard Westney/Midway Museum)

This year, the United States recognizes the beginning of its role in the conflict in Vietnam (1964-1973). From the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the Paris Peace Accords, American military forces played a critical role in the strategy and policy of the Cold War’s hottest conflict. As we ease into this 50th anniversary remembrance, themes of service and sacrifice of the participants involved will be emphasized. A ceremony held onboard the USS Midway Museum this Wednesday recognized the heroism of two naval aviators during Operation Lion’s Den, a critical nighttime surface operation late in the Vietnam War.

Forty-two years ago, then LT William W. Pickavance and LTJG Patrick D. Moneymaker, both aviators flying from USS Midway (CVA 41), answered a call from Vice Admiral Admiral James L. Holloway III, COMSEVENTHFLT, during a naval shore bombardment over Haiphong Harbor, Vietnam. The operation, code-named Lion’s Den, was a rare Joint Chiefs of Staff directed Navy night shore bombardment during the ongoing Task Force 77/7th Air Force air offensive known today as Linebacker. During the surface engagement, the four-ship formation, led by cruiser USS Newport News (CA 148), came under attack by enemy P-6 class fast attack craft in the dark. Deep in enemy territory and under fire from the shore, Admiral Holloway, embarked as an observer in Newport News, put out a radio call to any available attack aircraft to illuminate the immediate area to spot the oncoming torpedo boats. Pickavance (VA 93) and Moneymaker (VA 56) responded immediately to the radio call in their A-7B Corsair II aircraft, providing flares that illuminated the scene below for their low altitude bombing attacks that, along with the ships’ gunfire, sank the enemy torpedo boats.

Rear Admiral William W. Pickavance, Jr. receives his Air Medal award from Vice Admiral David H. Buss, Commander, Naval Air Forces

Rear Admiral William W. Pickavance, Jr. receives his Air Medal from Vice Admiral David H. Buss, Commander, Naval Air Forces. An A-7B similar to the ones flown by the two aviators is on display on Midway’s flight deck in the background. (Howard Westney/Midway Museum)

For their meritorious efforts during the engagement, Rear Admirals Pickavance and Moneymaker were awarded their long overdue Air Medals on 27 August 2014, the exact anniversary of their intrepid actions. Nearly fifty guests attended the special event on the same deck the two aviators flew from forty-two years ago. The medals were awarded through the coordinated efforts of the Naval Historical Foundation and former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA). Pickavance and Moneymaker received their Air Medals from Vice Admiral David H. Buss, Commander Naval Air Forces on behalf of SECNAV Ray Mabus. Both men gave heartfelt and emotional speeches in front of shipmates and family as they overlooked the beautiful waters of San Diego harbor. “I would have never imagined when I first joined the team at Midway forty-two years later that I would be here,” said Moneymaker.

Admiral Holloway provided his congratulatory comments by way of a recorded message to Pickavance and Moneymaker during the ceremony:

“As the Navy’s Seventh Fleet Commander embarked in cruiser Newport News to observe the night time raid into the North Vietnam port of Haiphong, I quickly realized that we had gotten ourselves into a difficult situation when, following our shore bombardment, North Vietnamese torpedo boats deployed and were closing swiftly to attack. Fortunately, the two officers standing before you today who were then young lieutenants flying from this very deck, responded to my call for air support with gusto and helped eliminate the threat.”

Admiral S.R. Foley, USN (Ret.), then commanding officer of Midway, also commented on the valor of these aviators during this timely event. Admiral Foley noted how proud he was to honor these men aboard his former ship, adding that he “would not have missed this opportunity for all the money in the world.” Also in attendance was retired Captain Thomas Althouse, the aide to Vice Admiral Holloway aboard USS Newport News during the attack.

A special thanks to the staffs of Commander, Naval Forces, Commander, Navy Region Southwest, and the USS Midway Museum for making this event a success. (Howard Westney/Midway Museum)

Vice Admiral Buss receives arrival honors. A special thanks to the staffs of Commander, Naval Air Forces; Commander, Navy Region Southwest; and the USS Midway Museum for making this event a success. (Howard Westney/Midway Museum)

Our very own volunteer, Captain Edward Bronson, USN (Ret.), helped coordinate the event. Captain Bronson, a former Vietnam-era aviator, served on three aircraft carriers in combat during the conflict. Through preservation, education, and commemoration, the Naval Historical Foundation is delighted to honor the history and heritage of the men and women of the United States Navy. We thank our loyal members and donors whose continued generous support enables us to accomplish events like this.

Posted in Awards, Featured, History, Museum Ship, News, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Real Navy Seal at the National Zoo

Selkie the Seal lounging in her retirement. (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng)

Selkie the Seal lounging in her retirement. (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng)

By Matthew T. Eng

Not many veterans can say they are paid out their Navy pension in fish.

It was a perfect Sunday to go to the Smithsonian National Zoo. After a wet and rainy Saturday this weekend, I was relieved that I would not disappoint my group of out-of-town friends who, among other things in the district, wanted to see the zoo. Admittedly, the main focus of our trip was to wish Bao Bao the panda bear a happy first birthday. Little did I know that I would get to meet a real Navy seal. No, not the elite Special Forces extension of the Navy you may be thinking of. I mean the marine mammal.

The day was warm and pleasantly mild – the perfect day to visit. Towards the end our time there, we decided to cut a swath through the middle of the park to the parking lot. The fastest way possible from our position near the elephants was through the American Trail walkthrough. The beginning of the trail exhibit winds down “Rock Creek,” where guests explore everything from bald eagles to river otters and beavers. As that section gave way to the coastal region along the middle of the trail, I noticed a large rectangular tank surrounding by cliffs of rocks. Among a group of seals swimming in torpedo-like fashion was one in particular that caught my eye. This particular seal stood at the edge of the water, sunning on a rock as a bevvy of shudder-happy onlookers snapped away from the observation point above.

I asked a nearby docent a little about the seal. It looked all too comfortable to be in there. The docent smiled and commented, “That’s because she is a seasoned veteran of the zoo.” She proceeded to tell me that her name was Selkie, a 41-year old gray seal that has lived at the zoo since 1979. I was interested in her story, but was ready to move on. As I walked away, the docent added, “and she is a Navy veteran as well.” My ears perked. The gears started moving in my head. I was staring at a literal NAVY SEAL. It was one of those rare occurrences where metaphor became reality. I had to know more.

The informed docent began to tell me about Selkie’s amazing life and relationship with the Navy and the Smithsonian. I began to learn a little more about Selkie and her relationship with the United States Navy. The essential facts were there, but I still wanted more. I researched everything I could about Selkie immediately after I got home from the zoo. As it turns out, Selkie was “Government Issue” almost from the beginning of her life. Thanks in large part to an article written by Cindy Han in the NOV/DEC 2008 edition of the Smithsonian’s Zoogoer, I was able to fill in the details of this extraordinary seal.

PACIFIC OCEAN  (November 1970) Handler Jim Corey leads a harnessed sea lion up a ramp during the animal’s training. Animal behaviorists from the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center, Pasadena, are training the sea lions to encircle and lock a grabber device into a target in the sea. (US Navy Photograph)

PACIFIC OCEAN (November 1970) Handler Jim Corey leads a harnessed sea lion up a ramp during the animal’s training. Animal behaviorists from the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center, Pasadena, are training the sea lions to encircle and lock a grabber device into a target in the sea. (US Navy Photograph)

Naval researchers near Iceland caught Selkie and her counterpart Gunnar more than forty years ago. At the time, both pups were just six months old. Selkie and Gunnar “enlisted” in the Marine Mammal Program (MMP). At the time, the MMP was a secretive Cold War initiative that used marine mammals to perform underwater work.

