Actions Speak as Loudly as Words: The U.S. Naval History and Contributions of Edward Latimer Beach Sr. and Edward Latimer “Ned” Beach Jr.

By Midshipman Maya Weiss, United States Naval Academy

There’s a proverb that proclaims, “Like father, like son.” For Edward Latimer Beach, Sr. and Edward Latimer “Ned” Beach, Jr., no truer words have been spoken. For them, naval service was a multigenerational calling. And while the two generations served at different times in naval history, and as importantly, different times in world history, the two shared the same core values, honor, courage, and commitment, that made both Edward Latimer Beach, Sr. and Edward Latimer “Ned” Beach, Jr. effective and successful leaders. While father and son naval careers are common, the combination of both father and son as career officers, as well as highly successful authors, makes the Beaches unique and worthy of examination. Their combined journeys encompassed “the conversion of the U.S Navy from wooden to steel ships, and from wind to steam to nuclear propulsion. [They] would participate in, as well as chronicle, the emergence of the U.S. Navy as the premier naval force in the world.” 

Edward Latimer “Ned” Beach., Jr. was born April 20, 1918, in New York City. Though not entirely obvious at the time, the infant was figuratively born into the U.S. Navy and, from the moment he entered the world, was likely destined to not only continue the family tradition of naval service, but to also chronicle naval service. At the time of his birth, Ned’s father was a world away in Northern Scotland at Scapa Flow in command of the USS New York, the flagship of the British Grand Fleet’s Sixth Battle Squadron that was mounting a permanent blockade against the German High Seas Fleet. Despite missing the birth of his first child, at the time, the elder Beach was likely content in the notion that he was exactly where he was destined to be, defending the nation through the command of a battleship. 

The senior Beach, Edward Latimer Beach, was born June 30, 1867, in Toledo, Ohio. Importantly, Edward Sr.’s father, Joseph Lane Beach, was a Confederate States Army Lieutenant during the Civil War (which ended a mere two years before Edward’s birth), and was wounded and captured by the North in Antietam. Beach’s father’s military service likely had an influence on young Edward’s life path. To put the period of Edward’s birth into historical perspective, the year 1867 marked the construction of the first transcontinental railroad that would ultimately link the East and West coasts. Candles and whale oil were used for lighting, homes were heated with wood or coal, and there was no modern refrigeration. Ailments like rickets and scurvy were prevalent. Childbirth typically took place at home with infant death common, and diseases such as yellow fever and cholera frequently claimed the lives of young children. At the time, the Navy relied on the then “state-of-the-art” wooden steam frigates to provide the postwar general purpose fleet. While times were tough, there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon. At the time Edward Beach Sr. was born, “The institutions and ideology of a plantation society and a slave system that had dominated half of the country before 1861 went down with a great crash in 1865 and were replaced by the institutions and ideology of free-labor entrepreneurial capitalism. For better or worse, the flames of the Civil War forged the framework of modern America.” In other words, out of war, a new nation had emerged. And, as part of the U.S. Navy, Edward Latimer Beach Sr. would ultimately play a role in the country’s, and the U.S. Navy’s, emergence.

Growing up very poor, as a child Beach set his sights on the United States Naval Academy. Knowing his parents could not afford to send him to college, he worked hard academically and, at the age of 17, he was appointed to the Academy. Within two years of graduation, he was commissioned as an assistant engineer, serving aboard the steam sloop-of-war Richmond and later on the cruisers Philadelphia and New York and the training ship Essex. Beach rose to the rank of Lieutenant in 1899. Beach continued up the ranks and was assigned to the monitor Nevada and the armored cruiser Montana. He was promoted to Commander in 1910 and Captain in 1914.

In between his duties at sea, Beach held a post at the U.S. Naval Academy teaching English. It was during this time that Beach published 13 influential novels written for young boys with the overriding theme that success can be achieved through hard work and honesty. Beach’s novels included the Annapolis series (about life at the Academy), The Ralph Osborne series, and Dan Quinn of the Navy. Printed from 1907 to 1922, these novels not only persuaded many of the boys who read them to ultimately serve as naval officers in World War II, but also had a profound impact on Beach’s own son, Ned, who would ultimately go on to serve.

