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.

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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

U.S. Navy V-7 program insignia at Columbia and Ft. Schuyler

U.S. Navy V-7 midshipman hat badge.
Single piece construction.
Fouled anchor; gold-filled.
Late Second World War era.

Almost twenty years ago I read Herman Wouk’s 1951 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Caine Mutiny.  Recalling Captain Queeg, ball bearings, and strawberries, I recently decided to re-read the novel.  The work fashions a re-creation of the culture of urgency that both defined and circumscribed midshipman life during Second World War.  It accomplishes this by detailing the career of U.S. Navy midshipman at Columbia University.  Soon after completing this reading, I learned that Wouk not only took part in the V-7 midshipman program but he both attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Columbia University.

Following this lead, I consulted a series of the program’s yearbooks – The Sideboy – and found Wouk in the August 1942 class.  His company barracked at Furnald Hall, as did the protagonist of The Caine Mutiny: Willie Keith.  Wouk’s descriptions of the place and the program match both Columbia and the photos in The Sideboy.  Thus, despite his novel being a work of historical fiction, it offers a rare insight and serves as a good primary source as to the functions of a little-studied midshipman organization.

The V-7 program was one of four Reserve officer-intake programs inaugurated by the U.S. Navy in February 1942 (V-1, V-5, V-7, and V-12). V-7 was one in which recent college graduates  or men about to complete their college training, were accepted by the U.S. Navy as apprentice seamen and sent to one of the seven Reserve Midshipmen’s Schools:  Columbia, Cornell, Naval Academy at Annapolis, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Plattsburg, and Fort Schuyler.  At the program’s outset, candidates served an initial month as seamen followed by four as an appointed midshipmen; by war’s end, this was compressed to three. After this period of intense naval indoctrination, they were granted commissions as ensigns and went directly to the Fleet or to one of the numerous special advanced schools for final training; e.g. Wouk attended one of such at Harvard for Communications.  Of his sojourn at the Midshipmen’s school and time with the Fleet, Wouk admitted that it figured as a major part of his education: “I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans.”

At Columbia University there is a plaque commemorating the Midshipmen’s School, which operated on its campus during the Second World War. It was presented to the University at the cessation of school’s activities.  It may be viewed on the south side of campus at Butler Library and is located on the east balustrade of the short staircase approaching Butler Library, just below waist level.  It reads:

To Columbia University
In appreciation of its generous assistance
and unceasing cooperation in the training
of 23,000 officers who went from the
U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School
New York
to Active Duty in World War II
to defend the principals which this
University has always upheld

Commodore John K. Richards, U.S. Navy
Commanding Officer
April 20, 1942 November 2, 1945

Seal of U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School

The U.S. Navy eventually used twelve Columbia buildings, including Furnald and John Jay Halls, to house the Midshipmen’s school; classes were held on Columbia’s Morningside campus and in a ship docked at Riverside and West 136th Street on the Hudson River.  At one point, Columbia University’s USNR Midshipmen’s School rivaled the United States Naval Academy in size.  In all, it trained more than 20,000 officers; most of whom served in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.

The following narrative of the Columbia USNR Midshipmen’s School is based upon two consecutive classes; the 7th of August 1942 and 8th of October 1942.  Within that 3 month period, vast changes occurred in the fabric of the program.

Program candidates began their initial training at Notre Dame in April 1942. After two weeks of apprenticeship training, they traveled to Columbia for a continuation of their indoctrination.  They were divided into two groups:  Engineering and Deck.  By graduation from the program, only 429 of the 500 of the former remained, and 284 of 350 of the latter. The instructional staff guiding the training of the midshipmen was divided into the following departments:

Construction and Main Engines
Boilers and Auxiliaries
Deck for Engineering
Engineering for Deck
Medical Corps

Some senior officers were regular Navy. However, the majority of the staff were young USNR ensigns assisted by Chief Petty Officers and a few Warrant Officers.

Following the model as set at Annapolis, USNR Midshipmen followed a regimental and battalion structure.  There were two battalions; the 1st at the USS Prairie State (a barracks ship known as “The Ark” or “Black Hole of Calcutta”) and the 2nd at Furnald Hall (the USS Funald, the only ship with 10 decks – the lower deck was on top and vice versa).  Each Battalion was comprised of four and three companies, respectively.  Midshipmen stood watch, served in “black gangs,” drilled, and attended class from morning until night for each day of the week – unless granted weekend liberty or attending divine worship services.

