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For Whom the Bell Tolls: It Tolls for the Dead we Honor this Weekend

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Poet John Donne wrote:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Today my base remembered the 94 men and women who deployed from here after September 11th 2001 who did not return. My role was purely advisory this year, unlike past years where I have been deeply involved in the service. The chaplain I assigned to coordinate this ceremony in conjunction with our base command triad, our Public Affairs Officer, and the tenant units did a remarkable job. Chaplain Charlie Mallie did a hell of a job herding cats and pulling off a flawless ceremony. I know, because nearly every day for the last two weeks I went to his office and let him vent. Honestly, I think he did better than I did the last two years.

Our ceremony involved tolling the bell for each of the 94 men and women as their names were read and their pictures shown. I knew, served, or trained with a decent number of these men and women. As I remembered them, I remembered other comrades who have sacrificed their lives in this forever war, and those who died of wounds or ended their lives after returning from war. Those names and faces are forever with me. They are my brothers and sisters.

It is hard to believe that I had been in the military 20 years when it began. I have a nephew who is within a few weeks of graduating from Marine Corps boot camp who was less than a year old when it began. He’s a hard charger, I got a letter from him today, he is so motivated to excel, he wants to be the best. He’ll be a great Marine and I am proud of him. I can see the growth in him since he first reported. I only pray that any future Commander in Chief will be worthy of him, obviously the current one won’t, and I pray that Trump will not send us into even worse wars, wars that my nephew might might have to fight, and could conceivably be kept on active duty to support. I don’t have to walk well to make notifications to families.

As for Trump and his acolytes I only can echo the words of Ernest Hemingway wrote in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls:

There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.

As for me, I found out officially that I won’t retire until next year in order to get my medical issues resolved. I am glad for that. I do want to finish up strong, but I digress…

Memorial Day is not about those who currently serve, or those who have left the service and still live. It is about those who for whom today the bell tolled, 94 from our base and about 7,000 others, not counting those who died after they left the service, of which there are far too many.

It is also for all of those who died in all the wars since the American Revolution. This is about them. Thank them, not me, and certain do not thank President Trump if he chooses to pardon convicted and accused war criminals this weekend, something that will forever stain the reputation of the American military, and will lead to worse, but again I digress, I cannot imagine a U.S. President pardoning convicted war criminals, but President Trump is special.

When I went do do my aquatic physical therapy this week, I parked in the hospital’s main parking garage and walked through the old cemetery on the hospital grounds. It is the resting place of American Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, some Confederates, Russians, Germans, British, and sailors from other countries, quite a few unknown. It is humbling to walk through such a place. It is hollowed ground, and it is a place to remember and put things in perspective.

For most people this Memorial Day will be a weekend of ball games and barbecues, parties and platitudes, but honestly, it is for them for whom the bell tolls and Taps blows. But remember for whom the bell tolls this weekend, I know that it tolls for all those who died, it tolls for the known and the unknown.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, life, Military, Political Commentary, remembering friends, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, war crimes, War on Terrorism

Musing on Potential War With Iran

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a veteran of Iraq, and have participated in maritime operations in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

I am not comfortable with the steps the administration is taking with Iran, not that I am any fan of the Ayatollahs and their aggressive theocratic-religious-military-dictatorship. While I had always dreamed of a military career it was the failure of the attempt to rescue the hostages taken by the Iranians in April 1980, Operation Eagle Claw that was the tipping point for me to explore my options about joining the military. 1980 was the year I transferred to California State University, albeit to study history, but mostly because Judy, my girlfriend was going there. Once I got there I started checking out the various ROTC programs and enlisted as a simultaneous membership program between Army ROTC and the California Army National Guard in 1981.

I thought back then at sometime we would go to war with Iran but as years passed I thought that maybe both sides would find a way to peacefully co-exist, at least within limits, especially after my experiences in the Gulf where the regular Iranian Navy chased Iraqi Oil Smugglers into our hands. Of course there was the time some Revolutionary Guard patrol boats harassed our squadron Flagship, an Australian Special Forces Support ship and we sped to her assistance at full speed with guns and missiles armed and ready to go to war. They withdrew and nothing came out of it, but for about an hour it appeared that we would be the first U.S. Navy ship to engage the Iranians since the Tanker Wars Of the late 1980s. The fact is that the Revolutionary Guard Naval Corps operates in a different world from the regular Iranian Navy.

