Wednesday, January 17, 2018

U.S. Naval Reserve Insignia reprise

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Midshipman Identification badge.
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.
Circa 2017.
The Eagle Pin.

Midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point met the proscription of the U.S. Naval Reserve badge from their uniforms of by the Chief of Naval Operations in June 2011 with mild derision. The Academy administration did not, and quietly resurrected the pin for local use in 2013. For the almost seventy-five year existence of the Regiment of Midshipmen, Kings Pointers pinned the insignia on their uniforms with pride. If no other piece of insignia or decoration adorned midshipmen coats or shirts, the Sea Chicken was present. Its removal echoed a larger narrative of the changing rôle of merchant seamen within the U.S. military establishment and the struggle of the Merchant Marine to remain relevant in an age where Federal maritime policy has been one of neglect. Its reappearance emphasizes its symbolic status and importance within the midshipmen community.

Often a means for military and paramilitary organizations to cultivate group cohesion is through the selective disbursement of insignia among its members. Insignia falls into three broad classes: rank designator, personal award, and unit identifier.  Rank insignia indicates seniority and managerial responsibility within an organization. As one achieves seniority, the uniform is updated with a progression of rank pins; with another stripe or another star comes additional opportunities for command. Badges are awarded for knowledge area expertise; this recognition enables the wearer to feel invested in their rôle. By comparison, unit identifiers embody continuity with the past and promote a mythos of belonging. Thus, a uniform’s accouterments operate as potent coded visual markers and their configuration signal mimetically shared traditions. Through deciphering insignia at salute distance, by those within or trained in the organization’s symbolic language, can one divine a member’s seniority, skill area, and place in the organization’s hierarchy. Among insignia, badges are often more coveted than rank insignia. Badges are objects of prestige for what they represent: a skill, a position of trust, or an achievement. In this light, wearers meet the removal of a badge with some degree of resistance and critique unless done to signify a merit-based change of status. Without group consultation, the act of removal may cultivate ill will.

No discussion of the U.S. Naval Reserve (USNR) badge’s deletion is complete without a sketch of contemporary U.S. Naval culture. The U.S. Navy is compartmentalized and hierarchical in structure. It has aligned its officers into communities. The prestige of attaining rank and qualifications governs these communities. The culture is such that badges represent a passage through a figurative ritual process denoting one’s advancement as a militarized officer. In the specific case of the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) badge, these rituals include watch standing and mastering damage control. In fact, among the surface officer communities, the award of the badge separates those junior in subject mastery from those who hold advanced, compartmentalized knowledge. In the Surface Supply Corps, if a junior officer does not earn that community’s badge while afloat, they rotate back to shore; this acts as an impetus for the officer to return to the prestige of a ship billet. Moreover, if a junior officer does not earn the SWO badge, they, in turn, do not advance in rank. Since the U.S. Navy has a limited number of billets, failure to advance results in eventual discharge from the service.

The SWO badge has an analog in the enlisted community; it is the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) badge. The design is similar to the officer’s except it has enlisted cutlasses as opposed to an officer’s swords, and is brushed silver in finish. The prerequisites for earning the enlisted badge are similar to the officer’s badge but dissimilar enough to warrant a separate award. This badge, though, is not the determiner of a sailor’s “fitness”; however, earning it enables an enlisted sailor to advance in rank and opens a hatch for entry into the surface officer community.  Junior commissioned officers seen wearing the silver ESWS badge are members of a small community of “Limited Duty Officers” or ex-enlisted sailors who by virtue of specialized knowledge and ambition are granted entry into the officer corps.  These individuals call themselves “Mustangs.” After completing the requisite – or what they call “Mickey Mouse” – qualifications, they replace the ESWS for the SWO badge. The replacement of the badge is not done grudgingly; Mustangs are keen to take on the mantle of regular officers and undergo the breadth of rituals associated with the prestige of rank. The only obvious markers of their previous status as an enlisted sailor after attaining the SWO badge would be the deep crimson ribbon for “Good Conduct” in their ribbon rack.

Through a confluence of events and tradition of use, the USNR badge mediates a position of both a skill badge and a unit identifier for the Kings Pointer. As I have discussed before, the badge was created expressly to identify members of the newly formulated U.S. Naval Reserve Merchant Marine Reserve. In time, it was adopted by cadets of the U.S. Maritime Commission and awarded to cadet-midshipmen at state maritime academies (CFR 1941 Title 46 §293.16 “they shall wear such Naval Reserve insignia”). Despite Kings Pointers sharing a similar uniform and speaking the same military vocabulary as their colleagues at the U.S. Naval Academy, the badge became an integral identifier of Kings Pointers and marked them apart. Since the badge was an official U.S. Navy decoration, and since Kings Pointers wore the badge past graduation aboard U.S. Navy ships and auxiliary vessels, it identified them as maritime professionals serving with the U.S. Navy. In this discrete definition, the badge spoke to their community and unique skill-set from the moment they entered the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. Thus, like Mustangs and their silver ESWS badge, the USNR badge denotes membership in a small group of mariners within the ranks of the U.S. Navy officer community. It specifies Naval Officers who completed various prerequisites and swore an oath, at one time or another, as members of the Merchant Marine Reserve (USNR/MMR).

It is worth mentioning that the USNR badge was deleted from the Kings Point midshipman uniform once before during a stretch from 1956 to 1964. Congressional and U.S. Navy oversight legislated away the status of U.S. Navy Midshipman Reserve for the Kings Pointer; this was due to ending the Merchant Marine Reserve Program. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and its allies argument for the reinstatement of the program was that many students enrolled at the Academy for the opportunity to become licensed officers of the U.S. Merchant Marine and for the prestige of joining the U.S. Armed Services as a commissioned officer. Conventional wisdom at the time held, if they wished to simply sail, they could go to a state maritime school. After Congress addressed the oversight and reestablished the program, Kings Pointers reclaimed the title of midshipmen and donned the pin once again.

Popular backlash from the Vietnam War resulted in problems for the U.S. Armed Services to attract recruits after the cessation of hostilities. This, coupled with former volunteers leaving the military in droves, resulted in too many vacancies and a weakened threat response by the military. The U.S. Navy, long a proponent of bifurcation of Active duty and Reserve personnel, found this segregation counter-intuitive for maintaining a ready force and wasteful of resources. Thus, under Admiral Zumwalt, it re-organized its personnel system and abolished both the formal and informal barriers between “regular” and “reserve” officers.  Among those in the latter class were U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduates.  As a means of identifying Merchant Marine Reserve Officers who took active commissions, and indicating their important contribution to the mission of U.S. Navy, in 1978 the Bureau of Personnel wrote into regulation the ability to wear the USNR badge on the uniforms of active duty officers. This reversed an explicit 45-year prohibition of its wear and gave a long overdue nod to maritime professionals who chose to “Go Navy.” This symbol of status and prestige remained unchanged until 2011.

