Saturday, November 22, 2014

State of the Navy: New Jersey

Review by Bill Doughty

Every state in the Union has some tie to the Navy. New Jersey's connections include people like George Washington, Adm. "Bull" Halsey, Cmdr. Joy Bright Hancock, Ruth Cheney Streeter and Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sergeant John Basilone and places like Asbury Park, Camden, Princeton and Naval Air Station Wildwood.

Henry Schnakenberg's "Indians Trading with Half Moon," Fort Lee Post Office.
"New Jersey: A History of the Garden State," edited by Maxine N. Lurie and Richard Veit (Rutgers University Press, 2012), is a history of the Garden State beginning with a "12,000-year odyssey" of archeology and discussion about the Delaware or "Lenni Lenape" Native Americans of the region.

Populated by the Dutch, Swedes, English and other Europeans, New Jersey has always been in the shadow of its neighbor colonies/states New York and Pennsylvania. Overlooked, according to the authors, is the state's diversity and complexity, even early on as immigrants first arrived. "The 'Dutch' themselves were of many nationalities, including French, Walloon, Scandinavian, Pole, Hungarian, Italian, German, and Finnish."

Emanuel Leutze's depiction of Washington crossing the Delaware, 1851.

A chapter by John Fea, "Revolution and Confederation Period," gives a succinct history of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War, including the pivotal year 1776. The British Navy attacked Gen. George Washington's Army in the northern part of the state. Washington's forces used the littorals – Delaware and Hudson rivers – and fought against British troops at Staten Island and Sandy Hook.

The Revolutionary War sparked support for abolition of slavery, especially in Monmouth County after the Battle of Trenton, according to Fea. 

In the Wake of the Continental Congress, New Jersey feared domination by larger states but eventually signed the Articles of Confederation 236 years ago, November 20, 1778.
"Some of the more thoughtful of New Jersey's citizens wondered how the new Confederation would foster a sense of national unity and common purpose. An unstable economy and an increase in popular participation in government was a recipe for individuals to place self-interest over the public good. Many of these observers knew that in order for a republic to survive, the people needed to be willing to sacrifice their own interests for the success of the republic whenever the two came into conflict. Calls for virtue were quite common in the 1770s and 1780s. In an August 7, 1776 address to the citizens of Cumberland county, Jonathan Elmer told his audience that a 'new era in politics had commenced.' The American Revolution would be successful in the long run only if the people were 'actuated by principles of virtue and genuine patriotism' and would agree to 'make the welfare of our country the sole aim of all our actions.'"
Other authors walk us through American history milestones as experienced in New Jersey, including women's suffrage and other civil rights, Civil War, the Industrial Revolution (and Thomas Edison's role), the Progressive Era and Great Depression and War. Like the rest of the nation, New Jersey was torn between isolationism and the need to prevent Hitler's violent subsumption of Europe.
"Despite America's worsening relations with Germany and Japan, New Jersey residents were stunned when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Fears of sabotage led state and federal authorities to take measures to protect key facilities and transportation centers throughout New Jersey. Army soldiers, members of the recently organized state guard, and state police troopers guarded key bridges, tunnels, and other vital facilities. An elaborate civil defense network staffed by thousands of volunteer air raid wardens prepared for possible attack from enemy bombers. Residents were urged to cover windows and municipalities initiated blackout drills. To prevent the landing of saboteurs, the United States Coast Guard instituted foot patrols of the Jersey coastline."
F4U-1A Corsair of VBF-4 at NAS Wildwood 1945.
German submarines patrolled off the coast, according to G. Kurt Piehler, who reveals the strong connections between the Garden State and the Navy, Marine Corps and other services:  Fort Hancock and Cape May were set up as locations for artillery batteries, Atlantic City and Asbury Park hotels were converted into barracks and later as hospitals for wounded warriors, and Naval Air Station Wildwood and Millville Army Airfield in South Jersey were used to train pilots. 

Camden was a center for industrial support to the military. New York Ship Building in Camden built 29 major capital ships including air craft carriers, battleships and cruisers. [Although built in Philadelphia, the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) would become the flagship for Adm. Halsey in 1944.] Campbell Soup, headquartered in Camden, produced millions of ready-to-eat meals. In Paterson, Curtiss-Wright Corporation manufactured nearly 140,000 airplane engines. Labor surged, housing was built, and citizens stepped up to support the war effort both indirectly and directly:
GySgt. Basilone by C.C. Beall

"More than 560,500 men and women from New Jersey served in all branches of the armed forces and virtually every corner of the world. Of those who served, 13,000 were killed and an even higher number wounded. Navy Admiral William F. Halsey was perhaps the most prominent senior commander with ties to New Jersey, and he scored an impressive number of victories in the Pacific against Japanese naval forces. Seventeen residents won the Medal of Honor. The most famous was Marine Sergeant John Basilone of Rariton, who earned the award for gallantry while fighting the Japanese at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. Like other war heroes, Basilone was brought home to aid the war effort by touring the country and urging Americans to buy war bonds. More than 30,000 people turned out for one rally at Doris Duke's estate in Somerville. At his own request, Basilone was reassigned to the combat ranks and later killed during costly assaults agains the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima in February 1945. In contrast to earlier wars, women served in the armed services in unprecedented numbers – more than 10,000 enlisted from New Jersey. Ruth Cheney Streeter of Morristown served as head of the U.S. Marine Corps Women Reserves, and Joy Bright Hancock of Wildwood rose to the rank of commander in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and played an instrumental role in convincing the Navy to train women in aircraft maintenance and other technical positions."
Piehler shows how World War II transformed society in New Jersey thanks to industrialization and the effects of the GI Bill. "Ideologically, the war fostered important shifts in attitudes toward race and ethnicity. Supporters of American intervention prior to Pearl Harbor argued that the United States must enter the conflict in order to preserve human rights."  FDR's "four freedoms" speech in 1941 – universal rights to freedom of/from religion, speech, want and fear – helped ignite protests against discrimination and segregation.
"Pressure on the Roosevelt administration forced the Marine Corps to accept African Americans in its ranks for the first time, pushed the Navy to commission the first group of black officers, and led to the eventual desegregation of officer training in all branches of the armed forces. The latter reform had important implications for Princeton University. During the war years there emerged an intense debate among students, faculty and administrators over the wisdom of continuing to bar African Americans from the undergraduate student body. In 1945 the Navy forced Princeton to admit four black students sent there under the Navy V-12 Program, and one of them became the first African American to earn a B.A. from this Ivy League institution. In 1945 New Jersey was the second state, after New York, to pass a statewide fair employment act barring discrimination by employers on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion."
Readers interested in post-WWII contemporary history of the state may be hungry to learn more about the state in the decades since, though the book does go into some detail about the suburbanization of the state and the ongoing effects of immigration.

Other states can claim more ties to the Navy and naval history, no doubt. California, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida and Hawaii come to mind. But this book shows connections between New Jersey and the Navy from the beginning of the nation's history and during the most pivotal international event for America in the 20th century, World War II.

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