Archive for the 'From our Archive' Category
…and by archive – we mean the ‘collective we’ archive. Part of the U.S. Naval Institute’s mission is to honor those who serve.
There are a number of staff, many contributors, and a whole bunch of members who served in Vietnam. And some, who actually didn’t come home that day – staying behind as Advisors, like those in Iraq and soon, Afghanistan. And those who never come home at all.
If you are anywhere near a Vietnam veteran today, physically – or virtually, welcome them home – or/and welcome home a current veteran.
By Pfc. Chelsea Flowers
On March 30, 1973 all U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam. Instead of receiving a welcome fitting for the sacrifice they made for this country, the majority of the returning troops were met with criticism and hostility.
Frustration. Anger. Disloyal. Unappreciated. All of these words could describe the possible feelings and thoughts that went through the minds of these individuals. Some of these troops were drafted, yet still fought and died for the lives of the men to their right and left, only to be diminished for their accomplishments upon their return.
Over nine million military personnel served during the Vietnam War. Of that number 58,156 lost their lives, while 303,704 were wounded in action.
Politics played a key role in the lack of respect that was due to these individuals. Back then those who were against the war did not support the troops like many do today. Now, government is taking an opportunity to return that respect to the troops.
The U.S. Senate passed a resolution on March 7, 2011, declaring March 30 “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.” The resolution currently awaits a decision by the House. This day will be recognized across the U.S. as a day of commemoration, a day to pay the proper respect to the veterans who sacrificed so much during the war.
Vietnam Veteran’s Day is a chance to repair the wrong done to these troops. The people of the United States can finally pay the respect due them.
Many cities and states have events planned for these veterans. Marines from Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, Calif., have planned a ceremony honoring the Vietnam troops, followed by a parade through Fort Irwin. The base is also hosting a motorcycle ride in their honor.
We should all take this day to give our appreciation to our Vietnam veterans. Taking time out from our busy lives to give thanks for the sacrifices of those who we don’t know is a display of kindness and admiration that means so much to those who expect so little.
Thank you all for what you have done. Semper Fidelis.
“All it takes is all you’ve got.” ASM American
Proceedings, May 1923, Volume 49, Number 5, Whole Number 243
When I was informed by Colonel Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, that I was to be invited to go to Boston and speak to this distinguished audience I must confess to experiencing a feeling of dismay such as I have rarely felt in the presence of much graver danger. This feeling was prompted not so much by my sense of inexperience in public speaking, or doubt of your kindly forbearance, as by the thought that while this would be a wonderful opportunity to present the case for the Navy to an audience whose influence might in the future prove a factor in determining the course of our naval policy, my failure to enlist your interest in the problems of the Navy would be a matter of abiding regret.
The reasons why you should stand firmly in support of the Navy are to me so obvious that I hope no eloquence of mine will be necessary to convince you, once you are in possession of the facts.
What I have to say to you is wholly from the national standpoint. That is the standpoint of the Navy. The Navy is not concerned with party politics. It exists only as an arm of the executive authority whether that authority be Democratic or Republican. We are not interested in the political rivalries of states, or districts, or counties, or municipalities. Of all those things the average voter knows a great deal more than I do. But when our average voter speaks of America as a nation and considers the rights, duties and interests of America as one of a family of nations, a family with many conflicting and discordant interests, his ignorance is apt to be alarming. I think you will agree with me when I say that but a small fraction of our citizens are qualified to cast an intelligent vote, on any international question, with any clear understanding of the issues involved. I fear that only a few hundred thousand out of our twenty odd million of voters are sufficiently informed to cast a vote that would conserve our national interests and yet the safety of our country must necessarily rest on the knowledge and intelligence of our electorate.
If popular government is not to fail, our voters cannot take up too soon the earnest study of their duties and responsibilities as citizens of America. Our country has become so vast and so diversified in its interests that those voters capable of taking a broad national view of our necessities are in danger of sharing the fate of the dodo. Yet statesmen can accomplish little without your support.
John J. Ingalls once defined a statesman as a successful politician who is dead. We need support for those good men in office who are earnestly striving to be statesmen while yet alive.
I know of no nobler mission for our newly enfranchised women than to start a crusade for better national citizenship, and I know of no better center for such a crusade than this splendid old city of Boston that has cradled so many of our national ideals.
But I am to speak to you of the Navy and surely the Navy’s interests are the country’s interests.
One of the principal reasons for the adoption of our Constitution was to provide for the common defense. Our fathers decided in their wisdom to provide one Army and one Navy to defend all the people in common, so the Navy belongs to the people as a whole. Each of you is a stockholder in this great organization. Its property is valued at over three billions of dollars. It is not only your right but your duty to share in its management.
Now why should a Navy exist at all? If we go back to first principles, in order to live and prosper we must have law and order. To have law and order, society must be organized and live under some system. As the world is still inhabited by all kinds of people, good, bad, and indifferent, and not as yet by God’s white angels, it is necessary that certain physical sanctions be provided to insure obedience to the law. Even the most primitive rural community has in addition to its law book and its justice of the peace, a constable. Now just as in our domestic relations we must have our federal, state, and municipal police, so in our international relations there must be provided an Army and Navy as a physical sanction of our international laws, conventions, treaties, and policies. Any other conclusion would involve an absurdity. For if, in dealing with each other in our most highly civilized communities we must still rely upon force to guarantee us our just rights, how can we expect to do without force and yet obtain justice from strangers whose interests are not our interests, and who quite naturally are seeking their own advantage? More than one statesman has said “our foreign policy is as strong as the Navy and no stronger.”