During early 2011, the U.S. Navy underwent another personnel realignment and rewrote the specifications for its various officer communities. Among those programs written out of existence was the U.S. Naval Reserve/Merchant Marine Reserve (USNR/MMR). Despite their military education component falling under the auspices of the U.S. Navy Education Command, Kings Pointers remained in the U.S. Naval Reserve, but MMR became a component of the Strategic Sealift Officer (SSO) community. Strictly speaking, the USNR badge represented the identification of a class of individuals who no longer existed within the U.S. Navy. A press release from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations states:
Extensive coordination with several Navy organizations and the U.S. Maritime Administration helped with the program change.
The SSOP [Strategic Sealift Officer Program] supports national defense sealift requirements and capabilities, which are executed by Military Sealift Command (MSC). The program provides the Navy with officers that possess sealift, maritime operations, and logistics subject matter expertise, and further hold U.S. Coast Guard credentials as Merchant Marine officers.
“These changes will help align and improve support to Military Sealift Command and numerous other Joint and Navy commands,” said Vice Adm. Bill Burke, Deputy CNO for Fleet Readiness and Logistics, who is the SSOP program sponsor. “This revision improves stewardship, integration, and opportunities for about 2,400 Navy Reserve officers.”
The SSOP, like the old MMR Program, will continue to provide the capability for emergency crewing of sealift ships and shoreside support to Navy commands that require unique maritime expertise. Further, this change provides opportunities for greater operational support to the Navy by expanding selected Reserve (SELRES) billets and active duty recalls to SSOP officers. (Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. “Merchant Marine Reserve Program becomes Strategic Sealift Officer Program” NNS110616-16 Release Date: 6/16/2011.)
The new program brought with it a new badge and provisions to earn it. Unlike the USNR badge, a midshipman could not earn the SSWO badge by pledging an oath, as done when formally entering the USNR/MMR; in fact, the initial CNO communication explicitly mentioned midshipmen (at Kings Point and the State Maritime Academies) were not authorized to wear the new badge. This singled-out of Kings Pointers and rubbed a bit of salt in the wound since earning this new badge was unattainable for the duration of a midshipman’s tenure at the Academy. In an ironic twist, the new badge’s design gives a nod to its historical roots – it keeps the “eagle from the USS Constitution’s stern” and places over it crossed U.S Navy officer swords behind a Federal U.S. shield surcharged with “a fouled anchor from the U.S. Merchant Marine flag” (U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations NAVPERS 15665I, 5201.2.bbb). The last design note is deemed particularly insensitive by some Kings Point alumni since one of the few locations that fly U.S. Merchant Marine flags is Kings Point. As a matter of course, the Strategic Sealift Officer program only mans Military Sealift Command ships – thus only mariners attached to MSC will ever earn the badge; in essence, the SSWO badge very clearly pigeonholes maritime school graduates as being merchant mariners in the U.S. Navy. Whereas the USNR badge was more democratic in its wear; Kings Point midshipmen and graduates wore it while attached to any of the U.S. Navy’s activities and not just the MSC.

Nevertheless, with the change, the Kings Point class of 2013, became the last Kings Pointers to wear the USNR badge. Upon graduation, those who took oaths as commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy removed the USNR badge, and due to permutations of administrative procedures, could immediately wear the new SSWO badge. The class of 2014 and all those that followed did not have this opportunity. Unless the Academy took action, incoming U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Plebe candidates would find themselves without the once proud symbol of their Federal service status and obligation on Acceptance Day; as mentioned before, the badge awarding ceremony is the first ritual Kings Point midshipmen participate in at the Academy.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Commandant, under the provisions of U.S. Code (CFR 2006 Title 46 §51308.1), could prescribe the wear and standards of uniforms at the Academy. Under this umbrella, he granted the Regiment of Midshipmen their distinctive uniforms and ability to wear pieces of insignia and awards specific to the Academy. With word of the deletion of the old badge, the Academy administration was quick to act, and after consultation with the insignia manufacturer, Vanguard Industries, they came up with a redesign of the traditional badge and new name. Vanguard first manufactured the badge on July 11, 2013; afterward, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Ship’s Store stocked the item as “MM BDG MIDSHIP ID GLD” – U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Midshipman Identification Badge in Gold.

The badge is a Kings Point-only uniform item. It is similar to the USNR badge with the exception that four stars replaced the letters U S N R on the scroll beneath the eagle. When in uniform, Kings Pointers at the Academy will continue to look as they have for decades, thus keeping visual continuity and cultivating an esprit de corps. They call it simply: “The Eagle Pin.”

On graduation day, when Kings Pointers become active-duty commissioned officers or join the ranks of those in reserve, they will continue to remove the re-designed USNR badge. Within the U.S. Navy, their unique identity is no longer as markedly visible as before. Since a Kings Pointer is thrifty to a fault, they will reuse their old uniforms, and they will be distinctive by the shadow of two pinholes on their khaki shirts and Service Dress blues. Time will tell whether or not the U.S. Navy will re-establish the oldest of its badges. Until then, Kings Pointers will work for their sanctioned pins and place them over the outline of their first.

Special thanks are owed to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation in granting me access to their trove of old yearbooks and for publishing my previous article on the subject; the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Ship’s Store for answering my queries about the badge; Vanguard Industries for furnishing me with production dates of “The Eagle Pin”; and many others who endured my inane questions about what the old badge meant to them. Thank you all.


The naming convention for the USNR badge has changed over time. In the 1930s documentation refers to it as a USNR insigne and during the Cold War, it became a USNR badge. In colloquial speech, it is today called a USNR pin. I use badge as this is the term commonly used by archivists and collectors in both the United States and British Commonwealth. Insigne (an outmoded term for a single piece of insignia), insignia, badge, and pin nomenclature holds in any discussion of U.S. Naval uniform insignia.

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Midshipman Identification Badge in Gold.
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.
Single piece, solid construction.
Hallmark, V-21-N (Vanguard Industries)
Circa 2017.

Despite some talk that the badge has a variant with no stars, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Ship's Store staff (the sole distributor of the badge) and Vanguard Industries (the sole manufacturer of the badge) have communicated to me that there is no such variant.

Strategic Sealift Officer Warfare badge.
U.S. Navy.
Two piece construction; punched anchor device.
Hallmark, V-21-N (Vanguard Industries)
Circa 2017.

U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve insignia (miniature).
U.S. Navy.
Single piece, solid construction.
Eagle stamped sterling silver with gold-plate.
Hallmark, Vanguard N.Y.
Circa 1943.

Surface Warfare Office badge.
U.S. Navy.
Single piece, solid construction.
Hallmark, V-21-N (Vanguard Industries)
Circa 2017.

Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist badge.
U.S. Navy
Single piece, hollow construction.
Hallmark, V-21-N (Vanguard Industries)
Circa 1979. The badge is pinned above the ribbon rack on a Zummy uniform reefer.

The U.S. Navy sometimes errs in re-writing uniform regulations. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., the Chief of Naval Operations, wished to “humanize a service soured by the war in Vietnam” and ordered a drastic change in the uniform for enlisted sailors in 1971. Out were the bell-bottom trousers, buttonless jumpers, black silk four-in-hands tie, and white Bob Evans sailor’s caps. They were replaced with military shirts, straight-legged trousers, pewter-buttoned reefers, neckties, and combination hats. The enlisted sailor became almost indistinguishable in appearance from officers and chief petty officers. This order became mandatory in 1973 when morale in the U.S. Navy was at a low. The thought was if enlisted sailors felt they looked professional, they would take more pride in the service.

However, the changes Admiral Zumwalt initiated resulted in the opposite. Reportedly, the change in uniform caused a problem in morale among career petty officers; they complained loudly that discipline suffered and sailors wanted their crackerjacks back. On August 1, 1977, the Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, supported CNO Admiral James L. Holloway III’s order to return to the old uniform. In classic U.S. Navy style there was a year-long evaluation period before the release of “BuPers Notice 1020 of 22 March 1978” allowing for jumper-style uniform purchase by those testing the new uniform.  In July of the same year, U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations, 1978 came out permitting the rest of the fleet Seamen to Petty Officers Second Class the same. By 1984, The service collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the “Zummy uniform” finally was out for all.

But, the uniforms were not retired soon enough for the ESWS badge to be pinned on the above reefer.

Surface Warfare Officer (top) & Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist badge (bottom)  (subdued).
U.S. Navy
Single piece, solid construction.
Hallmark, V-21-N (Vanguard Industries)
Circa 2017.

Both the officer and enlisted badges have subdued versions for wear in joint combat operations or attached to Fleet Marine Forces, in brown and black metal, respectively. In the U.S. Navy, rank insignia and the SWO/ESWS badge, gold becomes brown and silver black when subdued.

Surface Warfare Officer (top) & Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist badge (bottom)  (subdued) - reverse.


Coming Soon... The New Uniforms.All Hands. 675 (April 1973), p 3-7.

Jumper Style Uniform Guidance Provided.All Hands. 736 (May 1978), p 3.

Traditional Uniform Returns to Navy.All Hands. 737 (June 1978), p 4.

