Tag Archives: US Navy

What Happened to Standards?

Each source you cite in the paper must appear in your reference list; likewise, each entry in the reference list must be cited in your text. –  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

I have a daughter in 11th grade at Pittsburgh Allderdice. As she was finishing last semester and preparing for finals she was completing a section in American History about slavery, state’s-rights, and the run-up to the Civil War.  Her class had to complete a 15 event timeline project – What (in the student’s opinion) were the most significant events in a 30 or 40 year period that ended with the establishment of the Confederacy?  They had to describe in 1-2 paragraphs what happened and why they felt it was significant.  Do you know what? Even though it was an imaginative and artistic project with visual appeal, they had to cite their sources; they had to assemble a bibliography. Back when I walked to school both ways uphill in the snow, we adhered to the same standard. You cited your work, you informed the reader of where and how you elicited the information (reading, interviews, broadcasts) by which you as the writer were further informing the reader and/or drawing conclusions.

Why the background? I have a problem with the Da Capo Press.  I just finished Honor and Betrayal by Patrick Robinson, published by the De Capo Press. Honor and Betrayal is, as the cover states, “The untold story of the Navy SEALs who captured the “Butcher of Fallujah”- and the shameful ordeal they later endured.”

On March 31, 2004, four American contractors employed by Blackwater Security Consulting were ambushed and killed; their bodies brutalized, burned and then dragged through Fallujah before being hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.  In 2009 the United States caught up with the major leader of the insurgency in Fallujah – Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi – the same man who organized the assault and desecration of the ambushed Blackwater staff. Al-Isawi is considered responsible for several thousand deaths in Anbar province, almost all of them Iraqi.  In a nighttime raid beautifully retold in the book, the SEALS arrested al-Isawi and brought him back to Camp Schwedler just outside of Fallujah.

Within three days, three of the SEALs who’d participated in the capture and arrest of al-Isawi were accused of assaulting and injuring him while in captivity.  What then ensues is a seven month ordeal that culminates in three Courts Martial, requested by the defendants as the their only option to actually prove their innocence and clear their names.  Ultimately all three, after two trials in Iraq and one in Virginia, were found innocent of all charges.  There is even a Pittsburgh connection. One of the primary Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General) officers representing the SEALs was Lt. Guy Reschenthaler who grew up here, graduated from Law School at Duquesne, and is today the District Judge in Jefferson Hills. There were even the obligatory (and inaccurate) Steeler references made in the book.

My problem with this intriguing 356 page story, one worthy of knowing, is that there isn’t one single footnote, reference, or page of bibliography.  From even the most rudimentary non-fiction perspective, this might as well be Harry Potter or Moby Dick.  Patrick Robinson is a prolific author of fiction work, mostly naval based techno-thrillers. He’s actually a good writer; his stories are pretty compelling and aren’t as techno-geek centric as even Tom Clancy became.  But I’m not sure that he (or his agent, editor, whomever) should have let this work be written to the same standards.  It’s unfortunate, because while Honor and Betrayal is a compelling and even an important read, it can’t be used as an historic work, at least by juniors at Pittsburgh Allderdice.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill!”

Photo of battleship USS West Virginia under attack

USS West Virginia, Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941

Tomorrow marks the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. The next day President Roosevelt asked for, and received from congress a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan.  On December 11th, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. America had become an official combatant in World War II.

As a military maneuver the Japanese attack was an almost perfectly executed assault of torpedo and bombing attacks on the anchored US Pacific Fleet, in concert with bombing and strafing attacks on nearby Army and Marine airfields, barracks, and related facilities.  American efforts at guessing Japanese intentions and assuming a competent defensive posture were ineffective, and in the case of the Army Air Corps. counterproductive.  Thinking that local sabotage was a greater threat than an “enemy” attack, instead of being dispersed, aircraft were lined up wingtip to wingtip so they could be guarded more effectively.  It also made them sitting ducks.  Not everything went the Japanese way. Their desired primary targets, the aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga weren’t in port, and the Japanese didn’t damage the submarine fleet or the 4.5 million barrels of bunker oil on hand, needed to keep the fleet at sea. Had the Japanese destroyed that reserve, what was left of the fleet might have had to relocate to the West Coast from Pearl, endangering both Hawaii and our lines of communication to Australia and New Zealand.

What did the Japanese accomplish?

