Where did they go? What has happened to all the valuable gifts and historic memorabilia presented to Navy submarine crews over the years-the mementos, works of art and silver items? Perhaps a reader will know the whereabouts of some of the items and can help get them returned to their proper place at the Naval Historical Center.
Just over a year ago, I read Admiral James Calvert’s Silent Running [an excellent account of his service on USS JACK (SS259) during WWII], and noticed the paucity of illustrations. I recalled that around 1970, Admiral Calvert had visited the second JACK (SSN 605) and presented several significant items: a replica of the WWII battle flag from USS JACK (SS259), the ship’s bell and a great photograph of JACK returning from a war patrol (the crew was standing topside with the First Lieutenant, Lieutenant James Calvert, on the bow). Surprised by the absence of that significant photograph in his book, I contacted Admiral Calvert and learned that his gift to JACK represented his only copy. I was determined to locate the photo and return a copy to him. While considering the best course of action, I remembered other items that had been presented to the ship and wondered what had happened to them.
Many ships received gifts and mementos from their sponsors or distinguished visitors. For example, when JACK (SSN 605) was launched in 1963 we were honored to have Mrs. Leslie R. Groves as the sponsor. Her husband General Groves, who headed the Manhattan Project, presented a unique gift to the ship in the form of a remarkable scrapbook he had assembled, mapping the key events of that landmark initiative. Among the many informative and important documents it contained were a letter from General Groves to President Harry Truman requesting that key scientists (PhDs from DuPont) be appointed as Second Lieutenants in the Army, the telegram to the President notifying him of the successful test of the first atom bomb and details of how General Groves managed the project. Groves created two of these scrapbooks and registered both with the National Archives. As Commanding Officer of JACK in 1968, I registered JACK’s scrapbook with the Naval Historical Center. It is now unaccounted for.
Other items of note now missing include several oil paintings by the noted British artist E. Tufnell which hung in the ship’s ward-room for at least six years, along with an autographed copy of General Groves’ book Now It Can Be Told.
I contacted the Naval Historical Center to see if they had any record of Admiral Calvert’s photograph, General Grove’s scrap-book, the paintings and the other items. The head of the curator branch, Norman Cary, reported that his archives held little of significance from USS JACK (SSN 605) and that until about the mid-1990s very little was provided to the Historical Center from decommissioned submarines. He did find a catalogue record for the scrapbook from General Groves, but had no indication that it was ever returned.
Next on my list was the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The response was more encouraging. They held the bell and the reproduction of the battle flag. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the most valuable items, the scrapbook and the paintings, remained unknown.
The Naval activities at Keyport, Rhode Island, and Groton, Connecticut, were then contacted, but with negative results. Then I began to remember items from other ships. For example, USS ROBERT E. LEE (SSBN 602) was given an original letter written by Robert E. Lee to his wife during one of his Civil War campaigns. The letter was presented to the ship by one of the Lee descendants. Considering the great historical significance of such an item, one wonders where it might be today.
Are these missing items the only things vanished from record? If many more are missing, is it from our own inaction that they remain in private hands, probably forgotten in an attic box, rather in their proper place? Together, we can create a list of notable items that were presented during our command tours. This list can serve as a comparative inventory against current holdings at the Historical Center. This would allow the curator to identify any truly significant items that might be in the missing in action category and, with some research, return the items to the collection.
Certainly those in possession of any items of historical value are encouraged to contact the Historical Center directly. In the meantime, we can all assist in this effort if we take the following action:
- Jot down a list of historic items of value that were on your ship during your tour.
- Forward your list to:
Norman Cary, Head, Curator Branch,
Naval Historical Center
Washington Navy Yard
805 Kidder Breese SE
Washington DC 20374-5060
Together we can help build the collection and return missing items to their rightful place where they can be protected and cared for to inform and enlighten future generations.