The U.S. Navy celebrates its 244th birthday on Oct. 13, 2019
Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, marks the 244th birthday of the U.S. Navy. Although it began with just two ships and a 160-person crew, the Navy today consists of over 330,000 active-duty service members, over 100,000 reservists and nearly 230,000 civilian employees.
The 244th Navy Birthday and Heritage Week honors well over two centuries of courage, loyalty, sacrifice and service. Additionally, this year's commemoration coincides with a major Naval milestone, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The birth and growth of the Navy
The U.S. Navy was born on Oct. 13, 1775, upon the passage of a resolution by the Continental Congress. The Continental Navy, as it was then known, was designed to protect the soon-to-be-independent colonies from British advances at sea.
In response to the looming shadow of WWI, the U.S. Naval Reserve Force (USNRF) was established on Mar. 3, 1915. Initially composed of a few thousand Naval veterans, it welcomed civilians the following year. By the end of the war, the USNRF consisted of over 245,000 Reserve Sailors, including 12,000 women, which accounted for over half of the Navy. These "citizen sailors" continued to have a significant impact. During WWII, three million members of the USNRF joined over 570,000 active-duty Sailors in the line of duty.
Another enduring example of Navy service and courage is the Naval Special Warfare Unit, which includes the Navy SEALS, short for Sea, Air, and Land teams. Though the unit wasn't established until Jan. 1, 1962, its history reaches back to the various special operations teams formed during WWII.
From D-Day and the attack on Pearl Harbor to operations in Korean, Vietnam, and the Middle East, Sailors and Naval officers have played a central role in defending the nation during the most pivotal moments in history.
"No Higher Honor"
October 2019 marks a significant Naval milestone: the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of WWII.
In October 1944, during the most dramatic chapter of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, two dozen Japanese vessels made a surprise attack on Allied forces in what became known as the Battle off Samar. While Naval service members heroically defended their fleet, some ships were lost, including the USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413). She was later dubbed "the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship" in a Presidential Unit Citation award.
Lieutenant Commander Robert Copeland, the ship's Commanding Officer, later stated that there was "no higher honor" than having commanded such a valiant crew. The theme for the 244th Navy Birthday and Heritage Week is "No Higher Honor" in remembrance of this occasion.
Honoring 244 years of service today
Across centuries of war and peace, Navy sailors, officers, reservists, veterans and civilian members have braved the depths of the sea in submarines and soared through the skies in fighter jets. Through it all, the Navy has held a steadfast presence over land, air, and sea, protecting the seas and shaping the nation's future.
Today, the honorable, unyielding spirit of the Navy can be captured by two phrases: its unofficial motto, "Non sibi sed patriae," meaning "not self but country," and "Forged by the Sea," the branch's current recruiting slogan.
The week-long observance of the Navy's 244th birthday begins on Oct. 7 and continues with the celebratory Navy Birthday Ball on Oct. 12 in Washington, DC.