The Regimental staff was comprised of a Staff and Color Guard component. The noted stripe count represents the number of stripes on the midshipman's sleeve*:

Regimental Staff
– 4 stripes
Adjutant – 3 stripes
Signalman – 2 stripes
Regimental Chief Petty Officer 
– 1 stripe
Bugler – 1 stripe

Regimental Color Guard**
National Colors
Regimental Colors
Color Guard (2 midshipmen)

Battalions and Companies and had their own respective staffs that reported up the chain of command:

Battalion Staff
– 4 stripes
Adjutant – 3 stripes
Signalman – 2 stripes
Battalion Chief Petty Officer – 1 stripe

Company Staff
Commander – 3 stripes
Sub-Commander – 2 stripes
1st Platoon Commander – 1 stripe
2nd Platoon Commander – 1 stripe
Battalion Chief Petty Officer – no stripes

* relative rank vis Annapolis as noted by stripe count:

4 stripes – Midshipman Lt. Commander
3 stripes – Midshipman Lieutenant
2 stripes – Midshipman Lieutenant Junior Grade
1 stripe 
– Midshipman Ensign

** no stripes
Company strengths by August 1945, were as follows:

1 – 109
2 – 107
3 – 108
4 – 105
5 – 97
6 – 93
7 – 94

In August 1942, V-7 midshipmen at Columbia wore uniforms almost exactly like those of their counterparts at Annapolis, with some distinct changes. Since theirs was a four-month program with the classes compressed and joining year-round, their “plebe” period saw midshipmen wearing the appropriate uniform for the season. For instance, the October 1942 class started out wearing US Navy enlisted undress blues for their initial period at Notre Dame, then switched to the familiar usual plebe whites. These were USN enlisted undress white jumpers with stenciled U.S.N.R. at mid-chest on the blouse; the midshipmen-to-be were not issued black silk scarfs. Both uniforms shared the blue-rimmed white hat – at the time called a Bob Evans hat, and now colloquially called a Dixie-cup hat. Those apprentices holding a Company and above leadership, position wore a white covered combination hat, and not the white hat with their undress whites or blues.

Those passing basic indoctrination period – not being “bilged” – rated full USNR Midshipman status.  They, in turn, gained the privilege of donning the six-button midshipman reefer, with the classic midshipman gold anchors on the upper coat collars. On the right cuff, they wore a three-prop propeller for Engineering or clean-sleeve for Deck as program marker. There were no “class” indicators of the vertical gold stripes on the coat sleeve like those at Annapolis; however, regimental officers wore horizontal rank stripes on both sleeves (with program indicator above, no stars). There were four, three, two, and one stripers as indicated above. Midshipmen petty officers and buglers, during this period, did not have crows and chevron, nor bugle patches.

Depending upon the program, midshipmen wore dungarees, undress whites and blues (crackerjacks without tape or silk ties), khakis, and dress blues. Both programs wore dungarees were worn in machine spaces; Engineering midshipmen wore undress blues or whites depending on season in classrooms; and Deck midshipman wore undress khakis (without jackets) in classrooms.  For Friday drill and inspection, all midshipmen wore service dress blues and combination hats with white covers. Regarding the khaki uniforms, midshipmen wore combination hats with khaki covers with a 1/8in-width gold chinstrap and on both collars, wore anchor devices on both collars. The anchor shank was horizontal in relation to the top of the wearer’s collar, with flukes inboard toward the neck, and stock outboard.

Fort Schuyler, the present site of the State University of New York Maritime School and once the New York Nautical School, has no plaques or commemorative markers of the shared grounds of the V-7 school nor of the brief sojourn of the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps in its midst.  The Midshipmen’s School was wedged between the Fort and the present gatehouse.  It shared wooden frame barracks and facilities with a Navy advanced school.
By comparison, at war’s end, Fort Schuyler's V-7 program yearbook
Gangway (published in October 1945) shows an altogether different organization of USNR Midshipmen.  Their program was also for a period of four months.  Images and texts suggest a need for expediency.  Teaching methods and means of turning out newly minted Naval Officers was honed to a science; anything not tantamount to the ultimate purpose of producing officers was cut. 

In uniform matters, from the laconic description of the program and presentation of collective memories, there is no indication of a plebe period where program inductees wore jumpers and Dixie-cup hats. These Atlantic Coast midshipmen wore working grays and were provided with service dress blues. They were not issued khaki uniforms. On their garrison hats was the midshipman anchor. They wore sets of horizontal midshipmen class anchors on their shirt collars. The service dress blues was the classic six-button USN officer uniform – except the coat collar had the midshipman anchor like those found on period Annapolis midshipman hats. These anchors were mirror images of each other, and are pin-back, and not with cap-screws (tabs). I see no indication of midshipman leadership positions; this program appears to be more of a boot-camp style organization. Midshipmen lacked chevrons, hashes, and shoulder boards on all uniforms – including the grays.

