(See P. Stillwell, pp. 26-33, February 2010 Naval History)
Commander James L. Barrett, U.S. Navy (Retired)
While reading this interesting story I found, much to my surprise, a photo on page 33 that included my father, James Edgar Barrett, a USS Nevada (BB-36) plankowner who served on her from 1916 to 1925. He was a member of the racing team during his nearly nine years on the ship, and the Nevada won many races, competing against other battleships. I have two timepieces engraved with dates for races that were won and also some racing medals.
My dad was very proud of his time on the Nevada and spoke often of his racing-team members. He served on four other battleships beginning in 1912 followed by 17 consecutive years at sea. After serving on two coal-burning battleships in their firerooms, he was so pleased to be assigned to the Nevada, the Navy's first oil burner. He retired in 1927 as a chief shipfitter and was called back to active duty in 1940, retiring again in 1947 as a chief warrant carpenter.
Shortly before his final retirement in 1946, Dad was a ship's superintendent at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard where the Nevada was being prepared for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. One day he grabbed a yard worker who was holding a Skilsaw and walked up to the battleship's quarterdeck.
There, he saluted the officer of the deck and said, "I'm a plankowner of this ship, and I'm here to get my plank." The OOD, somewhat intimidated by this rather large man, promptly stepped aside and the yard worker began to saw out a section of the deck. I still have that piece of teak.
James H. Buckley
In 192021 my father was a boiler tender second class on the USS Neptune (AC-8), a Fleet collier.
Seeing the picture of the boiler room and the conditions the men worked under gave me a better understanding of how my dad could have developed black lung and other lung problems. He and his younger brother served on board the Neptune, and both died of lung diseases. During World War II my older brother served on the USS Bullard (DD-660) as a water tender, but the conditions, I'm sure, were better than the ones on the Neptune.
(See R. A. Taylor, pp. 40-43, February 2010 Naval History)
Major General J. D. Lynch Jr., U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
I first read about Cat Futch, the go-go dancer who performed on the USS Finback's dive plane, in the Washington Post during September 1975. The Post story was easy to remember because, contrary to it, the submarine's skipper, the late Commander Connie Stevenson, was a Naval Academy graduate, not a "mustang" as reported. I have known many mustang officers, and they take a backseat to no one in terms of dedication and professionalism. However, Connie was what he was, a highly respected and extremely popular member of the USNA Class of 1956, and he was indeed the "people guy" described in the article.
After reading your article, I wondered what purpose it served. The ostensible one was a warning to commanding officers: Don't get too innovative. On reflection, the incident's aftermath can serve deeper purposes.
Once matters are firmly in the hand of the chain of command, official action normally follows. If the matter attracted the media, the action to be recommended—if not that taken—is going to be a modern version of a flogging around the Fleet. Those are two phenomena worth remembering.
A third may be found in the Chief of Naval Operation's actions. His decision can be construed as an admonition to the chain of command. In short, "you went too far." But once events run their course, even the topmost officer's powers are limited.
The fourth and final purpose may be found in the briefly described incident regarding the reactor casualty and Connie's actions.
If we had been at war in 1975, Connie Stevenson would likely have been a highly prized attack boat skipper. Had there been a Cat Futch on the dive plane, the news would have never reached the CNO and the Finback would not have been recalled from patrol. The incident would have been handled later, as it should have been: in an unforgettable, informal session with the boss. Other skippers could have been quietly told to not imitate the mistake. And most important, the services of an outstanding officer would have remained available to the country.
Captain John M. Donlon, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The superb article needs only one slight correction. I am misquoted on page 41: ". . . a radiation leak . . ," which is incorrect. That should read, "a radioactive liquid leak." The precise terminology is necessary to preclude derision by my fellow nukes, especially contemporaries (most of whom are deceased) and to assure that Admiral Hyman G. Rickover does not frown on his one-time pupil from his current office.
(See R. Malcomson, pp. 54-55, February 2010 Naval History)
After reading and enjoying Mr. Malcomson's article, I was curious as to the evaluation of Sir George Collier and his squadron's pursuit of the USS Constitution in another classic naval history of the War of 1812. In his Naval War of 1812, Theodore Roosevelt agrees with William James, writing, "The British captains certainly bungled the affair." That is one of the few occasions Teddy Roosevelt agreed with the British historian.
A review of the index listings under James' name in Roosevelt's book shows headings titled: "most valuable authority on British affairs, hatred toward Americans"; "misstatements"; "unreliability"; "grossly inaccurate, inexcusable garbling of reports"; "willful perversion of the truth"; and "endeavor to prove American seamen cowards." I cannot help but believe that if Roosevelt could have been present when Captain Sir John Phillimore caned James for a similar analysis of actions by his vessel, Teddy would have smiled and, perhaps, shouted an approving "Bully!"
Commander Tyrone G. Martin, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The author opens his tale with several errors of historical fact.
