The US Navy is 244 years old today. Here are 42 powerful images from its iconic history.

US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets fly in formation on March 12, 2019.

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US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets fly in formation on March 12, 2019.
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Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe/US Navy
  • On October 13, the US Navy turns 244 years old.
  • The US Navy dates back to the founding of the Continental Navy, and has been a vital part of US security ever since, from the Civil War and World War II, to Operation Desert Storm, to countering Chinese aggression in the Pacific.
  • It has long been the most visible part of America’s military might with visits to far flung ports and exercises and operations all over the world.
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From the Battle of Guadalcanal to the patrols in the South China Sea, sailors have played an essential role in American security throughout the United States’ history. SEALs, Seabees, Sailors, pilots, boatswains, and many more serve in the Navy, serving whereever they’re called.

To celebrate the US Navy, we’ve pulled out some of the coolest photos from the archives.


In the decades after the Civil War, America began a new era of foreign intervention with the Navy leading the way. This 1899 photo shows sailors eating on the USS Olympia, which was the US’s flagship during the Spanish-American War of the previous year.

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Library of Congress

The USS Holland, seen in this photo from 1900, was the Navy’s first commissioned submarine.

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http://www.navy.mil/navydata/cno/n87/history/subhistory.html

President Theodore Roosevelt ordered a fleet of US ships to circumnavigate the globe from 1907-1909.

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http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_071214-N-0000X-001_In_1907,_Theodore_Roosevelt,_26th_president_of_the_United_States,_sent_a_portion_of_the_Atlantic_fleet_on_a_world_tour_to_test_naval_readiness,_establish_global_presence_and_generate_international_goo.jpg

The Great White Fleet sent an unmistakable message about American naval power.

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http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_071214-N-0000X-001_In_1907,_Theodore_Roosevelt,_26th_president_of_the_United_States,_sent_a_portion_of_the_Atlantic_fleet_on_a_world_tour_to_test_naval_readiness,_establish_global_presence_and_generate_international_goo.jpg

As the first World War raged in Europe, America rushed to build more and better ships, as seen in this 1917 photo …

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http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hec/item/hec2008007098/

… and grew the ranks of sailors, as seen in this 1917 picture of graduation exercises at the Naval Academy.

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http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hec/item/hec2008006303/

The last of the US Navy’s rigid airships, the USS Macon performed scouting missions from 1933 to 1935.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NH43901-enhanced.jpg

Since 1935, American ports have hosted “Fleet Week,” a celebration of the sea services including sailors, Marines, and coast guardsmen. Here, sailors arrive in Manhattan in 1941.

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US Navy photo

Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 spurred America’s entry into World War II. This photo shows a memorial service for sailors killed in the attack.

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Library of Congress

Sailors at Pearl Harbor worked to salvage their ships and restore the base. This picture shows the recovery of a Japanese midget submarine abandoned during the Pearl Harbor attack.

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Library of Congress

Meanwhile, on the mainland, recruits signed up for the Navy and other armed services by the millions.

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WW2 Museum

Women also served the Navy through the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program.

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Library of Congress

The US Navy led the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. This 1942 photo shows the torpedoed Japanese destroyer Yamakaze photographed through the periscope of USS Nautilus.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Torpedoed_Japanese_destroyer_HD-SN-99-02974.JPEG

One of the most famous incidents in Navy history occurred at 2:30 am on August 2, 1943, when 25-year-old John F. Kennedy’s patrol torpedo boat was hit by a Japanese destroyer. Two of Kennedy’s men were killed in the crash.

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John F Kennedy Presidential Library

The Navy also fought the Nazis, as seen in this 1944 photo showing the capture of a German U-Boat.

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http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_030205-N-0000X-001_A_boarding_party_from_the_USS_Pillsbury_(DE_133)_works_to_secure_a_tow_line_to_the_newly_captured_German_U-boat_U-505_on_Jun_4,_1944.jpg

On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies, effectively ending World War II. The highly anticipated “Victory over Japan Day,” gave way to some uninhibited celebrations — like this classic sailor’s kiss in Times Square.

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Library of Congress

Only five years after WWII, America was fighting another war, this time in Korea. This 1950 photo shows the USS Missouri bombarding Korea’s communist-held Northern coastline in order to cut enemy communications.

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http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/kowar/kowar.htm

The Navy has planes too, about 3,700. This 1950 photo shows Boeing B-29 Superfortresses dropping 500 pound bombs on a chemical plant during the Korean War.