Herman Wouk. The Caine Mutiny. New York, Back Bay Books, 1992.

Leon Rogow (foreword). The Sideboy August 1942. New York, NY U.S. Naval Reserve, 1942.

Late war V-7 hat badge. 10K G.F. (Gold-Filled). Note: It is of the same design and size as the coat collar anchors.

Early V-7 coat anchor, 10K G.F. (Gold-Filled), H-H.

Late war V-7 coat anchor pair, 10K G.F. (Gold-Filled).

Late War V-7 collar anchor pair, 10K. It looks like they've been polished down to brass, as they've not the luster of the other insignia.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

U.S. Naval Reserve Insignia

usnr insignia U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve insignia.
Single construction.
Eagle stamped brass with gold-plate.
badge: 2-3/4in from tip to tip of wings.

In October 1942, a curious chain of memoranda was passed between the New York State Maritime Academy Superintendent and various U.S. Navy officials. Prompted by Kings Point cadet uniforms having sewn on them a previously professional only device in preparation for a parade on the 24th of the month, the NYSMA Superintendent had a valid question, and perhaps potentially a little egg-on-face for his counterpart across Long Island Sound. The notes touched on the eligibility of cadets at the aforementioned academy to wear a relatively recent badge: the U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia. This insignia came to be called the U.S. Naval Reserve Insignia, or simply the Sea Chicken.

(580) Dy

October 14, 1942

From:    The Superintendent, New York State Maritime 
To:      The Chief of Naval Personnel.
Via:     The Commandant, Third Naval District.
Subject: Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia.
         Wear On Academy Uniform.
Reference: (a) Art. 16-9 of Chapter XVI of U.S. Navy 
            Uniform Regulations, 1941.

1. Information is requested whether the insignia 
described in reference (a) is authorized to be worn on 
the dress uniform of cadets enrolled in this academy who
hold appointments as Midshipmen in the Merchant Marine 
Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve, and who do not hold licenses
issued by Marine Inspection Service.

/s/ Thos. T. Craven.
[Vice Admiral T. T. Craven, U.S.N.]

1st endorsemnet


19 October 1942.

From:  The Commandant, Third Naval District.
To:    The Chief of Naval Personnel.

1. Forwarded.
2. The Commandant considers that the Merchant Marine 
Reserve insignia is intended to give recognition to 
merchant marine officers employed by private companies 
who are members of the Naval Reserve, and, therefore, 
does not recommend that cadets enrolled in the New 
York State Maritime Academy be authorized to wear this 

/s/ Paul P. Blackburn,
By direction.

26 October 1942


From:  The Chief of Naval Personnel.
To:    The Superintendent,
       New York State Maritime Academy,
       Fort Schuyler, The Bronx, N.Y.
Via:   The Commandant Third Naval District.
Subject: Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia - to be 
         worn by midshipmen, Merchant Marine 
References: (a) Supt. N.Y.St.Mar.Acs.ltr (580)Dy 
            of Oct. 14, 1942.
            (b) Art. 16-9, Uniform Regulations, 
            U.S. Navy.
Enclosure:  (A) Copy of BuNav ltr. Nav-1644-XKS 
            (QR2(C)(66) of Oct. 4, 1941.

1. As midshipmen, Merchant Marine Reserve, at the State 
Maritime Academies are required to wear a uniform 
appropriate to an officer, and as these Academies are 
under the supervision of the War Shipping Administration, 
which succeeded to the training functions formerly 
performed by the U.S. Maritime Commission, midshipmen, 
Merchant Marine Reserve, under instruction at these 
Academies, are authorized to wear the Merchant Marine 
Reserve insignia on their Academy uniforms.

/s/ L. E. Denfield,
The Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel.

Apparently, the Maritime Academies had a friend in the Chief of Naval Personnel, as in 1942 the matter was settled in that all cadets may indeed wear the insignia. All of this begs the question: what was this insignia, that caused such a stir of interest among Naval and Maritime Academy officials?

The Merchant Marine Reserve had its beginnings in 1913 when US Congress wrote into law a reformulated the Naval Reserve Force. At the time, the Reserve was separated into five classes, and soon became six:
Class I: The Fleet Naval Reserve:  Consisting of personnel having former active Naval Service.

