U.S. Navy history from the year you were born
Since the Revolutionary War days of Commodore John Barry and Capt. John Paul Jones—two of the candidates for the title “Father of the Navy”—the U.S. Navy has been at the forefront of defending the shores of America.
The last 100 years have seen two world wars, fighting in the Korean Peninsula, conflict in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the Cold War, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus assorted flare-ups from Lebanon to Grenada. Through it all, the Navy has been there—both above and below troubled waters.
Six presidents have been veterans of the Navy or Naval Reserves: In World War II, John F. Kennedy commanded a patrol torpedo (PT) boat and George H.W. Bush was a young naval fighter pilot. Others include Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. Franklin Roosevelt served as an assistant secretary of the Navy.
Then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 promised a 350-ship Navy—up from about 280. While that goal may be elusive, the U.S. Navy remains the most dominant fighting force on the high seas. For example, it has 11 aircraft carriers, including the $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford commissioned in 2017, compared with one modern carrier for China and one for Russia. The Ford has been beset with problems, but no nation has a ship that is anywhere near as advanced—at least on paper.
In the future, the U.S. complement of ships may include unmanned vessels—a so-called Ghost Fleet. The Navy is setting aside some $400 billion in its 2020 budget to build two large, unmanned surface vessels, with a goal of building 10 ships the size of small warships. But whether any ships without officers and sailors can ever match the nautical exploits of the Navy over the past 100 years remains to be seen.
For a look at some of those extraordinary instances of sea power and Navy heroics, take a gander at the historical moments Stacker has selected from 1920 to the present, and be sure to zero in on the year you were born.
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1920: A sailor takes flight
Navy strength: 121,845 people (0.11% of U.S. population)
The first enlisted sailor, Harold H. “Kiddy” Karr, became a naval aviator after flight training in France and Italy. His insignia designated him as a Naval Aviator Pilot (NAP).
1921: Unknown Soldier comes home
Navy strength: 132,827 people (0.12% of U.S. population)
The USS Olympia—the steel flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War of 1898—brought the remains of the Unknown Soldier back to America from World War I.
1922: First aircraft carrier is commissioned
Navy strength: 100,211 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
The Langley, a converted collier named after aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley, was commissioned at Norfolk, Va., complete with a wooden flight deck.
1923: Honda Point disaster
Navy strength: 94,094 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The year marked the biggest peacetime naval accident to date—the Honda Point disaster in which 23 sailors died and seven destroyers were destroyed off the rocky coast of California.
1924: Scandal rocks the Navy
Navy strength: 98,184 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby resigned in disgrace after becoming ensnared in the Teapot Dome Scandal during the Harding administration. The corruption involved bribes paid to sell Navy petroleum leases to private oil companies without competitive bidding.
1925: Airship down
Navy strength: 95,230 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
In 1923, the USS Shenandoah, the first of the Navy's rigid airships, was launched and could hit speeds of 70 mph. It crashed in the hills of southern Ohio two years later—signaling the beginning of the end for dirigibles.
1926: Byrd over the North Pole
Navy strength: 93,304 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The first flight over the North Pole was made by Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd Jr. and aviation pilot Floyd E. Bennett. In a round trip taking 15.5 hours, they circled the Pole before flying back to Norway.
1927: Bringing Lindbergh home
Navy strength: 94,916 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
Aboard the cruiser USS Memphis, with The Spirit of St. Louis in the ship's hold, President Calvin Coolidge pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on Charles Lindbergh after the first-ever solo flight across the Atlantic.
1928: Blimp on board
Navy strength: 95,803 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The USS Los Angeles, a German-built zeppelin, landed on the USS Saratoga carrier. The building of the rigid airship by the Zeppelin Co. was part of reparations demanded of Germany after World War I.
1929: Byrd over the South Pole
Navy strength: 97,117 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
Richard E. Byrd Jr., now a Navy commander, and civilian pilot Bernt Balchen, along with two others, made the first flight over the South Pole in 1929. The Ford 4-AT trimotor they flew in was named after Floyd Bennett, Byrd's co-pilot on his flight over the North Pole.
1930: Limits on sea power
Navy strength: 96,890 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
At the London Naval Conference, the U.S., Britain, France, Japan, and Italy met to place limits on sea power in the wake of World War I. The restrictions on ship tonnage were approved by the U.S. Senate despite opposition from naval officers who feared such limits would hamper the Navy's ability to defend the Philippines.
1931: Marines on the flight deck
Navy strength: 93,307 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The first Marine squadrons were assigned to the carriers USS Lexington and USS Saratoga to give Marine fighter pilots previously denied experience in naval aviation, which proved to be vital in the years ahead.
