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 ambience than your average government lab.
But after nearly a century of naval research at the installation, that ambience will soon be a thing of the past. Closing ceremonies are scheduled to be held today at the facility.
The Annapolis lab produced more than ambience, 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 around the country to be closed. Ownership of the 45-acre facility is being transferred to Anne Arundel County, which will use the land for a high-tech park for private industries, including some with a maritime bent.
The lab was created in 1903 by Rear Adm. George Melville, a naval engineer and explorer who believed the Navy needed a station to test new equipment and machinery before the fleets used it.
It was originally known as the Engineering Experiment Station, and machinery being considered for use on Navy ships was subjected to rough testing. For a while, the station's 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 takeoff of heavily loaded seaplanes under the direction of rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard. Days and nights in Annapolis were sometimes interrupted by flames and roars from within the station.
During the Cold War, the lab was responsible for a number of advancements over the course of 40 years in silencing submarines. "If you look at the history of the lab, it was responsible for a myriad of breakthroughs," said Jim Scott, a NSWC spokesman.
"They were responsible for everything from superconductivity to high-strength, low-alloy steel to a suite of environmentally friendly machinery," Preisel said. "All of that stuff came from the Annapolis lab."
Working at the lab became a family affair for some area residents. "Generations of Annapoliteans 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 NSWC facilities. Materials and environmental work have been shifted to a new laboratory at the Carderock installation in Montgomery County, while machinery and research and development work have been shifted to Philadelphia.
Today will be a day of paying tribute to the lab.
A memorial 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. An alumni dinner for former employees will be held; dinner attendance is by reservation.
Former lab employees are invited to attend the ceremonies, which are also open to the public. For more information, contact the lab at 410-293-2776.
Vietnam Crypt Empty, but 2,000 Still Missing
The crypt earmarked for the Vietnam War unknown at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery has been empty since the remains of Lt. Michael Blassie were identified and returned to his family last year. But at a ceremony Friday at the tomb, the nation was reminded that more than 2,000 people who served in the Vietnam War remain unaccounted for.
Before a crowd of 500 people, including dozens of veterans, former prisoners of war and families of missing servicemen, 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 MIAs. "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," Cohen 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 was held in conjunction with POW/MIA Recognition Day and included remarks from Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost both legs and one arm in a grenade explosion while serving in Vietnam. Cleland, who is a recipient of 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 at the time could not be identified were interred at Arlington in 1984 at a ceremony presided over by President Ronald Reagan. But last year, using new DNA technology, the remains were identified as belonging to Blassie and removed from the crypt. The Pentagon has decided to leave the crypt empty, because improved forensic techniques might make it impossible to have another unknown soldier.
Military Matters appears every other week. Steve Vogel can be reached at email@example.com via e-mail.