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Quote from this week’s Navy Times article “Former SECNAVs urge Navy to join museum effort:”

“The Navy is aware of the Maritime Foundation’s proposal — which was submitted in September — but considers it just one of many options for a new museum somewhere around the capital, said retired Rear Adm. Jay DeLoach, director of Naval History and Heritage Command.

Although DeLoach said there was ‘general recognition within the Navy and senior Navy leadership’ that it was a good idea to raise the profile of the Navy’s relatively small museum at the Washington Navy Yard, officials must analyze all options. DeLoach said he could not discuss what the other options were, nor could he talk about what he called the ‘risk’ of the Navy joining the project, or any of the other options.

The situation is apparently in flux because it’s the subject of discussions between History and Heritage Command, Naval District Washington, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

‘We’re exploring a number of options,’ DeLoach said. ‘We have to do our due diligence to ensure that any risk to the Navy is minimal.’”

Last week, some very senior legacy leaders endorsed the National Maritime Heritage Foundation’s (NMHF) project to build a new National Museum of the United States Navy on the Southwest Waterfront, Washington, D.C., as outlined in this week’s article and in a letter to the editors of the Navy Times. First, we would like to applaud these leaders for stepping forward and supporting NMHF and its project. These leaders have the vision to see the value of the project, site offered and team assembled by the Foundation. We have reviewed the full proposal (it’s on the Navy Times web site) and this is a once-in-a-century opportunity for the Navy.

Projects of the size, scope and status of a national Navy Museum are only successful because they engage and galvanize a huge swath of varied and interested groups. Examples are prevalent around the country and in Washington: the WWII Memorial, the Marine Corps Museum, and the USS Arizona Memorial. Each of these national campaigns activated citizen supporters, corporate America, and many non-profit organizations. These projects and associated campaigns were led by a professional team of experts, under the oversight of a prestigious board of directors who were willing to give their time and money.

What is innovative about the proposal that NMHF is offering the Navy is that it is a public-private venture or partnership (PPV), one that has precedent in the approach that the Navy has taken in other areas – most notably in the construction of new Navy housing. Through a PPV model, the Navy acquires expertise and experience, including state-of-the-art design and business modeling that will ensure long term success of the project. Additional major benefits to the Navy include:

• As outlined in the proposal, the Navy has ownership of the Museum and the joint Naval/Maritime Museum.

• The Navy has complete control over design of the Museum.

• The professional team NMHF has assembled includes the very best professionals in the discipline of museum development (having designed and built the Spy Museum, the Smithsonian’s Oceans Hall and the D-Day Visitors Center in Normandy – just to name a few of their success stories).

• Long-term stability that does not require additional Navy funding.

• Navy Museum is the cultural anchor in a major new development that is supported by the local government, with a District commitment of $198 million.

• NMHF will be responsible for undertaking and managing the fundraising for this project and has a team of fundraising professionals with a successful track record of completing multi-million dollar capital campaigns.

The Navy Times article states that the Navy is “exploring a number of options” for relocating the Navy museum. Over the last five years, with the professional support of the Staubach Company (now Jones Lang LaSalle), NMHF’s team of experts has examined all potential waterfront sites in Washington, D.C., for a new museum. Nothing compares to the Southwest Waterfront site currently under consideration. It is the only site near the monumental core of the city, on the water and available for development. It is four blocks from the National Mall and the 30 million people who annually visit it. It is adjacent to the 14th Street Bridge, the main southern entrance to the District. What an incredible branding and marketing opportunity for the Navy. The commercial developers are eager to get started and have indicated in no uncertain terms that they will not wait for the Navy to do its own exhaustive study of locations. The studies have been completed and the Southwest Waterfront location wins in every category of analysis.

We are delighted that several former Secretaries of the Navy and a former Interior Secretary recognize the exciting opportunity the Navy has. We hope the current Navy leadership agrees and moves the project forward.

The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) survivors yesterday. Later that evening at the Sewall-Belmont House on Capitol Hill (the former headquarters of the historic National Women’s Party), several of the WASPs were in attendance for a lecture and signing for Amy Goodpaster Strebe’s book, Flying for Her Country: The American and Soviet Women Military Pilots of World War II. This book is the first to take a comparative look at the Soviet and American women pilots who flew during the war, women who volunteered to break the gender barrier for the nation’s defense.

