Thursday, September 10, 2020

VJ Day Artifact Series (Part 4): Journal from a USS Bennington (CV 20) Sailor

 To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we asked our colleagues at our sister museums for some interesting artifacts that highlight unique aspects of the Navy during the war. To close out this series, we have an artifact from our sister museum, the National Museum of the American Sailor in Great Lakes, Illinois. 

USS Bennington (CV 20), with camouflage paint, preparing to go to war. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

By Jennifer Steinhardt and Samantha Belles
Archivist and Collection Manager at National Museum of the American Sailor

It is difficult to select only one item from an artifact collection that captures so many important historical stories about the Navy’s enlisted Sailor. One such item from the National Museum of the American Sailor’s collection is Fireman 1/c (EM) Nicholas Saroukos’ journal. Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1920, Saroukos enlisted into the United States Navy in 1942. As the Navy forbade American service members to keep personal journals during World War II, Saroukos’ account as an electrician aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bennington (CV 20) from January-April 1945 provides a rare contemporaneous firsthand account of what it was like to be a Navy Sailor during World War II.
A page from Saroukos' journal. Of note is the reference to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, as well as to kamikaze attacks (off of Okinawa). (National Museum of the American Sailor)

A sailor keeps an eye on a control board below deck aboard USS Bennington in 1945. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

In his journal, Saroukos first recounts the USS Bennington (CV 20) tying up to the USS Utah (BB 31) “Had my first glimpse of the historic port of Pearl Harbor. We tied up to the______ of the U.S.S. Utah which is lying on the bottom of the harbor.” Throughout his journal, he continues to detail his life aboard the ship. One notable part of the journal is when Saroukos discusses the disadvantages of having a below deck battle-station. He states, “that nothing can be done when a plane is diving at us but lie on the deck face down…”

The wreck of USS Utah (BB 31) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1944 during salvage operations. The battleship was one of those sunk during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

This personal and important story is one of many in our collection. By keeping a journal, Nicholas Saroukos provides a glimpse into the daily life of enlisted sailors, something the National Museum of the American Sailor strives to preserve and make available to everyone each and every day.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

VJ Day Artifact Series (Part 3): USS Missouri (BB 63) Telephone

 To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we asked our colleagues at our sister museums for some interesting artifacts that highlight unique aspects of the Navy during the war. This week we have an artifact on display at our sister museum, the National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington, D.C. 

Japanese Surrender Ceremony aboard USS Missouri, September 2, 1945. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

By Wesley Schwenk
Collections Manager, National Museum of the United States Navy


After being commissioned in 1944, USS Missouri (BB 63) joined the fleet outfitted with all of the regulation bells and whistles, including the telephone pictured here. The entirety of Missouri's service saw the use of this telephone. This Type D telephone, produced by the Automatic Electric Company, was built in its Chicago, Illinois plant. Not just the Type D, but many other phones made by this company were staples of United States Navy shipboard communication equipment. The phone gave the user the capability to speak with or take calls from various parts of the ship allowing for speedy responses and efficient decision making.

Type D telephone from USS Missouri (on loan to NMUSN from Curator Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command)

Crewmen use a telephone in the radio room aboard sister ship USS New Jersey (BB 62) in 1944. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
This object is an interesting one in and of itself because of the missions and objectives that were communicated through it. That includes the vessel being attached to Task Force 58 in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, launching air strikes against enemy targets, and firing 16-inch gun bombardment support prior and during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa landings. This telephone also assisted in communications for the striking of the Japanese mainland in 1945 and cemented Missouri's place among the Pacific fleet. 
USS Missouri's mighty 16-inch guns roar in 1944. Six projectiles can be seen in flight to the right. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Finally, this object remained on board and in use for the formal Japanese surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945. This artifact allowed USS Missouri (BB 63) to succeed during World War II and eventually proved to be one small but important part of her 48 years of naval service.
The Japanese delegation arrive for the surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945. (Naval History and Heritage Command) 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

VJ Day Artifact Series (Part 2): Schoolhouse Arisaka Rifle

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we will be highlighting a few artifacts from the Navy's collection that highlight unique aspects of the Navy during the war. This week we are featuring an artifact from our own collection. 

