Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
For me anything to do with the United States Navy is historical as well as decidedly personal as I am both a Naval Officer and I am the son of a Navy Chief Petty Officer.
Today is the 240th anniversary of the founding of the United States Navy; actually the date is the founding of the Continental Navy but let’s not get too technical. The birthday of the post Continental, U.S. Navy is March 27th 1794 when Congress appropriated funds for the famous “Six Frigates,” the Constitution, President, Congress, Constellation, Chesapeake, and the United States. These ships would establish the U.S. Navy as a force that would ultimately become the most powerful the world has ever seen.
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy
The fact is that back in 1775 most people and political leaders in the revolting colonies felt that founding a Navy was quite foolish. After all, who in their right mind would ever dare to challenge the might and power of the British Royal Navy?
The First Flagship, the Alfred
In fact had General George Washington not sent a letter to the Continental Congress saying that he had taken some vessels in hand to disrupt the supplies of the British Army, a Navy might not have ever been established. Timing is everything and in this case it the timing of George Washington was pretty good. Early Naval officers, sailing wooden ships with iron men began a tradition of selfless service that endures today.
Since that fortuitous day in 1775 the United States Navy went from being an annoyance to the Royal Navy to the premier naval power in the world. But it was not always that way. The Navy was allowed to vanish during the 1780s and was reestablished by President Washington and an act of Congress in 1794. Since then the Navy has had its share of ups and downs where politicians very various reasons have ceased to support it. George Washington was right when he wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette, “It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”
President Woodrow Wilson echoed Washington’s words in 1914, “A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.”
Men like John Paul Jones, Edward Preble, Stephen Decatur, Thomas Truxtun, William Bainbridge, Oliver Hazard Perry, David Farragut, David Dixon Porter, George Dewey and many more blazed a path of glory which others, great and small would continue to build on the legacy of the iron men who sailed wooden ships into harm’s way. Men like Arleigh Burke, Howard Gilmore, John C. Waldron, Maxwell Leslie, Bull Halsey, Richard O’Kane, Daniel Callahan, Raymond Spruance, Marc Mitscher, and Ernest Evans built upon that legacy in the Second World War. Other continued that tradition in Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and our current wars.
Likewise, others representing people who at one time were excluded from service would build on the legacy, including Robert Smalls who became the first African American to command a U.S. Navy ship during the Civil War, and Samuel Gravely who became the first African American Flag Officer, as Grace Hopper became the first woman line officer to attain flag rank. Others would do so in the Cold War, Vietnam and the Global War on Terrorism.
Great ships like the USS Constitution, USS Monitor, USS Kearsarge, USS Olympia, USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, USS Yorktown, USS Growler, USS Tang, USS Hoel, USS Johnston, USS Samuel B Roberts, USS Laffey, USS San Francisco, USS Houston and USS Arizona, USS Nevada, USS West Virginia and USS California helped build a legacy of valiant sacrifice and service often at great cost in the defense of freedom.
Oliver Hazard Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie
The greatness of those ships would not have occurred had it not been for their crews. Over the last 240 years the success of the United States Navy all it came down to the men and women who served in every clime and place, many times outnumbered and facing certain defeat who through their courage, honor and commitment helped secure the liberty of their countrymen and others around the world. Most of these men and women served in obscurity in war and peace but all had the distinction of serving in the United States Navy.
My old ship, the USS Hue City operating in 2002 in the Persian Gulf
Today the men and women of the United States Navy stand in the forefront of our Nation’s defense and in helping others around the world. Fighting against the Islamic State, Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations, attempting to bring stability to Afghanistan and working with allies and partners around the world to secure the freedom of the seas against pirates and others who attempt to disrupt the commerce on which ours and the world’s economy depends.
That being said, the Navy is not primarily an instrument of war, but an instrument of maintaining the peace. Admiral Arleigh Burke said something incredibly important to understand why we have a navy and why those who serve as Naval officers must work to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without resorting to war: “For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war. Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace. Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.”
Even so, the past fourteen years have not been good for the Navy nor for the country, and most of this happened before 2009. Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus noted, “On 9/11, 2001, the Navy stood at 316 ships. By 2008, after one of the great military buildups in American history, we were at 278 ships and had 49,000 fewer sailors.” During that time the United States embroiled itself in ground wars in which had no chance of succeeding, and in doing so hurt itself.
The author on a boarding mission in the Persian Gulf, April 2002
Even so, the Navy still performs its duty, and I am still a part of it, though I serve in non-Navy Joint command.
President John F Kennedy said something that I fully agree, “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.’”
Like my father before me I can say that I am proud to have served and continue to serve in the United States Navy, because we are no matter what some may say or think, a global force for good.