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Museum curator honored

Retired officer founded military showcase

The Downtown Exchange Club presented its 2009 Book of Golden Deeds Award to retired Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr Bill Aller.

Aller was honored Sept. 10 for his efforts in founding the Spokane Sea Services Museum and for his many volunteer years in keeping the museum open to the public. Aller’s efforts have preserved and strengthened Spokane’s historical ties to military sea services.

Aller was a Navy Reserve officer commissioned after World War II. During his many years of service, he collected memorabilia related to U.S. military sea services. In 1956, when Spokane’s Naval Air Station was closing, Aller saved hundreds of photos. The photos were part of a record of the station’s activities during its 10-year life in Spokane. Aller kept them in boxes in the basement of his north Spokane home. In 1988, he approached the commander of the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center (now Navy Operational Support Center) with the idea of opening a museum with his collection.

“I just sensed time was running out. We needed to preserve and share the stories,” Aller said. For the first 10 years, the reserve center gave him a space in the main building to display his collection. In 1998, the center gave him a small vacant house at the back of the reserve and Aller was on his own. He ran the museum with help from the Navy League Spokane Council and with whatever means he could find.

Word got around. His collection grew. Today, the museum boasts a vast collection of wartime memorabilia that includes uniforms, insignia, ship and airplane models, photographs, newspaper clippings and magazines, even a 72-inch section of a 16-inch gun barrel from the battleship USS Wisconsin.

It has on display a torpedo, two landing crafts from the Coast Guard, a 12-man personnel boat and a Japanese sword surrendered to a U.S. commander in the Pacific after World War II ended.

And above all, it has the most extensive collection of memorabilia related to USS Spokane, the city’s namesake light cruiser commissioned in 1946 and decommissioned in 1950. Despite its short-lived career, USS Spokane has many fans and occupies an entire room in the museum.

Aller retired from the day-to-day operation of the museum in 2008.