Like most editors, I usually spend my workday glued to my desk. So several weeks ago I jumped at the chance to head to sea on board a guided-missile destroyer. While my 24-hour “tour of duty” in the USS Mitscher (DDG-57) hardly qualifies me as a destroyerman, it did give me a better understanding of today’s Navy.
The visit came courtesy of the Navy’s Leaders to Sea program, and guests also included Naval History Associate Editor Don Ross, five other civilians, and an Army officer. Our guide, Lieutenant (junior grade) Ryan Benitez, led us all over the Mitscher—from her windswept deck, where Sailors manned .50-caliber machine guns heading out of Norfolk, to her hot, noisy engine room. Along the way, Lieutenant Benitez, other officers, and Sailors patiently and courteously answered boatloads of questions.
As well as the crew’s friendliness, I was also struck by its professionalism and youth (the latter was reinforced when a Metallica song blasting over the ship’s intercom woke everyone up at 0500—early reveille for sea and anchor detail). I’m still amazed that a group of men and women overwhelmingly in their 20s and 30s had complete mastery of the Aegis destroyer’s innumerable, maddeningly advanced systems.
That led me to reflect on Admiral James Holloway and his destroyer article in our October issue, “Second Salvo at Surigao Strait.” His “tin can,” the Fletcher-class Bennion (DD-662), was cutting edge in 1944, and Holloway, her gunnery officer, displayed cool professionalism while seemingly at the center of the Battle of Surigao storm in the early hours of 25 October. He was all of 22 years old.
I couldn’t help envisioning then-Lieutenant Holloway and the Bennion’s crew as 1944 versions of the Mitscher officers and Sailors I’d met—young, conscientious, and confident in their knowledge of their destroyer’s systems. That, as well as sore muscles from the many ladders I ascended and descended during my brief cruise, led me to conclude that while admirals may dominate the Navy’s past and present, the service really belongs to the young, professional officers and Sailors who serve on board its ships.
An example of one of those Sailors is Kearsarge gunner John Bickford, who earned the Medal of Honor for valor during the Union ship’s famous duel with the CSS Alabama. He’s profiled in this issue’s article by Norman Delaney, “I Didn’t Feel Excited a Mite.” Elsewhere, Roger Dingman examines the interwar naval arms limitation era, including the strategic and political effects of its treaties, in “Navies at Bay.”
Finally, a pair of articles commemorate the 60th anniversary of what historian Allan Millett has characterized as “one of those military masterpieces that occur when skill and bravery fuse to defy rational explanation”—the 1st Marine Division’s Chosin Reservoir “breakout.” Marine Lieutenant Colonel Glen Butler presents a sweeping analysis of campaign in “70 Miles of Cold, Hard Road.” Meanwhile, Captain William Davis recollects one day’s experiences during the famous Marine withdrawal in “The Snowy Battle for Hill 1304,” an article that originally appeared in the July 1953 issue of our sister magazine, Proceedings.