For the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Naval Academy, the Naval Institute’s Proceedings compiled memories of midshipmen who went on to prominence later in their lives. The following is from Captain Edward L. “Ned” Beach Jr., who recalled Orson Welles’ 1938 (75 years ago today) radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” Though he remembers it to have happened on “Halloween night,” it actually took place the night before. The Naval Institute’s headquarters in Annapolis, Beach Hall, is named after Ned and his father, Captain Edward L. Beach Sr. Murray Frazee, the midshipman who tipped Ned off about the “invasion,” went on to become the Executive Officer of the USS Tang in World War II under Richard H. O’Kane.
—Fred Schultz, Managing Editor, Proceedings
Hat tip Claude Berube
Godspeed Commander Carpenter
In his Aurora 7 spacecraft on 24 May 1962, one of the original Mercury 7 space pioneers became the second American to orbit the Earth. After a rather rocky flight, overshooting his splashdown target by 250 miles, he was assigned to monitor the design and development of the lunar module for the Apollo project. He then took leave from the space program in the spring of 1965 to serve as an aquanaut in the U.S. Navy’s SeaLab II project, spending 30 days 205 feet below the surface off the coast of La Jolla, California. “The first person to explore both of humanity’s great remaining frontiers” talked recently withNaval History editor Fred L. Schultz between sessions of a Naval Forces Under the Sea symposium sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Naval Academy.
Naval History : I’ll start with the inevitable question. How would you compare deep-sea exploration to space flight?
Carpenter : In the near term, and maybe for an extended term, deep-sea exploration is much more important. In the long term, space is the last frontier. But in the near term, the ocean needs better attention and a clearer understanding. And that’s what we are trying to achieve. It used to be that deep-sea exploration was primarily a defense-oriented project. In a way, it’s still defense-oriented; but we’re trying to defend the planet now, instead of just this country.
Naval History : How important is public appreciation of what SeaLab accomplished, even though we’re not doing the same things anymore?
Carpenter : Right. We’re not doing it anymore. And I can’t tell you how important it is. But I do feel comfortable saying it’s more important than we realize. I have such an unbounded respect for the value of new knowledge, new truths. And that’s what we’re still trying to do, at all levels. I think it’s vitally important for our ultimate survival.
Naval History : So you think deep-sea exploration is more important than the International Space Station, for instance?
Carpenter : I’ve always objected to having the two modes of exploration appear as competitive. I think they are complementary. And we’re learning, from all of these experiments, more about where we are and who we are and where we’re going. That sounds highfalutin, but it is all in an attempt to gain new knowledge, which is our salvation.
Naval History : Explain, if you would, the function of the SeaLab program.
Carpenter : In order to understand the ocean and the sea floor and life in the ocean, you have to spend time there. The deeper you go, the harder it is to spend time because of the diver’s albatross, which is decompression. The goal was to provide a pressurized habitat on the ocean floor for a deep-sea diver—one where he could enter the water freely, work as long as possible, and come back and eat and get warm and sleep without paying the decompression penalty. That’s a major advance in our ability to gain new knowledge from the ocean floor. And that’s what SeaLab was.
It was postulated by [Captain] George Bond [U.S. Navy (Retired)], who was behind all of the early work done by Jacques Yves Cousteau, which drew interest from the United States. It came from U.S. Navy work at the hands of George Bond. [See Captain Bond’s book, Papa Topside (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1993).] It just says that if a man in a high-pressure environment is in equilibrium with the pressure of the water outside, the longer he stays at that depth, the longer he must decompress—up to 24 hours, when his blood becomes saturated with the breathing atmosphere mix. After 24 hours, he can stay for 24 weeks and still need only the same decompression time. So it makes divers much more efficient in water. And that’s what SeaLab proved.
Naval History : So SeaLab was more for diver efficiency than, perhaps, colonizing the ocean floor at some point?
Carpenter : Well, one leads to the other. I don’t really see a need, at this time, for residential communities on the ocean floor; maybe one day industrial communities, but that’s a long way down the road. But increased freedom in the deep ocean is valuable right now, and that’s what we developed in SeaLab.
Naval History : In hindsight, how do you think SeaLab would be today, if it had been sustained, rather than canceled?
Carpenter : We would have discovered the same things we have discovered in the chambers of the experimental diving unit. We’ve run up against a brick wall because of this physiological limit of 2,000 feet. We can’t really live and work at depths greater than 2,000 feet. And it’s not clearly understood why.
You know, in the SeaLab II film, the narrator makes a statement something like—I’ll paraphrase—”who knows, perhaps in some years we will be diving out of a sea lab at 20,000 feet.” We all thought we were on an open-ended experiment that would go deeper and deeper as soon as we built the technology. We didn’t know at that time that we had a physiological limit at 2,000 feet. So we’re locked out of deeper water until the medics can figure out how to handle that.
Naval History : In light of the USS Greeneville (SSN-772) accident, how
important are visits to Navy ships and submarines to the Navy?