James C. Bradford. America, Sea Power, and the World. John Wiley & Sons, 2015. see “Z-grams: Zumwalt’s Reforms” p 308

The New York Times & Clyde Haberman. “August 2, 1977: Navy Reviving Bell-Bottoms” in New York Times The Times of the Seventies: The Culture, Politics, and Personalities that Shaped the Decade. Running Press, Nov 12, 2013.

Rogers Worthington “Saluting A Return To Navy Tradition: To Rebellion And Back In A Decade.Chicago Tribune, July 05, 1986.

Thomas H. Lee, Jr. “Blue Navy.The Harvard Crimson, December 7, 1972.

United States. Bureau of Naval Personnel. U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations, 1978. Department of Defense, Navy Department, Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1979.

United States. Bureau of Naval Personnel. United States Navy Uniform Regulations, 1985. Department of Defense, Navy Department, Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1985.

United States. Bureau of Naval Personnel. U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations NAVPERS 15665I.  Department of Defense, Navy Department, Bureau of Naval Personnel, 2013.

United States. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. “Merchant Marine Reserve Program becomes Strategic Sealift Officer Program” NNS110616-16 Release Date: 6/16/2011.

United States. Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America 1941 Supplement Titles 46-50. National Archives, Washington D.C., 1943.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Becoming a Kings Pointer

Midshipman cap badge.
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.
Single piece construction.
Hallmark, V-21-N (Vanguard Industries).
Circa 2006.

This is the first in a series of articles where I explore the culture of the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy Regiment of Midshipmen. This first post focuses on the process of a Midshipman Candidate becoming a Plebe Midshipmen, and finally a Fourth Class Midshipman.

A U.S. Merchant Marine Academy alumnus intimated to me there are no fraternities permitted at Kings Point but that midshipmen are all one fraternity. Yet within the ranks, there are subtle differences; the most telling comes in a midshipman’s final year. There are the “Gung Ho,” active duty commission-bound, and the industry-leaning ”Merchie bum.” who have decided, with a shrug and a hint of self-effacement, to “Go Merch.” A measure of pride among some was the assumption of an aloof status within Regiment as a Zombo. Over the next weeks, I spoke with the same alumnus and a current midshipman, and after my conversations with them, I reflected on the pride underpinning both statements and how the Regiment maintains itself with such seeming contradictory messages. I propose this dichotomy of signals within the ranks of the Regiment allows an escape valve of sorts for the academic and military rigors experienced by midshipmen from Day Zero to the moment they leap into Eldridge Pool for their final act as midshipmen in the class Change of Command ceremony.

Although government-run academies are repositories of the past, Kings Point does not operate in a vacuum. That being said, the administration and student body are insulated by the fact the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is a closed institution supporting a discrete function, outside factors often shake its timbers, yet it perseveres.

In the decade following the Second World War, demobilization brought with it the rapid Federal dismantling the workshops of war. In the maritime field, the U.S. allocated ships to its allies, scaled-back and canceled construction projects in shipyards, and cut training programs. Despite calls to the contrary, the newly ascendant Merchant Marine was not immune. The U.S. Maritime Administration Annual Report of 1954 notes closure of the last of the U.S. Maritime Service training facilities with the exception of Kings Point. Under Executive Order, the U.S. Maritime Administration actively purged its institutional memory of its wartime activities keeping only the essentials: 27,297 cubic feet of records were transferred to General Services Records Management Center, in Washington, D. C., 3,887 cubic feet were salvaged, and 5 cubic feet transferred to National Archives. The next year brought 12,524 cubic feet of records to General Services Records Management Center, New York, NY; 47,216 cubic feet were "salvaged." In effect the Government department largely responsible for U.S. gain during the war deleted itself.

Cognizant of potential future difficulties, in the waning days of the Second World War, the Academy administration lobbied Congress to place the Academy on the same footing as the other Service Academies. Academy efforts met with success; thus, as the Eisenhower administration demobilized and the U.S. Maritime Administration found its resources legislated out-of-existence, Kings Point gained recognition as both a permanent federal fixture and a degree-granting institution. The Academy weathered the upheavals of the Vietnam era - following the Regiment marching off-campus in protest to administrative procedures - which resulted in the abolition of the strict battalion system of Regimental governance. Equal rights reached Kings Point with the matriculation of female midshipmen - it was the first Service Academy to do so; the present day finds the Academy reflecting on sexual assault and protection of individuals as the Academy acts in the role of in loco parentis.

The course of study has gradually changed from a purely vocational one to granting B.S. and M.S. degrees. This change represents a need for the Academy to honor its responsibility to provide students with opportunities for meaningful employment after graduation. Following industry trends, Kings Point innovated in maintaining relevance for its graduates. In the past, it provided training for students in nuclear physics to prepare them for a career in a nuclear-powered merchant fleet (an idea which floundered with the widely unsuccessful experiment in the form of the NS Savanna). The 1980s saw a dwindling U.S. merchant fleet with a smaller pool of available positions; to counter this, the Academy offered a dual certification program where a midshipman could study and sit for exams for either a Deck or Engineering license. At present, the Academy gives its students the opportunity to sail on a variety of ships and engage in industry internships to experience the multitude of positions potentially open to them upon graduation. Of course, the Merchant Marine being an auxiliary to the Department of Defense in a time of military conflict, enables Kings Pointers to join all branches of uniformed services. However, the rites and rituals of the Regiment remain relatively unchanged.

The Regiment has its origins in the United States Maritime Commission Corps of Cadets established by the U.S. Merchant Marine Act of 1936. The Corps of Cadets was instituted immediately after the creation of United States Maritime Commission with the express mission of educating maritime professionals in 1938. To fulfill this mission, The U.S. Maritime Commission established Cadet schools on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts. The USMCCC on the East Coast peregrinated along the Long Island Sound before finding a permanent home at Kings Point, New York in 1942. The primary purpose during this period was to supply trained junior Deck or Engineering officers to a rapidly expanding U.S. Merchant Marine fleet. As the Second World War progressed, ships slipped off their ways sometimes as quickly as three weeks of construction. A reported 2,700 vessels were launched, with some 1,554 sunk. With crews numbered at an average of 42, an estimated 120,000 people were needed – government records count 243,000 served all together. By war’s end, around 3,000 cadet-midshipmen found themselves at sea in one capacity or another.

The education midshipmen receive today at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy teaches them how to become both maritime professionals – be it shoreside or at sea – and auxiliaries of the U.S. Defense establishment. No longer a “fink factory” for junior officers, as labor unions once derided the Academy during the war, Kings Point prepares midshipmen for a rewarding career as maritime leaders. This education is grueling with the expectation of a midshipman to concurrently master technical certifications and mediate military regimentation. These two components are considered separate dominions, but the very nature of their military education in the form of the Regiment permeates every aspect of their tenure at the Academy: from how to live in their Spartan rooms to personal interactions as defined by a codified set of numbered regulations. For a non-uniformed visitor to the Academy, Sir or Ma’am is an unconscious honorific given by all midshipmen to those in their midst; it is a military courtesy extended by the Regiment to all within the confines of Kings Point.

The Regiment’s command structure acts as a leadership laboratory in which every upperclass midshipman is given the opportunity to lead in some capacity. This experience gives them a practical taste of running or participating in a rigid atmosphere as is common aboard merchant and military ships – the latter more rigid than the former. The stated goal of the Regiment’s leadership is to encourage a midshipman’s rise within the command structure with the eventuality of becoming a Regimental officer - the logical conclusion is to hold an appointment as the Regimental Commander or as a member of their staff. The noted exception is the jocular “Zombo” – a first classman who rates respect of their juniors, yet eschews both the status and opportunity for a leadership position within the Regiment. The Zombo takes their status outside the anointed Regimental spheres of power quite seriously and does the very least to keep their rank and rate, breezing through their last year beyond the reach of Regimental politics and responsibilities. The foil of the Zombo is the proverbial “Regcock.”

