CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (NNS) -- The commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet and the former commanding officer of USS Annapolis (SSN 760) were special guests at an event held Dec. 1 by the Harvard Foundation to mark the end of the centennial of the North Pole's discovery and to celebrate diversity.
U.S. 2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Mel Williams Jr. and Cmdr. Michael Brunner attended the event along with more than 100 distinguished guests including a Nobel Laureate, Harvard professors, graduates and students, CEO of Johnson Publishing, Linda Johnson Rice, actor Blair Underwood, and a contingent of the Boston Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps Consortium midshipmen.
Attack submarine USS Annapolis took memorabilia to the North Pole this past April during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2009 to commemorate the historic expedition, when Commander Robert E. Peary, Matthew A. Henson, and Inuit assistants were the first to reach the top of the world April 6, 1909. The commemorative case, compiled by the Harvard University, contained a U.S. flag and Bible similar to ones taken during the original expedition and books by Peary and Henson.
Dr. S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation, spearheaded the Harvard North Pole Discovery Centennial Commemorative Project to celebrate the expedition and clarify the historic record recognizing the important contributions of Henson, who was African-American.
Annapolis was assigned the support role after Counter approached Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet for help in transporting the case, who in turn worked with Commander, U.S. Submarine Force and Commander, Submarine Group 2. The timing was supported by the submarine's existing operational schedule.
"These extraordinary men [Peary and Henson] exhibited remarkable patriotism, leadership, perseverance and amazing skills in reaching the North Pole at a time that preceded modern technological guidance systems," said Counter.
But, Henson was ignored by the press and left out of the history books because of the social attitudes in the United States at the time, according to Counter who is also a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
During the evening reception held in Harvard University's historic Winthrope House, where John F. and Robert Kennedy lived as students, Counter thanked Williams and Brunner for their support in keeping a promise to Inuit descendants of Peary and Henson to honor these two heroes.
"It was a true privilege for me and my crew to participate in this dramatic adventure," said Brunner who recently relinquished command of the Annapolis. "The experience reminded us just how far we have come in accepting and embracing diversity in 100 years," he added.
Williams, a graduate of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government - Senior Executive Program in National and International Security, spoke about the discovery and the commemoration effort.
"A diverse team of leaders and pioneers discovered the North Pole in April 1909 - Commander Robert Peary, U.S. Navy, Matthew Henson, and the Inuit assistants," said Williams. "A diverse team of leaders collaborated, to appropriately commemorate in April 2009 the North Pole's discovery 100 years later. This included, Dr. Counter, Harvard University and the Harvard Foundation, the USS Annapolis commanding officer and crew, with an assist from Commander, U.S. Second Fleet; Commander, U.S. Submarine Force; and Commander, Submarine Group Two.
"Diversity is a strategic imperative within the Navy. It is directly linked to our readiness and our capability to perform our duties around the world, as we team with our allies and partners from a myriad of cultures and backgrounds. We work tirelessly to ensure that every individual can realize their full potential while serving in the United States Navy."
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