One hundred twenty years ago this month, US Navy Commodore George Dewey led a squadron of warships from Hong Kong and steamed towards the Spanish colony of the Philippines. It was the start of the Spanish-American War.
In Manila Bay on May 1, Dewey’s ships smashed the entire Spanish fleet while suffering only a handful of US casualties. That crushing naval victory cemented the US as a major player in the Pacific Ocean, leading to nearly a half century of US colonization of the Philippines.
It also turned Dewey into a war hero. He continues to be the only US naval officer to have attained the rank of Admiral of the Navy.
More than a century later, a US guided missile destroyer proudly carrying Dewey’s name continues to patrol the waters of the Pacific Ocean, projecting US naval power into this sprawling region.
The Navy gave CNN access to the USS Dewey during exercises last month. A US Navy MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter picked our team up from White Beach Naval Station on the Japanese island of Okinawa for the journey to the 510-foot-long, 9,000-ton warship.
Roughly 20 minutes after lift-off, we landed safely and smoothly on the back deck of the destroyer as it churned through the Philippine Sea.
Once on board, officers led us to Dewey’s ceremonial sword, which is stored in a glass case near his portrait in the ship’s state room.
Though it sails out of San Diego, California, the Dewey is currently assigned to an expeditionary strike group led by the USS Wasp, now operating out of Japan.
This fighting force, comprised of four ships, roughly 4,000 sailors and Marines, as well as helicopters, Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and F-35 stealth fighter jets, is scheduled to participate in annual joint military exercises in South Korea in the coming weeks.
Naval commanders are reluctant to discuss that assignment, in part because of recent dramatic policy shifts in the Trump administration’s approach to North Korea.
After a China-North Korea summit in Beijing, President Trump tweeted kind words about the North Korean leader, writing “now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting.”
But last November, Washington was engaged in serious saber-rattling, dispatching three aircraft carriers to simultaneously patrol off the coast of Korea for the first time in a decade, part of a clear effort to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile launches.
In 2017, North Korea launched a total of 23 missiles. Two flew over Japan. Pyongyang also threatened to shoot a salvo of missiles at Guam to hit the US island with “enveloping fire.”Ships like the Dewey are meant to be part of a first line of defense against such threats. The Dewey is armed with the Aegis weapons system, which can detect incoming threats, like missiles, and share the information with other warships.Other destroyers specifically equipped with ballistic missile defense can then theoretically shoot down a weapon fired from North Korea.”In […]