Who doesn't love Fleet Week? It is almost impossible not to feel the patriotism flow from your body every May as some of the worlds finest ships sail up the Hudson River. The problem is, does anyone know why Fleet Week is so important? Or understand the meaning of it?And did you know there are two Fleet Week celebrations?
New York City's Fleet Week has its official start date sometime in 1982. However, Fleet Week was first celebrated in 1898 in New York Harbor. Why 1898 you might be wondering? Well if you've ever read this great article called "How the Canyon of Heroes is Turning into a Canyon of Zeroes" you would know. But for those who haven't read that one, here is why 1898 is so important. On August 20, 1898 Admiral Dewey returned from Manila and was greeted with a heroes welcome. It was a two day parade and celebration down Broadway not just for Dewey but for the men returning home from war. This time could be seen as the first Fleet Week.
During this first Fleet Week or as it was known the Spanish-American War Victory Celebration New York Harbor was filled with warships and service men. There were some 30 ships in the harbor that week which carried well over 10,000 soldiers and sailors. Even though this wasn't the official first Fleet Week it can be seen as the ground breaking for the celebration. Most of the ships on hand during the celebration were based out of either the Brooklyn, Bayonne or Philadelphia Naval Yards and all had to accompany the Admiral back to New York. It wouldn't be until 1918 that there would be anything close to this kind of celebration until the of General Pershing and the American Expeditionary Forces. This celebration again mirrored that of 1898 as a military victory.
From 1918 until 1982 there was never an official Fleet Week. After WWII there was another Canyon of Heroes Parade which in turn caused a Fleet Week. The Brooklyn Naval Yard was home to many ships and held naval reviews yearly which could be considered Fleet Week but never was. But where and when was the first official Fleet Week? For that we must head to the west coast as San Diego gets the credit for hosting the first Fleet Week. In 1935 over 100 ships, 500 planes and 55,000 enlisteds were put on display to show the might of the American fighting forces. This was done as Americans were growing nervous of the military build ups around the world (i.e., Germany, Russia, Japan). The tradition of Fleet Week than moved up the coast and into San Francisco Bay. The first official use of the term Fleet Week comes from San Fransisco 1981 Columbus Day Weekend celebrations. In turn New York City then hosted her first Fleet Week Memorial Day Weekend in 1982. Each celebration draws well over one million visitors annually.
Fleet Week is deeply rooted in American History. It started with Admiral Dewey's victory during the Spanish American War and continues until today. It is a way as American's not to celebrate military might but to honor our service men and women. It is always a great site to see aircraft carriers and battleships sail in front of the New York Skyline or under the Golden Gate Bridge. To see the few surviving ships of wars of the past. But most importantly to see the men and women of our armed forces get the honor, respect and R&R they deserve. So enjoy Fleet Week in you're in the New York City area and just say a little thank you to our service people as it is the least we could do. And remember Fleet Week is not just to honor those today but those in the past as well.