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NEWS | May 27, 2022

NAVSTA chaplain brings message of remembering America’s past, improving future to Division Newport Memorial Day ceremony

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

Naval Station (NAVSTA) Newport chaplain Lt. Daniel Morrison urged the nearly 75 people gathered around the Command Flagpole on May 26 for NUWC Division Newport’s Memorial Day remembrance event to embrace the past to create a better future.

“Remembering is not in the DNA of our culture. As a chaplain, I believe that occasions for remembrance like Memorial Day — like today’s event, in and of itself — call us not only to recall the events of the past intellectually, but to recognize that we are part of something much larger than ourselves,” Morrison said. “They call us to embrace — dare I say, participate — in the past and come to understand that we maintain a connection with those who have gone before us.

“Their actions are our actions. Their struggles are our struggles. Their defeats are our defeats. Their victories are our victories. Their sacrifices are our sacrifices. Occasions of remembrance help us to realistically recognize the present, reflect on the past and look with hope for a peaceful future.”

Morrison, who served as the keynote speaker for the event, was joined by Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings, Technical Director Ron Vien and members of the installation’s Military Detachment to pay tribute to the 34 men who died in service to their country while working at NUWC's predecessor organizations.

“When you’re watching today’s world events, you recognize how fortunate we are to live in this country and, most importantly, freedom is not free,” Vien said. “There are sacrifices that are made by both our active duty folks and our civilian folks. It’s good that we take the time to appreciate and recognize the sacrifices that they have made.”

In his speech, Morrison emphasized that too frequently in today’s society lessons from the past — particularly those difficult to process — are ignored.

“We find ourselves coming to what should be a regular occasion of remembrance. Far too often, people in our contemporary society fail to embrace this practice,” Morrison said. “For many, Memorial Day becomes a societal marker for barbecues and unofficial beginnings of summer. People celebrate, but they rarely remember.”

Morrison noted how the origins of Memorial Day as a federally-recognized holiday date back to May 30, 1868. Then known as Decoration Day, it was dedicated to decorating the graves of those who died while in military service — particularly during the bloodiest conflict in American history, the Civil War.

“Remembering reminds us of the disasters of a divided nation. The societal divisions of our contemporary context parallel the fractured country that engaged in the Civil War,” Morrison said. “It was a division resulting in conflict between the North and South, but the battle did not begin with physical weapons.

“On the contrary, it started with ideological and verbal bombs, which later manifested as grenades, land mines, musket and rifles on the battlefield. Today, we engage in conflict among ourselves and fail to learn from their actions so that we might avoid the horrors that they endured. Their conflict is our conflict.”

Remembering what caused this suffering, Morrison added, is often avoided. People appreciate the victories and celebrations, yet rarely embrace the defeats.

“In our current context, we do not process pain, but repress it. We ignore it, either hoping it will go away, or at least we can move through life without feeling its effects,” Morrison said. “The problem with this is that if we ignore the pain of the past, we may walk down the same path as our forbearers and thus experience the same struggles, pains and losses they did even to a greater extent. Their actions are our actions.”

Even still, Morrison struck a hopeful tone in closing. He noted that despite May 30 being chosen for Memorial Day because there were no identifiable major battles of the Civil War being fought on that day, there are still symbols from that time that provide optimism for unity. Morrison cited how there are both Union and Confederate soldiers buried together in Arlington National Cemetery.

“The bodies of these people who lived in conflict are now at rest in the same place. The image of this unification in peace and death should challenge us to strive for peace in life and remember every single person who has given their life so that we may have peace,” Morrison said. “As we remember those that have gone before us and consider that the graves of those who considered each other enemies are in the same location, let us look forward with hope, recognizing our ultimate victory does not necessarily come in the defeat with whom we call our enemy. It comes when we truly rest in peace in this life with the one who we previously called our enemy. When that occurs, we will truly understand that the victory of those who have gone before us is genuinely our victory.”

After Morrison finished speaking, he joined Hennings and Vien to lay a wreath at the base of a monument that honors the 34 men who died while working at NUWC's predecessor organizations. These include the Naval Torpedo Station, Naval Underwater Ordnance Station, and Naval Underwater Weapons Research and Engineering Station.

“Memorial Day is more than the traditional start of summer. It is a special holiday, a single day during which we honor those who died in service to our nation,” Hennings said. “Veterans Affairs records indicate that more than 42.3 million people have served in the U.S. military during wartime since the Revolutionary War, and 1.3 million have died in service. 

