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Preserving Naval History - The Naval Historical Foundation
October 2011 - Navy
by VADM Robert Dunn

The Naval Historical Foundation (NHF) has been in the business of preserving naval history since 1926, perhaps the only Navy-oriented institution dedicated solely to that effort. Many others are also vitally interested in naval history, but only the NHF does that and nothing else. It's a rather small organization with something less than 3,000 members nationwide, but over the years its influence has been great. It joins with other organizations in a plethora of history-oriented efforts and supports naval history in a variety of roles. It is also one of the oldest of the many non-profit organizations that have been formed to support the Navy.

The stated mission of the NHF is, "To portray the role of sea power in the development of the United States through Education, Preservation and Commemoration." That's done by way of a variety of programs and efforts among which the more notable are the collection and purchase of artifacts and papers for donation to the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), the Library of Congress, the USS CONSTITUTION Museum and others, an oral history program, a history speakers' bureau, subvention of books, operation of the NHHC photo library and assistance with research and a number of annual prizes. The entire list of NHF programs can be found on the Foundation's Web site,

The Foundation also responds to special needs as they arise. For example, the NHF operated its own museum in Washington for three decades when no official Navy museum existed, helped to preserve John Paul Jones' birthplace in Scotland, constructed a historical display room in the aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) and provided text and graphics for a series of memorial arches that were incorporated into the redesign of the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the U.S. Naval Academy. In addition, the Foundation has disseminated history through various media including publications, motion pictures, video, Web sites, and social net- work portals. The Foundation has also published a series of historical pamphlets popular with historians, both professional and amateur. In recent years, the Foundation has published books and calendars that have been enthusiastically received. Its coffee-table book, The Navy, with over 300,000 copies in print, has proven to be one of the most popular military history reference books of its type. Beyond that, today's Sailors watch five-minute Navy Heritage miniseries videos produced under the auspices of the Foundation. Besides its biennial Pull Together and Navy Museum News publications, the Foundation also communicates with its growing membership through bi-monthly WE-Pull Together and its Naval History Book Reviews e-letters which feature member reviews of current naval historical works.

Cooperating and participating with likeminded organizations is another important effort of the NHF. Among them are the Association of the United States Navy, the National Museum of the United States Navy, the U.S. Naval Institute, the Historic Naval Ships Association, the National Maritime Heritage Society, the Naval Order of the United States, the Surface Navy Association, the Naval Submarine League, the Association of Naval Aviation, the Navy League of the United States and the Navy Memorial Foundation. Perhaps the closest associations are with the Navy League and the Navy Memorial Foundation wherein the president of the NHF and the presidents of those two organizations are ex-officio members of their respective boards of directors.

Some examples of cooperation among these organizations are the annual Submarine Force History Seminar, commemorative and celebratory events such as the annual Midway Night Dinner and the October National Capital Navy Birthday Celebration. In other instances, the Naval Historical Foundation works with other non-profit organizations as well as active Navy commands to provide historical content for their own efforts and events.

Commemoration is the third element of the NHF mission and is growing in importance as various anniversaries approach. Throughout 2011, the NHF supported the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation through help in research, production of videos and reproduction of photographs and recognition in its annual calendar. With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 soon upon us, the Foundation is partnering with the active Navy and OpSail to support a series of commemorations scheduled around the nation, capped by tall ship and naval vessel visits to ports on the East Coast and the Great Lakes. The main effort on the part of the Foundation will be to ensure that the crucial role that sea power played, in what some call "America's Second American War of Independence," is not overlooked.

One of the more exciting and newest initiatives undertaken by the NHF is the launch of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) effort in connection with new displays recently funded by the NHF in a Cold War Gallery display adjacent to the existing Washington Navy Yard Museum. This Cold War Gallery commemorates the role the Navy played during the turbulent years of confrontation with the Soviet Union. Because of the variety of new and sophisticated technologies that enabled the systems deployed during the Cold War, the opportunity to extract some of the STEM principles represented were identified and made available for use in the nation's high schools. Implementation started this past summer when eight of some of this nation's most talented STEM teachers traveled to Washington to build a portfolio of educational materials for use in their respective curricula that can be now downloaded from the NHF underwritten Web site

Finally, one of NHF's most important roles has been to support the Naval History and Heritage Command wherever it can. While the NHHC is the Navy's official history organization and receives funding from the Department of Defense, given Navy budget constraints, there are always more requirements. Thus, the NHF frequently steps in with financial supplements thus providing a margin of excellence for such projects as the digitizing the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the updating of the NHHC publication, United States Naval Aviation, 1910-1995 to 2010, and more.

While the NHF has an impressive heritage with such legends as Dudley Knox and Admirals Leahy, King, Burke and Holloway as past chairmen, it runs with an extremely small staff, only six paid employees and a volunteer chairman, president and board of directors. So other volunteers are a constant need. If you enjoy history and want to participate, please give us a call. On the other hand, members are always more than welcome as well. Please do check us out at or call at 202-678-4333. About the author, Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, USN (Ret), after his retirement worked for a time for the U.S. Naval Institute, which he previously served as a board member. (For his complete biography, please go to Web site at

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