Indiana University has secured the original prow from the battleship USS Indiana, which served in the Pacific during World War II and was the last ship to be named for the Hoosier state.
The acquisition means the ship’s prow will be reunited with its mainmast and two of its gun mounts, which have been on display outside Memorial Stadium’s west entrance since May 1966. A plaque there notes the items were a gift from the U.S. Navy and stand “as a memorial to the sons and daughters of the state of Indiana who have so gallantly served in the armed forces of our nation.”
The university will formally welcome the ship’s prow to its new home with a rededication ceremony Sept. 7, when IU hosts Navy in a home football game. Representatives from the university, the U.S. Navy and the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in Martin County, as well local, state and federal lawmakers, are expected to be on hand.
“Indiana University is an appropriate home for this treasured vestige of naval history and tradition from the last warship named in honor of our great state,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “The fact that we have an opportunity to preserve a physical piece of this legacy and provide a lasting home for it at the state’s flagship public university is a source of immense pride that I share with all Hoosiers.”
A 35,000-ton South Dakota class battleship, the USS Indiana was commissioned in April 1942. She participated in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands in November 1943 and the Marshall Islands in January 1944, and took part in the Marianas campaign in June 1944. Following an overhaul, she returned to the Western Pacific in January 1945 in time to participate in the invasion of Iwo Jima. The ship, which earned nine battle stars for her service in World War II, was decommissioned in September 1947 and then sold for scrap in 1963.
The Frank Spenger family, whose patriarch collected Navy memorabilia, saved the front portion of the ship from being scrapped and displayed it for decades in the parking lot of the family’s seafood restaurant in Berkeley, Calif.
The prow came to the attention of IU officials last year when alumnus Scott Clarke suggested, via a letter to the editor in a Bloomington newspaper, that the university procure the prow and display it at Memorial Stadium.
Kirk White, IU’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships and military liaison for the Office of the President, enlisted the assistance of the San Francisco Bay alumni chapter to reach out to the Spenger family. The family agreed to donate the structure to the university, thereby reuniting the prow with its mainmast and guns.
“This generous gift from the Spenger family allows Indiana University to honor the contributions of its alumni and all Hoosiers by displaying the prow of this namesake ship that served so proudly in the Pacific theater during World War II,” White said. “South-central Indiana has long enjoyed a strong relationship with the U.S. Navy through the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, and installing this piece of history at Memorial Stadium will further recognize the men and women from our state who have served in all branches of the military.”
The USS Indiana prow is expected to arrive at Memorial Stadium in July, where it will be mounted on a platform near its guns and mast. Transportation and a refurbishment project are being paid for through private funds. The prow will be sandblasted, primed and painted on-site, work that will be overseen by the IU Physical Plant.
Other artifacts from the USS Indiana are displayed throughout the state, including one of the battleship’s anchors at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum at Fort Wayne and her bell at the Heslar Naval Armory in Indianapolis.