Class II: The Naval Reserve:  Consisting of persons of the seagoing profession who had served at least two years aboard a vessel on the high seas or larger lakes.

Class III: Naval Auxiliary Reserve: Consisting of persons who had served or were serving in the Merchant Marine of the United States.

Class IV:  Naval Coast Defense Reserve:  Consisting of personnel capable of performing special and useful service in the time of war.

Class V:  Volunteer Naval Reserve:  Consisting of personnel qualifying for the other classes of the Reserve, who were willing to serve without pay in the time of peace.

Class VI:  Naval Reserve Flying Corps:  Consisting of personnel who were from the Naval Flying Corps.
Class III, Naval Auxiliary Reserve, comprised of officers and unlicensed seamen, was the precursor of the Merchant Marine Reserve program, and the one for which the U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia would ultimately be destined.

Insignia for the Reserve was first prescribed in “Changes in Uniform Regulations United State Navy, 1913 No. 10” in 1915. This was the first official publication of distinctive uniform elements for the entire Naval Reserve. At the time, those Merchant Marine Officers in Class III wore their steamship line or company uniform with the Naval Reserve Force device on the collar of the “military coat,” or on the lapels of the “box coat.”  This device was a miniature of the commissioned officers cap device. There were also special buttons worn on Merchant Marine uniforms. The button field was plain, with an anchor and the letters “U.S.” on either side of the shackle above the stock, and with the letters “N.R.” on either side of the shank between the stock and the flukes.

On June 25, 1938, the Naval Reserve Force underwent a name change to become simply the Naval Reserve. The classes were reduced to three with the original Naval Auxiliary Reserve renamed the U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve, and still remaining the class III program. The “Naval Reserve (Merchant Marine) Insignia, Special Distinguishing Insignia for certain licensed officers” as it was first known and later called the “breast insignia of the Merchant Marine Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve (Eagle and Scroll badge)”, was approved for wear on Merchant Marine uniforms on April 7, 1938, by then Secretary of the Navy, Claude A. Swanson. This insignia replaced the miniature cap device and buttons originally approved for the Naval Auxiliary Reserve. The authorization for the aforementioned insignia was the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, in which it was stated: “Licensed Officers who are members of the United States Naval Reserve shall wear on their uniforms such special distinguishing insignia as may be approved by the Secretary of the Navy.”  The 1936 Act was based on the earlier Shipping Act of 1916 that required officers serving on vessels receiving a Federal government operating subsidy to be, if eligible, members of the United States Naval Reserve. Other Naval Reserve officers serving in merchant ships in positions that required them to wear “a uniform appropriate to an officer,” were authorized to wear the insignia. The insignia was emphatically not authorized to be worn with the naval uniform. Moreover, enlisted men of the Naval Reserve were not permitted to wear the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia.

As authorized in 1938, the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia was composed of a gold embroidered bronze or gold plated metal pin consisting of a spread eagle surcharged with crossed anchors and shield 5/8in in height, 2-3/4in from tip to tip of wings; length of anchors 7/8in; and underset with 3/16 scroll bearing the letters “US” on one side of the shield and “NR” on the opposite side. Wearers were required to wear the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia on the left breast of their Merchant Marine uniform and nowhere else.

The eagle design is based on the original eagle carved into the stern of the USS Constitution. The scroll pattern was often found on the stern of ships and contained the ships’ names. The shield has 13 stars and stripes with crossed anchors taken from the then current US Navy officer’s cap device and recalling the original Naval Auxiliary Reserve insignia. Following the design of the cap device, the original insignia design had the eagle looking to its own left. In 1941, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox prescribed a change wherein all Navy insignia bearing eagles were henceforth to have the heads facing their own right. According to heraldic law, the right side (dexter) of the shield is the honor side, and the left side (sinister) indicated dishonor or illegitimacy. The suggestion also has been made that the change was to have the eagle look toward the olive branches on the left side and peace as appears on the Great Seal of the United States, rather than the warlike arrows to the right. More information may be found here.

The 1930s was a turbulent time. The U.S. shipping industry was in free fall due to the Great Depression, with foreign firms having taken over most overseas and making strident end-runs in domestic shipping. As war erupted across Europe and Asia, the belligerent nations, which once carried the majority of U.S. trade, swept their ships into national service, leaving the U.S. both lacking in both ships and men. The Federal government stepped into the fray by subsidizing ship construction and encouraging the training of young men to enter the trade, and the U.S. Navy found itself looking for warm bodies to man its ships in the eventuality of war in Europe and in the Pacific. Naturally, the U.S. Navy looked to Nautical Schools and Merchant Marine Academies for potential manpower. Nevertheless, manpower could only be had with concessions from both sides: military and civilian.