“Our job here at Division Newport is to support the warfighter by achieving undersea superiority and prevent this loss of life. We work to enable the warfighter, to help to keep our sailors out of harm's way. Your work for our warfighters helps to ensure they are never in a fair fight, and they continue to expand their advantage. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, too many make the ultimate sacrifice.”

Division Newport Director of Corporate Communications Jeff Prater, Code 103, opened the ceremony by discussing NUWC's history and the monument, which initially was erected in 1930 at Government Landing in downtown Newport under the auspices of the Newport Metal Trades Council.

“On May 27, 1966, a ceremony, with Frank Smith, president of the Local 119, International Association of Machinists presiding, marked the relocation of the memorial from Government Landing to this flagpole area on what is now the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport," Prater said.

Division Newport began as the Naval Torpedo Station on Newport's Goat Island on July 29, 1869, with the mission of testing and developing both torpedoes and the parts required for production. One of the components was an explosive called gun cotton.

Tests conducted in Newport found this substance to be a suitable replacement for gun powder in torpedo warheads, yet it was highly volatile and the substance cost Patrick H. Cremin his life in 1874.

Two more American patriots, Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Long Edes and Lt. Lyman G. Spalding, lost their lives in the line of duty on Aug. 29, 1881, when a torpedo exploded because of mismanagement of an electrical switch.

In 1882, the station was ordered to manufacture gun cotton for the Navy, and by 1884 a staff of five had produced about 10,000 pounds of the material. An explosion caused by a fire that originated in the picked-cotton room wiped out the factory on July 3, 1893.

A foreign object in the cotton struck the teeth of the picker, resulting in a spark that ignited the cotton. This fire spread through the wire netting in the top half of the door to loose cotton in the hallway, then to neighboring rooms and ignited a tank of dry gun cotton.

Jeremiah Harrington, Franklin Loughlin and Michael O'Reagan were killed by the explosion while attempting to fight the fire in the north end of the building. Ten other men were also injured in the blast.

When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare policy made development of antisubmarine warfare countermeasures the highest priority at the station. Torpedo research and development virtually ceased, while production of depth charges, aerial bombs and mines soared.

During this production process, though, an explosion occurred in the No. 2 workroom in January 1918. The affected area contained the daily allotment of detonators to be filled with fulminate of mercury.

Joe C. Andre, William G. Caswell, John H. Connolly, Timothy F. Fitzgerald, Joseph Frazier, George L. Giblin, Joseph G. Moitozo, John F. Murphy, Horace A. Pelletier, George H. Spooner, David J. Sullivan and Frank E. Wyatt were killed in the blast and six more were injured. James Mahoney survived the explosion but later died as a result of his injuries.

Reginal S. King and Patrick F. Shea were killed in another explosion in May 1918, while James E. Babcock, Frank Mazzulla, Arthur M. Gardner, Ralph A. St. Denis, Alexander C. MacLellan and Fidele Arsenault all died while serving their country through the years.

On Tuesday, April 26, 1955, there was a “tremendous explosion … with a shattering impact" at the Naval Underwater Ordnance Station in Building 115. The blast occurred at about 11 a.m. in the Dynamometer Test Room, and is believed to have been caused by a high-pressure airline rupture while testing a high-energy monopropellant fuel, called normal propyl nitrate, in a modified Mark 16 Mod 3 torpedo.

Peter J. Lada, John R. Lavender, Howard E. Staats Jr., Daniel J. Sullivan and Anthony Zimon were killed in the explosion that also injured five others.

In 1968, Randall J. Whitaker was nearing the end of a 33-year career as a mechanical engineer in the Engineering Assurance Branch, Design Approval Department, when the plane carrying him home from an assignment to Washington, D.C., crashed. Whitaker was killed in the accident.

Also listed on the monument is electrician's mate (EM1) L.W. Fletcher, who died in the line of duty but no date is listed.

More information on those who died in the line of duty can be found here.

A comprehensive history of the first 150 years of NUWC Division Newport is available here.

“Please keep the men and women of the United States military who are overseas defending our freedom and their families at home who are waiting for their safe return in your thoughts and prayers,” Hennings said. “Our nation honors these brave men and women and their families, for their service and sacrifice.”

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.