According to the US Navy Marine Mammal Program website, work with marine mammals began in the late 1950s. The Navy wanted to study how dolphins moved in water in order to possibly improve torpedo and submarine designs. At the beginning of the Marine Mammal Program, the Navy experimented with several types of marine mammals, including killer whales, pilot whales, white whales, Steller sea lions, fur seals, and grey seals. The Navy found that marine mammals are highly adaptive and reliable animals, capable of helping us build a better Navy.

The duties and responsibilities of the Navy’s aquatic enlistees changed many times over the years. One of the their initial duties was to locate personnel from downed aircraft. They also had applications in naval science. A study on the program included in a 2010 International Journal of Comparative Psychology article explains further:

“Early in the MMP there was interest in what might be learned from diving animals like dolphins, whales, and seals that might give clues to human diving diseases such as decompression sickness, aeroembolism, nitrogen narcosis and high pressure nervous syndrome.”

Selkie and Gunner (Mehgan Murphy/NZP)

Selkie and Gunner (Mehgan Murphy/NZP)

Selkie and Gunnar began to do train with the Navy for a variety of helpful tasks. According to Han, gray seals were specifically “taught how to retrieve items, insert and remove equipment, use a screwdriver, and even turn a large wheel valve.” According to one Navy trainer, Selkie’s behavior was particularly unique:

“(He) would take her by boat for an ocean training session. Sometimes she’d put her head in, enter the water, and practice her skills. Other times, she would pull her head back out of the water and stay put.” (Han, Zoogoer)

Their work with the Navy lasted a half-decade. The MMP discontinued the use of gray seals in 1979. Clearly evident by Selkie’s behavior discussed above, gray seals were not consistent with their work. Selkie and Gunnar retired from the Navy that same year and moved to their new life at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. According to the source, both seals continued to show the skills they acquired “working for Uncle Sam” years after they left the program. At the zoo, Selkie and Gunnar settled into their environment with ease, giving birth to a gray seal dynasty beginning in the early 1980s. They had two pups, Kara and Kjya, who spent several years at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden before returning with her family in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, Gunnar passed away two years ago, leaving behind his Navy family to keep the watch.

I am pleased to know more about Selkie and her amazing life. It makes sense that she needed to relax on that rock in a pool of water. She earned her retirement. I find comfort knowing that she can lounge around as her extended family swims happily around her.

I can’t wait to go back to the zoo. I know I’ll want to see the cute and clumsy panda bear and laugh at her hijinks with the rest of the visitors. No matter what, I’ll make sure to stop by the seal tank and thank a true Navy veteran before I leave. BZ, Selkie.

Today, the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program trains and cares for two species of marine mammal, the bottlenose dolphin and California sea lion (According to the MMP website, the Navy also has two white whales used for research projects). They are used to protect ports and Navy assets from swimmer attack and to locate potentially threatening sea mines. Marine research is another large part of the program. Since its creation over fifty years ago, the MMP has generated over a thousand articles of research from its various studies and exercises within the operational Navy.

A special thank you to the Smithsonian Website and Zoogoer for providing information on Selkie the gray seal. History and Information on the Marine Mammal Program can be found on their website.

Posted in Featured, History, humor, News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So Much More to Learn: Interns Learn History and Hard Work at NMUSN

Last week, we published a short story on the experiences of our 2014 summertime interns. The post served as a starting point to a series of articles highlighting internships at the Naval Historical Foundation and our friends at the Naval History and Heritage Command and their museum institutions around the country.

US-UK Summer 2014 Interns on the 3/50

US-UK Summer 2014 Interns on the 3/50

Everyone needs a good mentor in his or her life. Plato had Socrates. Bob Dylan had Woody Guthrie. Even Harry Potter sought the guidance of Professor Dumbledore from time to time. In the world of naval history, interns at the National Museum of the United States Navy have Dr. Ed Furgol.

Dr. Ed Furgol knows a thing or two about internships. He has seen countless young minds come and go at the National Museum of the United States Navy over the last twenty-seven years. Longevity aside, Dr. Furgol is a constant figure in the changing landscape of the United States Navy’s museum system. Furgol serves as the NMUSN intern coordinator on top of his duties as the institution’s head curator. According to Furgol, the museum offers a “high impact experiential learning experience” for its interns. He uses concepts and themes from naval history and applies them to each intern’s specific interests. With so many coming and going each year, that is no easy task.


Dr. Ed Furgol

I had a chance to converse with Ed last week about his career working and shaping the young minds of interns today. My own experience working with summertime interns pales in comparison to the program at NMUSN. There is little illusion to the realities of a museum internship. It’s hard work. Furgol made it clear that the NMUSN internship consistently tests interns with the meticulous and under-appreciated work done at museums. As a former intern within the NHHC museum system myself, I can attest to this. The NMUSN internship keeps current and competitive with other intern programs around the area and country with a sharp focus on curatorial and educational methods. “The program perfectly fulfills the mission of educating people about the US Navy. It also provides an educational program for those in tertiary education,” added Furgol.

Such success is measured in numbers. Over the course of his nearly three-decade career as NMUSN Curator and internship coordinator, Furgol has seen over a thousand interns come through his door. That’s a lot of people to account for! There have been nearly fifty NHHC/NMUSN interns since December 2013 alone. Despite this, Furgol maintains a working relationship with many of them through social media. Interns past and present can join a Facebook group to see updates on the museum and job postings that will help them land a job. It is refreshing to see social media utilized for its original intended purpose. Ed also regularly produces a newsletter to let other former interns know what projects and history subjects are currently being researched.

“I am interested in how the Navy functions: it’s power is as much symbolic and ceremonial as it is combative. Nothing else in history deters by presence alone as much as a navy can, which is very interesting to me.” – NMUSN ’14 Intern Andreea Mihut

Winter/Spring 2011 intern Sarah Adler discussed Dr. Furgol’s willingness to be flexible when he assigned research tasks to a constantly changing and diverse group of young men and women. “Ed was great,” she said. “He was really good at assigning projects to individuals who were up for a challenge. He even gave me a chance to research my favorite topic, the Trent Affair.”

Former NMUSN intern Zachary S. Kopin, Director of Programming and Outreach at the Nuclear Studies Institute, had this to say about his beneficial experience here at the museum:

“Besides giving me my first published work, it has given me invaluable experience working with others, preparing research for professional scrutiny and a professional confidence to trust my research and put it out there in a way many of my undergraduate classmates do not.”

Some interns chose to stay within the NHHC/NMUSN enterprise. According to Furgol, there are three permanent staff members at NMUSN that began their careers as NMUSN interns: Laura Hockensmith (Director of Education), Jennifer Marland (Assistant Curator), and Gloria Anderson (Exhibit Designer). Other interns find work at the Naval History and Heritage Command, across the country, and around the world.

I also had a chance to chat with current 2014 NMUSN summer interns last week about their experiences working in naval history. I was pleased to find that their interest in coming to study and work at the Washington Navy Yard was incredibly diverse. Their specific history subject interest ranges in everything from literary and ancient history to the Holocaust and the Enlightenment. Their insight is both profound and unique to their own experiences in education and history. While some were interested in naval history’s connection to culture and society, others, like Oxford University English graduate student Andreea Mihut, dug deep into the specifics of their interest:

“I am interested in how the Navy functions: it’s power is as much symbolic and ceremonial as it is combative. Nothing else in history deters by presence alone as much as a navy can, which is very interesting to me.”