The Past is Prologue: A Brief Survey of Proceedings Contributors from 1875-1919
There are many theories on the genesis of military innovation. One theorist, Vincent Davis, suggested in his 1967 work “The Politics of Innovation: Patterns in Navy Cases,” that the innovation advocate in the Navy is “usually an officer in the broad middle ranks.” If this is true, then the concepts which help the United States Navy and Marine Corps operate in the next maritime conflict may very well come from today’s junior officers. It’s why it’s important for those same mid-grade and junior officers to critique rather than criticize policies, programs, processes and platforms and articulate them respectfully in an appropriate forum. Who among those of us over forty would have predicted the respective roles of Youtube as political campaign game-changers, or Facebook and Twitter as a communication method during Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009 or the recent riots in Tunisia? Yet those who are half our age employed those tools daily as second-nature much as my generation grew up with a rotary phone and that seemingly musical necessity – the 8-track tape. Might some of our sailors have predicted the social media applications for military operations if they had written about them in a naval forum?
As a member of the U.S. Naval Institute for nearly twenty years and as a recent addition to its Editorial Board, I conducted a brief survey last month on the founding of USNI as a forum for understanding the country’s naval force to see what role, if any, our more junior officers had in writing for the magazine, building a dialogue on critical issues, and advancing concepts that would propel the U.S. Navy as a global power in the 20th century.
For this exercise, nearly 1,500 articles were tabulated from 1875 to 1919 by contributor rank and then sorted by decade. Civilians contributed a large number; these largely included civilians employed by the Navy as naval constructors or instructors at the Naval Academy.
The number of articles increased over the course of the first four decades (see Graph 1) due primarily to the increased frequency of publishing Proceedings as it developed from a quarterly, to a bimonthly, to a monthly journal. A brief drop in the number of articles during the 1890s was a result of longer articles, professional notes, and war reports, leaving less space for more articles.
Who wrote for Proceedings? The top group of contributors was, surprisingly, civilians with approximately 450 articles (see Graph 2). They were followed by lieutenants with nearly 350 articles. Combined, however, lieutenants and lieutenant commanders published 748 articles – half of all articles published in Proceedings. Interestingly, lieutenants and lieutenant commanders also accounted for most of the annual prize essay contests.
Among only officer contributors, junior officers led the way. More than half of all officer contributors were ensigns, lieutenant junior grades, and lieutenants. (see Chart 1) Among the mid-grade officers, the majority of contributors were lieutenant commanders. Admittedly, this was a period in the navy’s history when senior billets were rarer, resulting in older junior- to mid-grade officers.
The demographics changed throughout this time period (see Graph 3). During the first two decades of Proceedings, most officer contributors were O-3s and O-4s; absent were writers at the rank of commander and above. This changed dramatically from 1900-1909 not because senior officers suddenly participated, but because many were the same officers, such as Bradley Fiske, who had written for Proceedings at more junior ranks.
Some of the first authors for Proceedings from 1875 to 1889 were names later known for their naval contributions: Bradley Fiske, known for several inventions and prescient concepts, wrote at several ranks including as a Rear Admiral, later becoming President of the U.S. Naval Institute. During his tenure, the USNI secretary was a lieutenant commander who had first written for Proceedings as a lieutenant in 1909 and who eventually rose to the rank of Fleet Admiral, Ernest King. A subsequent secretary was Lieutenant Commander Isaac Kidd. Commander Alfred Thayer Mahan contributed an article on naval education in the 1870s. The 1880s witnessed articles by Lieutenant – later Rear Admiral – Reginald Rowan Belknap on the naval policy of the U.S., Lieutenant Richard Wainwright who later won the Medal of Honor.
While the time required to flesh out a concept may sometimes seem daunting in the face of long hours deployed or otherwise on duty, there are opportunities. For example, the Naval War College requires papers for its courses. Consider writing those papers not simply with the intent of getting a grade, but in the hope that it can be published (two of my NWC papers were published in Orbis and Vietnam Magazine while others were rejected, but it is possible.)
Was every article superior, every concept groundbreaking from 1875 to 1919? Perhaps, perhaps not, but at least they got the dialogue started on important issues to our Navy and Marine Corps. As it should be today. Just as it is important that the wisdom of today’s leadership foster the dialogue and provide guidance for more junior personnel, it is equally important that junior and mid-grade officers and sailors to see the Navy, Marine Corps and the world around them, to identify trends, recognize emerging challenges, and to challenge the status quo itself respectfully, logically, and in an articulate and persuasive manner. Just as they did at the end of the 19th century.
Lieutenant Commander Claude Berube, USNR is a member of the USNI Editorial Board and frequent contributor to Proceedings and Naval History. He teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. The opinions expressed are his own and not those of the Department of the Navy.
The words today from China regarding North Korea’s act of war should come as a surprise to nobody. Anyone watching with an objective eye could see the direction in which appeals for condemnation from The People’s Republic of China were heading.
Sure, there was some speculation on the “delicate” position China was put in by North Korea’s actions. How North Korea threatened “regional stability” and “economic prosperity”, both of which were China’s REAL interests. How China could not “read the Pyongyang tea leaves”, and was as in the dark as the West regarding Kim Jong-Il’s intentions, or that of his designated successor, Kim Jong -Un. How the threat of “masses of North Korean refugees” streaming across the North Korea-China border would spur China to action.
Believe none of it.
Red China is a master of power politics, a game most of the West, America included, seems not only to have lost any taste for, but of late all but refuses to admit exists in the international realm. President Obama yesterday used strong words to condemn the actions of the North Koreans, and pledged US support for South Korea against any aggression from the North. He also appealed strongly to China to keep their renegade neighbors to the south reigned in. So far, as in each and every other instance of the last decade, including the sinking of a ROK Navy frigate this past Spring (with the loss of 46 sailors), China’s response has not substantively altered. Once again, intransigence regarding their North Korean allies.
