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Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best: Raising the Flag December 3rd 1775

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There is a precept that I live by: “Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes.” That was once said by Hannah Arendt, but I take it as my own. I am not a fatalist, nor do I believe that God has predetermined what is going to happen in the future, except that he promises to “make all things new.”

December 3rd is a date that not to many people today remember for anything significant. But one event that happened on December 3rd 1775 is important to those who who follow American and Naval History. It was the day that Lieutenant John Paul Jones hoisted the Grand Union Flag, the precursor to the Stars and Stripes aboard the USS Alfred, the flagship of the new United States Navy. Some 242 years later the Stars and Stripes is still hoisted above United States Navy Ships. What happened on this date so long ago affected the course of history since then. Following his victory at Yorktown which was made possible by the timely intervention of the French Fleet, George Washington 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.”

On October 13th 1775 the Continental Congress passed legislation to establish a Navy for a country that did not yet exist.  It was the first was the first in a long line of legislative actions taken by it and subsequent Congresses that helped define the future of American sea power.

The legislation was the beginning of a proud service that the intrepid founders of our nation could have ever imagined.  Less than two months after it was signed on December 3rd 1775 Lieutenant John Paul Jones raised the Grand Union Flag over the new fleet flagship the Alfred. The fleet set sail and raided the British colony at Nassau in the Bahamas capturing valuable cannon and other military stores.  It was the first amphibious operation ever conducted by the Navy and Marines.

Jones received the first recognition of the American flag shortly after France recognized the new United States.  In command of the Sloop of War USS Ranger his ship received a nine-gun salute from the French flagship at Quiberon Bay.

Jones would go on to to greater glory when he in command of the Bonhomme Richard defeated the HMS Serapis at the Battle of Flamborough Head. During the battle when all seemed lost and the colors had been shot away he replied to a British question if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight!”

When the war ended very few of these ships remained most having been destroyed or captured during the war. But these few ships and the brave Sailors and Marines who manned them blazed a trail which generations of future sailors would build on.  The Navy has served the nation and the world as a “Global Force For Good” for more than 242 years.

That being said these are troubled times for the Navy. Sixteen years of war coupled with a major reduction in number of ships, mostly due to a decision to decommission more than 30 ships before they were due for replacement and the decision to shed 30,000 sailors to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the loss of up to 30,000 sailors a month in non-Navy billets to support those wars has taken a toll on readiness and morale, not to mention ethical behavior. The results have been seen in the numerous accidents and incidents that have involved loss of life and major damage to ships over the past few years, as well as numerous scandals involving senior officer and enlisted leadership.

Please do not get me wrong, the Navy has many superb sailors, officers and leaders; I serve with some of them, but the rot has set in and it is becoming more and more obvious. I see it daily in what I read and with whom I talk. I was fortunate to serve aboard a ship with high standards and high morale after September 11th 2001. My commanding officer back then, Captain Rick Hoffman, now retired is frequently consulted when incidents involving ship handling and leadership come to the fore.

Despite the rhetoric of the President there has been no significant help regarding funding for operations, maintenance, and personnel, nor any let up in mission requirements. I hate to be the one who says it, but no organization can keep doing more with less for more than a decade without problems. The fact that the world situation requires more of a naval presence now than it did before 2001 does not seem to matter to Republican Congressmen who forced Sequester on the services in 2011 yet are willing to bust the budget by trillions of dollars to pay for tax cuts for the absolute wealthiest persons and corporations.

If worse comes to worse on the Korean Peninsula and if at the same time Iran or any other country decide to challenge the United States, things will go from bad to worse. We will lose ships and sailors for the first time since the Second World War and it will not be pretty. Sadly, I think that the President will blame the Navy (and the rest of the military) when the policies that he and his party have pursued lead to disaster.

