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Rear Admiral John F. Davidson, USN (Ret.) (1908-1989)

Rear Admiral John F. Davidson, USN (Ret.)Based on five interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell from August through October 1985, the volume contains 439 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1986 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.

After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1929, Admiral Davidson served in the battleships Utah (BB-31) and Arizona (BB-39). From 1933, when he entered submarine school, through World War II, his life was submarines, with service in the USS Cachalot (SS-170) and S-45 (SS-156), and command of the S-44 (SS-155), Mackerel (SS-204), and Blackfish (SS-221). One of his talented junior officers in the Blackfish was Eugene Wilkinson, later the first skipper of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571). Davidson discusses war patrols in both Atlantic and Pacific. Another thread running through his career was the detailing of officers, a difficult business that Davidson tackled with finesse. After serving as a department head at the Naval Academy in the early 1950s and commanding the heavy cruiser USS Albany (CA-123), he returned to Annapolis as Superintendent in the early 1960s. He offers many reflections on the joys and trials of that position, including reminiscences of many top political and military leaders. Admiral Davidson has an engaging style that makes his oral history a particular pleasure to read.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).


Paul Stillwell: As the curriculum was changing and the civilian dean coming in, wasn't one of the concerns that the military education aspect would be slighted?

Admiral Davidson: It might have been a concern of people not here, but I don't think we ever let it concern the people here, because we were not slighted in the military end of it, I don't believe. There were things that happened. I don't know that I've mentioned any of these before in connection with my correspondence with Admiral Nimitz and so on, but, for instance, along that line--whether or not we were sacrificing anything in the military, we stopped marching to class. This was an absolute necessity, because the commandant and I discovered that we were losing about 20 minutes out of every recitation period because we were mustering and marching to class and running into traffic jams. Sections were returning and sections going, plus the fact, instead of sections being made up of all one class, like all first classmen, second classmen, and so on, you had mixed sections. We had plebes who had validated courses and were taking classes with second classmen, and the other way around. All sorts of things were going on.Midshipmen entering Maury Hall

The commandant and I finally decided to make a test run. After we had built the new wing, the one that extends to seaward and in between which you have the brigade library and all that down there, you know.[*] Those wings were finished during my early days here, and one day the commandant and I decided to go to a room on the top deck nearest the sea wall and walk from there by the most direct route we could take to Isherwood Hall, which was the engineering building, the one that's recently been torn down. We walked at a reasonable pace and found out how long it took. Well, this just meant that much time, if you had to fall in, muster, march over there, march in, and so on. We found that we were losing about 20 minutes per recitation hour. So we decided that we could require the midshipmen to be military, but proceed on their own, make them responsible for being in class on time, and for being there. They didn't have to be mustered.

The upshot of that was a rather large expression of concern from graduates. They thought the place had really gone to hell-- no more military bearing or anything. The only real good letter I had was one that came from Admiral Nimitz, and he simply said, "Knowing you, there must be a good reason. Everybody's asking me what I think about it, and I don't know what to tell them because I don't know the reason."[†]

So I wrote back and told him just what I told you, and that satisfied him, and apparently it satisfied a lot of people that he talked to, because it dried up and we didn't hear any more about it. But that's the only thing about the military end of it that I can recall.

     [*] The new wing was in Bancroft Hall, the dormitory for the midshipmen.

     [†] Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN.



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