OMG! WWII WACs @ TMM?

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PFC Beatrice Buck, Pvt. Clara Duff, and Pvt. Vivian Stonebreaker greet returning soldiers as their ship docks. Taken at Pier 6, HRPE, Newport News, VA.

Too many acronyms? There’s no such thing!

Over the past three years, our archival staff, with the support of several catalogers and the Digital Services department, have been working diligently on the Hidden Collections Grant sponsored by The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). This grant allowed us to catalog and digitize items that have been sitting in storage for years. Through the process, we discovered many exciting images we never knew we possessed. One of my favorite collections was a series from the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (HRPE) during World War II.   Read more

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