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Library of Congress

The US Navy’s Douglas Skyraider was known for being able to take hits and keep flying. Here’s a Skyraider deploying bombs in 1952 over Korea.

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Wikimedia Commons

Beginning in 1964 and lasting for most of the next decade, the Vietnam War was the next major US conflict. This Navy jet fighter shoots Zuni rockets while flying over South Vietnam.

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Wikimedia Commons

A crewman sits behind a machine gun while on patrol on the Go Cong River. Fighting in dense jungle against well-supplied Viet Cong left American troops frustrated with combat conditions. It was after this war that “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” was officially identified.

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Library of Congress

The Navy played a major role during the Cuban Missile Crisis, enforcing a blockade to prevent Soviet weapons deliveries to Cuba. This 1962 photo shows a Navy seaplane and destroyer ship shadowing a Soviet submarine.

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Library of Congress

Two F/A-18C Hornet aircraft of Strike Fighter Squadron 74 above aircraft carrier USS Saratoga during Operation Desert Shield.

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US Navy photo

Operation Desert Storm, the US-led mission to liberate Kuwait from Iraq, deployed 14 destroyers and 2 battleships. In 1991, the battleship USS Missouri fires at Iraqi targets stationed along the Kuwaiti coast.

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Wikimedia Commons

Here is one Navy pilot’s stats marked on the side of his attack aircraft while deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm. They show combat missions flown, missiles launched, and bombs dropped.

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Wikimedia Commons

In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US entered into a “War On Terror” to eliminate al Qaeda. The Navy’s amphibious assault ship, deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, is shown dropping off a 5-ton truck.

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Wikimedia Commons

A Navy sailor working in an expeditionary command tests his night-vision goggles before setting off on another night patrol through Iraq’s waterways in 2007.

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Wikimedia Commons

A Navy Seahawk helicopter returns to the USNS Mercy hospital ship after completing a humanitarian mission in the Pacific in 2008.

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Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Varcarcel/U.S. Navy

This F/A-18C Hornet is the nation’s first strike-fighter jet and has a top speed of 1,190 miles per hour — and comes in at a cost of $39 million per plane. A typical Navy air wing has about 14 of these on hand.

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Chief Petty Officer Eric Powell/U.S. Navy

The US Navy provides air, land, and sea support to the military. These divers search the sea floor during a salvage recovery exercise in 2010.

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Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Lussier/U.S. Navy

Navy SEALs leap from the ramp of an Air Force transport aircraft during parachute training over a Marine Corps base in Hawaii. Exercises like this show collaboration between military branches.

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Cpl. Reece Lodder/U.S. Marine Corps

The US Navy submarine force consists of four vessel classes, all of which are nuclear-powered. In this 2004 photo, the crew of the USS Portsmouth enjoy the waters of the Pacific Ocean while deployed.

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US Navy photo

The USS Enterprise, or “Big E,” is the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and has more steel construction than the Empire State Building. Though decommissioned in 2012, the Enterprise was once the Navy’s largest vessel — with a 1960 price tag of $451 million.

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Petty Officer 3rd Class Brooks B. Patton/U.S. Navy

The US Naval Academy Class of 2015 celebrates their graduation and commissioning ceremony. Many new officers will head to one of the 11 carrier strike groups the US has posted around the globe.

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US Navy Photo

The amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay launches a rolling airframe missile for a live-fire exercise during Valiant Shield 2016.

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US Navy Photo

An AV-8B Harrier, from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp on August 29, 2016.

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US Navy Photo

This August 29, 2017 photo shows a medium-range ballistic-missile target fired from Hawaii’s Pacific Missile Range Facility. The missile was intercepted by SM-6 missiles launched from the USS John Paul Jones.

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US Navy

In this July 2017 photo, an F/A-18F Super Hornet flies above the USS Gerald R. Ford, an aircraft carrier commissioned that year.

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U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross sails across the Mediterranean at night in this Sept. 29,2018 photo.

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U.S. Navy

A Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class aboard a Mark VI patrol boat fires an M2 machine gun in the Philippine Sea on April 12, 2018.

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U.S. Navy

The littoral combat ship Gabrielle Giffords launched a Naval Strike Missile at the decommissioned USS Ford, in this October 1, 2019 photo. It was the first time the NSM was fired in the Indo-Pacific region.

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Screenshot via US Navy

Sailors with Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG) 2 conduct an operation off the East Coast in this September 18, 2019 photo.

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Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jayme Pastoric / US Navy