Artifact Spotlight: Medals and Awards of VADM Bernard L. Austin

--Kassie Ettefagh, Curatorial Volunteer
--John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

One of the strengths of the Naval War College Museum collection is the wealth of uniforms, medals, and personal items related to the careers of the Presidents of the Naval War College. From the officer’s sword belonging to second president, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (recently featured in this blog) to a portrait bust of the college’s fifty-second (and current) president, Rear Admiral James P. Wisecup, these artifacts are crucial in interpreting college history because they often reveal how the personal lives and careers of these officers shaped their administrations as well as “naval thought” in general.

VADM Bernard L. Austin
Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin was the president of the Naval War College from 30 June 1960 to 31 July 1964. A collection of his uniform items, medals, ribbons, and other personal effects was recently transferred to the museum from the Curator Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington DC. The collection was originally donated to the Naval Historical Foundation in 1979.

The college’s thirty-second president, Austin’s tour was the longest in college history up to that point. During World War II, he served as a destroyer captain and squadron commodore and later joined the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. Between 1951 and 1954 he played an important role in creating the college’s Naval Command College for international officers. He attained the rank of vice admiral while serving as Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, DC. Prior to his command at the college, he was Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and Policy).

This collection contains 160 items, most of which are uniform accessories, medals, or ribbons. Additionally, there are belts, buckles, shoulder boards, pins, identification tags, and uniform buttons. His medals and ribbons denote participation in the American, African-European-Middle Eastern, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaigns of World War II. Other medals include the United Nations Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and a Bronze Star. Austin was awarded the Navy Cross with gold star (for second award) as well as a Silver Star for his gallantry as commander of Destroyer Division FORTY-SIX during actions in the Solomon Islands in November of 1943.

Bar of medals worn by VADM B.L. Austin

Of immediate interest is his Navy Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars for subsequent awards (second from left). The President of the United States awarded Austin his second award of the Distinguished Service Medal for his service as President of the Naval War College. According to the citation, “Vice Admiral Austin drew upon his great wealth of wisdom and experience in a dedicated effort to enrich the postgraduate education of students at the Naval War College in the field of maritime strategy and its relationship to overall national and allied objectives and strategy.” The award also recognized Austin’s role in the development of a program of annual conferences of Presidents and Directors of the War Colleges of the Americas. These conferences, the citation reads were, “highly beneficial to professional and diplomatic relationships among the participants.” Austin’s Second Gold Star (third award) recognized his service as Chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board from 1964-196. The board fostered collaboration of member nations in security issues that affected the region. These medals remind the reader of the Naval War College tradition of international partnership and an artifact’s ability to tell a larger story.

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum


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