If we go to war, now I know two things about the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Iranians have built up a formidable asymmetric naval and capability. A large number small submarines, not high tech, but in large numbers hard to kill. Likewise, would deploy large numbers of fast attack boats and craft armed with a variety of missiles and guns for swarm attacks on otherwise better armed and more capable warships. We prepared for those back in 2002, but the lethality of the Iranians has increased, as has their number of anti-ship missile batteries his increased exponentially, as has their number of short and medium range ballistic missiles. While their AirPower is antiquated by American standards they have better and more advanced air defense systems, supplied by Russia. They are also supported by Shia Muslim militants in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and even in Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The Iranians have the capability of shutting down the Straits of Hormuz, and their allies in Yemen have showed the capability to attack shipping in the Bab El Mendeb, the Southern entrance to the Red Sea and a vital shipping lane in its own right.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has severely weakened our ties with key allies that routinely contribute Naval and air forces to the security of the Gulf.

Over the past few weeks an otherwise routine deployment to the region by the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, was sped up, B-52 bombers were deployed, and a proposal to send 120,000 troops to the Gulf was revealed. Four merchant ships were allegedly damaged by saboteurs, but no hard evidence points to Iran, and the damage to all the ships was minimal. The embassy staff in Baghdad was reduced over alleged threat increases that the American Commander in Iraq denies. The threats were reported by Israeli sources, much like the evidence that led us into war with Iraq in 2003.

I cannot put my finger finger on it, but something is not right about this situation. We are in no way ready for a major war with Iran, not with the possibility a potential war with North Korea, a trade war with China, and Russian threats to NATO allies or friendly nations in Eastern Europe.

This does not feel right to me. I’ve been around and seen and know too much. Maybe it’s my education military history, and high level Joint Operations education. Maybe it is my nearly 38 years serving in both the Army and Navy, including about 7 years with the Marines. Maybe it’s my long experience working with allies. I don’t know. All I know is that when domestic troubles embroil a national leader, the solution is often found in war. War allows leaders to do things impossible under peacetime constraints.

I can only speculate what is going on, but my hermeneutic os suspicion says to ask “why this administration, why Iran, why now?”

I wish I had the answer, but something doesn’t seem right, and I am worried for the many friends I have serving in the Gulf.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq, middle east, Military, national security, US Navy, War on Terrorism

Wings of Gold: U. S. Navy Carrier Aircraft 1935-1941

Curtiss BF2C Goshawks (US Navy Photo)

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

I have decided to occasionally write about aircraft again and I begin with an ancient article from deep in my vault about U. S. Navy Carrier Aircraft from the mid 1930s until 1941.

As the United States Navy built up its Carrier Force in the mid to late 1930s it continued to develop aircraft specifically designed to operate from aircraft carriers.  It continued its development of fighter, dive bomber and torpedo bomber aircraft.  In 1935 the Navy was operating the Grumman FF-1 biplane fighter which it had began using in 1933 and the Curtiss F11C and BF2C Goshawk. The Curtiss aircraft were built in fighter and bomber variants and while initial aircraft had an open cockpit and fixed landing gear later aircraft had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. They had top speed of 157 miles an hour and due to limited success and were retired from service by 1939.  The Goshawk was operated against the Japanese by Nationalist China and also served in a number of air forces including Thailand where they were used against the French and Japanese.

Grumman FF-1 (US Navy Photo)

The Grumman FF-1 was a two-seater that had a enclosed cockpit with retractable landing gear and a top speed of 201 miles an hour.  The FF-1 was faster than any naval aircraft of its era, a follow-on variant designated the SF-1 followed and 120 aircraft were built. Most of the operational aircraft served aboard the USS Lexington CV-2 in a fighter and scouting role. The FF-1 and SF-1 were withdrawn from first line service and placed with the reserve as well as being used in aviation training commands. The aircraft was manufactured under license by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company and served in the Canadian Air Force until 1942 as the Goblin and 40 of the Canadian aircraft were used by the Spanish Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War.

