Archive for the 'History' Category
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 4 October 2015 for Midrats Episode 300: USS Neosho (AO-23),USS Sims (DD-409) and the Battle of the Coral Sea
Wars are full of accidental battles, unexpected horror, and the valor of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Often lost in the sweeping stories of the Pacific in WWII, there is a story that – if not for one man’s inability to properly recognize one ship from another – should have never have happened. Because of that one man’s mistake, and a leader’s stubborn enthusiasm to double down on that mistake, the lived of hundreds of men were lost – and possibly the course of a pivotal early battle changed.
Our guest for the full hour will be author Don Keith to discuss the tale of the USS Neosho (AO-23) and USS Sims (DD-409) at the Battle of the Coral Sea in his latest book, The Ship That Wouldn’t Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho- A World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea.
Don is an award-winning and best-selling author of books on a wide range of topics. In addition to being a prolific writer, he also has a background in broadcast journalism from on-the-air personality to ownership.
Don’s web site is www.donkeith.com
One of the many great joys of a billet at USNA is the ability to reconnect with former professors and professional mentors. As someone who graduated 5 years ago, I am fortunate enough to see many of them still on the Yard.
I want to share with you a conversation I had with someone whom I really didn’t know during my time here. If you attended USNA anytime from 1991 onwards you may have seen him around. He’s likely barked “Strike!” at you during Plebe Summer’s introduction to martial arts or has evaluated your ability to perform a wrist lock during a PE course. He may have even coached some of you in gymnastics.
If you didn’t go to USNA, you’ll still find his story fascinating and revealing about two nations’ abilities to heal following history’s most destructive, fearsome war.
Sho Fukushima was born in Hiroshima, Japan in September 10, 1946, a little over a year after the bomb was dropped on the city. His family ended up in Hiroshima after the war during which his father was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army in Pusan, Korea. With the war’s end, the Japanese were expelled from Korea, and his parents hopped on a freighter bound for Japan. Sho’s parents had heard “a new type of bomb had wiped out everything” in Hiroshima and it was rumored that nothing could grow there for the next 70 years.
“I asked them why did they really come back to Hiroshima, where there was nothing. It was because our relatives were there.”
He, his four siblings, mother and father lived in a “wooden structure, with a metal roof.” There were no real buildings yet.
His kindergarten teacher passed away from a bomb-related illness. His 1st grade teacher, who had facial scars from glass shards from the blast, died from leukemia. He lost an aunt, uncle and 5-6 cousins to the bomb. On that day his grandmother was 20-30 miles outside the city and saw a “bright, white flash” followed by the mushroom cloud. A search of the city the next day by the surviving family members revealed those in downtown had simply “evaporated.”
Hunger was a central feature of childhood. “We just didn’t have enough food to eat,” Sho explained, “so all four kids had to learn to share.” The staple dish was rice mixed with wheat or sweet potatoes, and was considered an adulteration–“not white rice.”
Growing up in Hiroshima, he remembers playing with one of his “best friends,” the “shadow man” of the city’s bank. “Mom had a couple of bottles,” artifacts crystallized by the blast. “She told me if I could break that thing she would give me a 100 yen. Even with hammers and throwing it against the rocks, I couldn’t break that thing. It became a family joke.”
During our talk I tried to imagine growing up with such stark, ever-present reminders of war and death. I asked Sho if all of this seemed normal. “It was totally normal. I didn’t know any other life,” he responded. There were parts of Sho’s childhood that seemed normal. “The ocean was my playground. I had a little fishing pole and starting fishing. I loved to fish. Besides that, I remember playing with my brothers and sisters. My older sister was an avid reader so at least once a month we would get a new book.” Yet, Sho was quick to point out that fishing also served to supplement their food.
Meanwhile, his father, despaired with losing the war and escaping death. A graduate of a professional military academy, all of his classmates had died in the South Pacific while he served in the national guard in Korea. “How would you feel about cheating death?” Sho asked me. “He was the strongest military guy before the war, but after he lost the war and he lost his classmates…he lost a kind of spirit,” as he struggled with the thought of suicide.
Sho’s gymnastics talents led the University of Washington to recruit him. Hearing about the promises of America from his grandfather, who had lived in Seattle and San Francisco, Sho jumped at the opportunity.
The son of a IJA officer, Sho found himself staying in the home of a Pearl Harbor survivor, Jack, who offered to sponsor him. “My father asked him to take care of me, and my American father promised he would. He did everything like a father was supposed to. The families stayed in touch, hosting one another in Japan and the US.