This, from Bloomberg:
President Barack Obama’s call for China to put more pressure on North Korea to stop military attacks on South Korea may go unheeded in Beijing, where officials refuse to pin any blame on their ally, analysts say.
Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak called for China to use its influence to control North Korea’s behavior, following yesterday’s deadly artillery salvo. Four people were killed and 20 wounded, mostly soldiers, when Northern forces shelled the island of Yeonpyeong in the first attack of its kind since the 1950-1953 civil war.
“China thinks the most important and urgent goal right now is to make sure there won’t be any escalation of the conflict, rather than finding out who’s responsible,” said Yang Xiyu, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a group attached to China’s foreign ministry.
The statement, particularly the insistence on limiting escalation rather than “finding who’s responsible”, is almost verbatim what was said at the time of the North Korean torpedoing of the ROK frigate Cheonan. (This, after our Secretary of State presented indisputable proof to Chinese leadership, a major thumb in the eye of US policy makers.)
As has been said often before, North Korea is as China allows and encourages North Korea to be. Rationalization otherwise is foolish, and reflects a dangerously naive optimism that The People’s Republic of China feels compelled to follow the same rules as does the United States and her allies when executing her diplomacy. It is worth stating again:
Under China’s benevolent protection, Kim Jong Il and his father before him, have done the following:
- Developed a nuclear capability
- Tested several weapons in 2006 and 2009
- Advanced ICBM ranges and capabilities
- Defied international pressure to desist in those nuclear programs
- Executed several SOF border incursions into South Korea
- Supplied arms to Hezbollah and Hamas through their Iranian proxy
- Shipped (and attempted to ship) likely nuclear and other WMD components to the Middle East
- Engaged, almost certainly with China’s technical assistance, in a cyber attack against the United States and South Korea
- Is likely involved heavily in counterfeit and narcotics trades
- Torpedoed and sank a ROK warship in international waters, killing 46 ROK sailors
- Fired artillery into South Korean territory without provocation, killing four ROK service members and wounding two dozen civilians
China deliberately thwarted the enforcement of UNSC 1718 and 1874, effectively removing any meaningful teeth from what might have been significant international action. Elsewhere, China has become increasingly bellicose, leveraging herself into advantage across the spectrum of diplomatic actions. China’s aggressive stance on the Spratley Islands dispute has alarmed her neighbors and Western leaders. The PLA Navy is expanding, with shipbuilding capability expanding even faster. China has posited, and then begun perfecting, cyber disruption of US economic, military, and critical infrastructure networks. China continues to leverage US debt to economic advantage. China is securing world energy sources in Iran, Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere for her consumption alone, to the exclusion of other nations.
The time has long since come to recognize at the highest military and civilian levels of leadership in the United States that China is very far from being a benevolent ally, and even farther from sharing any kind of common interests or vision of either Asia and the Pacific Rim, or any other geographic region where they perceive their interests to lie.
Statements from the Pentagon over the recent exchange of artillery fire are that “nobody wants a war”, or words expressing similar sentiment. But someone certainly seems to desire war. The firing of aimed artillery for more than an hour at military and civilian targets inside another country is not an accident. Whether China is directly involved or is a highly interested benefactor of a proxy North Korea is immaterial. Be he agent, or be he principle, Ahab tells us. If we recall what Clausewitz stated two centuries ago, that war is a continuation of politics, with an admixture of other means, then perhaps we may well perceive China’s actions and inaction vis a vis North Korea as some of those other means. China could resolve the situation with North Korea very quickly. They choose not to. They understand that a North Korea as a thorn in the side of the US is in their interest. Whether we quite understand that or not.
As the Western Allies must have realized to their horror and shame in the Summer of 1939, when Hitler’s words toward Poland turned ever more harsh and confrontational, war comes whether you want it or not, and whether you are ready for it or not.
We had better be ready.
(H/T to Lex for the Cheonan damage link.)
In case you didn’t know, yesterday was our Birthday!
Read what Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske had to say about the Naval Institute in Proceedings, Vol. 45 No. 192, February 1919:
Without some such stimulus as the Institute, the navy would be less like a profession and more like a trade; we would be less like artists, and more like artisans; we would become too practical and narrow; we would have no broad vision of the navy as a whole.
Each one of us would regard his own special task as the only thing that concerned him, and would lose that sympathetic touch with his brother officers which all of us now enjoy.
The Naval Institute is a club at once social and professional, which is not restricted to any club-house on any avenue in any city, but which spreads over all the oceans to all of our ships and stations, down even into the depths of the sea where our submarines lie, and ten thousand feet into the air where our aeroplanes fly. It is the embodiment of the thought of the navy. It is the unofficial custodian of the navy’s professional hopes and fears. It looks ahead into the future, and back into the past, and keeps track of the happenings of the present. More at our sister blog
Marines may not believe they have a bone in the fight to save the ex-USS Olympia (C-6). But they do–the vessel’s experience in the closing days of World War I helped push the Navy to think harder about expeditionary logistics:
In May 1918, two months after Russia withdrew from the war, 55 Americans from the cruiser Olympia (CA-15) joined British forces in occupying Murmansk and Archangel to guard stockpiles of arms and ammunition shipped there for the czarist army. For most of their time in northern Russia, Olympia crewmen lived on reduced rations of “two little slices of bread, . . . one spoon of stew, and one cup of coffee” per day. Despite the almost monthly arrival of supply ships, soldiers of the North Russian Expeditionary Force who reinforced men of the Olympia resorted at times to stealing food from British troops, who were far better supplied-perhaps because Britain had a long history of expeditionary warfare and thus developed the infrastructure needed to sustain it.
