Serve persons with a keen interest in the history of the U.S. Navy's key role and contributions to America's maritime history and heritage, and educate the American public about the importance of our naval history.
The Naval Historical Foundation frequently plays a role in bringing families together in unexpected ways to commemorate special events in naval history. In 1945, near the end of World War II, a Navy aircraft carrying two Marine Corps aviators and two Navy sailors crashed into a fog-shrouded mountain in southwestern Virginia, killing all four of the occupants. A local family assisting with the search and recovery operation discovered a pair of naval aviator's "Wings of Gold" near the wreckage. The wings remained in the family's care for decades, until Maggie O'Dell, whose father found the wings, recently contacted the Naval Historical Foundation. Having seen her Air Force son receive his own wings after intensive training and qualification, she realized how important such wings are to aviators and their families. Through diligent research in military archives and online, the Foundation was able to identify the names of the individuals killed in the crash, and to track down William Walters, the son of the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Julian Walters, USMC. In a moving ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the "Wings of Gold" were returned to the Walters family, nearly seventy years after they were lost, providing an emotional connection from a son to a father who died three weeks before he was born--and writing a new chapter in the histories of both the O'Dell and Walters families.