Here to Help

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Each year, approximately 40,000 recruits pass through Recruit Training Command (Boot Camp) at Naval Station Great Lakes.  These young men and women volunteer to serve in the United States Navy.

But there is another group of dedicated individuals, albeit somewhat smaller, who also donate a portion of their time and energies to the U.S. Navy.  They require no PFT, no uniform issue, and will not have to go through the rigors of Battle Stations 21.  They are the volunteers at the Great Lakes Naval Museum.  Their contributions to the preservation and interpretation of the history and heritage of the U.S. Navy can not be understated.

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A Sailor’s View of Humanitarian Aid to Japan

12-7 Ward_View_of_YokohamaOn the morning of September 1, school children finished class like any late summer day.  Teachers dismissed them for lunch.  They ran outside and raced each other down the narrow streets to their homes where mothers and grandparents were cooking.

At 11:58, the Earth shook suddenly and violently.  Stoves overturned.  House walls collapsed on the children, grandparents, and the burning coals.  Sounds of rumbling, crashing, and voices screaming filled the streets.  Flames roared.
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“Home” For the Holidays

11-23 1943-Menu-TgivingFor many young men and women, joining the Navy means leaving family, friends, and home for the first time. New friends and new routines replace the old, but some things just aren’t the same. This is especially true around the holidays when decorations in the barracks and a galley holiday menu can’t replace putting up the Christmas tree with family ornaments as tempting aromas waft from the kitchen while a Bowl game plays on the television.

For some lucky ones, leave is approved. For most, the holidays will be spent at the barracks and in the galley. But not for all…

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Double Duty

Hrbaczewski MedalA recent donation to NMAS revealed the curious case of Walter Joseph Hrbaczewski. Hrbaczewski joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in February, 1946 at age 17, getting his parents to sign him up as a minor. He completed boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois and then attended service school in California. After six months on active duty, he became an inactive member of the Naval Reserve.

All was normal for Hrbaczewski for a few years.  But then things got weird.

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A Curious Jacket

11-2 MCPON Black Uniform (2)What’s up with this jacket?  I came across it during an inventory of the NMAS uniform collection. The three stars above the rating insignia told me this was no ordinary Chief’s jacket. But then what is it?

A quick search taught me that three stars above the insignia are only worn by the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON), the senior most enlisted member of the U.S. Navy. Problem solved, right?  Not quite.

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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?