The experience of the Olympia’s Marines, coupled with the equally rough time the Brooklyn (CA-3) Marine detachment had in Vladivostok, helped put expeditionary logistics on the Navy’s radar screen.
At a time when the DOD is contemplating a major shift in the Marine Corps’ expeditionary capabilities, it might be wise to start remembering the teething pains America’s Marines endured back in the days when the nation didn’t appreciate the nuances of expeditionary warfare.
(Quote is taken from James C. Bradford’s Feb 2006 Naval History article, “The missing link: Expeditionary logistics.)
Radioman 3rd Class Harry Ferrier discusses his role in the Battle of Midway, Torpedo Squadron 8 as the turning point in his life
Remembering the Battle of Midway is a four-part series spanning from the Doolittle Raid, to the significance of the Battle of Coral Sea and ending with the Battle of Midway. In each segment of this four-part series, you will hear from the historical and pivotal participants from this time period, such as Gen. James Doolittle and other memorable figures, and present-day historians who will examine the significance of these three events in naval, army and air force history. From U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Program.
Listen Here or below:
Back in a February 2008 issue of Naval History, a piece by Admiral Charles R. Larson (Retired), Captain Clinton Wright (Retired) and Paul Stilwell caught my eye. The article, “The Sculpin’s Lost Mission: A Nuclear Submarine in the Vietnam War”, details a forgotten patrol by the USS Sculpin (SSN-590). It is an article that deserves a second–if not a third–glance.
Why? Well, many of the challenges encountered during the Sculpin’s little-noted 2300- mile romp through the littorals remain relevant today.
For the Sculpin, this was a tough little tasking. During the 1972 patrol detailed in Navy History, the Sculpin tracked gun-running vessels from their Chinese point-of-origin to waters off South Vietnam. It’s an exciting COIN-esqe story–a story that should have gotten more play (in open fora) than it did. Today, as America struggles with Maritime Domain Awareness, littoral operations and clandestine use of merchant vessels, we’re having to re-learn the challenges the Sculpin grappled with back in 1972!
It’s no secret that shallow waters offer an operational challenge to certain sensors. But the Sculpin story could have been a good starting point to discuss the challenge of littoral undersea warfare–because the boat had issues:
“The active sonar in the Skipjack-class submarines wouldn’t have been reliable because of the reverberations in shallow water…”
As the USS San Francisco’s (SSN-711) 2005 interaction with a sea-mount sadly revealed, we still have issues with seafloor awareness. The Sculpin tale, if it had only been told, might have helped promote better mapping–and better navigational practices within the sub fleet. The Sculpin was effectively blind:
“One more challenge was that the trawler was heading south, right through the “dangerous ground.” On charts of the South China Sea, an area of about 180 nautical miles wide and 300 miles long is simply labeled dangerous ground. Our charts had one track of soundings through that area—taken in 1885..”
Complicating the matter of safe passage, the boat encountered rogue oil wells. The industrial infrastructure used to exploit seafloor resources poses an even greater operational challenge today. And the Sculpin, again, offered a glimpse of that future:
“We found a large number of oil-drilling platforms near the coast of Borneo. We first became aware of this hazard through the prolonged tracking of a diesel contact, which prompted the CO, Commander Harry Mathis, to go up to periscope depth for a look. We spotted an uncharted platform. If rigs were operating, that was no problem; we could plot the location of their noisy diesel engines. We found some charted, some not, some operating and others not. Our concern, of course, was about those uncharted and not running…”
How many times in recent years have subs hit tankers (or, um, fellow warships) in crowded shipping channels? The Sculpin experience in the South China Sea was–to say the least–instructive:
“The density of the large shipping traffic in this lane was incredible. Crossing it was like running across a busy freeway.”
The crowded littorals are even more crowded today. The Sculpin’s experience might have allowed foresighted naval strategists to “steal a march” and start grappling with the littorals far earlier:
“The surface was a dead calm mirror with fishing buoys and nets everywhere, not to mention small fishing boats of every description..”
With the Sculpin authorized to operate in waters as shallow as six fathoms, the boat discovered the littorals may be a pretty stressful place for fast-moving, large undersea boats:
“We were trying to visualize what the Sculpin looked like on the surface, running at twenty knots, with maybe only 40 feet from the top of the sail to the surface. We visualized a hump—the water displaced above the boat’s hull—roaring through the South China Sea like a mini tidal wave, with observers wondering what it was…”
Why wasn’t the Sculpin’s mission used as a means to inform sailors–and modern policymakers–on the challenge of littoral operations?
That’s an easy question to answer. All official records of this mission were destroyed. And now, as the littorals of the South China Sea have evolved to become a region of intense interest for the U.S. Navy, future submariners have little more than a bare-bones article in USNI’s Navy History Magazine to help inform their endeavors.
Instead of the usual submariner routine of “don’t ask, ’cause I won’t tell,” a little foresight–along with a little openness–might have been a real boon to those who, today, grapple with this sort of challenge. America’s Navy should maintain operational records–and do a far better job of telling these “odd lot” stories. You never know when they might prove useful…
With the invasion of Normandy, the tragedy of the Kennedy assassination, the triumph of the first moon landing and the nightly drama of the Vietnam conflict, few people have been a witness to as much history as Walter Cronkite. Even fewer people have had his gift to eloquently convey historic events in a manner that made his audience feel as if they were not merely spectators, they were participants. In a 1994 issue of Naval History Magazine, the Naval Institute was fortunate to have Cronkite share some of the most memorable experiences from his storied career. In addition to discussing his early days as a navy correspondent, Cronkite was kind enough to mention that one of his favorite segments from the award winning program “The 20th Century” was originally inspired by an article in Proceedings Magazine.
