Naval History readers wishing to transcend the printed word can get a tactile feel for sailor life by visiting one of the more than 160 museum ships located throughout the United States. But while this retired fleet includes storied warriors such as the frigate Constitution and destroyer Laffey (DD-724), the ship most deserving of preservation is missing, having been sold to a demolition company in 1958 and scrapped.
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) participated in 20 of the 41 Pacific war battles or campaigns recognized by the U.S. Navy, the most of any ship. Moreover, as Barrett Tillman points out in Enterprise: America’s Fightingest Ship and the Men Who Helped Win World War II (Simon & Schuster, 2012), “When the need was greatest, Enterprise with her sailors and fliers had been there, from Pearl Harbor almost to VJ Day.”
Those men and their carrier are the subject of Tillman’s cover story, “‘The Big E’ Leadership Factory.” The naval aviation expert explores how successive generations of officers and sailors learned professional and life lessons on board the carrier and then spread that wisdom. The many exceptional leaders the Enterprise “factory” produced continued serving the Navy and the United States long after World War II ended.
Retired Navy Commander Edward P. Stafford, the Enterprise’s 1962 biographer who passed away in 2013, provided early encouragement to Tillman to write his book about the carrier, from which his article is adapted. This November the Naval Institute Press is releasing an illustrated edition of Stafford’s classic The Big E: The Story of the USS Enterprise.
Like Tillman’s article, “Butch’s Wingman,” by David Sears, deals with passing down naval know-how. In this case, celebrated Navy fighter pilot Jimmie Thach mentored Butch O’Hare, who, in turn, mentored Alex Vraciu. The article peaks with Vraciu’s epic performance at the Marianas “Turkey Shoot.” One of Sears’ main sources was Vraciu himself, who died at age 96 on 29 January 2015.
Charles Westwater contributed our third naval aviation piece, “Finishing Off the Japanese Navy,” in which he recounts his experiences as a “rear-seater” in an SB2C Helldiver, including participating in the massive July 1945 carrier strikes on Kure Naval Base. Long before Westwater submitted his article to Naval History, he sent what later turned out to be the end of it, dealing with his final World War II mission, to journalist/author Tom Brokaw, who included the reminiscence in his book An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation (Random House, 2001). Thanks go to Brokaw for his permission to republish that portion of Westwater’s article.
Switching from aviator to engineer, “The Enlisted Force’s Scribe,” by retired Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Dennis Noble, profiles Richard McKenna, a member of the black gang in a Yangtze Patrol gunboat who went on to write the bestselling novel of sailor life The Sand Pebbles (Harper & Row, 1962). Noble’s article earned second prize in the 2014 Naval History Essay Contest, cosponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the William M. Wood Foundation. For information about the 2015 contest, click here. Noble’s biography of McKenna—The Sailor’s Homer: The Life and Times of Richard McKenna, Author of The Sand Pebbles—is due out late this fall from the Naval Institute Press.
Richard G. Latture