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy was born in the crucible of national emergency and came of age in a time of war. Its history speaks to how the Regiment’s structure is an evolving reflection of shipboard life seventy-five years ago. Unlike the U.S. Naval Academy, where teamwork is drilled into midshipmen to suppress individuality using close-order drill and sports, Kings Point cultivates the psychology of self-sufficiency and independent thinking. The culture that permeates the Academy is of community tempered with a can-do attitude. The ultimate test of an individual’s grit is through “Sea Year.” “Sea Year” is a bifurcated program where midshipmen third class and second class – or those in their second and third years of study, respectively – learn the ropes of the sea-borne maritime industry for two sailing periods of four months and eight months on commercial or government marine vessels. This singular experience, although ostensibly an apprenticeship – tests and congeals a midshipmen’s independence of spirit, and both ingrains and cultivates a strong sense of self. Upon their return from their first sailing, midshipmen are no longer the prima materia of their Plebe year and are notably changed and matured. Having experienced the isolation and beauty of maritime trade first hand, they understand the importance of bootstrapping common to the function of work aboard ships often underway for months at a time. In a word, they internalize their ultimate goals within the Regiment and proceed to become a Zombo or a Regcock. However, to earn the privilege of experiencing “Sea Year,” a midshipman must undergo the gauntlet of Indoctrination and Plebe year.

The Academy’s combined mission has created a unique culture within the Regiment where midshipmen function as a group and close ranks when challenged. This fraternity coalesces during the trials of a midshipman’s first year as a Plebe. Like members of other military academies, midshipmen undergo a period of indoctrination where they are molded into members of the Regiment and proceed along a track where every year brings them new responsibilities and opportunities. Simply put, the Regiment is a class-based system. Unlike other military schools, Kings Point midshipmen embrace the irregular, the ersatz, and the ironic. There may be a ribbon for “company cheer,” but on the other hand, the company that does the worst job keeps an oral tradition of being the worst; some companies revel in their unstated labels.

The first day of a Plebe Candidate – also known as a Candidate– at the Academy is called Processing Day. Upperclassmen succinctly refer to this day as “Day Zero” – a day on which a Candidate begins their figurative journey on the Regimental calendar as nothing. After signing in, and gathering their name plaques and blue backpacks, there is a mandatory head shaving for male Candidates (women do not undergo this humiliation) - symbolizing their status as a tabula rasa on which upperclass midshipmen will mold to fit into the Academy hierarchy. Lining up in the quadrangle outside Delano Hall, they officially enter a month known as Indoctrination. During this period, they no longer have a first name, and thus no individual identity. With the close of each day, a Candidate garners respect for their superiors and cultivates a keen desire to earn badges of Regimental identity. They also learn to recognize the gold crows and ladder bars on the upperclass trainers’ uniforms as signs of prestige and respect.

Despite the non-uniformed nature of the current U.S. Merchant Marine, Kings Point continues the tradition of uniforms as instituted in nautical schools of the past century. A uniform visual appearance is a crucial concept for Candidates to negotiate on Day Zero. After the Ships Store gives them a quick sizing up, they issue the Candidates a stack of uniform items. From this moment forward, Candidates no longer rate wearing civilian clothes. Beyond their khaki uniforms, the only clothes the Candidates wear are their exercise gear. The number of companies that comprise of the Battalion has ebbed and flowed over the course of the Academy’s history – seven at the height of the Second World War shrunk to five in 2016. As of this writing, the number is six. At Indoc, a Candidate’s shirt color specifies one of the five companies to which they are assigned. They are:

1st: Dark Green
2nd: Light Blue
3rd: Dark Blue
4th: Maroon/Red
5th: Neon Green
Band: Yellow (before the 2017 academic year, Band wore black shirts)

Over the next month, they are drilled, PTed, and subject to the recollection of the contents of a section called “Plebe Knowledge” from a volume titled Bearings upon command. This slim volume acts as an orientation and reference for Candidates regarding the Regiment and their home for the next four years. Bearings first appeared immediately after the Second World War when Kings Point attempted to model itself on the precedent set by other U.S. Service academies; this type of indoctrination was pioneered by the U.S. Naval Academy in the 1930s as a means for reorienting and molding future naval officers. Beyond the recitation of facts from Bearings, Candidates and later Plebes, being subject to “personal correction” from the moment they wake at 5:00 am to lights out at 10:00 pm (0500-2200) was also a U.S. Naval Academy innovation.

The dropout rate is minimal during Indoc. A candidate understands the month is temporary and a necessary phase in their military education, despite the psychological shock of abandoning an often-comfortable middle-class life. They are taught the rigors of memorization, the hierarchy of Kings Point, and the overriding discipline of time management and importance of group cohesion. Often, an individual’s infractions or remedial performance is met with punishment for the entire group. It is in the group’s best interest to buoy its members for success - be it a clean head (lavatory) or for military appearance. To reinforce the dynamic of the group, Candidates eat, sleep, and perform ablutions together.

After a month as Plebe Candidates, the Candidates don khaki uniforms and attend a ceremony called Acceptance Day. On this day, they swear an oath and enter the ranks as Midshipmen USNR - or the more formal, midshipmen, Merchant Marine Reserve, United States Naval Reserve with the simultaneous status as Enlisted Reserve per Federal Code Title 46, Chapter II (10-1-16 Edition), Subchapter H, § 310.6b.3; the latter status is the mechanism by which the government ensures a service obligation from midshipmen who drop out of the program. At this moment they become Plebes at Kings Point. As noted, reaching this day was not without its challenges. During the dog days of summer, they reported to Kings Point in August. With them, they brought the barest of necessities: undergarments, exercise shoes, toilette articles, and a computer, all undergirded with a desire to succeed. This last point cannot be belabored more: this past summer a Candidate collapsed from heat exhaustion, having pushed themselves to the limit.

The Regiment builds itself around visuals. When a Plebe Candidate is sworn into the USNR, they are given analogs to the pins once known as USNR pins, now called Merchant Marine Midshipmen Identification pin. They also don the shoulder boards of a Plebe: a shoulder board with no ornamentation other than a Merchant Marine snap button - gold with an anchor flanked by a single star to the left and right. They are permitted to wear garrison covers and combination caps. The former without any insignia, and the latter with an anchor of the same design as that worn by midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

In essence, the insignia worn by the Plebes indicate they enjoy a status where they could be called to active service with the U.S. Navy at a time of conflict. It also points out they are indeed at the lowest position within the Regiment’s hierarchy, ready to archive personal and group awards, and hold rank - if they so choose. Upperclassmen teach them that with each stripe comes privilege. The lack of insignia also points out they have no status as members of the Kings Point community - this is something they must achieve as a group.

As Plebes, midshipmen continue some of the rigors of Indoc and work toward Recognition. Recognition Day is when Plebes transition to the status of Midshipmen Fourth Class. It is an event organized by the Regiment’s training staff – those upperclassmen responsible for Plebe training – and only occurs when the Regiment as a whole considers the Plebe class as having satisfactorily exercised the spirit of being a Kings Pointer. This is evaluated by intangibles such as genuine enthusiasm during athletic events (of which all Plebes must attend), dormitory decoration, and demeanor. Recognition may happen as early as October or as late as March or April depending on their performance.

At the end of their first trimester in October, Plebes declare their course of interest and take on the moniker of either Deckie or Engineer by going “deck” or “engine”; the former is for midshipmen enrolled in a Deck course and the latter for future members of the black gang. Only on Recognition Day, they are given insignia denoting either: a fouled anchor for Deck or a three-bladed propeller for Engineering. They also trade-in their blank shoulder boards at Recognition specifying the same: anchor in a rope circle for Deck, and a propeller for Engineering. In the past, there was a Dual certification program where a midshipman could earn a certification as a Deck officer and an Engineering officer; its insignia was an anchor superimposed by a propeller. These insignias are not worn until Recognition; in the 1990s and early 2000s, the status of a Plebe having declared a major – regardless of Engineer or Deck – was denoted by shoulder boards they would wear for about a trimester – U.S.N.-style Fourth Class boards with a Maritime school snap button.

