My Turn: Independence Day is a good time to recall those who preserve liberty

Posted: Thursday, July 03, 2003

From time-to-time, vessels painted in the standard "haze gray" of the U.S. Navy travel to Juneau. Juneau has become a welcoming and pleasant liberty port for some of the warships of our nation and our nation's allies.

In the last decade, or so, the USS Merrill, USS Bradley, USS O'Callahan, USS George Phillip, USS Camden, USS Thach, USS Alaska and the USS John Young have visited Juneau. This year the USS Stethem and USS McClusky will visit Juneau. Vessels from the Canadian Forces naval contingent are frequent visitors to Juneau.

Many of the ships in the U.S. Navy commemorate naval personnel who have served our republic. The destroyer John Young was the second ship in America's navy named in honor of Capt. John Young. He commanded the sloop Independence and other vessels during the Revolutionary War and captured four enemy vessels while commanding the sloop Saratoga. Young and his crew died in storm on March 20, 1781.

The namesake of the USS O'Callahan was the Rev. Joseph T. O'Callahan. While serving as a chaplain aboard the USS Franklin on patrol off the coast of Japan in 1945, O'Callahan's ship was severely bombed. Father O'Callahan fought fuel and ammunition fires in addition to ministering to wounded and dying sailors. O'Callahan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his conduct aboard the USS Franklin by President Harry Truman.

The USS George Phillip honored Cmdr. George Phillip. Phillip had served aboard the famous USS O'Bannon during the grim sea battles in the Solomon Islands in 1942 and 1943. As commanding officer of the USS Twiggs, Phillip perished when the Twiggs was destroyed on June 16, 1945, in the fierce fights off Okinawa.

Closer in time to the present, the USS Stethem commemorates Robert Stethem, a steelworker and diver in the U.S. Navy. Terrorists aboard TWA flight 840 murdered Robert Stethem on June 15, 1985.

The safe harbor of Juneau along the shores of Gastineau Channel are far removed from the hazardous occupations that frequently have caused ships of the United States to bear the name of fallen sailors. This Independence Day, Juneau is host to the USS McClusky, named after one of the preeminent naval aviators during World War II and the Korean War.

As we enjoy the delights of the holiday this July 4, we would do well to recall some of the individuals who made and continue to make our freedom and liberty possible. All things considered, the "haze gray" looks wonderful in our harbor among the cruise ships, tugs, fishing vessels and pleasure craft. Welcome to Juneau, McClusky.

• Joe Geldhof is the vice president of the Navy League of the United States chapter in Juneau. For more information on joining the Navy League, call 586-8193.

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