Saturday, May 9, 2015

VE Day: Leaders lay wreaths at Cenotaph on 70th anniversary of peace in Europe

It was the day that sounds of gunfire gave way to cheers and church bells across a continent. Exactly 70 years later, political leaders laid down their differences, and their wreaths, to join veterans in two minutes of silence to mark the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
In central London, artillery from nearby Wellington Barracks echoed down Whitehall at 3pm to signal the start of the silence, broken in front of the Cenotaph only by a spectator’s mobile phone. Its ringtone: The Dam Busters March.
After a rendition of the Last Post, the Duke of York led the laying of wreaths, followed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, who stood shoulder to shoulder – perhaps for the last time.
Randolph Churchill, great-grandson of Winston Churchill, then read an extract from the former prime minister’s speech on 8 May 1945. The words, which had announced Germany’s surrender, triggered celebrations across Britain and Europe.

“I was at school and remember we had a huge bonfire on our street,” said Sheila Hastings, 79, who had travelled from New Zealand, where she moved from Mitcham in South London in 1958. “There wasn’t a street party because there wasn’t enough food but the fire was so big we burned a hole in the middle of our road.”
At 9.30pm, the Queen was due to light a beacon at Windsor Castle, 70 years after she left Buckingham Palace to dance with revellers in the streets of London. Almost 250 beacons were due to extend the chain of “flames of peace” to the northern tip of Britain.
Ms Hastings, who accompanied her sister Jacqui Yellen, 74, was three years old when war broke out. As evacuees in Guildford, the children grew up fearing for the wellbeing of a father they never got to know. A soldier in the Royal Ordnance Corps, he fought in North Africa, Italy and Austria.

“We missed him terribly,” Ms Hastings said before the service. “My mother had four children, and she was a woman alone with bombs dropping everywhere.” The family later moved to Bristol, where a bomb blew the roof and windows from their home.
“We have to remember,” she added. “And we have to remember that it is still going on. Let’s face it, even worse things are happening now. But this is my thing to remember, that on this day I knew my Dad would come home.”

For some, the memories remained painful after seven decades. One man, who had pinned three tarnished medals to a well-worn uniform, could only say: “My father was..” before he could no longer speak. He turned his eyes towards the Cenotaph to observe the silence.
Derek Smith, 79, had travelled from Forest Hill in South-east London, where a German bomb forced his family out of its home, and killed his grandmother. They retreated to Surrey, before returning in 1942, only to be bombed again.

“We weren’t allowed to come up here to celebrate,” Mr Smith said after the 30-minute service. He was nine on VE Day. “But we had celebrations at home on the bomb sites. We burned all the floorboards. Even then, war was all I had known.”
Mr Smith’s father had been a pilot in the First World War, and was an officer in the Air Transport Auxiliary in the Second. He survived both battles.
As veterans walked and wheeled off Whitehall, waving and exchanging applause with the crowd, Mr Smith, himself a veteran, started to cry. A woman moving through the crowd offered him a carton of orange juice. “Oh dear,” he said after more than a minute, adding: “The war made me appreciate life, my family and my parents, who did so much for me.”

Similar ceremonies were held across Britain. In Cardiff, an air raid siren sounded the beginning and end of the two-minute silence. In Edinburgh, residents recreated a street party, one of the spontaneous outpourings of glee attended by more than a million people in 1945. Later, village halls and public spaces across Britain hosted parties where participants were encouraged to attend in 1940s dress.
Today, churches have been encouraged to ring their bells at 11am. Later, VE Day 70: A Party to Remember, will be the focus of celebrations, as performers including Katherine Jenkins, Alfie Boe and Status Quo give a televised BBC concert at Horse Guards Parade.
Tomorrow, the Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey before a parade of more than 2,000 people processes towards Whitehall, passing under the balcony from which Winston Churchill waved at crowds after his speech.

