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Throwback Thursday: A Brief History of Fleet Week and The Blue Angels

Hate it or love it, Fleet Week is upon us once again. This weekend marks the popular celebration’s 35th anniversary in the Bay Area, which is expected to draw thousands of spectators from all around. U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships have already begun pouring in, and the famed Blue Angels crew has been preparing all week for their upcoming air show.

While the annual event truly is a sensational parade of patriotic grandeur, you may have found yourself asking, “What is this all about?” or, “How did it start?” Well, you’re not alone. Similarly curious about the history and purpose of this raucous tradition, I decided to do some research. Behold: A brief history of Fleet Week and the beloved Blue Angels.

Photo: Sgt. Michael Cifuentes

The first Fleet Week was celebrated in San Diego in 1935. During this time, military build-up had increased in Japan and Germany due to the takeover of Stalinist nationalism. Ravaged by the Great Depression, U.S. citizens placed little importance on these foreign developments. But President Roosevelt, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy himself, felt it necessary to expand the navy in response to political trends. Because of this, Fleet Week functioned to build morale and to celebrate the hard work and sacrifice of military members.

During that first Fleet Week in 1935, 114 warships and 400 military planes arrived in San Diego. This fleet included 48 battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers and their thousands of officers and soldiers. It was described as the mightiest fleet ever assembled under the U.S. flag.

Photo: Shannon E. Renfroe

Shortly after in 1946, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Chester Nimitz, wanted to create a flight exhibition to boost the public’s interest in naval aviation and to increase Navy morale. He appointed Lieutenant Commander Roy Martin Voris to assemble and train the flight demonstration team. Over the years, they have practiced ceaselessly to perfect their maneuvers and to strengthen their abilities.

Photo: Josh Litwin

Because San Francisco is a popular city for U.S. Navy ship docking, the bay is naturally a perfect destination for a Fleet Week celebration. In 1981, then mayor Diane Feinstein established a weekend every October as this city celebration for the nation’s sea services. Every October on the Marina Green over Italian Heritage Weekend, Fleet Week’s air shows, parade of ships, and other community events take place. It includes a training and education program “that brings together civilian and military forces to develop and share best practices in humanitarian assistance and emergency disaster response.” Above all, however, Fleet Week exists to honor the contributions of the U.S. Armed Forces and its thousands of brave members.

By now you’ve probably heard the Angels practicing their moves overhead. Don’t miss their shows starting tomorrow Friday, Saturday or Sunday from 12:30pm-4pm. If airplanes aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other events and activities to check out this weekend. Otherwise, grab your earplugs and pray for Monday!

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