In 1915, Beach was sent to Haiti “to protect American lives and property” aboard 

the USS Washington. Interestingly, three pivotal events happened during Edward Beach’s two-year stint in the Carribean. First, Beach lost his first wife of 20 years and loving companion, Lucie Adelaide Quin, to breast cancer. Second, while in Haiti, Beach met his second wife, and the eventual mother of his three children, Marie Justine Alice Fouché, a Haitian-Dominican woman. And third, at his command of the Memphis in the Dominican Republic’s Santo Domingo harbor, in 1916, the ship was wrecked as a result of huge, unexpected waves that battered the vessel. Beach’s son, Ned, later described the incident as, “Without warning the sea erupted to the south, huge waves swept into the harbor, and in less than an hour [the] great ship was hard aground against a rocky cliff in 12 feet of water (her normal draft being about 29 [feet]).” 

Proceeding the wreck of the Memphis, Beach was convicted by a court martial for “not having enough steam available to get under way on short notice” in the face of an approaching hurricane. However, Beach was exonerated a few years later when the Navy determined that the Memphis was destroyed by, what the Navy later deemed to be an unforeseen phenomenon called a “tidal wave.” (Today, “tidal waves” are more commonly referred to as tsunamis.) As technology improved, subsequent evidence indicated that the ship was subjected to a series of rogue waves generated by multiple active hurricanes in the Carribean. This evolution of explanations as to the cause of the wreck of the Memphis is a brilliant example of ongoing advancements in meteorology and oceanography that were evident in the early 20th century. It was these improvements in meteorology and oceanography ultimately revealed the true cause of the wreck.

It is also interesting to note that three British armored cruisers of similar operational design to the USS Memphis were lost at the Battle of Jutland (in addition to great loss of lives) just months before the loss of the Memphis. These ships were ultimately considered “outdated” in terms of operational design. The bottom line is that today’s improvements in training, procedures, equipment, technology, oceanography and especially weather forecasting would have easily saved the Memphis from catastrophe. The idea of having working weapons and equipment and not carelessly putting men in harm’s way was a notion that Ned would carry with him throughout his life. No doubt the wreck of the Memphis and Beach Sr.’s experience cast an indelible, but important, lifelong ideal upon the junior Beach. 

 Despite the fate of the Memphis and subsequent court martial, the elder Beach subsequently assumed such duties as Commandant of the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1917 and 1918, commanded the battleship New York during the final months of World War I, and ended his active career as Commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard, California.

In 1923, after a naval career that spanned over three decades, Beach Sr. retired from the Navy and went on to teach naval and military history at Stanford University. There, in Palo Alto, California, Beach had the luxury of spending quality time with his then young son Ned. It was at this time (and likely the result of both this Naval experience and his profession of being a teacher of naval and military history) that Edward Sr., perhaps unwittingly, immersed his young son in Navy life, encouraging young Ned to read such sailing ship Navy books as Maclay’s History of the United States Navy from 1775 to 1901 and James Fennimore Cooper’s History of the Navy of the United State of America, as well as books about Farragut, Cushing, the Civil War, Teddy Roosevelt and his own published books about the Navy. Ned also enthusiastically built models of model ships and often played with this father by reenacting battle scenes. Ned also spent his early childhood years fascinated by the wreck of the Memphis and asked his father to recount the catastrophe over and over. (The younger Beach later confessed that he regretted asking his father to recount what must have been an incredibly difficult time in his father’s life.) To young Ned, “the world consisted of ships and the sea and people like my father, who sailed in the ships and on the waters.” 

In 1935, Ned Beach was appointed to the United States Naval Academy by California Senator Hiram Johnson. Unlike during his father’s era however, Ned entered the Academy when “the importance of aviation increased in naval operations. The Navy [had] developed aircraft carriers, radar technology and better weaponry for protection from air attacks.” Upon entry into the Academy, like many plebes, Ned felt unpopular, and was harassed for his fluency in French (which he learned from his mother). Fellow midshipmen often referred to him as “Frenchie,” which he despised. However, once Plebe Summer came to an end and the academic year started, fellow students sought out Ned for his intelligence, specifically in the form of his superior tutoring assistance. 

