Christopher Hays

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Norfolk Naval Base
Christopher Hays

Beyond the 300,000 Virginians who served during World War II, the people of Virginia influenced the outcome of the war, and were impacted by the war. Many important commanders of the war were native Virginians or had strong ties to Virginia, including: George C. Marshall, Alexander Archer Vandegrift, Douglas MacArthur, and George S. Patton. Over 7,000 Virginians were killed and every community was touched. Communities became involved by enlisting, volunteering or by donating goods, services and capital.

During that period, and since, Virginia's largest employer has been the federal government. One example: the Naval Station Norfolk. This is the story of Naval Base Norfolk, one story of Virginia's impact on WWII and how WWII impacted Virginia.

During the Jamestown Exposition of 1906, highly ranking naval officials looked at the site of Norfolk, Virginia and thought it had the potential to be a naval base. Two years later, funds were appropriated to purchase land. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the base expanded. When the attack on Pearl Harbor hit, Norfolk was one of only two naval supply depots in the Continental US. San Diego, California was the other one. Norfolk's strategic location and existing facilities made it a good candidate for expansion, and by 1941, the naval base began to grow rapidly: 10,000 recruits were trained, and 16,000 officers were enlisted on the site, with 14,000 sailors on ships dispatched from Norfolk. After Pearl Harbor, the base was increased by another 5,500. The substantial contribution to the war that Norfolk provided was important for a variety of Allied Forces. Today, the Naval Station Norfolk is the largest naval base in the world, encompassing 75 ships, 134 aircrafts, 14 piers and 11 aircraft hangers.

But the story of Norfolk goes much beyond a supply depot, to the people, ships, and stories that came and went through Norfolk. One huge factor that influenced the success of Norfolk were the Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (Navy WAVES) who were permitted to leave continental USA, and given equal pay and promotional opportunities as men. They were mechanics, helping hands and high-ranking officers alike. This was one of the first military opportunities that women had.

Norfolk was the primary docking station for the Atlantic fleet, which meant that many of the ships that went to fight in Europe, were built, commissioned and sent to war in Norfolk. One of these ships, which was one of a very few aircraft hangers, was the USS Franklin, named after Benjamin Franklin, and sent to war off the coast of Japan. A little over a month later, when the ship arrived, it was hit, twice, by a Japanese aerial attack. 800 crewmembers died but many stayed on board voluntarily to help regain control of the carrier. They were successful in their attempts and the ship eventually would sail back to friendly waters. Many heroes rose from the aftermath of the damage. One of these people, who showed "Tenacity, Courage and Honor", was Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, who was at that time, the ship's Chaplain. He rushed about the ship helping, and reading rights to too many crew close to death. He was later recognized for his contribution to the safety of the ship and awarded the Medal of Honor.

These stories all became part of Norfolk. The rich history of this time period in Virginia has been monumentalized forever as a tribute to the loss, and the eventual glory of that specific part of Virginia.

Naval Base Norfolk was fundamental to the outcome of WWII. The US needed a naval stronghold on the East Coast, and Norfolk, already a supply depot, was expanded significantly. Continuing in its role as supply depot, many ships were also first put to sea at its docks, and many service men and women were trained at its facilities. Norfolk still serves the US as the largest naval base in the world. Naval Base Norfolk is one example of how WWII affected Virginia, and how Virginia affected the outcome of WWII. Without World War II, Norfolk wouldn't be the largest naval base in the World; and the US military might not be such as strong program. World War II greatly affected Virginia, and Virginia contributed greatly to World War II, forever changing the face of both.