I asked each of the NMUSN curatorial interns this year the same question: “How do you suggest we make history more engaging?” It’s an important question, especially today. If museums are to continue to progress and expand in the future, the suggestions and ideas of the young minds of today are an essentially stepping stone. Here are their answers.







I see a little of myself in each of them, remembering my own intern days. I also began as an intern for a NHHC museum, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, back in 2006. Need more proof? Here is a picture of me at age 22 with my fellow interns. I still wear that first museum shirt with pride; a badge of honor to my time interning for the Navy and soaking up the base of knowledge that would become my career in history. For that, I have everything to thank the Naval History and Heritage Command and museums like the National Museum of the United States Navy and Hampton Roads Naval Museum for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dreams.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 12.38.19 PM

Do you have a story you would like to tell about your internship at NMUSN, NHHC, or NHF?  Post in the comment section below or email Matthew Eng at

Posted in Featured, History, Internship, Navy Museum, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

2014 NHF Summer Interns Weigh in on Naval History

Last week, our summer interns wrapped up their time here at NHF. Thankfully, each intern took a few moments to answer a few questions about their experiences working with the Foundation. Thanks again to Alicia, Aaron, and Ross (not interviewed) for a wonderful summer!

Alicia Petersen
University of South Florida
History/Biomedical Sciences

What interests you in history?
Early Modern Europe, especially the Renaissance and French Revolution; Soviet Russia.

What parts of naval history do you find interesting?
I enjoyed learning about the Navy this summer, particularly since I didn’t have a significant knowledge base prior to coming here. I enjoyed learning about Navy culture and the Navy’s role during WWII (Midway, Leyte Gulf, etc.)

Briefly discuss your internship here at NHF this summer.
I helped Dr. Winkler plan and organize the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference. I also conducted photo research for NHF publications.

What did you learn from your experience here?
I was able to gain valuable research experience and familiarize myself with differnet resources for research (i.e. NARA, NHHC Photo Archices, etc.)

Favorite moment of the internship?
I really enjoyed going to the meeting of the editorial board for NHF’s upcoming book on the Navy Reserves. It was very interesting to see the process of publishing a book. If I enter a career in academia, I hope to be doing the same thing one day.

How can we make history more engaging?
I think what Matt’s doing to integrate popular social media platforms are great. I also think that taking a more social/cultural approach vs. simply recounting battles may be a good idea, but I can certainly say I am biased since I love cultural history.

What are your plans for the future?
I am taking a year off from school and working at a non-profit here in DC before going to grad school to get my MA and (hopefully) a Ph.D. in history. I still need to decide if I want to do early modern history or Russian history. Decisions!

Aaron McDougal
The College of Wooster

What interests you in history?
The study of history can give you a degree of perspective about current events that one would not otherwise have. History is a flexible field of study that can accommodate a wide variety of interests. It forces one to delve into other fields of study in order to achieve an understanding of historical events/contexts/etc. History therefore acts as a bridge to other fields of study.

What parts of naval history do you find interesting?
I am interested in the development of naval power. In particular, I am interested in naval power and its role in the creation of sates around the globe, especially the creation of the United States.

Briefly discuss your internship here at NHF this summer.
I assisted with historical research, editing, and the publication of a book. I also did general office work and assisted with various things around the Washington Navy Yard with NHF staff.

What did you learn from your experience here?
My editing skills have drastically improved. I have refined the way I do historical research as well.

Favorite part of the internship?
Being able to say that I worked on a publication of a 600-700 page oral history monograph.

How can we make history more engaging?
Highlight its connections to other fields of study/the ability of individuals to study history in concert with other fields of study.

What are your plans for the future?
I’ll be finishing up college. After graduation, I plan to join the military.

Posted in Featured, History, Internship, News, Volunteers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Carpe Diem: Robin Williams Has a Place in Naval History

Arabian Gulf (Dec. 19, 2003) -- Actor/comedian Robin Williams entertains the crew of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during a holiday special hosted by the United Service Organization (USO).  (US Navy Photo 031219-N-9742R-001)

Arabian Gulf (Dec. 19, 2003) — Actor/comedian Robin Williams entertains the crew of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during a holiday special hosted by the United Service Organization (USO). (US Navy Photo 031219-N-9742R-001)

By Matthew Eng
NHF Digital Content Developer

Many of us were shocked with the news of actor/comedian Robin Williams’s passing. Stories are now surfacing about his passions and pursuits outside of the Hollywood spotlight. This includes his profound love and support of the military.  He became a mainstay for USO tours overseas in recent years, including several visits to aircraft carriers operating in the Persian Gulf. 

Robin Williams will have his place in naval history.

He was a man who cared deeply about the men and women protecting our country. Williams is known today as a profound and intelligent speaker and advocate who gave all of him, asking for little in return. Perhaps the best application of his talents came to his numerous tours with the United Service Organization. He followed in the great USO traditions of Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, and Dick Powell. In fact, a recent article in the wake of his death called Williams the “Bob Hope of our generation.” There is no arguing there.  In all, Williams appeared on six USO tours. In recent years, Robin Williams performed in the hangar bays of the USS Enterprise and USS Truman for consecutive holiday shows in 2003 and 2004 during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

As many laughs as he brought to the men and women of the Navy, he also carried a profound knowledge and sympathy for the inherent risks involved in joining the military, especially during the war on terror.

(US Navy Photo 031219-N-7278A-002)

(US Navy Photo 031219-N-7278A-002)

Much of this is due to the experiences of his father during World War II. During the war, the comedian’s father, Robert Fitzgerald Williams, served on an aircraft carrier operating in the Pacific Theater. His father’s ship was hit by a Kamikaze attack, destroying the bridge and injuring his father in the process. According to the actor, sailors near to his father perished from the hit. In a December 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Williams talked about his father’s experiences of combat, using the title of a famous Wilfred Owen poem to illustrate his uncharacteristically somber point of view:

“He was lying there bleeding for eight hours. He tourniquetted himself. And he basically said, ‘Listen. There’s nothing more horrific than to lose the image that (dying for one’s country is) glorious—Dulce et decorum est…’ That whole horrific stuff, horrific lonely, horrifying. And that kind of wised me up.”

Love him or hate him, Williams was a giant in the entertainment industry. Anyone that saw his USO performances over the years knows he had enough charisma and passion to full the hangar bay of an aircraft carrier. He was just that kind of person.

I had the pleasure of meeting Robin Williams several years ago while working at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. On this particular fall Saturday, I had the pleasure of being the weekend duty manager. Normally, weekend duty manager responsibilities were an undesired duty. Dates were drawn out like tickets in a lottery no staff member dared to win. In fact, much of that Saturday felt that way. The number of visitors entering the building during the fall pales in comparison to the summertime vacation rush.

Part of the duties and responsibilities of a weekend duty manager was to “walk the floor” of the museum each hour. Inspecting the facility helped ensure that all lights were working and artifacts were secure. During my 2:00pm stroll through the 5,000 square foot facility in Norfolk, I caught a glimpse of Mr. Williams and his wife in the World War II gallery of the museum. I could not believe my eyes. I ducked behind an artifact case and peeked around, just to be sure it really was him.

I had to walk around the museum, so I had to walk past him. I figured I would kill two birds with one stone. As I walked towards him, I could feel my legs giving way and my mouth filling with cotton. What would I say? I had no idea, but I was going to do it anyway.

