WASHINGTON, DC – Walking onto the grounds of the oldest U.S. Navy shore installation almost daily, one can’t help but be reminded of the long and storied history. The Washington Navy Yard has been in operation since the first decade of the 19th Century, initially as a shipbuilding center, then as an ordnance plant, and now as the ceremonial and administrative center for the Navy.
The Quarterdeck of the Navy is home to nearly 40 commands, many of which provide critical direct support to the Fleet. One tenant command has a very public mission. The National Museum of the United States Navy has two buildings on the WNY and under the leadership of the Naval History and Heritage Command, is the steward of U.S. Navy history.
Naval Support Activity Washington, the installation command, provides support to the tenant commands enabling them to be successful in accomplishing their important and diverse missions. NSAW had the rare opportunity in participating in an artifact donation ceremony at the NMUSN, August 28.
The event formally received the personal effects of Ensign Robert Warren Langwell, who served aboard USS Magpie (AMS-25), which struck a mine and sank while engaged with the enemy. “We believe that it is our sacred responsibility to honor his sacrifice and highlight Ensign Langwell’s life and dedication to duty, and to honor his daughter and family,” said NMUSN Director Jim Bruns.
Langwell was among the 21 Sailors lost when Magpie sunk. He was initially listed as missing in action and later presumed dead in October 1951. His remains, which were buried by a local fisherman in October 1950, were discovered by South Korean military personnel while searching for their own war dead. Langwell returned to the United States and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on July 12, 2010. Langwell’s family recently decided to donate the artifacts that were recovered with the Korean War veteran’s body.
“It was really important to the family to find a home for these items that represent the service and sacrifice of everyone who has ever worn the uniform of the United States Navy,” said Tim Sprauer, husband of Langwell’s daughter. “Although these items were given to the family, we never really owned them. They rightfully belong to the people of the United States. We were just temporary custodians.”
NSAW Commanding Officer Capt. Jeff Draeger participated in the brief, dignified ceremony, noting, “This flag is a symbol of respect for Ensign Langwell’s service and sacrifice, in keeping with our Navy’s tradition of honoring our fallen.” Draeger gave Sprauer an American Flag that was recently flown at Leutze Park on the WNY, as a tribute to Ensign Langwell. “We are surrounded by a rich and robust history here on the WNY, but it is the individual stories of our Shipmates that underpin our proud Navy history. The opportunity to interact with the Langwell family and present them with a small token of appreciation for their family’s sacrifice was a privilege and a clear reminder of our Navy’s great tradition,” said Draeger.
The Museum and NHHC hosted the ceremony that transferred custody of the items to the United States Navy. Among the artifacts were Langwell’s utility knife, collar insignia, flashlight, and sole of his Navy boot.
“We know the artifacts are exactly where they belong and will be protected for the benefit of future generations,” said Sprauer.