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TWE has noted the birthdays of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Marine Corps. But it hasn’t noted the birthday of the U.S. Navy. My research associate, Rachael Kauss, and my intern, Corey Cooper, volunteered to remedy that oversight. Here’s what they learned.
The U.S. Navy turns 239 years-old today. The navy has been around since October 13, 1775, when the American colonies were just beginning the Revolutionary War against naval superpower Great Britain. The Continental Congress, after some debate, commissioned two ships “for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies.” Each ship had eighty sailors. By the end of the war, the Continental Navy had expanded to about fifty ships. The navy’s future solidified in 1789 when the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to maintain a navy.
George Washington once said that “as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive—and with it, everything honorable and glorious.” He would be pleased to know, then, that more than two centuries later, the U.S. Navy remains decisive. Today it has 289 deployable ships, more than 3,700 operational aircraft, and 325,143 active duty personnel. It also has 107,524 reserve personnel and more than 200,000 civilian employees.
Six U.S. presidents (John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush) have served in the navy. Several baseball hall-of-famers, including Yogi Berra and Stan Musial, are navy veterans. Other well-known navy veterans include former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, comedian Bill Cosby, actor Humphrey Bogart, and astronaut Neil Armstrong.
We asked Captain Robert A. Newson, a naval officer spending a year as a visiting military fellow in CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program, what reading he would recommend for those wanting to learn more about the navy and its history. Here are his suggestions:
- Daughan, George C. 1812: The Navy’s War (2011). Daughan tells the story of how a tiny U.S. Navy rose to fight naval superpower Great Britain in the War of 1812.
- Hornfischer, James D. Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (2012). Hornfischer highlights the role of the navy alongside the U.S. Marine Corps at the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II.
- Huntington, Samuel P. “National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy,” Proceedings (1954). Huntington argues the political importance of having a clear naval strategy: “If a service does not possess a well-defined strategic concept, the public and political leaders will be confused as to the role of the service . . . and apathetic or hostile to the claims made by the service on the resources of society.”
- Sterling, Forest J. Wake of the Wahoo (1960). Written by a member of the submarine Wahoo’s crew, Wake of the Wahoo tells the story of one of the greatest submarines of World War II.
- Toll, Ian W. Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy (2006). Toll provides a unique look at the debate over the formation of the navy and the challenges the navy faced in its early years.
- Welle, Joshua, John Ennies, Katherine Kranz, and Graham Plaster (eds). In the Shadow of Greatness: U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002 – Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service From America’s Longest War (2012). The Naval Academy Class of 2002 assembled thirty-three stories from graduates and their families, reflecting on how their lives were changed forever by the events of September 11, 2001.
- Whiteneck, Daniel, Michael Price, Neil Jenkins, and Peter Swartz. “The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake” (2010). This report from the Center for Naval Analysis explains how the navy can rise to modern challenges around the world.
- Coming Soon: Cooperative Strategy 21 (CS21). The navy will soon release an update to its strategic vision.
Captain Newson also had some recommendations for films about the navy. They might not be true stories, but they make for great viewing:
- Battleship (2012). Captain Newson calls Battleship “perhaps the best navy versus alien movie ever made.”
- The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart stars in this World War II film, which tells the story officers who are charged with mutiny for taking over their ship from their mentally unstable captain.
- The Fighting Seabees (1944). This fictional film tells the story of the members of a naval construction battalion during World War II who find themselves in the thick of the fight.
- Mister Roberts (1955). In this comedy, a sailor who desperately wants to be in the heart of the action during World War II ends up stationed on quiet cargo ship on the Pacific Front.
If that’s not enough naval information for you, you can learn more about the U.S. Navy online through the U.S. Naval Institute website.
A tip of the TWE cap to all the men and women who have worn the uniform of the U.S. Navy. Anchors Aweigh!