MESSINA, Sicily — USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) participated in memorializing the 100th anniversary of a natural disaster here, Jan. 27-28.
In 1907, then-President Theodore Roosevelt deployed 16 battleships, on a mission to circumnavigate the globe in an attempt to test naval readiness, establish global presence, generate international goodwill and garner enthusiasm for the U.S. Navy. The group would later be called the Great White Fleet because the hulls of each ship were painted white.
On Dec. 28, 1908, an earthquake and resulting tsunami decimated coastal towns including Messina, Sicily. The quake left an estimated 100,000 of the town's population of 150,000, dead and thousands more homeless. Approximately 90 percent of the town's buildings were destroyed. The fleet was in the Mediterranean area at that time. Roosevelt rerouted the ships to the affected areas to deliver humanitarian aid and assistance.
"We're here to memorialize the events of 100 years ago in a joint effort continuing our very positive relationship with Italy," said Navy Capt. Edward J. Lester, Leyte Gulf commanding officer. "We couldn't do everything we do without the support of the Italian government and people and we're here to support that."
The U.S. Congress passed the largest appropriation in history up to that time to fund supplies and materials needed to build temporary shelter and facilities for the thousands of homeless residents left in the area. Sailors were assigned the responsibility to supervise the construction of houses, hospitals and churches in the most badly damaged areas.
The humanitarian mission was one of the first such missions that the U.S. had embarked on. It helped set a standard by the government and the armed forces to render aid whenever and wherever it is needed. It's a tradition that can be seen most recently in relief efforts for Hurricane Ike and aid missions to places such as Haiti after it was hit by tropical storms and hurricanes.
In his address commemorating "The 100th Anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's Great White Fleet," Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter, used the relationship between the U.S. and Italy as an example of the importance of humanitarian aid and its use in forging lasting partnerships with nations across the globe.
"President Roosevelt would be proud of the many other examples of humanitarian relief operations that our Navy and Marine Corps have carried out over the past 100 years, and he would certainly take great satisfaction in seeing the warm and friendly relationship that has developed between Italy and the United States," Winter said.