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Eugene Ely and the Beginnings of Naval Aviations

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One hundred and seven years ago not far from where I live and work an event marked the beginning of the end of the battleship and the birth of naval aviation.

On a blustery November 14th in the year 1910 a young civilian pilot hailing from Williamsport Iowa became the first man to fly an aircraft off the deck of a ship.  Eugene Ely was just 24 years old and had taught himself to fly barely 7 months before. With the wind whipping about the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, Ely readied himself and his Curtis biplane aboard the Cruiser USS Birmingham anchored just south of Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads.

Ely was there because he was discovered by Navy Captain Washington Irving Chambers.  Chambers had been tasked with exploring how aircraft might become part of Naval Operations. Chambers had no budget or authority for his seemingly thankless task nor any trained Navy aviators. But when he heard that a German steamship might launch and aircraft from a ship Chambers hustled to find a way to stake a claim for the U.S. Navy to be the first in flight.

The weather was bad that day as is so typical for Hampton Roads in November. Between rain squalls Ely decided to launch even though Birmingham did not have steam up to get underway to assist the launch.  Ely gunned the engine and his biplane rumbled down the 57 foot ramp and as he left the deck the aircraft nosed down and actually make contact with the water splintering the propeller. The damage to his aircraft forced Ely to cut the flight short and land on Willoughby Spit about 2 ½ miles away. This is not far from the southern entrance to the modern Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

Chambers then talked Ely into making the first landing on a Navy ship the Armored Cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay on January 18th 1911. In this flight his aircraft was modified and equipped with an arrestor hook, a standard feature on carrier aircraft since the early days of US Navy aviation.

Ely desired employment in the Navy but the Navy Air Arm, but since it had not yet been established he continued his exhibition flying around the country. Sadly, Ely died in a crash while performing at the Georgia State Fairgrounds on October 11th 1911 less than a year after his historic flight off the deck of the Birmingham.

Ely would not be forgotten. Though he was a civilian he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Congress in 1933. The citation read in part: “for extraordinary achievement as a pioneer civilian aviator and for his significant contribution to the development of aviation in the United States Navy.”

It is hard to believe that Naval Aviation traces its heritage back to this humble beginning. However the next time you see an aircraft taking off and landing from a modern super carrier, remember the brave soul named Eugene Ely who 107 years ago today gunned his frail aircraft down that short ramp aboard the USS Birmingham. Tonight let us raise a glass to Eugene Ely and all the men and women who would follow him as Naval Aviators.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, US Navy

A Ball Game with Saint Pete: The confluence of Baseball and Faith

This is a re-written version of an article that I wrote last year and is part of my “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” series.  The original; was written shortly after my dad died last summer. Today I revised it while traveling to a Church clergy and Chaplain conference in Houston. Peace, Padre Steve+

A week after I met Jesus and the team at 7-11 I found out that I was selected to be promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps.  While still in amazed wonderment about that meeting and what happened on the team’s road trip to Dyersville Iowa to play at the Field of Dreams I was caught up in the excitement of knowing that I was among 20 chaplains selected for promotion for the next fiscal year.  That night I went to worship at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish despite being very tired from three busy overnight duty shifts over the preceding eight days at the hospital that I served at as a Chaplain.

The previous night had gone long as I had to deal with a number of serious situations.  We had young Petty Officer First Class named Kenneth die of cancer. Kenneth was one of those rare people with no guile. While he served in the Navy he was also an outstanding basketball player and played on the All-Navy Basketball team. He died after a struggle with cancer that had ravaged his formerly massive body, that of a basketball power forward until he looked like a concentration Camp victim at the end of the Second World War. The time with this young man and his family was filled with grace as three Chaplains as well as a number of hospital staff that had gotten to know them over the preceding three months gathered at their apartment outside the hospital gate where he had gone home to die.  It was his desire to spend a few days at home with family before dying and one of the last things that he was able to do was watch game seven of the NBA Championship game between the Lakers and the Celtics. The three Chaplains, a Roman Catholic, a Pentecostal and me a miscreant Old Catholic type all prayed at the bedside and stayed with the family and his body during the holy silence that pervaded the living room.

Later I would spend time with the family of an eighteen month old boy that had drowned and been resuscitated by EMS in down but was certain to die in the next day or two.  Then I did some follow up with a dear lady that was in the end stages of heart and kidney failure in our ICU. I’d known Corrie a sixty-five year old Filipina and her family over the past couple of years as she struggled to live, but today was different. Nothing more could be done. I was with her and the doctors as they discussed her condition and when she calmly let people know that if her heart stopped again not to try to bring her back. We talked and prayed afterward and she had asked if I would come up to help her write down her story.  Well that had not worked out but I did get to her bedside late making the sincerest of apologies and letting her know what had happened. Corrie was also one of those dear saints, a devout Catholic that loved God and her neighbors, she was concerned for the families of the other patients and not so concerned about herself. She had faith and was confident that Jesus would have her in heaven because as she said it was his grace and mercy that had allowed her to know him.  I listened to her, sang with her, prayed with her and chatted for almost an hour and a half before going to check on the parents of the little boy and my Pediatric ICU staff before trundling off to the Duty Chaplain Bunk room for a few hours of fitful sleep.  I thought of the people that I had dealt with during the day and how each in their own way had touched my life and saying a brief prayer I laid my head on the bricklike pillows and body down on the devil’s mattress, or the mattress from Hell fell asleep.

