What’s Up at the NHHC
WWI Navy Uniform Gets New Lease on Life
Just in time for the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into World War I, a junior naval officer uniform from that period has completed conservation treatment by the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Conservation Branch.
Established in September 2015, the NHHC Conservation Branch’s objective is to make objects and materials as stable as possible—be they ship’s bells, uniforms, or other items—so that no further degradation occurs.
The World War I–era uniform, worn by Ensign Thomas M. Dinsdale, was donated to the NHHC by his daughter, Dona, in 2016.
Yoonjo Lee, senior conservator at the NHHC, assessed and photographed the overall condition of the black “Nehru” jacket and matching button-fly trousers while adhering to the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works ethics and guidelines. The jacket showed a faint tan discoloration due to light damage, evidence of minor insect damage, and grazing to the wool, while the trousers were stable except for a complex tear of approximately 1½ inches by 1 inch and the same insect damage and grazing.
During the testing and analysis stages of the conservation, a polarized light microscope was used to identify and verify the uniform’s fiber content to determine the correct treatment. Upon verification of the fibers, Lee performed a surface cleaning to clear any dirt from the uniform as it attracts pests and biological growth.
Creating Mylar templates in the shape of the loss on the jacket and trousers and then cutting out either black or brown silk crepeline to form, Lee painstakingly positioned grainlines of fabric perpendicular to each other to prevent a moiré effect and hand-stitched the panels together with dyed hair silk. She layered the fabric in this way to ensure the uniform will lay flat while creating the illusion of delineation. Upon completion of her treatment, Lee performed a final surface cleaning before packing the uniform with acid-free tissue in an archival box. The overall time for the treatment was 16 hours for all the various steps.
“It’s pretty spectacular, being one of our first treatments, and means a lot to me to work on a uniform like this because of its rarity,” said Lee. “As conservators, we try to treat every object with the same respect.”
The uniform helps tell the story of Dinsdale’s life. Having an interest in wireless telegraphy while in high school, he obtained his radio operator, commercial first-grade license from the Marconi Institute in Seattle. He would acquire his “sea legs” while employed by the International Fisheries Company off the coast of Alaska, and in January 1914, he was selected for service as an enlisted wireless operator on board the USS Hector (AC-7). While stationed in the Hector, Dinsdale was commissioned as an electrical engineer.
In November 1916, Dinsdale transferred to the USS Jason (AC-12) where he served as an electrician and machinist. He was tasked with transporting coal, stores, and freight along the U.S. East Coast until 16 April 1918, when ordered to transport aviation materials to Inverness, Scotland, in support of the war. Dinsdale tested and passed the examination to become commissioned as an engineer with the rank of ensign, serving as the third assistant engineer before being honorably discharged on 24 July 1919.
“The artifact is an excellent example of a World War I uniform and helps tell the story of a sailor’s transition from being a merchant crewman to active duty during this period,” said Karen France, head curator at the NHHC.
—Mass Communication Specialist First Class Clifford L. H. Davis, NHHC
USNI Memoir Collection Launches
The new U.S. Naval Institute Memoir Collection, providing veterans and their families with a trusted place to archive electronically the autobiographical accounts of their Sea Service experiences, is now up and running on the Institute’s website. This ever-growing searchable online collection will provide historians and researchers with a priceless bounty of primary-source material, recounted by those who were there. For future generations, a crucial perspective on military history will be preserved.
By visiting the Memoir Collection landing page, those interested in having their memoirs—either book-length autobiographies or article-length vignettes—added to the collection can follow the steps necessary to submit a work for possible inclusion in the archive. To learn more, visit www.usni.org/memoirs.
Historic Ship’s Bell Finds Fitting New Home
The ship’s bell from the battleship USS Utah (BB-31/AG-16), which has been on display at the U.S. Navy Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA) in Newport, Rhode Island, since late last year, has been shipped to the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Collection Management Facility at Richmond, Virginia, for cleaning and conservation. Now taking its place at the SEA? A bell from another historic vessel, the USS Missouri (BB-11)—a Maine-class battleship that was part of the globe-circling Great White Fleet.
The Utah bell, which traveled to the SEA for the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, will return to the University of Utah, where it has been displayed for years under loan from the Navy. At the SEA it was on view at Tomich Hall to honor the memory of Peter Tomich, the Utah chief watertender who sacrificed his life to save others that fateful day in December 1941 and posthumously received the Medal of Honor (see “WWII Ship’s Bell Reunited with Its Past,” December 2016, p. 13.)
The Missouri bell taking the Utah bell’s place also has a SEA connection: A deadly 1904 powder fire might have spread to the magazine and sunk the Missouri but for the actions of Chief Gunner’s Mate Mons Monssen and two shipmates, each of whom was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in containing and extinguishing the fire.
Chief (eventually Lieutenant) Monssen gave his name to two destroyers—DD-436, which saw many of the key actions of the pre–World War II Neutrality Patrol and of the early war years before her loss in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, and DD-798, which took part in a number of late World War II operations, spent five years out of commission, and then saw Cold War service in the 1950s.
“We hope that the bell will be a daily reminder for the Navy’s enlisted leaders of the way that our heritage compounds over time,” said retired Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, director of the NHHC.
War Keepsake Heading Back to Japan
A hinomaru yosegaki—a Japanese good-luck flag—is making the voyage homeward to Japan, thanks to a World War II Marine veteran who has had the relic since taking it off a Japanese officer killed at the Battle of Saipan in 1944.
Martin Strombo, 93, of Missoula, Montana, laid claim to the flag, along with the officer’s sword, as mementoes of his Pacific war experiences. The sword was stolen several decades ago, but the flag, at least, has a chance of being reunited with the officer’s descendants, thanks to Strombo’s good-will gesture and a possible positive ID.
Good-luck flags, a tradition during the era of the Empire of Japan, would be given to a Japanese serviceman prior to military deployment. Family, friends, and neighbors would pass the flag around, affixing their signatures and well-wishes to the banner as a comfort to the young man going off to war.
An assistant professor at the University of Montana has identified the flag’s likely original owner as Yasue Sadao. The Obon Society, which works to get war keepsakes returned to Japan, is helping in the effort to locate the officer’s descendants.
“I hope the family gets it,” Strombo told the Missoulian. “I think it would be some comfort to them.”