Class History: 1942
'42 at Sixty
Jerry Miller, USNA '42
The members of the Naval Academy Class of 1942 recently held their sixtieth reunion, celebrating their accelerated graduation on 19 December 1941, just twelve days after Pearl Harbor. The reunion was an occasion to review the accomplishments of the Class over a period of sixty years - to conduct an audit and evaluate the contributions to society of a small fraternity of men during their adult lives. That audit can serve as a report card on the Academy's performance while providing to current midshipmen and young officers, a glimpse of what they may expect in the future.
The members of the Class of '42 like to think that they have been quite unified as a team. Although there have been many impressive individual accomplishments, there have been no great shining stars: no Chiefs of Naval Operations, no Presidents of the United States, no ambassadors or key cabinet officials. The Class is simply a collection of solid individuals who came to the Academy with an intense desire to be career naval officers. Early on they started to congeal as a class - a unit of young men who were, for the most part, more concerned about the team than the individual. In discussions of why that congealing started so early, some reason that it was the political leadership of the Class that served while at the Academy and in subsequent years. Those members elected to leadership roles always seemed to be interested in the Class first, not the enhancement of their individual reputations. Or maybe it was the impending War - the gradual realization by members that they would undoubtedly be involved in combat sometime after graduation. The Class was serious during the days at the Academy and served as good examples to junior classes, becoming known after their departure as the "Pearl Harbor Class".
'42 has approached the affairs of the alumni in the same cohesive manner - setting high standards for all activities. Observe three of the stained glass windows in the Chapel or the classy Vermont marble globe and benches on the north side of Alumni Hall. Or check out the Midway Memorial between Bancroft and Dahlgren Halls. The Battle of Midway figures significantly in the interests of '42. The Class believes that it had more members participating in that battle than any other Naval Academy Class. Further, the Class has been a spearhead in creating the annual Midway Memorial Dinners throughout the country and having the Chief of Naval Operations recognize those events as official memorials. Finally, there is the Midway Essay Contest for midshipmen, funded for the next one hundred years, with suitable recognition and prizes for the winners. All of these events have been initiated and funded by the Class as a whole. A Class with class has been the objective.
If there was any particularly outstanding star in the Class of 1942, it was Joe Hunt. He arrived at the Academy in 1938 as a member of the Davis Cup tennis team. It was impossible for him to complete a plebe summer at the Academy and still travel to practice with the Team. So the Team came to Annapolis. The regiment was treated to some fine tennis that summer. Joe became the intercollegiate champ in 1941. Then came World War II. Between assignments to destroyers during 1943, Joe went to Forest Hills, defeated Jack Kramer, became the U.S. Open Champion and ranked number one in the world. Then it was back to the War. In 1945, Joe received his wings as an aviator, but was killed in an operational accident shortly before the War ended.
One of Hunt's admirable qualities was his attitude about tennis. It truly was a "game" to him, not a career. There were other more significant aspects of life that he valued, including the Navy. Comparing his attitude and approach to the game with that of some of the more recent champions, you can't help but recognize that not only did he have great athletic ability (he was also a member of the varsity football team) but also a sense of balance about life that was commendable. His loss in an aviation accident, one of many for '42, prohibited his further contributions to the sporting world. Commemoration of his tennis accomplishments is visible today in the Joe Hunt Room of the Academy's tennis facility.
Of the 742 who started with the Class in the summer of 1938, a total of 564 graduated. About one half of those are still alive, despite the fact that all are now octogenarians and many were involved in combat. Almost one hundred attended the recent sixtieth reunion, despite the disruption to travel caused by the catastrophes of 11 September 2001. The Class has always included anyone in its activities who entered in 1938, regardless of whether or not they graduated or were commissioned. And they exert special effort to include all widows of classmates. Unity has been their guiding principle.
In general, the sixty years since graduation can be divided into two phases - thirty years of active duty and then thirty years in a civilian capacity. For most of that second thirty years, many were gainfully employed, taking a second retirement at age seventy, with some continuing on in their professional endeavors.