He looked up from the aircraft carrier model and cracked a smile. He knew that I was going to say something, as if it happened all the time (Surely, it did). The only thing I could get out was, “Do you have any questions, Mr. Williams.” He said no. After a few awkward and tense seconds of staring and smiling, I moved closer to ask one last (important) question. He politely beat me to the punch and declined a picture with him. I was okay with that. Knowing what I know now about his history and connection to the Navy, he may have wanted a bit of solemn reflection.

I told him that I was a big fan of his work, smiled, and walked away. What I wanted to tell him was that I grew up watching his movies. I fell in love with his characters, many of which inspired me to start writing and reading more. Others, like his portrayal of Peter Pan in Hook, pushed me to dream big and pursue my goals. If he were here today, I would shake his hand for being a profound inspiration in my life. As odd as it sounds, my own thirst for knowledge of our nation’s Navy can be traced back to the classroom of John Keating in Dead Poets Society. Using the Latin phrase carpe diem, Mr. Keating implored his students to seize the day and fulfill your dreams. Despite his own demons, Robin Williams excelled as an actor, comedian, and supporter of the United States Military. Whether it is a teacher, a genie, Popeye, or a patriot, he will be greatly missed.

Fair winds and following seas, Robin.

Posted in Featured, History, humor, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

USS McCaffery Cruisebooks Donated to the Navy Department Library

Tonya Montgomery, Doug Hackett, and Don Durk pose at the Navy Department Library Cruise Book Section

Tonya Montgomery, Doug Hackett, and Don Turk pose with the Donated Items at the Navy Department Library Cruise Book Section

Last Thursday, members of the USS McCaffery Shipmates Association stopped by the Naval Historical Foundation to donate a set of her cruise books to the Navy Department Library. Don Turk (’69-’71) and Doug Hackett (’61-’63), two former sailors who served on USS McCaffrey (DD/DDE 860), take great pride in their time aboard the Cold War-era destroyer. Captain Todd Creekman, USN (Ret.), NHF Executive Director, helped facilitate the donation with the library. With over 150,000 individual volumes, the Navy Department Library houses the nation’s largest collection of literature on the United States Navy.

USS McCaffrey (DD/DDE 860)

USS McCaffrey (DD/DDE 860)

The Association’s donation will add to the Navy Department Library’s already impressive assemblage of cruise books. “These will double the collection of USS McCaffery cruise books in the collection,” Turk said. “It’s our small part in helping to preserve the history of a proud ship that served our country during four decades.”

Like many others of its kind, the USS McCaffery Shipmates Association continues to work hard to build on the individual history of naval ships in the timeline of the United States Navy’s illustrious and ever-changing history. Turk and Hackett also presented the Library with a complete history of the ship from 1945 to 1973. The author, fellow shipmate Bill Maslak (’46-’47), spent countless hours researching every aspect of the ship at the National Archives. Turk called a true “labor of love for the ship and his shipmates.”

Bill Maslak's History of McCaffrey

Bill Maslak’s History of McCaffrey

USS McCaffrey, also known as “Big Mac,” served during the Korean War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam. The ship was scrapped in 1974.

The Cruise Book Princess: A BZ Long Overdue

The success of the cruise book collection is due in large part to Tonya Montgomery, Technical Information Specialist for the Navy Department Library.  Tonya has been cataloging virtually all of the over 6,000 ship cruise books at the library over the last fifteen years. According to Navy Department Library Director Glenn Helm, “cataloging is her favorite part of working at the Navy Department Library.” Although her official title is Technical Information Specialist, most coworkers call her by a different name. Ms. Montgomery had much to say about her involvement with the cruise book donation process and her “unofficial” title:

“I have been called the Cruise Book Princess, a title that I am proud of. I refer to the cruise books as ‘my babies.’  I particularly like seeing the photos of the Crossing of the Line ceremony as it has changed over time.”

Ms. Montgomery explained the level of detail required to catalog each book, down to organizing each record by cruise, ship, and year. This becomes a necessity for organization, as each U.S. Navy ship normally produces a cruise book for each one taken. For this kind of meticulous record keeping, the more information is always better. Her work allows researchers from around the globe to search for specific information about a particular cruise or individual sailor during a deployment.

Cruise books
“I’m good at my job,” she said, completely confident in her statement. Looking around at the impressive collection of cruise books neatly cataloged shelved inside the library, there is little room to argue with her.

Do you have a cruise book from a deployment you would like to see donated to the Navy Department Library? Contact Captain Todd Creekman, USN (Ret.), NHF Executive Director, at or by calling our main number at (202) 678-4333 ext. 1.

Posted in Books, Donation, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

From LA-Class to Classroom: STEM-H Fellows Study the Science of Submarines

Does this look normal to you? To all submarine officers, it is child's splay. The 2014 STEM-H fellows found several ways to make equations like this (Axial Force) acceptable for the classroom environment in Middle and High Schools.  

Does this look normal to you? To all submarine officers, it is child’s play. The 2014 STEM-H fellows found several ways to make equations like this (Axial Force) interesting for the classroom environment in Middle and High Schools.

By Matthew T. Eng
Digital Content Developer, NHF

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure to spend an afternoon with the 2014 STEM-H fellowship teachers at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, CT. This year marks the second STEM-H fellowship in Groton and the sixth overall. The previous four fellowships were held at the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington, D.C. The fellowship runs for two weeks in the summer.


Fellows teach a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) discipline at their respective schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  With subjects covering everything from mathematics to earth science, every teacher brought something different to the discussion. Such diversity made for a well-rounded and fulfilling experience for both teachers and coordinators at NHF and the Submarine Force Museum.

NHF education coordinator Captain John Paulson, USN (Ret.) planned an immersive and intensive two-week course of activities for the teachers. The Submarine Learning Center from the Groton Submarine base provided teachers with instructional presentations on the various functions and capabilities of submarines and their application to STEM principles. Fellows used the exhibits of the Submarine Force Museum and information gleamed from several tours through local naval facilities like the Electric Boat model room, Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory, and USS Virginia (SSN 774).

How do you teach the most complex and advanced machines of warfare to Middle and High School teachers? The STEM-H fellows found the various presentations of submarine science and technology valuable to their eventual lesson plans. During my brief visit on the afternoon of July 16th, Submarine Learning Center volunteer Lieutenant Joshua Merdes gave a presentation on the differences in design and technology between fast attack subs of the Cold War like the Los Angeles-class and the modernized Virginia-class leading the fleet today. As he pointed out, there is more similar than different with the 688s and the latest built today.

LT Josh Merdes teachers the STEM-H fellows about submarine control rooms and periscopes (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng)

LT Josh Merdes teachers the STEM-H fellows about submarine control rooms and periscopes (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng)

LT Merdes also discussed how periscopes are used to find the initial detection range of a target, an important skill-set in submarine warfare. LT Merdes used simple and complex calculations to find the distance between your submarine and an oncoming target. His calculations were both fast and extremely accurate. As he stated to the teachers, “I use trigonometry everyday.”

I remember looking around and seeing each of the teachers soaking in the information. Although many of the teachers admitted being a bit overwhelmed at the wealth of material presented to them by the Submarine Learning Center volunteers throughout the two weeks, all of them found a way to incorporate the information into their classroom curriculum. For a long time history major and novice student of the sciences, their adaptability amazed me.

