Seaman Apprentice Dave Sutton sat on the flight deck of the U.S.S. New Orleans as it churned its way through the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The sunlight danced off the endless water and caught his eye as he listened to a live band playing nearby. After the presentation of the colors, he sat down and scooted his seat up to a table that held a special meal for him—cheeseburgers with all the trimmings.
The hot food had a tantalizing effect on him. He wasn’t used to having such delectable food at his fingertips. It was a special occasion, however. Soon after eating the serendipitous food, pickup games of football broke out across the flight deck.
It was October 13, 1984—the Navy’s 209th birthday.
Each year, on October 13, the United States Navy celebrates its founding. Sutton, now a sixth-grade guidance counselor in the Midwest, recalls that day in the Indian Ocean well, as he pauses to reflect on today’s celebration—the Navy’s 237th birthday.
After the first shots of the American War for Independence were fired at Lexington and Concord, the need for a naval force to resist the British navy in the Atlantic became increasingly clear. On October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized two ships to begin operations searching for ships supplying the British Army off the eastern coast of the 13 colonies. It’s this day that the United States Navy recognizes as its official birthday.
After a significant victory at Yorktown in 1781, America was well on its way towards winning independence from the British, the most powerful military fighting force in the world at the time. Just two years later, the Treaty of Paris officially ended fighting between the two nations.
After the treaty was signed, the Continental Navy, which had assisted the colonies in becoming an independent country, was disbanded. The ships that helped win independence were sold and their crews sent home. It wasn’t until the Constitution of the United States was implemented in 1789, that Congress was empowered to “provide and maintain a navy.”
Six frigates were built in 1794, and, on April 30, 1798, the Department of Navy was established.
Each year on its birthday, the Navy remembers those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice while serving. Battles like Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Coral Sea stand out as particularly poignant days in the U.S. Navy’s history. Since 9/11, the Navy has continued to fight in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Their dedication to service and sacrifice has been felt by the entire nation.
Lieutenant Commander John Fage, a spokesman at the Navy Office of Information, said there are a number of celebrations taking place to honor and commemorate the Navy’s heritage. Among those ceremonies is the National Capital Region Birthday Ball. The 59th Secretary of the Navy, Paul Ignatius, will be the guest speaker.
“The United States Navy is 100 percent on watch,” Fage said of today’s Navy. “The Navy is reliable, flexible and ready to respond on, above and below the sea.”
Sailors across the world will pause today to commemorate the Navy’s 237th birthday in a variety of ways, but they will all have their own unique memories years from now. For many, it’s a chance to remember the legacy previous generations have left behind. The Navy will continue its proud heritage and provide opportunities for sailors that will become fond memories.
Jeremy Stevens is a Nebraska-based freelance writer.