The Last Navy Day – How Truman almost killed the US Navy Reply

Navy Day is October 27

(sort of)

Not to be confused with the Navy’s Birthday, which is celebrated on October 13, Navy Day was established on October 27, 1922 by the Navy League of the United States. Although it was not a national holiday, Navy Day received special attention from President Warren Harding.

Harding wrote to the Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby:

“Thank you for your note which brings assurance of the notable success which seems certain to attend the celebration of Navy Day on Friday, October 27, in commemoration of past and present services of the Navy. From our earliest national beginnings the Navy has always been, and deserved to be, an object of special pride to the American people. Its record is indeed one to inspire such sentiments, and I am very sure that such a commemoration as is planned will be a timely reminder.””It is well for us to have in mind that under a program of lessening naval armaments there is a greater reason for maintaining the highest efficiency, fitness and morale in this branch of the national defensive service. I know how earnestly the Navy personnel are devoted to this idea and want you to be assured of my hearty concurrence.”

October 27 was suggested by the Navy League to recognize Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday. Roosevelt had been an Assistant Secretary of the Navy and supported a strong Navy as well as the idea of Navy Day. In addition, October 27 was the anniversary of a 1775 report issued by a special committee of the Continental Congress favoring the purchase of merchant ships as the foundation of an American Navy.

The weakness of the Navy in being prepared for a two ocean war in 1941 was a true test for the United States.

When the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor, America quickly discovered that the “efficiencies” of savagely curtailing a peacetime Navy and the fool hearted attempt at maintaining peace through trusting a contemptuous enemy by limiting our fleet, we were in extreme danger all across the globe. It was only the will of the American people and the ability of an industrial base that a modern Navy could be put in place and defeat enemies from both sides of the waters.

But the lesson of the war and its causes were soon lost for too many leaders. Blinded by the prospects for a peace through the start of a United Nations effort, disarmament once again became the song of the true believers. Harry Truman was one of the biggest proponents of the movement.  His decisions were very consequential for the nation.

Proclamation 2815—Navy Day, 1948

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Whereas it is the purpose of the United States navy to maintain sufficient strength on the sea and in the air to enable it, in conjunction with our other armed forces, to uphold our national policies and interests, to protect our commerce, to support our international obligations, and to guard our country and its overseas possessions and dependencies; and

Whereas, the Navy league and other patriotic organizations in 1922 selected October 27 for annual observance of Navy Day in commemoration of the founding of the United States Navy in October 1775, and of the birth on October 27, 1858, of Theodore Roosevelt, who as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and as President of the United States contributed markedly to the development of the United states Navy; and

Whereas it has become customary for our citizens to join hands across the Nation on October 27 of each year in rendering grateful tribute to our Navy and in according honor and recognition to the achievements of the men and women who compose its ranks:

Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon the people of the United States to observe October 27, 1948, as Navy Day by displaying the flag of the United States at their homes or other suitable places, and I direct that the flag be displayed that day on all Government buildings. As Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, I direct that all ships of the United States Navy dress ship and that all ships and stations of the United States navy, where practicable, be open to visits of the public on Navy Day.

In Witness Whereof, I HAVE HEREUNTO SET MY HAND AND CAUSED THE Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this 5th day of October in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and seventy-third.

HARRY S. TRUMAN

By the President:

ROBERT A. LOVETT,

Acting Secretary of State.

Harry S. Truman, Proclamation 2815—Navy Day, 1948 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/287275

Harry’s words would soon ring very hollow. In 1949, a directive issued from Truman’s own Secretary of Defense Johnson changed everything.

In 1949, Louis A. Johnson, (1891–1966, served 1949–1950), second Secretary of the newly merged and created Department of Defense, directed that the U.S. Navy’s participation occur on newly established Armed Forces Day for the unified/coordinated uniformed services in May, although as a private civilian organization, the Navy League was not affected by this directive, and continued to organize separate Navy Day celebrations as before.

In the 1970s, historical research found that the “birthday” of the earlier Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), was determined to be October 13, 1775, and so Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt worked with the Navy League to define October 13th as the new date of Navy Day. However, Navy Day in the United States is still largely recognized as October 27th.