Grumman F2F-1 (US Navy Photo)

The FF-1/SF-1 was followed by the Grumman F2F a single-seat model with improved speed and maneuverability over is predecessors.  54 F2F’s were ordered in 1934 with the production models being delivered between April and August 1935.  The aircraft were armed with 2 .30 machine guns mounted above the cowl and had a top speed of 231 miles an hour and maximum range of 985 miles.  The aircraft would remain in service until they were replaced in 1939 with the Grumman F3F. However they remained in service as utility and training aircraft until retired from service toward the end of 1940.

Grumman F3F (US Navy Photo )

The Grumman F3F followed the F2F with 157 production models. It was more aerodynamic and had a more powerful engine that the F2F which enabled it to achieve a top speed of 264 miles an hour.  It was operated by seven Navy and Marine Corps Squadrons and entered service in 1936 and would serve aboard carriers until replaced in late 1941. It continued with 117 aircraft being stationed at naval air stations and used for training until 1943.

F2A Brewster Buffalo (U.S. Navy Photo)

The first monoplane fighter developed and placed in service by the Navy was the F2A Brewster Buffalo. The Buffalo served with Navy and Marine Corps squadrons and was purchased by Great Britain for service in the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Air Forces which received 202 Buffalos. They would also serve with the Royal Navy. The Royal Netherlands Air Force received 144 most of which served in the East Indies. The final nation to receive the Buffalo was Finland which received 44 aircraft.  Buffalo was underpowered and the addition of armor and added fuel capacity further diminished the speed and performance of the aircraft.  The Navy placed its Buffaloes in advanced training squadrons in early 1942 and one of the two Marine Corps squadrons (VMF-221) operated it at the Battle of Midway where they endured fearful losses at the hands of Japanese Zero fighters.

Brewster Buffalo 239s of the Finnish Air Force

Despite the lack of success in U. S. service the Buffalo performed in a heroic manner for the Finns destroying over 500 Soviet and German aircraft and producing 36 Buffalo Aces.  The highest scorer was Captain Hans W. Wind with 39 of His 75 victories flying a Buffalo.  British Commonwealth and Dutch aircraft did not fare as well during the campaign in the Dutch East Indies as the Finns, as the tropical climate degraded the aircraft considerably and they were flying against far better trained Japanese Navy pilots.

Martin T4M over Lexington or Saratoga (US Navy Photo)

The Navy also developed aircraft for bombing missions as well as that could launch aerial torpedoes. The first aircraft built were dual purpose in that they could be used in level bombing and torpedo missions. In 1935 the primary aircraft of this type was the Martin T4M which had entered service in 1928 and replaced the Douglas DT and Martin T4M aircraft.  The T4M was a biplane with a crew of three that had a maximum speed of 114 miles an hour (I have driven much fast than this on the German Autobahn but I digress) and it could carry a torpedo or bombs.  155 were purchased by the Navy and the Marine Corps between 1928 and 1931.  They were operated from the Lexington and Saratoga until 1938 as no replacement aircraft offered enough improvements for the Navy to purchase and were instrumental in the development and demonstration of the capabilities of naval air power.  They were finally replaced by the Douglas TBD Devastator.

TBD Devastator (US Navy Photo)

The TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and at the time was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world and was a revolutionary aircraft. It was the first monoplane widely used on carriers and was first all-metal naval aircraft.  It was the first naval aircraft with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulic powered folding wings.  The TBD had crew of three and had a maximum speed of 206 miles an hour and carried a torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs (3 x 500) or a 1000 pound bomb.  129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterpriseand Hornet with a limited number embarked aboard Wasp.  The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life and by 1940 only about 100 were operational. 