As with many of the untraditional jobsAmerican women took on during World War II, the WASPs were allowed to become aviators out of necessity. The manpower shortage brought on by the war effort was a lucky break for these women who loved aviation and were eager to serve their country. But, they were not considered military personnel; rather, they were given civil servant status. And they were not allowed to fly into combat. The Soviet women pilots, however, had a different experience. They were allowed to fly combat missions throughout the war; some of them were nicknamed the “Night Witches” by the Germans because of their success and agility in night missions.

Young and fearless, the women who were recruited for this program went through a condensed training program and were sent to the front to perform combat missions not unlike those of their male counterparts. One of the most well known was Lidiya Litvyak who earned the rare distinction of a double ace. She was the first woman to shoot down an enemy aircraft. On that day, September 13, 1942, during the intense Battle of Stalingrad, she felled two German fighters, including the German ace Erwin Maier. He was reportedly incredulous when, after being captured, he faced the pilot who had downed his plane.

Litvyak defied stereotypes: she was petite (she need pedal adjustments in her cockpit) and blonde and loved nature. Rumors are that she decorated her cockpit with wildflowers and painted a lily on the side of her plane. Unfortunately, she is believed to have been killed in action, her plane reportedly shot down in the Ukraine. Female remains were discovered in 1979, but without DNA, there is no conclusive proof the remains are hers. To add to the mystery, there are also rumors of POW sightings of Litvyak in Germany by several sources.

In the United States, aviation pioneer Jacqueline Cochran was making a name for herself long before the war broke out – beating Howard Hughes’ transcontinental record in 1937. She helped to convince Eleanor Roosevelt that women pilots were going to be an unpopular necessity in World War II and, in leading that successful fight, she became the first director of the WASP program. They were responsible for testing and ferrying war planes all over the U.S. They were also employed as instructors and test pilots. They did every job a male military aviator performed but flying in combat.

After the war, the WASP regiments and their Soviet counterparts were disbanded and dismissed from service. Cochran attempted to introduce legislation that would militarize the WASP program. But it was defeated. It was not until the 1970s that women in the United States started to play a major role in aviation again. The WASPs did not receive veteran status until 1977 and they did not have the right to have a flag on their coffins until after 2000. And, yesterday, about 300 surviving trailblazers finally received national recognition with the highest honor this nation bestows on a civilian. What took so long?

That’s right – The Navy is looking for people with working knowledge of all eras of teak decking application processes and procedures on battleships. Inquiring minds want to know the board widths, joints, spacing and materials used in teak deck applications for each era of deck treatment on battleships. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) believes these items should be applicable to all battleships, but are ready to be proven wrong on that assumption. If anyone has knowledge, history or expertise to share, contact Beth Freese at NAVSEA in Washington, DC at 202-781-4423 or [email protected]

NAVSEA is responsible for the disposition and/or disposal of decommissioned U.S. Navy ships, including those ships that are sold to foreign navies or donated to cities for use as museums. In trying to establish best practices for the maintenance and repair of the teak decks found on battleships, NAVSEA is eager to collect any “corporate knowledge” that might exist in the memories and experience of battleship shipmates.

Teak – also known as Tectona Grandis – is known to be one of the hardiest types of wood. It is native to South East Asia and a tall, straight, deciduous tree. Its wood is dense and durable, with natural oils that fend off rust and cracks. Since wood is a natural insulator, it also helps with temperature control and better absorbs damage (when compared to steel!). Consequently, it has been used on ships since the Middle Ages.

To see a teak deck, visit USS Wisconsin, USS Missouri, Battleship North Carolina, Battleship Cove or Battleship New Jersey.

As our nation celebrated Martin Luther King Day yesterday, it is fitting to look back in history at some of the other, lesser-known African-Americans who forged “firsts” in this country. Consider the story of Doris “Dorie” Miller, a Navy cook onboard the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) when the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Miller is widely recognized as the first African-American hero of World War II for the swift and bold actions he took that day, earning him the Navy Cross.

Miller was not trained in surface ship combat tactics or machine gun operations, being relegated to the role of ship’s cook due to his race. But Miller had played football in high school and was the reigning heavyweight boxing champion on the West Virginia. His physical strength was well known among his shipmates. When the Japanese first struck, he ran to the battle station where he had been assigned the task of carrying wounded Sailors to safety. A torpedo had damaged the anti-aircraft battery magazine at his battle station, so he was ordered to the bridge to aid his commanding officer. He found the ship’s captain had been mortally wounded. Enraged, he took control of the nearby 50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun, firing until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

Miller had not received any training on the operation of this gun, but instincts served him well: “It wasn’t hard,” he said. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes.” For his heroism, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest award the Navy bestows. Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz said of Miller at the time: “This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.”