Found: British WW2 submarine

London - For more than 70 years, the whereabouts of a British submarine which vanished in the Mediterranean during the Second World War has remained a mystery.
But now a 76-year-old scuba diver has discovered its wreck 160ft below the waves off the Libyan coast.
Researchers now believe the Royal Navy submarine sank along with its 29 crew and ten passengers after being dive-bombed by Italian bi-plane.
HMS Urge was paid for by the town of Bridgend, South Wales, after residents raised money by organising dances and whist drives.
It disappeared while sailing from Malta to the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 1942 and families of those on board never knew what happened to their loved ones.
But Belgian diver and dive archaeologist Jean-Pierre Misson discovered the wreck using sonar while diving off Libya at Marsa el Hilal, near Tobruk in 2012. However, as the security situation in the country deteriorated after the downfall of Colonel Gaddafi he had to give up his plans to dive on the site.
He analysed the sonar pictures earlier this year and has finally identified the wreck as HMS Urge from the distinctive shape of Britain’s U-class submarines and corroborating German naval reports from the time.
Mr Mission, who is now helping to trace the family of those who died, said: "I really do not know how the relatives of the captain and crew of HMS Urge will take it – they might have been content knowing their loved ones were somewhere in the huge ocean rather than being too close to fanatics in Libya.
"Mind you, there is no chance the wreck will be the target of any desecration as it is just too deep and difficult to find."
Mr Mission said due to the collapse of law and order in war-torn Libya, it was unlikely anybody else would be able to venture to the wreckage in the coming months.
Mr Misson said: "I regret it does not seem anyone can reach this place in Libya any time soon. Marsa el Hilal is totally out of bounds and at 76 my only hope is to reach HMS Urge in another lifetime."
He added: "My hope is that one day Europe or Nato will organise a visit to the submarine in the bay, to remember and honour all those men as their sacrifice has brought the longtime peace under the European flag."
HMS Urge cost £300 000 in 1941 – more than £12million today – and was built thanks to the townspeople of Bridgend’s efforts during a National Warship Week where cities and towns across the country raised money to fund the building of ships and weapons.
They raised the money through a series of "grand dances", whist drives, art exhibitions and a football match. The people of Bridgend adopted the submarine and its 29 crew after it was completed and regularly sent them parcels of food and luxuries – until they vanished without trace on April 29, 1942.
The submarine had been attacking and sinking Italian shipping from its base in Malta throughout 1941 and 1942 in an attempt to prevent them resupplying their German allies in North Africa – Field Marshal Rommel and his Afrika Korps.
On 27 April 1942 Captain EP Tomkinson, his 29 crew and ten passengers left Malta for their new base in Egypt. They failed to arrive at Alexandria on 6 May 1942. Official sources attributed her loss to a mine outside Malta but another theory based on German naval reports holds that on 29 April HMS Urge attacked the Italian sailing vessel San Giusto off the Libyan coast.
In the immediate area was a convoy of three German barges, escorted by an Italian CR.42 biplane. As the Urge attacked San Giusto, the biplane dive-bombed and sank it with the loss of all hands.
After the discovery of the wreck in the same area as the sinking reported by the German navy it is now believed to be the most likely cause of Urge’s demise.
Mr Misson said he had submitted a statement of identification to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Submariners Associations UK. He added: "I hope I have fulfilled all my obligations to the families of the crew."

Navy to Christen Sixth Joint High Speed Vessel

US Navy 110915-O-ZZ999-002 The Military Sealif...
US Navy 110915-O-ZZ999-002 The Military Sealift Command joint high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) prepares for its Sept. 17 christening cerem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy will christen the future joint high speed vessel USNS Brunswick (JHSV 6) May 9 during a 10 a.m. CDTWASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy will christen the future joint high speed vessel USNS Brunswick (JHSV 6) May 9 during a 10 a.m. CDT ceremony in Mobile, Alabama.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Alma B. "Lee" Booterbaugh will serve as the ship's sponsor.
"We will celebrate the christening of the future USNS Brunswick - a modern marvel - just like the incredible shipyard that built it," said Mabus. "More than 4,000 American craftsmen have made this ship possible and the partnership they have with our uniformed men and women, our Navy civilians, the shipbuilding industry as a whole, and the American people, is one of the great strengths of our system. Throughout its life, as it serves around the world, this ship will represent the American spirit of hard work and patriotism the people of Brunswick exude."
Named for a seaport city located on the southeast coast of Georgia, Brunswick is the fourth ship to bear the name. The first was a lightship [ ] that served in the Navy during World War I. The second Brunswick was a patrol frigate [ ] that escorted convoys across the Atlantic during World War II. The third ship to bear the name was a salvage and rescue tug [ ] that served the U.S. Navy from 1972 to 1996.
The 338 foot-long aluminum catamaran is under construction at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Alabama. Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSVs) are ideal for fast, intra-theater transportation of troops, military vehicles, supplies and equipment. These ships are capable of transporting 600 short tons 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots with berthing space for up to 104 personnel and airline-style seating for up to 312.
JHSVs have a 20,000 square foot open mission deck and a flight deck to support day and night launch and recovery operations, providing U.S. forces added mobility and flexibility. They can operate in a variety of roles to include supporting overseas contingency operations, conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, supporting special operations forces and supporting emerging joint sea-basing concepts.
Upon delivery to the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC), Brunswick will be designated as a United States Naval Ship (USNS), and will have a core crew of 22 civilian mariners with military mission personnel embarking as necessary.
Interested media may contact the Navy Office of Information at 703-697-5342. Information on JHSV is available online at [ ]