TBD from Torpedo 6 dropping Mk XIII during exercise October 1941

They were still in service in 1942 as their replacement the TBF Avenger was not ready for service.  They performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the three squadrons which were embarked on the Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6) and Hornet (VT-8) were annihilated at Midway. Of the 41 attacking aircraft, only 6 survived the uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.  They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.  Only a few were able to launch their torpedoes as the Japanese Combat Air Patrol tore through them. Their sacrifice was not in vain as the Dive Bombers arrived facing no opposition and sank three of the four Japanese carriers getting the fourth later in the day. After Midway the remaining aircraft were withdrawn from active service in the Pacific. The Ranger’s VT-4 operated them until September 1942 and Wasp’s VT-7 operated them in the Atlantic until she was transferred to the Pacific in July 1942.  By 1944 all remaining aircraft had been scrapped.

Vought SBU Corsair

In the mid 1930s the Navy began to develop Scout and Dive Bombers for use in carrier scouting (VS) and bombing (VT) squadrons.  The first of these aircraft types were biplanes.  The Grumman SF-1 was used in a scouting and bombing role and was joined by the Vought SBU Corsair in 1935 and by 1937 both were being replaced by the Curtiss SBC Helldiver, a biplane with a 234 mile an hour maximum speed, retractable landing gear, enclosed cockpit which could carry a 1000 bomb.

Curtis SBC Helldiver

However the era of the biplane was drawing to a close and the Helldiver would be relegated to training squadrons based in Florida.  Although they had a brief service career they were instrumental in develop dive bombing tactics at which the U.S. Navy Pilots excelled. These tactics were copied by the German Luftwaffe operating the Junkers JU-87 Stuka and the Japanese with their Aichi 99 Val naval dive bomber.  50 aircraft were transferred to the French and served aboard the carrier Bearn but due to the French surrender in June of 1940 saw no action and spent the war rotting in Martinique.

Vought SB2U Vindicator flying ASW Patrol Of Atlantic Convoy, November 1941

The Helldiver’s were joined by the first monoplane dive bomber in U.S. service the Vought SBU2 Vindicator in 1937. The Vindicator was used by the Navy and the Marine Corps serving aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger and Wasp. They would remain in service until September 1942. The Marine aircraft equipped two squadrons VMSB 131 and VMSB-241, VMSB 241 suffered heavy casualties at Midway as the aircraft were underpowered and were limited to glide bombing missions.  After they were taken out of the operational squadrons the Vindicator served as a training aircraft until retired in 1945.   A French Naval Air Squadron was equipped with the Vindicator but they served ashore against the German invasion.  Most were lost to enemy action.  The Douglas SBD Dauntless was introduced in 1940 and 1941 but I will cover that aircraft in the World War II aircraft article that will follow this in a week or two.

These aircraft helped pave the way to aircraft that would be the mainstays of the Navy in the Second World War, aircraft with names such as Dauntless, Helldiver, Avenger, Hellcat and Corsair.  Naval aviation earned its “wings of gold” in these early years wings that continue to shine in the 21st Century.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, US Navy

Living the Dream and Dreaming to Live: Dreams and 34 Years of Commissioned Service


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday in my short article about my dad that I would watch the movie Field of Dreams. I did that last night. As always I found the message of the film compelling and relevant for me today. 

Thirty-four years ago today I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. In the decades since that time I have to say that I am the beneficiary of following dreams that have come true. I always wanted to serve in the military no now after almost thirty-six years of service, including the time before I was commissioned I am still living my dream, and dreaming to live. 

When I was commissioned back during the Cold War  I figured that I would do 20 years or possibly a few years more and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel, or maybe even a Colonel. Back then I even harbored thoughts of becoming a General. That didn’t happen and through a fairly unusual set of circumstances I ended up leaving the Army Reserve before being considered for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, reducing in rank and entering the Navy in February 1999. I wanted t get back on active duty and my window had passed in the Army, if I remained there I would have remained a reservist, not that there is anything wrong with that but it wasn’t my dream.  

So now after a total of nearly 36 years in the military, and almost 18 1/2 in the Navy I still dream. Now my dreams don’t include promotion to Navy Captain or far less Admiral. My dreams are simple; living life, speaking truth, and not sacrificing my integrity just to try to get ahead in a system whose ideals are so much like mine but reality, at least in the Chaplain Corps falls far short of, so I have simply decided to follow my dreams which include teaching, writing, and maybe speaking out regarding causes that I think are important. 