These are dark times and I am a realist. I don’t live in the cloud cuckoo land of Trump supporters who think that things are going to turn out well. When I see the President and his top advisers and spokespeople continue to talk about the increasing chance of war on the Korean Peninsula I believe them. When I hear the President basically giving a blank check to the Saudis and the Israelis to do as they wish in the Middle East while basically appeasing the Russians and Chinese, I get worried. I lose sleep, and at the same time I prepare myself and those who I serve with to be prepared for the worst.

So with that in mind I wish you a good week.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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237 Years of Service: Happy Birthday US Navy!

Raising the Flag Aboard the USS Alfred 

“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.” George Washington 15 November 1781 to the Marquis de Lafayette

On October 13th 1775 the Continental Congress passed legislation to establish a Navy for a country that did not yet exist.  It was the first was the first in a long line of legislative actions taken by it and subsequent Congresses that helped define the future of American sea power.

The Battle of Flamborough Head

The legislation was the beginning of a proud service that the intrepid founders of our nation could have ever imagined.  Less than two months after it was signed on December 3rd 1775 Lieutenant John Paul Jones raised the Grand Union Flag over the new fleet flagship the Alfred. The fleet set sail and raided the British colony at Nassau in the Bahamas capturing valuable cannon and other military stores.  It was the first amphibious operation ever conducted by the Navy and Marines.

USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere

Jones received the first recognition of the American flag shortly after France recognized the new United States.  In command of the Sloop of War Ranger his ship received a nine-gun salute from the French flagship at Quiberon Bay.

Oliver Hazard Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie

Jones would go on to to greater glory when he in command of the Bonhomme Richard defeated the HMS Serapis at the Battle of Flamborough Head. During the battle when all seemed lost and the colors had been shot away he replied to a British question if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Admiral David Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay

When the war ended very few of these ships remained most having been destroyed or captured during the war. But these few ships and the brave Sailors and Marines who manned them blazed a trail which generations of future sailors would build on.  The Navy has served the nation and the world as a “Global Force for Good” for 237 years.

World War One: Convoy Escort USS Allen

The Great White Fleet

This force for good is on duty today and those that have served over the past 237 years are part of a tradition that is more than honorable. President John F. Kennedy who served as a PT Boat Commander in World War Two remarked:

“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.'”

The Battle of Midway

USS Growler

Tonight as you go to bed and sleep soundly after eating well and spending time with family, friends or enjoying some form of entertainment remember those of our Navy who serve at sea at the ready in the Straits of Hormuz, in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, the desolation of the Horn of Africa and around the world defending our interests, caring for our military personnel and their families and deploying to serve in harm’s way and in areas of devastation.  They are America’s “Global Force for Good.”  They are my shipmates they are your fellow citizens.  They are the United States Navy.

USS Hue City CG-66

Happy Birthday Shipmates.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The United States Navy: 236 Years of a Global Force for Good

The Grand Union Flag being raised on the Frigate Alfred  

This is the first in a series of articles that I will post this month on significant events and personalities that make up the history of the Unite States Navy which celebrates its 236th anniversary on October 13th 2011. I have had the distinct honor of having grown up in a Navy family and after almost a full career in the U.S. Army to be able to serve in the Navy to the present day.  

First Blood: The Battle of Nassau

“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.” George Washington 15 November 1781 to the Marquis de Lafayette

On October 13th 1775 the Continental Congress passed legislation to establish a Navy for a country that did not yet exist.  It was the first was the first in a long line of legislative actions taken by it and subsequent Congresses that helped define the future of American sea power.

The legislation was the beginning of a proud service that the intrepid founders of our nation could have ever imagined.  Less than two months after it was signed on December 3rd1775 Lieutenant John Paul Jones raised the Grand Union Flag over the new fleet flagship the Alfred. The fleet set sail and raided the British colony at Nassau in the Bahamas capturing valuable cannon and other military stores.  It was the first amphibious operation ever conducted by the Navy and Marines.

Jones received the first recognition of the American flag shortly afterFrancerecognized the newUnited States.  In command of the Sloop of War Ranger his ship received a nine-gun salute from the French flagship at Quiberon Bay.