I was most struck by Sho telling his father of his job offer at the Naval Academy. Sho had maintained a green card, but with the job offer his father suggested something more. “Such an honor,” his father told him, “that you can get a job like this at the Academy. You have to show them your commitment.” His father meant applying for American citizenship. “That’s him–Japanese military guy,” Sho explained.
In October, Sho will retire after nearly 25 years at the Academy. As a child, his mom would take him once a year to see US Army doctors, who would give him a cookie and check him for radiation related illnesses. He plans to search for his medical records at the University of Maryland, which archived many records of Japanese patients affected by the bombs.
“I always dreamed of being a bridge between the US and Japan,” Sho mused towards the end of our talk. I think he has done just that.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 20 September 2015 for Midrats Episode 298: “Warrior Writers Exhibit at the Naval Academy Museum”:
Last week, the Naval Academy Museum opened a new exhibit “Warrior Writers: The U.S. Naval Institute” that will run through Jan. 31, 2016.
The exhibit features literary work primarily from junior officers during their active duty service since the 1870’s. The majority of the literature focuses on controversies, issues, and trends of the time and is accompanied by over 100 artifacts including writings, weapons and tools from the authors. The artifacts are from the combined collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum and the U.S. Naval Institute as well as some on loan from recent authors.
Our guest to discuss the exhibit and what it has to offer will be the LCDR Claude Berube, USNR – author, regular Midrats guest, and more importantly in this context, the director of the museum.
The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.
– from a post-war debriefing of a German General
Operation Avalanche—the code name alone gives an idea of the chaos surrounding the Allied invasion of Salerno and mainland Italy in September 1943. Earlier this summer my two commands at Strike Force NATO and the U.S. 6th Fleet experienced a small fraction of the fog of an actual conflict during BALTOPS 2015 which included a full-blown amphibious landings on the beaches of Sweden and Poland. Although we had an opposing “red force” operating against us in Poland, this was an exercise—no live rounds, no injuries, and a host of lessons learned for next year. An exercise can only take you so far; sometimes you need to walk the sand and taste the salty air of a battlefield’s beachhead to get a sense of the tactical decisions that affected a conflict’s outcome.
In an increasingly chaotic world, time is well spent to break from current ops and to gain insight into the way armies and navies confronted uncertainty in the past. The 72nd anniversary of the landings at Salerno, led by Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, offered 6th Fleet just such an opportunity.
Borrowing from the Army tradition of a Staff Ride, I accompanied 50 members of my staff on a tour of the Salerno battlefields. After hours of self-study and a classroom academic session, we walked the terrain and discussed the different phases of the battle to gain a glimpse of what the average Soldier or Sailor would have experienced 72 years ago. The mental exercise of putting ourselves inside the Commander’s decision cycle and thinking through the choices made, and potential alternate outcomes, was value added in honing our skillset in amphibious warfare.
Knowing what happened historically, it is sometimes easy to forget that military outcomes could have turned out much differently. In 1943, there was no guarantee that Operation Avalanche would succeed.
The political environment in 1943 contributed to the operational and tactical confusion of Operation Avalanche. In late July 1943, the Leader of the National Fascist Party and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini was deposed. Marshall Pietro Badoglio was appointed Prime Minister of Italy. Throughout August 1943, new Italian leaders met covertly with the Allies to discuss an armistice, which they signed in secret on Sept. 3, 1943.
It was not until 6 p.m. Sept. 8, just nine hours prior to the start of Operation Avalanche, that both Italian Prime Minister Badoglio and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the armistice by radio. The German troops in Italy were surprised but acted quickly to disarm and neutralize the Italian forces. Thinking that the Italian surrender meant little or no resistance, and wanting to limit collateral damage, Lt. Gen. Clark made the decision not to prepare the battlespace with naval fires. This decision cost him dearly. The Germans were entrenched, well-armed, and waiting. Allied forces entered this cauldron when they waded ashore along the 23 miles of Salerno Bay.
The Salerno coastline is dramatic and vibrant. Although it makes for a beautiful postcard, this scene presented a formidable challenge to a Soldier or Sailor conducting an amphibious assault. In 1943, the Germans had the high ground, and could fire at will on the Allies below–long before they reached the beach while the Allies were spread across a large area fighting their way uphill. Luftwaffe forward operating bases were just 20 minutes away, providing near continuous air cover for bombardment and strafing of Allied forces.
At one point the Allied forces considered withdrawal, but like a dramatic movie plot, reinforcements arrived just in time. But this was not a movie; this was war at its most brutal. Salerno was the battleground and the last scene was still unwritten.
