Posted on September 1, 2022

Replace Navy Ship’s Confederate Name with That of an Immigrant Oceanographer

Tim Gallaudet, The Hill, August 30, 2022

This week, a commission to rename military assets that commemorate members of the Confederacy released recommendations to rename, relocate or remove a handful of buildings, monuments and roads at the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy. This is the second report of the commission, following the first report that recommended renaming nine Army bases with Confederate namesakes and preceding a third report that will provide recommendations for two Navy ships, the cruiser USS Chancellorsville ― named for a Confederate battle victory ― and the oceanographic survey ship USNS Maury.

USNS Maury is named after oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, who resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy to join the Confederacy at the outbreak of the American Civil War. The USNS Maury is an asset of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, which I led from 2014 to 2017. I attended the ship’s commissioning in 2017, where I praised Maury’s recognition as the father of modern oceanography. I did the same on other occasions when I served as the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory, which Maury founded in 1842. Notwithstanding this association, I agree with others who condemn the naming of any military unit after someone who fought against our government to maintain a system that enslaved other human beings.

The most appropriate individual after which to rename USNS Maury would be an American who made significant contributions to Naval oceanography — and reflected the diversity of our population. There is no better candidate with these qualifications than the American immigrant oceanographer Walter Munk. {snip} Here, I offer three points why a U.S. Navy ship should bear his name:

1) Munk’s initial contribution in ocean science supported our national security when he worked with Harald Sverdrup at Scripps during World War II to predict surf conditions for Allied landings in the Pacific theater. {snip}

2) More remarkable were Munk’s accomplishments in science writ large. From unlocking the nature of ocean currents that is the basis of modern numerical models, pioneering research in ocean acoustic tomography and internal waves, developing modern methods of tidal time series analysis, to exploring unexplainable characteristics of sea-level rise, the expanse of his impact on the field of geophysics is without equal.


3) A third aspect of Munk’s mark on America is the strength in diversity that he represented. Munk came to the United States from Austria-Hungary in 1937. {snip}

While discussions on diversity today tend to focus on race, it is equally important to include our immigrant population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, foreign-born citizens are the second largest minority group in America, tied with African Americans.