Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hugh Siegel's WWII Sub Vets Patches

Well, it has been a tough year for all the Siegel gang.  Hugh's wife Jan (my grandma) passed away on
April 20 after over 4 months of illness. We first found out she was very sick on Christmas Eve 2011, and she held on with us for almost 120 days after that.  She lived in the house they built together and kept the place open for 17 years after our brave sailor departed in 1995, giving myself and the rest of the kids a place to grow up and celebrate holidays with our family.  Seventeen years is a long time to live alone, especially after being married for 48 years.  My grandma was the strongest woman I knew, and a fitting companion for such a great man as my grandpa.  Her kindness and my grandpa's ingenuity will live on in her 4 surviving children, and her many grandkids. May they both rest in peace. 

I was helping my Dad install a closet door today and noticed something hanging at the very end of the clothes rack, out of sight.  When I carefully took it out and realized what it was, I was in awe. It's the actual vest he's wearing in this photo to the right, with all his real Navy patches, insignia and awards on it!   The one I could've sworn I was told he was buried in. Nevertheless, like everything else, Grandma saved this too.  I'm overjoyed I found it, because it has stuff on it that I have never seen.  Even though I don't get to inherit this piece of history, I gave myself the honor of photographing it today.

So what I can do now for my readers is explain what all the colorful patches are, how he earned them or where he got them, and what they commemorate.

Here's the actual vest itself.  It's made of a fine, silky fabric and was probably sewn together for him by my grandma.  It was to be worn over his civilian attire with the wide brimmed "digger hat", which he's wearing in the photo, and identified him as a WWII submarine veteran at conventions, memorials, dinners and reunion get-togethers.


I'll explain the significance of all these patches to the best of my knowledge, and give you a closer look
at each of them in the images below. We'll start with the bottom right breast pocket in the picture below.

Left of photo: Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut.  This is the naval base where all submarines used to be both built and launched.  In fact the earlier photo I posted of the SS-227 DARTER being launched was taken in New Groton.  In the center of this round patch we see a submarine encircled by electron orbits of an atom.  The tall structure behind it is a tower used during Navy training in the use of the Momsen Lung rebreathing device.  It's something like 70 feet tall and full of water, and the sailors have to enter from a hatch at the bottom wearing this emergency oxygen unit and swim or float to the top and surface.  This was a mandatory exercise for all submarine crewmen so they could have the skill (and courage) to exit their sub if it foundered in shallow waters.

Top Right of Photo:  I believe this coat of arms has something to do with Germany, I'll get back to this one.

Bottom Right of Photo: "It All Started Here: US Sub Vets WWII  N.E.R. 1993"  This patch would have been given to Hugh just 2 years before his death, it was probably the last Sub Vets convention he attended.  The phrase "It All Started Here"  refers to the first national convention of WWII Submarine veterans at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 23-25, 1955.  (the organization was chartered that year)  The conventions have since been held all over the US and even in other countries, but in 1993 they reconvened in the same place as the original.  So this would be a big deal for a veteran. Imagine meeting your buddies in the same place and same hotel after forty years!

The upper right breast of his decorated garment is to the left. At the top we see the black diamond-shaped "ruptured duck" patch, the nickname given to the award signifying honorable discharge from the US military. It's the golden eagle in a circle. I heard they called it that because the eagle has its head turned to the side, in the "turn to the side and cough" pose that military physicians use to check for hernias. Next to it is a small crucifix pin, because he was a devout Christian.  The flag below that printed on denim is that of Australia. Sydney, Australia was used as a base of operations for much of the time spent patrolling in the Philippines during the war. He had a lot of good times in Australia on shore leave.  below that is his name tag, with the 3 vessels he sailed aboard.   The small NJ pin to the left of his name tag was from a trip to New Jersey.  This is hard to read, but the small pin with the US flag to the right of it says "500 Years: 1492-1992"  The Quincentennial of the discovery of America.

below that is his "Life Member" patch. Next to it and below it are three pins for other conventions. Massachusetts, Florida and I can't read the small one.  At the bottom of the photo we see his USS DARTER SS-227 embroidered patch based on his design from 1944.

Moving on to the wearer's left side of the vest... Top to bottom: The US flag. Interestingly this is not the 48-star flag he would have worn if he was required to during World War II (the 50-star configuration wasn't made the national flag until 1958) Therefore this may not be part of a uniform, it could just be patriotic.  He was very proud to be an American citizen and serviceman (Living during the best years of the 20th century, I don't blame him).  Next comes his Dolphins insignia from his "dress blues."  This was worn on the sleeve cuff of all US Navy enlisted men on submarines.  below that are his service awards.  The Combat Patrol Insignia (CPI) shows he was involved in 4 war patrols aboard subs and saw action against the enemy.  A copy of this pin is also on his Digger Hat.  The bars arranged below are, from top to bottom and left to right, the Bronze Star ribbon with V device for valor, the Navy Unit Commendation award which should also have a V on it, the Navy Good Conduct ribbon(maroon), the Asiatic-Pacific Theater ribbon, the American Campaign ribbon, WWII Victory ribbon (rainbow and red), and the Philippine Liberation award ribbon with a star on it for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  Finally at bottom, the shoulder chevrons and lightning bolts for Radio Technician.

 Wearer's bottom left of vest:  England shield patch (commemorating visit to England), Convention patch for Little Rock, Arkansas in 1987, miniature replica of U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II official organization patch,  USS Darter Reunion in Hartford, CT 1982.

Now for the back side of the vest....

On the back shoulder area are two large patches:  the logo for the U.S. Submarine Veterans WWII, New York chapter (which grandpa helped organize by the way).  This also appears on a blue jacket or windbreaker he had.  Below that is the name of his famous boat, the USS Darter.

 Above the large yellow emblem Hughie added the "Double D's" patch for the Darter-Dace task force, the sister ships who were involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and at the same time the heroic rescue of the Darter's crew.  he also had a hand in designing this logo for his fellow veterans.

Then finally, there are three patches across the bottom back of the vest.One is the black rectangle-shaped mission insignia for Task Group 'M', of which the Darter and Dace were a part in October 1944.
 The next two are pictured below. Both of these are very cool patches I've never seen.

The left hand one is for the USS PADDLE (SS-263), which is the submarine Hugh served for a short time aboard while earning his Navy qualification, before he was transferred to the newly commissioned SS-227 for deployment in the Philippines.  This comical emblem depicts a cartoonish rendering of a paddle-nosed fish, casually smoking a cigar, leaning on a massive 8-ball which is squashing a little Jap holding a white flag.  I have many reasons to believe Hugh also designed this logo himself but never got it produced, seeing as it's hand drawn in pen and marker on a cut circle of fabric.  This ship wasn't as famous as the DARTER, and I believe its entire crew was transferred to command of the DARTER after it was commissioned.  So this would mean the USS Paddle was his training ship. This is a very unique patch and probably the only one of its kind. 

And then, last but certainly not least, the USS MENHADEN emblem.  This one I believe may have been already in use at the time that boat was in operation and not made later by Hugh, because it's depicted on his Xeroxes of actual dinner menus from celebratory meals aboard the submarine. This one is a multi-color version I haven't seen anywhere else.  Embroidering this patch must have been expensive, judging by the custom shape, the number of colors and high thread count. Whether he actually ordered this patch made for himself and his buddies or if it was purchased from a vendor at one of these conventions remains to be seen.

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