After going home I received the call from Derek our deputy chaplain at the hospital to congratulate me on my selection. I was thrilled and that evening I went to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish to see the Tides play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was a terribly hot and muggy night but the game was exciting and as is my custom I took a lot of pictures for my website as I try to write about every Tides game, hoping that someday when I grew up that I might be a baseball writer.  I guess that I am one now except no-one is paying me for it but such is life. As I moved about I spent some time with my buddies, Elliott, Chip and Art the Ushers and each time that I moved up or down from the home plate area where I reside down the first base or third base line to get shots from different angles I would visit with them, talking baseball, life and receiving their congratulations on my selection for promotion.  To them I am the irrepressible Padre Steve and we have a wonderful time together at each home game.

That night was like any night at the Church of Baseball until I noticed a burly man in a Yankees hat with a beard and pony tail coming down the stairs toward section 102. He was showing his ticket to Elliott the Usher, also know by some as Elliott the Enforcer he also has charge over section 100, the VIP section shared by scouts, players, families of team members and visiting VIPs.  That section is carefully monitored by the aforementioned “Enforcer” and the man, wearing a faded Yankees Jersey from what appeared to be from the 1930s with the number “3” on the back and a pair of large brown cargo shorts with sandals on his feet walked toward Elliott showing his ticket.

I recognized the man and since I was on the move anyway from the third base side toward first I went up to them.  Having met the man the previous week at 7-11 and knowing that he and the team loved baseball I had wondered of they might make their way back to Hampton Roads.

“Elliott, you gonna let a Yankee fan into section 100?” I smiled as I asked the question. Elliott and Pete both looked over at me, Elliott is about my height but Pete towered over us at a good 6 foot 3 inches outweighing each up us by at least a hundred pounds. Pete smiled.

“Steve from 7-11 right?”  Pete asked as he recognized me with Elliott looking on.

“That’s me” I cheerily answered. I liked Pete, there was something genuinely fun about him a blue collar guy that in addition to going and spreading the Good News also liked to be around regular people and have some fun, after all he had spend his early years as a fisherman and like any sailor was a little rough hewn in his manner.

Elliott looked at us and asked Pete “You know this guy?” to which Pete responded “I sure the heck do, he’s one of our people, you know a baseball fan and Padre to boot.”

“So where do you know each other from?” I asked.

Elliott looked at Pete and Pete looked at me before Elliott answered. “I met Pete up at Fenway back in ’76 when the Red Sox went to the World Series.”

“Yeh, I was in town to see the Yankees play those bums and happened to sit by Elliott, for a Sox fan he’s a pretty good guy and unlike most of those weenies at Fenway he actually understands the game.”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding Padre, that’s how we met, just goes to show that if you really love the game even Red Sox and Yankees fans can sit together in peace, right Pete?”

“You know it Elliott, you know it.”

“So Pete where you sitting?”

“Section 100; row C on the end down there behind the radar gun.”

“Cool I’m right across the aisle in section 102 row B to your right, would you like to go down there with me? How’d you get section 100?”

“Dude, the boss has connections, when I asked him if I could go back and visit this ballpark when we were done in Dyersville he called Dave.”

“Dave? You mean Dave Rosenfield?” Dave is the long time General Manager of the Tides and I chat with him whenever I get the chance.

“Heck yeh Padre, the Boss knows all the GMs, talks to them often, even the minor league GMs. He likes to put in his two shekels with them in discussing prospects; you know that the boss keeps a keen eye on these players don’t you?”

“Well, I figured so, like he does the rest of us right?”

“It’s kind of like that but this is something that the Boss has a passion for, he died to save the world and the world does include baseball, does it not?”

“Well, that’s true, but even though I found out last week that the Boss and you guys liked baseball I didn’t know it was this serious.”

“Padre, this is baseball, it is serious and the Boss takes it seriously, even more serious than Selig, the Grand-Poobah of Major League Baseball.”

“He takes the game serious or Selig serious?” I smiled as I said this triggering a smile back as he replied removing his cap and wiping his brow of the sweat that the hot and humid Tidewater weather causes the human body to produce in mass quantities when not inside an air conditioned building, which Harbor Park, open to the elements as a baseball field should be is not. As he put his cap back on he quipped back to me “the game Padre, Selig he just humors, lets him think that he is in charge, there are times that he thinks about resurrecting A. Bartlett Giamatti.” Pete paused for a second looked up at the press box and continued “but whenever he talks about it he says that he doesn’t want the Dispensationalists to think that the Tribulation has started, the boss seems to think that it would not be helpful even if Giamatti would be better for the game than the Grand-Poobah Bud.”

“I guess that that would cause a bit of a stir if he did that can you imagine all the headlines on ESPN, the in depth interviews and of course the talk show circuit Pete?” I continued not giving Pete a chance to answer “It would be freaking amazing, could you see Giamatti being interviewed on Larry King Live and see if Larry asks him if he will lift the lifetime ban on Pete Rose? Or even better brings up the Congressional hearings on steroids in Baseball?”

