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Finding Treasure in the Archives


Editor’s note: The Navy Archives collects, preserves, protects, and makes available official records and donated personal collections that best embody the U.S. Navy’s rich history and heritage for present and future generations. Collections often include a variety of materials, including letters, diaries, notebooks, speeches, scrapbooks, photographs and more.

By: Laura Waayers, Reference Archivist, Navy Archives, Naval History and Heritage Command

Whether I’m helping a Navy command research its history or providing assistance to a veteran for a VA claim, as a reference archivist at Naval History and Heritage Command, most of my days are spent searching through “just-the-facts” operational reports. These reports can be very informative and they have lasting historical value; however, they are not always the most exciting documents to read. But every once in a while, I come across an item in the Navy Archives that is unexpected and fascinating –  something that reminds me of why I got into this field in the first place. There is nothing more thrilling than finding a hidden gem among a box of neglected papers, and potentially being the first person to have laid eyes on it since it was filed away 50 years ago. Here are some of the treasures that have been discovered in our archival collections:

Nimitz Personal Collection

From the Papers of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, a diary entry dated December 31, 1941. Much has been written on the public life of Admiral Nimitz, but seeing his personal thoughts during such an important event in America’s history adds another layer of appreciation for his leadership. This comes from a bundle of papers we call the “Nimitz diary,” but it appears to be a series of notes written for his wife.

This particular entry reads, “This is just a very hasty note to tell you that at 10 a.m. – just 30 minutes from now I will relieve [Vice Admiral William] Pye and become [Commander-in-Chief] Pacific Fleet. May the good Lord help and advise me and may I have all the support I can get, for I will need it…I have still not reached the point where I can sleep well because there is so much going on and so much to do. I am well however and full of energy.” [Source: Papers of Chester W. Nimitz]


EM1 Roy W. Davis’ Postcards

From the Papers of EM1 Roy W. Davis, a selection of postcards he collected during his tour around the world with the Great White Fleet between 1907 and 1910. The pictured postcards are from (clockwise from top left) Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; USS Vermont; Australia; and Honolulu, Hawaii. [Source: Papers of Roy W. Davis]


USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) Guest Book

Navy ships often maintain guest books, which are signed by visiting dignitaries and members of the general public. This is a page from the guest book of USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), signed by Walt Disney during his visit to the ship on July 8, 1965. Note that he listed his residence as Disneyland USA! [Source: USS Kitty Hawk ship files]


Toilet Paper Ship Log

This is one of the more unique items from our collections. We came across this item several years ago while sorting through a box of unprocessed donations. We’re unsure of its provenance, but it appears to be some sort of log written by a Sailor aboard USS Intrepid (CV 11) during World War II…on toilet paper! Amazingly, it’s still intact. This particular section of the log, whose bellicose language was typical of the period, reads: “On watch 9/21/44…run in to typhoon. Raid over on Manila. We sank seven AK’s, shot down 23 Jap planes, and destroyed a floating drydock with a ship in it. Also a lot of planes were destroyed on ground.” [Source: Richard G. Stevens accession]


“The Navy Air Pilot”

From the early days of naval aviation, a publication from USS North Carolina titled “The Navy Air Pilot,” dated July 1916. This particular issue features a tribute to pioneer aviator Lieutenant Richard C. Saufley, who was killed in a plane crash the previous month. Saufley Field in Pensacola, Florida, and USS Saufley (DD-465) were both named in his honor. [Source: Early Aviation collection]


King George VI Dispatch

I recently stumbled upon this dispatch written by King George VI while looking through our World War II personnel file – it was filed under “G” for George. The dispatch was written aboard USS Warrington (DD-383) on June 10, 1939, and was relayed to J. Pierpont Morgan’s yacht Corsair. It reads, “So delighted to see you in your beautiful yacht. George RI.”


Interested in researching our archival collections? Contact our staff for assistance!