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Samuel Eliot Morison: He Stood for Things Too Important for the World to Lose by Perer Sranford

At the beginning of World War II, President Roosevelt appointed Samuel Eliot Morison as the nation's official historian of naval operations during that war. His only restriction was to safeguard information that would endanger national security. In this capacity he served on eleven different ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific. The result of his work is a unique "shooting history'' of sixteen extraordinary volumes-the only work of its kind created to date. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning author, a Trumbull Professor of American History Emeritus at Harvard University, and a Retired Rear Admiral in the United States Naval Reserve. Admiral Morison died on 15 May 1976 in Boston. The credo borne on his gravestone, at his request, reads, "Dream dreams, then write them - aye, but live them first." h en I firsr mer Sam Morison, he was ensconced wirh Mary Otis, America entered the war. Immediately after the athis grear fri end Lincoln Colcord in rhe cabin of his tack on Pearl Harbor, Mo rison wrote to President Roosevelt and 45-foor kerch Mary Otis. Anchored in a cove on rhe suggesred rhat the Navy support the preparation of its official coasr of Maine, rhis was a part of rhe world he loved and cel- history in the war, as it was happening. Naturally, he volunteered ebrared for irs deep rides, whi ch produced a bounry in clam s and his services and both Roosevelt and the Secretary of the Navy agreed . A few months later, (May a diurnal change in scenery. The 1942) Morison found himself a Maine coast contrasted sharply wirh anorher shore he knew well, Lieutenant Co mmander in the rhe Medirerranean coast, with its US Naval Reserve, with access to all official records and permission tideless, unchanging scene. That to go anywhere, provided he safewas a scene he prized for other guard matters of national securiry. reasons, stemming from his vi tal interest in the ideas and progress of Moriso n's reputation as an experienced sailor preceded him, and he Western civilization. The year was was welcomed on almost a dozen 1941 , and World War II was raging across the Atlantic, a war America ships by the end of the war. As the official historian of the US Navy in was not yet engaged in, but in World War II, he fulfilled this task which we all knew our country had in fifceen volumes, each full of the a viral stake. indefi nable, but very real, feeling of At age fo urteen, I was en"being there." This stemmed from thralled by the stories Sam and Linc his resolve to be in the front line of exchanged with my fa ther, who had rowed over from our cutter Vision things he wrote abo ut and to report them in true and lively detail. to board Mary Otis. I was struck by The qualiry of Morison's work Sam's srraightforward way of speakowed much to this resolve and also ing and by his penerrarin g glan ce and equally charmed by Linc's to his deep respect for ships and seamen of all eras, under all Bagsrwinkling eye and roguish look. echoing at times the cadences of I had no idea then that Colcord the wild-haired, convention-defyhad been born in the after cabin of ing poet Walt Whitman. For it was a Down Easter off Cape Horn in Samuel Eliot Morison's ketch Mary Otis was used to serve Whitman's works that were read rhe height of a raging gale or that as the Nina in the Harvard Columbus Expedition. aloud in the evenings in the oldMorison revered him as ''rhe Sage of Searsport." I was in awe of Morison because I had read, nay fas hioned Morison household ar 44 Brimmer Street in Boston, devoured, his Maritime History ofMassachusetts. I had no idea that where Morison was born in 1887. He was living there at his dearh his Mary Otis had played rhe role of Columbus's Nina in an ex- in 1976, full of years and achievement. His firsr published wo rk, pedition organized by Morison just rwo years earlier. That voyage on his ancestor Harrison Gray Otis, was based on letters sto red retraced, under sail, the courses Columbus sailed in opening rhe in its attic. After graduation from Harvarrd and a year at the Sorbonne Americas to the world, a voyage that led to Admiral of the Ocean Sea-rhe definitive life of Columbus. in Paris, Morison secured his docto1rate in history and took up the Six months after that m emorable visi r in the snug cabin of life of a Harvard professor, a life off privilege but not great wealrh

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SEA

HISTOR~Y

113 , WINTER 2005-2006

Sea History 113 - Winter 2005-2006  

10 Dangerous Voyage, by Roger Tilton • 16A French Spoliation Case: Not-Quite Justice after Never-Was War, by Jock Yellott • 26 Samuel Elio...

Sea History 113 - Winter 2005-2006  

10 Dangerous Voyage, by Roger Tilton • 16A French Spoliation Case: Not-Quite Justice after Never-Was War, by Jock Yellott • 26 Samuel Elio...