The Government recognized Navy Day was last observed on Oct. 27, 1949.

But who was Louis A. Johnson? And more importantly, why did he want to end not just the annual observation of Navy Day but the Navy as well?

“the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy”

“Following the re-election of President Truman in November 1948, President Truman “reminded Forrestal about fiscal spending goals” not being met within his Defense Department. In late February 1949 President Truman asked Forrestal to resign. The President did not believe Forrestal had adequate control over the various services, and he appeared unwilling to command the cuts in the Navy that the president wanted. The drawdown for the Navy was well behind schedule and causing budgetary embarrassment for the administration with Congress.

The now-common procedure of in flight refueling was demonstrated in a circumnavigation of the globe by an Air Force B-50 completed on 2 March 1949 which set a new world non-stop flying record of 23,452 miles. The public relations impact of this milestone event resonated positively with the public and at nearly every level of government. The main Air Force argument in support of the B-36, compared to the proposed carrier United States, was cost, both in lives and money. Through some convincing calculations published in Reader’s Digest, Air Force advocates contended that the cost of one super carrier and its task force was equal to 500 B-36s and exposed 242 times as many men to danger. Public opinion supported a “more bang for the buck” move to a “peacetime” military.

Fiscal 1951 proposed budgets, made public, cut the Navy’s total allocation by an additional two-thirds from the already lean 1949 budget. This proposed budget was threatening to literally mothball what was left of the Navy (including all or nearly all of the carriers) reducing the Navy to little more than escort and cargo ships, transfer the Marines to the Army and all aviation assets to the Air Force.

In late March 1949, Truman fired Forrestal and replaced him with Louis A. Johnson. A former Assistant Secretary of War, he had been the primary fundraiser for Truman’s campaign for the White House in 1948. Johnson had no qualms over supporting Truman’s military budget reductions and fiscally preferred the Air Force’s argument. The Air Force disliked the Navy’s aircraft carriers, as they were an expensive asset the Air Force planners considered obsolete in the age of long range aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. Johnson, who was a staunch proponent of the nuclear capable bomber force, consequently sought to limit as much as possible the Navy’s procurement of the new large carriers to conserve funds in the markedly reduced post-war military budget.

Less than a month after taking office, and without consulting Congress, Johnson ordered cancellation of United States on 23 April 1949. This vessel was the symbol and hope for the Navy’s future, and its cancellation greatly demoralized the service. Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan and a number of high-ranking admirals resigned in protest effective 24 May 1949. Johnson did not seem disturbed by the resignations. His decision to cancel United States provided him with economy in the military budget needed to meet his budgetary goals, while demonstrating that he was in firm control of the military and able to make difficult decisions.

To replace Sullivan, Johnson recommended Francis P. Matthews for the position of Secretary of the Navy. A lawyer from Omaha, Nebraska, during the Second World War he had served as a director of the USO, a service organization that entertained the troops. He came to the attention of Johnson by assisting him with political fund raising for the 1948 Truman campaign. Upon being considered for the position, Matthews admitted the nearest he had come to naval experience was rowing a boat on a lake. On 24 May 1949 Truman made the appointment.

Said Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson:

There’s no reason for having a Navy and Marine Corps. General Bradley (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), tells me that amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.”

A few short years later, the Korean War would prove to the world how short sighted both Johnson and Truman were. The need for a Navy and the fallacy of the supremacy of the Air Force were forever dashed on the shores of Inchon. Johnson would receive his well deserved public admonition and so would Truman as he was relegated to the scrap heap of history. The lives of so many American boys were the ultimate price of their short sighted decisions.

In the wake of this disaster, the Nuclear Navy was created that along with many other innovations serves this country to this day. If Harry and Louis had there way, we would have never had the ships that today sail the oceans and protect America’s interests.

I celebrate each day as Navy Day. But in my heart of hearts, I wish that there was still a national day where every patriot could recognize that a powerful Navy is the best guarantee of peace in a dangerous world.

Mister Mac

 

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