Tragically, Miller was killed a few years later in November of 1943 while serving aboard USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) near the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific. The ship was felled within minutes by a Japanese torpedo, killing 646 Sailors aboard – including Miller. But his legacy continues. Actor Cuba Gooding, Jr., honored Miller’s service and sacrifice with his portrayal of Miller in the movie “Pearl Harbor,” and on February 4 at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a stamp in his honor. This stamp is one of four being dedicated to four notable Navy Sailors. The other three are two-time Medal of Honor recipient John McCloy, WWI convoy advocate William Sims, and WWII Navy hero and former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke.

For more information on the U.S. Postal Service’s first-day-of-issue ceremony, go to the United States Navy Memorial’s web site: To watch a short video about Doris Miller, go to Navy TV:

History books have recounted the tragic aerial assaults by the Imperial Japanese on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But discoveries made by scientists have revealed that the aerial assault was also accompanied by undersea submarine torpedo attacks – and one of them was at least partially successful in its mission. Beginning in 1993, two deep-diving submersibles operated by the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL), Pisces IV and Pisces V, embarked on a series of scientific and engineering dives in and around Pearl Harbor. They discovered what looked like a Type A Japanese mini-submarine, setting off a flurry of scientific activity and conjecture. After more than 15 years of subsequent research, PBS’s NOVA television series aired a documentary on January 5 confirming that this wreckage – found outside the harbor in 1,000 feet of water – is the fifth mini- or midget submarine that the Japanese Navy sent into the littoral waters of Pearl Harbor to wreak havoc on the U.S. Pacific Fleet that fateful day.

Four of these midget subs have been previously accounted for. They were all destroyed or run aground before becoming a threat in the attack. But the relatively recent discovery of this fifth submarine provided additional proof that underwater torpedoes were launched against several ships in the harbor, and one successfully penetrated the battleship USS Oklahoma. Admiral Chester Nimitz issued a report to Congress in 1942, describing an unexploded, 800-pound torpedo that was salvaged after the attack. The size of this torpedo was twice that of those carried by torpedo bombers, increasing speculation of submarine attacks. Furthermore, the remains of Oklahoma show damage that was caused by a torpedo much larger than that of an aerial torpedo.

What remains unknown is how this fifth submarine ended up in its current location — amidst other World War II debris in deeper waters outside the harbor. Theorists believe this fifth sub escaped the scene of the battle and was scuttled in a nearby area called the West Loch, but since the fate of the crew is unknown, this remains just a theory. A deadly ammunition explosion at the West Loch site in 1944 killed 200 sailors and wounded hundreds more. A subsequent salvage operation scooped up the remains of the exploded ship and deposited them offshore — in the same location where the fifth submarine was discovered. The state of the fifth submarine also reveals the evidence of a salvage operation; it is broken into 3-4 pieces, obviously separated for ease of transfer. Furthermore, there is steel cable attached that is consistent with salvage operations. But there is no record of its being salvaged, moved or deposited in its current location. As Dr. Robert Neyland, the Naval History and Heritage Command’s underwater archaeologist, said in a telephone interview last week, “None of the records as yet have spoken to this whole issue about a mini-sub being found in the West Loch area, salvaged and carried offshore.” The mystery continues…

Military History Buffs recently scoped out Mt. Vernon on a cold, windy day. We had not visited the site in more than 25 years when we were given a tour of the house on a school field trip. By intention, the house hasn’t changed much and, to their credit, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association convinced the federal government to purchase land across the Potomac from Mt. Vernon in order to preserve the historic view. (Imagine how disconcerting it would be to tour this meticulously preserved 18th century house and then have your historic frame of mind jarred by 21st century, cookie cutter housing developments just across the river from the back yard!) The historic interpreters do a formidable job of telling you what colonial life was like and what kind of plantation owner George Washington was. You learn about how he liked to work at his desk, where he slept, how he treated his slaves and how close he was to Mrs. Washington. And you learn all of this through artifacts. Which is nice. But it tells you little about the leadership trajectory of General Washington, the challenges he faced as the Revolution leader and the legendary accomplishments he achieved in that War and as our nation’s first president.