Unlike Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in the film, I got to bat in my version of the major leagues and my military dreams did come true. I don’t need any more than that. There are men and women who would have loved to had my career in the military and as I celebrate the anniversary of being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army some 34 years ago and being a Commander in the U.S. navy today. The dreams I have now are different and I will like Ray Kinsella and Terrance Mann in the movie will listen to that mysterious voice and follow it, because to paraphrase Doc Graham, it would be a tragedy if I didn’t.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

War is the Unfolding of Miscalculations… Assad, Trump, Putin, and Syria 2017

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The die has been cast. Last week the Trump administration signaled that the regime of Bashir Al Assad was not a priority for American policy in the Middle East. The comment was perplexing as the Assad regime has worked with the Iranians, and Hezbollah, both enemies of the United States to crush a revolt against his regime that began during the Arab Spring. Assad’s methods included the use of Sarin nerve agent and relentless attacks on civilians and were condemned by much of the world. In 2013 President Obama attempted to gain political support for military action against the Assad regime but was rebuffed by congressional Republicans as well as anti-war Democrats. The Syrian rebels were joined by radical Sunni Muslims of various Al Qaeda affiliates and later joined by the so called Islamic State. The Syrian army was on the point of collapse when the Russians intervened in 2015.

From 2013 on President Trump constantly said that military action in Syria was against U.S. national interests, something that continued until last week. Then Assad, apparently emboldened by the Trump Administration’s statement that changing his regime was not a priority for the U.S. launched a aerial attack using chemical weapons against civilians. The images which were shown throughout the 24 hour cable news cycle evidently made an impression on the President. Within hours of suggesting that military action was possible it began.

From Mar-a-Largo where the President is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, the President said:

“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched… It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

I agree that it is the vital interests of the United States to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons, but why this and why now especially since it did not seem to be a priority less than a week ago?

Right now we know precious little about the action, except that it was sudden and done without any congressional consultation, and little consultation with allies. Will Congress do its duty and demand details before allowing the administration to commit us to another war that in no way is covered by the 2001 authorization for use of force that has been used for all the actions involving the war on terrorism conducted by the Bush and the Obama Administrations, or will Congress roll over and do nothing, thus allowing the executive branch to take the nation to war with no oversight?

The genie of war is now out of the bottle. We do not know what will happen next, the potential branches and sequels to this action are many, and few of them promise anything in the way of peace in Syria. There is now danger that the U.S. will become entangled in a complex war that has no good outcome.

The question, what will happen next is unknown. Can President Trump work with Russia’s President Putin, Turkey’s President Erdrogan, as well as well as other regional leaders to bring something resembling peace to the region? I hope that can happen but I wouldn’t bet on it as history shows that all too often that these things take on a life of their own.  As Barbara Tuchman noted: “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

I have a couple of articles that I will post soon about the dangerous nature of what we are witnessing. But for tonight I will pause and try to get some sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, US Navy

“I Knew What I Was Fighting For” The Social Revolution of the Civil War: African Americans in the Navy

farragut-at-mobile-bay

African American Sailors formed part of the crew of Admiral Farragut’s flagship at the Battle of Mobile Bay

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing my foray into African American History which for those that don’t know is really a key and often neglected part of American History. This is a several part series dealing with Emancipation, and the social revolution that it brought about in the United States Military. The process that began in 1862 has taken another century and a half to come to a much better state, and the men who pioneered the way deserve the credit for persevering in spite of prejudice, in spite of discrimination, and in spite of a country not appreciating them as they should have been. Their sacrifice not only pioneered the way for African Americans, but women, other minorities, and LGBTQ people. As a nation we are indebted to them.