Major General, USMC (Ret.)
U. S. Naval Institute CEO
The retired anchor of “The CBS Evening News” recently told Naval History editor Fred. L. Schultz that World War II was much different from the other wars he covered in his long news career. Unlike some subsequent conflicts, in World War II the American public never questioned “the nature of the enemy or the necessity of the fight,” he said.
A former naval correspondent for the United Press, he accepted a late offer to join the Army’s Eighth Air Force for the Normandy Invasion. Minutes before the attack 50 years ago, Cronkite watched the drama unfold from a B-17 Flying Fortress. At age 28, he quickly had become a veteran reporter and quite proficient in his craft. Of a bombing raid over Wilhelmshaven in February 1943, he wrote that it was “an assignment to hell – a hell 26,000 feet above earth, a hell of burning tracer bullets and bursting gunfire, of crippled Fortresses and burning German fighter planes, of parachuting men and others not so lucky.”
Cronkite won the George Foster Peabody Award in 1962 for his news reporting and for his popular series, “The Twentieth Century,” but he is probably best remembered for his coverage of the space program and for his sometimes controversial reporting on the Vietnam War. His grave television announcement of President John F. Kennedy’s death left an indelible image in the memories of many.
Today, Cronkite has an office at CBS in New York and maintains a busy schedule of interviews, narrations, and a Discovery Channel series, “The Cronkite Report.”
Naval History: I understand you were a Navy correspondent early in World War II. How did that come about?
Cronkite: I think I was one of the first correspondents accredited after Pearl Harbor. I was with the United Press in Kansas City when they brought me to New York and sent me down to the Navy office at 90 Church Street to be accredited.
In about March 1942 I went out on my first convoy – at that time the biggest, fastest convoy that had ever been put together. It was a huge assemblage of all the former passenger queens that took the nucleus of the Eighth Air Force overseas. It included a battleship and a cruiser-destroyer escort force and steamed at 15 to 17 knots, which was much faster than any of the others at the time. All the ships were over 20,000 tons.
On the trip over, to Greenock, Scotland, we had a couple of alarms but no actual attacks. The destroyers went chasing off after various pips that came over their sonar, but we never experienced any attacks. We had one problem with an old Dutch ship. She was an old three-stacker that couldn’t keep up. She was making smoke every day, and that created a lot of problems for Commodore [C. F.] Bryant.
The Manhattan burned on that return trip. She had an accidental fire on board. Fortunately, she had not been sabotaged as first feared. She was bringing back some casuals, Americans who had been working in Ireland establishing bases at Londonderry. That was quite a dramatic naval story. The Brooklyn put her nose right up against the burning Manhattan to take off the passengers. It was a remarkable feat. I was the only correspondent around, so I had a nice scoop on that story.
Naval History: How did a naval correspondent manage to see the Normandy Invasion from the air?
Cronkite: Well, I did not have a reportorial assignment. I was going to write the lead story at the UP office in London. It was a kind of compliment to get that assignment, but on the other hand, I was torn in my emotions. Obviously, it would be a lot safer in London than on the beaches, but I did want to be in on the action. I was disappointed not to get an active assignment on that historic day.
But in the middle of the night, around 1:30 in the morning, a dear friend, Hal Leyshon, who was a public relations captain in the Eighth Air Force, appeared suddenly at my door. He was an old poker-playing, drinking buddy of mine, a former advertising man from New York. Many nights he’d appeared at my door at 1:30, but not in the sober condition he was this night.
He was very formal about it all, and said in somber tones unlike him, “Is there anyone here besides you?” I don’t know who he thought might have been there, but he came in after I assured him there was no one else. He looked in my closet, under my bed, and in the other room. I was a little offended at his inspection I was getting after saying nobody was there. Then he said, “I’ve got to swear you to secrecy before I tell you anything else.”
Of course, we had been expecting D-Day at any time. Our correspondents who were to accompany the troops and the ships had been disappearing one-by-one for almost a month, as the military tried to cover up what day D-Day would be. They didn’t want the correspondents all leaving town at the same time.
We knew it was coming, so I knew as soon as he started that pledge-to-secrecy business that this had to be something about D-Day and that it might even be that day.
The Eighth Air Force had not been planned to take correspondents on whatever its D-Day air missions might be, but when it learned that some of its planes would be bombing right behind the beaches, it was decided at the last minute that a pool correspondent representing all of the press should go. Of those correspondents qualified for high-altitude flight, I had won the secret draw.
By good luck, I was assigned to the 303d Bomb Group, with whom I had flown on the first mission to Germany and whose activities I had covered for some time.
All this Hal didn’t tell me until we were in his military car on the way to the base, safely away from listening devices or prying ears. All I knew there in the apartment was that the assignment would be dangerous, but the Eighth Air Forces thought the story would be worth the risk. Although I would be going against my UP D-Day assignment, I didn’t hesitate to grab the chance at least to have a look at the action, if I couldn’t be on the beach itself.
As we drive toward the base, Hal also helped relieve me of any concern I had about UP reaction. I would be back, he said, perhaps even before the first stories were getting back from the beaches, and I probably would have, for a palpitating public, the first eyewitness story of the invasion.
It didn’t turn out quite that way. I didn’t get back from our mission until almost noon, and by that time, thanks to superb military communication – particularly by the Navy – the first dispatches from the newsmen on the ships and on the beaches were coming back.