At the invitation of the Navy Department, an informal conference of the governing bodies and Superintendents of the State nautical schools was held in Washington from April 12-14, 1938. The conference was attended by representatives from the then four State schools: New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and California. The object of the conference was to bring about a closer cooperation between the Navy Department and the State nautical schools; also to coordinate the work of the four schoolships. The end goal was to create a professional class of ship officers both adequately trained for the rapidly modernizing maritime industry and serve as potential U.S. Navy officers. Never before had a closer relationship between the two been groups been attempted.

Captain Felix X. Gygax, U.S.N., Director of the Naval Reserve, in the Bureau of Navigation, presided over the conference. The opening addresses at the conference were made by Captain Chester W. Nimitz, U.S.N., Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, and Captain Gygax. In referring to the State nautical schools, Captain Gygax said:
The Navy Department acknowledges and commends the splendid results that have been achieved, as attested by the fine record of the graduates of these nautical schools at sea, and the success of many more in positions of high trust and responsibility in connection with the administration and operation of the maritime industry ashore.
The conference resulted in the following: First, the curricula of the State nautical schools were extended with schools preparing young men not only for service in the American Merchant Marine but also in the United States Naval Reserve. The following nine naval subjects were added to the course of study: Navy Regulations, Naval Law, International Law, Types and Characteristics of Naval ships and aircraft, Tactics and Manoeuvering, Ship Drills, Gunnery, Communications and Damage Control. The instruction in these subjects was to be given the form of lectures by commissioned and active duty Naval officers. Second, the Bureau of Navigation, under the authority of the Secretary of the Navy, issued instructions to local Naval District Commandants providing for the admission of nautical school students in the Naval Reserve as Merchant Marine Cadets, in accordance with the Naval Reserve Act, approved June 25, 1938. Third, the Chief of Bureau of Navigation and the Chief of Naval Operations recommended to the Secretary of the Navy that appropriate steps be taken to secure from the Maritime Commission the allocation of funds for the construction of suitable vessels as replacements for the then present State schoolships, as necessary; these ships were to be of such a character as to be readily usable as naval auxiliaries in an emergency. The recommendation was immediately approved by the Secretary of the Navy. Thus was the inception of the Merchant Marine Midshipman Reserve program which provided the beginnings of Naval Science Program at the Maritime Academies. The New York State Maritime Academy was the first of the schools to open its doors to Naval instructors in 1939; by the end of the year, a big gun found its way to Fort Schuyler.

NYSMA cadets marching at World's Fair 1939.
Soon thereafter, with the storm clouds of war looming over the Atlantic, civilian instructors the Nautical Schools joined the Merchant Marine Reserve and sewed the new insignia on their reefer jackets. By 1940 the criteria for valid wearers of the insignia was broadened to include staff officers licensed under the Bureau of Marine Inspection and serving on ships with certificated of registry issued by the Secretary of Commerce under contract with the Maritime Commission. That same year, Merchant Marine officers employed by or under the supervision of the U.S. Maritime Commission and enlisted members of the Naval Reserve who were actually licensed and serving as licensed officers were authorized to wear the insignia. And other Naval Reserve Officers serving on merchant ships or under the supervision of the United States Maritime Commission were authorized to wear it; with the same stipulation that it not be worn on the Navy uniform.

