Thursday, March 29, 2018

National Vietnam War Veterans Day


CAPT Kay Russell

March 29 is National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Two years ago, we were fortunate to receive a donation from the son of CAPT Kay Russell, a naval aviator who served time in a North Vietnamese POW (prisoner of war) camp. When I first saw the shirt he wore as a POW and the letters he wrote home to his family, I was touched by the deeply personal nature of this collection, and I knew that we had to share it with our visitors.

Kay Russell was born in 1934 in Stephenville, Texas. He earned his commission through the NROTC program at Rice University in 1956. Russell graduated from flight training in 1958 and flew F4D Skyrays with VF(AW)-3 at NAS North Island, California. The following year he switched to the FJ-3 Fury and then again to the F-8 Crusader, ultimately taking an assignment with VU-7 at NAAS Brown Field, California. After a number of intermediate assignments, he joined VF-211 at NAS Miramar and was deployed to Vietnam aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) in January 1966. On May 19, 1967, LCDR Russell’s section of four aircraft was engaged by a MiG-17 while flying over North Vietnam. As the American aircraft began to maneuver, Russell’s wingman reported seeing an explosion followed by falling metal fragments. Thankfully, he also spotted a parachute on the ground soon after. As Russell jokingly told an audience years later, he managed to evade capture “for fully thirty seconds” before enemy soldiers found him.

POW uniform worn by LCDR Russell
Naval War College Museum Collection
(click to enlarge)
Letter written by LCDR Russell to his family in 1970
Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

Upon his arrival in Hanoi, Russell’s captors gave him a striped uniform to wear complete with an identification number. This marked the beginning of 2,117 days - nearly five and a half years - spent in captivity. To pass the time, Russell composed songs that he sang in hushed tones with the other prisoners in his cell. He quickly learned the tap code that POWs used to communicate between cells and even led church services in the afternoons. Like his fellow prisoners, Russell endured periodic beatings and torture at the hands of his guards. Holidays were an especially difficult time for the POWs. Fortunately for them, the Red Cross was occasionally allowed access to their camps and delivered letters from home whenever possible. Russell took advantage of their visits to send letters to his family and let them know that he was thinking of them. Interestingly, the Navy also used the opportunity to look for clues about conditions inside the camps based on Russell’s letters. Analysts studied his handwriting and noted the tone of his letters. From this, they determined that his physical condition was weak, though not dangerously so, and that he was standing up well to the mental stress of captivity.


(click to enlarge)
Analysis of LCDR Russell's Letter
Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College
CDR Russell and his fellow POWs were finally released as part of Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. Following recovery from his injuries, Russell returned to active status with the Navy. He joined the faculty of the Naval War College in 1976 where he served as the head of the Strategy & Policy division for correspondence courses and taught in the Department of Strategy. CAPT Russell passed away on active duty in 1979. His awards include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with Valor, and the Purple Heart.


Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, March 23, 2018

Submarine Propeller Returns Home to Newport

L-8 propeller arriving at Naval Station Newport
Photo by Liz DeLucia, Director of Education

File this under “Not Something You See Everyday!” Last month we received a call from the president of CONUSUB, a commercial diving company, about a unique artifact in his possession. He and several of his associates had recovered a propeller from the wreck of an early twentieth-century American submarine, and he wanted to find a good home for it.

The team that recovered the propeller from the L-8 wreck site
L-R: Stephen Moy, Eva Longobardi, Kenny Sheehan, Donald Gunning, Greg DeAscentis

The submarine, L-8, was sunk for target practice in Narragansett Bay in 1926, so it has a strong connection with our local history here in Newport. While we were eager to receive the propeller for our collection, the logistics of getting it from downtown Newport to the museum proved to be a challenge. Fortunately the facilities crew of Naval Station Newport stepped in to help and transported the propeller to our storage facility.

Photo by Liz DeLucia, Director of Education

Its next stop is the Navy’s conservation labs in Washington DC where it will undergo cleaning and treatment in order to prepare it for display. Thank you to the members of the facilities crew for their outstanding work in making this happen!

L-8 was laid down on 24 February 1915 at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire and launched on 23 April 1917. The L-class was the product of the U.S. Navy’s first attempt at building ocean-going submarines. L-8 had a range of 4,500 nautical miles with a top speed of 14 knots on the surface and 10.5 knots submerged. She carried eight torpedoes (four in bow tubes and four reloads) and was also armed with a retractable three-inch deck gun.

L-8 in dry dock at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, 1917
NH 51135
Naval History & Heritage Command

Following training operations along the east coast, L-8 steamed for the Azores in November 1918 to join Submarine Division 6 in anti-submarine patrols during the World War I. She arrived in Bermuda on 13 November only to discover that the armistice had taken effect two days earlier, and was ordered to return to the United States.

A torpedo armed with a magnetic influence exploder passes
under L-8 during tests conducted on 26 May 1926
NH 88457
Naval History & Heritage Command

The following year, L-8 joined the submarine flotilla on the west coast. There she conducted experimented with new torpedoes and undersea detection equipment. She returned to the east coast in 1922 and arrived at Hampton Roads where she was decommissioned on 15 November. But the Navy wasn’t finished with her quite yet. L-8’s final destination was Newport, Rhode Island, where she was turned over to the Naval Torpedo Station for testing. On 26 May 1926, L-8 was destroyed as a target to test the effectiveness of the Navy’s new magnetic influence exploders for torpedoes. This was the only test with live torpedoes of magnetic exploders conducted by the Navy before World War II.

L-8 sinks after a successful hit
NH 88458
Naval History & Heritage Command
















Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum