Admiral Daniel Callaghan (SI 1907)

Daniel Callaghan was born in San Francisco on July 26, 1892, and raised in Oakland. He graduated from SI in 1907, having attended both the Van Ness Avenue campus and the Shirt Factory in its first year, commuting to school by ferry and train and using that time to memorize “long skeins of Keats and Tennyson, whole cantos from Longfellow and Scott — or figuring out the all but impossible ways Caesar or Cicero had of constructing sentences for his Latin classes.”2 At SI, Callaghan was “greatly influenced by [his] Jesuit mentors,” according to Fighting Admiral: The Story of Daniel Callaghan. “Dan had the appearance of being a bit overserious. But actually, in the company of his own crowd, he was jolly enough…. [When] the Ignatian baseball team, which though a secondary [school] affair, took on the junior varsities of the University of California, Santa Clara and Stanford colleges, Dan soon won himself a right fielder’s berth. He was also prominent in the ‘Gas League’ punchball circuit, and especially after making up his mind about going to Annapolis, he was a constant user of the gymnasium, giving himself a thorough physical workout — a habit that became almost a fault throughout his life.

“But for the most part, Dan at high school concentrated on books…. Striding into Fr. John P. Madden’s Cicero class on a fine spring morning, Fr. Woods found Dan Callaghan [standing] up, reciting. Fr. Woods took over the book from the slightly startled mentor and popped a question at the strapping youngster in a purposely unintelligible mumble. Dan did not catch it, of course, and stood nervously waiting. To have asked for a repetition of the question would have been an admission of lack of attention. After a moment, the Jesuit repeated the question as indistinctly as before. Dan could only guess at what was wanted, and guessed wrong. Hence his answer was wrong…. The result was a severe going over for not having studied his lessons, much to the amazement of his classmates. But Dan took it well… with the reflection that such ‘lacings’ were good for the soul, though terribly hard on one’s sensibilities.”3

Dan also experienced the 1906 earthquake while at home in Oakland. He helped his father organize a “sort of vigilante committee to quiet the neighborhood” and to warn people not to light fires in their fireplaces as many of the chimneys had collapsed. (Sadly, just such a fire kindled the conflagration that destroyed SI College across the bay.)4

After leaving SI, Dan attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 1911. His distinguished career was marred by one incident that led to a Courts-Martial for allegedly requisitioning the wrong replacement parts, which made his ship, theTruxton, unable to continue its trip. He was acquitted of all charges and restored to duty.

Later, he spent three years at UC Berkeley where he served as professor of naval science in the naval ROTC. Then, in 1938, President Roosevelt asked his physician, Ross McIntire, for a recommendation for a Naval Aide, someone who was a “salt-water sailor,” rather than an administrative figurehead. McIntire had just the man for the job, and recommended Callaghan. For the next three years, he served the president keeping him “posted on the intimacies of naval matters, domestic as well as foreign,” and listening “with intelligence while the President expatiated on the whys and wherefores of Hipper’s cruiser tactics at Jutland or the follies of the Russians at Tsushima.” Roosevelt wanted “someone who had the feel of the sea in him, and was more than delighted when he found that Dan was a gunnery man and could talk of fleet maneuvers.”5

Callaghan lived aboard the presidential yacht, the Potomac while serving the president, and the two became fast friends. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Roosevelt reluctantly let Callaghan leave the Potomac for U.S.S. San Francisco, and to serve in the Pacific Theatre. Callaghan’s final fitness report included this note from FDR: “It is with great regreat that I am letting Captain Callaghan leave as my Naval Aide. He has given every satisfaction and has performed duties of many varieties with tact and real efficiency. He has shown a real understanding of the many problems of the service within itself and in relationship to the rest of the Government.”6

By this time, Callaghan had earned a reputation as a hometown hero. InEmbattled Dreams: California in War and Peace 1940–1950, historian Kevin Starr (who attended SI in the 1950s and who serves as California State Librarian), noted that “Callaghan was the pre-eminent military figure of Northern California, especially for Catholics, and he was held in awe by San Franciscans just as Patton was held up by Southern Californians as one who “embodied the best possibilities of the region…. Whereas Patton was privileged, flamboyant, profane, and self-regarding, Callaghan was steady, unassuming, pious (avoiding alcohol…), and thoroughly devoted to the welfare of his men, who tended to call him Uncle Dan behind his back. As Patton was devoted to tanks, Callaghan was devoted to the art of gunnery. While other naval colleagues bespoke the future in terms of airplanes and submarines, Dan Callaghan devoted his career to perfecting the art and science of gunnery from surface ships.” Callaghan was also a “tall, solid figure, prematurely gray, a Spencer Tracy look-alike, known to the men of the fleet as well as to the brass as a commandingly steady figure, the representative naval officer of his era.”

Callaghan served as captain of the heavy cruiser U.S.S. San Francisco, which had escaped serious damage in the attack on Pearl Harbor and then spent six months on Vice Admiral William Halsey’s staff. In 1942, he returned to the San Franciscoas commander of Task Force 65, made up of five cruisers and eight destroyers that fought in the first naval battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. While aboard the San Francisco, Callaghan commanded his ships to sweep the waters around Savo Island on November 11 in preparation to block the arrival of a Japanese invasion fleet and to provide cover for the unloading of Marines. The next day, Callaghan’s task force was attacked by 25 enemy torpedo bombers, forcing him to get under way.