The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America’s Most Decorated Hero of World War II

The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America’s Most Decorated Hero of World War II
By David A. Smith
(Regnery History, 241 pages, $27.99)

In time for the 70th anniversary of VE Day Friday (and how many recent grads know this stands for Victory in Europe day?), Regnery Publishing has issued The Price of Valor, by David A. Smith, an examination of and a tribute to Audie Murphy, who contributed greatly to securing that European victory against a totalitarian regime almost too hideous to imagine.
Murphy was a small, and for most of his life, a baby-faced man. He never got north of 5'5". He was from a poor background in rural, Depression-era Texas. After he enlisted in the Army at 17 and finished basic training, officers in the infantry outfits he was assigned to kept trying to send him to the motor pool, or make him a cook, so unpromising a warrior did young Murphy appear to be. But Murphy kept insisting he wanted to stay in the infantry. He wanted to fight, not peel potatoes or change truck tires.
And fight he did. Oh, how he fought. By the time of the first VE Day in 1945, Murphy has been credited with personally killing about 240 German soldiers and visiting more mayhem on the Wehrmacht than most infantry companies. The stories of his exploits — charging multiple enemy machine gunners by himself and destroying the enemy — would be unbelievable were it not that the men in his unit saw him do these things. He won all the awards for bravery the nation bestows, including its highest, the Congressional Medal of Honor. A natural leader as well as a brave soldier, he was awarded a battlefield commission and finished his war as a first lieutenant, a month shy of his 20th birthday.
Murphy, ever humble and unassuming, never wanted to be called a hero. He wasn’t even sure he was especially brave. He always said he was just doing what needed to be done and that he understood the uses of surprise and audacity. For Murphy, the real heroes were the men he got to know who never made it back. And he never forgot them. He was embarrassed by all the hoopla surrounding him when he got home.
Murphy’s life, which ended in a private plane crash in 1971 when he was only 45, had its high points, but more lows than he deserved. He was never a drinker, but became a serious gambler, not so much interested in financial gain, though he was broke for most of his later years, but searching for the excitement he experienced on the battlefield but could never re-create anywhere else. His working life as a Hollywood movie action star, which most would find diverting, never seemed to interest him much.
Murphy was well known after the war ended, as anyone who had been on the cover of Life and had been the subject of countless adulatory news stories would have been. Some of this publicity had been the result of the efforts of Army PR, the rest the natural product of Murphy’s extraordinary military exploits. Some have suggested that Hollywood exploited Murphy. Perhaps a little. His biography may have attracted attention and ticket buyers early on. But he had Hollywood looks, though in a smallish package for a leading man, and had he been a box-office dud he would have been looking for other work in short order.
Murphy got to Hollywood through the efforts of James Cagney, one of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time. Cagney liked Murphy’s looks, invited him to Hollywood, and got him into acting classes. Cagney the producer never found the right role for Murphy in any of Cagney Productions’ flicks. But Paramount gave him a small role in 1948’s Beyond Glory, and Murphy’s movie career began a slow build.
As an actor, Murphy was decidedly mediocre. He was wooden in drama scenes, excelling only in action sequences. His movies are mostly forgettable. Though he appeared in other types of movies, westerns were his niche. He could be believable in a shoot-em-up. As Hollywood moved away from westerns in the sixties, Murphy’s future on the silver screen was in doubt.
Almost certainly Murphy, like countless other combat veterans who saw and did things no one should have to see or do, suffered from what has been variously called shell shock or battle fatigue and is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. For all of his postwar life Murphy was plagued by nightmares about his battle experience, and suffered bouts of depression and paranoia. He always slept with a gun under his pillow and with the light on. David McClure, one of the few friends Murphy made after the war, summed it up this way: “Let us hope that God did forgive him. His battered nervous system never did.”
As author Smith, a history lecturer at Baylor University, says of Murphy, “His story is one of triumph, trauma, and ultimately tragedy.” As were the stories of many brave Americans who, not so decorated as Murphy or not in the public eye as Murphy was because of his film career, returned from the war physically sound but still damaged. Millions of combat veterans returned home to lead successful careers and to raise families with no chronic symptoms from their experiences in battle. They were able to put the war, and their part in it, behind them.
We can never thank veterans in both categories enough for their service, and for the price they paid for performing it. As the war against a monstrous fascism fades ever further into the past, and as more and more of the warriors who fought in it pass on, anniversaries like the one on Friday are good times to consider our debt to those who fought the good fight.
Murphy’s life was exceptional. He was a most singular warrior, and worked in an industry, movie making, that many consider glamorous. But on another level Murphy’s life embodied the times. America’s war years and postwar boom years. But then times began to change before Murphy, who never changed, moved on. How he would have dealt with what was to follow is anyone’s guess. But it probably would not have been pretty. Murphy’s story, and the part of America’s story that it accompanies, caught here in just 177 pages less notes, index, and filmography, repays the reading time.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Map may hold key to lost World War II bones

