With its views of the Severn River and the U.S. Naval Academy, the Annapolis Laboratory of the Naval Surface Warfare Center had a bit more ambiance than your average government lab.
But after nearly a century of naval research at the installation, that ambiance soon will be the thing of memories. Closing ceremonies are scheduled Saturday at the facility.
The Annapolis lab produced more than ambiance, though. The people who worked there will be remembered for innovations in a host of areas, including propulsion, metallurgy, acoustic and magnetic signatures and corrosion-resistant coatings.
"There's not a surface ship or a submarine in the Navy today that won't have their work on it," said Capt. John Preisel Jr., commander of the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, which included the Annapolis installation. "Their fingerprints have been all over the Navy for the last century and will continue to be for probably the next 10 to 15 years."
The Annapolis lab is a casualty of the 1995 base realignment and closure process, which targeted defense installations across the country. The 45-acre facility is being transferred to Anne Arundel County, which will use the land for a high-tech park for private industry, including some with a maritime bent.
The lab was created in 1903 by Rear Adm. George Melville, a naval engineer and explorer, who believed that the Navy needed an experiment station to test new equipment and machinery prior to use by the fleet.
It was known originally as the Engineering Experiment Station, and machinery being considered for use on Navy ships was subjected to rough testing. For a while, its unofficial motto was "You make 'em, we break 'em."
During World War II, the installation performed secret tests aimed at developing rockets to assist in the takeoffs of heavily loaded seaplanes, under the direction of rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard. Days and nights in Annapolis sometimes were interrupted by flames and roars from within the station.
During a 40-year period in the Cold War, the lab was responsible for a number of advancements in silencing submarines. "If you look at the history of the lab, it was responsible for a myriad of breakthroughs," said Jim Scott, a center spokesman.
Preisel said, "They were responsible for everything from superconductivity to high-strength, low-alloy steel to a suite of environmentally friendly machinery. All of that stuff came from the Annapolis lab."
Working at the lab became a family affair for some area residents. "Generations of Annapolitans would work there," said Scott, who worked at the facility for 15 years. "They liked the work they were doing and felt like they were accomplishing something important."
Some Annapolis lab employees--who once numbered 1,400--have been transferred to other center facilities. Materials and environmental work has been shifted to a new laboratory at the Carderock installation in Montgomery County, while machinery and research and development work has been shifted to the division's Philadelphia facility.
On Saturday, a memorial to the lab will be dedicated at the entrance to the site, and a time capsule with lab memorabilia will be sealed during the ceremony.
The day will include historic exhibits, demonstrations of a remotely operated vehicle and deep-ocean pressure tanks, rides on Navy patrol craft and visits by the ships Maryland Independence, Pride of Baltimore II and USS Thunderbolt. There also will be a reservation-only alumni dinner for former employees.
Former lab employees are invited to attend the ceremonies, which are open to the public. For information, call 410-293-2776.
Inscription for Vietnam's Missing
The crypt of the Vietnam War unknown at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery is empty now, and the remains of the former occupant, Lt. Michael Blassie, have been identified and returned to his family. But at a ceremony last week at the tomb, the nation was reminded that more than 2,000 service members remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
Before a crowd of 500 people, including dozens of veterans, former prisoners of war and families of missing service members, a new inscription was unveiled at the Vietnam unknown's crypt. The words "Honoring and Keeping Faith With America's Missing Servicemen" have been etched on the crypt cover.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told the audience that the inscription represented a pledge to account for those missing in action. "To the families and friends of those still missing, we renew our oath: Without rest or reservation, we will strive to account for every warrior who has fought to preserve the freedoms that we cherish and enjoy this day," he said.
"The words that now grace the Vietnam tomb are carved in stone," he added. "Their permanence, like our remembrance of America's fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, will be a measure of this nation's profound reverence and respect."
The ceremony, held Friday in conjunction with POW/MIA Recognition Day, included remarks from Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat who lost both his legs and an arm in a grenade explosion while serving in Vietnam. Cleland, who received the Silver Star, called himself "one of the lucky ones."
"Let it be known far and wide around this great nation that this nation does not give in," he said. "It does not forget its disabled veterans, it does not forget its POWs, and for certain it does not forget its MIAs and the families they represent."
Remains that were then unknown were interred at Arlington in 1984 at a ceremony presided over by then-President Ronald Reagan. But using new DNA techniques, the remains were identified last year as belonging to Blassie and were removed from the crypt. The Pentagon has decided to keep the crypt empty because improved forensic techniques may make it impossible to have another unknown.
Steve Vogel can be reached at email@example.com via e-mail.