HAMPTON | A model of the USS Leahy guided missile cruiser found a home Wednesday in the hometown of its namesake.
Fleet Adm. William Leahy was born May 6, 1875, in Hampton. He lived in the city until he was 6 or 7 and his family moved to Wisconsin.
Leahy attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 1897. He went on to serve during World War I and later was chief of staff for presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He served in the post throughout World War II and on D-Day, June 6, 1944, visited Hampton in an effort to throw off Nazi Germany intelligence.
Steve Deike is chairman of the Admiral Leahy Memorial, a committee that got the model and other artifacts for the Franklin County Historical Society Museum.
He is excited at its arrival.
"It is cool," Deike said. "It's everything I had hoped it would be. It's a big 'wow.'"
The museum is on the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The 1/48th-scale model is about 14 feet long and now in a glass case. The display is 7 feet tall and eye level for the viewing public.
The model was built in 1962. The date falls a year after the actual warship was commissioned and three years after Leahy's death, according to Brian Potter with the Naval Historic Ship Model Collection in Maryland. The collection features about 2,500 ship models, and Potter was on hand Wednesday for the USS Leahy's installation.
The USS Leahy model spent its first 10 years on display, traveling between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. It spent another three years in the Pentagon and the past 30 at a naval training station in Newport, R.I.
Potter noted most models stay in Naval facilities, meaning having the Leahy in Hampton's museum is a rarity.
"It's a wonderful opportunity," he said.
The effort to get the model, according to Deike, began about 22 months ago.
Paul Mathews, a Hampton native, is in the Navy. At a meeting in the city he told residents about Leahy artifacts in Washington, D.C., that could move if residents went through the right process.
Deike, a retired history teacher at Hampton-Dumont Middle School, was at the meeting. He became part of a committee to determine the feasibility of getting the artifacts and whether the community wanted them.
The answer was yes, so another group formed and began fundraising. Residents donated about $5,000 for the first items, including Leahy's uniform, awards, a four-star flag, four-star car flag and his White House desk, which served the admiral during World War II.
"He was one of the biggest figures on the world stage at the time," Deike said.
About $10,000 was raised to get the model to the museum. Deike said the committee hoped to have it on display in time for the Franklin County Fair this past July. But "when you work with the Navy, it moves at the Navy's speed," Deike said.
While the model is a centerpiece, Deike said the display isn't quite complete. The group is preparing some autographed items and plans to add a $2,000 interactive exhibit about Leahy and the ship named for him.
There will be photos and a bell from the original USS Leahy, which was decommissioned in 1993 and recycled in 2005.
The ship bell has a name, Brian Zingler, engraved on its surface. The group learned the bell was turned upside down to hold water to baptize a Navy man's son.
The museum group contacted Zingler, now in Wisconsin, and he plans to visit the museum.
"It's been a fun project," said Mark Laipple, who did a lot of the research.
Leahy was promoted to fleet admiral Dec. 15, 1944, and was the first five-star commander. He resigned in March 1949 but remained on active duty until his death July 20, 1959, at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The facility is now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Leahy is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The artifacts are on a permanent loan to the museum. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is tentatively scheduled May 6, Leahy's birthday.
In the meantime, the museum is generally open from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday through Nov. 15. For information, call (641) 456-5777 or email email@example.com.