1932: Mock attack on Pearl Harbor
Navy strength: 93,384 people (0.07% of U.S. population)
In a military exercise to test the vulnerability of Pearl Harbor, Rear Admiral Harry Yarnell launched an attack with 152 planes from two carriers on Feb. 7 that caught defenders by surprise; airfields were put out of commission and sacks of flour were dropped on battleships. But the Navy brass reverses the decision of battle “umpires” who find Yarnell had prevailed, saying he had cheated because the attack was on a Sunday. Ten years later, the Japanese largely reprised Yarnell's strategy—with disastrous consequences.
1933: A Navy buildup begins
Navy strength: 91,230 people (0.07% of U.S. population)
President Franklin Roosevelt, who served as assistant Navy secretary in the Woodrow Wilson administration at age 31, began to build up the Navy fleet to the top limit imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the London Conference of 1930, both to stimulate the depressed economy and strengthen national defense.
1934: 102 new warships
Navy strength: 92,312 people (0.07% of U.S. population)
The Vinson-Trammel Act of 1934 expanded on Roosevelt's program of strengthening the Navy: It authorized the construction of 102 new warships over the eight years following passage. Japan renounced the terms of the Treaty of 1922, also known as the Five-Power Treaty, in 1936, but by then three aircraft carriers, 10 cruisers, 15 submarines, and 41 destroyers were under construction.
1935: The end of Navy airships
Navy strength: 95,053 people (0.07% of U.S. population)
The rigid airship USS Macon encountered stormy weather off Point Sur, Calif., in February 1935, control was lost, and it sank into the ocean. Two crew members died and 74 were rescued, but the Navy's program of using airships as scouts for its fleets also wound up in Davy Jones' Locker.
1936: A 'peace treaty' without teeth
Navy strength: 106,292 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The London Naval Treaty of 1936 continued to put limits on armaments. Although it was signed by only the U.S., Britain, and France—rendering it largely ineffective—Franklin Roosevelt was able to cite it as evidence in the presidential election of 1936 that he would continue to pursue peace.
1937: A battleship grows in Brooklyn
Navy strength: 113,617 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
Built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, the USS North Carolina was the first American battleship commissioned in 16 years and was thought to be one of the most fearsome naval weapons afloat: Its firepower included nine 16-inch/45-caliber guns on three turrets. On board were 144 officers and among the 2,195 enlisted men were 86 Marines.
1938: The dive bomber makes its debut
Navy strength: 119,088 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
The first dive bombers were delivered to Navy squadrons in 1938. Built by Northrop, the BT-1 could carry a 1,000-pound bomb and hit speeds of over 200 mph, but it handled poorly and a number of crashes occurred.
1939: The Battle of the Atlantic begins
Navy strength: 125,202 people (0.10% of U.S. population)
After the invasion of Poland, Britain, and France declared war on Germany and the longest, most complex naval warfare in history—the Battle of the Atlantic—began. While the U.S. did not enter World War II until 1941, the U.S. Navy initiated Neutrality Patrols for 200 miles off the coasts of North and South America and in the Caribbean.
1940: Destroyers to Britain
Navy strength: 160,997 people (0.12% of U.S. population)
After months of pleading messages from Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt engineered a deal in which the U.S. sent some 50 old destroyers to Britain in exchange for naval and air bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and the Bahamas, among other locales, from which to defend the Western Hemisphere and the Panama Canal.
1941: 'A day that will live in infamy'
Navy strength: 284,427 people (0.21% of U.S. population)
On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese warplanes mounted a surprise attack on U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. More than 2,400 Americans died, over 1,000 were wounded, and much of the naval fleet stationed there was either destroyed or badly damaged. The USS Arizona went down with 1,000 sailors on board; the USS Oklahoma sanks with 400 on board. President Roosevelt—calling the attack “a day that will live in infamy”—asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan. One day later, his request was granted, with only one member of Congress voting “nay.”
1942: The Battle of Midway
Navy strength: 640,570 people (0.47% of U.S. population)
Just six months after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy inflicted a devastating defeat on Japan during the Battle of Midway, dashing Tokyo's hope of quickly gaining dominance in the Pacific. On June 4, the Japanese bombed a U.S. base on the minuscule atoll of Midway, unaware that their code had been broken and three American aircraft carriers were nearby. Navy dive bombers attacked the enemy fleet and when the smoke cleared three days later, 3,057 Japanese seamen were dead and four carriers, one cruiser, and hundreds of aircraft were destroyed; the U.S. Navy lost some 360 sailors, one carrier, one destroyer, and 144 planes.
1943: JFK and PT 109
Navy strength: 1.74 million people (1.27% of U.S. population)
In the early morning hours of Aug. 1, 1943, soon-to-be President John F. Kennedy was a junior Naval officer commanding a Patrol Torpedo boat, PT 109, in waters off the Solomon Islands. A ship loomed in the darkness, but before Lt. Kennedy's boat was able to fire a torpedo, PT 109 was struck by a Japanese destroyer. The boat was lost, but Kennedy's heroics in the water helped save the lives of at least two members of his crew.