Carpenter : I think they are important, and I don’t think we should do without them. We can, but I don’t think we should. In light of the Greeneville episode, they must be more carefully monitored. I think we might have to be more selective about what we do while there are civilians on board; or maybe just monitor the whole thing more closely. That was human failure spread out all along the line. The whole thing, I think, needs to be reevaluated, but not discontinued.
Naval History : Which were you more interested in—flying or going deep?
Carpenter : My first interest was flying. I was inspired by the very popular war [World War II]. But that led to a fascination for the ocean, mainly because when I started flying for the Navy, I was in Hawaii and got acquainted with the coral reef, skin diving, and spear fishing. And I’d read everything that Cousteau had written and seen all he had produced on film. That was my second love. I am still fascinated by the underwater world. It has a fascination for me of a type that the atmosphere and space do not. But they’re both addictive.
“Inspirational,” said many in the crowd. “Amazing” was also a common sentiment. And some of the spectators were even heard to whisper: “Life-changing.” The event, dubbed the First Annual NFL Players vs. Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Classic, took place on Saturday night, 1 June, at Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Baltimore Orioles’ Class AA Eastern League affiliate Bowie Baysox, in suburban Maryland.
The field had been modified to softball specifications, with the pitcher’s mound closer to home plate, the bases closer to each other than the big-league configuration of the Baysox infield, and the home-run fence brought in just a bit closer to home. Make no mistake, though. To hit one out of this park still required a prodigious blow, several of which were witnessed on this hot and humid night.
Billed as a chance “to showcase how technology is making prosthetic limbs better and is improving the quality of life for limb-loss veterans and to raise money for Wounded Warrior organizations,” the game pitted a group of volunteer players from the National Football League against wounded warriors from across the country who lost extremities during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.
Fittingly, the event sponsor was Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics, which provides lower-limb prosthetics for Walter Reed Military Medical Center like the ones making it possible for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team to compete. Besides the team, beneficiaries from this fundraiser—which was aiming to raise $50,000—were the Yellow Ribbon Fund and the Wounded Warriors Project.
Among the football pros in attendance were co-hosts DeSean Jackson, two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan. Others on the team were fan-favorite Torrey Smith, wide receiver for the 2013 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, other members of the Ravens, Redskins, and Eagles, along with players from the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, and Detroit Lions.
But even though a throng of fans were enticed here with promises of autographs from celebrity athletes, the real stars this night were the wounded warriors, who ended up signing nearly as many baseballs, footballs, softballs, photos, and posters as the people who play sports for a living.
Seated behind a printed sign that read “Kyle Earl” was a U.S. Marine from Kalamazoo, Michigan. The diminutive young man shook hands with his admirers with his left hand. His right forearm had been amputated after the Humvee he was driving in al Anbar Province, Iraq, succumbed to an improvised explosive device. Through his night-vision goggles, he noticed a bump in the road and immediately determined it was an IED. But rather than avoid it, he drove directly over it so that the Humvee behind him would not hit the device with Earl’s unit commander on board.
So, how does one play softball without a hand? “I swing with one arm,” he said. “No big deal.” Sure enough, Lance Corporal Earl, the team’s fleet-footed right fielder, steadies the bat handle with his right stump (he does have a prosthetic hand he’s learning to master) and swings cleanly with his left arm, making solid contact with the ball almost every time.
Manuel Del Rio’s sign at the autograph table mistakenly labeled him as having served in the U.S. Army. When the San Ramon, California, resident was seated, he immediately took out his pen and crossed out “Army” and inserted “Navy.” Seaman Del Rio had been serving on board the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) in support of the war on terrorism, when a mishap on the carrier’s flight deck pinned him under an aircraft, trapping him for 20 minutes. The incident caused him to lose much of his right leg.
Did he ever in his wildest dreams think he’d be sitting across a table from a long line of people wanting his autograph? “No, never,” he said. After surveying the young men behind the table it was evident that the members of this group are not interested in attracting attention for their softball prowess. “We just want to show people what the possibilities are, even when you’re faced with challenges like this,” Del Rio stressed.
The action started soon after Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson threw out the first pitch. Clearly, the NFL stars realized they should keep their day jobs in their professed sport, especially after the shellacking they took in the seven-inning game. The Wounded Warrior team won, 21-5, in a contest that was limited to a maximum of five runs per half-inning. But this was all about so much more than softball. Everyone in the stadium—including wounded-warrior spectators maneuvering up and down the stadium steps—held high hopes that, with the financial and moral backing of the American people, these brave veterans are also winning the game of life.
On the eve of the centennial of the Titanic disaster, Proceedings Managing Editor Fred Schultz caught up with Hollywood director and deep-sea explorer James Cameron. They talked about the history and current exploration of the deep ocean, modern construction of deep-submersibles, and the importance of Navy (and Naval Institute) involvement in all of it. He made it clear from the start that he was speaking to a Navy “forum.”