October 27, 1922 was the very first Navy Day in the United States 1

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.

Why 1922?

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.

Happy Birthday President Roosevelt and Happy Navy Day to all of those who care about freedom.

Mister Mac

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