1944: The biggest naval battle ever
Navy strength: 2.98 million people (2.15% of U.S. population)
Oct. 23, 1944, marked the beginning of what is believed to be the biggest naval conflict in modern times: the three-day Battle of Leyte Gulf, which helped open the door to U.S. Army forces under Gen. Douglas MacArthur retaking the Philippines. It also signaled the end for the Imperial Japanese Navy even as its pilots mounted the first Kamikaze attacks.
1945: Japan unconditionally surrenders
Navy strength: 3.32 million people (2.37% of U.S. population)
Following the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, the Soviet Union's declaration of war against Japan on Aug. 8, and the bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, representatives of Emperor Hirohito signed an unconditional surrender on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2. Some 250 Allied ships were anchored nearby.
1946: 'The Truculent Turtle' goes long
Navy strength: 978,203 people (0.69% of U.S. population)
Four Navy officers flew a Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune patrol plane nicknamed ‘The Truculent Turtle' nonstop from Australia to Ohio—more than 11,300 miles without refueling—setting a record that stood for 16 years.
1947: National Security Act of 1947
Navy strength: 497,773 people (0.35% of U.S. population)
In sweeping changes to the defense and intelligence communities, President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 that among other things established the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force. However, the Navy is authorized to include aviation as appropriate to its mission.
1948: A losing fight in China
Navy strength: 417,535 people (0.28% of U.S. population)
The China Aid Act mandated the transfer of some 165 surplus Navy ships to the Nationalist navy fighting Mao Zedong's communists for control of China, and the Navy continued training sailors loyal to Guomindang leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek at its base in Tsingtao—an effort that would prove futile.
1949: First African American graduates from Annapolis
Navy strength: 447,901 people (0.30% of U.S. population)
Wesley Brown, appointed by U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem, became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. Brown went on to serve 20 years in the Navy, retiring as a lieutenant commander.
1950: Tide turns in the Korean War
Navy strength: 380,739 people (0.25% of U.S. population)
U.S. Navy destroyers and other vessels were among the more than 260 ships operating under the auspices of the United Nations Command that took part in the June 1950 Battle of Inchon and turn the tide in the Korean War. Some 75,000 troops landed behind enemy lines in an amphibious invasion that boxes in the North Korean forces that have driven the South Korean army almost to the tip of the Korean Peninsula.
1951: The Navy jet becomes a bomber
Navy strength: 736,596 people (0.48% of U.S. population)
Two F9F-2 Panther fighter jets launched off the USS Princeton—an Essex-class carrier commissioned in 1945—demolished a bridge in North Korea. That marked the first use of Navy jets as bombers.
1952: The bombing of Pyongyang
Navy strength: 824,265 people (0.52% of U.S. population)
Carrier-based Navy aircraft took part in the bombing of Pyongyang. On Aug. 29, more than 1,400 sorties were flown in the most ferocious one-day exhibit of aerial destruction in the Korean War. More bombs (by tonnage) are dropped on North Korea than in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
1953: Korea's only Navy ace
Navy strength: 794,440 people (0.50% of U.S. population)
Just 11 days before representatives of the U.N. and North Korea signed an armistice in Panmunjom, Navy aviator Lt. Guy P. Bordelon Jr. shot down a North Korean aircraft. With five kills, Bordelon became the only Navy ace in the Korean conflict.
1954: First nuclear-powered sub
Navy strength: 725,720 people (0.45% of U.S. population)
The USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, was commissioned in Groton, Conn., on Sept. 30. Built by Electric Boat Co., the Nautilus could hit speeds of 23 knots underwater, 22 on the surface.
1955: 'Passage to Freedom'
Navy strength: 660,695 people (0.40% of U.S. population)
With the division of Vietnam in 1954, residents were allowed to choose whether to live in the North or the South. The Navy assisted in ferrying more than 300,000 Vietnamese from the communist North led by Ho Chi Minh to the South in the so-called “Passage to Freedom.”
1956: In the middle of the Suez Crisis
Navy strength: 669,925 people (0.40% of U.S. population)
After Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, British, French, and Israeli forces invaded Egypt much to the dismay of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. The U.S. Sixth Fleet was ordered to evacuate some 2,000 Americans from Egypt and in the process managed to disrupt Anglo-French naval operations without firing a shot. Under the threat of economic sanctions by the U.S., the British, French, and Israelis withdrew a short time later.
1957: California to New York in 3 hours, 23 minutes
Navy strength: 676,071 people (0.39% of U.S. population)
Marine Maj. John Glenn and Navy Lt. Commander Charles Demmler set out to break the transcontinental speed record on July 16, 1957—the so-called Project Bullet. Demmler's F8U-1 Crusader suffered damage during the first refueling (at 300 mph) and had to drop out. Glenn, went on to become the first American to orbit the earth, flew at an average of Mach 1.1 and set a new record.