There were no great academic standouts while '42 was at the Academy. Some did better than others but there were no Rhodes Scholars. Individual academic performance was not highlighted. The Class and combat were the focus of attention. In athletics, Navy was able to beat Army in football for all three of the years that '42 was eligible to compete. That added a certain luster to the Class reputation. '42 also had an abundance of good swimmers and several records remained for many years until surpassed by subsequent grads. Boxing was a varsity sport and the heavy weight boxer from '42 was unbeaten during his many bouts. There was one All American on the lacrosse team,
One of the first leadership actions performed by '42 after graduation was the breaking of the no marriage barrier that was imposed at the time. Regulations required that newly commissioned officers wait for two years after graduation before getting married. With '42's graduation on 19 December, one young couple took the lead and married in Annapolis the next day. That action broke the barrier and by the spring of 1942, regulations were officially changed. Many who had the opportunity, tied the nuptial knot immediately. Others had to await a return to the States, which in many instances was a year or more.
No one went directly to graduate school after graduation, for the rules at the time required all to spend some time at sea before embarking on more academics. Almost without exception, those that graduated went immediately to sea "to fight the fleet", the mission for which they had been trained. A small group whose ships were sunk at Pearl Harbor were ordered to MIT for a short course on radar. In about five months, those officers reported to the fleet as experts in this new device that would do so much in the detection and destruction of targets. From that group came some leaders in the business of detecting and tracking objects in space. One in particular became a high level official in the space program and remained active almost to the day of his death when he was past 75 years of age.
The initial sea duty assignments for almost all of '42 were in ordnance and gunnery. The Naval Academy seemed to emphasize the warrior ethos of hitting a target and Academy graduates spent much of their wartime experience shooting at targets, often getting hits. All of the surface ship engagements in the early days of the War found members of '42 in the thick of the combat. The first Navy Cross came to one who was manning an anti-aircraft battery on the USS Enterprise. During one attack on the ship, some powder bags caught on fire. As many evacuated the area anticipating an explosion, '42 calmly threw burning bags of powder over the side, action for which he was suitably commended.
Several found themselves in the water following the sinking of their ships. The loss of the USS Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea caused a couple to take an unscheduled swim call in order to survive, returning for more combat in other ships later on. One of the MIT radar students hurried to Pearl Harbor just in time to board his assigned ship, the USS Yorktown. Five days later he was in the water, along with a couple of other classmates, as the ship was sunk during the Battle of Midway. He went on in the technical world, eventually being pegged by the Secretary of the Navy to become Hyman Rickover's relief. However, Rickover used his clout with the Congress and prevented anyone from taking over his duties. The classmate continued in the nuclear energy business, serving the government for many years in several key roles as he moved into the seventy age group.
The first death of '42 in World War II occurred in February 1942 when the USS Jacob Jones was sunk by torpedo attack off the coast of New Jersey. Injuries to members of '42 during the War were few but spectacular. One member was serving in the USS Wasp (CV-7) as it supported the campaign at Guadalcanal. On 15 September 1942, he was manning a 20-millimeter gun battery in the starboard catwalk just off the flight deck when three Japanese torpedoes hit the ship, close to his battle station. It was about sixty feet from his location up to the bridge of the ship where he was blown by the explosion from the torpedoes. He regained consciousness about ten days later in a shore based hospital having sustained severe head injuries, brain damage, a broken back, and three breaks in one leg. About one year later, he returned to the Pacific campaign in a new destroyer, once again in the fight.
Another injury case occurred in the fall of 1944 during a battle in Philippine waters. The cruiser USS Birmingham was attempting to save the badly damaged carrier USS Princeton. One member of '42 was the officer of the deck (OOD) and had the cruiser "hull to hull" alongside the carrier. During the harrowing experience, the after magazines in the carrier exploded, killing over two hundred of the crew in the cruiser and more in the carrier. A piece of shrapnel entered the OOD's throat and came out the side of his face, forcing many surgeries and lengthy rehab. During his recovery, he became a serious student of the communist threat, eventually becoming one of the leaders of our intelligence community during the Cold War.
Many of '42 entered the submarine service, not all by the normal route. At the time of Pearl Harbor, Navy regulations required that USNA graduates entering the submarine or aviation service, had to first serve at least two years at sea in a surface ship of the line. However, the submarine community had an emergency need for more officers. Some of '42 who reported to Hawaii to man battleships, found their ships on the bottom of the bay at Ford Island. They were given an opportunity to join the submarine service and several did, manning submarines without benefit of special schooling. Others joined through the regular channels as the two-year sea duty restriction was removed. One member served on the famed USS Barb during several of its fantastic patrols under the command of Medal of Honor winner, Gene Fluckey, USNA '35. While 28 members of '42 were killed in surface ship combat, 20 were lost in submarines, two receiving posthumous awards of the Navy Cross. Included in the losses was the number one man in the Class and another who had been the regimental commander for one term. War is serious business.