Tomomi Takemoto, second from left, with four other Japanese visitors to Peleliu Island and a guide, study a 1945 U.S. map and battlefield photos as they search for a lost cemetery believed to hold Japanese soldiers killed in the World War II battle on the island. Takemoto is seeking the grave site of her great uncle, a Japanese soldier killed in the 1944 battle.
© David Cloud/Los Angeles Times/TNS Tomomi Takemoto, second from left, with four other Japanese visitors to Peleliu Island and a guide, study a 1945 U.S. map and battlefield photos as they search for a lost…PELELIU, Palau — Opening her laptop, Tomomi Takemoto studies a 70-year-old map of this claw-shaped island, searching for the burial site of her great-uncle, a Japanese infantryman who was killed in one of the Pacific War's bloodiest battles.
Faint printing shows what the U.S. Navy considered notable after the ferocious fight in the autumn of 1944: the "1,000 Bed Naval Hospital," the "Aviation Bomb Dump" and headquarters of an Army regiment that fought alongside Marines.
Only two words suggest the nearly 11,000 Japanese who fought and died in the bunkers and tunnels that turned Peleliu into a 6-square-mile killing zone for both sides: a patch of ground labeled, in the idiom of the time, "Jap Cemetery."
Her computer also holds a copy of the last letter her grandfather's brother, Kotara Okada, then 24, sent home before the battle. He included a mournful sketch of himself under a palm tree.
"I wanted to look for any hint to find his last moment," says Takemoto, a 31-year-old airport worker from Tokyo. "Until now we have not known."
Her best hope is the map discovered 18 months ago at a small U.S. Navy museum in Port Hueneme, Calif. The cemetery still hasn't been found.
Unlike in the U.S. military, which tries to recover its dead from war zones, tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers were left where they fell or were interred in crude, often unmarked graves on islands and atolls across the Pacific.
Now, pressed by aging war veterans and their families, and assisted by faded maps and photos from U.S. archives, Tokyo is starting to put aside its reluctance to revisit its painful World War II history. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was visiting the United States last week, has vowed to speed up efforts to recover his nation's war dead.
In a potent symbol of that shift, Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Peleliu on April 8 for the first time. They laid bouquets of white chrysanthemums by a Japanese war memorial, and offered prayers at a separate American monument. The ceremony was shown live on TV in Japan.
A few days before they arrived, the government of Palau agreed to excavate a tiny cave hacked into a coral ridge overlooking one of the beaches where the 1st Marine Division stormed ashore on Sept. 15, 1944, after a heavy naval bombardment.
Investigators found the bones of four Japanese soldiers. Remains of two others were recovered outside the entrance.
Officials stuck simple white grave markers inscribed with Japanese characters into the sand to mark the site. A concrete Japanese pillbox with a rusty artillery piece stands nearby.
But the search for the lost Japanese cemetery, not far from the craggy crest the Marines called Bloody Nose Ridge, is drawing the most interest.
The map was found in the Seabee Museum at the naval base in Ventura County, Calif. It preserves records from Navy combat engineering units, known as Construction Battalions or "Seabees," including a unit that arrived on Peleliu during the battle to repair the captured Japanese airfield that was the objective of the U.S. invasion.
In October 2013, Gina Nichols, the museum archivist, discovered the document in a cardboard box of uncatalogued World War II papers stashed temporarily in a hallway. She alerted two Americans, John Edwards and Dan King, who had visited the museum a few months earlier seeking information about Peleliu.
King, a Pacific War historian fluent in Japanese, and Edwards, a retired Marine whose father was an airplane mechanic on Peleliu, had grown interested after a chance encounter on the island in 2002 with Kiyakazu Tsuchida, a Japanese veteran of the battle.
They met Tsuchida as he was combing through underbrush near a rusted American tank. "I am looking for my soldiers," he told them in Japanese, holding up a plastic bag containing a skull, Edwards and King said in interviews.
They began helping Tsuchida and his veterans group, the 2nd Infantry Regiment's Comrade Association, and ultimately gave them the map. The group quickly alerted the Japanese government, which says it is now trying to locate the cemetery.
"We are doing a site investigation to find the exact location of the graves," Osamu Tamaki, a senior official in the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which is leading the search, wrote in an email from Tokyo.
Excavating the site won't be easy. The battle left Peleliu a scarred, blackened moonscape. Dense jungle has reclaimed most of the island, now home to several hundred people.
News of the map's discovery has spurred others to visit. Descendants of the dead, a few American war buffs and a handful of Japanese survivors have come to see the infamous battlefield.
Most are respectful. But during the emperor's visit, a right-wing revisionist group from Tokyo distributed hand fans printed with calls to build a shrine to Lt. Gen. Kunio Nakagawa, the Japanese commander who led the fierce defense here and who committed ritual suicide after he lost.
The group, which disputes history's verdict of Japan as an aggressor, also organized residents to shout "Banzai!" as the emperor's motorcade passed. During the war, Japanese soldiers screamed the word — a tribute to then-Emperor Hirohito, Akihito's father — as they charged American troops.
By late 1944, the U.S. military was pushing the Japanese back, island by island. The Japanese had suffered heavy losses, partly due to desperate banzai charges, in the Solomons, the Marshalls, the Marianas and other archipelagos.
On Peleliu, they switched tactics. Rather than trying to repulse invasion forces on the beach, they used the island's steep cliffs, deep gulches and rugged terrain to hide heavy weapons and fiercely determined soldiers.
The Marine commander, Maj. Gen. William Rupertus, had predicted the island would fall in four days. It took 73 days of vicious, often hand-to-hand fighting, and the U.S. casualty rate — 80 percent in some units — was the highest of any amphibious battle in the Pacific.

