October 27, 1922 was the very first Navy Day in the United States.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt had been born on that day and it was selected by the Navy League and the Navy Department as the most appropriate day to celebrate the United States Navy.
This celebration was not just held in the United States. Newspapers at the time reported that celebrations were held in London, Paris and Rome (among others). Washington DC practically came to a standstill that day as ceremonies were held at Arlington and the statue of John Paul Jones. The War Department was shut down so members could attend one of the dozens of events around the city.
New York was also a large center for celebration as the Atlantic Fleet was at anchor in the East River. Carnegie Hall hosted a special musical celebration of patriotism and flags could be seen all across the city. All across the country, the nation stopped for a few moments and took stock of its Navy.
Evening star. [volume], October 27, 1922, Page 4, Image 4
SPIRIT OF ROOSEVELT ABROAD AS NAVY HONORS HIS NATAL DAY
The spirit of Theodore Roosevelt walked abroad in Washington today.
Formal celebration on his birthday was claimed by the Navy for Its own and there is none who would challenge the Navy’s right to revel in memories of Roosevelt, to pay gladly the debt of gratitude it owes to him. But, aside, from all this, from the prepared addresses on Navy day that dealt largely with his sayings and his works for the Navy, there ran a curious undercurrent of talk among men everywhere that bore witness to the place the dead President had made for himself In American hearts.
Name in Conversation.
It was natural that around the Navy Department Roosevelt’s name should And Its way into every casual conversation as older officers paused to chat a moment In the long corridors. Many of these had personal stories to recall of his fearless career as assistant secretary of the Navy, the post his son and namesake now holds. Traditions old in the Navy were shattered In those days and new traditions, dear to the hearts of sailor folk of today, were built up In their place around the dominant, energetic, eager personality that even an assistant secretary ship could not subdue.
But It was striking that the talk of Roosevelt was not confined to the Navy or the Army or to government circles, but ran everywhere about the Nation’s Capital. From lip to lip little, intimate, human pictures of the man were sketched as men who knew him met In clubs or on corners In the hurry of a busy day. A tale that brought about quick laughter here; there a terse, cutting epigram repeated; or again the story of a lighting moment vividly recalled by men who shared that moment with him, a veritable unwritten legend of a great American was In the making hour by hour.
Hard to Realize He Is Gone
Perhaps this was more true In Washington than elsewhere In the nation.< for It was hard for these men who knew him In life to realize that the sturdy figure with slouch hat jerked down over his eyes might not come trudging down Pennsylvania avenue even as they talked. But It seemed that this curious Informal celebration of Roosevelt’s birthday must also be nationwide as was the tribute paid his memory in the set events of Navy day.
That he has left a lasting Impress of his fearless Americanism on the hearts of his countrymen for all time, none who heard the undertone of Roosevelt memories that lay beneath Washington life today could doubt.
Under the headlines was the unspoken fact that the country had just completed several years of arms control negotiations that directly impacted the current and future naval forces of the world. The death and destruction of the first World War were a recent memory and many in the country and the world honestly sought a way to reduce the tensions and danger of unbridled shipbuilding.
The World War did not settle many of the major concerns of the world including expansionism, colonialism, and empires. In fact, if anything, it made things worse. Out of the ashes, unnatural divisions of countries with artificial boarders and the reassignments of far flung imperial assets from one ruling nation to another merely postponed the conflict that would revisit the world in the late 1930’s.
“The Contracting Powers agree to limit their respective naval armament as provided in the present Treaty.”
The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 was well intentioned but in many ways probably made the march to the next war inevitable. While the size and weaponry of the last conflict were limited, the treaty opened a Pandora’s Box of new weapons and tactics that would make the Second World War even deadlier than the first.
The Navy Leaders and the members of the Navy League (which had been formed under the encouragement of Teddy Roosevelt) both had a vision of Naval Supremacy. Without so much as saying so, they also had a fear that the treaty disease would shrink the Navy to such a small size that it would be unable to meet the threats of a two ocean war. Seeing so many first class battleships destroyed and new ones cancelled had to be a frightening prospect for this group.
So Navy Day was born
All of the celebrations and the pomp and circumstance were carefully designed to appeal to the American public’s nationalistic tendencies. Every note was played and every song was sung with the idea of reminding the American public that without a great Navy, the nation itself would struggle to be great. The politicians were free to pursue peace at any cost, but the Navy would do what it did best: fight for its survival. Even as the well intentioned peace mongers were busy planning on the destruction of the Navy, the Navy was putting on a global show of power that would ensure its future.
Not everyone was on board
Besides the politicians involved with the disastrous Washington Naval Limitation Treaty effort, there were many organizations agitating from the sidelines. Below te story about the former President was a cautionary article from the National Council for Reduction of Armament.
Bigger Navy Opposed.
Navy days is indorsed in part and opposed In part in resolutions adopted by the executive board of the National Council for Reduction of Armament. The Navy Is praised for the part which it played in the achievements of the Washington peace conference. Alleged efforts to increase the size of the Navy are condemned. The resolutions state:
“Navy day” as announced by the Navy League and indorsed by the Navy Department of the United States government, has, as we understand, two purposes: first, to Improve the morale of the United States Navy, which is said to have been lowered as a result of the Washington conference and the world peace movement which bids fair in the course of a few years to reduce the world’s navies to police forces: second, to appeal to the well-known patriotism of our people for further sacrifices in order to add to the size of the Navy and Its personnel, with a substantial increase In the appropriation. “The executive board of the National Council for Reduction of Armament Is in hearty sympathy with the first of these purposes and recommends to our affiliated organizations co-operation with others in this movement to keep the Navy efficient.
We advocate this the more enthusiastically because the American Navy has earned the gratitude of civilization by the conspicuous part it played at the Washington conference which launched the epoch making movement to emancipate the world from the curse of competitive armaments. At the same time, we cannot support any attempt under present world conditions in direct contradiction of the spirit of the Washington conference and in the face of our estimated deficit for 1923 of $672,000,000, to add to our already disproportionate military expenditures”
The Navy of the 1920’s did continue to shrink and it took the ingenuity of many officers and sailors to continue the improvements that would lead to a stronger force when the time came. Submarines, aircraft and new ship types were all part of the efforts which lead helped the Navy to quickly adapt to the changes wrought by the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.
Navy Day lasted from 1922 to 1947 when another group of civilians with good intention but very little vision for the future finally killed it. But they could not kill the American spirit or the spirit of a strong and powerful Navy in the hearts and minds of many Americans.