"Memories of Two Years (almost) before the Mast"

Source: Ronald Vaughn Papers (Manuscript Collection #658)

Staff Person: Lynette Lundin

Description: Ronald Vaughn of Brownwood, TX, enlisted in the Navy with his twin brother Donald (January 1944). He served on the escort aircraft carrier USS KITKUN BAY (CVE-71). The Memoir describes Vaughn’s involvements during his service in World War II in the Pacific (1944-1945).

This page was taken from his memoir, (pp. 12)

Virgil “Gus” I. Grissom


Source: Oscar David MacMillan Papers (#548.3 Photo 548/15) 

Staff Person: Lynette Lundin


Virgil Ivan Grissom (April 3, 1926 to January 27, 1967) was one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts.  He was one of 110 military test pilots who were asked to be tested for the space program. http://spaceinvideos.esa.int/Videos/Undated/Project_Mercury

 Grissom endured many physical and psychological tests, and was chosen as one of the seven Mercury astronauts. Six others received the same notification: Lieutenant Malcolm Scott Carpenter, U.S. Navy; Captain LeRoy Gordon Cooper, Jr., U.S. Air Force; Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel; Glenn, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps; Lieutenant Commander Walter Marty Schirra, Jr., U.S. Navy;  Lieutenant Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., U.S. Navy; and Captain Donald Kent Slayton, U.S. Air Force

 This photo shows Grissom dressed for his flight on July 21, 1961, he was the second pilot for Mercury-Redstone 4, commonly known as Liberty Bell 7. The flight lasted 15 minutes and 37 seconds. It reached an altitude of more than 118.26 miles and traveled about 300 miles. Photo NASA original  61-MR4-62 (8) taken on July 19, 1961 in Hanger S at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Grissom is shown with Walter Shirra. Photo is signed by Grissom on the date of  the Liberty Bell 7 launch.

 After splashdown, emergency explosive bolts unexpectedly fired and blew the hatch off, causing water to flood into the spacecraft.  Grissom was nearly drowned.  The spacecraft filled with water and was lost. Grissom was accused of opening the hatch by the press. Grissom repeated his account. “I was just laying there minding my own business when, POW, the hatch went. And I looked up and saw nothing but blue sky and water starting to come in over the sill.” (Turner Home Entertainment, Moon Shot (Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 1994).

 “We tried for weeks afterwards to find out what had happened and how it had happened. I even crawled into capsules and tried to duplicate all of my movements, to see if I could make the whole thing happen again. It was impossible. The plunger that detonates the bolts is so far out of the way that I would have had to reach for it on purpose to hit it, and this I did not do. Even when I thrashed about with my elbows, I could not bump against it accidentally.” (Carpenter et al., p. 227.)

 The hatch is opened by hitting the plunger with the side of your fist, which would leave a large bruise, but Grissom had no such bruising.  Because of this controversy, Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra, at the end of his flight stayed inside his spacecraft until it was aboard the ship, and then blowing the hatch, and bruising his hand.

Gus said “It was especially hard for me, as a professional pilot. In all of my years of flying – including combat in Korea – this was the first time that my aircraft and I had not come back together. In my entire career as a pilot, Liberty Bell was the first thing I had ever lost.”( Ibid, p. 227.)

Grissom was killed along with astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a  test for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Quote from Gus: “If we die, we want people to accept it. We’re in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” (John Barbour et al., Footprints on the Moon (The Associated Press, 1969), p. 125.)

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and, posthumously, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1981 http://www.nmspacemuseum.org/halloffame/detail.php?id=54

Caricature Made for U.S. Sailors Stationed in Pre-WWII China

Source:  William E. and Marion B. Stewart Papers (Manuscript Collection #707)

Staff Person:  Martha Elmore

Description:  U.S. Navy officer William E. Stewart and his wife Marion visited China and the Philippines in the late 1930s.  While there they took many photographs and bought other photographs which they collected into two albums–one for each country.  This image is a photograph of a caricature made for U.S. sailors stationed in China.  The photograph was taken by Hwa Sheng of Chefoo.  


A letter regarding the 1969 film TORA! TORA! TORA!.

Source: Walter L. Small, Jr., Papers, Manuscript Collection #731.1.a

Staff Person: Dale Sauter

Description: A letter to Rear Admiral Walter L. Small, Jr., USN (Ret.) from film producer Elmo Williams thanking Small for his consultation work during the production of the 1969 film TORA! TORA! TORA!.

Harold Stacey Burdick

Source: Harold Stacey Burdick Collection, 1892-1923;  East Carolina Manuscript Collection #1162

Staff Person: Nanette Hardison

The image shown is a studio portrait of Lt. Commander Harold Stacey Burdick (#1162.1.g) in his naval uniform dated around 1905-1917. This portrait along with other items in the Harold Stacey Burdick Collection gives valuable insight into the life and naval career of Harold Stacey Burdick. Of particular note in the collection is his service as an ensign and acting commander of the Paulding Class Destroyer USS JOUETT (DD-41) at the occupation of Tampico during the War with Mexico of 1914. There are also items relating to his death by pneumonia brought on by influenza on January 16, 1919 contracted during his service in World War I.  The finding aid to this collection can be accessed at http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/special/ead/view.aspx?id=1162

Chinese New Year, 1903

Letter of George Leland Dyer to Mrs. Dyer

Letter of George Leland Dyer to Mrs. Dyer

Source: Guide to the George Leland Dyer Papers, East Carolina Manuscript Collection, #340

Staff Person: Maury York


The Chinese New Year is one of that country’s most important holidays. It begins on the first day of the first lunar month, in late January or early February. In 1903, Commander George Leland Dyer, a U.S. naval officer, witnessed the Chinese New Year celebration in Shanghai. He described the celebration in a letter to his wife, dated January 31, 1903.

“We had a good look at Shanghai on an interesting occasion. It was the Chinese New Years and the streets were crowded with Chinese in gala dress. There was a continual passing of Chinese women in carriages of the hack variety and in rickshas. These people were all handsomely dressed in colored silks and were painted very perceptibly. Many women were also walking or stumping along on their deformed feet, all attended by women more plainly dressed. There were also many riders on the small ponies which seem to be in use. These were all Caucasians and men. I saw no ladies on horse back.”

Letter of George Leland Dyer to Mrs. Dyer

Letter of George Leland Dyer to Mrs. Dyer

Dyer was nearing the end of a long career in the Navy that had begun in 1870, when he was graduated with honors from the U. S. Naval Academy. His papers are a rich primary source for studying naval history. A finding aid for the George Leland Dyer Papers is available on the Special Collections Department’s website.

Victoria Street, Barbados

Source: George Leland Dyer Papers, East Carolina Manuscript Collection #340

Staff Person: Maury York

This view of Victoria Street on the island of Barbados was taken in 1875, probably by George Leland Dyer (Aug. 26, 1849-Apr. 2, 1914), a naval officer serving aboard the USS Frolic. The son of George Washington and Mary Kelley Dyer, he was born and reared in Calais, Maine. Appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1866, Dyer was graduated with honors in 1870. He was made an ensign in July 1871 and was promoted through grades to the rank of commodore in 1908, when he retired. Included in this view are the old post office and the business (note hanging sign, right) of a watch and clockmaker. The George Leland Dyer Papers contain correspondence, diaries, photographs, and other materials that reflect Dyer’s naval career as well as the development of the U.S. Navy and naval technology during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A finding aid describing the collection can be found at Manuscript Collection 340.

View of Victoria Street on the island of Barbados

View of Victoria Street on the island of Barbados