A May 1944 Monthly History Report

The USS Intrepid, 75 years ago (this past August 16th, 2017) was commissioned and joined the U.S. Navy in the middle of World War II. For the next two years she and her crew trained, fitted out and then fought their way across the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the contributions the ship and crew made to victory were vital and the price they paid heavy. Travel with our Museum tour guides here each month as they follow Intrepid’s journey and its crew’s experience throughout World War II.

May 1944: Captains

During Intrepid’s long career in the United States Navy, 30 different men served as the ship’s captain, or commanding officer (CO). Today, there is a plaque on the restored navigation bridge listing the names of these men and the years they were aboard. Museum guests are often very surprised to find out that not one of the captains held that post on Intrepid longer than 14 months. In fact, many served aboard for far shorter periods of time. But while the frequency of changes in command may seem strange, it has long been common practice in the U.S. Navy. Officers are regularly rotated to different positions and jobs, as well as between ship and shore posts. The variety helps to mold well-rounded leaders and ensure that each receives experience in both the command as well as the administrative side of Navy officership. During times of war, the number of available commanding officer billets grows, and the reassignment process tends to accelerate. In fact, in May 1944, while Intrepid spent yet another month in California under repair, three different men rightly called themselves captain.

Intrepid’s History
Capt. William Dodge Sample (pictured) was in command of USS Intrepid for a single month before being reassigned to USS Hornet. Courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation
At the beginning of May 1944, Capt. William Dodge Sample was only in his second week aboard. Back on April 19, he reported to Intrepid and took over from Cdr. Richard Gaines. Gaines, Intrepid’s Executive Officer, had served as interim commanding officer since the promotion and departure of Adm. Thomas Sprague in March. As for Sample, he was a rising star in the Navy. The son of a retired army general from Buffalo, New York, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1919 and qualified as an aviator a few years later. Before Intrepid, Sample supervised the conversion of USS Santee from oil tanker into escort carrier. Next he took Santee into harm’s way in support of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Sample’s tenure on board Intrepid was significant, as he supervised continuing repairs, but brief. On May 19, after just a month as captain, he was reassigned to fill a vacancy on another fully operational carrier, USS Hornet.  As captain of Hornet, Sample went on to lead it through the battle of the Philippine Sea in June. Later that summer he was promoted to Rear Admiral, becoming the youngest Admiral in the Pacific Fleet during World War II. Sample served through the rest of the war and into the occupation of Japan until his death in October 1945 during an airplane crash. Sample is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Intrepid’s History
Capt. William Dodge Sample (center, at microphone) took over command of Intrepid from Cdr. Richard Gaines (to Sample’s left) on April 19, 1944, only to turn the ship back over to Gaines a month later. Courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation
Upon Sample’s departure Cdr. Gaines assumed temporary command of USS Intrepid for the second time. Gaines, the son of a congressman, was from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. He graduated from Annapolis in 1925. As executive officer Gaines was with Intrepid from the very beginning, reporting aboard in June 1943. He would stay aboard until September 1944. Though Gaines’s rank during his two brief periods as CO remained commander, he nevertheless held the title of “captain.” In the U.S. Navy, any officer commanding a ship is always referred to as “captain” while aboard their vessel. This time around, Gaines’s tenure as captain included the May 26, 1944 refloating and dry-docking of Intrepid. Five days later he turned over command of the carrier for the last time to newly arrived Captain Joseph F. Bolger.
Intrepid’s History
Capt. Joseph F. Bolger took command of USS Intrepid in late May 1944. In the months that followed, he led the ship and crew through their largest battle and closest brush with disaster. Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Like Sample, Bolger was another promising aviator on his way to bigger and better things, though his stay aboard would be far longer. Bolger was part of the Naval Academy Class of 1921 and from Adams, Massachusetts. Since October 1942 he had served ashore as aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air. On May 30, 1944 the same day Bolger took command, Intrepid’s repairs were finally completed. Preparations began immediately for a return journey to Pearl Harbor. One of Bolger’s first acts upon taking command was to begin an intense training program with much emphasis on anti-aircraft gunnery. Eighteen years later, the 1963 cruise book made reference to the training program observing that “there was hardly a fact to be learned that would not find its practical application in the very near future.” Intrepid seemed to finally be heading back into the Pacific War.