Steve Luke pulled a billed Navy cap from a high shelf in the Spokane Sea Services Museum and put it on. Perfect fit.
“Eleven years, 7 months, 28 days,” said Luke, a former Navy cook who wore the hat during the Vietnam War. “It’s something you don’t forget.”
Bergit Morbeck tapped a nearby display case. “Here they are!” she said, pointing to the blue-and-white seersucker jacket she wore as a Navy WAVE during World War II.
Luke and Morbeck are among dozens of people who donated bits of history to the museum, which held its opening ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center.
Organizers have been collecting the uniforms, log books, flags and other memorabilia over the past decade, but now it has a new home: a small, wood-frame building behind the center at 5101 N. Assembly.
Bill Aller, the museum director, is first to admit it’s not your typical museum.
The caps sit atop mannequin heads - a gift from a cosmetologist neighbor - with way too much lavender eye shadow and oddly clipped hair.
The glass covering yellowed newspaper articles about the USS Spokane were, in a former life, the storm windows from Aller’s home.
And the four-room building needs a new roof and a few more volunteers.
But people who visit will get lively stories along with a factual history of Spokane’s links to the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and U.S. Merchant Marine.
One room is devoted to the USS Spokane, a ship “that never fired a shot in anger.”
There’s a stack of hatbands imprinted with the names of various ships. Those were scrapped after authorities worried they’d float if a ship sank, making it easy for enemies to identify the downed vessel, Aller said.
A favorite Aller story involves a ripped section of parachute in a display case. It belonged to a downed Japanese kamikaze pilot - and what’s a kamikaze pilot doing with a parachute? he asks, wide-eyed and chuckling.
There are rows and rows of stiff uniforms: The white and blue “crackerjack” that was discontinued because it resembled Japanese uniforms, a Desert Storm jacket and helmet, even Aller’s very first uniform from 1943.
“This meant I was a seaman apprentice,” he said, running a finger across the white stripe on a sleeve cuff. “It was the lowest you can get.”
Aller, a Navy League historian, was commissioned as an officer in 1946, just after World War II ended. After two years at sea, he returned to Washington and eventually taught art at Rogers High School.
Aller started collecting Navy artifacts in 1988, after finding a box of keepsakes in his basement. He has since taken in hundreds of donations, from posters that shout, “Attack! Attack! Attack! Buy War Bonds” to rations in their original tins.
Ted Fessel, commanding officer at the reserve center, said he hopes to gradually upgrade the museum, and maybe add that new roof.
“It’s not just a bunch of old stuff that some of us older people can cherish,” he said. “It’s something all of us should embrace. That’s really what we’re all about - our past.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LOCATION The museum is behind the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center at 5101 N. Assembly.