NHA Gifted Naval Officers Sword with Island Ties

NANTUCKET, MA – The Nantucket Historical Association is pleased to announce it will receive the commissioning sword of islander and U.S. Navy Commander John Franklin Walling, who was lost at sea in 1945 while commanding the submarine USS Snook during World War II. The NHA is collecting the sword in honor of Walling’s sacrifice and to share this island family story.

Commander Walling’s Naval Sword
Old North Wharf, August 1944. L to R. Back Mrs. and Mr. Leeds Mitchell Jr., Austin Strong, Commander John Walling, Richard C.Beer. Front Mrs. John Walling and Doris Riker Beer. NHA Collection, p823.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, on February 2, 1912, Walling grew up on island, attending Academy Hill School and teaching sailing at the Yacht Club. He then attended Phillips Exeter Academy for high school, before continuing on to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he graduated in 1935. Throughout his naval career, he served on many submarines, reached the rank of commander, and was awarded two Silver Stars.  His parents were Charles H. Walling and Georgie L. (Smith) Walling of Nantucket.  His mother, Georgie, was a teacher at Academy Hill School, associated with the founding of the Kenneth Taylor Galleries at the Thomas Macy Warehouse, an employee of the New England Steamship Co. (now the Steamship Authority), and a member of the Wharf Rat Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the NHA.

John Walling married Doris Annabella Helmkamp of Southern California in May of 1943 before being lost at sea two years later, making Annabella a war widow at the age of 22. Commander Walling’s sword is being gifted to the NHA by Raymond F. DuBois, who received it from his mother Annabella.  This gift will be in memory of Annabella Walling DuBois.  Raymond F. DuBois is giving the NHA copies of correspondences between Walling and his family for the NHA’s research files.

Commander John Walling and wife, Annabelle on their wedding day, 1943. Courtesy Raymond F. DuBois

“The NHA is honored to accept Commander Walling’s sword into our collection. It is both an artifact of Commander Walling’s dedication to national service and a memento of his and his family’s personal sacrifices during World War II. We hope the sword and the Walling family’s stories can help the NHA illuminate new aspects of the island’s history for locals and visitors alike,” says Michael Harrison, NHA Chief Curator and Obed Macy Research Chair.

To commemorate this special gift, the Wharf Rat Club (of which both Commander Walling and his wife were proud members), in partnership with the NHA, is holding a private ceremony at its clubhouse on Old North Wharf on Friday, September 2. Raymond F. DuBois, as well as Peter Holmes, Commodore of the Wharf Rat Club, will present the sword to Annabelle Fowlkes, President of the NHA Board of Trustees, as a formal gift to the NHA collection.


Banner image: John Franklin Walling in Naval uniform 1940s. NHA-Collection-ph30-28.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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