  • 2,402 sailors, soldiers and Marines killed (1,177 from the USS Arizona)
  • 1,247 wounded
  • Four battleships sunk of which two were re-floated, refurbished and returned to service.
  • Three battleships damaged, 1 battleship grounded. all returned to service
  • 2 other ships sunk
  • 3 cruisers damaged
  • 3 destroyers damaged
  • 3 other ships damaged
  • 188 aircraft destroyed
  • 159 aircraft damaged

More significantly, the Japanese united a nation split on whether the then two-year old war with the axis was “our” war or not. Between December 7th and December 8th, the America First movement and isolationist sentiment ceased to have a place at the table of public policy.  What the Japanese did was seen as treacherous and sneaky, without honor – because at the moment of the attack, they were supposedly negotiating in good faith in Washington.  Since they couldn’t decode and type fast enough, the Japanese emissaries – ignorant of the military plans in motion – failed to break off negotiations and deliver a declaration of war before the attack on Hawaii commenced.   Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, planner and commander of the attack, a former Naval Attache to the US and Harvard student knew that offending the Americans sense of fair play was perhaps worse than the actual damage caused.  Said he:

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

The story of Pearl Harbor has of course generated historical accounts, memoirs, assessments, literature, fictional accounts and movies.  Wherever your tastes and curiosities lie, it’s worth remembering that there are fewer than 3,000 Pearl Harbor survivors alive today, and the youngest would likely be 88 years old (assuming he lied about his age and was 16 in 1941.)


infamy Day of Infamy / Walter Lord

One of the first, and still one of the best historical overviews of the day (along the lines of Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day) written for the casual reader.  It’s well written and well researched (for the period it was written in,) though newer research has dated it somewhat.

dawnAt Dawn We Slept / Gordon W. Prange

Through extensive research and interviews with American and Japanese leaders, Gordon Prange has written what is widely regarded as the definitive assessment of the events surrounding the attack on pearl Harbor, and providing first-hand accounts and recollections from both viewpoints.


Pearl Harbor : FDR leads the nation into war / Steven M. Gillon

Historian Steven Gillon provides a vivid, revealing, minute-by-minute account of Roosevelt’s skillful leadership after Pearl Harbor; perhaps the most pivotal event of the twentieth century. Remaining steady and sure-minded, Roosevelt transformed a grave and potentially demoralizing attack into an occasion for national unity and patriotic fervor.

Fiction & Alternative History:

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th / Newt Gingrich & William Forstchengingrich

Gingrich and Forstchen provide a detailed account of the background and personalities leading up to the Japanese decision to attack the US.  Then they add the what-if scenarios that subtly change what happens as the Japanese follow their successful attack on the fleet with the additional waves to render the Pacific Fleet wholly ineffective, and Hawaii untenable as an anchorage.

Days of Infamy / Harry Turtledoveinfamyturtle

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In a well written of the type he excels at creating, Turtledove explores the logical “it could have happened scenario”, what if the Japanese followed up their air attack with an invasion and occupation of Hawaii?

From Here to Eternity / James Jonesfrom here

It’s December, 1941 at Schofield Barracks, just north of Pearl Harbor. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a bugler in the US Army. He’s transferred to an infantry unit whose commander is less interested in preparing for war than he is in boxing. But when Prewitt refuses to join the company team, the commander and his sergeant decide to make the bugler’s life hell.

The Cinema:


Tora Tora Tora (1970)

Highly innovative grand and epic film that looks at the preparations for, and the attack itself through the eyes of both the Japanese and American participants, both high and low. From Admirals Yamamoto and Kimmel to Privates Lockard and Elliot (radar operators with no one to warn,) The inevitable unfolds.  Without a doubt the best feature film about Pearl Harbor. Featuring Martin Balsam,  E.G. Marshall, Jason Robards, Takahiro Tamura, James Whitmore, and Sô Yamamura.

from heremovie

From Here to Eternity (1953)

A fantastic ensemble cast featuring some of Hollywood’s best actors as they’re starting out.  The film is faithful to the novel, capturing the rigidity, frustration and tempo of peacetime barracks’ routine and the seedy allure of Honolulu.  Featuring Ernest Borgnine, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra.

affleckpearlPearl Harbor (2001)

Great special effects minimally redeem a love story of brotherly sacrifice that plays footloose with history and made me cringe, though the misdated Battle of Britain scenes were great.  If you’re a connoisseur of long “B” movies, then maybe it’s worth your while.  Features Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Hartnett, Jon Voight as Pres. Roosevelt.  