And worse, the cloud cover was so heavy that my view of the beach had been, for the most part, obscured. I did get a look at the huge armada of forces, an incredible assembly that spread as far as we could see through the clouds. Up and down the coast were battleships and cruisers firing their big guns and landing craft assembling for the attack.
The last I saw before the clouds became impenetrable were landing craft just leaving their ships to head for the beach. But I never got a good look at the beach itself. With pathfinder aircraft accompaniment, some of the Allied air armada, including other squadrons of the 303d, were able to bomb through the clouds. Our squadron, however, was told to bomb only if we practically could see the expressions on the German faces. We were to take no chance on bombing targets of opportunity or jettisoning our bombs. Our crew was too uncertain as to where our ground forces might be by the time of the bombardment.
Led by Capitan Lew Lyle, who later became a major general, we went in at around 15,000 feet, a comparatively low level for heavy bombers. With our bombs armed and ready, the flight – in close formation through heavy cloud layers – was a hair-raising experience.
Our target was shrouded under a solid blanket of cloud. The bomb bay doors were slammed shut. Lyle hoped to make another pass, playing on the small possibility that an opening would appear in the infernal clouds.
The clouds were so thick with aircraft, however, that he was forced to stick to the highly detailed flight plan dictated at the morning briefing. There literally was no way to get back into the queue of planes thundering toward their targets at every level in and above those clouds.
Then, we did the almost unthinkable. We returned to base in England with our bombs still on board. Despite terrible visibility in intensifying fog, we wended our way through the traffic jam of bombers coming and going and landed without incident. But the exercise with that load of explosives was no picnic. With the light flak and absence of enemy fighters, there were no battle casualties.
Perhaps the greatest danger I faced was returning to my office, where my boss unleashed his fury before I had a chance to explain my mission. My story, competing with those of our valiant colleagues on the beaches, understandably saw light of day in few newspapers.
Naval History: A lot of people, even in high school and college history classes, forget that the Navy was even involved in the various amphibious landings of World War II. Why do you think that might be?
Cronkite: Though this isn’t necessarily the most popular line to take with the Navy, the Coast Guard is the service that never got much credit, and it was very heavily involved. But you’re right. The Navy doesn’t get enough mention. The reason at Normandy was that the great sea battle aspect was missing. There were no enemy ships among the fleet. There were no Trafalgars, no great fleet actions to dramatize.
And the major feat was getting to the beach. The Navy provided that transport and lost a heck of a lot of people in landing craft that were scuttled and shot up. But I think it was not unnatural of the press to concentrate on the men ashore, the push against the Germans, forcing them off the beach. Naval gunfire, of course, played a major role, too. Artillery never gets much credit, nor do the transport troops. The Navy was both transport and artillery at Normandy.
Naval History: Your friend and colleague Andy Rooney participated recently in a seminar cosponsored by the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the Naval Institute. In a speech there, he said he wishes we could come up with something besides a war to rally the American people as World War II did. Do you think anything will ever come along that will get everyone that excited again?
Cronkite: Oh, not to that degree. This was four years of concentrated effort against great odds at first, with a serious danger of failure that people knew existed, despite all the morale-building and drum-beating.
It took us a couple of tough years before we were able to get to the beaches of Normandy and put the German war machine to rout. For two-and-a-half years, from December 1941 to June 1944, we suffered several setbacks. The German invention of the V1 and then the V2 rockets was especially troubling. Fortunately, they were able to launch those only at the end, as a last gasp. But if they would have had those just a few months earlier, it might have made some difference in the outcome of the war.
So we weren’t out of the woods for a long time, and the fact that we were in an all-out battle for the survival of our system rallied people more than anything else could.
Of course, the next great thing aside from World War II was the space program, which was a peaceful effort, but it had an underlying element for world dominance that united the American people.
Naval History: The press played a major role in rallying people during both World War II and the space program. Would you say it also played a role in reversing that feeling during the Vietnam War?
Cronkite: The situations were vastly different, so vastly different that I think the comparison is an invidious one, really. In World War II there was no question of the nature of the enemy or the necessity of the fight. In Vietnam, there was considerable doubt – reasonable, rational doubt that we should be there.
Our presence in Vietnam was an option, not a necessity being forced upon us by enemy action. After all, by December 1941 we were still dragging our feet about being part of World War II. And we probably would have dragged our feet right on through, if the enemy had not offended us, endangered us, attacked us, threatened to invade us.
That was not the case in Vietnam.
Naval History: I’m sure you know that Peter Braestrup, in his book Big Story (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), criticized television news pretty strongly, as opposed to print journalism. To what do you attribute that criticism?
Cronkite: You mean in the Vietnam War coverage?
Naval History: Yes.
Cronkite: I’m not an enthusiast for Braestrup’s book for several reasons.
Naval History: I’m sure you’re not.
Cronkite: I think he misses a point. It seems to me that if the people of the United States are willing to vote and to support sending their young people – now women as well as men – into combat, they should be willing to look at what combat really is.
If they are unwilling to sit in their living rooms and see what the troops – the troops they sent to fight – are up against, they are somehow playing the coward themselves. And that is beyond anything I’d like to contemplate. I don’t think that’s what we Americans are.
Now then, does it affect the politics of conducting a war? Of course it does. But that’s for the good. It is well that we all are aware of what war really is – what it means – before we commit to it.
I do not say that we idly commit to war. I don’t think we do. I think those who are involved in policy making are rational people, and have been in most cases, but they might be a little bit wrong-headed sometimes in thinking that the expenditure of a few lives can save many. Maybe they’d better think about how many would be expended in the worst-case scenario before they get us involved.
