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Sgt. Chadee Phillip, National Museum of the Marine Corps, Restoration Branch motor transportation mechanic, paints panels from a SBD-Dauntless airplane July 31 in the NMMC Restoration Hangar in Larson’s Gymnasium. The airplane was underwater in Lake Michigan for 47 years after a training mishap in 1943.

Photo by Sgt. Rebekka S. Heite

Marines restore the shine to Marine Corps historical artifacts

31 Jul 2012 | Sgt. Rebekka S. Heite Marine Corps Base Quantico

Hidden in the old Larson’s Gymnasium near Marine Corps Air Facility is the restoration branch of the National Marine Corps Museum and the two active duty Marines who work there.

“Knowing how to manufacture and restore artifacts is not much different from manufacturing parts for modern aircraft,” said Gunnery Sgt. Luke A. Ham, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of restoration and a restoration specialist. Ham’s primary military occupational specialty is aircraft structural mechanic.

Selected for their job skills, one restoration Marine is always an aircraft structural mechanic while the other is a motor transportation mechanic.

While serving at restoration branch, the Marines have one mission: “To preserve the heritage of the Marine Corps so future generations can see and learn as much as they can about how the Corps started and how far we have come,” said Ham.

When the motor transport mechanic, Sgt. Chadee Phillip, received orders to the NMMC, Marine Corps University, Training and Education Company, he said he thought he would be doing more Motor-T work, but he spends more time restoring artifacts.

Though his job isn’t what he expected, he enjoys it, he said.

Currently the Marines, alongside six civilians - mostly military retirees who are permanent personnel of the restoration branch - and any volunteers who offer to help are working to restore a SBD-Dauntless.

This particular Dauntless, tail number 06583, belonged to Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 132 when it deployed to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, in November 1942, although it never fired a shot in anger, according to Rick Niedner, a retired Marine Avionics Chief, as quoted from a NMMC Newsletter article titled, “Restoration on SBD-3 Reveals Its History.”

SBDs are credited with sinking more Japanese ships than any other aircraft during World War II, according to Niedner’s article.

After World War II, the aircraft returned to the U.S. and was subsequently ditched into Lake Michigan on Oct. 30, 1943, while conducting carrier qualifications for new pilots. It remained on the bottom of Lake Michigan for nearly 47 years before it was recovered and partially restored and put on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Fla.

In late February 2010, the NMMC was given the aircraft and by March restoration efforts were underway, Phillip said. The goal is to have most of the aircraft restored by September. At that time they will put it into storage until the new wing of the NMMC is completed and there is space to display it.

After restoring the Dauntless, the next project for those working in restoration branch is the restoration of a Roebling Alligator III, another World War II-era vehicle and father of the modern day amphibious assault vehicle.  

To be a full service restoration department, the NMMC restoration branch is divided into multiple sections with different specialties: sewing shop, machine shop, welding shop, wood shop, blasting room, painting booth, universal laser machine room and a library filled with old manuals for Marine Corps vehicles and equipment.

Anyone who would like volunteer at the restoration branch can do so at anytime Tuesday - Saturday from 6 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. by calling 703-784-3111.

Marine Corps Base Quantico