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Why Naval History Matters to Indiana

By Alexis Cutler, Intern Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division

When you think of the Navy the first thing that comes to your mind is water. From that, no one would expect to think “Navy” when talking about the Midwest. However, naval history is dispersed all across the country. In the Midwest, particularly in Indiana, the history includes ships named after the state, cities, people, and training stations.

Famous Ships

USS Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa 1937. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
USS Indianapolis CA-35 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa 1937. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Indiana has the honor to have the first battleship named after the state, the USS Indiana BB-1. She was the lead of her class as she served as part of the North Atlantic Squadron in the Spanish-American War. The USS Indiana BB-1 was commissioned November 20, 1895. The third ship named after the state was assigned the USS Indiana BB-58 to serve as a battleship in WWII. Not only does the state of Indiana have ships named after it, there are bases and training stations located in the capital.

Named to honor the state’s capital, USS Indianapolis CA-35, gained much of her fame after her tragic sinking just two weeks before the end of WWII. The ship was commissioned on November 15, 1932 and during peacetime; she served in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The ship was used in WWII to deliver materials to other ships and bases around the country. In 1943 and in 1945 she served as Fifth Fleet’s flagship. It was in that role where she was first damaged. But it was when her crew returned to operations that a second attack delivered fatal damage. Shortly after midnight on 30 July 1945 she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-58 and sank in 12 short minutes. Because of communications and other errors, her loss went unnoticed until survivors were seen from a passing aircraft on 2 August. Rescue efforts over several days saved only 316 of the original 1,199 men that served bravely upon her decks.

Training Centers

The current recruiting and training station, Heslar Naval Armory, is located in Indianapolis. Formerly known as the Indianapolis Naval Reserve Armory, it was built in 1938 as a recruiting station for Sailors at the Great Lakes training station. The Heslar Naval Armory is named after Captain Ola F. Heslar from Brazil, Indiana and founder of the Indiana Naval Forces. Nowadays, not only does it act as a recruit center, it is also a naval operations support center.

The second training center in the great state of Indiana, Naval Surface Warfare Center: Crane Division,  is located in Crane, Indiana .The facility was established in 1941 at the base NSA Crane in Indiana. The initial purpose was production, testing, and storage of ordnance under the first supplemental Defense Appropriation Act. Their mission is to provide technical support for electronics and weapons. Sailors here specialize in engineering and in-service engineering for ships, weapons, and war vehicles.