On the coattails of the limited National Emergency of September 8, 1939, Roosevelt declared a National Emergency on June 27, 1940; and finally an Unlimited National Emergency on May 27, 1941. The first declaration brought with it the activation of the Naval Fleet Reserve; the last, all members of the Naval Reserve not in deferred status were called to active duty. Members of the Merchant Marine Reserve immediately found themselves in reserve officer status if on requisitioned ships between the former and later declarations as per the Merchant Marine Act, 1936 Title III Section 302(g). Along with them, on October 5, 1940, cadets of the Maritime Commission aboard these ships were placed on active duty as Midshipmen, Merchant Marine Reserve due to previous Maritime Commission and Navy interagency agreements. By early 1942:
[...]There were 60 cadets serving as Midshipman, Merchant Marine Reserve, on active duty on Merchant Marine vessels taken over by the Navy.
The school ships of the state maritime academies were not taken out of auxiliary status and activated; thus, students and non-Naval Reserve instructors remained unaffected. At the same time, with the allocation of government funds and provision of schoolships, schools (now academies) had their training programs vetted by the Maritime Commission. However, these same instructors became inducted into the Maritime Commission’s uniformed training organization – the Maritime Service. With the final action, came membership in the Merchant Marine Reserve. After the formal declaration of war on December 8, 1941:
The Supervisor,  three Assistant Supervisors, the three District Cadet Training Instructors, the three Commanding Officers of Cadet Schools, and almost all Cadet Training Instructors in districts and at Cadet Schools hold licenses as officers of the Merchant Marine, and commissions in the United States Naval Reserve.  On January 6, 1942, the Navy ordered these Naval Reserve officer instructors to active duty status.
It may be due to creative thinking by a Navy supply officer, a Maritime Commission purser or New York uniform supply house salesman, but Corps of Cadets members began to sporadically wear the insignia in 1940.  This would be due to a perceived de facto, and not codified de jure reserve status of the cadets and cadets holding a nominal officer status.  Ship officers, as defined by U.S. law, are those sailing under or holding a license as issued by the US Bureau of Marine Inspection.  Nautical tradition held that cadets were officers-in-training with rank below the lowest officer grade but rating privileges held by a mid-level unlicensed mariner.  Some shipboard cadets, known as "cadet officers", previously held licenses but did not sail under them, and could conceivably claim  Merchant Marine Reserve status.  Others cadets perhaps (and did) don the insignia while on ships activated during the first emergency periods.  Either way, on paper this insignia was only valid while in active employ aboard merchant vessels.  If a ship were seized directly by the Navy, cadets became midshipmen - as happened to some merchantmen namely oilers and Maritime Commission designed freighters - and were officially barred from wearing the insignia on their uniforms aboard ship.  Moreover, the regulations did not state that the insignia was not for midshipmen, rather licensed officers.

It is worth mentioning that the personnel of the Merchant Marine, Government Marine (e.g. Army Transport Service and Coast and Geodetic Survey) and Armed Marine (US Navy and Coast Guard) shared similar trades, but diverged in organizational culture. The Merchant Marine sailor of the late 1930s suffered through the deprivations of the Great Depression and union struggles against shipowners. Except for ship officers, many held no particular allegiance to ship or employer. With the Jones Act, foreign colleagues were ejected from vessels, thereby removing skilled labor, and introducing gaps in overall ship manning. Depending on the union, mariners could be militantly left-leaning or thoroughly apathetic in their daily struggle to make a living. The Navy rank and file also came from the same lower-middle-class background as the merchant sailors – although tempered by grueling training and autocratic hierarchy. Men in the Regular Navy took a dim view of civilians and reservists on shore and in their midst. Many officers of the former worked their way from the deck to the pilothouse; a small number came from the nautical schools and academies. Most active Navy officers came from the Naval Academy where they were molded and inducted into an efficient warrior class. It is at this intersection where academy graduates and the service found themselves: outsiders making an entrance into an unforgiving hierarchy bound by custom and regulation. It is no surprise that despite coexisting on the same waterfronts, the two groups held each other at arm’s length.

Nevertheless, only after the formal granting of Midshipman, Merchant Marine Reserve status to all cadets in state and federal maritime academies in August 1942 – some months after the move of the East Coast Corps of Cadets from Fort Schuyler to their permanent home at Kings Point – did the mass distribution of the insignia to all Corps of Cadets members occur. This was done by the administrators of the Merchant Marine Academies, not the Navy. Absent is period documentation indicating Navy complicity. However, the insignia was only granted after a cadet completed preliminary training in basic Navy Science and swearing an oath. This oath was not compulsory but was done by all cadets. In fact, the Maritime Commission distributed a pamphlet depicting the insignia as an award granted cadets: “U.S. Naval Reserve Insignia Worn by Cadets of U. S. Maritime Commission and Officers of Merchant Marine Enrolled in Naval Reserve.”  Interestingly, at the time of press in early 1942, cadets were not yet called cadet-midshipmen.

State maritime academy cadets did not wear the insignia at any point up to October 1942; graduating class photos attest to this fact. The lack of insignia would not be due to the absence of a Naval Science curriculum; a course of study created by a gentlemen’s agreement in 1938, and put into practice in 1939 – which coincidentally was the same year that the Corps of Cadets was invited to the NYSMA grounds by then Superintendent Tomb. Nor did not having Midshipmen, Reserve status; which state cadets were afforded in August 1942. Nor even lack of connection to the Maritime Commission; with accepting federal monies and federal ships with which came Federal curricula and staff. It would be due to a creative reading of provisions of wear of the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia did the Corps of Cadets come to wear the insignia; and a rather conservative reading that state cadets did not. It is notable in that the wide-spread distribution of the insignia to cadets only came with Tomb coming to Kings Point a month after its inception as the first superintendent in April 1942.

