Central Indiana is probably the last place on earth most people would expect to find a naval landmark of international significance. That was the bet during World War II, when the Heslar Naval Armory in Indianapolis became a top secret planning site in developing the U.S. Navy’s war strategy.
Seeking to avoid constant surveillance on the coasts between 1943 and 1945, Navy generals and admirals gathered regularly at the Naval Reserve Armory in Indianapolis to plan their Atlantic and Pacific campaigns, including the D-Day invasion (June 6, 1944).
It spite of its comparative anonymity in the pages of history, the Armory has drawn a lot of second looks locally since its construction in 1936. With its gleaming white Moderne-style exterior, the building seems dropped by mistake on the banks of the White River near 30th Street—something you’d expect to see in Miami Beach. Workers spent two years finishing the Armory, bomb-proofed with reinforced concrete and finished with smooth white stucco.
The facility served as the Navy’s national communications training center during the war, turning out more than 1,000 trainees every three months. Radio and yeoman recruits trained on a simulated navigation bridge, with actual signal hoists, lights, magazine, battle telephones, boiler room, radio communications room, ship’s ladder, galley, and more. The only thing missing was the ocean.
In 1965 the Naval Reserve Armory was renamed Heslar Naval Armory in honor of its first commanding officer, Captain O.F. Heslar. The facility was renovated and expanded in the 1970s to become the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center.
The Armory’s distinguished history remains relatively unknown, the legacy of officers drilled to remember that “loose lips sink ships.” Or maybe even today nobody can quite believe one of the greatest naval invasions in history was planned on an unnavigable waterway in the middle of Indiana.
Heslar Naval Armory
U.S. Army history
PBS American Experience
National D-Day Memorial
Encyclopedia Britannica’s Guide to Normandy 1944
Where We Live
Presented each week by Indiana Landmarks, Where We Live highlights historic places -– their stories, their meaning, their place in our lives today. Learn more about historic places in Indiana on our website www.indianalandmarks.org.