Photographs of the Photographers

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Sergeant Joseph Shere photographing three Navy photographers
Sergeant Joseph Shere photographing three Navy photographers

As we work through the HRPE collection, we see many images of the same subject matter – ships, stacks of crates, military vehicles, etc. – so it is always a pleasant surprise when we come across photos of something different. I recently cataloged a few photographs that show a little behind-the-scenes view of the photographers themselves.

While our collection of HRPE photos were taken by the Army Signal Corps photographers, the Navy had their own dedicated photographers. The first image shows Sergeant Joseph Shere of the Army photographing a Navy crew while Captain William R. Wheeler, the Port Historian, takes notes.   Read more

German POWs: Boys, Old Men, and Volkssturm

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Liberty ship Joseph Warren in quarantine at Newport News with 300 German POWs on board
Liberty ship Joseph Warren in quarantine at Newport News with 300 German POWs on board

During World War II, hundreds of prisoners of war from both Germany and Italy passed through Hampton Roads. Many of them stayed in prison camps on the Peninsula or in Norfolk while others were shipped to prisons all across the country. Eventually some were given jobs as laborers such as working in saw mills or repairing railroad track. The Army Signal Corps documented these prisoners as they arrived and were processed. From this we get a sense of how the POWs were treated and what their daily lives were like.

Late in the war something interesting happens: the demographic of German POWs entering Hampton Roads changes. We see fewer men of fighting age and a increase in the number of men in their 40s and teenagers. The Americans noticed this and interpreted it as a sign that the quality of Germany’s fighting force was in decline. It was a sign the war was drawing to a close.   Read more

Remembering the end of a world war

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Deck scene, Sept. 2, 1945, when Japanese signed surrender documents aboard USS Missouri (BB-63). Courtesy of the Daily Press.
Deck scene, Sept. 2, 1945, when Japanese signed surrender documents aboard USS Missouri (BB-63). Courtesy of the Daily Press.

Today I am thinking a great deal about the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. My father and millions of other men and women fought in this conflict that re-shaped the psyche of the entire nation. To me, the photograph below, formalizing world peace, is the most inspiring photograph of that war.

I am grateful that we have been able to move on in international relations, embracing both Japan and Germany as strong allies who have turned their backs on war-making against their neighbors. I am also glad that President Truman learned the lessons from the end of World War I and chose to help rebuild Japan and Germany.   Read more

October Artifact of the Month – USS Dionysus Engine

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USS Dionysus, Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum.
USS Dionysus, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

Hello faithful readers and welcome back to the artifact of the month! This month, we will be looking at a 271,000 pound engine from a Liberty ship built in World War II, USS Dionysus. Last week, while working on my blog, I got to take a little field trip out to the back of the museum where all of the macro artifacts are stored. While exploring, my supervisor showed myself and another intern the engine which is housed in a shed to protect it from the elements. The shed itself is a little creepy from the outside, but the engine inside is magnificent. It is massive, and just looms over you, with parts and pieces that are about the same size as me.

USS Dionysus was originally built for the Royal Navy as HMS Faithful as part of the lend-lease program, but instead was kept by the US Navy. It was commissioned in 1945 as a repair ship for the Navy, and was sent into the Pacific war zone at the end of World War II. Following the end of the war, Dionysus was put in the United States Naval Reserve Fleet until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1952, when it was added to the Atlantic Fleet. Following the end of the Korean War, Dionysus was again put on reserve until it was scrapped. Dionysus was a Liberty ship, which was a type of ship produced by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II and was constructed from standardized parts that were made across the country. They, liberty ships, were made for under $2,000,000 and held 27 officers and 497 enlisted sailors, in addition to 2,840 Jeeps, 440 tanks or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition. During the war about 200 of the ships were lost due to a variety of reasons, but two different ships, SS Jeremiah O’Brian and SS John Brown survived, and are both open to the public. The engine was removed in 1978 and donated to The Mariners’ Museum and put on display. The engine itself is approximately 271,000 pounds with all of its components assembled, and is the main triple expansion steam engine of Dionysus. Later that same year, Dionysus’ hull was sunk off the coast of North Carolina to become part of the artificial reefs along the coastline. It was the fourth Liberty ship to be sunk there since 1974, and is located about five miles south of Oregon Inlet.   Read more

July Artifact of the Month – WAVES Uniform

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Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

The June Artifact of the Month is a WAVES uniform set that was given to The Mariners’ Museum by Mrs. Clara Gemmet. Mrs. Gemmet joined the Navy in 1955 and went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. Following her basic training, she went to Airman Prep school, which she passed and continued on to the Naval Air Station Memphis, a major technical station for the Navy and Marine Corps. According to Mrs. Gemmet, she is still in touch with some of the women she was in the Navy with and, if given the opportunity, she would go back and do it all over again. She specifically states, “The women I worked with, shared cubicles with were wonderful, honest, proud women – proud to be helping their country by wearing OUR uniform.” Mrs. Gemmet is still involved with the WAVES through WAVES National, which works with women from all of the seagoing services, along with the Sacramento WAVES and as an officer in her local branch of Fleet Reserve Association.

In the end of July 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the creation of a World War II naval division for women, known as Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, or WAVES. It allowed women to be placed into non-combat jobs within the continental United States, in an attempt to fill desk jobs with women and therefore enable men to take on combat roles elsewhere. For example, women worked as pharmacist assistants, radio dispatchers, mechanics, mail carriers and decoders. Within one year of FDR’s signing of the law, about 27,000 women had signed up for service. By the time the war was over, there were about 8,000 female officers, and almost 84,000 enlisted women, which made up about 2.5% of the total navy.[1] These women, including Mrs. Gemmet, still wore skirts and dresses as part of their uniforms, as opposed to pants, along with fitted jackets and heels.   Read more