1958: On the beaches of Beirut
Navy strength: 639,942 people (0.37% of U.S. population)
The threat of a civil war in Lebanon between Maronite Christians and Muslims led President Eisenhower to send in the Marines, backed by three U.S. Navy carrier battle groups and some 40,000 sailors. The Marines briefly propped up the pro-Western government of Camille Chamoun before a compromise was reached and U.S. forces withdrew.
1959: Into orbit around the earth
Navy strength: 625,661 people (0.35% of U.S. population)
Navy officers Lt. Cmdrs. Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Lt. Scott Carpenter were among the prospective astronauts, including John Glenn, chosen by NASA for Project Mercury, America's first space exploration program. There were six Mercury flights between 1961 and 1963.
1960: Ready for a mission in Laos
Navy strength: 616,987 people (0.34% of U.S. population)
A Navy task force was assembled at Subic Bay in the Philippines to support a possible mission to Laos, which the Eisenhower administration feared might fall to the forces of the communist Pathet Lao. Instead, the administration opted for a CIA plan to train and arm anti-communist Hmong tribesmen.
1961: The first American in space
Navy strength: 626,223 people (0.34% of U.S. population)
Navy Commander Alan Shepard became the first American in space as he rode his spacecraft Freedom 7, shot skyward by a Mercury-Redstone rocket, to an altitude of more than 100 nautical miles. His capsule splashed down after about 15 minutes. Shepard later commanded the Apollo 14 mission to the moon.
1962: Navy SEALs are created
Navy strength: 664,212 people (0.36% of U.S. population)
Shortly after the creation of the SEALs—the special ops arm of the U.S. Navy—Team One was deployed to Vietnam. SEALs conducted reconnaissance and fought the Viet Cong for the next six years, killing 600 to 900 of the communist rebels during raids and often night operations.
1963: Midshipman Staubach wins the Heisman
Navy strength: 663,897 people (0.35% of U.S. population)
After a strong season, the Naval Academy's Midshipmen football team lost the Cotton Bowl to Texas, but quarterback Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy. Following a tour in Vietnam, Staubach joiend the Dallas Cowboys and led the team to two Super Bowl victories.
1964: Gulf of Tonkin incident
Navy strength: 665,969 people (0.35% of U.S. population)
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson sweeping powers to repel any armed attack against U.S. forces and it became the basis for all-out war against Vietnam. It was passed after three North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats attacked the destroyer USS Maddox in international waters off the coast of Vietnam on Aug. 2 and after an alleged second attack on Aug. 4. But intelligence documents suggested that the first attack was provoked and the second attack never happened.
1965: Operation Rolling Thunder is rolled out
Navy strength: 669,985 people (0.34% of U.S. population)
Beginning in 1965, the Navy took part in Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam: It lasted until the end of 1968. By the time the U.S. left Vietnam in 1973, an estimated 4.6 million tons of bombs had been dropped.
1966: 'Brown water' war in the Mekong Delta
Navy strength: 743,322 people (0.38% of U.S. population)
River patrol boats—small, rigid-hull vessels mounted with .50 caliber machine guns and grenade launchers—began operating in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. There were two types: Patrol Boat Riverine (PBR) and Patrol Craft Fast (PCF), also known as “Swift Boats.” Former Secretary of State John Kerry's Swift Boat service was attacked, and this became a major hype point when he ran for president in 2004.
1967: Hell on the USS Forrestal
Navy strength: 750,224 people (0.38% of U.S. population)
A catastrophic fire broke out on the USS Forrestal, the first Navy supercarrier, while it was on duty in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam. A rocket on an F-4B II Phantom fighter was accidentally ignited, hitting the fuel tank of an A-4E Skyhawk, causing a 1,000-pound bomb to fall on the deck and crack open. That bomb and a second 1,000-pound bomb subsequently exploded, killing 134 and burning or maiming an additional 16. More than 20 aircraft were destroyed, and 70 others were damaged.
1968: North Korea captures Navy spy ship
Navy strength: 763,626 people (0.38% of U.S. population)
The badly outgunned USS Pueblo, a Navy spy ship operating in international waters off the Korean Peninsula, was captured by North Korean vessels without a fight on Jan. 23, 1968. The crew was tortured and held captive for 11 months.
1969: Salute to a slain president
Navy strength: 773,779 people (0.38% of U.S. population)
The USS John F. Kennedy, the last conventionally powered Navy aircraft carrier, was commissioned five years after the killing of the president in Dallas. It was christened by his young daughter, Caroline, and taken out of service in 2007. A new Ford-class carrier named after JFK is scheduled to hit the water in 2020.
1970: 'Houston, we've had a problem here'
Navy strength: 691,126 people (0.34% of U.S. population)
Veteran aviator and astronaut Navy Capt. James Lovell commanded the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, but oxygen and power problems caused hopes of a landing to be abandoned. In 1995, Lovell was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
1971: U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet sent to the Bay of Bangladesh
Navy strength: 621,565 people (0.3% of U.S. population)
In 1971, the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet was sent to the Bay of Bangladesh to intimidate India, which was fighting with Pakistan while being supported by the Soviet Union and potentially courting the favor of China. U.S. forces made no attacks against India and East Pakistan became Bangladesh.