The fellowship team took some time out of their busy schedule to meet with Stefan Pryor, the state of Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education. Commissioner Pryor had much to say about the progress and impact of the fellowship.  “It is very clear that the hands-on approach that has been taken place is going to lead to enhanced learning for our youngsters,” said Pryor. Stonington High School’s Lisa Allen agreed with Pryor. “If you can get through to students using these real-life examples,” she said. “It’s just good teaching.”

The STEM-H Fellows chat with Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (USN Photo)

The STEM-H Fellows chat with Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (USN Photo)

The teachers set about perfecting and presenting their lesson plans to each other in the second week of the program.  Overall, the teachers enjoyed their experience and their final product lesson plans. Mary Harris of Fitch High School had a very positive response to the fellowship, which offered a unique spin to standardized professional development:

“The STEM fellowship has been the best two weeks of professional development that I’ve ever had and is especially cool because it connects my curriculum, which is chemistry, with the community.”

She went on to say that she “can’t wait” to use the knowledge she gained in Groton in her curriculum next year.

I had a chance to peruse the lesson plans they created a week after the fellowship was over. As a student that always preferred the social sciences, I was curious to see how they incorporated the history and heritage of the United States Navy into their STEM lesson plans. Reading over their brief summaries, I couldn’t help to smile. After I finished reading the lesson plan summaries, I wished I was a young student again – something I thought I’d never say again.

Core concepts like algebra, probability, graphing, and statistics merged with technical science disciplines like molecular theory and propulsion. Captain Paulson noted how each of the teachers’ plans were “highly relevant” to today’s society and the science behind submarine warfare. I can’t wait to see their final products. Teachers can download their plans and learn everything from the function of  “scrubbers” to remove carbon dioxide in a submarine cabin to the science behind bouyancy and ballasts using Boyle’s Law.  The initial lesson plans are now available online on the USS Nautilus website in a new indexed format.

These bright and talented teachers are keeping the Navy fresh in the minds of future generations to follow and study. It is more important than ever to find ways to make the learning experience multi-disciplinary, which makes our fellowship so important and valuable to the American public.  I am looking forward to seeing what next year brings!

A special thanks to Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Amdur and the rest of the team at the Submarine Force Library and Museum for their hospitality during my visit (and for hosting the entire fellowship, of course!)

STEM Fellows 2014
The 2014 STEM-H Fellowship Team was (left to right): John Paulson, Naval Historical Foundation STEM Team Leader; Michelle Mokrzewski, Grade 7&8 STEM teacher at West Side Middle School, Groton, CT; Robert Mayne, (of North Stonington, CT), Mathematics and Intro to Engineering teacher at Chariho Regional High School, Wood River Junction, RI; Caitlin Kennedy, Mathematics teacher at Robert E. Fitch High School, Groton, CT; Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Amdur, USN, Officer in Charge & Museum Director; Tony Quatroche, Submarine Force Library and Museum Association Board Member & Fitch HS mathematics teacher; MMCS(SS) Dominick A. Grimaldi, USN Historic Ship Nautilus Command Senior Chief; Mary Harris, Chemistry and General Science teacher, Robert E. Fitch High School, Groton, CT; Lisa Allen, Chemistry teacher at Stonington High School, Pawcatuck, CT; Paul Mezick, Physical Science, Earth Science and Biology teacher at Daniel Hand High School, Madison, CT



Posted in Featured, History, Internship, News, STEM | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

BOOK REVIEW – America’s First Frogman: The Draper Kauffman Story

Kauffman, Elizabeth_Americas First FrogmanBy Elizabeth Kauffman Bush, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2004)

Reviewed by Stephen Phillips

There is a World War II American serviceman who fits the description of being the “right man at the right time.” Although he wanted to serve in the U.S. Navy, he was denied a commission in 1933 due to poor eyesight. Yet, before the war’s end, he wore the uniform of three nations and fought in the European and Pacific theaters. He was in a German prison camp in the early weeks of the war. In its last hours, he led reconnaissance of Tokyo Bay before USS Missouri arrived to accept the Japanese surrender. France awarded him the French Croix de Guerre. He garnered two Navy Crosses — the second highest decoration a sailor can receive. Despite this nearly unequaled combat record, this naval officer is recognized more today for the legacy he left behind in establishing schools, for forming a specialized military curriculum.

This man’s name is Draper Kauffman. In 1979, the U.S. Naval Institute recorded his oral history. A more accessible chronicle of his life can be found in America’s First Frogman: The Draper Kauffman Story, by Elizabeth Kauffman Bush.

Draper Kauffman was a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1933. During the Depression, the services did not commission all academy graduates. A pre-commissioning physical was the first filter. Kauffman barely passed the eye exam required to join the Navy, so he was certain he would be disqualified from service for the same reason. Kauffman instead joined U.S. Lines, a merchant shipping company. Posted in Europe, he recognized that war would return to the continent. Wanting to do his bit, and doubting American involvement, Kauffman joined the American Volunteer Ambulance Corps. He arrived in France just as Germany invaded and was captured four days after Paris fell.

Since he was an American non-combatant, the Germans released Kauffman. He departed for England, joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and shortly thereafter volunteered yet again for the new and clearly dangerous job of bomb disposal. Some of the bombs Germany dropped on the UK were duds, while others had delayed action fuses. The Brits developed the means to render these weapons safe, pioneering the field that is today known as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).

Home on leave when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Kauffman’s skills and experience were now invaluable, poor eyesight aside. The RNVR released him and Kauffman received a commission in the U.S. Navy. His first mission was to fly to the Territory of Hawaii to disarm a Japanese bomb sitting next to a magazine at Fort Schofield. He rendered the weapon safe, disassembled it, and shipped it to Washington, DC for his second mission: establishing a school for mine and bomb disposal. This is the direct precursor of today’s Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal or “EOD School.” When planners identified the need to destroy mines and obstacles in the littoral prior to amphibious landings, Kauffman was asked if he could establish a second school – one that taught its students demolition rather than disarmament. At Fort Pierce, Florida, Kauffman formed the first Naval Combat Demolition Units. This name was soon changed to Underwater Demolition Teams or “UDT.” Kauffman would go onto command UDT 5 during the invasions of Saipan and Tinian. He led multiple UDT thereafter, a proverbial commodore of demolitioneers. The UDT of course, were the predecessors of Naval Special Warfare, more commonly known as “SEALs.”

The man who was not physically suitable for commission in 1933 went on to be the founding father of EOD and SEALs.

In America’s First Frogman, Elizabeth Kauffman Bush shares her brother’s personal and professional life with a level of detail only possible in an autobiography or work written by a family member. Still, it is very clear that she consulted the Naval Institute archival records to review RADM Kauffman’s oral history. As a result, the bulk of the narrative focuses on Kauffman’s career, especially during the Second World War. However, there are interesting anecdotes that provide a deeper insight into the man.

Readers will come away with a sense that Kauffman’s actions were heroic, making the right man at the right time. He forged a legacy that endures today through our Navy’s heartiest warriors. Anyone interested in naval special warfare or special operations, naval history, or stories of inspirational leadership need look no further than America’s First Frogman.


Stephen Phillips served in the U.S. Navy as a Special Operations Officer and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician. The Military Writers Society of America recognized his debut novel, Proximity: A Novel of the Navy’s Elite Bomb Squad, with a gold medal.


Posted in Book Reviews, Books, History, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW – Sting of the Drone

Clarke, Richard_Sting of the DroneBy Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY (2014)

Reviewed by Stephen Phillips

Unmanned vehicles represent the most recent revolution in military technology, especially those capable of launching weapons. Like any paradigm shift, their entry onto the battlefield has been followed by controversy as to the appropriate means to employ them both legally and morally.

