NHA Gifted Naval Officer's Sword with Island Ties
JohnCarl McGrady •
The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is set to receive the commissioning sword of U.S. Navy Commander John Walling, a decorated World War II sailor with ties to Nantucket.
The sword is being gifted by Raymond DuBois, in memory of his mother Annabella Walling DuBois. Along with the sword, DuBois is gifting the NHA copies of correspondence between Walling, who died at sea during the war, and his family.
“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,” said Michael Harrison, the NHA’s Chief Curator and Obed Macy Research Chair. “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,”
Walling grew up on the island and taught sailing at the Nantucket Yacht Club, always drawn to the ocean. A 1945 article in the Inquirer & Mirror described him as having a “congenial, friendly temperament,” and noted that “the people of Nantucket...had taken great pride in following his career in the navy.”
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Walling attended Phillips Exeter before traveling around the world on a freighter and later enrolling in the United States Naval Academy. After his graduation, he served on many submarines and received numerous wartime medals, including the Silver Star.
After he was awarded the Silver Star, Walling purportedly gave it to his mother and told her to “hide this in a bureau somewhere, Ma, and don’t tell anybody about it.”
Walling’s mother, Georgie Smith, was a Nantucket fixture. She taught at Academy Hill, worked for the Steamship, and was a member of the Wharf Rat Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the NHA. Walling was also a member of the Wharf Rat Club, as was his wife, Doris Annabella Helmkamp, who during their marriage primarily went by Annabella Walling.
Near the end of the war, John Walling was lost when his submarine, the U.S.S. Snook, vanished off the coast of Japan. The reason for the submarine’s disappearance was never uncovered, though most historians believe it was sunk by a Japanese vessel. In 1995, divers exploring the area where the Snook was lost discovered a metal structure they believed to be a submarine, likely the Snook, but the divers left before identifying it and no further dives have been attempted in the area.
Regardless, John Walling’s death left Annabella Walling widowed a mere two years after their wedding, at 22 years old. The next year, Annabella Walling married Raymond DuBois’ father, also named Raymond. Much like John Walling, the elder DuBois was a decorated Naval officer who served aboard a submarine during World War II and received the Silver Star. He graduated from the Naval Academy three years after John Walling and attained the rank of Rear Admiral before his departure from the Navy.
After her first husband’s death, Annabella Walling kept his sword, which is how it ended up in the hands of the younger DuBois.
The sword will be officially presented to the NHA by DuBois and Wharf Rat Club commodore Peter Holmes at a private ceremony at the Wharf Rat Club on September 2nd.