1972: The mining of Haiphong Harbor
Navy strength: 586,923 people (0.28% of U.S. population)
In the spring of 1972, Navy aircraft from the USS Coral Sea dropped mines into Haiphong Harbor, North Vietnam's most crucial port, in an effort to impede maritime traffic. Some 11,000 more mines were also laid in other waters of North Vietnam by the Navy. At the same time, U.S. forces that included almost 140 ships of the Seventh Fleet participated in Operation Linebacker, another sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
1973: POWs released by North Vietnam
Navy strength: 563,683 people (0.27% of U.S. population)
After President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, effectively halting American involvement in the Vietnam War, Americans were released. They included Navy Capt. John McCain—whose father and grandfather were distinguished, four-star admirals. McCain, shot down over Hanoi, was held for five and a half years. Later, as a longtime senator, he ran unsuccessfully for president. Navy Capt. James Stockdale was held for seven and a half years and received the Medal of Honor.
1974: Tragedy strikes at the DMZ
Navy strength: 545,903 people (0.26% of U.S. population)
While inspecting a secret tunnel in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, which were and still are technically at war, an explosion caused the death of Comdr. Robert M. Ballinger, a South Korean officer, and the injuries of six other soldiers. South Korea's government suspected that North Korea dug the tunnel, which extended half a mile into South Korea from the DMZ.
1975: Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese
Navy strength: 535,085 people (0.25% of U.S. population)
On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. An indelible turning point of 20th-century history, the fall of Saigon marked the end of the Vietnam War and the formal reunification of the territory into a Socialist Republic. The Navy contributed considerable manpower into the evacuation of tens of thousands of Vietnamese and American service members under Operation Frequent Wind.
1976: 81 women inducted into the academy
Navy strength: 524,678 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
Women were admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy, which opened its doors in 1845, for the first time on July 14, 1976. Eighty-one women midshipmen were inducted; only eight years later, a woman, Kristine Holderied, would be the first to graduate at the top of her class.
1977: Tragic crash near Barcelona
Navy strength: 529,895 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
Forty-nine service members lost their lives when an LCM-6 liberty boat carrying Navy soldiers and Marines crashed into a Spanish ship and capsized. A monument was dedicated to the dead one year later.
1978: Women finally set sail
Navy strength: 529,557 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
Finally, after women first getting inducted into the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976, women were permitted to serve on ships in 1978, a milestone for women's military history. Though they were only auxiliary and noncombatant ships, all-male Navy ships, which had persisted since 1774, had finally come to their end.
1979: The last battle of the Vietnam War
Navy strength: 523,335 people (0.23% of U.S. population)
The Mayaguez incident, in which Khmer Rouge forces in Cambodia seized a U.S. merchant ship, is considered by many the last battle of the Vietnam War. In response, President Gerald Ford opted for a show of American might that included an aircraft carrier and two destroyers. The crew of the Mayaguez was returned, but more than 40 U.S. Marines and airmen lost their lives.
1980: First women graduate from Naval Academy
Navy strength: 527,153 people (0.23% of U.S. population)
Fifty-five women midshipmen in the class of 1980 graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. They entered the first co-ed class of 1976, and their graduation marked a new era for gender inclusion in the U.S. military. There were 324 women in the Naval Academy class of 2019.
1981: U.S Navy F14 fighter jets shoot down Soviet-built Libyan planes
Navy strength: 540,219 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
Two U.S. Navy F14 fighter jets shot down a set of Libyan Air Force jets in 1981. The Washington Post reported the aerial fight 20,000 feet above the Gulf of Sidra was because of an “unprovoked attack” on the U.S. Before the 1981 incident, the last time Libyan jets shot at American planes was in 1973.
1982: Reagan Administration offers up a vessel to the U.K. for the Falklands War
Navy strength: 552,996 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
This year President Ronald Reagan promised U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the USS Iwo Jima during the Royal Navy's battle with Argentina, which was called the Falklands War. Though the U.S. vowed to remain neutral in the battle between the two countries, then-U.S. Secretary of the Navy John Lehman told the U.S. Naval Institute that President Reagan said: “Give Maggie everything she needs to get on with it.”
1983: Navy magazine reports on disbanding Tradevman
Navy strength: 557,573 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
The famous Navy magazine All Hands reported in detail the repercussions of petty officer titled Tradevman who were having their ratings disestablished by 1988. From 1983 until 1988, the U.S. Navy slowly began to replace Tradevmen with civilians who would now perform jobs only the Tradevmen once performed, including installing flight simulators and serving in mess halls.