The Japanese force consisted of two battleships, Hiei and Kirishima, one light cruiser and 15 destroyers. On November 12, Callaghan ordered his ships back to Savo to meet the enemy. Shortly after 1 a.m. on November 13, one of his ships, the Helena, detected the Japanese 27,000 yards away, but Callaghan, whose forces were badly outgunned, didn’t know the exact location of the enemy as his ships lacked radar.

The Battle of Savo Sea (also known as the Battle of Sealark Channel) began with the Japanese approaching Sealark Channel in three columns. Callaghan made a daring move and took his fleet, with the San Francisco in the lead, between the two outside Japanese columns and head-on toward the third column. (Picture Callaghan’s fleet sailing into the middle of an inverted V.) Callaghan hoped to sail through the enemy columns and fire at them before they had time to lower the elevation of their guns. Once past, he hoped “to pit speed, target angle, range and rapidity of fire against bulk and force.”7

At 1:42 a.m., with one ship 3,400 yards away, Callaghan gave the order to fire torpedoes, later ordering, “We want the big ones.” Three minutes later, Japanese searchlights spotted the American fleet and the battle was underway. Callaghan ordered guns on both sides to open fire, hitting the Yudachi 3,700 yards away. The Americans were surrounded, firing from both port and starboard. As Starr writes, “Maneuvering was difficult, and the San Francisco lacked the latest radar; but whether this was the cause for what followed or rather whether what followed was due in some measure to Callaghan’s gunnery-oriented spirit of the attack, the American force literally sailed into the middle of the Japanese force, as if running a gauntlet. What ensued was perhaps the last ship-to-ship naval engagement in military history as the American ships and the Japanese ships fought through direct searchlight-guided gunfire.” It was also the largest night battle in naval history.

At 2 a.m. Callaghan’s flagship was struck by a salvo from the Hiei, and the bridge took a direct hit from a 14-inch shell immediately killing Callaghan and three of his staff officers and mortally wounding Capt. Cassin Young, the ship’s commanding officer. Despite the loss of bridge and commander, the ship continued to fight on, moving closer to the enemy so its 8-inch guns would be more of an even match with the 14-inch Japanese guns. The San Francisco took 47 hits and its crew had to extinguish 25 fires. It stayed afloat, however, and managed to sink one Japanese ship and damage several other ships badly enough to allow an American submarine to sink them. Had The San Francisco and the other ships in the task force failed, Guadalcanal would probably have fallen again to the Japanese. The badly damaged ship eventually returned to port under its own power thanks to the quick actions of Herbert E. Schonland, who taught at SI in the 1947–48 academic year and then at Santa Clara University.

Schonland, who retired as a Rear Admiral, also won the Medal of Honor for his actions in that battle. With Callaghan’s death, and the death of two other officers, Schonland assumed command of the San Francisco. The second deck compartment of the ship had taken on water, nearly sinking it, when in waist-deep water, Schonland secured the deck by pumping off and draining the water, working with only flashlights to help him see. (The bridge of the San Francisco is on display at Land’s End above the Cliff House in a memorial to Admiral Callaghan and the other Americans who died that day on the San Francisco.)

Word came to President Roosevelt of Callaghan’s death on November 16, 1942. “There was no one willing to convey the news to the President. When finally word was brought to him officially, he gasped in unaffected consternation. ‘I knew it,’ he said. ‘I knew Dan was too brave a man to live. But I’ll bet, as he set his course straight for the enemy, he was thinking of Dewey and Manila, and our constant discussions of such actions.’”

The next day, FDR sent a note to Dan’s wife, Mary, that read, “I am very sure I need not tell you of the sense of great personal loss to me. Dan and I had a very wonderful relationship during the years he was at the White House. I took great pride in him, and I must have been nearly as happy as he over his new command. In spite of our grief we will always remember a gallant soul who died leading his ship and his command to a great victory.”8

Callaghan received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions that day. His citation reads as follows: “For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty…. Although out-balanced in strength and numbers by a desperate and determined enemy, Rear Admiral Callaghan, with ingenious tactical skill and superb coordination of the units under his command, led his forces into battle against tremendous odds, thereby contributing decisively to the rout of a powerful invasion fleet, and to the consequent frustration of a formidable Japanese offensive. While faithfully directing close-range operations in the face of furious bombardment by superior enemy firepower, he was killed on the bridge of his flagship. His courageous initiative, inspiring leadership, and judicious foresight in a crisis of grave responsibility were in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.”

In that same battle, the U.S.S. Juneau, part of Callaghan’s task force, had been sunk by a torpedo, hitting the port side near the forward fire room where ammunition was stored, destroying the ship in a giant fireball and killing the five Sullivan brothers. Only 10 sailors survived that ordeal.

The U.S. Naval Academy later named one of its rooms in honor of Admiral Daniel Callaghan, the hero who helped win the Battle of Guadalcanal, and American Legion Post No. 592 was instituted in his honor on March 23, 1944. On July 24, 2004, the U.S.S. Potomac Association celebrated Daniel Callaghan Day with a series of lectures, official proclamations and a Bay cruise aboard the Potomac, the boat Adm. Callaghan served on as FDR’s aide. More than 20 members of the Callaghan clan attended that celebration, including Caitlin Callaghan ’99, Larkin Callaghan ’01 and Connor Callaghan ’08, great-grandchildren of William Callaghan ’14, Daniel’s brother.