Fulfilling the Commitment
Regarding Paul Stillwell’s October “Looking Back” column, “From Annapolis to the Pros” (p. 62), when young men or women enter any of the military academies, from the day of their induction they know that upon graduation, they have a service commitment. I believe the current commitment at the Naval Academy is a minimum of five years’ active duty, with a follow-on obligation in the Reserves. In spite of this, the best and brightest of our young people are applying for admission to the academies, and the odds of them being accepted are getting longer. The complement of the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy is being reduced, and the number of appointed applicants is shrinking. I’m a member of the class of 1974, and we started out with more than 1,500. According to a Naval Academy publication (Wavetops, July 2016), the class of 2020 had 1,184 midshipmen sworn in and more than 17,000 applicants.
To allow a graduate to circumvent his or her military obligation is not only cheating the American taxpayers of the investment they have made in that applicant’s education and training, but also cheating some other qualified applicant who did not gain admission four years ago.
Another Tanker Breakup
Commander Robert A. Close, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Referencing the fine article in the October issue, “Triumph and Tragedy off Cape Cod” (pp. 54–57), on 21 December 1960 there was a similar T-2 tanker breakup off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The Pine Ridge split where the tank portion joined the engineering/living unit. The forward section had the captain and six others aboard—all were lost. The aft section contained 28 crewmen. All were recovered by helos from U.S. Navy Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) Three and one helo from Helicopter Utility Squadron Two—both operating from the USS Valley Forge (CVS-45).
I was the operations officer in HS-3 at the time and led the first rescue flight of four Sikorsky HSS-1 Seabats. A detailed report of the incident is included in my book, Rotorhead: The Life and Times of an Early Helo Pilot (Infinity Publishing, 2013).
Indy Captain on Trial
Captain Lawrence B. Brennan, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The June edition of Naval History contains two articles about the loss of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) that raise questions as to the causes of her loss and the court-martial conviction of her commanding officer, Captain Charles B. McVay III (“The Tragic Indy’s Enduring Fascination,” pp. 30–37, and “Indianapolis Sailors’ Legacy and Lessons,” pp. 38–39).
The McVay case brought more than half a century of criticism on military justice and led, in part, to the enactment of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and its criminalization of “unlawful command influence.” The trial and conviction of Captain McVay was unprecedented. No other naval officer was convicted during the 20th century for the loss of his ship during combat.
The direct cause of the loss of the Indianapolis was damage from two torpedoes that struck the cruiser on her starboard side, the first near the bow and the second nearly under the bridge, forward of amidship, possibly causing a magazine explosion and loss of 60 feet of the bow. The impact of the torpedoes was devastating throughout the ship, not just the forward part where there was direct impact.
There was a synergy of proximate causes that contributed to the cruiser’s sinking. Rarely, if ever, is a ship lost as the result of a single catastrophic fault. In this case, there were multiple faults attributable to decisions made by officers ashore as well as the commanding officer. Moreover, the Indianapolis was unseaworthy; she was not reasonably fit for the anticipated combat voyage. It was well known that she could not survive significant damage caused by torpedoes because her metacentric height was inadequate, primarily as the result of alternations and additions that had been made since the ship was constructed. Furthermore, the Indianapolis was unable to set watertight integrity appropriate for wartime independent steaming because internal temperatures would make the hull uninhabitable. The steps required to allow cool air to enter the living and working spaces contributed to the progressive flooding.
The trial testimony of the defense expert, Captain Glynn Donaho, was inconsistent and self-contradictory. His redirect testimony supported a finding that zigzagging could have obstructed the submarine attack if the Indianapolis had altered course immediately after the torpedoes had been fired. However, the commanding officer of I-58, the Japanese submarine that fired the fatal torpedoes, admitted he would have been able to sink the Indianapolis even if she had been zigzagging.
The most important factor leading to the cruiser’s sinking was the chance meeting of the vessels at a time and place where the rising full moon brightly illuminated the Indianapolis as she steamed west-southwest, clearly visible to the commander of I-58. The submarine observed the cruiser for 27 minutes, while the range closed from 10,000 to 1,500 meters, prior to firing six torpedoes.
Finally, there were multiple procedural irregularities in the trial: the disagreement between Admirals Ernest King and Chester Nimitz about the prosecution; the delay in the decision by Navy Secretary James Forrestal to refer the case to a general court; the lack of adequate time to prepare; and the fact that an inexperienced defense counsel, Captain John P. Cady, was facing an experienced trial lawyer who had earned the Medal of Honor, Captain Thomas J. Ryan. At least the members of the court unanimously recommended clemency for Captain McVay.
Memorial to the Victims
Captain Bill Heard, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
My “In Contact” comment about Andrew Jampoler’s article in the August 2016 issue (“The Short Life and Hard Times of an Armored Cruiser,” pp. 42–48) was published in the October issue (p. 8). In it I gave details of an earlier tragedy suffered by the USS Tennessee (ACR-10) when seven sailors were killed in a boiler explosion in June 1908. After writing you I was able to visit the cemetery in San Pedro, California, where I viewed the monument (left) in Harbor View Cemetery marking the sailors’ graves.
Returning Fire from the Reef
C. Henry Depew
Fred Allison’s article on the Battle of Tarawa (“‘We Were Going to Win . . . or Die There,’” October, pp. 32–39) reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with a retired Marine who commanded the only “water-cooled” mortar unit in World War II. His landing craft went aground on Betio Island’s reef. As he and his men were making their way through the water toward the island, they set up their mortar and opened fire on the enemy. They put cover on the muzzle of the mortar as a wave went over them, and then removed it and fired in the trough.
Marines on the Cover
Master Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Marquez Jr., U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)
Earlier this year a Marine buddy of mine, Staff Sergeant Robert Cawley, was walking through Barnes & Noble and happened to notice the cover of the February Naval History. He immediately realized it was a photograph he had taken back during Operation Desert Storm. The picture was taken on 27 February 1991 on top of the communication building at Kuwait International Airport. He reached out to let me know because I am one of the Marines in the photo. The identifiable Marines from Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 1st Marine Division are, from left to right, Sargeant West (sitting), Lance Corporal Abernathy (crouching with his face toward the camera), and myself (standing on the bars).
Solving a Mystery
Port Security Chief Robert J. Gryder, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
I wore an MIA/POW bracelet with Lieutenant Jack Rittichier’s name from 1973 until his remains were recovered in Vietnam in 2002. I never knew the full story of his sacrifice until I read the article about the pilot exchange program (“Overlooked Service,” December 2015, pp. 35–36). I only knew he was a Coast Guard pilot who’d been shot down. After eight years in the Marine Corps, I joined the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserves, serving for the next 29 years until retiring in April 2002. There are no more Coast Guard MIA/POWs, but I still wear and will always wear a MIA/POW bracelet from Vietnam.
Thank you for filling in a picture and information about a brother service member who has returned home.