On Friday afternoon, Don Rowe and other past crew members of the USS Duluth returned a silver set to Ben Boo, who as the then-mayor of Duluth bestowed it on their now-decommissioned ship nearly 50 years ago.
Though then the figurehead of the city, Boo stressed that the gift did not come from him.
"I want to assure you that I did not make this presentation; the city of Duluth and the people of the city of Duluth made this presentation.They did it, not I," he said.
Be that as it may, Boo appeared pleased to welcome the silver set home on behalf of his community at a Friday ceremony in front of the USS Duluth's anchor along the Lakewalk. The USS Duluth was launched in 1965 and remained in service until October 2005; it was decommissioned and then scrapped in Texas in 2014.
Rowe said the tradition of presentation silver sets dates back to 1799. He explained that when a U.S. ship was named for a city or state, it became the custom for that entity to present the vessel's crew with a commemorative silver set bearing its name. Hence, the Navy refers to these sets as "presentation silver."
That custom has fallen out of favor in modern times, due to the expense, and newly commissioned ships today draw instead from the Navy's inventory of old presentation silver, Rowe explained.
Former crew members of the USS Duluth were able to track down their ship's old presentation silver. They found it aboard the USS Anchorage, the kind of modern-day amphibious transport ship that has succeeded the USS Duluth..
"The U.S. Navy rarely allows the return of presentation silver sets, particularly if they are located on active-duty ships. But it has made an exception in this case for the city of Duluth," Rowe said.
"... I was told probably six months ago, when it was found aboard the Anchorage, that we could have it back when the Anchorage is decommissioned in 30 to 40 years," he said.
But Rowe is not one to give up easily, and his persistence paid off.
"This is here through the kindness and the generosity of the officers and crew of the USS Anchorage LPD-23, including Capt. J.J. Cummings, who agreed to allow the set to be returned to the city of Duluth," he said.
The set is expected to remain on semi-permanent loan from the U.S. Navy and will be incorporated into a new exhibit to be opened in Veterans Memorial Hall at the Depot come next Memorial Day.
Rowe told the crowd Friday: "The only condition under which they would ever request this back is if a new ship were to be commissioned the USS Duluth. Let's work on that, shall we?"
Rowe gave much of the credit for the presentation silver's return to Congressman Rick Nolan and his staff.
Nolan said he viewed the enterprise as more of a team effort, led by Rowe, for a worthy cause.
"Monuments like this are a testimonial to the men and women who have served," Nolan said.
"Why is that important?" he asked.
"Lincoln said it best, and I resent those who claim I know this because I was there when he said it," Nolan joked. "But here's what he said: He said the degree to which we recognize and show our respect and appreciation for the men and women who have served will determine how many will be willing to stand up and serve in future generations."