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Al Wright of Greensboro studies the WWII rubber relief map of the island of Iwo Jima while it was on display Veteran’s Day at ECU. Wright, a self-described WWII history buff, was in Greenville visiting his sister, Janet Cannon, whose daughter is a student at ECU.  (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

ECU working to conserve WWII relief map

An artifact from the Battleship North Carolina is at East Carolina University being treated and conserved by an ECU faculty member and graduate students until February, when it will be returned.

A rubber relief map of the island of Iwo Jima from the Battleship North Carolina was displayed Thursday in ECU’s Joyner Library to mark Veterans Day. Now the World War II map will be worked on by Susanne Grieve of the Department of History, who specializes in conservation work for the maritime studies program, and graduate students in the program.

The intelligence map was made of rubber from a mold and then injected with foam to form the relief of the island and is at an approximate scale of 1:12,5000. The map shows airstrips and key topographic features of the island and would have been used for training military personnel and airmen, Grieve said.

“The map is made of rubber so it could be folded and mailed, which unfortunately is contributing to its deterioration,” she said.

Emily Powell, a second-year graduate student in the history program and conservation student, pointed out that the map is cracking in some areas and Mount Suribachi is sinking.

The USS North Carolina participated in the Iwo Jima campaign, but the map was not part of its wartime equipment, said Mary Ames Booker, curator of collections for the battleship memorial in an article published in the Wilmington Star News. The map has been on permanent loan to the memorial from the U.S. Navy since the 1960s.

“The aesthetic damage, such as someone put a sticker on the map and when it was removed it damaged the area, we can fix that,” Grieve said. However, some of the deterioration is because of the materials made to construct the map.

“Because they mounted it onto this board with materials that are turning acidic, that is contributing to its deterioration. Plastics and rubber materials are the hardest for conservators to treat,” she said.

After they have completed their work on the map, Grieve and the graduate students will create a “microclimate” to surround the artifact. The case will be oxygen free and be UV-light filtered to protect the rubber map.

“We don’t want to do a lot to the map. We want to conserve what is here and to place it in a stable environment,” Grieve said.

Joyner Library hopes to have a presentation about the conservation of the map in January by Grieve and her students, said Robert James, assistant director of administrative services. “It’s a natural collaboration to have this piece displayed in the library for students, faculty and the public to see on Veterans Day since we have several items in our Special Collections from World War II,” he said.

The map will be returned to the USS North Carolina in February so it can be part of a battleship commemoration of the landing on Iwo Jima by U.S. forces in February 1945.


This story appeared originally in the Dec. 10, 2010 issue of Pieces of Eight. An archived version of that issue is available at