New York Times Bestselling Author and former White House official Richard A. Clarke tackles these issues in his most recent novel, Sting of the Drone. Clarke builds an interesting story that introduces the current and future capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called “UAVs” or “Drones,” using the plot to incite debate on their use.

Clarke includes a note at the end of Sting of the Drone where he reports being instrumental in developing and employing drones beginning with the Clinton Administration. He recognizes their value as well as their pitfalls. He provokes much needed discussion throughout the novel. The American protagonists are Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Department of Defense (DoD) decision makers and operators. Their foes are the terrorists they target. While individual characters are not very compelling, perhaps they are not meant to be. Clarke’s narrative seems to be more about the developing scenarios and the decisions that must be made within them rather than relaying a central character’s journey. Thus, the drone becomes the main character. For example, the UAV teams wrestle not only with collateral damage – which is a factor in any kinetic conflict – but with using drones in our allies’ territory without their permission, suggesting other elements conducted the attack to hide U.S. involvement, and targeting American citizens without due process.

Sting of the Drone makes it immediately clear it is a new form of warfare wherein the vehicle – flying over Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, or.Austria – is directed from DoD or CIA locations in the greater Washington DC area and piloted by a crew in Las Vegas. As terrorists emerge on their displays a world away, night owls in DC and Vegas must make split second kill decisions. The right call cleanly ends a deadly enemy. Other times collateral damage weighs heavily on the decision makers and crews since their distance does not suppress their humanity. Though unmanned, there is a ‘human in the loop.’ This is actually exacerbated by their video game-like existence. After a mission, UAV crews go home to their families, lounging by the pool, preparing breakfast, or playing little league baseball as if there is no war at all. Clarke highlights this so that the reader can discern the disconnect some of these UAV crews must endure. Dealing with this dichotomy is difficult for individuals to process, leading to a high rate of drunk driving, divorce, and even post-traumatic stress.

All of these points emerge through an entertaining story wherein a terrorist group decides to strike back at the drones with surface to air missiles and asymmetric attacks against DoD and CIA personnel in the United States. When the drone pilots launch missiles, the terrorists respond in kind by adapting hobby remote controlled aircraft into flying bombs. The plot is well constructed, and the character dialogue is just interesting enough to create a nice balance that educates the reader on UAV employment while serving up the aforementioned debate at the same time.

Sting of the Drone is very timely, as Americans can expect more unmanned vehicles in our nation’s arsenal. As such, there will likely to be more discussion on the proper employment of these weapons of war as the technology continues to evolve. Sting of the Drone is a good place for anyone to start to delve into these topics.


Stephen Phillips is the author of Proximity: A Novel of the Navy’s Elite Bomb Squad and The Recipient’s Son – a story about the U.S. Naval Academy in the early 90’s.

Listen to a brief audio sample, courtesy of MacMillan Audio:

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW – Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755-2009

Commerce Raiding Historical Case StudiesEdited by Bruce A. Elleman and S. C. M. Paine, Naval War College Press, Newport, RI (2013)

Reviewed by Joseph James Ahern

Authors Bruce A. Elleman and S. C. M. Paine have gathered sixteen case studies examining the use and development of guerre de course from the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries in the recent addition to the Naval War College Newport Papers. This study is notable in its scope and focus. It includes the well-known historical cases (Seven Years War, American Revolution, and both World Wars) and lesser-known conflicts (First Sino-Japanese War, and the Spanish Civil War), as well as conflicts that would not usually come to mind (Tanker War in the 1980s). In focus, Commerce Raiding looks at the naval use of commerce raiding, limiting the topic of privateers to a passing mention. While scholars have examined commerce raiding in its social, political, and naval context, this study looks to fill a major gap in the academic literature by focusing on its use in both major and minor military conflicts. As the editors note, “This volume will focus on how and why guerre de course strategies have been adopted and conducted both in non-war and in wartime conflicts.”

In the compilation of this study, the editors have gathered an impressive list of authors to focus on specific periods or topics, including such names as Christopher P. Magra (American Revolution), Kevin D. McCranie (War of 1812), Spencer C. Tucker (American Civil War), Paul G. Halpren (World War I German submarine operations), Kenneth J. Hagan and Michael T. McMaster (World War I Anglo-American Naval Checkmate), Willard C. Frank, Jr. (Spanish Civil War), and George K. Walker (Iran-Iraq Tanker War 1980-1988). Each article is well written and authoritative on its related topic. The conclusion, written by Elleman and Paine, examines the case studies as a whole to determine the overall effectiveness of commerce raiding campaigns that had noticeably different levels of success depending on goals, strategy, technology, and location. For instance, while the French were unsuccessful in their campaign against the British in the Seven Years War, the American Colonies were able to use their efforts as part of the overall war effort to win independence against the Royal Navy. Equally, Germany’s Navy was unable to use unrestricted submarine warfare to force the capitulation of the British in both World Wars, whereas as the United States Navy’s unrestricted submarine campaign against the Japanese made a significant contribution to victory in World War II. Here, the issue of intervention by a neutral third party played a role.

For Germany, their campaign brought the neutral United States into the war on the side of the British. By contrast, there was no neutral third party nation to worry about in the Pacific. The most interesting chapters focus on the lesser-known uses of commerce raiding (i.e. Japan’s turn of the century wars, and the Spanish Civil War) and the evolution of commerce raiding in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in the Middle East and Somalia.

In all, Commerce Raiding takes a fresh look at this topic in naval history, and is a valuable addition to any bookshelf, regardless if the reader is interested in the broader topic or its specific case studies. As a whole, the work shows how in over two hundred years commerce raiding has had its own strategic, technological, and diplomatic evolution. This book will hopefully spur new studies on the topic in each specific period.


Joseph James Ahern is an archivist at the University of Pennsylvania who has published a book on the history of the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW – Four Years Before the Mast: A History of New York’s Maritime College

Four Years Before the MastBy Joseph A. Williams, Fort Schuyler Press, Bronx, NY (2013)

Reviewed by Suzanne Geissler,Suzanne Geissle Ph.D.

The State University of New York Maritime College is the oldest maritime college in the United States.  A history of this college is long overdue, and Joseph A. Williams has now provided an excellent one.  Williams is a librarian and archivist at the College and has made good use of the College’s extensive archives.

The College was founded in 1874 as the New York Nautical School.  It was run by the New York City Board of Education with the cooperation of the US Navy.  The purpose of the school was to provide formal training for American boys seeking careers in the Merchant Marine, thus providing a trained corps of maritime officers who could be quickly attached to the US Navy in time of war.  Training was held aboard a series of schoolships, the oldest and most famous being the St. Mary’s.

In 1913, the state of New York took over the College and changed the name to New York State Nautical School.  In 1929, the name was again changed to New York State Merchant Marine Academy, and in 1941 to the New York State Maritime Academy.  In 1949, the college became part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system and became the SUNY Maritime College. In 1934, after a bureaucratic struggle that took several years, the college acquired a shore establishment, a long-defunct Army base known as Fort Schuyler, located at Throgs Neck in the Bronx.  The college has been located there ever since.

The school has had numerous ups and downs throughout its 140-year history. Though its mission has always remained the same – to train officers for the merchant marine – there have been numerous obstacles along the way. The problems of the College when it was city-run, namely lack of a sufficient pool of applicants and lukewarm support from the Board of Education, were mostly solved by its takeover by the state in 1913. Other problems persisted.

