On Feb. 14, an important, missing piece of Juneau’s history will be unveiled at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum for all to see. The silver service bought by the people of Juneau in 1941 for its first namesake ship, the U.S.S. Juneau (CL-52), will finally be returning home.
It’s in large part thanks to the efforts of the Mendenhall Flying Lions, an initiative led by Donna Hurley.
“We are always looking for a project that will benefit our communities that we live in,” she said.
The project began for Hurley in October 2014 after speaking to a friend about the silver. The friend said it had always been her husband’s wish to see it returned; her husband had come into Juneau in 1987 aboard the U.S.S. Juneau (LPD-10).
“This brought back a host of feelings for the task ahead,” Hurley said, adding she also got to see the silver in person in 1987 at the original Juneau’s memorial.
The silver service — a silver set given to the Navy ship which consisted of a punch bowl, tray, two candlesticks, ladle and cups — was purchased with money raised by school children, firefighters and the city of Juneau in 1941. It was an effort led by then-mayor Harry Lucas’ wife, Ina Lucas. Together the city raised $1,200 to purchase it. (According to save.org, if adjusted for inflation, that would have been $19,984 in 2015.)
The silver was present during the light cruiser’s christening in New York on Feb. 14, 1942, but was later placed into storage reportedly by mayor Lucas in either New York or Newark, New Jersey, when the ship went into active duty since the silver was considered non-essential.
If it had been on board, it would have sunk with the Juneau on Nov. 13, 1942, at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Torpedoed by the Japanese Navy, the Juneau suffered a great explosion and sunk within 20 seconds; only 100 of the nearly 700 crew members survived the initial explosion and sinking, and only 10 remained to be rescued after eight days spent in shark infested waters and being exposed to the elements.
The silver was not brought out again until the christening of the U.S.S. Juneau (CL-119), which was commissioned on Feb. 15, 1946, and was active during the Korean War and then scrapped in 1962. Again, the silver was brought out for the christening of the U.S.S. Juneau (LPD-10), which was commissioned on July 12, 1969, and remained onboard until the Juneau was decommissioned in 2008. The silver was then placed in storage in San Diego.
However, before the silver went to San Diego, it made a brief stop in Juneau in 1987 on the Juneau LPD-10 for the memorial of the Juneau CL-52. A few members of the community were allowed to ride on the Juneau LPD-10 as it came into Juneau on July 4. There, Captain Eugene Bailey showed one of the members, a U.S. Navy veteran, the silver, which was kept in the ship’s safe. With the promise of sufficient security, the silver was allowed to be at the CL-52’s memorial.
Donna Hurley was at the memorial, which took place at the Baranof Hotel where she worked. She said another employee notified her that four armed Marines arrived with a package for the reception.
“It was the punch bowl that had been donated to the first ship 45 years earlier,” Hurley said. “It had never been in Juneau, never been used for a party for her crew until that night, when the five remaining survivors of the sinking joined with the captain of the third ship, to toast their lost mates. It was very moving, and the Marines stayed with the bowl the entire time and returned it to the ship’s safe.”
Decades later, after Hurley talked to her friend about the silver and was inspired to bring it home, she emailed Sen. Lisa Murkowski about locating it. Two weeks later, Murkowski replied along with her naval liaison, opening a discussion on where the silver was and what had to be done to bring it home.
The silver service collection could not be broken up and had to remain in a secure facility. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum expressed interest, and arrangements were made and contracts signed for the silver to be on a long-term loan in Juneau. The Mendenhall Flying Lions covered the cost of shipping the silver from San Diego to Juneau.
“We are all very excited that this piece of history will be returned to our state and community,” Hurley said.
Jodi DeBruyne, the curator of collections and exhibits at the City Museum, said that the silver will remain under wraps and no pictures taken until the opening exhibit on Feb. 14, celebrating the original Juneau’s 74th anniversary of its christening.
“I have heard through the years a story about the U.S.S. Juneau that has been so fascinating to me, about collecting dimes and milk and lunch money for the U.S.S. Juneau silver service set,” City Museum Executive Director Jane Lindsey said. “I imagine Juneau families during wartime of the ‘40s, a community of about 5,700, who in many ways may not have understood or appreciated each other but collectively felt the pride, patriotism and tradition as the host city in paying for a silver set to be placed aboard the ship. This capacity for giving and unity at a time of great uncertainty has always resonated with me as a touchstone of this community.”
• Contact Clara Miller at 523-2243 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.