"The biggest challenge is ensuring that the history of a particular ship is captured and finding something unique pertaining to her history."
-HHC Museum Specialist Bill Hill
WASHINGTON - Each year, U.S. Navy vessels are decommissioned from active service. Though decommissioning of naval ships is a common occurrence for the Navy, it leaves a lingering question for many former crewmembers, naval history buffs and people who are interested in the ships, "What happens now?"
Since the U.S. Navy's inception in 1775, more than 15,000 ships have served and with those ships come even more Sailors. With each decommissioning, it is Naval History and Heritage Command's (NHHC) mission to collect and protect the artifacts and records that detail the history of the vessel.
Unfortunately, that means plank owners and former crew members may not receive their own piece of history. Mark Evans, NHHC historian and former Sailor, sympathizes with Sailors who contact NHHC in the hopes of obtaining a memento from a decommissioned ship on which they served.
The Civil War era warship Constellation moored at the sailing marina at the U.S. Naval Academy. The ship was launched at Gosport, Va., nearly 160 years ago. The ship is normally docked at its homeport in Baltimore, Md. She was turned over to the City of Baltimore in 1955 as a historic shrine and undergoes continual restoration.
(U.S. Navy photo by Don S. Montgomery)
"A lot of Sailors feel justifiably eligible after serving all of that time haze grey and underway," he said "Plank owners especially. Some of the most commonly asked for artifacts from decommissioned vessels are things such as ship's quarterdeck bells, plaques, national or jack flags and photographs."
Though it is understandable that many past Sailors wish to have something in their personal collection to help them remember their time onboard their ships, rights to obtaining such artifacts are a common misconception. So, when ships decommission, such as the USS Ford (FFG 54) which decommissions Oct. 31 or USS Thach (FFG 43) which decommissions Nov. 1, their plank owners, those Sailors who were part of the first crew and commission the ships, may not get their "plank."