“Yep Padre it would be a spectacle and would cause more problems than it would solve, hell Congress would probably want an investigation of how Giamatti came back from the dead and the liberals and conservatives would have hearings that would drag on endlessly and make themselves the center of attention every time a camera was in the room, thank God that Herod and Pilate didn’t have C-Span or the 24 hour news cycle.”

“And people would pretty much ignore the God thing in the story…” said Elliott.

“Well not really except that the Bosses’ involvement in raising someone like Giamatti from the dead so many years after he passed away, God rest his soul, like anything that the boss does would be used by politicians to advance their agenda and dare I say preachers to further their “ministries” or make money by selling books, audio CDs and DVDs that miss the point entirely.” Pete took off his hat and wiped his brow again “sure is hot and miserable in this place, makes me miss the Med, you know that Israel has pretty good weather, a bit dry and hot in the summer but no humidity.”

“I know, I’m originally from California and we had hot weather in the summer but no humidity.”

“Now California, that’s an interesting place, I love the West Coast road trips and that new stadium that the Giants play in that is great.”

“I like it too, it’s so much nicer than Candlestick.”

“Don’t get me going about Candlestick young man. Went out there once in July to see the Giants play the Mets in a double header….I think that it was in the mid-1970s, so guy named Halicki threw a no-hitter.

I looked a Pete funny. “Halicki’s no hitter?”

“Yeah, you heard of it?”

“Pete, I’ve been a Giants fan since I was a kid and I was there for that game.”

“No kidding?”

“No really dad took my me and my brother, it was cold as hell out there but it was so cool to actually see a no-hitter in person.”

“Ain’t that a hoot. Sure is a small universe partner.”

“That it is Pete that it is.”

“So what do you think of the new ballpark? I love the food there, did you have the garlic fries?”

“Yeh, it was the first place that I ever had them, Gordon Biersch has a stand there.”

“Those sure were good; I think when we got back in the bus for trip down to L.A. the next morning we all still smelled like garlic.”

“So Pete, you want something to eat or drink?” I asked figuring that it was a good chance to see what the big Yankees fan liked.

“Sure Padre, what have they got?”

“They don’t have the garlic fries but they have some pretty good chow, want to go up and look around?” Elliott looked at us and said to Pete “You’re not leaving already are you?”

“Hey Elliott, you know me would I leave a game before it was over?”

“Well you didn’t get here on time.”

“Elliott you know that’s not fair, I drove in from Iowa and that doggone Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel is for the birds, if I was the boss I would have Moses come in, part the waters and lay down another tunnel like with four lanes in each direction.”

“Now that would be nice, do you think that he could do something with the Downtown too?” I asked as Pete and Elliott chuckled.

“Hey, Padre, let’s go up and get something to munch on, I’m hungry.”

“Sure Pete, what would you like?”

“What have they got?”

“Heck Pete about anything, well anything, they even have a real restaurant down in the Right Field corner.”

“So what do you like?”

“I don’t mind a Tides dog with chili and a beer.”

“Tides dog?”

“Yeah, just a grilled hot dog with chili sauce, of course they have the all-beef Jumbo Dog, but it’s a bit heavy for me.”

“So any of this Kosher?”

“Are you kidding, this is a ball Park Pete.”

“True, but one can hope.”

“Besides, Pete didn’t you get the vision from Jesus that all food was cool even if it wasn’t Kosher?”

“I know Padre but you gotta remember my background, I still fall into the old habits sometimes.”

“I know, even after Jesus told you that all things were clean old dour Paul had to correct you when you were hanging out with some Greeks.”

Pete looked down and shook his head once again wiping his brow, “I wish Luke hadn’t put that down in Acts, not really fair to me, but Luke was Paul’s man. Now it’s not like Paul didn’t have his faults too, ran off Barnabas and John Mark on one of his trips, but to his credit Luke put that down too” Pete wiped his brow again and continued “I guess that you could say that he was the first “fair and balanced” reporter.”

“Yeah, church politics and the writing of history huh?”

“You know it even then, but old Paul and I did patch things up when he got to Rome.”

We walked down the concourse to the far concession stand down the third base line where my buddy Gerry from Gordon Biersch works with his volunteer organization.

“Hey Gerry!”

“Hey Steve, how are you doing?” said Gerry who is about the same height and build as Pete.

“Gerry, I’d like you to meet Pete, he’s from out of town.”

“Really, where from?” asked Gerry.

“Oh here and there, right now travel around with my boss doing good stuff and getting in some baseball wherever we go.”

“Cool, so Pete are you a Yankee’s fan? I love the jersey”

“Pretty cool, huh? Babe Ruth’s number”

“Yeah, got it special, so what team do you root for?”

Gerry shook his head and gave a slight chuckle “well I’m a Reds and Indians fan, from Ohio.”

“So the Big Red Machine huh? They have a pretty team this year, lots of young talent and they are willing games in the last inning and the last a bat like something I’ve never seen” replied Pete “and I’ve been around quite a while.” Pete paused took a deep breath and continued. “I think that they have a a real shot at making the playoffs and taking the N.L. Central this year.”

“It’s been too long Pete, I’ve been around quite a while and I haven’t seen them play this well in a while.”

“I think some of the sports reporters and columnists are going to eat Cardinal on this one.” said Pete.

Gerry laughed out loud and blurted out “You mean crow don’t you?”