On Recognition Day comes new insignia for a Midshipman’s cover and collar. After the ceremony, Plebes become full members of the Regiment as Midshipmen Fourth Class and rate the opportunity wear both their class and course of study insignia. The insignia of a Midshipman Fourth Class is a fouled anchor – it has the same form as a miniature U.S.N. midshipman anchor – and it is pinned on both collars of their khaki shirt and left blouse of their garrison cover. Their course of study insignia goes on the right blouse of their garrison cover. The day after Recognition the new Midshipmen Fourth Class are issued their Kings Point cap badge for their combination cap - the badge is similar to the Plebe cap badge with the exception that in the cable’s lower loop, it has the seal of the U.S. Merchant Marine in miniature.

All the minute permutations in Candidate, Plebe, and finally Midshipman Fourth Class’ uniform appearance underscore their place within the hierarchy within the Kings Point Battalion. The ribbons on their chest denote group or individual awards, the anchor or prop reminds others as to their course of study, and the Merchant Marine Midshipmen Identification pin speaks to their community. After the experience of the ardors of their first year, midshipmen forge close friendships in the crucible of experience.

Special thanks are owed to Dr. Joshua Smith of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point and Interim Director of the American Merchant Marine Museum. He introduced me to B. Sturm and W. Kelley, two Kings Pointers who showed me the ropes and contributed greatly to this post; without their input, this post would never have happened.

For more images of Kings Point insignia over the years as well as an old copy of Bearings, please see images I have on the companion site to this:
insignia of the regiment of midshipmen

Midshipman cap badge.  Stay-Brite. This is worn by Midshipmen after Recognition Day.

Midshipman cap badge, circa 1940s. This is a holder image until I photograph the current cap badge in Stay-Brite. It is from the U.S. Naval Academy and is worn by U.S.N. Midshipmen and U.S.M.M.A. Midshipmen. The design has remained unchanged for the past 75 years. This is worn on a Plebe's combination cap prior to Recognition Day.

Name plaque, circa 1980s. Like those worn by U.S. Navy chief petty, warrant, and commissioned officer, Kings Point issues name plaques with the unit's seal. ZIGGY is an affectionate term given to a member of the football team who is able to weave with finesse through defensive lines.

Midshipman Fourth Class insignia, circa 1980s.

Deck program course of study pin, circa 2007.

Plebe hard shoulder boards, circa 2017.

Plebe hard shoulder boards denoting a course of study has been decided, circa late 1990s-early 2000s. Unlike U.S.N.A. and N.R.O.T.C. Fourth Class should boards, the position of the anchor is off-center and the snap-button is of the Maritime School-type.  This particular button was introduced in the mid-1940s as a catch-all for civilian mariners. to wear on their caps and coats if they were not members of or did not wish to wear the insignia of the U.S. Maritime Service. These same buttons were also worn by mariners whose companies did not have a defined button in the catalog of corporate livery.

Midshipman Fourth Class, Deck Program hard shoulder boards, circa 1990s.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Cenotaphs and Cemeteries

Maquette, American Merchant Mariners' Memorial
Clay and painted wood.
Artist: Marisol (Marisol Escobar)
Located at: American Merchant Marine Museum.

“The men of our merchant marine form the essential link between the home front and the millions of men in the armed forces overseas. These men, although relatively few in number – around 180,000 – performed an heroic task in delivering the goods. I am informed that since their first casualties, three months before Pearl Harbor, more than 5,800 have died, are missing, or have become prisoners of war while carrying out their assigned duties. … [T]hese men may feel that they are the forgotten men of war. They are not. They deserve and receive from all of us thanks for the job they’ve done.”

FDR's Christmas greeting to the U.S. Merchant Marine, 1944.

I visited Gold Beach near the commune of Arromanches in Normandy on a chilly spring morning. The beach was deserted and serene in its stone silence. A brisk breeze kept all except the bravest of seagulls away. The sun, the wisps of clouds, and the shadowy remnants of an artificial harbor demanded reflection. Beyond the stalwart concrete caissons lie the bones of a group of sixty ships known as the Derelict Convoy who acted as the breakwaters that made the Normandy landings possible. Without the fearless devotion of their skeleton merchant crews, the landings would have failed.

Turning around, I crouched low on the sand and looked to the bluffs overhead, thinking of all those who lost their lives on the same beach almost seven decades prior. I imagined for many a young man this same gentle beach was their last sight: grains of sand in front, blue sky above, and churning seas behind – all colored by adrenaline static as fear spiked their guts. And many of them died, an estimated 1,100, on this beach in a single day. Local legend claims faint red leeches into the channel, markedly visible after a storm. I climbed aboard a Land Rover and toured the broken and twisted remnants of the concrete emplacements tasked with sentinel duty over the seaside. They stood perched on their cliffs as gaping sockets naked to the elements. Later that same day, I walked among a field of white grave makers and was lost among the names of so many taken too soon. I was moved by the silence of the place and of the sea. It was harrowing.

Across the ocean, at the tip of Manhattan Island, rests a cenotaph and sculpture in memory of the sailors and mariners who perished in the Atlantic during the Second World War. It is the East Coast Memorial. Unlike the Normandy American Cemetery, the solemnity of the memorial seemed lost on those around me. Summer was coming, and vendors were out with hot dogs and frozen treats. Everyone was rushing to queue up for the ferry to take them to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Purists among us may call for hushed silence upon seeing such a memorial. However, the ultimate sacrifice of the few was so that we may live and go about our concerns without fear. And there, the names of the dead persist in direct view, in the background, stalwart and barely reflected upon by those who pass by.

President Kennedy debuted the memorial eighteen years after the close of the Second World War. The pylons of the memorial, acting as a cenotaph, are comprised of several slabs flanking two sides of a black eagle. The eagle is poised for flight above a wave and grasps a wreath of olive branches. Names and ranks of the dead are carved deep into the stone in orderly rows. Absent from the memorial are the names of the many merchant seamen who perished in the wartime Atlantic.  As almost an afterthought, a tablet, placed on the eagle’s pedestal is engraved with the following:
1941 * * * * 1945

A stone’s throw from the imposing and sterile war monument, another, more visceral and emotional monument faces the City. It honors the Merchant Mariner. The president of AFL-CIO, Joseph Lane Kirkland – himself a Kings Pointer – conceived of an idea to commission a monument that would pay homage to the generations of Merchant Mariners who were pressed into the service of the nation. He gained the support of a fellow classmate, then superintendent of the Merchant Marine Academy, Rear Admiral Thomas A. King. He had a similar idea and wished to create a national monument. Combined, their ideas coalesced and became the national American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial. After holding a nation-wide competition, a maquette submitted by Marisol moved the jury. Instead of creating a work in an impersonal, heroic Greco Deco style, she chose a personal, almost accusatory rendition of four merchant seamen alone on a floundering lifeboat.

Unlike somber pride represented by the East Coast Memorial, this work evokes the terror and gnawing helplessness felt by many of those who were torpedoed, abandoned ship, and whose fate was left to the capricious sea. Twice a day the body of one of the figures is swallowed by the harbor and is frozen in desperation, just beyond the grasp of his struggling comrade; one shouts out to the viewer, calling for an act of compassion to deliver his shipmates from a certain death; while another is on his knees, impassive and staring toward those who abandoned him. Kirkland spoke at the monument’s installation in 1991, saying it is: “a fitting remembrance dedicated to those merchant seamen who gave their lives in defense of the love of democracy that Americans share with the citizens of other free nations around the world.”

It is the most visceral of statues I have ever encountered and is all the more powerful since it was based on the plight of the survivors of the SS Muskogee. Standard practice among U-Boat crews was to wait for identifying debris from their victims or query any survivors after a torpedoing to mark their score in their reports; in this case, the commander of the U-Boat who sank SS Muskogee took a series of snapshots for propaganda purposes of the ship and the remanants of her crew. The snapshots surfaced decades after the war and reached the eyes of the son of one of those who was aboard the ship; in them he saw the last image of his father alive. He later tracked down the commander to learn the story of his father’s death; afterward, he distributed the image, hoping to identify the others on the life raft in an effort to provide closure for their families. The image made it into the hands of Marisol at the time of the competition for the design of American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial; she never rendered a sculpture like it prior or since.

