Sunday, January 22, 2012

Quick quiz

The following two headlines today were found on the web site of:

a) the National Enquirer
b) the News of the World
c) CNN

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Pirate of the Pacific' comes full circle

The crew of the USS Kidd (DD661) hoisting the jolly roger (photo from  

When I'm not writing headlines and introducing typographical errors into captions ("Hello, Mister Caption, I'd like you to meet somebody whose name is about to be misspelled), I lead a double life as a World War 2 historian. And when the USS Kidd recently captured a bunch of Somali pirates and freed some Iranian fishermen, the name USS Kidd rang a bell.

Initially I thought it might have been one of the destroyers that came in close to Omaha Beach on D-Day and shelled the German pillboxes, but a quick Google search revealed I was wrong about that. That was the USS Frankford, which some veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion I interviewed more than a decade ago credited with turning the tide, no pun intended, on Omaha Beach. A tank on the beach would fire a smoke or a white phosphorous shell at a target overlooking the beach so that the Frankford and another destroyer could zero in on it with their bigger guns. The other destroyer, however, was not the USS Kidd, which was in the Pacific at the time.

It turns out, however, that the name USS Kidd really did ring a bell. The very newspaper I work for, the Bristol Press (and its sister paper the New Britain Herald), had an article on Dec. 8 of last year about a ceremony at the VFW post in Bristol in which a bell from the USS Kidd that someone donated was dedicated and was rung in memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Making the ceremony even more poignant was the fact that the Kidd was named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, who perished on the bridge of the USS Arizona.

Of course the USS Kidd that fought in many famous World War II battles was not the USS Kidd that freed the Iranian fishermen. The original Kidd is a floating museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The latest Kidd is the third generation of the ship with that name, a grand Kidd, if you will. But going back to World War II, I learned first from Wikipedia and later from a visit to the ship/museum's web site that the original crew of the Kidd adopted the famous pirate Captain Kidd as their mascot, flew the jolly roger on their maiden voyage, and had a caricature of Captain Kidd painted on both sides of the forward smokestack. The ship became known, according to the museum web site, as "The Pirate of the Pacific," and its crew was known as "The Pirates of the Pacific."

Lest you think the crew was being disrespectful, this from the history section of the museum's web site:

"The KIDD's first voyage was one of some notoriety. Under the command of Cdr. Allan B. Roby, the destroyer moved across New York Harbor for delivery to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyards . . . flying the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger high from the foremast. The edition of TIME magazine that week carried a photo of KIDD, announcing that it had been one hundred years since the Jolly Roger had flown in New York Harbor. The crew quickly adopted the pirate Captain Kidd—who ironically hailed from New York—as their mascot and hired a local cartoonist to paint the famed buccaneer's image high on the forward smokestack.  Not wishing to dishonor RADM Kidd, however, the crew obtained permission from Mrs. Kidd first.  The Admiral's nickname at the Naval Academy hadbeen "Cap" (as in "Captain Kidd") and he had gone by this nickname his entire life.  So on the crew's behalf, Mrs. Kidd obtained official permission from the powers-that-be in the Navy for them to paint the pirate on the stack and fly the Jolly Roger.  The KIDD would become the only vessel in the history of the United States Navy to ever have such leave granted to fly the flag of piracy."

So in one of those bizarre twists of history, when the modern USS Kidd captured a group of Somali pirates, it was as if the Pirate of the Pacific had come full circle.