“Nope, Cardinal, like in St. Louis type.”

“That’s funny, what can I get for you guys?”

“A couple of Tides dogs with chili, right Pete?”

“Can I have a big order of fries too?”

“Sure Pete” replied a very cheerful Gerry since you’re from out of town they’re on me.” Gerry pulled his wallet out and told the cashier that he was getting the fries as I handed over the money for the Tides Dogs.

“Anything to drink Steve?”

“Gerry you know that I don’t drink the beer from this stand.”

“That’s true; we just have the Bud and Bud Lite here, you going across the way to get a Yuengling?”

“Is that good?” asked Pete. Before I could answer Gerry said “a lot better than what I have here.”

“It’s not Gordon Biersch but it’s alright” I replied. “Besides, Budweiser is like the wine that they were serving at Cana until the Boss dropped by.”

“That bad huh?” replied Pete as Gerry chimed in “you’re too much sometimes Steve, you talk to Pete like he was there or something” as I simply chucked, and said “Yeah, something like that.”

A lady brought our hot dogs to us and we went and got our beer from the kiosk opposite Gerry’s stand and we began to walk down to our seats once again greeting Elliott on the way down.

“Hey Padre, these are nice seats, you have to pay through the nose and have connections big time for seats like this at Yankee Stadium and the boss won’t cover that, he thinks it’s a bit extravagant and wouldn’t look good on the organization.”

“So he’s not a big fan of high prices that keep regular folks from getting great seats?”

“No, he’s like to see everyone get a chance to sit behind home plate in a big park like that at least once” as he looked at his ticket and sat down across the aisle from me.

“So Pete, so why do you keep calling me Padre? You can call me Steve.” I said as I took my first drink of my Yuengling Lager. Pete picked up his cup and said “cheers Padre” and lifted the cup to his lips drinking the amber lager. “Not bad, we didn’t have much beer back in the day, Judea and the Mediterranean was more of a wine place. There was some beer back then but it wasn’t that good, it took the Monks working for the organization in Germany to get it right” as he took another drink from the cup and wiped beer from his beard “nice beer, I’ll have to tell the boss about it.” Pete paused for a second and went on “good choice Padre.”

“There you go again you can call me Steve, I don’t mind Padre but if you let me call you Pete and not Pope Pete why don’t you just call me Steve?”

Pete looked and me and smiled. “Padre, that’s what you are, it’s who you are, remember that whole Sacrament of Holy Orders thing?”

I kind of felt silly, I like being called Padre, beats the heck out of “the Reverend” or something like that but still having Saint Peter, the first Pope call me that was kind of humbling especially when he had no objection to being called Pete.  “I know that you’re right Pete, but still, you were like the first Pope you really outrank me.”

“Padre, I never paid any attention to “rank” as you call it when I was Pope. Back then it was not really a career or longevity enhancing job, no palace, no red shoes, even though Ben’s aren’t made by Prada like some people say and none of the big hats and stuff like that. If it was up to me the hats that clergy wear would be more practical, I like baseball hats, Matthew kind of likes a Fedora and a couple of the other guys like hats like that Indiana Jones character when the are not travelling as part of the team.”

“Really?” I asked quizzically.

“Oh yeah, back in those days we didn’t have much in the way of vestments and heck I wasn’t in charge of very much, a few priests and deacons and “parishes” if you could call them that pretty much house churches or places in the catacombs where we could celebrate a simple Eucharist and hope that the Roman police wouldn’t show up.  Heck we didn’t even cause anyone any trouble, just no one liked us. Romans called us “atheists” if you can believe that and guys that used to be friends in Judea had no problem turning us over to them whenever they could. Nope, being the Pope was not what it is now, no Popemobile or anything.”

“No Popemobile, that’s just wrong, not even a chariot?” I asked with a bit of humor in my voice.

Pete didn’t catch my attempt at humor and narrowing his eyes blurted out “are you kidding? We didn’t have didilly squat.” He paused and looked at me. “You know it actually offends me how the Church can surround a leader, any leader in that kind of in that sort of opulence, and to think that they named Saint Peter’s after me. Do I look like I would even hang around in a place like that? Judas might have liked it but I’d rather they named a ballpark after me.”

“Well it could be worse.”

“How?” Pete gave me a curious glance.

“We’ll it could be like the studio that the Terrible Blond Network uses, the one that looks like an ecclesiastic French brothel.”

“Oh Padre, don’t get me going on that subject, those people really piss off the boss, and to think of all the money they bilk out of folks.  He took another drink of his beer “not bad stuff and the dog is pretty good too for ballpark food.”

“Glad that you like it.”

“Thanks, you know there Padre I don’t think I would want to be Pope now, my successor Benedict has his hands full mainly because they try to run the place like a massive government all those bureaucrats and clergy functioning as diplomats and everything but being priests, and it’s not just the Roman part of the church. It’s like you said, those guys on TV talking about being happy healthy and wealthy as the crux of the Christian life haven’t got a clue.  Same with the folks that try to get away from the excesses of the prosperity Gospel heretics so much that they throw out the baby with the baptismal waters.”

Pete paused and I broke in. “Pretty messed up, if you ask me.”

Pete continued. “Yeh, it’s messed up all right but the Church has been messing up for 2000 years, I messed up pretty bad at times too.” He took another gulp of his beer and continued. “Nowdays though, it’s like 2000 years of getting stupid have really made an impact. Some of these churches seem to be afraid of even looking Christian, like that whole Willow Creek bunch, they don’t want to offend people, and then the stadium sized churches that seat more people than Harbor Park, and others that spend so much on things that look nice but really aren’t needed. I don’t think that any of them have a clue, no sense of decorum or real understanding of what the Boss was talking about.”

“You almost sound like Andrew Greeley.” I chuckled.

“I think that Padre Andrew has done a lot of good, he makes that Blackie Ryan fellow believable and the kind of priest that you would want to be around. I like his Bishop Blackie mysteries, always fun to read, and a lot about the grace of God in them too.”

“I know, they helped me get through Iraq and the past couple of years when I pretty much was an agnostic.”

“That suck Padre, people don’t like to admit how hard it is to believe sometimes. I remember back after the Boss got crucified. My world crashed around me. If he had waited longer than three days to get himself resurrected I might have completely lost my faith. I’m not surprised that you did but at least you are on the way back.”

“Thanks Pete, I hope so.”

“You know Padre, back in the day we had very little but did try to keep a sense of decorum and sense that Jesus was with us because he said that he was with us in the breaking of the bread.  I’ll tell you what it shocked the heck out of me when he started talking to us about “eating his flesh,” that my friend chased a lot of the hangers on away.  I don’t know why people that call themselves by the Bosses’ name have to make things so hard, and I’m not even talking dogma and doctrine just living the Christian life, you know that thing that the Boss said about the top two commandments, love God and love your neighbor.  For us that was mind blowing because a lot of the really religious folks in our day were all about rules that made life hard for regular people, just like today and you can be sure that the Sadducees and Pharisees wouldn’t be having a non-Kosher Tides dog and beer with you a Gentile military officer, no way” a brief pause and he continued “no offense intended.” He stopped and looked at me and I replied “none taken my friend.”

You remember the movie Bull Durham Padre?”

“Of course Pete, I watch it at least two or three times a year, it’s almost a religious thing.”

“You know where the manager gets mad at the players and said “It’s a simple game, you catch the ball, throw the ball and hit the ball?”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Anyway, that’s a lot like the Christian life, it’s really not that difficult but we can make such a mess of it.”

Somehow the ball game seemed like it was background noise, Pete was really wrapped up in what he was saying and I knew that he meant every word. He smiled at me and continued.

“Of course Padre there are all of those churches that are more interested in promoting certain social agendas from all over the political spectrum than focusing on the top two commandments. They make themselves look like pawns of the politicians rather than the Bosses’ Church.  I tell you Padre there are times that the Boss really does get frustrated with what some of his people do in his name; I think that’s why he spends so much time at ball parks now.” Pete paused for a moment, took another gulp of his beer, wiped his beard and looked at me as he took a deep breath and sighed looking out at the diamond where left hander Troy Patton was pitching well for the Tides and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs were imploding defensively as the Tides hitters were pounding out hit after hit.

“The Tides, an Orioles farm team huh?”

“Yep, that they are Pete.”

“Well I tell you the O’s are having problems but as a Yankees fan I’m kind of glad because when they get well they will be a pain in the ass to the Yankees, all they need is a first rate manager to get the kids to pull things together and to get that owner of theirs, Angelos is it, to spend some money to get some solid all star caliber veterans to build around and to help nurture these guys along. They do have the young talent, just need the leadership to make it happen, they need another Earl Weaver type of manager to do the job.”

“I’d like to see Bobby Valentine or Buck Showalter.”

“I don’t think Valentine is the man, but if the O’s can get Showalter things will change in a hurry.”

“I hope that they get someone like that, anything’s got to be better than the leadership that they have had for so long.”

It was amazing to me how Pete went from what he viewed as the problems of the modern church back to baseball so quickly and I realized that he needed this.

About this time Tides outfielder Jeff Salazar smashed a pitch over the right field wall bringing the crow to its feet including Pete who was applauding loudly and as Salazar crossed the plate looked at me and said “high five” before his massive hand slapped my pip squeak hand causing it to sting just a bit. As the crowd continued to cheer Pete reached in his pocket and pulled out a cell phone and looking at me said “just a second, it’s the Boss.”  He put the flip phone to his ear and I tried to listen in just a bit. “Yeah Skip, its Pete, what do you need?” I could not hear what was being said on the other end of the phone just Pete’s responses which were punctuated by his head nodding up and down and words like “yes, okay and sure.”  I still have no idea what they were talking about but it looked serious. Pete then said “I’ll get on it Skip, take care, later.”

Pete looked at me. “The Boss sends his congratulations on getting selected to promotion. You know that he really liked the military people that he met, the professional soldiers like the Centurion and that it was a military guy, Cornelius the Centurion and his family that was the first Gentile family that I got to spend some time with, they were really great folks.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool coming from the Boss himself.” I said.

“The Boss also told me to tell you not to let it go to your head and to make sure that you keep it real.”

“I think that I can do that Pete, after all I wasn’t always a Priest or Chaplain, just a Navy Chief’s kid that has been in the military for a long time.”