Naval warfare in the Atlantic and Mediterranean theatres of war, as cruel as it was, was still prosecuted by professionals and governed by tradition. As heartless as the abandonment of the survivors of the SS Muskogee may seem, the German commander told the son that he did come alongside and gave the survivors water, rations, and smokes – a final act of gentlemanly courtesy to tide them over until their rescue. He further explained he was unable to take survivors since his already cramped boat had no room. In the Pacific, survivors often met capture, torture, or death by machine-gun, as the record shows.

Captain Arthur R. Moore writes in the opening of his exhaustive study of American ship losses, A Careless Word – a Needless Sinking, he could not describe the emotions of the survivors who sat in lifeboats watching potential rescue ships pass them by in plain sight. Marisol did this flawlessly. For those merchant seamen who returned, young in years but made old through the horrors of war, Vice Admiral Emery Scott Land addressed them on Maritime Day, May 23, 1945:
“Very few people in this country realize the hardships men of the Maritime Service have withstood so far in this war. Many of you have been torpedoed and been thrown into the water of the North Atlantic, in the middle of the winter. Many have seen their shipmates killed by explosions, collisions at sea, taken prisoners by submarine and in many instances have seen practically entire convoys wiped out by enemy action. Some of you have probably been afloat on a life-raft in the tropics and practically burned to a crisp and almost passed out because of thirst. Some of you have been aboard ships which cracked and fell apart, and most of you know how it feels to return from Europe via the North Atlantic in the winter, with only ballast in the lower holds. For my money the men of the Maritime Service deserve a lot more credit for the job they have done, than the credit they have received.”
Official reports state war conditions resulted in the loss of 1,586 United States-flag merchant ships and marine casualties during the Second World War. Postwar researchers tabulate the number as 1,768. Nevertheless, U.S. Maritime Commission estimates cover the period spanning from the sinking of the SS City of Rayville after striking a mine on November 8, 1940, to May 8, 1945 – V-E Day. The bulk of the tonnage was accounted for by 570 ships lost from direct war causes; a balance of 984 was lost in marine casualties resulting from convoy operations, reduced aids to navigation, and blackouts; other losses include 32 U. S. flag vessels that were not sunk in combat, but scuttled by their own crews to form the artificial harbors for the Allied invasion of Normandy.

The destruction of ships by the enemy resulted in a heavy loss of life. “Merchant Marine Casualty List No. 30,” from October 1945 – and the last of the Second World War – brought the United States Merchant Marine casualties reported to next of kin during the period from September 27, 1941, to June 30, 1945, to a total of 6,059 individuals, which breaks down as follows: Dead 4,830; missing, 794; prisoners of war, 435.

American merchant seamen, although they did not share the uniforms of military combatants, were killed, imprisoned, and imperiled just the same. The War Manpower Commission steadfastly maintained the Federal mandate that the U.S. Merchant Marine functioned “as an auxiliary to the armed forces and [bore] the heavy responsibility for deploying troops […], for moving supplies […], for bringing American troops home and for providing the food and machinery required in the rehabilitation of Europe.” The Roosevelt administration understood the militarized nature of the work American merchant seamen did, and as recognition of being erstwhile agents of the Federal government, the War Shipping Administration provided them with small tokens of appreciation throughout the final years of the Second World War in the form of ribbons and medals. The final thank you was a Victory Medal. After the Merchant Marine’s institution of a pyramid of honor by the War Shipping Administration, this medal was the bookend to wartime awards.

To this day, the last surviving Merchant Marine veterans are fighting for recognition from Congress for their sacrifices and to be placed on a similar footing with others who fought and sacrificed their lives for the greater good. As they slowly die of old age, the American merchant seaman’s role continues unrewarded and mostly unrecognized. Despite government praise at the time of the war, the unspoken compact between the Federal government and all those who volunteered at the government’s behest were abandoned. Unlike their uniformed peers, who were granted education benefits, medical treatment, and low-interest loans, irrespective of whether they faced the enemy or not, merchant seamen who survived the war received nothing except for a mealy-mouthed citation and few bits of colored cloth. These tokens did not provide them with a living, only a hollow thanks. The greatest award was intangible – they survived.

Special thanks are owed to Dr. Joshua Smith of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point and Interim Director of the American Merchant Marine Museum. He opened the Museum's collections to me and there I discovered Marisol’s maquette which in turn formed the genesis of this post.

The Normandy photos are from a trip to France I went on with my family. One evening my Grandfather Willard told me he had a Z-Card. This post is for him. 

Division of Public Relations, U.S. Maritime Commission. “Derelict Convoy.” Victory Fleet, Vol III no. 17 Oct 23, 1944, pp 1-

Division of Public Relations, U.S. Maritime Commission. “Gallant Ghosts.” Victory Fleet, Vol III no. 19 Nov 6, 1944, pp 1-3

Roosevelt, Franklin. “Christmas Greeting.” The Master, Mate, and Pilot, Vol. 8, No. 1 Jan 1945.

The Master, Mate, and Pilot, Vol. 8, no. 7 July 1945, p 9.

“Merchant Marine Casualty List No. 30.” The Master, Mate, and Pilot, Vol. 8, no. 10, Oct 1945, p. 8.

Moore, Arthur R. A Careless Word – a Needless Sinking: A History of the Staggering Losses Suffered by the U.S. Merchant Marine, both in Ships and Personnel, during World War II. American Merchant Marine Museum, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, NY, 1998.

Friday, September 8, 2017

From a trunk in Bayonne, New Jersey

United States Lines licensed officer cap badge, 1929-1931.
Woven in silk and bullion. On a wool backing.

In an old trunk in Bayonne, this cap badge was found. The finder was unsure what it was or why it was there.  It was among "junk"; that is: scraps of old clothes, balled up newspapers, and the like.

This is a second pattern and short-lived USL officer's cap badge. Another example is at the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian's dates for use are incorrect. Another pattern cap badge was used prior to this from 1921-1929, and it was of the USL house flag (red USL over a blue field).

A post illustrating all the cap badge changes of the United States Lines from its inception to the launch of the SS United States is in the works.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Firmitas adversaria superat" and "Alt for Norge"

Second World War U.S. Merchant Marine ribbons and two medals.
USMM Victory Medal.
Norway War Medal.
USMM Combat Bar.
USMM Defense Bar.
USMM Atlantic War Zone Bar.

Late Second World War and Postwar era.

Uniformed members of the U.S. Armed Services wear an array of ribbons on their chests. The small strips of cloth denote personal decorations, commendation ribbons for units, campaign medals, and foreign awards. Each ribbon has a specific place depending upon precedence and may have devices for additional awards or added significance. Not surprisingly, these ribbon racks speak to the career of the wearer as an ersatz professional résumé. However, it was not always this way.

At the outset of the Second World War, the military establishment had a paucity of awards it granted to its service members. As the war progressed, the War and Navy Departments redefined and reordered the "pyramid of honor", and behind Executive Orders or Acts of Congress, struck medals and badges, and awarded a small array of ribbons for members of the armed services for service in a total war with no end in sight.

One of the more curious developments in building the pyramid was awarding campaign ribbons before the cessation of hostilities. Unlike the Victory Medal’s suspension ribbon from the Great War that held campaign bars, or inter-war medals themselves for expeditions both domestic and overseas, the Second World War saw ribbons granted for participation or presence in various regional theaters of war media res. Only after the end of the Second World War did the government strike distribute medal-replacements for the ribbons in the late 1940s.

During the waning years of the Second World War, U.S. Merchant Marine seamen were also honored by the federal government by a handful of awards. They were not founded concurrently as those of the armed services, rather came as an afterthought. Some decorations awarded to merchant seamen found an analog in the armed services, such as medals for distinguished and meritorious services, and the Mariner's Medal for war wounds. There were also emergency service and theater ribbons - the latter called bars. Unlike the military's strict order of precedence, seamen wore Merchant Marine campaign ribbons in the order of award – or region sailed. The U.S. Merchant Marine had two unique awards: the Combat Bar and Gallant Ship Citation Bar. The former was granted if the mariner was present on a ship under attack and a silver star was affixed if the seaman was forced to abandoned ship. The latter was a unit award for a ship that stood out among all others in a time of crisis. There was no provision for merchant seamen to wear foreign decorations.  Only in 1992 were the campaign bars converted into medals – some forty-seven years after the armistice, and only then several years after Congressional approval.

