Monday, March 22, 2010

(De)Commissioning our history

(USS Lexington, CV-2, passing Culebra Cut, Panama Canal, early to mid 1930's)

As I watch Texas try and excise the history it doesn't like from textbooks, it has brought to the fore a longheld belief that they aren't the only ones who have been doing so.

Growing up I watched the aircraft carriers USS Wasp and the USS Hornet pick up our astronauts as they returned from space. Vague memories of a little boy, his first ones of our modern Navy. Later as I read history, both in school and on my own, the names "USS Wasp" and "USS Hornet" came alive to me, along with others like "Saratoga", "Lexington", "Yorktown", "Ticonderoga", "Bon Homme Richard", the "Ranger" I made a short cruise on and even the "Kittyhawk" I WESTPAC'd on derived their names from the history of our country; reminders of her heritage, of her victories and triumphs. Even the "Langley", the first carrier, was named after an aviation pioneer (albeit one our government had funded and then later promoted in order to fight the Wright brothers patents, much as they played Tesla and Marconi against each other to duck paying royalties).

Later, newer battles and victories were added to the roster. "Coral Sea", "Midway", named for the 1st carrier victories of the war in the Pacific; "Tarawa" found her way into history, and someone remembered "Valley Forge".

"Lexington" replaced "Lexington", "Yorktown" replaced "Yorktown"; the famous names were kept in circulation. But things were slowly beginning to change...

A carrier was named for the secretary of defense who had most strongly advocated them, James Forrestal. A few years went by with "Constellation" and "Enterprise" finding their way back to active duty while history did much to change our country. It was decided that a president, fallen while in office, was deserving of the tribute of a carrier named after him and the "USS John F. Kennedy" was commissioned.

The next keel laid was named after the admiral who oversaw and won the naval war in the Pacific, Chester Nimitz. Following was a keel named after a politician who spent the years between the World Wars advocating the Navy and rebuilding it after the disarmament treaties that ended WW1. He also was a champion of the first nuclear carrier commisioned, the USS Enterprise, and his name was remembered on the USS Carl Vinson.

Next came the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS George Washington, then another naval advocate, John Stennis had his name immortalized to travel the world in steel.

All through this period, the old names were retiring, being decommissioned, some being scrapped, some being sunk, a lucky few being purchased to be made museums to the men who served aboard them and gave their lives to defend them.

Sadly, though the old names are all gone now, save the "USS Enterprise". Though I won't say that Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, or George H.W. Bush (the names on the last 3 carriers built) don't deserve memorials or to have things named after them, my own feelings are that presidents have libraries for that, and no matter which political party is in power at the time, trying to immortalize their idols in U.S. Navy steel is not nearly as fitting as allowing the Navy to continue its own traditions. The ones that have served us since our Revolution, when John Paul "I have not yet begun to fight" Jones lost the "USS BonHomme Richard" and then commanded the first "USS Ranger"...since the USS Hornet landed U.S. Marines on the shores of Tripoli...or a later USS Hornet launched Jimmy Doolittle's B-25's in the first raid to attack Japan's home soil during WW2.

How wrong is it that our politicians would erase our history while even "Star Trek" remembers?

I'm grateful to the Marine Corps for keeping some of these names alive on it's LPH's, but I grow weary of seeing history erased in favor of political legacy...

(The very first link above will take you to a U.S. Navy website listing all of the carriers in commission order, the dates they served and their "disposition". Clicking on any of their names will take you to another page with a more detailed history and some photos of each. For more photos, http://navsource.org/ is a site I've spent countless hours exploring. The other links take you to Wiki entries or some of the ship museum websites.)

May the week be kind to each of you...

alan





6 comments:

Samantha said...

Oh Alan this was beautifully written, and oh so true! Yes, yes, yes, send it as a letter, but I should caution against getting your hopes up, for like as not it will fall on deaf ears. They don't understand US. They don't see history as something to be treasured and learned from, but only as a tool, a weapon of war against THEIR WAYS.

Those who don't learn the lessons of history are CERTAIN to repeat them. THEY are bound and determined to repeat them at flank speed!

But send it, let your voice, you light, your perspective make it into circulation. Send it to the President, Congress Critters, War Department, Department of the Navy ... oh crap ... I just dated myself didn't I?

There hasn't been a war department per say in what, 30 or 40 years?

Crap.

Anyway, send it to everyone. The Smithsonian, Navy Times Magazine, everyone you can, because some how, someway, it will then find it's way into the library of congress to be found by some suture researcher. Printout and attach all the links as actual pages and supplements so that it's all there. Send it to Popular Mechanics too, they might turn it into an article. The little exposure I've had to that mag seems to indicate they are doing those kinds of things now and then. Get it out there, get it seen. The more eyes and hearts you get it in front of the great chance you'll have of getting it some traction. Get it in from of EVERYONE on the defense appropriations finance committee or what ever they call it these days. Get it on the Presidents desk.

Brilliant post Alan! Brilliant, and right on! Show you how old I am, I didn't have to follow the links. I remember Middway and the Coral Sea. And Chester Nimitz, had, he was, all in all, a good egg. Blue and Gold you know!

Shauna said...

What Sam said was beautiful, couldn't say it any better. Love you both.

Keri Renault said...

Beautifully written, Alan. I've never had a love affair with ships, but your reminisce of the traditions of the Navy & Marines does evoke a comparable love interest of mine--history.

I couldn't agree more that the military as an institution should keep it's naming traditions pure and alive. Politicians leave their mark and create legacies in so many other arenas of public life.

Leave well enough alone, I say. Cheers, Keri

pink said...

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Anji said...

I live in a country where names of men and women are everywhere, we have streets named after two of your presidents; Wilson and Kennedy in town. Warships are named after great men for example Clemenceau. I do think time should pass before we see who the really great ones were.

I was interested in what you wrote about the Wright Brothers. I learnt that the US governement at the time ridiculed their idea of dropping bombs from planes! They came to France and the rest is history....

巧昕名全 said...

若對自己誠實,日積月累,就無法對別人不忠了。..............................