When considering the academy’s history as a state, two issues present themselves as particularly affecting this institution.  One is the relationship between the state and federal governments running the college. Although the college is state-supported and the training is geared toward the civilian maritime professions, the federal government has an involvement as well. A federal Maritime Commission, which gained authority over the state maritime colleges, was created in 1936 (It was renamed the Maritime Administration [MARAD] in 1950). Graduates are given Navy Reserve commissions, and the Coast Guard licenses civilian mariners as deck officers.  The dual federal-state lines of authority have sometimes been blurred, which led to occasional conflict since the College administration must answer to both SUNY and MARAD.

The other issue that has affected the school throughout its history has been the dual nature of its civilian and military education.  Tension and occasional outright conflict surround the question as to which aspect would prevail. The student body has been organized along military lines ever since the school’s founding.  Students wore uniforms, were known as cadets, and were subject to military discipline.  However, the vast majority of students were training for civilian professions.  Inevitably, there was tension.  This reached critical proportions in the late 1960s and 1970s when many cadets (though certainly not all) rebelled against the strict discipline and military lifestyle.  The administration, wanting to quell vandalism, food fights, and general disrespect while fearing low enrollment, gave in on certain issues such as hair length, facial hair, and the wearing of civilian clothes on campus.  As a means of increasing enrollment and tuition income the college admitted civilian students and graduate students.  They took classes at the college but were not part of the Regiment of Cadets.  These two dualisms of SUNY Maritime’s existence, federal versus state and civilian versus military, can never be completely resolved, but they can be managed.

This book is well-written and strikes a balance between a narrative that stresses administrative history and one that focuses on anecdotes of cadet life.  The author strives for objectivity, even though he is writing about his employer.  His text is based on solid research in the school’s archives and is thoroughly documented.  There are useful charts in the appendix, which the reviewer consulted frequently.  The only jarring note is Chapter 5, “The Way of the Schoolship,” which is a fictionalized account of early cadet life.  The dialogue is corny and its credibility is dubious.  It is out of place in a scholarly history.  Apart from that quibble, Williams is to be commended for his fine account of a college that has made a major contribution to the nation’s maritime history.


Dr. Suzanne Geissler is an Associate Professor of History at William Patterson University, Wayne, New Jersey.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW – Hal’s Navy

Hals NavyBy Cdr. Harold Sacks, USN (Ret.), Park Press, Norfolk, VA. (2013)

Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart

Cdr. Sacks has written a highly readable book about his service in the United States Navy from 1952 to 1972. He spent most of his service in the Navy on a destroyer or serving in the intelligence community. While the book contains a few sea stories (his visit to Onassis’s mega-yacht Christina being the best of the lot), the author concerns himself primarily with telling the story of what it was like to be a naval officer during the early years of the Cold War. The author saw combat in Korea and Vietnam.

Hal’s Navy is the story of one man progressing from the newest officer on board USS Owen (DD 536) as it was preparing for deployment to Korea to that of commanding officer of USS Steinaker (DD 863) during operations on the gun line along the shore of Vietnam. Between these two events, he served tours of duty onboard USS Des Moines (CA 134), USS Blandy (DD 937), USS Davis (DD 937), and USS Gyatt (DD 712). Woven throughout the book are details concerning his family and his endeavors to ensure that practicing members of the Jewish religion were able to receive spiritual comfort from members of their own faith. During his tour in Vietnam, he established a Jewish religious center in Saigon and started the paperwork to have a rabbi deployed to Vietnam.

While Commander Sacks’ tales of sea duty are fascinating, what the reviewer found most interesting were his accounts of shore duty with the intelligence community, particularly his service with the Navy Scientific and Technical Intelligence Center (STIC) located in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

The story of his service at Gitmo is one of the few accounts that have been written about life at this base. He gives the reader insight as to what life was like there as the Batista government fell and Castro seized power. Equally fascinating is his tale of serving under Rear Admiral John D. Buckeley. As one reads this account, one quickly grasps why Buckeley was such a leader of men.

I am sure that many other career naval men have wrestled with the decision the author agonized over—to stay in or leave the Navy. The author knew he was being groomed for advancement to Captain, but he had a family that had established strong emotional ties in the Norfolk area. Faced with three choices: uproot the family, commute between Washington and Norfolk, or change careers, he opted to put his family first and regretfully left the Navy.

The book is worth reading by anyone interested in the U.S. Navy during the 1950’s and 1960’s. I believe that any person starting a career in the Navy would be well served by reading this book. No matter what assignment Cdr. Sacks was given in the Navy, he found some way to use the experience he gained to make himself a better man. Autobiographies like this will provide a nice insight into the U.S. Navy during the Cold War period for historians researching the U.S. Navy fifty years from now.


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

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW – Images of Aviation: Naval Air Station Pensacola

Naval Air Station PensecolaBy Maureen Smith Keillor and AMEC (AW/SW) Richard P. Keillor, MTS, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC (2014)

Review by Jason McHale

The Images of Aviation series commemorates the history of flight through pictures. More than eighty books comprise this series focusing on the early experiments, famous airfields, various aircraft and other aspects of aviation history. Images of Aviation: Naval Air Station Pensacola showcases the world’s first naval air station and its development from 1914 to today. Starting with only nine officers and twenty-three men in 1914, the base grew into one of the most important sites for the continued development of naval aviation.

Beginning with an introduction that provides the early history of the Pensacola area, the book is divided into six chapters that show the history of the naval air station. Each chapter covers a specific time period in the base’s history. As a pictorial history, the book has little text, and instead shows the historical narrative is provided through the pictures and captions. The lack of text only allows so much of the history of the base to come through. The book is interesting and well put together, but because it is a collection of images it might not need to appear on everyone’s shelf. Instead, this book and others in the series are better suited for those interested in the location or event or to introduce younger readers to the history of aviation through images.


Jason McHale is an Adjunct Professor at Quincy College, Quincy, Massachusetts.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW – Images of Aviation: Naval Air Station Atlantic City

7670NAVAcvr.inddBy Richard V. Porcelli, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, (2012)

Reviewed by John Galluzzo

Authors choosing to work with Arcadia Publishing set themselves up with a challenge. With strict word counts accompanying each image size (small and large portraits and landscapes, and double page spreads), brevity becomes more than an issue, it becomes a ritual. Yet while writing a book essentially comprised of captions, a talented author can still create a flowing narrative that tells a detailed and engaging story about the topic at hand.

Most Arcadia titles are place-based, as the company built its reputation by becoming a highly successful national publisher of local histories, sprung directly from the similarly successful Tempus Publishing efforts in the United Kingdom. Once the list of unpublished and marketable community titles began to winnow, Arcadia moved into specific themes, with titles on railroads, large businesses and aviation, among other similar subjects. With aviation titles, authors were allowed to expand the bounds to which authors of community books were held, specifically within the 1850 to 1950 timeframe for imagery. Titles on naval air stations, for instance, would not need be halted before the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Neither would titles focused on the wars in the Middle East fought over the last two and a half decades.

Porcelli’s title, therefore had the potential to cover the entire history of its subject, Naval Air Station Atlantic City, and the airfield’s antecedent iterations. But, since that story was to be told in the standard Arcadia format of 128 black-and-white pages, Porcelli had room for approximately 225 photographs. The author took strong advantage of this set-up, choosing to use small images, two per page (save on chapter title pages), throughout the book, making it a highly visual title. The strategy also allowed him to carry his book’s theme back to the roots of aviation in Atlantic City, providing context for the evolution of the airfield that would become a naval air station during World War II.