Pete looked at me and by the look on his face I knew that he was not done talking. “Padre, the Boss wanted me to let you know that he cares for your dad and for you not to worry about him.”

“Why should I worry, he’s got Alzheimer’s now and doesn’t know me but he’s been medically stable for a good amount of time and last time I talked to my mom she said that he didn’t look too bad the last time that she visited him.” I looked at Pete as he was finishing his beer.

“The Boss just told me to let you know that he loves your dad and cares about him.” The look in his eye was far away. “I remember my dad, a fisherman like me, he was already gone by the time the Boss came into my life, and he just passed away in his sleep one night after a long night and day on the boats on the Sea of Galilee.”

“Sounds like you miss your dad.”

“I do Padre, but I tell you what, we’ll have to do this again. The boss told me that he needs me to come up and see him up in D.C. it seems that he wants some of the team to meet him there conduct some business and take in a National’s game, sure hope that he gets us tickets to see Strasburg.”

“That would be cool, think that I can come?”

“No not this time Padre, but I’ll talk to the Boss for you to join us somewhere on the road, or maybe even back in time. Besides you’re going to have a lot to do soon.”

Pete got up from his seat and patted me on the back. “Take care Padre, be safe on your way home.”

“Pete you take care too.” Pete turned and began to walk up the steps where he shook Elliott’s hand before he left.  Shortly after Pete left I went to Elliott and Elliott said to me. “Padre you have some interesting friends, you have some interesting friends.”

“I know my friend, funny how you knew Pete too.”

“What can I say?” replied Elliott as Pete got to the concourse, shook hands with Dave, said a few words and headed out of the ball park.

“Seems like Pete knows a lot of people huh?” I said as I looked back at Elliott.

“He gets around there Padre, he gets around.”

 

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100 Years of Navy Aviation: Part One the Aircraft Carriers

Eugene Ely makes the first takeoff from USS Birmingham on November 14th 1910

On a blustery November 14th in the year 1910 a young civilian pilot hailing from Williamsburg Iowa became the first man to fly an aircraft off the deck of a ship.  At the age of 24 and having taught himself to fly barely 7 months before Eugene Ely readied himself and his Curtis biplane aboard the Cruiser USS Birmingham anchored just south of Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads.  Ely was there because he was discovered by Navy Captain Washington Irving Chambers who had been tasked with exploring how aircraft might become part of Naval Operations. Chambers had no budget or authority for his seemingly thankless task but hearing that a German steamship might launch and aircraft from a ship hustled to find a way to stake a claim for the U.S. Navy to be the first in flight. Weather was bad that day as is so typical for Hampton Roads in November and between rain squalls Ely decided to launch even though Birmingham did not have steam up to get underway to assist the launch.  Ely gunned the engine and his biplane rumbled down the 57 foot ramp and as he left the deck the aircraft nosed down and actually make contact with the water splintering the propeller and forcing him to cut the flight short and land on Willoughby Spit about 2 ½ miles away not far from the southern entrance to the modern Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is.  Chambers would talk Ely into making the first landing on a Navy ship the Armored Cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay on January 18th 1911.  Ely died in a crash at the Georgia State Fairgrounds on October 11th 1911.

USS Langley CV-1

The Naval was slow to build upon the early achievements and the British and France would commission Aircraft Carriers well before the USS Langley CV-1 a converted Collier was commissioned.  After Langley the Navy commissioned the converted Battlecruisers USS Lexington CV-2 and USS Saratoga CV-3 in the mid 1920s.

USS Lexington CV-2 October 1941

The three ships formed the nucleus of the Navy’s embrace of aviation and the pilots that they trained and the experience gained would be the foundation of the Navy’s success in the Second World War.  They would be joined by the USS Ranger CV-4 the first U. S. Navy Carrier designed as such from the keel up in 1934.

USS Enterprise CV-6

In 1937 the Navy commissioned the first of its true Fleet Carriers the USS Yorktown CV-5 which was followed by the USS Enterprise CV-6 in 1938, the USS Wasp CV-7 an improved version of Ranger in was commissioned in 1940 and the USS Hornet CV-8 in 1941.   These ships would bear the brunt of US Navy operations in the first year of the war following the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Of these ships only the Enterprise and Saratoga would survive the first year of the war in the Pacific.  Langley now a Seaplane Carrier was sunk during the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1942. Lexington would go down at Coral Sea in May 1942.  Hornet would launch the Doolittle Raid against Japan on April 18th 1942.  Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet would take on and defeat the Japanese Carrier Strike force and sink the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu at Midway to avenge Pearl Harbor. Yorktown was sunk in the battle but Midway stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific.

The U. S. went on the offensive in August invading Guadalcanal in the Solomons Islands. The Guadalcanal campaign and the numerous sea battles in the adjacent waterways would claim many American and Japanese ships. Wasp was sunk by a Japanese submarine on September 15th 1942 and Hornet was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz on 27 October 27th 1942.  Saratoga spent much of 1942 in the yards having been torpedoed twice leaving the often battered Enterprise as the sole U. S. Navy Carrier facing the Japanese until Saratoga was repaired and the first of the Essex Class Fleet Carriers and Independence Class Light Fleet Carriers entered service and arrived in the Pacific.

USS Yorktown CV-10 1944 a good example of the wartime Essex class ships  below USS Cabot CVL-28 an Independence Class Light Fleet Carrier


The Essex Class ships became the nucleus of the Fast Carrier Task Forces in the Pacific and with their smaller consorts of the Independence Class would dominate operations at sea from 1943 on.  The Essex class would eventually number 24 ships with several more canceled before completion becoming the most numerous of any class of Fleet Carriers produced by the U. S. Navy.  The Essex class would figure prominently in all offensive operations including the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Battle of Leyte Gulf, the campaigns at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and raids on the Japanese home islands.  In the process they and their air groups would be instrumental in sinking hundreds of Japanese ships including the Battleships Yamato and Musashi and destroying thousands of aircraft.  A number were heavily damaged by Kamikazes but none were lost with the epic story of the USS Franklin CV-13 and her survival after being hit by two bombs from a Japanese plane that slipped through the Combat Air Patrol. The resultant explosions and fires amongst her fueled and armed aircraft nearly sank her but for the heroic efforts of her crew including Chaplain Joseph O’Callahan who won the Medal of Honor caring for the wounded and dying and directing damage control teams. The ship lost 724 men killed and 265 wounded in the attack but survived though without power and dead in the water 50 miles off the Japanese coast.

Murderers’ Row

The Essex class were iconic and the ships etched their names in naval history. The Essex, Yorktown, Hornet, Wasp, Hancock, Ticonderoga, Franklin, Bunker Hill, Intrepid, Lexington and the other ships of the class had legendary careers. These ships became known as “Murderers’ Row” for their expertise in killing off Japanese ships and aircraft.  Fittingly four of the ships, the Hornet, Yorktown, Lexington and Intrepid have found a second life as museum ships and Oriskany was sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Florida where she is a favorite of recreational divers.

USS Croatan CVE-25 a Bogue Class Escort Carrier

During the war the Navy also built 118 Escort Carriers converted from merchant ships for use as convoy escorts, anti-submarine warfare and close air support for amphibious operations. 38 of these ships saw service in the British Royal Navy during the war.

USS Hancock CVA-19 in 1969 showing the extent of the modernizations that brought the Essex Class into the jet age

In the post World War II drawdown many carriers were decommissioned and the oldest, the Saratoga and Ranger disposed of.  The three ship Midway class entered service after the war and incorporated design improvements learned from combat operations in the war. As the Navy entered the jet era it was found that the existing carriers would need significant modernization to handle the new aircraft. Among the improvements made to the Midway and Essex class ships was the angled flight deck, steam catapults, hurricane bows and improved landing systems.  These improvements allowed these World War II era ships to remain front line carriers into Vietnam and in the case of the USS Midway and USS Coral Sea into the 1990s.

Artists’ conception of USS United States CVA-58 a victim of Truman Era Air Force politics

The Navy began its first super-carrier the USS United States in 1949 but the ship and class was cancelled by Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson, not a fan of the Navy or Marine Corps due to opposition by the Army and the newly founded Air Force.  The ship would have carried 12-18 nuclear capable bombers as well as 45-50 jet fighters and attack aircraft and been 1090 feet long and displaced 65,000 tons.  It would not be until after the Korean War that the Navy would begin construction of its first super-carriers.

USS Midway CVA-41 in 1971

During the Korean War most of the Essex class ships were called back into service with 15 modified to conduct jet operations while others were converted to serve as ASW Carriers and Helicopter Carriers (LPH) to support Marine amphibious forces. Likewise the Midway’s were modernized as the Navy began to construct the four-ship Forrestal Class which were 1036 feet long and displaced 56,000 tons and designed to carry 100 aircraft. The four ships, Forrestal CVA-59, Saratoga CVA-60, Ranger CVA-61, and Independence CVA-62 would all serve into the early 1990s before being decommissioned. In the past few months Forrestal and Saratoga have begun the journey to be scrapped, sold for a penny each to scrapyards in Brownsville, Texas.

USS Ranger CVA-61

They were all heavily involved in the Vietnam War on Yankee and Dixie Station and both the Atlantic and Pacific during the Cold War. All four have been stricken from the Navy List and are awaiting disposal.  Forrestal was programmed as an artificial reef but she, like Saratoga which had been on donation hold was approved for scrapping. Ranger is still on donation hold and the USS Ranger Foundation is attempting to raise the money to save her. Independence which had been programmed as an artificial reef project was approved for scrapping in 2008.In the past few months Forrestal and Saratoga began the journey to be scrapped in 2014, sold for a penny each to scrapyards in Brownsville, Texas.

