Category Archives: Naval History

Razor Blades

By lex, on January 31st, 2012

The USS Constellation was commissioned in 1961, and was the first warship I ever made a full deployment on. She was also the last, we came home together on her last cruise – and mine – in 2003. She was a good ship, a hard fighter and well-served by her crew. She  We called her “Connie”, and Ronald Reagan called her, “America’s Flagship.”

She launched Phantoms to protect US destroyers during the Tonkin Gulf Incident. Returned a year or so later to launch strikes from both Dixie and Yankee Stations. She made seven combat deployments to Southeast Asia. Her first peacetime cruise wasn’t until 1974.

We almost lost her to a fire in 1988, but the crew battled the blaze heroically. She missed the ’91 scrape due to SLEP, but did six more deployments to the Arabian Gulf afterward, including the big one in 2003.

I’ve sailed on many ships, but Connie is the only one I’d ever dare to call “mine.”

Now they’re going to turn “my” ship into razor blades. *

It is to weep.


** Original link gone – Replaced with similar – Ed.


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Pretty Much the Coolest Thing Ever

By lex, on January 24th, 2012

When Son Number One got his wings in Pensacola these last months past, I took the opportunity to go down with hizzoner and his sainted ma, for to see the Naval Aviation Museum there. That being one of my cultural touchstones, for ours is a proud history with many fine and honorable heroes who preceded us, to serve as examples.

Eugene Ely it was who first put an airplane down upon a carrier deck, just a little over a hundred years ago. Butch O’Hare shot down three Betty bombers – and damaged two others – who were targeting USS Lexington on the unopposed side, saving the ship and thousands of his shipmates, while earning our first ever Medal of Honor. He was trained by Jimmy Thach, who turned a performance disadvantage into a winning tactic, setting the example for generations of innovators. His soul has gone on to meet its reward, but his spirit is with us still.

Pappy Boyington taught the young kids how to fight in the Solomons, and later paid his rent as a guest of Imperial Japan. Joe Foss got his kills at Guadalcanal, and helped protect the grunts from adding to the butcher’s bill.

Jessie Brown broke the color line to serve a country that didn’t yet deserve him in the Korean War, and paid for it with his life. Thomas Hudner crashed his airplane alongside him, behind enemy lines, trying to save his life. He also earned the MoH.  John Koelsch gave his life so that another might live. Clyde Lassen learned his example a decade or so later.

Jim Stockdale earned his ribbon refusing to submit to the North Vietnamese. Mike Estocin understood the concept of being on “government time” over Haiphong. He went missing because of it, his fate known to God alone.

It’s a lot to live up to.

But they all came from somewhere. Ely came from Davenport, Iowa. O’Hare from Saint Louis. Thach from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Pappy from Coeur D’Alene. Foss from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jessie Brown from the hard hate of Hattiesburg, MS. Hudner from Fall River, Mass. Jack Koelsch from London, England. Lassen from Fort Myers, FL. Admiral Stockdale from Abingdon, IL. Estocin from Turtle Creek, PA.

Flyover country, mostly.  Not the kinds of places that send kids to Harvard or Yale. Apart from Koelsch. Who came from the old country for reasons of his own, and gave his life for one of his adopted brothers.

Where do we grow the next crop? How do we reach them?

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An Inauspicious Start

By lex, on December 13th, 2011

On this day in US naval history, the continental congress authorized the construction of thirteen frigates to guard the rebellion’s commerce and wage war upon British trading ships. Whether the number itself was unlucky, or whether we bit off more than we could chew against Nelson’s fleet, the effort was in vain. Only eight of the ships ordered made it to sea, and all of them were either captured or sunk. The rest were either scuttled or burnt to prevent their capture.

We were a little more successful on the second bout


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Golf Outing

By lex, on November 14th, 2011

Few things are as uninteresting to the non-golfer – or to the avid golfer, for that matter – than the details of someone else’s day on the links. I will spare you, therefore, the story of my thunderous drives, precision wedges and deft putting strokes, the ones that took me to the relatively pedestrian score of 84 (with two penalty strokes on 17 for an out-of-b0unds tee shot that veered wildly left and I’m practically certain that a flaw in the wind took it).

Not even going to mention it.

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Rum and the Lash

By lex, on July 19th, 2011

Via occasional reader Paul, a punishment log from the US frigate United States, over a four month period.

The master at arms was kept considerably busy, aboard that ship.

The archivist notes one man who received a dozen strokes for “doubling the grog tub”, but I thought the case of one John F. Forrester was more interesting: Thrice flogged over that short span, first for fighting, next for smuggling liquor aboard and the last time for trying to leave the ship without permission. At least he never made the same mistake twice.

Perhaps he considered the service an imperfect fit.

Flogging has gone the way of the rum ration, but for my own part, I was surprised when I was a wee nobbut to learn that a Navy captain at sea can still proscribe as punishment three days bread and water.

They do it still.

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By lex, on July 17th, 2011

Closure at last for the family of one  Texan’s native sons, too long missing in action after struck by ground fire in Laos:

“He’s finally home,” Sanders, of La Porte, said of her beloved uncle. “Our family is back together. We’re complete.”

Egan, who was born and grew up in Houston, was shot down April 19, 1966, while bombing targets in Laos. The crash site was eventually located, but his whereabouts remained a mystery. A DNA sample Sanders provided about 10 years ago was a near-perfect match for bone fragments a farmer in Laos turned over to U.S. officials in late 2009.

“I’ve been waiting for them to find him all these years,” said Anne Egan, cradling his urn. A burial for the Navy pilot is scheduled for Saturday.

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By lex, on May 6th, 2011

The last known surviving veteran of The Great War has stepped into the clearing at the end of the path:

Claude Stanley Choules, a man of contradictions, humble spirit and wry humor, died in a Western Australia nursing home on Thursday at the age of 110. And though his accomplishments were many — including a a 41-year military career that spanned two world wars — the man known as “Chuckles” to his comrades in the Australian Navy was happiest being known as a dedicated family man.

“We all loved him,” his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger told The Associated Press. “It’s going to be sad to think of him not being here any longer, but that’s the way things go…”

World War I was raging when Choules began training with the British Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14. In 1917, he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, the main battle fleet of the German Navy during the war.

“There was no sign of fight left in the Germans as they came out of the mist at about 10 a.m.,” Choules wrote in his autobiography. The German flag, he recalled, was hauled down at sunset.

“So ended the most momentous day in the annals of naval warfare,” he wrote. “A fleet of ships surrendered without firing a shot.”

So ended the life of the last man to see it, in a Australian nursing home, much beloved by his family: “‘I had a pretty poor start,’ he told the ABC in November 2009. ‘But I had a good finish.’”



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