Naval History: You said “show people what war is.” Is that the reason Braestrup criticized broadcast over print coverage? As a print journalist himself, he says they got it right, and you guys got it wrong, essentially.
Cronkite: Well, I disagree with that.
Naval History: He referred to you and Frank Magee of NBC, in particular.
Cronkite: He was talking mostly about my summary after Tet. That is the only editorial I’ve ever done on the air, other than those in defense of freedom of the press itself.
No, I don’t think I had it wrong. Admittedly, it would appear that later evidence contained in North Vietnam – now that the North Vietnamese generals have talked about the war – shows that they had suffered severely and were not capable of mounting another offensive of that nature. While that would seem to indicate that Braestrup and other critics have it right, that I was signing off a little early, it ignores the fact that General Westmoreland was asking for something over 300,000 more men in order to put a finish to the war.
Well, we’d been hearing about this escalation of forces from the time we first sent troops under President Kennedy to help instruct the South Vietnamese Army. Our people were there only for purposes of instruction, originally. From that we’d escalated into this terrible mauling that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army planned for us. I can’t see that we were wrong in reporting about that. If Westmoreland needed that many men to build his forces for an all-out attack on the enemy, then we were promised only another massive escalation in the face of crumbling support from an increasingly divided home front.
Naval History: Some reporters have complained about Desert Storm, about limited access and censorship. And some military people have complained about instant satellite television transmission. What would you say can be done to improve military and media relations?
Cronkite: I think the way the military handled the press in the Persian Gulf was a miscarriage of the democratic process. I think it was a frightful commission against the American people not to let them know what their troops were doing in combat. We send them there. They’re our boys and our girls, and it’s our war. And we’d better know about what they’re doing – in intimate detail.
I’m not against censorship. I’m for it. I believe in censorship. Some of those in my own profession who demand live coverage from the front are simply, incredibly unrealistic. It’s impossible. It can’t be done. It shouldn’t be done. There should be no live coverage. But we should have cameras at the front recording what goes on. Then the film or the tape can pass through censors before being released. There are military secrets, clearly, and the security of our forces is the first consideration. That security should never be placed second to anything, including freedom of the press.
But you can have both, as proved in World War II. We were permitted at the front. We were aided in getting to the front in nearly every case except the most highly secret, small-unit operations. We were there, and history was recorded.
But there is no freely acquired history of the Persian Gulf War, because we weren’t there. It’s history as vetted by the military. And that’s not adequate, not good enough. They’ve got a special interest. So I’m indignant about it.
Naval History: It sounds that way.
Cronkite: But for good military and media relations, the essential is to understand on both sides the nature of the mission. If you understand the mission of the other guy, you’ve got to be sympathetic to his problems and the importance of his mission.
The military simply must realize that it is an army of a democratic nation, and a democracy demands that the people know so they can support our military actions. The public needs to know the rationale of a military action as nearly as it can be interpreted by good reporters. But there are some terrible ones. Believe me, I’m not one to defend all war reporting from the Persian Gulf or anywhere else, including World War II. An awful lot of bad reporters get out there, just like some people are promoted to lieutenancies who should not be leading troops. It happens on both sides, and we ought to understand that. Both will make mistakes.
I’ll tell you, a lot of war correspondents who wear that battle patch never leave the base command quarters. And a lot of soldiers never leave headquarters but still wear the ribbons they’re after. They’re heroes of the war who never heard a shot fired in anger. And a lot of correspondents are in the same category.
But the guys on the line or on board the ships have a great appreciation for each other – the correspondents for the troops and vice versa. Boy, there’s an appreciation. They’re in the thing together, and they understand. What it takes to understand security is to be out there with the troops. Then the correspondents want a lot of security, for obvious reasons. By the same token, those guys on the front line or in the ships want to be recognized. And they are the first to appreciate the correspondent, even as a correspondent appreciates what the grunt goes through in the dugout by being with him.
The grunts also appreciate that those correspondents are there voluntarily. I don’t know how many times I was asked during the various wars I covered, “What in the hell are you doing here? Do you have to be here? Did anybody send you here?” I would say, “Well, my office asked me if I’d come.” And they then asked, “And you accepted that? You went?” They had a great appreciation for the fact that we were up there doing the job.
So the problem is not with the troops or the correspondents in the field. It’s with the headquarters, perhaps of both. I think it’s as much fault of the networks to talk about live battlefield television coverage as I think it’s a terrible mistake for the military to prohibit cameras at the front because somehow or other our security is going to be violated. The cameras can go without satellite dishes. So there’s no reason why the war should not be recorded.
Naval History: What do you think of the information superhighway we’re hearing so much about? It seems to me that the urge and the demand for real-time transmissions are only going to get worse.
Cronkite: Well, the capabilities will be even more of a problem. You know, there will be a day in the not-too-distant future, when the satellite transmitter will fit right on the camera. But we can require that cameras going to the front line are not so equipped. I don’t think that’s so difficult to do. I can’t imagine fighting a war, under present circumstances at least, with live television coverage at the front. For one thing, the transmission could presumably be captured from the satellite by the general or the major sitting 500 yards away on the other side of the line. How can you show the deployment of troops and expect the enemy to be blind to what you’re covering? The last I heard, the television industry was still making that demand of the military, that we have that privilege. I think that’s a ridiculous request.
Naval History: We’ll wrap up with something fun. What would you say has been the most significant event that you covered as a news reporter?
