Indiana Daily Student

IU football honors military with USS Indiana

The closest body of water to Memorial Stadium, Lake Monroe, is roughly 10 miles away.

That makes the inclusion of the USS Indiana battleship in front of the stadium's west entrance seem even more perplexing. 

The remnants of the ship, which include its prow, main mast and two gun mounts, sit idly by during each home football game in Bloomington, constantly surrounded by a sea of tailgaters. The ship lies beneath the banners featuring the numerous IU All-Americans from years past, as if it were stoically guarding the premises of the hallowed ground fans flock to on Saturdays.

Yet, it seems so out of place; so out of its element.

However, as a plaque nearby reads, the items stand "as a memorial to the sons and daughters of the state of Indiana who have so gallantly served in the armed forces of our nation."

The USS Indiana may no longer be the pillar of strength it was during its days of service, but it still stands for something. It's now meant to honor the past, present and future men and women that serve in the country's military.

However, the journey to the ship's current resting spot is as long and treacherous as the days it saw in the heat of battle.

Matt Begala

The USS Indiana was commissioned in April 1942 and saw extensive action in the Pacific theater during World War II. It would go on to be known as one of the most powerful ships in the U.S. naval fleet at the time, and saw the invasion of the Gilbert Islands in November 1943, the invasion of the Marshall Islands in January 1944, the Marianas Campaign in June 1944 and even the Battle of Iwo Jima in January 1945. 

After earning nine battle stars during that period, the battleship was decommissioned in September 1947 and sold for scrap in 1963.

That's when parts of the ship started making their way to Bloomington.

The Miami Herald published a report about the ship's future in 1962, which caught the eye of IU alumna Dorothy Major, who was staying in a hotel in Florida at the time. She saved the Herald's story and wrote a letter to IU President Herman B Wells in November 1962, suggesting the University help save the ship.

Wells liked the idea and started the project of trying to bring some of the parts of the USS Indiana to Bloomington. IU had already received some artifacts from the ship, but, in 1966, the U.S. Navy gave the University the mainmast and the two gun mounts, with the original mast being shipped in from a scrapyard in San Francisco.

One original idea was for the mast to be used as a flagpole and erected near the Wright Quadrangle, but the items were eventually dedicated at Memorial Stadium during the pregame and halftime of the spring football game on May 14, 1966.

Matt Begala

Meanwhile, the prow of the ship had a much longer and more interesting journey to IU. 

It was originally saved from being scrapped in California by the Frank Spenger family, who avidly collected Navy memorabilia. The Spengers ended up using the prow as a display in front of their seafood restaurant in California, where it would sit for years.

The prow caught the eye of another IU alum named Scott Clarke in 2012. He wrote a letter to the editor of a Bloomington newspaper, suggesting the school should try and bring it to Bloomington to join the mast and gun mounts.

IU reached out to the Spengers, who ended up agreeing to donate the prow. It was then reunited with the other items and dedicated during a game between IU and Navy in Bloomington on Sept. 7, 2013.

Though just pieces of the USS Indiana have survived and made their way to Bloomington, they've now found a permanent home. 

Between the Pacific Ocean in the midst of World War II, a San Francisco scrapyard, a California seafood restaurant or Memorial Stadium, the stadium may be the USS Indiana's safest home yet.

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