Please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

black-sailor

Civil War African American Sailor

Unlike the Army, African Americans had served aboard United States Naval vessels since the Revolution, and were an important part of ship’s crews all through the age of sail and the Civil War. In 1798, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, a slaveholder “barred “Negroes or Mulattoes” from serving in the new navy, and the Marine Corps did the same. Given the need to fill out their crews, however, captains often took free blacks as crew members. Both free blacks and slaves had served in the Continental Navy, the state navies, and privateers during the revolution, but that precedent had been forgotten.” [1] Even so, the Navy would continue to recruit free African Americans and they would make up a significant percentage of the crews of U.S. Navy ships, part of the reason that since the earliest times in the colonies, free blacks had taken up a seafaring way of life serving on merchantmen or in the Royal Navy. Likewise, “life at sea during the eighteenth century was difficult and dangerous. Therefore navies were forced to enlist practically anyone who was willing to serve.” [2]

uss-miami-crew

The Integrated Crew of the USS Miami

During the War of 1812 free blacks comprised between ten and twenty percent of the crews of U.S. Navy ships. Captains like Oliver Hazard Perry who initial complained about having blacks on his ships became believers in their ability. At the battle of Lake Erie “blacks constituted one-fourth of his 400 man force aboard the 10-vessel fleet.” He was so impressed by their performance under fire that he wrote the Secretary of the Navy “praising their fearlessness in the face of excessive danger.” [3] During the war, the Secretary of the Navy lifted Stoddert’s ban on blacks serving and free blacks responded by joining in increasing numbers.

Unlike the Army, the Navy became a place for free blacks to find a place to serve their country, and when the Civil War erupted these men continued to serve, and they would continue to serve throughout the war, and the Union Navy enlisted a proportionally higher number of its personnel from free blacks, nearly seventeen percent than did the Army, a force of approximately 30,000 sailors. Navy officers like David Dixon Porter praised them. He recruited them for his Mississippi Squadron as “coal heavers, firemen, and even gun crews.” He wrote “They do first rate work, and are far better behaved than their masters,” he declared. “What injustice to these poor people, to say they are only fit for slaves. They are far better than the white people here, who I look upon as brutes.” [4]

In 1862 the Union Navy was facing a manpower shortage the Federal and state governments discouraged whites from serving in the Navy due to the vast manpower needs of the Army. The government did not provide “bounties for those who joined nor counting them in local recruiting quotas.” [5] When confronted with the thousands of escaped slaves, or “contrabands” Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles authorized their enlistment, and they were treated comparatively well. There were no segregated quarters due to the cramped conditions of shipboard life and as a result the men messed and were quartered in common spaces. Black sailors had complete control of their pay and had the same privileges as their white shipmates.

uss-galena-sailors

Most Naval officers had never been abolitionists before the war, and some had been defenders of slavery before the war, but their wartime experiences converted them to the abolitionist cause. Samuel Francis Du Pont wrote “I have never been an abolitionist… on the contrary most of my life a sturdy conservative on the vexed question.” He explained that he had “defended it all over the world, argued for it for it as patriarchal in its tendencies,” he admitted in 1861. “Oh my! What a delusion…. The degradation, the overwork, and ill treatment of the slaves in the cotton states is great than I deemed possible, while the capacity of the Negro for improvement is higher than I believed.” He noted that no officer in his squadron had voted for Lincoln, by April 1862 he wrote “there is not one proslavery man among them.” [6]

Affectionately known as “Black Jacks” these sailors served in some of the most critical actions fought by the Navy during the war, and aboard every kind of warship, including the new ironclads. Sadly after the war the opportunities for blacks began to decrease in the Navy. They still served but as the Navy became more technological, recruiters began to seek out more educated men to crew the ships of the new steel and steam navy. Increasing segregation and Jim Crow affected naval recruiting and by 1917 only about 7,500 blacks were still in the service. In the 1890s the navy began to exclude blacks from “all but the most undesirable jobs. Moreover, whites still would not tolerate blacks in blacks in positions of authority over them.” As a result promotion was rare, they worked in segregated conditions, and “to avoid friction between the two races,” commanders also segregated their eating and sleeping areas.” [7] With the exception of a successful experiment by Secretary of the Navy to integrate crews of certain auxiliary ships in 1944, these conditions would continue until President Truman ordered to integrate all branches of the military in 1948.

