Like Father, Like Son

Charles and Geoffrey Bender wearing their dress blue uniform.

Charles and Geoffrey Bender wearing their dress blue uniform.

There might be nothing more traditional in the Navy than the dress blue uniform.  There have been subtle changes to the uniform over the years, but the essential style has remained the same.

This tradition gets personal for Charles and Geoffrey Bender, father and son who both served in the U.S. Navy.  While 30 years separate their service, they both wore the same uniform – yes, literally the same uniform.  When Geoffrey donated the uniform to the museum in 2013, he included details about how the uniform was worn and modified by his father, Charles, before Geoffrey himself wore it 30 years later.

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A Medal from the (Nicaraguan) Civil War

This Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal was awarded to Fireman First Class Herman B. Curlee.

This Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal was awarded to Fireman First Class Herman B. Curlee.

Every artifact in a museum’s collection tells a story. Many of those stories are famous. But some of the most interesting ones are lesser-known and require a little research. So, after NMAS received a service medal for the Second Nicaraguan Campaign as a donation, I went looking for its story.

The United States Navy awarded the Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal to Sailors and Marines who served in Nicaragua from 1926-1933. The medal depicts Columbia defending two other figures with a sword and cloak. Facts about the medal are easy to find, but they didn’t answer my questions. What was going on in Nicaragua? Why the U.S. Navy was interested in this Central American country?

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June, 1944 “Nothing of historical significance has happened.”

Have you heard the popular retort from the 1940s, “Don’t you know there’s a war going on?”

During the Second World War, naval commandants wrote diary entries about major events in their commands.  The subordinate officers submitted reports to their commandants who typed up “war diaries” for the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations.  The War Diaries were official U.S. Navy records, to be examined post-war as a source for histories of the various Navy commands.

But whose decided what was important enough to write down?

The answer, of course, was everybody.  And everybody had a different view of the same experience.  So the entries in War Diaries varied from one commanding officer to the next, and from one command to the next.  A hand-written desk diary kept by the Commandants of the U.S. Naval Training Station at Great Lakes shows how different people viewed the exact same place and experience in vastly different ways.

10-5 war_diary_1944-06According to one diary writer, “… nothing of historical importance has occurred at the Naval Training Center during June 1944.”

Ditto that judgment for July 1944.

We can only guess that the commandant was too busy during summer 1944.  Don’t you know there’s a war going on?

But another writer in the same diary had a vastly differing view just fourteen months earlier, in April 1943.  In fact, so much was happening that he had to record the times within each day:

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These entries contain subtle hints about historical changes happening in the Navy and in American society.

If you were at this naval training station in April 1943, would you attend the “National Barn Dance” performance, the “Musical Happy Hour” concert by Griff Williams and his band, or the Brazilian soprano singer’s concert?

Or would you have been a new recruit in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service)?

Maybe you have been aboard the submarine USS Pompon (SS-267) as it mysteriously surfaced along the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Where did a submarine on Lake Michigan come from, and where was it headed?

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Where one observer left us copious information about the sounds and sights of the place, ranging from popular music to diplomatic visits by Allied nations, another saw almost nothing noteworthy.   Don’t you know there’s a war going on?