Excluding the story of Bader Field would have robbed the book of some of its most compelling imagery. A 1910 “Aero Show” highlighted the potential of aviation for the people of Atlantic City, and the field from which the aviators flew that July soon thereafter became a municipal airport (aviator Augustus Post coined the term “air port” that year to describe the facility). The first ten pages of the book serve as a celebration of early aviation. Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss is shown in action during the meet, and then again in 1919 when he returns to develop a base for flying boats off Brigantine Inlet. After successfully flying across the Atlantic in 1919, Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read brought the NC-4 to Atlantic City as part of a recruiting tour. In October 1927, Charles Lindbergh, conducting a victorious tour of his own, flew the Spirit of St. Louis to Atlantic City. Even Amelia Earhart’s smiling face beams outward at the reader of this book.

The bulk of the book covers a brief sixteen-year period during which the Navy held control over what was to be a second, larger municipal airbase, carved out of the famed New Jersey Pine Barrens. Completed in 1943, the base operated during World War II and the Korean War. Units began assignments at Naval Air Station Atlantic City (NASAC) on May 1, 1943, both training and providing coastal patrols. For the next few months fighters, scout/dive bombers, and torpedo bombers all soared over the city, but by August the mission had been solidified. NASAC would become a premier Fighter Training Unit base. In reality, though, that hard-and-fast designation would simply be the first in a long line of such bold new missions attached to the air station over time. As missions, enemies and technologies changed, so, too would the purposes with which aviators lifted off from the runways of NASAC.

The author took the liberty of expanding the selection of imagery for the book beyond the borders of the base itself, which is one of the advantages of creating an aviation title for this series. While authors of community-based titles are mostly pinned inside their towns, authors like Porcelli are free to allow the imagery to wander. Units that formed or trained at NASAC joined the fights in both the Atlantic and Pacific, operating from carriers in both theaters of operation. Aviators who learned how to fly their Hellcats or Corsairs at NASAC carried the base’s story overseas.

The postwar images, while perhaps not as compelling as the pictures from the World War II era for the layman American historian, nonetheless hold deep interest. The base expanded its scope in 1947 to include fighter, attack, antisubmarine and reconnaissance units, as well as missions of what at the time must have seemed like science fiction proportions. Drone testing took place at the base during these years, with the technologies developed in Atlantic City being tested under fire in Korea. Radio-controlled F6F-3Ks also gathered radioactive particles after atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.

Porcelli carries the story seamlessly into the Jet Age, transitioning out the old prop planes and bringing in waves of F2H-3 Banshees and F8U Crusaders. Beautiful images capture icons of the New Jersey shore in the background, indelibly stamping them in time and place.

The final third of the book deals with the post-Navy days, when “the base” was no more. The Federal Aviation Administration set up shop on the old base on July 1, 1958, redubbing it the National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center, doubling its size and broadly expanding its mission. It later became today’s William J. Hughes Technical Center.

Many Arcadia authors fail to tell a cohesive tale, reverting instead to a series of individual, unrelated captions that turn their works from potential histories to local history scrapbooks. Porcelli excels at the storytelling side of the work, and finds ways to creatively fill image gaps that would have otherwise been obvious detriments to the book.


John Galluzzo is the author of Images of America: Squantum and South Weymouth (MA) Naval Air Stations and Images of America: Millville (NJ) Army Air Field.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

BOOK REVIEW – The Lucky Few: The Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk

The Lucky FewBy Jan K. Herman, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2013)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

The role that the United States Navy played in the Vietnam Conflict is well known, especially with regard to the beginning and escalation of the conflict. The role played by the US Navy in the war’s final days is less known. The part played by the 7th Fleet Task Force in the rescue of thousands of refugees sheltered on board what was left of the Republic of Vietnam’s Navy is an epic one indeed. This task force and the Destroyer-Escort USS Kirk have both been overlooked for nearly four decades. That these stories have come to life is due to the efforts of historian and documentarian Jan K. Herman, who produced both a documentary as well and this fine volume.

A destroyer escort (now referred to as a frigate) such as USS Kirk might seem a strange protagonist for a rescue mission off Vietnam’s coast. Indeed, while these vessels (along with the larger Destroyers and Cruisers) performed yeoman service both protecting the fleet and in gunfire support for ground troops and junk forces. As the final North Vietnamese offensive rolled towards the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon in April 1975, Kirk and her sisters were helping evacuate the last American personnel from Cambodia. After a short 36-hour stopover in Singapore, they received orders to join Task Force 76 off South Vietnam. This force which included seventeen amphibious ships, two aircraft carriers, eleven replenishment ships and fourteen escorts (including the Kirk) that would attempt to rescue the remaining American personnel as well as South Vietnamese who would suffer reprisals.

The Navy deployed seventy-three ships in total for the operation. The initial plan had been to use fixed-wing aircraft out of Tan Son Nhut airbase, just north of Saigon. The base had quickly been compromised by advancing communist forces, and a helicopter evacuation was initiated. Kirk’s role was to provide surveillance, routine escort and patrol, naval gunfire support, and anti-air and anti-surface protection for the Task Force. With her flight deck, she could also serve as a temporary landing platform for any helicopters that did not have enough fuel to make it to one of the aircraft carriers or amphibious vessels. Because the escorts were closer to the shore than larger vessels, they quickly became a magnet for helicopters as the evacuation wore on, Having a small flight deck, most helicopters had to be pushed off into the sea; the skids doing quite a bit of damage to the deck itself. (On a more positive note, the aviation detachment would get a few “prizes”, including a brand-new UH-1 Huey that was the personal transport of a Vietnamese General.) The rescue of two Marine Corps helicopter pilots resulted in the Kirk being rewarded with five gallons of strawberry ice cream, per naval tradition.

Had this been the extent of Task Force 76 mission, this would have been merely another unsung laudable action in the annals of the US Navy. With the imminent fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the evacuation became something quite different. The Task Force set sail for Con Son Island; about 115 miles south of the Coast. The island that had been a penal colony during French colonial rule was now the last refuge for fifty Vietnamese ships and thousands of refugees.  Herman introduces us to the crew of the Kirk, for the work tells their story. It is in this stage of the evacuation, from Con Son Island to the Philippines (where the ships would be turned over after a brief commissioning into the US Navy), that the crew comes to the forefront. The men of the Kirk had the utmost respect for their captain, LCDR Paul Jacobs. Even in advancing years, they speak of him with respect. Transforming a ship of war into a ship of hope is no easy thing; that Jacob could achieve such a feat was a credit to his own abilities, as well as those of his crew. The Kirk’s doctor, a Chief Hospitalman, served as a travelling country doctor to the motley flotilla; while enginemen helped keep most of the vessels afloat and underway. The deplorable conditions on many of these vessels were what one might expect from being overcrowded by desperate people from a nation that was soon to pass into history. Marines were assigned as security details.  Several died, but most made it through safely due to the efforts of the Kirk and the Task Force as a whole. Many later immigrated to the United States and became citizens.  Herman tells their stories as well.

This is a fine book overall. The major criticism that I have are that there are no maps, which would have been helpful to track the early stages of the evacuation. I recommend the volume to anyone interested in the US Navy’s role in Vietnam.


Nathan D. Wells is an Adjunct Professor of History at Quincy College, Quincy, Massachusetts.    

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment