Washington, DC - The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) hosted a lecture on "Social Change in the Modern U.S. Navy," at the National Museum of the United States Navy Aug. 17 as part of the "Needs and Opportunities in the Modern History of the United States Navy" lecture series.
The lecture featured Edward J. Marolda, Ph.D., an adjunct professor at Georgetown University who completed a 40-year career in the U.S. federal government in 2008. Marolda recently completed an essay reviewing social history books written about the modern U.S. Navy published after 1945.
Focusing on social change in the U.S. Navy in the 20th century, Marolda spoke about the military service experience of women and minorities. According to Marolda, World War II brought their service into the public eye.
"At the end of World War II, Americans were much more aware of the contributions of African Americans in combat in support of the war... much more aware of the WAVES - Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service," Marolda said. "Americans knew about the great contribution of Dorie Miller, a black Sailor who received the Navy Cross for his exploits at Pearl Harbor, and about the Japanese-American 442 I Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated Army unit in World War II, [which was made up of] Japanese-Americans."
Marolda continued, discussing the impact of Executive Order 9981, issued by President Truman in 1946, which mandated a policy of "equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."
Marolda argued that during the next few decades, the civil and women's rights movements, racial unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the end of the draft in 1973 all affected social change within the Navy. He placed particular emphasis on the role of Adm. Elmo Zumwalt as a catalyst for change and a champion for equal opportunity for minorities and women in the Navy.
NHHC historians John Sherwood, Ph.D., and Frank Blazich, Ph.D., also spoke on the topic at the lecture.
"Unquestionably, the Navy has come a long way since 1945 to develop a force more representative of the society and nation it is sworn to preserve and protect," Blazich said. "There are some quality studies available, including several written by the historians of this command. Much work, however, remains to be done."
Both Blazich and Marolda called for a more comprehensive social history of the post-World War II Navy, one that synthesizes the myriad of literature published about women and minorities in the modern Navy. For a more recent study of history, he said it is important to study social media's impact in the Navy.
"How the Navy and its personnel are perceived in the digital realm by individuals of all walks of life will influence the future of the force's recruiting, retention, and public perception," Blazich said.
Sherwood, author of "Black Sailor, White Navy: Racial Unrest in the Fleet during the Vietnam Era," was concerned about historians taking an approach that was too progressive.
Truman's order did not end racial discrimination in the Navy overnight; the plight of black Sailors in the Navy did not improve considerably until Admiral Zumwalt's reforms in the 1970s," Sherwood said.
The last lecture of the series will focus on U.S. naval operational history in relation to mine warfare and will be held at the National Museum of the United States Navy on the Washington Navy Yard at noon, Aug. 31. It will be presented by Scott Truver, Ph.D., co-author of "Weapons that Wait: Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy." For help with accessing the museum, call (202) 781-0976.
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NHHC, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.