By Lt. Lesley Lykins, Navy Office of Information, East
The U.S. Navy commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet in Oct. 7 at Grand Central Terminal with the opening of an exhibit that will run through the 2008 Columbus Celebration ending Oct. 17.
The exhibit - which includes eight-foot models of battleships, artifacts, memorabilia from Sailors aboard the ships and photo displays that tell the story of an American naval mission - highlights aid provided by ships of the Great White Fleet to in 1908 following a devastating earthquake.
"This is a great opportunity not only to recognize the accomplishments of the Great White Fleet but to also highlight our continuing Navy and Marine Corps mission to help keep international waterways safe and to reach out to those in need," said Rear Adm. Terence McKnight, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
In 1907, then-President Theodore sent 16 battleships with the hulls painted white to circumnavigate the globe on a goodwill mission and display of American naval power. The ships were later known as the Great White Fleet.
When a devastating earthquake followed by a tidal wave hit and in late 1908, leaving an estimated 200,000 dead, ships from the fleet rushed to provide essential humanitarian aid and services.
The exhibit demonstrates the clear parallels between the Great White Fleet, sent on its deployment by Roosevelt, and today's Maritime Strategy emphasizing increased global partnerships to promote peace and prosperity worldwide.
"Just as four ships from the Great White Fleet provided humanitarian assistance following an earthquake in [one] hundred years ago, our amphibious ships continue that important mission today," said McKnight.
"USS Nassau (LHA 4)returned recently from relief efforts following Hurricane Ike, and USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) spent a great deal of time rendering aid to Haiti following tropical storms and hurricanes that affected that nation."
"I have the great honor and privilege to inaugurate this very special exhibit in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of one of the world's worst natural disasters and the humanitarian assistance rendered by the Great White Fleet of the United State Navy," said Richard Greco, former assistant secretary of the Navy. "Together the Department of the Navy and the Columbus Citizens Foundation, along with many corporate and governmental sponsors, have all co-sponsored this exhibit because we believe it is a story that needs to be told.
"This is a story that cannot be forgotten, a story of unspeakable loss of life and misery but a story of great charity and love by one nation to another nation in a time of need."
The 2008 Columbus Celebration in will feature the U.S. Navy while remembering the Great White Fleet and the aid provided to . It is the largest celebration of Italian and Italian-American culture in the world. The Columbus Celebration is organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation, which raises scholarship funds for students of Italian descent.
"The significance of the rescue efforts in is important because it shows the close relationship between the and which continues today," said Lawrence Auriana, chairman of the board of governors of the Columbus Citizens Foundation.
Noreen Kirk, from , and her 2-year-old son stopped by the exhibit at Grand Central Terminal.
"I didn't know about the Great White Fleet, but this is very informative," said Kirk.
"We had been here a few days ago and saw the announcement that this exhibit would be opening," said Debbie Friedman, a native of visiting the exhibit with her husband. "This is very impressive, and it describes a part of history that is not very well recognized today."
The amphibious assault ship will visit for the Columbus Celebration with Sailors participating in the New York City Columbus Day parade. The ship will be open for public visitation Oct. 13.