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Like the battleships he loves, professor wins acclaim through service

4/9/2001
April 9, 2001

Professor of history Dr. Malcolm Muir received an invitation from Paul Fraim, mayor of Norfolk, Va., to be a guest of the city April 12-16 for a national celebration surrounding the Battleship Wisconsin.

In his letter to Muir, Fraim wrote: "I am well aware of your scholarly contributions documenting battleship development, design and operations in the 20th century.

"Your 1988 work, titled 'The Iowa Class Battleships,' served as a central reference in developing our educational and interpretive programming for Battleship Wisconsin."

Even as a child, Muir was steeped in military history. While classmates practiced curveballs and sliders, he studied naval history. Encouraged by his father, a WWII naval officer, Muir immersed himself in learning about battleships.

Not surprising, the topic of his 1976 doctoral thesis at Ohio State University was the history of modern U.S. Navy battleships. In 1985, Navy officials, already aware of Muir's interest in the ships, flew him out to the battleship Iowa to observe various exercises.

Muir stood on the bridge, camera in hand, while the ship's guns were fired to gauge blast-pressure.

In the preface of his 1987 book, "The Iowa Class Battleships," Muir wrote, "The blast pressure was so great it tore the open case from my camera and threw it down two decks. "It was one of life's sweetest moments."

The launch of the projection from the guns was a perfect metaphor for Muir's reputation as an expert in Iowa Class Battleships. Following the publication of "The Iowa Class Battleships," he wrote "Black Shoes and Blue Water: Surface Warfare in the United States Navy, 1945-1975," which won the coveted John Lyman Prize from the North American Society for Oceanic History for "Best Book in U.S. Naval History" published in 1996.

Muir's highly acclaimed books opened doors to elite appointmentsónice perks for a happily entrenched professor who admits to an occasional bout of wanderlust. Since becoming an APSU faculty member in 1977, Muir has held the Secretary of the Navy's Research Chair in Naval History at the Naval Historical Center (1987-88). He also was Visiting Professor for the U.S. Military Academy twice--1988-89 and 1989-90óbecoming the first person ever invited to serve twice in this capacity.

In 1996-97, he was Visiting Professor of History at the Air War College, Maxwell Airforce Base.

At Norfolk, Muir will make presentations at several events, from public celebrations to black-tie events to a ceremony where veterans of many wars will lay a wreath on the Battleship Wisconsin. The events are expected to draw politicians and the public as well as Navy personnel and veteransóalong with the national media.

Why is Muir repeatedly invited to lecture or participate in high-visibility events like the Norfolk celebration? First, he has wealth of knowledge of naval history. Second, when he talks about the Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri and Wisconsin, it is with reverence, love and pride, much like a father speaking of his children.

He's quick to remind us it was aboard the Battleship Missouri in 1945 that the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces. "Many people saw these ships as obsolete after World War II," he says. "But they came out of retirement to support the Army and Marines during the Korean War. The New Jersey was used by the military during the Vietnam War, and all four ships returned to service during (President) Reagan's buildup.

"Deployed during Desert Shield, the Wisconsin and the Missouri fired the first Tomahawk missiles over Kuwait to support our forces during Desert Storm."

All other battleships were discarded, according to Muir, but these four are "retained on reserve status by Congressional mandate," meaning they are ready for reactivation again.

The Iowa, the New Jersey, the Missouri, the Wisconsin. For Malcolm Muir, each is alive and teeming with stories to be told. Of battles won and battles lost, of guns fired and guns fallen silent. In Norfolk and across the country, he delights in sharing tales from the ships' bold and unsinkable history.