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Army, Air Force, and Navy Times....



The Old Dominion is anything but old when it comes to exploring military history. There is always something new and interesting to explore. This is especially true in the southeastern corner of Virginia, in cities like Norfolk and Portsmouth.

One look at a map reveals why Norfolk and Portsmouth are military meccas. A strategic location along the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay has led to the establishment of many important military bases, operations, and shipbuilding and repair facilities.

Much of this past, present, and future military heritage can be explored in Norfolk and Portsmouth. These two cities have played vital roles in the development of America's Armed Forces.

The Norfolk Naval Base is a great place to start an exploration of the huge military presence in area. This base is unlike any military installation in the world, drawing awed visitors from around the globe. A tour of the world's largest naval base is imperative for anyone interested in the history and future of the Armed Forces.

The Norfolk Naval Base is home port to more than 125 ships, 50 aircraft squadrons, and 65 shore-based military activities. It opened in 1917, on 474 acres, and has grown extensively to 5,200 sprawling acres, playing a major role in the history of the military and becoming the U.S. Navy's capital.

Norfolk Naval Base tour tickets and bus departures are available at Norfolk's Waterside from March to December and at the Naval Base Tour Office year-round. Base personnel conduct the excellent tours on and off the tour buses, providing an insider's view of the base.

Tour highlights include the massive ships along the waterfront; the huge drydocks; the historic houses on Dillingham and Willoughby Boulevards (built for the Jamestown Exposition in 1907); and the major military facilities throughout the base.

The fleet located along the waterfront is awe-inspiring, including various aircraft carriers, submarines, cruisers, destroyers, amphibious ships, and a variety of support and logistic ships. The base is homeport to two classes of attack submarines (Sturgeon and Los Angeles), as well as conventional and nuclear powered aircraft carriers. The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and the embarked air wing steam with a victorious "V" following Operation Desert Storm.

Each year, thousands of arrivals and departures occur at the base, carrying military personnel and cargo to and from destinations all over the world. Several times each year, the station also hosts ships and sailors of foreign navies making ports of call in Hampton Roads.

The historic houses on Dillingham and Willoughby Boulevards were built in 1907 for the Jamestown Exposition, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the English settlement in Jamestown. Contingents from 21 states built structures representing their individual architecture in the early-1900s. IN 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill allowing the U.S. Navy to purchase the property and maintain the stately homes.

For more information on Norfolk Naval Base tours, including schedule information and rates, call (804) 444-7955 or (804) 640-6300. Free tours of designated ships are also available on most weekends. Call (804) 444-7955 for further information.

Naval history fans will also want to visit the Hampton Roads Naval Museum on the base. This extensive museum covers the naval history of the Hampton Roads area, with many detailed ship models, period photographs, archaeological artifacts, and a major collection of naval prints and artwork.

Plans are in place for this museum to move to expanded space in Norfolk's Nauticus (the new National Maritime Center) this year. Contact the museum at (804) 444-3827.

With so much to see (for more, see sidebar), it's easy to see why many military buffs are drawn to Norfolk and Portsmouth. Armed Forces history lives on the land and sea in this area.


Over in Portsmouth, more military history awaits. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum was established in 1949 in the shipyard and was later moved to its current waterfront site, successfully improving visitation.

This comprehensive museum covers local and naval history, from pre-Civil War times to modern events. It is simply packed with displays and artifacts from the history of a centuries-old southern port, deserving hours of wandering among the exhibits.

There are many ship models and artifacts relating to the armed forces of the area. There are also exhibits portraying the lifestyle of 18th- and 19th-century Portsmouth. It's a virtual sea of naval history.

Just around the corner, visitors are drawn to the bright red Lightship Museum, which is not a typical location for a museum. In addition to standard lighthouses, lightships (with lights fixed to their masts) were used to help mariners avoid dangerous shoals or enter harbors safely at night.

This museum (the lightship Portsmouth), has been restored to its condition when it was commissioned in 1915. Visitors can board the vessel to see how the men of the Lightship Service lived during their many months at sea.

Contact the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum and the Portsmouth Lightship Museum at High and Water Streets, P.O. Box 850, Portsmouth, VA 23704, (804) 393-8591 and (804) 393-8741.

Another great way to explore the area is by boat. Carrie B Harbor Tours provide a fascinating overview, whetting the appetites of passengers for closer inspection of many sites.

The Carrie B departs regularly from Norfolk's Waterside and Portsmouth's Portside for tours. The comfortable cruise takes place on a reproduction of a 19th-century Mississippi riverboat.

There are also several other ways to explore the area by boat, with Carrie B Harbor Tours and several other companies. Contact Carrie B Harbor Tours at End of Bay Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704; (804) 393-4735. Tours run April through October. The cost for the 1 1/2-hour tour is $12 for adults, $6 for children under 12, and free for those under 6.

For more information about the area, contact the Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau, 236 E. Plume Street, Norfolk, VA 23510; (804) 441-1852 or (800) 368-3097; or the Portsmouth Convention & Visitors Bureau, 505 Crawford St., Ste. 2, Portsmouth, VA 23704; (804) 393-5327 or (800) PORTS VA.