“I have not ye begun to fight!” The Battle of Flamborough Head 

When the war ended very few of these ships remained most having been destroyed or captured during the war. But these few ships and the brave Sailors and Marines who manned them blazed a trail which generations of future sailors would build on.  The Navy has served the nation and the world as a “Global Force for Good” for 236 years.

Tonight as you go to bed and sleep soundly after eating well and spending time with family, friends or enjoying some form of entertainment remember those of our Navy who serve at sea, in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, the cities of Iraq, the desolation of the Horn of Africa and around the world defending our interests, caring for our military personnel and their families and deploying to serve in harm’s way and in areas of devastation.  They are America’s “Global Force for Good.”  They are my shipmates.  They are the United States Navy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“I have not yet begun to Fight!” John Paul Jones and the Battle of Flamborough Head

Battle off Flamborough Head September 23rd 1779

Two hundred thirty one years ago today a small naval battle occurred off the coast of Yorkshire England. From a purely military perspective the battle was rather insignificant. A squadron of five American and French ships intercepted a convoy guarded by two British ships. However, the battle was one that had immense psychological significance for the Americans as a ramshackle converted French East India ship with an inferior main battery forced a materially superior British warship to strike her colors. In fact the battle is so significant to the United States Navy that the body of the victor, Captain John Paul Jones was returned to the United States in 1905 from an abandoned site in northeastern Paris known as the former St. Louis Cemetery for Alien Protestants to be interred in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy. Jones had an unusual career as a British merchant skipper accused of murdering a mutinous crewman at Tobago and escaped to Fredericksburg Virginia out of fear that he would be tried in a local versus and Admiralty Court.

John Paul Jones

Jones went to the United States and due to his friendship with Henry “Lighthorse” Lee and other friends in the Continental Congress including a man who became a lifelong friend, Benjamin Franklin obtained a commission in the Continental Navy as a First Lieutenant.  At that time the “First Lieutenant” was the senior officer among the Lieutenants on a ship and often served as the First Officer or Executive Officer.  His first assignment was on the fleet flagship Alfred where he hoisted the first US Ensign aboard an American Naval vessel.  He took part in the raid on Nassau and upon his return assumed command of the Sloop of War Providence where he captured 16 prizes of war and escaped capture by the a British Frigate. He then assumed command of Alfred for a brief time capturing a key supply vessel that had winter clothing for British troops commanded by General Burgoyne in New York.  Following this he took command of the 18 gun Sloop of War Ranger in France received the first ever salute to an American man-of-war by a foreign power 8 days after the French had recognized the American Colonies as an independent nation.

Ranger receives the first salute rendered to an American warship by a foreign power

The nine-gun salute fired from Admiral Piquet’s flagship recognized this and the new Franco-American alliance. Jones wrote of the event: “I accepted his offer all the more for after all it was a recognition of our independence and in the nation.” After this made an epic raid on the port of Whithaven and captured the British 20 gun Brig HMS Drake in an hour long fight.  Jones’ raid on Whithaven struck fear into the British populace and forced the British to allocate more resources to the defense of British seaports than had previously been the case.  The capture of the Drake was of immense psychological importance and along with Jones’ other victories would ultimately lead to the formation of the United States Navy.

Bonhomme Richard

Jones’ exploits made him a celebrated figure and after giving up command of Ranger took command of the Bonhomme Richard a converted 42 gun former French East India ship named after Benjamin Franklin’s book “Poor Richards’ Almanac” and a mixed squadron of American and French ships including the 36 gun American Frigate Alliance, the 32 gun French Frigate Pallas and two 12 gun warships the Vengeance and Le Cerf. Detailed to provide a diversion for a combined French and Spanish fleet the squadron menaced Ireland and Scotland before moving into the North Sea.  As they came into English waters the Americans intercepted a 50 ship convoy on the 22nd of September. The convoy which was enroute to the Baltic was escorted by the 44 gun two-decker Serapis. Serapis was brand new and powerful in comparison with Bonhomme Richard though a larger ship was not designed as a warship nor had as powerful battery as Serapis. A second ship, the 20 gun Countess of Scarborough accompanied Serapis.

