NORFOLK — Prior to COVID-19, Hayes resident Jim Leuci would make the roundtrip to Naval Station Norfolk from his home just across the bridge from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown weekly. Leuci, a retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer (CPO), would diligently make the roundtrip commute, and often braved the interstate traffic to volunteer his time and expertise with the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. His destination: the museum’s non-descript special collections and artifact processing building, where he would give historical talks to sailors and continue his research activities as a dedicated museum volunteer.
In a time of COVID-19, those historical talks to groups of eager sailors and in-person research abruptly halted around April 2020. That didn’t stop the retired Master Chief from volunteering, virtually.
“I’ve done a lot more writing that I did in the past,” recounted Leuci, in a socially distanced phone interview.
Amid COVID-19, Leuci’s articles about the Navy’s role during the 1918 flu pandemic, the first female Chief Petty Officers, and his writings and organic research about the first Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Delbert Black have reached thousands. Thousands, virtually that is, as his work is easily found throughout the Naval History and Heritage Command’s websites and social media channels.
“I enjoy doing it, first of all [volunteering]; when I find information that was not known, its very rewarding to me to find something that hasn’t been printed and not commonly known,” he continues. He went into depth about the countless hours he spends during the week pouring over documents and records via the National Archives, among other sources in compiling his historical articles which are widely disseminated to active duty and reserve commands regionally.
Darcy Sink, the museum’s Volunteer Coordinator echoed his remarks, and noted that “for many, the best part of the job [volunteering] is the community engagement.”
During Chief Petty Officer selection season, or The Season, as many refer to it, Leuci’s text A Tradition of Change: CPO Initiations to CPO 365 is a far encompassing and readily accessible handbook for CPO selectees. Amid COVID-19, Leuci has meticulously updated the 100 plus page handbook that was originally published in 2015.
In-fact, scores of CPO selectees going through the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s signature CPO Heritage Days event aboard the Battleship Wisconsin in Norfolk will have a copy of Leuci’s handbook on them as reference material when quizzed by other Chiefs (or Genuine, a colloquial reference)
Leuci went into detail about the history and heritage scavenger hunt program that he, along with the Museum’s Registrar, Katherine Renfrew and Chiefs from the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training-Norfolk (CNATTU) started.
“We basically came up with a list of questions; challenges for CPO selectees [to visit] a
historical point on the base, and they would find these places, gather information and make a report to their Chief’s mess,” he noted.
“It’s a good way for sailors stationed in Norfolk to learn about this history of the naval station. There are a lot of things that are there that are in plain view that have historical significance, he continued, and described some of the locations of interest.
This includes the site of the 1943 depth bomb explosions, which is remembered by historians as one of the Navy’s worst non-combat disasters during WWII, the stately former 1907 Jamestown Exposition Homes, and the former seaplane ramp aboard the sprawling facility among others.
“When they got to their wits end, I would help them out,” recalls Leuci, who pointed out that he often fielded phone calls from participants. These were calls that he happily fielded as a museum volunteer.
And as the adapted saying goes; amid COVID-19, the scavenger hunt must go on…virtually.
In 2020 and into 2021, a virtual scavenger hunt was implemented, and Leuci again fielded phone calls from participants and collaborated to come up with some new historical locations which connected CPO selectees with the region’s naval history. The history and heritage hunt was one like no other, and widely applauded by participants and participating commands.
Lastly, Leuci noted his anticipation of returning to in-person volunteering at the Naval Museum’s annex building. Sink, the museum’s volunteer coordinator, also echoed this
anticipation, and noted that “while volunteers have stayed involved virtually, I know they’re eager to return to in-person exchanges with visitors, staff and one another.”
But in the meantime, while the threat of COVID-19 is still among us, the retired Chief and long- standing naval museum volunteer continues to share his time, research expertise, and wealth of knowledge virtually as a way to connect sailors and civilians alike to the region’s rich Naval History.
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