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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

City of Portsmouth 130th Annual Memorial Day Parade

Blog #32.  May 28, 2014 By Marcus W. Robbins

Monday May 26, was a glorious sunshine filled day.  On this day we had the honor to witness our very own Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Shipyard Commander Captain Mark Bridenstine serve as the Grand Marshal of the City of Portsmouth’s 130th Annual Memorial Day Parade.  He was accompanied by his wife Shelly.
Norfolk Naval Shipyard Commander Captain Mark Bridenstine
 Grand Marshal of Portsmouth’s 130th Memorial Day Parade is accompanied by his wife Shelley.

Photo provided by Marcus W. Robbins.

While the weather in eastern Virginia can sometimes be unpredictable this day was bright and sunny.  A cheerful festive mood resonated loudly down the street as an estimated crowd of 10,000 attendees lined the sidewalks of High Street for as far as the eye could see.  American flags waved and patriotic music played.  Red, white and blue was the color theme of the day!

This parade has been a Portsmouth tradition dating back to 1884, a 130 years.  To have the leader of the nation’s oldest continuous operating naval shipyard serve as Grand Marshal this year just seemed to be fitting as the modern Norfolk Naval Shipyard can trace its roots back to November 1, 1767 some 247 years.  I have often said that the story of both Portsmouth and our Navy Yard must be told together as one cannot be separated without mentioning the other.  We live in a proud community, one that has served our nation well.  Now, isn’t that what Memorial Day is all about?  Providing unwavering military service to the nation is something that comes easily to both of these great institutions.

After the parade nearby there was a touching service to honor the Vietnam War Memorial and the names of local war heroes whose honor of service to their county was acknowledged and their names were read aloud.  These folks gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we could enjoy events such as the one today.  On this day as it should be every day, we should be proud to be “Americans” and not identified by any other labels.  On this day there was an especially strong sense of “united we stand”.  It should be our hope we never lose this spirit of freedom and not just outwardly display it on 1 day and ignore it the other 364 days of the year.

As quoted by Portsmouth’s Mayor Kenneth I. Wright he proudly provided the following.  “Celebrating the 130th Annual Memorial Day Parade in Portsmouth is a long honored tradition of which I am very proud, and it also kicks-off a festive time of tourism and outdoor events within the beautiful and historic City of Portsmouth.”

With approximately 65 marching bands, cars, floats, drill teams and other units marching this indeed was a community event.  From the youngest to the oldest observing from the sidewalk or of the wide range of participants there were smiles everywhere.  A cross section of not only of our community was represented but of our nation.  We are a diverse people, again on Monday the only label you could rightfully place on the crowd was that of “Americans”.

Did you miss this year’s event?  Do you wish you could have made it?  Have you ever attended as a child yet lost touch and wish you could make that connection again?  Fear not – if I were a betting man I would say just as Spring follows Winter you shall get another chance next May as the Memorial Day observance gears up for consecutive year 131 because here in Portsmouth Virginia –“history matters”.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Historical Events Do Tell a Story at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard

Blog #31.  May 12, 2014 By Marcus W. Robbins

As a historian and archivist attempting to tell the story of our great institution I am often approached by both new and old employees wishing to know more about where they work.  It is an honor that I don’t take lightly as to portray our historical past accurately is to lay the groundwork for our future.  To read and recite facts coldly is one thing but to be able to tell our story often from memory and point out a specific building, area of grounds on the modern shipyard, a certain set of conditions and then to be able to paint a picture in the employees mind of “that’s where they did this” brings a certain satisfaction when you see their faces.  Only then they are able to buy in and own it too.

When you can transform at a personal level the historical events of this shipyard especially by one on one interaction and a person can actually see where the event took place then the teaching and telling of the story is not lost to time and forgotten.  It gives them pride of where they work.  That is the very purpose of my “History Matters” blogs that you can read in their entirety here back from the beginning with Blog #1 on January 31, 2011.

Our Norfolk Naval Shipyard lives on today because of the proud accomplishments of not only its past but its promise of the future.  It is so very important that new employees here learn of the great milestones we accomplished here on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River, not only for the Navy but for the United States.  The one thing I try to tell everyone is history is not just something abstract that happened in the past.  The history of our shipyard going into the future depends on you also, the new employee “you must own it”.

The historical events story of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is like a great tapestry; it is woven of many individual fibers all coming together to create something larger.  Those fibers begin with our people as they demonstrate pride, knowledge and the craftsmanship of the shipbuilding and repair.  Those fibers are the tools used and raw materials that are transformed into ships and equipment.  Those fibers are the facilities and buildings that are utilized to bring everything together in order to deliver a world class product.

Norfolk Naval Shipyard delivers world class products as evidenced by our motto – “Any Ship, Any Time, Any Where”.

One of the best physical artifact tools for learning and teaching a quick overview of our historical events at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is the bronze plaque inside of Gate 10.  I often take new employees there or advise the more seasoned ones to take time to go read what they have driven past for years.  It was erected by the Norfolk Naval Historical Association in 1950 with the very mission of telling our story.

Bronze plaque erected in 1950 (located inside of Gate 10) at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. 
Text sourced from "A Brief History" by Marshall W. Butt April 1951.

If you read the above text carefully you shall learn of the four flags this yard has had flown from its flagstaff (British, Virginia, Confederacy & United States) and you shall learn of the three different burns (1779, 1861 & 1862) of the shipyard.  From the first dry docking in 1833 of a ship in the United States (USS DELAWARE) our Drydock 1 still remains in operation today a testament to the craftsman that built it.  Other facts contained on the plaque high lite the conversion of the ironclad (CSS VIRGINIA) of which was important because it helped changed modern naval warfare, it too can trace its heritage to Drydock 1.  The US Navy’s first Battleship (USS TEXAS) and the first aircraft carrier (USS LANGLEY) also were constructed here.  Finally the plaque gives the various specific dates that this great institution underwent formal name changes.

I have recently unearthed archival documentation of the 1950 dedication of this beautiful bronze tablet and photos of the event, they too shall be the subject of a future blog because –“history matters”.