Women in Military Honored at Athena Conference
In 1976 women were admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy for the first time and began to be integrated into the Brigade of Midshipmen. The trailblazers who arrived for that historic Induction Day would confirm that ability, not gender, determines what makes a good leader. Several members of that pioneering class were on hand for the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2016 Naval History Conference held 8–9 September at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Titled “The Athena Conference: Heroines of the Past, Present, and Future,” the event brought together prominent women from many fields to share the challenges they faced and the keys to their success. The event and the 2016 Naval History Essay Contest were made possible by a generous grant from the William M. Wood Foundation.
Among the 600 people in attendance were many current midshipmen who hoped to get guidance from panelists including flag officers, chief executive officers from Fortune 500 companies, members of Congress, and government officials. For women concerned about obstacles being placed in their paths to prevent them from advancing in their careers, Marine Corps Major General Lori Reynolds had a bit of advice that echoed the experiences of fellow panelist Vice Admiral Jan Tighe. “Don’t go looking for bias, because you’ll find it. You will absolutely find it.” She also recommended the women remember that just because more doors in the military have been opened does not mean that it will not be hard for them. “You have to prove your worth just like everyone else does.”
With the large gathering of current and future leaders, Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Ted Carter took the opportunity to announce that the new Center for Cyber Security Studies building will be named in honor of pioneering computer programmer Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (1906–92).
In addition to being the first new academic building constructed at the Naval Academy in almost 40 years, it will be the first one named for a woman.
WWII Ship’s Bell Reunited with Its Past
This 75th anniversary year of the attack on Pearl Harbor has been graced by an uncannily timely reunion of sorts—that of the ship’s bell from the battleship USS Utah (BB-31/AG-16), a victim of the Japanese torpedoing on 7 December 1941, and the memory of Peter Tomich, the Utah chief watertender who sacrificed his life to save others that fateful day and posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Today, Chief Watertender Tomich’s legacy lives on in the name of the building housing the U.S. Navy Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA) at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. And now, after a long and unusual journey, the bell from the Utah stands on view to all who enter Tomich Hall. The ship and the sailor whose destinies were intertwined thus are reconnected—but it almost never happened.
First, the very fact the bell survived Pearl Harbor unscathed is most likely because it had been removed before the sneak attack that thrust the United States into World War II. (Items deemed nonessential and/or valuable often were removed from U.S. warships and stored.) Next, unlike so many U.S. Navy ship bells from World War II that tragically went missing, the Utah bell’s whereabouts were known: For years, it had been a landmark on the campus of the University of Utah.
The idea of bringing the bell to Tomich Hall came from the SEA’s director, Command Master Chief Richard Curtis, who (a) wanted a bell for the building and (b) concluded that the Utah’s clearly would be the most appropriate. Command Master Chief Curtis tracked it down at the Utah campus. He approached the university about borrowing it “so it could remind students what it means to lead and the sacrifices sometimes required,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.
But the bell was going nowhere until its provenance could be established. The quest had hit a roadblock. Stymied, Curtis visited retired Vice Admiral Peter H. Daly, CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute. Admiral Daly contacted retired Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) as well as Curator of the Navy. Rear Admiral Cox agreed to take on the case. Jeffrey Bowdoin, deputy head of Curator Branch, embarked on a thorough search.
With Navy records failing to yield any clues as to the bell’s ownership, Admiral Daly recommended contacting the University of Utah. From there, the trail led to the Utah Division of State History—and the solution to the mystery: In 1961 the Navy had loaned the bell to the Utah State Historical Society, where it remained until 1966, when it was presented to the University of Utah, which at the time had plans to create a naval history museum. The museum never came to fruition, but there on campus the bell had remained ever since. And ultimately, the records verified that the U.S. Navy, in fact, still owns the Utah bell.
The NHHC dispatched a team to Utah to conduct an appraisal and arrange for the shipping of the 500-pound artifact to Newport, where it now proudly stands (with a long-overdue conservation assessment on tap as well).
“We were happy we were able to play a small role in making all this happen—and I credit NHHC for its great follow-through,” said Admiral Daly. “Heritage is a key element of the Naval Institute mission, and Rich Curtis’s goal to reunite the Utah bell with the hall named after the Utah hero is the kind of effort that lies at the heart of that heritage mission.”
The fact that it all took place in a landmark Pearl Harbor anniversary year adds resonance to the outcome. As Master Chief Curtis told the AP, SEA students “should take pause at why that bell is standing there in front of the academy charged with teaching leadership—in a hall named after a man who gave his life to lead.”
What’s Up at the NHHC
Archaeologists Study Pacific War Artifact—a Marine Corps M1 Rifle
The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Underwater Archaeology Branch recently began an assessment of an M1 Garand rifle used by a U.S. Marine Corps Raider during the Makin raid in World War II.
The Makin M1 originally was discovered in 1999, when the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI) returned to Makin Atoll to relocate, recover, and repatriate the remains of the Marines who had died there.
The raid, which took place 17–18 August 1942, destroyed enemy radio communication points, fuel, and military stores, and helped divert attention from the 1st Marine Division landing on Guadalcanal. During the raid, which, remarkably, was launched from the submarines USS Nautilus (SS-168) and Argonaut (SM-1), 19 Marines from the 2d Raider Battalion lost their lives and were buried together on Makin Atoll. The rifle was discovered in the grave and returned to CILHI before its eventual transfer to the Raiders Museum at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
After more than 50 years of being buried in a wet marine environment, the Makin M1 displays significant surface concretions, corrosion, and physical damage. Curators at the National Museum of the Marine Corps reached out to archaeological conservators at the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch to perform an assessment of the artifact and help ascertain its stability.
Prior to transportation of the Makin M1 to the NHHC Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory on the Washington Navy Yard, the Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal team at Quantico inspected the rifle interior to ensure it contained no live ammunition. Conservators then performed a detailed examination of the Makin M1 and documented its current condition. They are now developing treatment plans to address its immediate and long-term preservation.
The M1 Garand, a .30 caliber semiautomatic, lent a significant advantage to U.S. ground forces during World War II and marked the first time semiautomatic rifles were generally issued to the U.S. military for use in combat. The M1 Garand is equipped with a gas cylinder located beneath the barrel. Gas pressure produced when firing a round travels back through the gas cylinder to drive the piston and operating rod back, eject the empty cartridge case, and push the next round from the clip into the chamber. This auto-reload system allows for reliable quick-fire capability and reduced recoil, which helps maintain accuracy. In addition to being an important piece of U.S. military history, the Makin M1 is also particularly significant for the Marine Corps as it was used in one of the earliest engagements of Marine Raiders in the Pacific.