Jones directing the battle from the Bonhomme Richard

The battle was joined about 1800 on the 23rd and the Serapis which was more maneuverable than Jones’ flagship pounded the Bonhomme Richard holing her below the waterline and seriously damaging her with little damage to herself and Jones’ problems were compounded when with the first broadside two of Bonhomme Richard’s elderly 18 pounders burst damaging the ship and killing most of the gun crews on the lower deck.  Jones attempted to close the range in order to grapple the Serapis and make the battle a close aboard action. Eventually the bow of Bonhomme Richard ran into the stern of Serapis and the Captain of Serapis Captain Richard Pearson hailed Jones to ask if he had struck his colors (surrendered.) The First Lieutenant of Bonhomme Richard Richard Dale recorded Jones’ response for posterity “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Alliance opens fire on Serapis and Bonhomme Richard

Serapis then collided with Bonhomme Richard and in his attempt to extricate his ship from the American Captain Pearson ended up causing the ships to come side to side and Jones’ crew lashed the ships together.  The fight now became a close quarter fight with the remaining guns on both ships blasting large holes in the other at point blank range while Marines in the rigging poured relentless musket fire and grenade volleys on the exposed crews of their opponents. An American grenade thrower was able to drop a grenade down an open hatch of Serapis where it exploded near a charge of gunpowder placed in readiness setting off a chain reaction of explosions which knocked out five guns and killed or wounded most of the gun crews.

Bonhomme Richard had taken a severe beating with most of her guns knocked out, taking water and burning from fires ignited by the British onslaught. The Bonhomme Richard’s Carpenter and Master of Arms thinking that Jones was dead took it on themselves to hail the British to say that the Americans had struck their colors, which had been shot away in the engagement.  Pearson hailed Jones asking of he had really struck and Jones responded “I have not yet thought of it, but I am determined to make you strike.” The battle continued and the Alliance under the command of a Frenchman with an American commission Pierre Landais came up and delivered a devastating broadside much of which hit Bonhomme Richard, holing her again below the waterline and causing her to settle rapidly. At the same time she caused additional damage to Serapis. With his ship badly damaged and Alliance threatening Pearson stuck his colors in person at 2230 hours.  Jones would take possession of Serapis and the badly damaged Bonhomme Richard would sink the on the 25th of September despite Jones’ best efforts to save her.  Jones made temporary repairs Serapis and sought refuge in the Netherlands.

The battle was militarily insignificant but again a major psychological victory as Jones had for the second time defeated a British warship in British waters within sight of the local population.  Even though Jones had taken Serapis the British warships completed their mission of protecting the convoy. Jones’s post war career would leave him embittered. His opportunity to command the first US Navy Ship of the Line, the 74 gun America disappeared when that ship was given to France. Made a Chevalier of France by Louis the XVI and awarded a gold medal by Congress Jones found employment in the Imperial Russian Navy of Catherine the Great. Though successful against the Turks  jealous Russian commanders conspired against him and had him removed from his command of the Black Sea Fleet.  He retired to France where he died of a brain tumor on July 18th 1792.

In the years since that victory the United States Navy went from a militarily insignificant force to the most powerful Navy in the world. Jones and the ships that he captained would not be forgotten. Two Aircraft Carriers were named after Jones’ Sloop of war Ranger, while several destroyers have born his name.

The odds against Jones in his battle with Serapis were heavily weighted against him.  His victory over Serapis was another demonstration that the Americans should not be taken lightly and began a tradition of valiant service for the Navy that has endured throughout the centuries.  The victory off Flamborough Head reaches into the present as American sailors and their ships ply the world’s oceans keeping the sea lanes open and protecting American interests abroad.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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