By Sam Cox, Rear Adm., U.S. Navy (Retired)
Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
While visiting the USS Houston’ s survivors association earlier this spring for a speaking engagement, I took time to visit USS Texas (BB 35) as an opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing Historic Ships, and what could be done to improve their efforts to help inform public understanding of naval contributions to our nation’s security. While there, I took the time to replicate a treasured father-son moment on board Texas in 1965…which was an influential factor in a lifelong love of naval history and my decision to make a career in the Navy.
It’s my honor and pleasure to lead the organization charged by the Navy to capture and share our proud history and rich heritage. Between the work of the people on my staff and our network of nine museums, I believe we’re doing a lot to illustrate for our Sailors, their leaders and the American public that the history of the Navy is the history of our nation, and with good reason. As today’s Navy navigates new and sometimes perilous waters, our history often provides essential context to make the journey less hazardous.
But we can’t do it alone, and thankfully we don’t. In addition to our staff and Navy museums, there is, across the nation, a number of other museums who have taken it upon themselves to share our Navy’s proud history. Many are located in places where there is no fleet representation and often are the only organizations in their areas bearing the Navy’s standard. I look forward to getting to know them as I continue to move forward in my term as Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Similarly there is also a national network of historic Navy ships that bear witness to the Navy of yesterday and stand as proud reminders that freedom is not free and often exacts a high cost. Many are also shining reminders of some our nation’s greatest moments.
Arguably one of the most masterful joint military operations in the history of the planet was the D-Day landings in France that spelled the beginning of the end for Nazi oppression on the European continent. Among the ships off those beaches that day was a mighty American battleship, USS Texas.
21 years later, in 1965, just outside of Houston, at the San Jacinto battlefield, I first heard the story and walked the decks of USS Texas. That visit with my dad made a lasting impression on me and is likely the event that set me on course for a life in the Navy.
Texas is only one ship, with its own stories – and they all have stories. And their tales of courage and sacrifice and daring are humbling.
It was on this date in 1944, after the troops of D-Day had moved far inland out from under the range of her massive 14″ guns, that the ship took up position with Arkansas and Nevada off the coast of Cherbourg. Texas and Arkansas were charged with taking out Battery Hamburg, which consisted of four 240 mm guns.
For three hours, Texas and Arkansas pounded the battery, which gave as good as it got. One German shell exploded upon hitting the main support column of the navigation bridge after skimming across the conning tower and shearing off the fire control periscope. The explosion killed one and wounded 10 others. The artillerymen continued sending two-gun salvos, taking out one gun 24 minutes later.
The second shell to hit the ship would have been devastating had it exploded. Instead, it ended up in the officer sleeping quarters, but failed to detonate. That shell, disarmed by a Navy bomb disposal officer, can be seen on the ship today and serves as a reminder of the countless acts of unbelievable courage that are the hallmark of America’s Sailors, yesterday and today.
I believe a case can be made that as invaluable as Texas was in commissioned service to her nation, she, like all of America’s Navy museums and historic naval ships, continues to serve in as important a capacity: as lasting reminders of the importance of the U.S. Navy to our national security and the remarkable men and women who have, for nearly 240 years, served our nation in Navy blue with honor, courage, and commitment.
There’s probably one near you, see the complete list here. Maybe I’ll see you there!