In the campaign maps of textbooks the blue and red lines always look matter-of-fact and determined. Standing in the sand of what was then Blue Beach and peering into the pillbox that was bristling with German firepower gives one a better sense of just what the Allies encountered. Here a group of “knee-deep Sailors” (so named because their amphibious boats got stuck on a sandbar, forcing them to wade ashore in withering fire) were stranded when armor and artillery could not make it on shore. The men fixed bayonets, awaiting the German infantry attack which was sure to come. Thankfully, it did not, because the German’s were blocked by their minefields. With the German tanks less than a football field from the surf, the Soldiers and Sailors were able to warn their comrades before more landing craft were lost.
Then, radio silence. Hours passed and the destroyers in the bay, assuming Blue Beach had been lost, concentrated their fire. In actuality, the waterlogged radio had died and the Sailors were caught between the German Panzers and friendly fire. In desperation Signalman Bingaman courageously stood up and used semaphore with white handkerchiefs to alert our ships. With their aim corrected, the naval gunners held off the tanks and protected the beachhead. Bingaman was awarded the Silver Star.
The human cost was high for both sides at Salerno: 5,500 British, 3,500 American, and 3,500 German soldiers died. The setbacks at Salerno resulted in a Normandy invasion that looked quite different—Gen. Eisenhower determined not to allow the same mistakes in Operation Overlord.
As soon as the Allies had secured the area, the town of Salerno became one of the most strategically important cities is Italy. Within a month, 190,000 troops, 30,000 vehicles and 120,000 tons of supplies we brought ashore at Salerno. With the benefit of hindsight, we see how important the beaches of Salerno were to the liberation of Italy. The allies secured Salerno, then Naples, then Rome, and the rest is history.
The staff ride was not the only way the command commemorated the anniversary of Salerno’s liberation. The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band band showed our appreciation to the Italian host nation with a concert featuring the music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Glen Miller of the “Big Band Era.” The Italians picked the venue–Teatro Augusteo–home of the first headquarters to Lt. Gen. Clark’s Army and the seat of the first Italian government post WWII. The crowd sang along as the entire ensemble and a duet of trumpets–one Italian and one American—played “O Sole Mio.” As the Sailors stepped off the stage and mingled with the crowd after the performance, the scene reminded me of black and white photos of the citizens of Salerno greeting their Allied liberators in 1943.
The devastation of World War II has been erased by the passing decades. Today Salerno’s tree lined promenade and glorious waterfront are as beautiful as ever. Where the dark hulls of ships and landing craft once blocked the view of the water is today a pristine bay. The bucolic fields around the temples of Paestum, where GIs marched in the shadow of Greece, are quiet again. But the people of Salerno have not forgotten the lessons of September 1943, and it behooves us to heed their example.
Now 72 years later, the U.S. 6th Fleet maintains its headquarters less than an hour from Salerno in Naples, Italy. We now face many different threats that impact our national security and that of our Allies, including a resurgent Russia, illegal trafficking, terrorism on multiple fronts, lawlessness, and ungoverned spaces in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, which have contributed to a refugee crisis of epic proportions.
We train rigorously to address each of these contingencies. Using the lessons from the great battles of the past, we will boldly face our future challenges.
5 November 1943
When in Rome, speak as the Romans’ – The Indians always have to have some ailment or other – or their friends get suspicions that they’re getting something extra to eat. So I got Malaria. The first couple of days I was hot and cold in relays – since then I’ve felt fine – but a little weak. I don’t think they’ll let me out of the hospital for another week yet.
I haven’t received any of the Air Mail packages you sent – I’ll let you know as soon as I do. Glad to hear Bill likes it and I certainly hope he can get deferred and continue with medicine…
…Well they still won’t let me out of bed. With nothing to do, I’m slowly going nuts. This morning, while counting the cracks in the ceiling plaster, Coresia in the next bed says – look Meehan – and points behind my head, so I roll over and raise my head and ½ inch in front of my nose is a monkey. He scowled and I jumped ten feet – Coersia roared. I’ve been sitting here sharpening my dagger and eying his throat. He’s laughing a bit nervously now. The monkey is a pet of the medics and has been inoculated as much as the G.I.s.
How are you all doing? I haven’t had a letter for several days – Pat, Betsy and Lou should be able to get along now. Dad should try to get some gold in – his only hobby seems to be politics. Interested in hearing how Doc and Lou made out.
I think we should finish Germany next summer and Japan in ’45, which is the earliest I to expect to get home.
27 Mar 2014
Hello dearest family!