While the Treaty of Ghent completed ratification on 17 February 1815, the ensuing 30-day period was included to permit time to notify dispersed units, any action occurring within that time frame being considered a part of the war. Thus, the war was not technically over until 17 March.
During her final war cruise the Constitution was armed with 32 24-pounders. Captain Charles Stewart had removed the forwardmost and aftermost pairs of 32-pounder carronades on the spar deck and replaced each with one recently captured Congreve 24-pounder "shifting gunade." As the name implies, these British weapons were a cross between a long gun and a carronade, having a somewhat longer effective range than the latter but still light enough to permit rapid relocation from side to side. Stewart put them to good use in his battle with the Cyane and the Levant.
The initial phase of the battle saw Stewart taking on both Britons simultaneously. By deft maneuvering, he divided them from one another (it took more than 15 minutes) and then defeated them in detail.
The Constitution's escape from Boston in December 1814 occurred after Collier had taken the Leander to Halifax and when his two subordinates, instead of remaining underway off the port, moored in the lee of Cape Cod near Provincetown.
Whatever his personal shortcomings, Sir George was ill served by his juniors.
(See N. A. Trudeau, pp. 44-52, February 2010 Naval History)
Rear Admiral Frederick C. Johnson, U.S. Navy (Retired)
This article is without question the most realistic and factual short account of the 8 September 1923 multiship stranding at Honda Point that I have ever read. My interest in that tragedy started at age 12 and continued throughout my career. At that very young age I found it difficult to comprehend the incident but was thrilled with the rescue efforts that followed. Subsequently, I read every article and book on the topic. To this day, the photographs of the wrecks sicken me, and as a sage once said, "There but for the grace of God go I."
Many years later, while Commander, Destroyer Squadron 21 (COMDESRON 21) in the U. S. Pacific Fleet, the event came to the fore of my thinking. The squadron was scheduled to make a southbound transit from San Francisco to San Diego after a Labor Day port visit. Sailing orders from my flotilla commander called for a close inshore transit generally similar to the route DESRON 11 followed in September 1923. Subconsciously aware of the Honda incident, I respectfully advised the admiral that unless otherwise directed, the squadron would prefer to follow a north-to-south-southeasterly track well westward of the usual coastal route most seafarers followed. There were no further communications from the admiral, and I assumed that all was permitted as proposed.
The entire offshore transit was made in clear weather and quite comfortably except for the heavy starboard quartering sea experienced until we rounded San Clemente Island. However, the very close offshore track and high-speed transit that the admiral directed would have resulted in a hairy voyage because of the low visibility, variable winds, and sea conditions likely to be experienced. As it was, the thick marine layer shrouded the coastline as we steamed southward and became increasingly denser as soon as we rounded San Clemente Island just after daybreak. It is interesting to recall that the difference in steaming time between the seaward and close-in offshore route was negligible and the night's steaming was quiet, peaceful, and far more comfortable for all hands.
When questioned by the admiral's chief of staff during the debrief call as to why I had followed the more seaward route, I respectfully reminded all present of the Honda stranding. I stated that between the devil and deep blue sea and as exacerbated by Murphy's Law, if something could go wrong, it would happen unexpectedly at the worst time. Thus it seemed more prudent to select the chosen route.
The kindly old admiral nodded his gray head and said no more. His staff did not press the issue any further, and the debrief meeting and transit were closed.
While I cannot excuse the commodore and flag captain's command and navigation errors in the ill-fated USS Delphy, I can empathize with the trailing ships' conning and their commanding officers during the sequence of unfortunate events that followed. While obviously not there at the time, I think that I understand the mindset of the participants and appreciate them for their adherence to the standing doctrines, disciplines, and procedures of the era.
(See W. F. Ruck, p. 7, February 2010; R. E. Young, pp. 6-7, December 2009; R. J. Hanyok, pp. 6-8, October 2009; L. Jewell, p. 6, August 2009; P. Ribbey pp. 7 and 64, June 2009; and R. J. Hanyok, pp. 50-53, April 2009 Naval History)
Thomas W. Gillette
My father, Claude Sexton Gillette (U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1909), was one of those who, after rapid promotion in World War I, stayed in the Navy during the long dry spell of the 1920s and '30s. Mr. Ruck's comment that the peacetime Navy officers "concentrated on staying within their limited budget and polishing their officer reports in the hope of being promoted," is an unprovoked insult to the many officers and men who were there to hold the line in 1942 and led us to victory in 1945. Their peacetime training and experience provided the essential nucleus around which the World War II Navy was built.
In the late 1930s, my father (an engineering duty-only officer) turned down a position paying more than five times his naval salary because he knew that war was coming. As a result, in 1941 he was manager of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and had responsibility for salvage and Fleet repairs until the Battle of Midway. Thereafter he was promoted to rear admiral and made manager of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the largest naval ship repair facility on the West Coast until early 1945.
Mr. Ruck should be grateful for the existence of people who placed duty to their country above personal gain, and not be disparaging them.