– Richard


Filed under Uncategorized

Heroes and Politicians


Sometime during election week we watched an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show; Rob, Laura, Mel, Sally, and Buddy. Whatever the episode was, there was a stand-up comic moment where the target was none other than the President – John F. Kennedy. My 15 year old was shocked; how do you make blatant fun of a murdered icon? When we explained the episode was (in this case) from early 1963, she felt better. As we were talking about JFK, I was reminded again about the magnitude of his historic / cultural footprint. I vaguely remember the assassination, mostly because it disrupted everyone and everything around me.

John Kennedy is undeniably one of the most intriguing Americans of the 20th Century. The stories and myths are well-known and still fascinating us 48 years after his death. My misgiving is that for too many this is the sum of knowledge about President Kennedy; he was married to Jackie, he was killed in Dallas, and at the very least Marilyn Monroe sang him an over-the-top seductive rendition of Happy Birthday to You. How many of you know that he was a pretty brave man and at least in my view, a legitimate hero?

More aware than most and for whatever other motivations, Kennedy enlisted in the US Navy in September, 1941 after being turned down by the army for a bad back.

US Navy PT boats

Photo courtesy of US Navy

Commissioned a Lieutenant, Kennedy was assigned to a PT (Patrol Torpedo) Boat squadron in the Panama Canal Zone in December 1942 as Commanding Officer of PT-101. Two months later he was able to arrange a transfer to a PT Boat Squadron based at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. On April 14, 1943 Lieutenant j.g. (junior grade) John F. Kennedy assumed command of PT-109.  Between the middle of April and August, PT-109 and the other boats went out on almost nightly patrols/raids to reconnoiter and disrupt Japanese shipping and troop movements in Ferguson and Blackett Straits in the Solomons, about 200 miles northwest of Guadalcanal.

John Kennedy and crew of PT-109

John Kennedy and crew of PT-109, 1943
Photo courtesy of US Navy

On the night of August 2, 1943 PT-109 was involved in its final action. Sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 AM while patrolling Blackett Strait at low speed to reduce their chances of being seen, PT-109 was rammed by the Japanese destroyer IJN Amagiri making 40 knots (20-21 mph.) The Japanese continued on without realizing what had happened, leaving Kennedy’s severely crippled boat foundering in its wake. After taking stock of the situation, determining that two of the crew were missing and rounding up the survivors, the eight men began a three mile / five hour swim to Plum Pudding Island, with Kennedy towing a badly burned crew-member  using his teeth. Over the next four days Kennedy and Ensign George H. R. Ross alternated swimming out to try and hail any PT boats operating nearby, swimming to other islands to look for food and water, and moving the entire party to another island to avoid Japanese barge patrols.

Kennedy in cockpit of PT-109

Photo courtesy of US Navy

On August 6th, Kennedy and the crew made contact with a pair of Solomon Islanders – Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana who worked under the auspices of an Australian coastwatcher – Lt. Reginald Evans. Without pen and paper, Kennedy was at a loss as to how to send a message, until Gasa demonstrated how to carve a coconut shell. Lt. Kennedy carved the following message:

POS’IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE

Lt. Evans arranged for Kennedy to be brought to him to finalize rescue plans with US forces, and PT-109’s surviving crew were rescued on August 8th. Lt. John F. Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the PT-109 action. in May 1961 Coastwatcher Evans was a guest of the White House, returning the message coconut to its author, the President of the United States.

Crew of the PT-109

  • Lieutenant j.g John F. Kennedy – Commanding Officer
  • Ensign Leonard J. Thom – Executive Officer
  • Ensign George H. “Barney” Ross – Friend of JFK
  • Raymond Albert – Signalman 1st,
  • Charles A. Harris – Gunner’s Mate 3rd
  • William Johnston – Motor Machinist Mate 2nd
  • Andrew Jackson Kirksey – Torpedoman 2nd. Killed in Action 08/02/43
  • John E. Maguire – Radioman 2nd
  • Harold W. Marney – Motor Machinist Mate 2nd. Killed in Action 08/02/43
  • Edman Edgar Mauer – Quartermaster 3rd
  • Patrick Henry McMahon – Motor Machinist Mate 1st
  • Ray L. Starkey – Torpedoman 2nd
  • Gerald E. Zinser – Motor Machinist Mate 1st

Collision with history : the search for John F. Kennedy‘s PT 109 / Robert D. Ballard

John F. Kennedy and PT-109 / Richard Tregaskis

PT 109 [videorecording] with Cliff Robertson

PT 109 : John F. Kennedy in World War II / Robert J. Donovan

The search for Kennedy‘s PT 109 [videorecording] / National Geographic

– Richard


Filed under Uncategorized