Allow me to enlighten you on the last few days. Now, the Navy has inoculated people against smallpox for years, but they stopped doing it a few years back. I thought I got lucky and avoided it but nooooo, they were just building up their vaccine quantity. So this year, when we deployed, the docs informed us all that we were getting Anthrax (most painful shot of all time six times) and oh, btw, you’re getting smallpox post-Turkey. Grand. … I have an entirely new perspective on the Black Death. Officially the most disgusting/worst way to die of all time. Oh, and your body is trying to fight it so your immune system is wrecked and everyone, I mean EVERYONE on the boat is sick. So anyways, that’s the scene. Hopefully it will scab over soon and then please send massive quantities of Mederma. That’s about all on my end! I love you all so much and I hope everything is going well! I’ve LOVED some of the emails I’ve received…Mom, I love the decorating emails and STM updates…Dad, I have more books for you! Read ‘em for me, cause I have zero time right now …Kelse, we LOVE reading your emails…we miss college! And they’re hilarious!…and PAT…WRITE ME AN EMAIL BRO 🙂 Love, Mere
On Holidays and Missing Good Food:
1 January 1944
A beautiful cool New Year’s afternoon with not much doing – just lying around. Received your package containing soap and shaving supplies, Asprin – I’ve never had a headache since I’ve been in the army – except when I had malaria, and little liver tablets! Now I know I’ve probably bitched and griped about the food, but with all, it’s never been that bad. Never took them in my life and don’t intent to start now. I have never felt better.
Cards from Don Damice’s, Louise and ten-spot from Harry- no good here, but negotiable in China where U.S. money is called “Gold.” News from Germany sounds good with the Russians cutting off the Germans at China. I don’t think they’ll last long and Japan should be out a year after Germany falls.
4 July 2014
Hoping this email finds all of you quite well this 4th of July! Please have some corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and that jello and pretzel dessert stuff (is there actually a name for it? C’mon, you know what I mean!), for me…and a beer! Or two…or five… While life is fairly insane at the moment (no fireworks or celebrations for me this year), I spent the day up in the control tower and then out went out to the LSO platform (Landing Signal Officer), and watched some jets land. Now if that doesn’t scream “‘Merica!” I don’t know what does! On a more serious note, things have been quite interesting around here, which has added to the already complex ops of day-to-day life onboard the boat. We all faced a steep learning curve over the last few weeks as certain international events unfolded, and I have learned vast amounts on a variety of subjects. The current situation means that we have an extremely high op-tempo, and just as our aircrew have been busy flying, our maintainers have been working incredibly hard to keep our airplanes up and functioning. The other day, one of my AEs (I’m the Avionics Division Officer), fell off a ladder while he was fixing an engine component with his arm wedged all the way inside the engine nacelle, and he now his entire arm is mottled purple, red and yellow. Despite this, he was back to work three hours later, with a smile on his face, happy that he got the plane back up and ready to fly! These are the type of awesome guys and gals that make up my squadron, and I couldn’t be more proud of them, especially on a day like today. Happy 4th, everyone!
It may be hard to see the similarities in experiences that are separated by so many years, policy changes and shifts in generational mindsets. But they are there. And they remind us that despite the differences, we share (at least) one fundamental commonality: we all wear/wore the uniform of a United States Armed Forces service member.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 30 Aug 2015 for Midrats Episode 295: “NATO Goes Back to Fundamentals” With Jorge Benitez:
From the Balitic to the Black Sea, the last year has seen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) return to its roots – the defense of Europe from Russian aggression.
The names and players have changes significantly since a quarter century ago – but in many ways things look very familar.
To discuss NATO’s challenge in the East in the second decade of the 21st Century for the full hour will be Dr. Jorge Benitez.
Jorge is the Director of NATOSource and a Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
He specializes in NATO, European politics, and US national security. and previously served as Assistant for Alliance Issues to the Director of NATO Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has also served as a specialist in international security for the Department of State and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.
Dr. Benitez received his BA from the University of Florida, his MPP from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and his PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
As part of Women in Writing Week, we recognize one of the first female role models in the Navy: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Here she is on The David Letterman Show, at age 80:
Letters transcend generations. Some of my family’s most sentimental possessions are my grandfather’s letters home during World War II while he was stationed in India. Growing up, I’d often heard the story of how he began writing to a woman his Aunt worked with, and after years of exchanging letters, he proposed to her the first time he met her as she picked him up from the airport upon his arrival in the States (that woman later became my grandmother).