However, the U.S. Merchant Marine was not a uniformed service and ribbons, and medals were not trotted out unless the mariner happened to be an officer on shore or perhaps in the rare ceremonial function.

The ribbon rack and a pair of medals illustrated in this post, although at first glance tells not so an uncommon story of a merchant seaman, further analysis brings quite a surprise.

The left-most ribbon is for combat action, and the star signifies the enemy hit the seaman’s vessel and he was forced to abandon ship. The middle ribbon bar is for "Merchant Marine Defense." It was awarded to individuals who sailed during Roosevelt's declaration of a state of national emergency up to the formal entry of the U.S. into the war. The last ribbon is for sailing in the Atlantic for more than thirty days during the war.

The story the ribbons tell is that the seaman was a career Able Seaman and worked through the Depression or perhaps signed up just as the war in Europe became hot. He was probably in an Atlantic convoy, and his ship was attacked either on convoy or steaming along the East Coast during when U-Boat commanders called “The Happy Time.”

The medals give us more insight. On the left is a Merchant Marine Victory Medal. It was awarded for participation in the war and was issued a year after the end of hostilities. This means the Mariner remained in the industry on and did not immediately go to a shoreside profession. On the right is a medal that vexed me for over seven years. I always thought it was one of those tokens a serviceman might pick up overseas. Usually, war-tokens brought back after those of the enemy – perhaps an Iron Cross or a patch. This medal is unusual because it was not from an Axis power – rather an Ally. In this case, Norway.

When I first received the lot, I asked if the seller had any information regarding provenance. There were no photo albums, military, or personally identifying items that came with it. The seller said no, it came from a storage unit clean-out. I followed up and asked if the seaman was from Norway. The answer came back with a cagey no, it belonged to an uncle who sailed in the War. I put the items in my collection with a shrug. I was happy to have a ribbon with the star and wondered what stories the mariner could tell if he were still alive and willing – most seamen did not talk about their wartime experiences, and for good reason.

In the years that followed, I began looking closer at Atlantic convoys. Recently, I came across an interview with a radioman who was on the SS Henry Bacon and how he was awarded a medal by the King of Norway for rescuing nineteen Norwegian refugees of the Island of Sørøya in 1945.  I saw an image of his medal, and it looked familiar.  I thought this can not be. I dug through various online and print sources and saw that the medal clasp was period Spink's and not a postwar production. I couldn’t believe it.

Although I do not have ironclad proof the group is from a survivor, the only other possible way examples of the medal could find itself into an American Merchant Marine collection would be if it were awarded to a Norwegian Merchant seaman who first served on a Norwegian ship and then a U.S. vessel – it did happen. This wasn't the case.
A retired merchant mariner describes the events of February 23, 1945 surrounding the award of the medal far better than I am able:*
[…] I went to another Liberty Ship [SS Henry Bacon in 1944]. The first trip, we went to England, Italy, France, Belgium and Holland. Then we came back to the states – Boston – and loaded up ammunition and locomotives for Murmansk, Russia. We went from Boston to Halifax, joined the convoy, went to England, then we headed north up around Norway and to the Russian winter port at Murmansk.

In Murmansk while they were unloading, everyday just like clockwork Germans would come and strafe the harbor. Before we left they put 20 Norwegian civilians on our ship. They were being sent to England. As soon as we left the harbor, the Germans started sinking the ships. They sank three of them before we even got out.

We ran into one of the most severe storms ever recorded in the area. It was so strong that the barometer’s chart paper didn’t go low enough to track the pressure. Winds of over 130 miles an hour; 45 to 60 degrees below zero. We lost the convoy. The rough seas sheared the steel pins holding the main springs on the steering mechanism. We had no steering capacity. We put the pins back in, and every time the ship would try to make a turn, we’d hammer on the pins to keep the springs in place. Our Captain thought we were ahead of the convoy, so he turned around and doubled back for 60 miles. He couldn’t find the convoy, so he turned and decided to go back again on the same route. That was when they hit us – on February 23, about 1500 hours, with twin-engine torpedo bombers – JU-88s.
They were looking for the main convoy. They couldn’t find it because the storm was so bad. Twenty-three of them hit us. We shot down several of their aircraft. They dropped torpedoes and the gunners where able to shoot them in the water before they hit the ship. But one got by and it hit between the steering engine and number five hatch – that’s where the rear explosive hatch is. We sank in less than an hour.

I was one of the first ones in the water. I was told I’m in the British Naval medical journals as the longest survivor during World War II in the Artic water – over two hours in 45 below zero weather.
My Chief Engineer had ordered me to cut loose one of the lifeboats with a fire axe because the cables were frozen. But the sea hit me, and took me and the life boat right over the side. I came up under the life boat. It had hit me on the back of the neck and knocked me out. I had to kick off my sea boots in the tangle of lines in the water, and somehow I rolled the life boat upright. How I did it, I don’t know. Witnesses who saw me do it couldn’t say how I did it by myself. I don’t know to this day.
I found a life ring floating by and grabbed that. Another of our crew held on to it too, and we caught an unconscious Navy armed guard, put him between us, and locked him in with our feet. He survived. The crew at the time was 48 people, not counting the armed guard. We lost, I think, 27 of our crew. We saved the 20 Norwegians without a loss; that’s why we were cited by the King of Norway. They were all civilians – women and children, mostly.

The three of us had stayed in the life ring. We were rescued by the Zambezi – a British destroyer. They had come back to pick up bodies for burial. A young English Sub-Lieutenant tied a heaving line around his waist, jumped into the water and tied a rope around us. They thought we were dead. But when they dropped us on the deck, my eyes opened.
Our clothes were frozen to our bodies. They laid us on the mess hall tables and cut our clothes off. Then they covered us with sheets and packed us in sea ice. They let the sea ice melt to room temperature as our bodies thawed out with it. It was all they could do. They had no medications left. All they had was Pusser’s Royal Navy Rum. They had barrels of it. The doctor on the ship was actually a veterinary doctor in England before he joined the Navy. He told us: The only medication I have is rum; if you have no objections, I’ll keep you supplied. And that’s what he did. He kept us in a mellow glow for approximately four days until we got to Reykjavik, Iceland.

The doctors checked us out in Iceland and said we would survive. We went from there to Scapa Flow (Editor: Royal Navy base in Scotland). From Scapa Flow we went to a place in Ireland -- Northern Ireland. To this day I still don’t know where. They didn’t tell us. They took us in to this castle and interrogated us. What they thought was that we were German plants, because they thought nobody could have survived for over two hours in Artic water – normally it was ten minute survival rate. They couldn’t believe it. So, they interrogated us, and after interrogation, they gave us a card saying we had been cleared by the FBI, Naval Intelligence, British Naval Intelligence and Coast Guard Intelligence. From there they took us to Glasgow, Scotland, then to Liverpool, where they put us on the USS Wakefield and brought us home.

The Norwegians awarded us the Norwegian War Medal. After that, I continued sailing through the end of the war. I stayed in the Merchant Marine until 1950.
* Ed. note: 19 Norwegians were part of the ship’s complement. 21 crew members survived, less than half of the 47. This text is from “Veterans Health Administration ‘My Life My Story’” program. The Master of the vessel, Capt. Alfred Carini went down with the ship, and is one of two Americans awarded Norway's highest honor for military gallantry, the Krigskorset med Sverd (War Cross with Sword).
One of the more touching aspects of the group is the patina on the Norwegian War Medal. Although the entire medal has turned a deep chocolate, the high relief of the King’s portrait is rubbed and bright. I imagine the mariner thumbing the medal recalling the convoy attack, the shipmates he lost, and remembering the sheer fear he had for his life in the frigid dark of the Arctic Ocean followed by the relief of his rescue. And after all that, told we has a hero by a foreign king.