The Austrian castle where Nazis lost to German-US force

The Austrian castle where Nazis lost to German-US force

  • 7 May 2015

  • From the section Europe

  • Schloss Itter today
    Capturing Itter Castle was a tough challenge as Nazi troops were in the surrounding woods

    Seventy years ago one of the most unlikely battles of World War Two took place, at Itter in the Austrian Alps.
    In early May 1945, American and German soldiers fought together against the Nazi SS to free prominent French prisoners of war. It is believed to be the only battle in the war in which Americans and Germans fought as allies.
    Hans Fuchs remembers how Itter Castle was converted into a prison by the Nazis in 1943.
    "We saw everything from our school window," he said, "a double barbed-wire fence… and floodlights so that the whole night was lit up like day."
    Schloss Itter, which dates back to the Middle Ages, was a sub-unit of the Dachau concentration camp.
    It was used for VIP prisoners, prominent politicians and military figures that the Nazis wanted to use as bargaining chips.
    They included two former prime ministers of France, Edouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud, as well as the elder sister of Gen Charles de Gaulle, Marie-Agnes Cailliau.

    Austria map

    In May 1945, the last days of the war in Europe, the German guards at Schloss Itter fled. But the French prisoners were trapped, as the woods around the castle were full of roaming units of the Waffen SS and Gestapo secret police.
    The French sent out two prisoners on bicycles to find help.
    Stephen Harding, author of the book The Last Battle, says one of them managed to contact a German major, Josef (Sepp) Gangl.

    Sepp Gangl
    Maj Sepp Gangl of the Wehrmacht switched sides to help US forces
    Capt Jack Lee, 1945
    US Capt Jack Lee teamed up with Gangl's men to take on the SS

    A highly decorated Wehrmacht officer, Gangl had become opposed to the Nazis and was collaborating with the Austrian resistance.
    "Gangl realised he could not protect them [the prisoners], he only had about 20 soldiers who were loyal to him," Mr Harding said.
    Taking a big white flag, Gangl met up with the closest American unit, the 23rd Tank Battalion of the US 12th Armoured Division, led by Capt Jack Lee.
    Lee offered to lead a rescue mission to the castle.

