A foundation set up to celebrate Navy aviation’s 100th birthday has disavowed an official history on its website, after former combat pilots complained of inaccuracies and political correctness.
As the first celebration commenced last month at a naval air base in California, a number of enraged former pilots began bombarding the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation with complaints. The Navy views the commemoration with high regard, with celebrations planned at Navy and Marine Corps air stations from California to Florida.
The foundation’s official history slide show featured four “firsts” for women, such as the first female operations officer in 1992. It also accentuated humanitarian missions. But it devoted only two slides to World War II and barely mentioned Vietnam, during which the Navy orchestrated a decade of multiple aircraft carrier operations.
“There is ‘history’ and then there is ‘revisionist history’ written to support a political agenda,” said Roy Stafford, a former Marine attack aircraft pilot. “This timeline offered up the first female naval aviator and first female navy astronaut and first black Blue Angel pilot as major milestones and high-water marks for naval aviation to the exclusion of the real history makers. That just didn’t sit well with my simple Marine Corps mind.”
Mr. Stafford is among a group of retirees who wrote e-mails of protest that ended up in the foundation’s lap.
“The true facts are that women’s contribution to naval aviation has been minimal to nonexistent for 80 of the first 100 years,” said Mr. Stafford. “The simple truth is they were not there, not World War I, not World War II, not Korea nor Vietnam. Men who pushed the limits of mankind to levels never before reached, to relegate them to footnote status while elevating the social agenda is a disservice to all who went before them.”
The retired aviators’ irate criticisms directed at the 100th anniversary foundation were tinged with surprise, since it is run by men like themselves.
One of them, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Bob Butcher, told The Washington Times that after reading the e-mailed complaints, he agreed with them and the timeline was taken off the website. A reporter found the timeline still posted at a foundation address: NavalAviation100.org/the-history-of-naval-aviation.
Gen. Butcher, who is the 100th foundation’s co-chairman, said the contested history was written by public affairs specialists. “It should not have actually been on the website,” he said. “But it did frankly get up on the website. And, of course, people objected to it because it was certainly not an accurate depiction of the significant events of naval aviation.”
Gen. Butcher, who is also chairman of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and Aviation Museum, said a new history is being written by the U.S. Navy’s National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla.
“There are some significant events that occurred in World War II that should be there,” Gen. Butcher said.
The foundation’s website features the slide show under the headline “The History of Naval Aviation” and a caption that invites visitors to “discover key events that helped shape the history of U.S. Naval Aviation.”
It begins with the first shipboard landing on Jan. 18, 1911, in San Francisco Bay. The slides proceed through the early developmental phase to World War II, when Navy aviation played a pivotal role in the Pacific. The timeline mentions only two sea battles — Coral Sea and Midway, both in 1942. The only slide for the Korean War focuses on helicopters, not the first use of Navy jets. Air operations in Vietnam are not mentioned.
The slide show features, with photo portraits, the first female naval aviator, the first female line officer, the first Marine Corps female aviators and the first woman to command a squadron. The slides do not honor any particular male aviation pioneers.
A second, more-detailed history, called a “flipbook” slide show on the same Web page, does show several naval flying aces. But it provides few details on World War II and Korea and provides nothing on air combat in Vietnam. It mentions the Afghanistan War but not the Iraq War in 2003 when naval aviators flew hundreds of sorties. The flipbook highlights four female “firsts.”
“My complaint about this 100th anniversary is not necessarily we celebrate the accomplishments or the firsts,” said Jon Ault, a retired F-14 pilot who carried out more than 1,000 carrier landings. “But the fact they’re excluding other very, very important events in naval aviation to be more politically correct in honoring blacks, females and what have you — come on. If you’re going to do this thing, do it equally across the board.”
Missing from the history is the story of Mr. Ault’s father, the late Navy Capt. Frank W. Ault. After Navy and Air Force pilots performed poorly over North Vietnam, the elder Ault was tasked to find out why. His study led to the creation of the Top Gun fighter school later immortalized by Hollywood.
“All I’m saying is don’t let the PC maniacs take charge of this evolution and stand there and do a year of celebration of just stuff that is PC and the media will suck up,” Mr. Ault said.
A letter to the foundation from another retired flier said, “As a former Navy A-4 attack pilot with two Vietnam cruises, this whole current PC ‘Cheerleading’ Time Line on your website is nothing more than a Disney World silly symbolism and girlie-man PR stunt … nothing more. Worse, it’s a basic slap in the face to the tens of thousands of Navy and Marine aviators who took enormous risks, gave their lives, and demonstrated enormous courage under daunting conditions to build what Naval Air has become today.”
The foundation plans 34 celebrations nationwide throughout 2011, culminating in a “centennial closing gala” at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Honorary board members include Neil Armstrong, a retired Navy captain and the first man to step onto the moon; former Sen. John Glenn, also a former astronaut; and actors Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall and Tom Hanks.