This Type 99 Arisaka rifle was brought back to the U.S. by USS Wisconsin (BB 64) crewmember Frederick Mauritson. (HRNM 2000-347D-013/Elijah Palmer)

By Elijah Palmer
Deputy Director of Education

Small arms are typically not as common in naval museums as other, more ground based military museums. However that does not mean they are non-existent. Within the collection at HRNM is a captured Japanese Type 99 Arisaka rifle. The Arisaka was the standard issue rifle for the Japanese military during World War II, and thus became a fairly common war souvenir for American military personnel. 

Mauritson etched in "Sept. 16, 1945" on the rifle butt, the date he went into Yokosuka. (Elijah Palmer)

Signalman 3rd Class Frederick Mauritson found this rifle in Yokosuka, Japan. The rifle was one of a cache hidden under the floor of an elementary school and were meant to be used by civilians in the case of the feared American invasion ("Operation Downfall"), which the entire nation was prepared to defend against. 

Japanese schoolgirls train on Arisaka rifles and a light machine gun (Wikipedia Commons)

A Marine destroys Japanese small arms (including Type 99 Arisaka rifles) with a hammer near Yokosuka Naval Base on August 30, 1945. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

American ships outside of Tokyo Harbor on August 27, 1945, with Mount Fuji in the background. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Mauritson was a plankowner on USS Wisconsin (BB 64) and was off the coast of Japan on August 15, 1945 when word of the Japanese surrender arrived. The battleship came into Tokyo Bay on September 5, 1945, a few days after the surrender ceremony. He was able to finally get liberty and go ashore on September 16th. USS Wisconsin would leave Japan on September 22nd to participate in Operation Magic Carpet, bringing soldiers and marines back to the United States. When the ship sailed away, Mauritson had a few souvenirs stashed in his seabag, which would eventually find their way into HRNM's collection. 


Signalman 3rd Class Frederick Mauritson with his father, Lieutenant Frederick Mauritson (USN, 1919-1946) after the war. (from Mauritson's scrapbook in HRNM collection)


Thursday, August 20, 2020

VJ Day Artifact Series (Part 1): "Legion of Swindlers" Certificate

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we asked our colleagues at our sister museums for some interesting artifacts that highlight unique aspects of the Navy during the war. To kick it off, we have an artifact from the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington. 

USS Seawolf (SS 197) after an overhaul in 1944 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

By Mary Ryan
Curator, USNUM

The casualty rate for submariners during World War II — one in five lost— was the highest among all U.S. military branches. As submarine crews made hazardous war patrols in the Pacific, games and jokes offered a welcome distraction.

The officers of submarine USS Seawolf (SS 197) handcrafted this joke citation for executive officer Robert Risser in 1943. It bestowed the imaginary title of “Grand Swindler” on Risser, who apparently impressed and irritated his colleagues with his poker-playing prowess. No effort was spared by the certificate’s creators, from translating the title into French to attaching real playing cards to hand-painting the word “citation” (aboard a wartime-deployed submarine, no less).
Note the details and effort that went into making Risser's certificate (U.S. Naval Undersea Museum, NUM.1995.359.004)

I love everything about this one-of-a-kind artifact in our collection — its humor, cleverness, originality, and eye-catching design — but I especially enjoy the thoughtful message slipped into the last line, which belies the preceding admonishment. Knowing Risser was slated to take command of USS Flying Fish (SS 229) after this patrol, Risser’s fellow officers praised him for “[giving] so unstintingly of his valuable time and talents day in and day out without end.” Risser brought this same dedication to Flying Fish, where he earned the Navy Cross for a dangerous attack that sank two Japanese ships and ten small craft.
Robert D. Risser seen in 1958. He retired as at the rank of Captain in 1964. (Naval History and Heritage Command