    SS attack

    A small group of Americans, accompanied by Gangl and some of his men, made their way to Itter, parking their Sherman tank close to the castle entrance.
    At dawn on 5 May, they were attacked by the Waffen SS, who blew up the US tank, but were unable to storm the castle.
    "There was only one casualty," says Mr Harding. "Josef Gangl was killed by a sniper."
    Hans Fuchs, who was 14, watched the battle from his family's farm. "There was machine gun fire for hours," he said. "We saw clouds of dust and smoke."
    That evening, once the fighting stopped, he went down towards the castle.
    "The tank was still burning," he said. "I saw how around 100 SS men were taken prisoner… They had to give up everything and were taken away on lorries."

    Media caption
    Many important French prisoners were held in this part of the Tyrol in Austria, as Robert Hall reports

    Battle-scarred Schloss Itter
    Schloss Itter was damaged in the fighting as this May 1945 photo shows

    Josef Gangl was buried in the nearby town of Woergl. Today a street is named after him.
    Mr Harding says the battle was decisive.
    "If the SS had managed to get into the castle and kill the French VIPs, the history of post-war France would have been radically different. These people... formulated the policies that carried France into the 21st Century. Had they died, who knows what would have happened?"

    Gen Weygand (right) and wife leaving Schloss Itter, May 1945
    France's Gen Maxime Weygand (right) and his wife leave the castle in this May 1945 photo
    De Gaulle's sister Marie-Agnes Cailliau with a US soldier after liberation
    De Gaulle's sister Marie-Agnes Cailliau was among the French VIPs liberated from the Nazis
    Sepp Gangl memorial

    Navy secretary holds up promotion

    Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is holding up the promotion of a former San Diego ship skipper to consider a fatal helicopter crash on her watch.
    Cmdr. Jana Vavasseur was selected in April for promotion to captain.
    The family of Lt. Cmdr. Landon Jones, one of two pilots killed, has expressed outrage that Vavasseur’s career is being allowed to move forward.

    Cmdr. Jana VavasseurU.S. Navy photo

    A Navy investigation found Vavasseur’s ship-handling decisions partially to blame for the September 2013 accident, in which a Navy helicopter was swept overboard after landing on the destroyer William P. Lawrence in the Red Sea.
    Normally, Vavasseur’s name would go to the Senate Armed Services Committee for what typically is a somewhat routine approval.
    “The Secretary of the Navy is charged with sending promotion nominations to the Senate for confirmation and in doing so he determines whether the officers recommended by the Navy’s promotion board are qualified for promotion,” said Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel, on Wednesday.
    “(He) is able to consider information that the (promotion) board may not have been aware of in making its selections,” Servello added.
    Navy regulations require the secretary to consider an official investigation if it calls into question an officer's professional judgment.
    Additionally, questions about Vavasseur's record began coming down from Congress after news stories were published citing the widows' discontent, one insider said.
    Vavasseur could still make captain if Mabus agrees with senior ship officials that she did nothing wrong.
    Once the secretary’s review is complete, Vavasseur's name will either be forwarded for nomination or removed.
    If his review stretches into the next fiscal year, her nomination would expire -- though she could be named again by a future promotion board, though that board would be aware that she was removed from the list previously.
    This move by the Navy Secretary isn't extremely rare -- but it's not common, either.
    Of the roughly 15,000 officer promotions each year, between 100 and 200 are held up for further review.
    Vavasseur declined to comment for this story.
    Theresa Jones, widow one of the downed pilots, called the news of the Navy Secretary’s action “a first step in the right direction.”
    Jones and the widow of Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Gibson were irate in November when Vavasseur was selected for “major command,” which means that she could go on to captain a larger warship in coming years.
    The situation has caused an internal rift between the Navy’s ship and aviation communities.
    High-ranking ship officials didn’t blame Vavasseur for the accident, as she was operating within procedure for landing helicopters.
    But aviators, including the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, felt that Vavasseur was obliged to consider the rough seas before turning the destroyer abruptly.
    A wall of water crashed over the ship’s flight deck, causing the helicopter to break apart and be washed overboard. Vavasseur was hurrying under pressure to follow orders to escort the aircraft carrier Nimitz.
    The Navy took non-punitive action against her in the form of a counseling letter.

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