But despite the fact that one of my cousins transcribed Grandpa’s letters to his own mother a few years back, I never got the chance to read them before I left on my own deployment. It wasn’t until I returned home that I read through them in their entirety, and was struck by the similarity between the multitude he had penned home, and my own numerous emails home to friends and family. His letters contain sections that have been cut out, and apparently his mother once received a scrawled note, “Ma’am, your son is fine…he just talks too much!” Clearly, he didn’t have a mandatory NKO OPSEC course…
Of course, Grandpa didn’t write using “hashtags” or about “missing WiFi” or even of women in the service. But he wrote of flying, the heat, his concern regarding things at home, silly things he and his friends did to pass the often boring times that happen on deployment and how much he missed his family. And so did I. What follows is a short compilation of letters written by my Grandfather, along with a few emails I sent to families and friends along similar topic lines.
17 July 1943
I hope, by this time, you will have my first letter. I am finally at what appears to be my base – doing what I expected and trained for, although the camp isn’t exactly as I had hoped it would be.
It isn’t bad though and the stories are as interesting as amazing to the gullible – pythons, cobras and stampeding elephants. I haven’t seen any in the raw yet, except, on the way thru, in a city street, when a native lad would run up to us and throw a bag down at our feet whereupon an indifferent and defanged cobra would coil up and stare at us icily- the boy would want 4 annos (8c)…
…At [section cut from page] the streets were narrow, dusty and dirty, but the surrounding parks and residential districts were nice. The Taj Mahal was beautiful at night and looked just like it does in pictures. Send all your mail – air mail – as it will probably take from 15 days to a month anyway – you might get some of this stationary – air mail. I want to know about everybody and hope you have written – My regard to anybody you feel like giving them to – hope you are all well.
16 April 2014
Important people of my life,
Hello to all of you! I am currently deployed and we are 2 months into what is sure to be an awesome nine-month deployment…yes, I’m saying that without a hint of sarcasm…none whatsoever. While I may not quite be bursting with enthusiasm for the coming months, I will say that so far, it has certainly been an adventure! After crossing the Atlantic, we ended up having a bit of an extended stay in the Med due to the current events in Ukraine. While our port visits to Athens, Greece and Antalya, Turkey were unaffected (you could probably hear the sigh of relief from all 5,000 people on the ship from across the Atlantic), the flight operations in the area were decidedly more interesting. Despite being on high alert for a few tense days, we managed to find some humor in the situation, as sailors (and especially aviators!), are wont to do. Chat rooms became the basis of many a laugh, as evidenced by the “Is love a Crimea? No, but you shouldn’t Russian to it” – subject line of one such room.
Dork humor aside, there is plenty of room for laughs on the boat. Sidenote: it’s “the boat” for aviators, and SWO’s (surface warfare officers) refer to the carrier and all naval vessels as “ships.” Aviators have a long history of being impertinent towards SWOs…and we take gleeful pride in maintaining this relationship. A recent email was forwarded to the entire airwing with the choice sentence “Reaction Officer complained that the airwing LT was not contrite when confronted. It strikes me that Naval Aviation’s characteristic irreverence and slight rebellious streak still generates surprised consternation and SWO-ish indignation.”…
…Well, this email has been in the works for about 5 weeks…hopefully the next one won’t be so delayed! I would love to tell you all more about the boat, the groups of people, flying, cat shots, call-signs and the awesome group of people I work with every day! I hope you all are doing well-Happy Easter to you and your families!
27 October 1943
I was glad to get your letter and snapshots – they’re great. To answer some of your questions the 301st has just moved into its own area – which means that we now have our own mess hall – good food, comfortable bunkers – they are sprayed daily and of course we have our own mosquito net – shower rooms and day room.
I’m still flying a lot, but am now in charge of special services in the squadron – which means that on days off I’m in the library, day room, or working on the volleyball court etc. We are laying out a baseball field, football field and horseshoe pits and planning on a boxing ring. The red-cross has donated full equipment for all this – even checkers, chess, and playing cards for the day room. Now if we could get some blondes!
I’ll write tomorrow
Women in Writing Week: From 18 October 2013, part of the stellar series “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects” by LTJG Chris O’Keefe.
Women in the military today is the norm, but this was not always the case. Today’s object, a non-descript woman’s naval officer uniform, helps tell the story of the thousands of women who blazed the trail for the women serving today. This podcast is the first of several episodes that will address the broader narrative of women in the Navy. And since these objects all are located at the Academy, today’s episode focuses on the first women to enter the Academy in 1976. This is the first of a two part episode. The second half is an interview with Sharon Disher, member of the first class of women at the Academy and author of the book First Class.