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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”.

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