1984: Sailors are banned from having beards
Navy strength: 564,638 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. in the early 1970s authorized beards for members of the Navy, making it the only service to do so. That leniency dissolved in December 1984 when Chief of Naval Operations James D. Watkins demanded that full facial hair must go; however, sailors could continue to maintain mustaches if they so chose.
1985: The USS Enterprise almost sunk near Cortes Bank
Navy strength: 570,705 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
In 1985 the USS Enterprise nearly sank beneath the North Pacific after hitting Cortes Bank, a shallow seamount near Bishop Rock. The vessel, under Capt. Robert L. Leuschner Jr.'s command, was torn by the 13-mile-long rock, sustaining a 60-foot-long gash tear near the giant warship's torpedo-resistant hull that totaled three giant propellers and killed the port keel.
1986: Easing U.S.-Chinese tensions in Qingdao
Navy strength: 581,119 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
After almost 40 years, a Chinese Navy admiral welcomed 900 U.S. Navy sailors into Qingdao to ease U.S.-Chinese tensions. The sailors traveled into the port city in the Shandong province on three massive ships, which upon arrival to the port towered over three out-dated “squat” Chinese vessels, the Washington Post reported. The port call lasted for one week, allowing the American military on the island for the first time since the end of World War II.
1987: Navy personnel killed upon the USS Stark
Navy strength: 586,842 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
On May 17, 1987, during the Iran-Iraq war, the USS Stark was fired upon by an Iraq jet, killing 37 and injuring 21. The Exocet missiles fired at the American frigate, which blew a 10–15 foot hole in the hull, were allegedly shot on accident. “Iraq 's failure to come up with a proper explanation for the attack aroused deep anger in Washington,” the Guardian reported.
1988: Navy nearly sinks Iranian ships
Navy strength: 592,570 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
A battle between the U.S. and Iran over mining in the Persian Gulf resulted in the U.S. Navy destroying six foreign vessels. American fire heavily hurt two Iranian frigates, sunk a patrol boat, and nearly destroyed two speedboats while sinking another. A week after the attack, President Ronald Reagan said there would be no peace with Iran until they ended the bloody war with Iraq.
1989: Pacific Exercise 1989 is conducted under Reagan
Navy strength: 592,652 people (0.24% of U.S. population)
An armada of U.S. Japanese, Canadian, and Korean ships—the largest gathering since the end of World War II—performed a naval drill named Pacific Exercise 1989 to show the Soviet Union the allied forces outnumbered them. The Drive reports that on the last day of the drill, an attempt to take an aerial photo failed since the 52 vessels could not all fit in the frame of the camera.
1990: Operation Desert Shield initiated
Navy strength: 579,417 people (0.23% of U.S. population)
During the Gulf War in 1990, President George Bush initiated Operation Desert Shield after the invasion of Iraq under Saddam Hussein's rule. The Naval History and Heritage Command reported that upon hearing of the attack, the USS Independence and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower immediately left the Indian Ocean to take a position at the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea.
1991: The 600-ship U.S. Navy plan ends
Navy strength: 570,262 people (0.23% of U.S. population)
As the Cold War ended and national security scaled back, the 600-ship initiative that began during the Reagan administration to rebuild the Navy's fleet slowly drew to a close in 1991. In reality, the program peaked in 1987 with 594 U.S. Navy ships. Part of the plan included producing more Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and recommissioning Iowa-class battleships.
1992: Russian nuclear attack submarine collides into USS Baton Rouge
Navy strength: 541,883 people (0.21% of U.S. population)
Following the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the USS Baton Rouge was performing espionage activities less than 20 miles from the Port of Murmansk in Russia on Feb. 11 when it was struck by the B-276 Kostroma, a Russian Sierra-class submarine, while the latter attempted to surface while underneath the former. There were no casualties in the incident.
1993: Women allowed to serve on combat vessels
Navy strength: 509,950 people (0.20% of U.S. population)
President Bill Clinton signed the Defense Authorization Act in 1993, which repealed the Combat Exclusion law allowing women to serve on combat vessels. Navy Live, the U.S. Navy's official blog, reported that Vice Adm. Mary M. Jackson said in 2018 that women today are serving in positions they would have never imagined possible 25 years before the act was signed.
1994: First female carrier-based fighter killed
Navy strength: 468,662 people (0.18% of U.S. population)
Lt. Kara Hultgreen in 1994 became the first certified female fighter pilot. But just months after becoming certified, the Navy lieutenant died in her F-14 Tomcat, crashing as she attempted to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
1995: Two U.S. Navy cadets murder a Texas teenager
Navy strength: 434,617 people (0.16% of U.S. population)
1995 was a notorious year for the Navy, when David Graham and Diane Zamora, who just received appointments at the U.S. Air Force and Naval Academy, murdered Adrianne Jones, 16. In 2018, Zamora lost an appeal over her civil rights lawsuit against Texas prison officials.
