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The Importance of Getting Navy Artifacts To the Public

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Mutis A. Capizzi, Naval History and Heritage Command

You may have noticed that USS Reno (CL 96), named in honor of the city in Nevada, has garnered national attention this week regarding a World War II ensign and pennant that is on display at City Hall in Reno, Nev. The 48-star ensign, along with a commissioning pennant and the ship’s bell have been on loan to the City of Reno from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Curator Branch since 1976 (bell) and 1987 (the ensign and pennant).

USS Reno (CL 96) under salvage after she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-41 off the Philippines on 3 November 1944. Photographed on 5 November, with USS Zuni (ATF-95) alongside. Note burned paintwork on and around her after five-inch gun mounts, oil streaming off to port, and boats nearby. Reno’s starboard torpedo tubes, mounted on the main deck alongside the after superstructure, have been pushed over the side to lighten the ship. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

The Curator Branch at NHHC collects a variety of objects and materials that are primarily three-dimensional objects relating to the U. S. Navy with specific emphasis on ships, aviation, places, wars/events, and significant individuals associated with naval history. According to Curator Branch Head, Jeffrey Bowdoin, “artifact loans are important because they provide a tangible connection to the past.”

“Specifically for the citizens of Reno, there is a personal connection to these artifacts from USS Reno (CL 96),” said Bowdoin. “Historically, the citizens from the cities and states of the namesake ships hold tremendous pride in these ships and their crews, with many community members forming long-lasting ties between the ship and community.”

USS Reno (CL 96) was an Atlanta-class light cruiser that played an active role during WWII against the enemy by supporting air strikes as well as assisting in repelling a large-scale Japanese carrier force attempt to defeat the Allied invasion of Saipan in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944. Reno, with Task Force 58, is also known for coming nearer to the home islands of Japan than any other major unit of the U.S. Fleet had in October 1944, shooting down six enemy planes during a three-day strike against Formosa. Reno was decommissioned after her faithful service in 1946, earning three battle stars for her actions during WWII.

USS Reno (CL 96), ready for launching at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, San Francisco, California, 23 December 1942. Courtesy of James Russell, 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

The loan of an artifact from NHHC to the city or state of its namesake is common. Bowdoin shared that quite a few of the Navy battleship (BB) artifacts have been loaned to their namesake states as well as to areas of historic significance for a particular ship. For example, NHHC has two bells from the USS Arizona (BB 39). While one bell is currently on loan to the University of Arizona (the namesake state), the other bell is on loan to the Pearl Harbor Memorial, where Arizona was lost on December 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Base by the Japanese. The mission of NHHC’s loan program is to educate the public on the material culture and heritage of the U.S. Navy.

“We use these artifacts as a means to educate people about the Navy’s history, customs, and culture and provide that connection to the past in a manner that only a physical object can,” said Bowdoin. “Many maritime museums in the U.S. have artifacts on loan from Curator Branch, as well as a huge variety of veterans groups, state and local municipalities, historical societies, history museums, and Navy commands, ashore and afloat.”

The Curator Branch holds objects documenting and representing the history of the United States Navy. Lending artifacts for exhibition, research, and study is an integral part of the NHHC’s goal to make collections accessible to the widest possible audience.

The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus

For information on the Curator Branch Artifact Loan Program, visit https://www.history.navy.mil/get-involved/loan-programs.html.

For information on where to view U.S. Navy artifacts in one of NHHC museums, visit https://www.history.navy.mil/visit-our-museums.html.

For more news from Naval History and Heritage Command, visit www.history.navy.mil.