Flashback to the American Legion Memorial Museum

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U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection

Before the Virginia War Museum became Newport News city property the collection began its life in 1923 as the American Legion Memorial Museum. With a collection that focuses on personal artifacts from every era of American history the War Museum has a lot to offer! Today they are located next to Huntington Park and are open each day, 9-5, except Sundays when they open at 12. Go pay them a visit and see their impressive collection of war propaganda posters.

We were delighted to find a staged PR-shoot set in the old American Legion Memorial Museum in the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection housed in The Mariners’ Museum archives. As was common of many World War II PR efforts, a pair of photogenic WACs were drafted to model the collection. Through the eyes of Pvt. Doris Gregory and Cpl. Mary Braswell these photos allow us to explore some pieces from the War Museum’s collection as it existed in the 1940s. Of particular interest were a few relics from the current war in Europe and the Pacific.

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Entertainments at Sea

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F-6396 -- Phonograph kit, detail.
F-6396 — Phonograph kit, detail.

What do you do when you’re on a weeks-long trip, wedged into the hold of a Liberty ship? The inevitable boredom was apparently enough of a concern that the US Army made up crates of amusements for soldiers embarking for overseas service. Some of them make perfect sense, like small, portable musical instruments, or a collection of books. One wonders, however, where is there enough space to have a baseball game without losing the ball? Here is a selection of some of the more interesting sets pictured, with descriptions in the captions.

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Puerto Ricans and Hampton Roads

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U.S. Army Signal Corps. Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection, L-13256.

Today there are more than 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States, making them one of the largest distinct ethnic groups in the U.S. and the second largest subgroup of Hispanics. While the Puerto Rican population in America is largely concentrated in New York City and Florida, Hampton Roads is home to one of the most substantial populations of Puerto Ricans in the south. This is to be expected as our community’s strong ties to the military brings in people from all over their world and Puerto Ricans have served proudly in the U.S. armed forces since at least World War I.

The Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection gives us an important reminder that not all of our Puerto Rican neighbors are recent arrivals. Indeed many have been in Hampton Roads for generations. For example, in a series of seventeen photographs the U.S. Army Signal Corps documented servicemen returning to the mainland after being stationed in Puerto Rico. When the S.S. Fairfax docked in Newport News, March 29, 1945, it was also carrying their Puerto Rican wives and children.

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Sussex at Hampton Housing Project

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Cornerstone ceremony
Brigadier General John R. Kilpatrick, Commander of HRPE, laying a brick at the Sussex at Hampton cornerstone ceremony.

One of the advantages of processing a collection that was created in the Hampton Roads area, is that we often come across images of landmarks that are still in existence today. It can be fascinating seeing how places have changed and evolved over time. Recently, we found a number of photographs of the Sussex at Hampton Housing Project. It was originally built to provide housing for military and civilian personnel.

Construction began towards the end of 1942 in a large field off Kecoughtan Road between Armstrong Drive and Clyde Street.

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Hal Clement, noted author of "hard" sci-fi

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L-12586, HRPE, Army Signal Corps Collection

Here we have a typical photo from the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation collection, it depicts a group of soldiers debarking. Specifically this is a group of Army Air Corps bomber pilots arriving on the transport ship “General John R. Brooke,” its February 1945 and they are coming home on rotation. From the photo print’s caption we know that one of these men is Lt. Harry C. Stubbs.

In completing authority work on Lt. Stubbs, the Library of Congress tells me that this is the birth name of an author better known by the nom de plume, Hal Clement. But which one is our guy?

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