The U.S. Navy turns 247 years old today. On October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned two ships, each with eighty sailors, “for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies.” The foe at the time was Great Britain, whose navy ruled the seas. By the end of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy had grown to about fifty ships. In 1789, the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the navy’s future by granting Congress the power “To provide and maintain a navy.”
George Washington once said it is “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.” Those words are even more appropriate in the twenty-first century where U.S. interests span the globe. To serve and protect those interests, the U.S. Navy today has 346,469 active duty personnel, 45,345 reserve personnel, 191,819 civilian employees, 300 deployable ships, 71 submarines, and more than 3,700 operational aircraft.
John F. Kennedy was the first navy veteran elected president. But five of the next six presidents also served in the navy: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. Well-known navy veterans include baseball Hall-of-Famers Yogi Berra and Stan Musial; basketball Hall-of-Famers David Robinson and John Wooden; football Hall-of-Famer Roger T. Staubach; pro wrestling great and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura; actors Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, and Jack Lemmon; former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson; talk show host Montel Williams; musicians John Coltrane, and M.C. Hammer; and astronaut Neil Armstrong.
I asked Captain Christa N. Almonte, a naval officer spending a year in CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program as a visiting military fellow, what she would recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about the navy and naval warfare. She suggested two books and two visits:
Her two recommended books are:
James L. Nelson. George Washington's Secret Navy: How the American Revolution Went to Sea (2008). Nelson recounts how America's newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, without congressional approval, launched America's first naval force. Understanding the British Army’s supply lines were its source of strength against the colonies, Washington secretly supplied three schooners with arms to harass and capture British merchant ships off Massachusetts “in the Service of the ministerial Army.”
Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN, Ret. The Sailor’s Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea (2021). Admiral Stavridis was an inspired officer and is an inspired leader. Always urging would-be leaders to read, he wrote a book categorizing and expounding upon his recommended reads, adding personal anecdotes from his thirty-seven years of service in the U.S. Navy.
Her two recommended visits are:
The USS Constitution and USS Constitution Museum, Boston. The world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, the USS Constitution was built in 1797 and is still crewed by U.S. Navy personnel. The Constitution served as flagship in cruises in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and it sailed 52,370 miles during a two-year world cruise from 1844 to 1846. A copper spike from the Constitution was onboard the United States Space Shuttle Atlantis during its first docking with the Russian Space Station Mir in 1995. Former President Obama designated the Constitution America’s Ship of State on October 28, 2009.
The United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. Founded on October 10, 1845, the Naval Academy’s long list of distinguished graduates includes President Jimmy Carter, astronaut and NASA Administrator Major General Charles F. Bolden Jr., Senator John S. McCain, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, philanthropist H. Ross Perot, basketball great David M. Robinson, astronaut (and the first man to hit a golf ball on the moon) Alan B. Shepard, and Heisman Trophy winner Roger T. Staubach. The remains of the Father of the U.S. Navy, John Paul Jones are interred beneath the Naval Academy Chapel.
Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.