As Ned developed spiritually, morally, and intellectually during his time at the Academy, it became obvious that he shared his father’s empathy for people harmed by war. On one particular summer cruise aboard the USS Texas, the Midshipmen toured a port in Mexico, the site of the battle of Chapultepec. Ned learned that in the battle, 100 military cadets died defending their school. Ned felt compelled to place a wreath in honor of the students (whom he likely related to) but thought better of the idea considering the act may have been seen as an act sanctioned by the U.S. government. Perhaps the fact that Ned was raised by a Haitian mother, who may have appeared different than others’ mothers, truly enabled him to value all people. 

By the end of his Plebe year, Ned led his class academically, and by the end of his second-class year, Ned was ranked second in his class academically. The trend persisted as Ned was named “Commander of the Regiment of Midshipmen” for the first third of the 1938-39 academic year and was awarded the Sword of the Class of 1897, and was one of six graduates who were given a letter of commendation from the superintendent having “contributed most by their office-like qualities and positive characters to the development of Naval spirit and loyalty within the Regiment.”

Ned’s portrait in the USNA 1939 Lucky Bag ironically not only summed up Ned’s personality as a midshipman at the Academy, but his subsequent time in service. It is also a testament to inspire every midshipman:

“NED believes in doing something even if it is wrong; and he has the uncanny knack of seldom being wrong. He barges right into a knot of struggling soccer players, and the ball soon emerges in the direction of the opponent’s goal. This same drive characterizes his more professional activities. As a midshipman officer Ned displays both loyalty to the Naval Service and genuine loyalty to his comrades … Ned loves the Navy.” 

It is important to note that shortly before Ned’s graduation, in 1933, Congress authorized the U.S. Naval Academy to begin awarding Bachelor of Science degrees. As a result, and unlike his father, Ned had the advantage of a scientific foundation with which to pursue his career. Ned graduated from the Academy second in this class, and upon graduation in 1939, Ned held two important goals, achieving command of a battleship, like his father had, and being promoted to admiral, something his father never achieved. 

The year of his graduation, Ned reported for neutrality patrol duty on the heavy cruiser the USS Chester, and later the destroyer USS Lea. But these two tours would be the extent of Ned’s surface ship duty. In 1941, with the U.S. on the verge of World War II, Ned reported to submarine school in Groton, Connecticut. Ned’s goal of commanding a battleship would never come to fruition, not because he was not capable, but because the Navy believed Ned’s talents would be better utilized in submarines and what would soon be regarded as a “highly honed U.S. weapon of war by the end of WWII.” 

In 1942, at the beginning of World War II, Ned was assigned to the submarine, USS Trigger (SS-237), as an assistant engineering officer, and later as the executive officer. But it was not all “smooth sailing.” There were issues with torpedoes in the early years of the war. As Ned later explained in a magazine article, “ The torpedoes with which American submarines were equipped at the beginning of the war suffered from four major defects. The overlapping of the defects made it difficult to determine the exact cause of the failures.” Ned vowed that he would do everything in his power (including deftly writing about issues) to never allow U.S. Navy ships to be equipped with weapons and equipment that did not work. Ned spent two years aboard the Trigger, serving nine war patrols and rising to the rank of executive officer. 

In 1944, Ned reported to the Tirante (SS-420) as the executive officer and in 1945 assumed command of the USS Piper (SS-409), a submarine that was fitted with a new type of sonar that would allow the submarine to navigate submerged through underwater minefields. Toward the end of WWII, Trigger was lost. Ned suffered severe survivor’s guilt having been spared the fate of those lost on the Trigger. He used his writing skills to deal with this guilt by not only memorializing the Trigger and its men, but by also writing stories of the Trigger, Tirante, and Piper for the magazine Blue Book.

In 1947, Ned began working in OP-36, the Atomic Defense Section in the fleet operations, responsible for integrating nuclear weapons. “The Navy, realizing atomic weapons were the wave of the future, and therefore the key to all future funding,worked diligently to ensure a place at the atomic weapons table for itself.” Ned worked on a plan to develop a submarine powered by a nuclear source. His mentor at time was Hyman G. Rickover, the eventual “Father of the Nuclear Navy.”