Kings Point, from its outset, was linked strongly to NYSMA, although both diverged in raison d’être. The NYSMA was created to educate young men from New York for the maritime industry operating out of the Port of New York. The Maritime Commission Corps of Cadets, to bring young men from around the country without access to state schools, the opportunity to become licensed officers of the subsidized blue-water U.S. Merchant Marine. Thus, having looked at the successful model of staffing, cadet structure and uniforming, the early Merchant Marine Academy had similar components as the NYSMA. There was a strong cross-pollination of Kings Point and NYSMA instructors and potential students, Kings Point copying NYSMA regimental and honor system and using practically the same uniforms. At the permanent establishment of the NYSMA at Fort Schuyler, Tomb hailed the facility as being the future Annapolis of the U.S. Merchant Marine; after his transfer to Kings Point, he hailed the Merchant Marine Academy as the same. As such, there existed a friendly rivalry between the two. The mass distribution of the badge, and with it, a perceived honor status, can be viewed as a slight affront to – perhaps even antagonizing – the older school. NYSMA was hampered by New York bureaucracy and its expansion plans stymied by Federal land use provisos and local political posturing.  In this light, the Superintendent’s letter makes sense; as does that of the Commandant, Third Naval District. In essence, if the upstart institution may have the insignia, then so should NYSMA – or vice-versa. Whatever the case may be, all maritime academies, having their cadets subject to Midshipmen, Reserve status and the blessing of the Chief of Naval Personnel secured the insignia on October 26, 1942 – but not in time for the big New York Navy Day parade just two days prior. Thus, as an administrative matter in 1942, the Chief of Naval Personnel authorized Merchant Marine Midshipmen, USNR, under instruction at the state maritime academies, to wear the Merchant Marine Insignia on their academy uniforms, since these academies were under the supervision of the War Shipping Administration.

Post-war saw a change in the military establishment’s view of the role of the Merchant Marine as an auxiliary and the desirability of Merchant Mariners in its reserves. In 1951, the Navy regulations were revised, and only cadets who were Midshipmen, USNR, at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy were allowed to wear the insignia on their academy uniforms – not on their uniforms if shipping out or serving on commissioned Naval vessels. With the 1952 abolition of the Merchant Marine Reserve under Public Law 467 by the 82nd Congress, came the resultant removing Midshipman, USNR status from Merchant Marine Academy cadets and therefore the eligibility of wearing the Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia. Despite being granted Federal status, having a military character and Naval Science courses, Merchant Marine Academy cadets became simply “officer candidates.”   This touched off a controversy in that one of the selling points in a Merchant Marine Academy (state or Federal) education were draft-deferment or exemption and the possibility to be granted a commission in the U.S. Navy upon graduation. Gone was the pin, escape clause, and privileges. However, due to an administrative oversight, cadets continued wearing the badge until mid-1954 with its overall disappearance on cadet uniforms in 1956. Apparently, the California Maritime Academy administration must not have gotten the memo, as in 1958, 18 of 50 graduates were sporting the insignia; in 1959, however, the insignia was absent. 1964 saw with the re-institution of the merchant marine naval reserve status at Kings Point; only to have it abolished in 1965 and superseded by a Naval Reserve commission for the class of 1968 with accompanying badge reappearance.

The state academies had to wait until 1977 when their cadets became Midshipmen, USNR, of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) to pin the insignia back on their uniforms. Beginning in 1980, those cadets who signed a Training and Service Agreement and became Midshipmen, USNR, were also authorized to wear the Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia. Up until recently, all Midshipmen USNR enrolled in maritime training programs leading to a merchant marine license, were eligible to wear the insignia.

With the start of the Merchant Marine Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve (MMR, USNR) program in 1977, the insignia was authorized for the first time for wear on the Navy uniform of officers by this officer community. The requirement for wear was published in the 1978 Navy Uniform Regulations:
To be eligible to wear this insignia, Naval Reservists must meet one of the following requirements:

a.  Be licensed merchant marine officers who sail on their license at least four months every two years and are members of the MMR , USNR program.
b.  Be officers in the Maritime Service holding merchant marine licenses and who are instructors at Federal, State and Regional Academies, and at industry, or union maritime schools who are members of the MMR, USNR, program.
c.  Be merchant marine officers holding licenses as Chief Mate/First Assistant Engineer/Radio Officer or higher, with eight years of licensed sailing experience and currently employed in a maritime related position ashore, and who are members of the MMR, USNR program.

