The voyage home

Long since stricken from the Naval Register, her parts scattered across Indiana and the nation, the USS Indiana, recipient of nine battle stars for her service during World War II, is finally coming home.

The prow of the USS Indiana, above, will be reunited with its mainmast and two of its gun mounts at Indiana University's Memorial Stadium.

The prow of the USS Indiana, above, will be reunited with its mainmast and two of its gun mounts at Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium.

As reported June 25, Indiana University has secured the original prow from the 35,000-ton South Dakota class battleship, which served in the Pacific during World War II and was the last ship to be named for the Hoosier state. The prow will be reunited with its mainmast and two of its gun mounts at IU’s Memorial Stadium; the university will formally welcome it home with a rededication ceremony Sept. 7, when IU hosts, appropriately, Navy in a home football game.

It’s been a long voyage home for a ship with a storied history that spans her launching from Newport News, Va., in November 1941 (an impressive ceremony featuring Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and a special delegation of more than 500 Hoosiers, including Gov. Henry F. Schricker and famed novelist Booth Tarkington); her participation in numerous crucial military campaigns in the Pacific, including the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa; and her eventual decommissioning in 1947.

Incredibly, the ship’s front portion had been residing for several decades in the parking lot of a seafood restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., saved from the scrap heap by the Frank Spenger Family, whose patriarch collected Navy memorabilia. Eventually, the prow was brought to the attention of IU officials by IU alumnus Scott Clarke, who wrote a letter to the local newspaper urging the university to bring the prow home and display it at Memorial Stadium.

The USS Indiana in January 1944, en route to the Marshall Islands. (National Archives.)

The USS Indiana in January 1944, en route to the Marshall Islands. (National Archives.)

The USS Indiana prow is expected to arrive at Memorial Stadium in July, where it will be mounted on a platform near its guns and mast. Refurbishment, which will be overseen by the IU Physical Plant, is expected to take several weeks. IU officials also expect to welcome a number of special guests from Washington, D.C., and elsewhere when the Hoosiers football squad plays host to the Navy Midshipmen on Sept. 7.

When the prow of the USS Indiana makes its way next month to the 18-wheeler that will transport it back home to Indiana, it will signal yet another chapter in this remarkable story of — to borrow from IU President Michael A. McRobbie — a “treasured vestige of naval history and tradition from the last warship named in honor of our great state.”

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