Following WW II, a trio of '42 submariners went on to be leaders in the emerging nuclear powered submarine ballistic missile force that began deployments in 1961. They commanded the first three Polaris submarines, the USS George Washington, the USS Patrick Henry, and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the forerunners of the modern day Trident force of invulnerable nuclear weapons capability.
Naval aviation was not kind to '42. The first obstacle was getting into a cockpit. While the sea duty restriction for submarine candidates was relaxed, the Navy prohibited aviation candidates from even applying for such duty until two years after graduation. Even then, some commanding officers would not release these officers to go to flight training, claiming that they were necessary for the combat readiness of their ships. It was no secret that the "gun club" philosophy of the battleship Navy ran deep. Despite the successes of naval aviation during the early phases of the War, aviation was still considered by many leaders to be a "mess of potage", a waste of good talent that should more properly be involved with ordnance and gunnery.
Adding to the reluctance to allow '42 to attend flight training was the treatment received upon reporting for such training. By the middle of 1944, the Navy realized that it probably had more pilots than would be needed to finish the War. So a "purge" was started, rapidly weeding out students. '42 suffered in that purge with some spending as little as two weeks in the program before being washed out and ordered back to sea. It was such a sad incident that the commanding officer of the base was disciplined. Those who suffered from the purge were invited back to start over and some accepted the offer. But generally, by the time the second chance came around, most had moved on to other aspects of their careers. The sting from that treatment has not completely disappeared.
At least two members of '42 managed to slip through the net and completed flight training in time to join with the carriers in the Pacific and participate in aerial combat. On 10 August 1945, during one of the last raids on Honshu, Bill Peterson was killed. Among his several exploits, he had managed to destroy one Japanese airplane. The second member of '42 to gain early access to flying was the former regimental commander, George "Bee" Weems, the head "striper" of the Class. While participating in aerial combat near the end of the War, he shot down four Japanese planes in about twenty minutes during one flight. His exploits were of great interest to his classmates still undergoing training and he kept them informed by mail of the lessons he was learning. Weems survived the War and went on to test pilot duty at Patuxent, Maryland where on 17 January 1951, he was killed in a freak accident involving a floatplane in which he was not even the pilot. So '42 had no survivors with carrier combat experience in World War II, but as a Class, they achieved "ace" status of five kills by combining the scores of Peterson and Weems.
The Korean War provided an opportunity for '42 to participate in aviation combat. About a dozen commanded propeller and early jet squadrons. There were at least four crash landings in the water by members of '42, two of them by the same pilot. Those in jets were among the leaders contributing to the transition that had to take place with this new form of aircraft. One member of '42 experienced one of the first ejections from a jet at high altitude and high speed. In those days, almost all aspects of the ejection process were performed manually. Since this particular ejection was very successful, the reported accounts of the process contributed to improvement in subsequent ejection equipment and procedures. Although the Class suffered only a couple of combat losses in aviation, 24 were lost in operational aviation accidents between 1945 and 1957, approximating the number of submariners and surface warfare officers lost in World War II.
Following the Korean War, one member of '42 was assigned to the Bureau of Personnel. He could spell digital. Four years later, the Navy was a leader in the nation in the construction of manpower data bases, thereby permitting a better assignment of commissioned officers and for the first time in the history of the Navy, centralizing and personalizing the assignment of enlisted personnel.
Some of the "hest and brightest" in aviation were ordered into the nuclear weapons delivery program. Although the Korean War required considerable attention and resources, there was no question that the nation's focus at the time was on Central Europe and the development of a realistic and overwhelming capability to deliver nuclear weapons. The Navy was intimately involved. Some members of '42 were part of the struggle to attain that nuclear weapons capability. spending as long as ten years in the program. One in particular served in a key leadership role in the first squadron of A-3 attack aircraft operating from the new carrier, the USS Forrestal. Another commanded the first FJ4B light attack squadron with a great nuclear weapons delivery capability. Other members of the Class commanded air wings and squadrons, concentrating on delivery and targeting of the weapons. Coupled with their brethren in the Polaris submarine program and members of the other services, a fantastic capability was developed but thankfully never used. '42 may have made some of its greatest contributions in the winning of the Cold War.