Then, we walked into the new Visitors Center and were blown away. Not only is the building well integrated into the landscape of the grounds, but it achieves what artifacts and the house never could. We slowly walked through the path of the exhibit (we didn’t want to miss anything!) that guides you through the life of George Washington and, through images, sounds, interactive touch screens, and surround-sound videos, we really became acquainted with the man, the General and the President. We got to know him intimately – at various ages and stages in his life. We experienced George Washington. We look forward to going back in the spring and the summer to explore the distillery, walk the grounds and to go through the exhibit again! And what is amazing to us is that this museum and historic house has been funded by several generations of determined women (the Mount Vernon Ladies Association) who underwrote the entire project with private dollars!

So, why can’t the Navy do this? We’ve been to Pensacola – hats off to that facility and organization that has made the National Museum of Naval Aviation publicly accessible and a true educational experience, taking advantage of the latest in museum technology and best practices. The Air Force has a great museum in Dayton. We can’t say enough about the inspirational and educational new Marine Corps Museum in Quantico. And we hope that the new Army museum will be first rate, although its planned location in Belvoir is problematic. But, what about the Navy? Aside from Pensacola, why can’t the rest of the Navy museums get into the 21st century? They need to have fewer glass exhibit cases, musty uniforms and inoperable cannons. They need to have more exhibits like the ones in Pensacola and the USS Midway museum that give visitors of all ages a taste of the Navy experience – both past and present. Let visitors actually feel what it was like on a submarine with no air conditioning in World War II. Challenge people to explore a swift boat and give them a view of what the Navy crew might have seen along the banks of the Mekong Delta. Give kids a chance to really feel how hard it is to train to be a Navy SEAL. That’s what will give visitors an understanding and an appreciation for the Navy.

This week’s Navy Times article about a proposal on the desk of the Navy to build a joint, national maritime/Navy museum outside the Navy Yard couldn’t come at a better time. I read the article online and reviewed the proposal (also online) and I think it’s a wonderful and rare opportunity for the Navy.

In recent years, the Navy has elevated the issue of “community outreach” to a strategic level, engaging the highest levels of Navy leadership in the debate over how best to educate the American public about the mission of today’s Navy and the 330,000 people who wear the Navy uniform. Community outreach has traditionally been delegated to local commanders and their public affairs officers, who engage in mayoral duties of kissing babies and shaking hands, making speeches at the local Chambers of Commerce and Rotary Clubs, answering questions from the local media about the number of jobs that would be lost if the local installation were to close, and volunteering at local schools to tutor kids in reading. All politics is local, so that approach made sense.

So, when a 2006 Gallup Poll about the military showed that the public ranked the Navy last in its relevance and importance in today’s war on terror, Navy leadership realized that community outreach needed to have a much higher profile and priority. Since then, they have created and are in the process of executing “Outreach: America’s Navy,” a multi-tiered, multi-year program that involves every flag officer and commanding officer in community outreach events and establishes minimum levels of activities across all major commands – with metrics.

What is not addressed in this new OPNAV instruction is a strategy for using Navy museums and historic Navy ships in their outreach efforts. They could be some of the best weapons in the Navy’s community outreach arsenal. The problem is that most of the Navy museums house antiquated exhibits that are poorly interpreted and many of the museums sit behind security gates. According to this Navy Times article, the 12 Navy-run museums attract collectively 1.2 million visitors annually. By contrast, the recently built Marine Corps Museum attracted one million visitors in its first year of operations. Most of the Navy’s museums and historic ships (the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, the USS Midway in San Diego and the USS Intrepid in New York City are clear exceptions) do not take advantage of the state-of-the-art museum concepts that are employed by top-notch institutions around the country. But that could change.

The Navy has a rare opportunity staring it in the face right now. This article says that an offer is on the table to enter into a public-private partnership to build a National Museum of the U.S. Navy on the waterfront in our nation’s capital. With 25 million tourists visiting DC every year, having a world-class museum close to the National Mall could make a significant impact on the public’s awareness of the critical missions being performed by the Navy today, as well as an understanding of the rich maritime heritage of our nation.

But the window of opportunity offer is not open-ended. As the article points out, the developers will not wait in perpetuity for the Navy to decide how and when it wants to move forward. He who hesitates is lost. In my humble opinion, make the bold move and get our world-class Navy a world-class museum.