"There is no weapon system in the world that comes even close to the visible symbol of enormous power represented by the battleship." -- Retired Gen. P.X. Kelly, USMC
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Those words of the former Marine commandant resonate with me. In 1969, gunfire from the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) saved my rifle platoon in Vietnam. During her six months in-theater, the USS New Jersey's 16-inch guns were credited with saving more than 1,000 Marines' lives. The North Vietnamese so feared the ship that they cited her as a roadblock to the Paris peace talks. Our leaders, as they did so often in that war, made the wrong choice and sent her home. Now, 36 years later, Washington is poised to make another battleship blunder.
After the USS Iowa (BB-61) and USS Wisconsin, (BB-64) were taken out of active service in 1992, Congress passed Public Law 104-106, a 1996 measure requiring that our last two battleships be kept ready for reactivation. But today's Navy brass wants Congress to repeal the law, strike the ships from Naval Vessel Register -- the official list of available ships -- and donate them to museums.
The Navy, focusing on a new "strategic vision" called "sea basing," claims that the battleships' proven firepower is no longer necessary for Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) -- the kind of mission that saved my Marines three decades ago. Adm. Vernon Clark, the chief of naval operations, says that "Marines will be supported by combat air." That's great -- except when bad weather keeps the planes on deck instead of overhead. It also ignores the full range of support that is economically available from well-protected, highly mobile, gun and missile-firing battleships. This is not your grandfather's battlewagon.
In 1983, the USS New Jersey was the best support available to the Marines after their barracks were bombed in Beirut. During the "tanker war," in the mid-1980s, every time the USS Iowa steamed into the Persian Gulf, the Iranians ceased hostile action.
During Desert Storm, cruise missiles launched from both the USS Missouri (BB-63) and the USS Wisconsin attacked scores of targets deep inside Iraq; and an entire Iraqi Naval Infantry unit surrendered to one of the USS Wisconsin's unmanned aerial vehicles. Unlike any other naval vessel, battleships combine survivability, speed and immediate, heavy firepower.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.