During the Vietnam flap, a few members of '42 held key leadership positions, both ashore and afloat. In the Pentagon, some were intimately involved in the leadership of naval aviation. From 1965 until 1976, there was at least one flag officer from '42 occupying one of the four aviation leadership positions on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and for a couple of years, three of the four were members of '42, with one moving on to become the head of naval aviation for almost four years. During that period of time, some great weapons systems were introduced such as: the A7E and A6 carrier attack aircraft, the S3 anti-submarine search aircraft, and the F-14 intercept/strike/fighter, which is still in action. It was also the time when the naval air reserve underwent a major restructuring and '42 received credit for the action. '42 also initiated the action to change the federal law, creating the designation of the Naval Flight Officer (NFO) and opening the door for that group of warriors to command flying units, thereby creating an equal opportunity for such officers to attain the highest rank in the Navy.
It was also a period when some outmoded systems were retired. It marked the demise of the seaplane and the blimp, along with reciprocating engine helicopters. The Pentagon may not be the most pleasant place in the world to work but if you want to make some changes, it is the place to be, and '42 made some changes, not only in the airplanes and associated weapons systems but in aircraft carriers as well. ' 42 had several members who became specialized engineering duty officers and worked on the design, construction and repair of carriers. A '42 innovation was the jet blast deflector, now found behind every catapult in the Navy, designed to deflect the blast from jets during take off.
While '42 made several contributions during their active duty days, members who left active service also added to the reputation of the Class. For example, one specialized in radiology and eventually received significant honors for being the leader in mammography. He published fourteen books on the subject of breast cancer. Another, following doctoral studies at Stanford in physics, eventually resigned his commission, entered the medical professional and became involved in melanoma research. The Marsden S. Blois, Jr. Melanoma Clinic at the University of California (San Francisco) is evidence of his many contributions to this important phase of medical care.
The clergy was attractive to some, with many taking up positions in the lay leadership of their churches. At least three resigned after World War II and entered the clergy, with one still serving as a Monsignor in the Catholic hierarchy. He recently completed a twenty-year tour as the special emissary for the Holy See in China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
Politics did not attract many, although one served as the head of the Staten Island Borough in New York for twelve years. Others gained law degrees, worked on Capitol Hill, or joined prestigious firms. One settled in the South and eventually became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Many entered the academic profession after active duty, with several teaching math and science. At lease one headed up a private school for many years converting it from a military school for boys to a coed school with exceptional academic performance. Others made their marks by coaching. One started a competitive athletic program in a middle school, even obtaining a commercial bus driver's license at age 74 in order to transport athletic teams to competitive events.
Some in '42 became involved in various aspects of foreign affairs, covering many areas of the world. One served as an unofficial advisor to the President of the Dominican Republic, surveying the entire military establishment and submitting a series of recommendations, several of which were implemented. Two members of '42 teamed up to help the same President solve his energy problems when an explosion occurred in the power plant in the city of Santo Domingo. And later on, one member served on a commission of five, over seeing the expenditure of 60 million dollars for improvement of the eastern region of the Dominican Republic. The middle-east found members of '42 in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran. Others were involved in arms control matters, meeting with Soviet delegations concerned with stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Museums became an attraction for some. When you spot the USS Intrepid alongside Pier 86 in New York City, think of '42. Two members of the Class had much to do with getting that ship established as a sea/air/space museum.
There have been several books authored by '42, mostly of the textbook variety. There are at least three on history, one dealing with lacrosse, another with boxing, and a third with nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers, an aspect of history in which '42 figured quite prominently. Perhaps the most impressive of the writers however, is one individual who, since April of 1963, has written the monthly Class News for Shipmate magazine. A collection of his columns provides a great detailed story of a generation of naval officers.
Undoubtedly the greatest contribution of the Class however, has been the production of children. The original class of over 700 has parented literally thousands of children, with those in turn creating many grandchildren. One member, himself one of twelve children, fathered eight. One of those in turn attended the Naval Academy and later became the mother of eight herself. Another member with twelve of his own, has over 65 grandchildren at last count. With all of the accomplishments during three Wars and countless contributions in many fields of endeavor, the bottom line is still the offspring - the children - outstanding individuals to carry on in a civilized society. '42, along with all Naval Academy classes, has done its share for our nation, always with pride in their attendance at the naval school on the Severn and membership in a great fraternity.
Jerry Miller's first book titled Nuclear Weapons and Aircraft Carriers: How The Bomb Saved Naval Aviation, was recently published by the Smithsonian Institution Press. A second book, tentatively titled Stockpile: The Story Behind 10,000 Nuclear Weapons is under preparation.