On June 10, 2012, a change in the Merchant Marine, U.S. Naval Reserve program resulted in it being called the Strategic Sealift Officer program, and along with it a replacement of insignia. The new device, Strategic Sealift Officer Warfare Insignia, will be available in May 2013. Despite patterns yet to be struck:
The SSOWI is approved for wear by officers who have successfully completed the qualification requirements outlined in OPNAVINST 1534.1D. The insignia is gold in color and is two and three-quarter inches by seven eighths of an inch in dimension, reflecting the background of an eagle from the USS Constitution's stern, crossed naval officer swords and a U.S. shield with fouled anchor from the U.S. Merchant Marine flag. The SSOWI will be available in two sizes (normal and miniature). The normal size SSOWI shall be worn on all uniforms, less dinner dress. The miniature SSOWI shall be worn with miniature medals on dinner dress uniforms.
Good to know, I guess.  To the way of the shadow box and collector the illustrious "Sea Chicken" - once symbol of the larger debate of how Merchant Mariners figure in U.S. National Defense - shall go.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Education.  Public Document 42:  III Annual Report of the Commissioners of the Massachusetts Nautical School for the Year Ending November 30, 1938.  Boston:  Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1938.

U.S. Congress.  Naval auxiliaries for use in the Merchant marine. Hearings before a special subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs, House of Representatives, Sixty-third Congress, second session, on S. 5259, a bill to establish one or more United States Navy mail lines between the United States, South America, and Europe; and H.R. 5980, a bill to authorize the President of the United States to build or acquire steamships for use as naval auxiliaries and transports, and to arrange for the use of these ships when not needed for such service, and to make an appropriation therefor.  Washington D.C.: GPO, August 1914.

Original design of insignia as found in Uniform Board notes 1938.
usnr badge design

Dating the Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia is not very tricky. There are two main variations in design and two types: stamped metal and embroidered. The former continued to be worn until 2012 with planned phase-out in 2013. The embroidered device fell out of use in the mid-1950s along with all embroidered badges on US Navy officer uniforms. It has the interesting quality of being one of the longest-lived badges in the Navy and least awarded.

usnr insignia

The first pattern, as noted in the text is the own left-facing eagle.  It was issued until mid-1941.

This specific item is part of a Panama Railroad Steamship Company pursur grouping.  It is displayed along with a Merchant Marine Defense Ribbon; meaning it was worn at least until mid-Second World War.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

This is a gold-plated pin from the pre-war period.  It was issued prior to mid-1941.  The insignia lacks a hallmark; as is the case with many pre-war items.

This item is of particular interest as it comes from a U.S. Maritime Commission Corps of Cadets cadet grouping dating to the regiment's sojourn at Fort Schuyler.  Of interest is the fact that the original owner was relatively old at the time of enrollment, being 22; meaning he was probably a "cadet officer" and sailed under his license until Navy enlistment in 1943.  At the time college students were less apt to drop their course of study to join the Corps of Cadets, with hawsepipers making up a handful of cadets during this period.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

This is a Vanguard insignia that comes from a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduate that ended up being a junior radio officer; or a radio officer attached to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Further research is required on my part.

usnr insignia


The above is from March 1943 granted after the Acceptance of Appointment as Midshipman, Merchant Marine in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

Embroidery of the insignia was still of a high standard in 1944. Notice the overall difference with...

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

The following two insignias are from 1946.  Do note the difference in embroidery.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

The first is on a black wool backing for wear with the USMMA dress jacket as well as on the Service Dress Blue coat.

The second is on a khaki twill backing; it was sewn on the khaki working coat.  This is an unusual example, as previously, cadet-midshipmen were directed to wear the pin device on khaki - khaki was commonly steamed, as opposed to dry-cleaned like the worsted wool.  When the pin was reinstated, this failed experiment was not repeated, as khaki working coats were no longer in a cadets-midshipman's sea bag.

usnr insignia

The third device, with a Coro hallmark, also dates from the same period and was worn on dress whites of the period.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

The last item is a Vanguard insignia from 2010.  It was manufactured by International Insignia in Providence, Rhode Island.  Many Vanguard insignia items are actually jobbed out to International Insignia as Vanguard in recent years has apparently found contracting low volume orders more cost effective than striking them inhouse.  Notable would be the occasional IOH I-21 as opposed to V-21-N hallmark.

usnr insignia