1996: Top U.S. Navy admiral commits suicide
Navy strength: 416,735 people (0.15% of U.S. population)
Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda tragically took his life in 1996, leaving behind a suicide note for fellow sailors. Boorda, 57, was the 25th chief of naval operations and the only enlisted officer to rise to the highest rank. He wrote in his note that he “couldn't bear to bring dishonor” to his sailors. “For those who want to tear our Navy down, I guess I've given them plenty to write about for a while,” he added.
1997: “Old Ironsides” sails again
Navy strength: 395,564 people (0.15% of U.S. population)
Thanks to extensive renovations made between 1992 and 1996, the USS Constitution, colloquially known as “Old Ironsides,” set sail in July of 1997. It was the first time the ship had sailed under her own power, not being tugged, since 1881. It was originally launched in 1797.
1998: 7 of 10 submarine sailors quit after one tour
Navy strength: 381,336 people (0.14% of U.S. population)
By 1998, the Navy struggled with its retention as seven out of every 10 submarine sailors left the Navy after their first tour. A full 25% of first-term submarine sailors neglected to meet their contractual requirements. The dwindling numbers posed a threat to national security and a giant financial burden to the military. To increase retention, demands between deployments were reduced; recommended work days were reduced to eight hours, and sailors were given one half-day off every week.
1999: Navy joins NATO in thwarting ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia
Navy strength: 372,507 people (0.13% of U.S. population)
NATO conducted airstrikes in Yugoslavia from March 24 through June 10, 1999, during the Kosovo War. The U.S. Air Force and Navy were essential to the mission, which successfully sought to establish a peacekeeping United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. Prior to the strikes, more than a year of unsuccessful diplomacy had gone on while the humanitarian crisis unfolded.
2000: USS Cole is bombed
Navy strength: 371,543 people (0.13% of U.S. population)
While being refueled in Aden, a harbor of Yemen, the USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers: 17 U.S. sailors were killed, with 39 injured in the attack, which al-Qaida claimed credit for. The bombing forecasted the future terror attacks against the U.S. led by al-Qaida.
2001: Navy contributes to Operation Enduring Freedom
Navy strength: 377,312 people (0.13% of U.S. population)
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, the government launched Operation Enduring Freedom, the immediate military response to the attacks which focused on fighting the Taliban regime. The Navy contributed, according to historian Gregory Bereiter: four amphibious ready groups, six aircraft carrier battle groups, additional support ships, and an estimated 60,000 active-duty sailors and Marines, and 13,000 reservists.
2002: First Navy Jack flies again
Navy strength: 385,009 people (0.13% of U.S. population)
The First Navy Jack, which was the official Navy flag from 1975 to 1976, returned in 2002 as the official flag through 2019. It was raised in place of the Union Jack on Sept. 12, 2002, in memory of those killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
2003: The invasion of Iraq begins
Navy strength: 382,655 people (0.13% of U.S. population)
On March 19, 2003, the American invasion of Iraq began, aided by troops from the U.K., Australia, and Poland. Naval personnel involved numbered 63,352 and included reservists. The Iraqi navy numbered approximately 2,000.
2004: Alien encounter?
Navy strength: 372,525 people (0.13% of U.S. population)
Has the government known about aliens all this time? That's a question many have been asking recently, especially after the Defense Department declassified two videos last December of a strange encounter between an unidentified object and the USS Nimitz in November 2004.
2005: Navy brings support to New Orleans
Navy strength: 362,239 people (0.12% of U.S. population)
Following Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005, the United States Navy sent the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group and part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the Gulf Coast to offer support to those affected by the storm. Without passable airspace and with extensive damage to roads and bridges, sea travel became the chief means of moving supplies and help into the area. Earlier that year, the Navy similarly sent its hospital ship to Southeast Asia after the devastating tsunami there.
2006: Increased numbers in Iraq
Navy strength: 349,534 people (0.12% of U.S. population)
To offer some relief to the roughly 99,000 members of the U.S. Army deployed in Iraq, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael G. Mullen announced the Navy would send not more than 12,000 additional sailors into the area, according to reporting from CNN. Roles of the added Navy crew would include everything from SEAL teams and security roles to prison operations and medical corpsmen.
2007: Navy's fleet size shrinks to pre-WWI levels
Navy strength: 336,659 people (0.11% of U.S. population)
With just 274 ships, the U.S. Navy's fleet in 2007 reached its lowest numbers since World War I. The reason for the constricted fleet size was due to a shift in priorities from large-scale war prep to regional conflicts and special ops.
2008: Navy destroys a falling satellite
Navy strength: 331,132 people (0.11% of U.S. population)
‘Space junk,' or manmade objects in orbit around space that are generally debris from accidents or leftovers from manned missions, now number in the millions of objects. Occasionally, space junk can cascade down to Earth, as was the case with an inoperable spy satellite in 2008. Luckily, the Navy was able to fire a missile and destroy the satellite before it impacted the Earth and potentially released toxic clouds of gas.