E. Spurgeon Campbell. Waves Astern: A Memoir of World War II and the Cold War. AuthorHouse, 2004.

Donald Foxvog and Robert Alotta. The Last Voyage of the SS Henry Bacon. Paragon House, 2001.

Kjetil Henriksen and Sindre Weber. “Praksis for tildeling av norske krigsdekorasjoner for andre verdenskrig – handelsflåten og Hjemmestyrkene, Norsk Militært Tidsskrift, No. 3, 2015, pp. 22–29.

Toni Horodysky. “SS Henry Bacon rescues Norwegian refugees at cost of American mariner lives .” American Merchant Marine at War, 2007.

Jarl Inge. “Kvalsund – Mason Burr. Helten på SS Henry Bacon. The hero of SS Henry Bacon” in, 2016.

Ian A. Millar. “Alt for Norge”, The Medal Collector, Vol. 40, No. 3, March 1989, pp. 14-17.

Arthur R. Moore . “A Careless Word ... A Needless Sinking”: A History of the Staggering Losses Suffered By the U.S. Merchant Marine, Both in Ships and Personnel, During World War II. American Merchant Marine Museum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; First Edition edition, 1983.

David Schiesher. In Memory of Donald Peter Schiesher 1921 - 1945.

U.S. Congress. “Recognizing the exploits of the officers and crew of the S.S. Henry Bacon, a United States Liberty ship that was sunk on February 23, 1945, in the waning days of World War II, [H. J. Res 411, 107th Congress].” Washington D.C., 2002. (nb.: nothing came of the resolution)

Merchant Marine Victory Medal, 1946

The medal is a decoration of the United States Merchant Marine established by an Act of Congress on August 8, 1946, and was awarded to officers and men of the U.S. Merchant Marine who served aboard American-flagged merchant ships for at least 30 days between December 7, 1941, and September 3, 1945.

John R. Sinnock – known for his design of the Roosevelt dime and Purple Heart Medal – designed the Merchant Marine Victory Medal. The obverse of the medal depicts Liberation, facing the wind, astride the bow of a U-Boat and a sand dune. She holds a trident in her right hand and an olive branch in her left hand. The trident is evocative of the same held by Britannia, Mistress of the Seas.To the left of Liberation is the word “WORLD” and to the right of her is “WAR II”. The reverse shows a Herreshoff anchor inside a rope circle, around which is wound a ribbon with the slogan: “FIRMITAS ADVERSARIA SUPERAT” (Latin for “Steadfastly overcoming the enemy”). In a circle around the edge of the reverse, the words “UNITED STATES MERCHANT MARINE 1941-1945” form a motto.

The medal was awarded to ~32,000 individuals.

Krigsmedaljen (Norway War Medal), 1945

The medal was established by Royal Decree on November 13, 1942, by King Haakon VII of Norway. It was awarded to Norwegian and foreign military and civilians who participated in a meritorious way toward the efforts to achieve Norwegian liberation from the Germans. It was for the period from May 23, 1941, through the end of the Second World War.

Krigsmedaljen utdeles til norske eller utenlandske militære som på en fortjenstfull måte har deltatt i krig for Norge og til norske og utenlandske sivile som under krig har ydet Norges forsvar tjenester.
The War Medal is awarded to Norwegians or to foreign military who have served in a meritorious manner in war on behalf of Norway, and to Norwegians and to foreign civilians who, during war, have aided in Norway's defense.
For the duration of the war, the medal was granted by the Norwegian Government-in-exile and later in Norway proper with the evacuation of the German occupying forces. The medal was not a blanket participation medal - its award was determined after a petition to the King’s Council-in-Exile or the Norwegian Ministry of Defense.

The medal is a 33mm bronze disc with King Haakon VII's portrait, name, and motto “Alt for Norge” (All For Norway) on the obverse, and a wreath and the text “Krigsmedalje” (War Medal) on the reverse. In the middle along the edges of the reverse is the King's cipher.

If a recipient met the requirements for receiving it again, they received a star each time they did so (to be pinned to the suspension ribbon), although the same individual can not be awarded more than three stars.

In the period from 1942 to 1956, about 18,000 decorations were awarded. A breakdown of the classes of awardees is as follows:
6,500: Merchant Navy
3,800: Navy
1,500: Civilian (Home Guard)
800: Air Force
700: Army (includes foreigners fighting in Norgwegian units)
8: Coastal Artillery
300: Partisans 
2,350 Merchant Navy
800: Navy
750: Army
400: Home Guard
300: Air Force
110: Secret services

Donald Peter Schiesher
from David Schiesher

Donald Peter Schiesher & Mason Kirby Burr

In doing my research, I came across a mention of the SS Henry Bacon and a posthumous award of the medal to a seaman that was killed by the attack - Donald Peter Schiesher.

“Donny was serving in the Merchant Marine in World War II […]  He gave his life to save 19 Norwegian civilians.” Of interest are the communications from the U.S. Government and medal citation.

Donald Schiesher Lost in Action With Crew of Henry Bacon
In an unforgettable epic of the sea, seven officers and eight men of the American Liberty ship Henry Bacon, boldly met death in an icy Artic gale to save the lives of 19 Norwegian islanders. One of these eight men was Seaman Donald Schiesher, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Schiesher.
The Henry Bacon was starting home in convoy after carrying freight to Russia and carried as passengers the Norwegians who were among several hundred being evacuated to England. She encountered heavy weather, lost touch with the convoy and was singled out by the Germans. An aerial torpedo plunged into the hold and the vessel went down with her guns firing.
Two lifeboats were successfully launched, one with the refugees and a few crewman and the other with 15 crewman and seven gunners. In the bad gale the Henry Bacon had engine trouble but in accordance with a hard and fast rule the convoy continued and it was later that the Bacon was sighted by the enemy. Five German planes were shot down by the ship's ack-ack, but it suffered heavy damage and the life boats, with the exception of two, were ruined.
Knowing that his ship was going to sink, Capt. Alfred Carini, ordered the three men among his passengers to put their women and children in a life boat.
Five officers and 21 ratings of the Henry Bacon's crew survived and are enroute home. Captain Carini went down with his ship.
Two Illinoians were among the heroes who gave their lives. They were Donald of Hampshire, and Edgar B. Snyder, first assistant engineer. Donald entered the Merchant Marine service on Nov. 3, 1942 and received his training at Sheepshead Bay. He was then sent to San Francisco where he was assigned to a ship and sent into the Pacific. He served there 18 months. Last August he enjoyed a furlough at home and was then assigned to service in the Atlantic. His last letter home was from Scotland on December 23.
Donald was 22 years old, was born in Hampshire, and had lived here all his life. He graduated from the local high school with the class of 1940. A brother Robert, is serving with Patton's 3rd. Army in Germany.
Memorial Service April 19
According to present plans the memorial service for Donald will be held at the Hampshire Catholic church on April 19th.
via: A newspaper clipping of the Hampshire Township Historical Society - publisher/date not noted.
Full details, including his father’s narrative which became part of Donald's obituary notice may be found here: In Memory of Donald Peter Schiesher  1921 - 1945.

A hundred yards from a gravel road, near the Finnmark coast in northern Norway is a small memorial to one of Donald's shipmates, a Navy Armed Guard. The front and back faces of the memorial stone read:
Bare 20 år fra USA. Mason Burr
helten på “Henry Bacn” 1945
Dette ernoen av dramaer
m/ evakueringen av Finnmark 1944 
Only twenty years old from the USA.,
Mason Burr, hero of the “Henry Bacn” 1945
These are some of the dramas
of the evacuation of Finnmark 1944 
Burr's death was a selfless one: he remained at his post after all his shipmates and the group of refugees put to lifeboat. He was determined to man a gun to fend off the boat's strafing by the Luftwaffe. After the lifeboat detached from the sinking ship, he was hit by shrapnel and died instantly.  His body was found a year and a half later in October 1949, washed ashore near Klubbukt, Finnmark entombed in ice. The memorial has flowers every year in remembrance of him and the crew of the SS Henry Bacon.