The Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund Award is presented annually by the U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Operations to one ship in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and one in the U.S. Pacific Fleet. A list of winners appears at the end of this article.
Generally the recipient is the ship with the highest score in the fleet's annual competitions for Battle Efficiency Awards, and is therefore often thought of as the fleet's most battle-ready ship. This isn't strictly correct, because it has been the policy to rotate eligibility for the award annually among the various type commands (aircraft carriers, submarines, amphibious ships, etc.).
The award includes a small monetary stipend (about $1500 in 2004). Commanding officers receiving the award must put the money into the ship's recreation fund, where it can be spent on athletic equipment, prizes for athletic or marksmanship competitions, recreation room furniture, dances, parties, and similar recreational activities.
The Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund was established in 1917 by the Tribune Association. It was initiated by a contribution which accompanied the following letter, printed on February 4, 1916:
"To the Editor of the New York Tribune
"I read in your paper every morning a lot about preparedness. My grandpa and my great grandpa were soldiers. If I was a boy I would be a soldier, too, but I am not, so I want to do what I can to help. Mama gives me a dime every week for helping her. I am sending you this week's dime to help build a battleship for Uncle Sam. I know a lot of other kids would give their errand money if you would start a fund. I am 13 years old, and go to Public School No. 9, Brooklyn.
I am a true blue American and I want to see Uncle Sam prepared to lick all creation like John Paul Jones did.
P.S.—Please call the battleship America."
The letter was written during the buildup to America's entry into World War I, and it generated a huge response. Former president Theodore Roosevelt responded immediately with a handwritten letter and a dollar contribution; within a few days he met with Marjorie in Manhattan. The Tribune printed the name of every contributor, and newspapers across the country reprinted Marjorie's letter and received additional donations.
Ultimately 200,000 dimes were collected, each typically in the name of a child or a contributor's yet-to-be born grandchild. The money was offered to the Navy, but Secretary Josephus Daniels at first rejected it, citing legal prohibitions. A law was soon enacted allowing the Navy Department to accept the money, and by early 1918 the $20,000 had been transferred to the government. Prior to World War II, income from the fund was used to pay prizes annually to turret and gun crews making the highest scores in short-range battle practice, and to submarine crews making the highest scores in torpedo firing.
Since the end of World War II, the Navy has emphasized readiness and fitness of the ship rather than competition between individual departments.
List of Post-WWII Winners
- OPNAVINST 3590.11F
- New York Tribune, February 4–13, 1916
- New York Times, February 11, 1916
- Wall Street Journal, January 13, 1917
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