USS John F Kennedy CV-67 a modified Kitty Hawk class ship

These ships were followed by the Kitty Hawk class consisting of Kitty Hawk CVA-63, Constellation CVA-64, America CVA-66 and John F. Kennedy CVA-67 which were improved versions of the Forrestal Class with a 60,100 ton displacement and 1047 foot length with the ability to carry 100 aircraft. Kitty Hawk had the distinction of being the last fossil fuel carrier in active U. S. Navy service being decommissioned and placed in reserve in 2009. Her sister the Constellation CV was decommissioned in December 2003 and in 2008 was programmed to be scrapped in the next five years.  America was decommissioned in 1996 after not being given a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) refit in the 1990s due to budget cuts.  America was involved in much of the Cold War, Gulf War and Vietnam including responding to the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, the Intervention in Lebanon in 1983 and the conflict with Libya in the Gulf of Sidra in 1985.  She was sunk as a test bed to see how modern carriers would be affected by battle damage and to incorporate those lessons into future carrier design in May of 2005.  John F. Kennedy was originally planned to be a nuclear ship equipped with 4 A3W reactors.  This plan was shelved and she was completed as a fossil fuel ship. “Big John” served in Vietnam as well as throughout the Cold War and Gulf War and also engaged the Libyans in 1985.  She was placed in the Reserve Force in the 1990s to save money and also served as a training carrier.  Like America she did not receive the necessary maintenance and by 2002 she needed emergency repairs in order to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Kennedy made three deployments in support of the War on Terror and decommissioned in 2007.  She was placed in donation hold and currently two groups are making progress to acquire her as a Museum ship. Like the Forrestal’s the Constellation’s served in Vietnam, the Cold War, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm and three continued their service into Operation Iraqi Freedom. Constellation began her journey to the scrapyard in August 2014.

USS Enterprise CVN-65

As the Navy continued to develop the capabilities of the aircraft carrier it commissioned the nuclear powered USS Enterprise CVAN-65.  The added capability of nuclear power enabled her to operate without dependence on fossil fuel which in addition to her range and speed allowed her to carry more aviation fuel and munitions than the fossil fuel ships.  Unique among the Nuclear Carriers she produces 280,000 SHP and is powered by 8 Westinghouse (A2W) Reactors driving geared turbines, 4 screws with a classified top speed in excess of 35 Knots and is the quickest carrier going from all stop to full speed. At 1101 feet long and 75,700 ton (93,000 Full Load) displacement she was larger than any other carrier. She served in Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War and Operation Enduring and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was and was decommissioned in 2013.

USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71 of the Nimitz class

The Nimitz Class of nuclear powered carriers is the most numerous class of capital ship in the U.S. Navy since the Essex Class.  Slightly smaller than Enterprise with a 1088 overall length and 91,000 full load displacement the Nimitz CVN-68 and her sister ships are the mainstay of the U. S. Navy carrier force.  These ships have been the symbols of American naval power for three decades and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  Each of the ships has embodied successive improvements gained from the previous ships and the latest ships of the class the USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76 and USS George H. W. Bush CVN-77 incorporate technologies that were not known when Nimitz was on the drawing board. Thus whenever a ship is taken in for their Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) it is upgraded to the capabilities of the newest ship.  The class consists of the Nimitz, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN-69, USS Carl Vinson CVN-70, USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71, USS George Washington CVN-72, USS Abraham Lincoln CVN-73, USS John C. Stennis CVN-74, USS Harry Truman CVN-75 as well as the previously mentioned Reagan and Bush. They can carry 90% more fuel and 50% more ordnance than the Forrestal class. Carrying 90 or more aircraft they pack a mobile offensive punch that is not matched by any other surface ship.  The have served in every major military and many humanitarian missions since Nimitz was commissioned in 1974.

Artist conception of USS Gerald R Ford CVN-78

The Nimitz class will be joined by the USS Gerald R. Ford CVN-78.  The Ford is the first ship of an entirely new class. While approximately the same size as the Nimitz class at 1092 feet long and approximately 100,000 tons full load displacement the Ford class of which three are currently authorized and one under construction will feature many improvements over their predecessors. Among improvements are an advanced arresting gear, automation, which reduces crew requirements by several hundred from the Nimitz class carrier, the updated RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile system, the AN/SPY-3 dual-band radar (DBR), as developed for Zumwalt class destroyers an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) in place of traditional steam catapults for launching aircraft, a new nuclear reactor design (the A1B reactor) for greater power generation, advanced stealth features to help reduce radar profile and the ability to operate the new F-35C Lightning II. If the class is built as programmed on a one ship every five year rate with the Ford commissioning in 2015 then 6 ships of the class will be in commission by 2040. The next two ships have been named, the John F Kennedy and Enterprise. 

Of course as with any military technology the future never is certain. In 1918 no one would have thought that the all-big gun Dreadnought Battleships would be eclipsed by the Aircraft Carrier in less than 25 years. While the Carriers have ruled the waves since Midway there are threats to them both military and financial.  Countries such as China while building their own carriers have are developing weapons such as guided ballistic missiles designed to destroy carriers.  As of now there is no defense against such a weapon if a carrier is within range. While China has not yet deployed the weapon it could be a game changer in the Western Pacific. Likewise there is the ever present threat posed by new and advanced submarines even those deployed by 2nd and 3rd world nations.  Finally there is the financial cost which could derail the procurement of more carriers in an era of austerity. The cost of the Ford is currently estimated to be $9 Billion Dollars which if stretched end to end would probably reach Vulcan where the Vulcans would come up with an answer to our current problems.

At the same time the carriers have defied those who predicted their demise since the Truman administration.  Currently no sea based platform has the multitude of capabilities of a carrier and its associated air wing and battle group and thus they should remain the Queens of the Sea for some time to come and the United States Navy which has led the world in their development and operation should continue to lead the way.

The next installment which will appear later this week will discuss the aircraft employed by the United States Navy not only those from carriers, but seaplanes, rotor-wing aircraft and lighter than air ships.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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