Over the next several years, Ned was assigned to the Amberjack (SS-552) where he developed tactics that would allow the submarine to dive and return to the surface with greater speeds. He was later ordered to command the new USS Trigger (SS-564) that was equipped with a new lightweight diesel engine. The sub was considered “every skipper’s nightmare. Ned, true to his word of never tolerating faulty equipment, publicly criticized Trigger II for its inadequacies. Shortly thereafter, Ned was named naval assistant to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In that position, in January 1954, Ned was responsible for promoting the launch of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571).

In 1955, Ned’s novel, Run Silent, Run Deep, was published and earned on the New York Times best-seller list. It was no wonder. Ned was able to put his reader right in the middle of the action as evidenced in this passage from Ned’s book, Run Silent, Run Deep

“A submarine’s natural habitat is the deep, silent depths of the sea. The deeper she can go, the safer she is, and with the comfortable shelter of hundreds of feet of ocean overhead the submariner can relax. Deep in the sea there is no motion, no sound, save that put there by the insane humors of man. The slow, smooth stirring of the deep ocean currents, the high frequency snapping or popping of ocean life, even the occasional snort or burble of a porpoise are all in low key, subdued, responsive to the primordial quietness of the deep. Of life, there is, of course, plenty, and of death too, for neither are strange in the ocean. But even life and death, though violent, make little or no noise in the deep sea.”

Subsequent to his White House assignment, from 1957 to 1958, Ned commanded the USS Salamonie (AO-26) where he aptly handled a man-overboard crisis. In 1959, Ned took command as PCO of the USS Triton (SSR[N]-586), the first U.S. submarine to have two nuclear reactors, and in 1960 completed the first ever submerged circumnavigation of the world. The top-secret circumnavigation (that followed the path of Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the Earth) was a great success and earned Ned a Legion of Merit Medal.

In 1961, Ned assumed command of Submarine Squadron Eight (SUBRON 8) and the next year was assigned to attend post graduate officer training at the Naval War College. Ironically, in 1966, Ned’s son Edward III was drafted to serve in Vietnam. The younger Beach was a pacifist and registered for conscientious objector status. Ned fully supported his son and testified to his son’s integrity. Ultimately, the son was granted conscientious objector status likely as a result of Ned’s stellar reputation.

At age 48, Ned left the Navy, unfortunately never making the rank of admiral for various political reasons. He, however, continued to teach and write many books in retirement, including the reargument of his father’s wrongful conviction of the Memphis in “The Wreck of the Memphis.” In total, Ned wrote three novels, six works of nonfiction and co-authored two works.

In 1999, in the presence of Edward Latimer “Ned” Beach Jr., Beach Hall at the United States Naval Academy was dedicated to the father and the son who had done so much for the U.S. Navy. “The naming of Beach Hall in honor of two men who have dedicated their long careers in the Navy and to writing about the Navy was an exceptional way of showing the dual missions of the Naval Institute.” 

“What Ned yearned for, what he sought and fought for his whole life, was a Navy worthy of the vision of his father’s novels constructed. To his own credit and honor, Ned never lost faith in a Navy that was as susceptible to the foibles of humans as any other institution. Both for Ned, that was never good enough. The words, Honor, Courage, and Commitment from the Sailor’s Creed were not abstract ideals to be merely mouthed, they were to be lived, achieved — practiced every day.” 

The elder Beach, Edward Latimer Beach, Sr., died in 1943. His son, Edward Latimer “Ned” Beach, Jr. died December 1, 2002, in Washington, D.C. It was through their words, actions and ideals, that they each left future generations with not only a better Navy, but with chronicles that would serve future generations.

In This is Your Navy, author Theodore Roscoe asks: “What’s the good of going back to the old days … when you’ve got your hands full with affairs of the present? Roscoe then answers his question with, “What you do today depends largely on what was done yesterday … the things you’re doing now result from, and are a continuation of, things done in the past.” To Roscoe’s point, we are well-served by understanding the indelible mark that both Edward Latimer Beach Sr. and Edward Latimer “Ned” Beach Jr. left on not only the United States Navy, but on the entire United States. 


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