Notes 

[1] Daughan, George C. If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy – From the Revolution to the War of 1812 Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, New York 2008 p.320

[2] Fields, Elizabeth Arnett African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience – Before the Civil War, Blacks in the Union and Confederate Armies, Buffalo Soldier, Scouts, Spanish American War, World War I and II, U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C. 1998, Amazon Kindle edition Progressive Management location 624  of 11320

[3] Ibid. Fields African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience location 668 of 11320

[4] McPherson, James M. War Upon the Waters: The Union and the Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2012 p.137

[5] Ibid. Fields African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience location 844 of 11320

[6] Ibid. McPherson War Upon the Waters: The Union and the Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 p.137

[7] Kraeczynski, Keith The Spanish American War and After in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience – Before the Civil War, Blacks in the Union and Confederate Armies, Buffalo Soldier, Scouts, Spanish American War, World War I and II, U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C. 1998, Amazon Kindle edition Progressive Management location 2842  of 11320

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Military, US Navy

Freedom’s Pilot: Robert Smalls Fight for Freedom


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some people and events that are important but get swept up in broader historic events. One such story is that of Robert Smalls, a slave in Charleston South Carolina. Smalls was hired out to work with the money going to his master. He worked in a number of jobs, but as a teenager fell in love with the sea. He went to work as a slave worker on the city’s waterfront where he started as a common dockworker, became a rigger, a sailmaker, and finally a wheelman, which basically was a ship’s pilot, since slaves were not permitted that title. Even so his abilities and knowledge of Charleston harbor well well known and respected by ship owners. 


When South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy went to war, Smalls was assigned as wheelman of the CSS Planter, a small and lightly armed transport. On the night of May 12th and 13th of 1862, Smalls took advantage of all three white officer’s absence ashore, by putting into effect an escape plan he had worked out with the other slave crew members of Planter. Smalls and seven other slaves got the ship underway, with Smalls donning the captain’s uniform and a straw hat similar to the captain’s. In the darkness the ruse was perfect, no Confederades ashore suspected anything as Planter stopped to pick up the escaped slaves family members at another wharf before Smalls sailed out past the range of the Confederate shore battery guns to surrender to the USS Onward. Smalls present the U.S. Navy with the ship, her cargo, which included four artillery pieces intended for a Confederate fort in the harbor, but more importantly a Confederate code book and charts showing the location of deadly undersea mines and torpedoes that had been laid in the harbor. 

Smalls quickly became a hero. Congress voted him and his crew the prize money for the ship, and he met with Secretary of War Stanton to argue the case that blacks should be allowed to serve. Smalls’ story helped convince Lincoln of allowing African Americans to serve in the United Staes forces. Smalls served as a civilian pilot working for the Navy and and the Army, serving in numerous battles. He was the pilot for the experimental ironclad USS Keokuk when that ship was heavily damaged by over 90 hits at Charleston. He was responsible for getting the ship safely out of range of the  Confederate batteries before she sank, thus saving many crew members. 

He then was reassigned to the USS Planter, now assigned to the Army. The ship got caught in a crossfire between the Union and Confederate forces and Planter’s captain ordered the ship to surrender. Smalls objected, knowing that any African American caught serving Union forces would not be treated as prisoners of war, but either returned to slavery or executed by order of the Confederate Congress. Smalls took command of the vessel and steered her out of harm’s way. He was appointed Captain of the ship and was present for the ceremonial raising of the American flag over Fort Sumter in April 1865. Smalls was the first African American to command a ship in the service of the U.S. Military.

After the war Smalls got an education and when the 14th Amendment was passed ran for office, serving in the South Carolina legislature and as a member of Congress. He fought against changes to the 1895 South Carolina Constituion that disenfhchised African Americans and codified the Jim Crow laws which had be upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. 

In 1889 Smalls was appointed U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort and served in that office until 1911. He also was director of a black owner railroad, and helped publish the black owners Beaufort Standard newspaper. He died in 1915 at the age of 75. 

Small’s courage and his fight for freedom, as well as others who did so should not be forgotten. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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