Cronkite: I don’t think there’s any question about it – landing a man on the moon. Of course, as a reporter I’ve covered the wars. And those were significant events. The assassination of President Kennedy was a significant event. There were a lot of them. But for real, true historical significance, man landing on the moon is going to be the most important date in 20th century history. All the other things we’re talking about today, in the history books 500 years from now will be mere asterisks, compared to the moon landing.
When we think back 500 years now, we think of Columbus landing in 1492. But a lot of other important things happened in the 15th century – a renaissance, a black plague, an inquisition. But do you remember any of those dates? Can you even cite the events? The Columbus landing in 1492 is a different story, and the moon landing will be similar in stature.
Naval History: We understand you are writing your autobiography. How is it progressing?
Cronkite: Don’t ask. I do this instead of writing my own book.
Cronkite Cites Proceedings
After our formal interview, Mr. Cronkite related the following bonus anecdote:
You know, the Naval Institute Proceedings was a tipoff to one of the best shows we ever had on “The Twentieth Century.” We took the man who spied on Pearl Harbor for his first and only trip back to Pearl Harbor. And we barely got him out of town before the lynching.
We were trying to keep his visit secret. He was inclined to have a drink or two and got into a Japanese bar, where the local clientele found out who he was. Word spread to the newspaper, and we had to spirit him on a plane and get him out of town.
A Marine lieutenant colonel tracked him down and was interested in just whatever happened to the guy. He found him in a successful fuel oil business in Hokkaido in northern Japan. Then the colonel wrote a piece about him. Nobody else picked it up, except a bright-eyed guy who worked for us. He brought the clipping from Proceedings, and we went right to Japan.
At first the fellow said he wasn’t going back to Pearl Harbor. He spoke virtually no English, but we finally persuaded him and got him to come. He was curious enough, so we played on his curiosity and promised him that he wouldn’t run into trouble.
And he was wonderful.
Golly, it’s been 30 years since we did that. It was remarkable. The Navy actually loaned us a boat, and we went out and he identified the ships. We took him up to the tea house where he had spied on the Pacific Fleet.
He was sent over allegedly as an assistant to the Japanese consul in Honolulu. That was his cover. He had attended the naval command school, was a trained intelligence officer, and he was to spy on the ship movements out of Pearl Harbor. Well, he tried to get a job at the Navy yard, but failed because he didn’t speak any English, among a few other problems.
So he was desperate. What was he going to do? Then he went one day to a Japanese tea house up in the hills overlooking Pearl Harbor. As he sat there drinking tea, he realized he was looking right down on Pearl Harbor. He said he could read hull numbers without binoculars. And he said to himself, “This is the best possible view.” He went up to that tea house every day, sat there all afternoon, and observed what ships were in and what ships were out. Of course, we made the great mistake of being in a routine. It was absolutely hidebound. Our ships went out on Monday and came back on Friday, and he recorded the numbers and where they were docked. That was the way he spied on Pearl Harbor. There was no undercover work. Anybody could have done it.
Naval History Magazine, May/June 1994 Volume 8 Number 3
In response to a question I asked during a recent DOD Bloggers Roundtable regarding lessons learned, Captain Cynthia Thebaud, USN, Commodore for Destroyer Squadron 60 aboard the USS Nashville told USNI Blog that the lessons learned so far during their deployment included:
the involvement of partner nations in the planning process;
the importance of the partnership and cooperative dialogue in developing the deployment itself: where we are going, the duration of the visits, what will be done in each visit and also the importance of the multinational aspect of the staff and also our embarked training program;
the benefit afforded for the various participants: the opportunity to come and work in a collaborative and cooperative environment with members of other west and central African navies.
My second questioned of Captain Thebaud pertained to an update on the community relations projects that have occurred on this deployment. According to the Commodore,
We have continued to work very, very closely with Project Handclasp on donated materials and goods. We’ve deployed, it’s about 240 pallets, roughly, of a variety of donated goods, particularly in the education and health areas.
One of the things that we have been able to do is work closely with our consulates and embassies and USAID and identifying in advance projects in areas in need of assistance that we can provide both engineering and assistance to, whether in terms of renovation and rebuilding of the facility and sprucing up of facilities, as well as areas that are in need of either health supplies, educational supplies, childcare supplies, the types of things that the Navy traditionally has been involved with.
On our civil affairs team, we have a couple of our partner nation personnel instrumentally involved in that in working with local communities and when we were in Sekondi, in Ghana, the Navy there, the base, in fact, the Navy has a very strong outreach program already in existence, and through coordination with them and our embassy in Accra we were able to identify a number of medical sites, an orphanage and schools to work with, both in terms of material donations and then there were a couple of renovation projects. One of them was in a combined civil-military hospital in the Sekondi region that has had a wing that they have wanted to get refurbished and be able to use as an ICU facility for that clinic.
And so in cooperation with military craftsmen from the naval bases — (inaudible) — the Seabees onboard the ship, as well as a number of volunteers from ship’s company and the APS staff, did considerable work on renovating the wing of that facility so that they can start making it ready for use as an ICU facility. It’s very much needed in that locale.
One of the other things that worked particularly well in Sekondi is that most of the things they were doing had a direct impact on the local fishing villages, and were seen by local people as relevant to their lives, and helped reconfirm the fact that we were indeed there with an interest in helping to build safety, security and the prospect of achieving upper economic prosperity development in the region, particularly for the fishing villages along the coast.
Full transcript of the roundtable can be found here.
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- On Midrats 14 Sep 14: Episode 245: “The Carrier as Capital Ship” with RADM Thomas Moore, USN, PEO CVN
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- Solution to the Russian Mistral’s Conundrum: NATO Flagships
- Expanding the Naval Canon: Fernando de Oliveira and the 1st Treatise on Maritime Strategy