2009: A Vietnam refugee returns home
Navy strength: 328,751 people (0.11% of U.S. population)
Before 2009, the last time H.B. Le saw the Vietnamese shore was when he fled on a fishing boat in 1975. In 2009, he returned to Vietnam, this time not as a refugee, but as the first Vietnamese American commander of a U.S. Navy destroyer.
2010: The Navy reestablishes a fleet with no ships
Navy strength: 327,697 people (0.11% of U.S. population)
The U.S. 10th Fleet was first created during World War II to combat German submarine warfare before being decommissioned at the end of the war. On Jan. 29, 2010, it was recommissioned with a new name—U.S. Fleet Cyber Command (FCC)—and a new mission. Today, the FCC conducts missions in cyberspace, space, and across the electromagnetic spectrum, coordinates intelligence and information operations and executes electronic and cyber warfare.
2011: Operation Tomodachi
Navy strength: 324,666 people (0.10% of U.S. population)
After a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant, the U.S. Navy leapt into action, with ships and aircraft carriers bringing supplies, transporting workers, and helping search for survivors. The effects of Operation Tomodachi are still being felt. Sixteen of the ships that assisted at Fukushima remained contaminated with radiation more than five years after the meltdown took place. Sailors present at the relief operation have since been diagnosed with diseases like cancer linked to radiation, and many have filed lawsuits against the power company that owned the plant.
2012: Arsonist nearly sinks submarine
Navy strength: 318,818 people (0.10% of U.S. population)
A civilian shipyard worker caused $450 million in damage when he set a bag of rags on fire on the USS Miami while it was undergoing 20 months of repairs ashore. The arsonist later reported that he was suffering from an anxiety attack and wanted to go home, but had no more sick leave. He pled guilty to two counts of arson and was sentenced to 17 years and $400 million in restitution. The Navy opted to repair the heavily damaged submarine instead of retiring and replacing it.
2013: The Syria standoff
Navy strength: 324,308 people (0.1% of U.S. population)
U.S. involvement in the Syrian Civil War reached a boiling point in September 2013 when the U.S. sent four destroyers loaded with Tomahawk missiles off the coast of Syria. They prepared to strike after it was alleged that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. Russian ships, supporting Assad, later joined the stand-off; the three countries were able to come to an agreement to seize Assad's chemical weapons, defusing tensions and avoiding military action.
2014: The Navy gets a laser
Navy strength: 326,054 people (0.10% of U.S. population)
The Navy debuted a new laser weapons system that seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. The ship-based Laser Weapon System (LaWS) was reported to be 30 million times more powerful than a household laser pointer. At lower power settings, it can disrupt instruments and sensors, and at full power, it can defend against drones and other small targets within a mile.
2015: U.S. vs. China in the South China Sea
Navy strength: 327,801 people (0.10% of U.S. population)
The U.S. began Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea in fall 2015. China spent several years building artificial islands in the region to claim sovereignty over one of the busiest parts of the ocean, and the U.S. sent several destroyers and other ships to challenge their claims. This served to heighten tensions between the two global powers, as well as initiating an attempt by the U.S. to stabilize the region and support their allies in the Pacific.
2016: The Farsi Island incident
Navy strength: 324,524 people (0.10% of U.S. population)
The Iranian military discovered two U.S. patrol boats in territorial waters near Farsi Island and seized 10 U.S. crew members amid charges of spying. Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated their safe return after around a day in Iranian custody, clearing the sailors of the spying charges. The incident served to heighten tensions between the two countries just as the Iran nuclear deal was being put into place. Later investigations found nine U.S. sailors responsible for the incident.
2017: A summer of deadly collisions
Navy strength: 323,933 people (0.10% of U.S. population)
The USS Fitzgerald in June 2017 collided with a cargo ship off the Japanese coast, leading to the deaths of seven sailors. Just two months later, the USS John McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore, killing 10. A Navy investigation into these two tragic accidents found both were caused by preventable mistakes by commanders and crew members.
2018: U.S. 2nd Fleet is re-established
Navy strength: 289,853 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
The end of the Cold War and more friendly U.S.-Russia relations led the Navy to disestablish the 2nd Fleet in 2011 in order to focus more on operations in the Pacific. However, increased Russian submarine activity and more hostile relations between the two countries after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea led the Navy to re-establish the unit to better monitor Russian operations in the Atlantic.
2019: 'Bread and water' punishments abolished
Navy strength: 290,254 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
An update of the Uniform Code of Military Justice went into effect Jan. 1, 2019. One of the most significant changes in the bill was removing the “bread and water” punishment, which allowed ship commanders to punish low-ranking sailors by limiting their rations to bread and water for up to three days. The punishment was a relic from the early days of military justice, but was still used by skippers as recently as 2017.