September 28, 2020

Naval Museum opens new exhibit

York connections abound in display about Navy’s Vietnam role

By Max Lonzanida

Public Affairs Officer, Hampton Roads Naval Museum

The craft paper and closed signs were peeled away on Oct. 9 to reveal the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s new exhibit — “The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea: the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975.”

But before the exhibit opened to the public, the museum in conjunction with the U.S. Fleet Forces Command and the Naval History and Heritage Command hosted an opening reception along with the Navy birthday. And yes there was cake.

Museum Director John Pentangelo provided some remarks and commented on the steadfast work that staff members completed to transform more than 4,700 square feet of their gallery into the new immersive exhibit. Admiral Christopher Grady, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, echoed those remarks and provided some commentary on the Navy’s 244th birthday.

“The men and women of the United States Navy draw our inspiration from the sailors who have gone before them,” he said. “To our Vietnam veterans here this evening, and to others who contributed but were not able to be here, I am excited to open this new exhibit, because we still have much to learn from you.”

Nearly 50 U.S. Navy Vietnam veterans attended, and after remarks by NHHC’s Director, retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, a veteran roll call commenced. Reading the names of the veterans in attendance was Comm. Joseph Fals, commanding officer of the USS James E. Williams, the namesake of Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James E. Williams, a Medal of Honor Recipient who served with the River Patrol Force during the Vietnam War.

The roll call and coining ceremony was met with a standing and resounding applause of the near 300 flag officers, VIPs and guests in attendance at a packed auditorium.

Among the attendees was Hayes resident Jim Leuci, a retired U.S. Navy master chief petty officer. Leuci enlisted in the Navy in 1974 and loaned a few uniforms for the exhibit.

“With all the veterans included [for oral histories], it adds a local touch,” he said.

Also in attendance was Hampton resident Martha Walker, curator of the Battleship Wisconsin and Buckroe Beach. She echoed the excitement of the new exhibit opening, noting that she “likes history to expand, not to contract and be erased. That’s what I feel about this exhibit being produced, and I think everyone is thrilled.”

The immersive exhibit brings more than 130 new artifacts to the museum’s gallery, and touches on elements of Naval Intelligence, Riverine Operations, logistics and support operations, Naval Aviation, and Surface Navy Operations. It incorporates the oral histories of 40 area U.S. Navy Vietnam War veterans throughout the exhibit while incorporating artifacts both large and small.

One of the artifacts on display is the name board of the USS Mattaponi. The Kennebec-Class oiler bears the namesake of the Mattaponi river, a tributary of the York River. The oiler fueled warships off the coast of Vietnam starting in 1964 and was decommissioned in 1970. The name board was one of the artifacts retained by NHHC in its collections and is among the artifacts that have a Yorktown connection on display in the Naval Museum’s new exhibit.