Thursday, February 13, 2014

Like Father Like Son...Great Grandpa's Navy

This is Hugh Siegel's father, Frederick Valentine Siegel. He's my great grandfather. He was also in the Navy, and saw active duty in the Spanish-American War as well as the Boxer Rebellion. I do not know much about him, except that he was a gunner's mate and served on two ships during his naval career, the Indiana and the USS Lancaster.

 This was one of Frederick's ships, the USS Indiana. It was a high-tech steamship for its time in that it had screw propellers instead of a side paddle wheel. And it had the revolutionary new Dahlgren guns on revolving turrets. This is a postcard from 1898/1899.

 The photograph below is of the entire crew of the battleship Indiana. Fred must be somewhere in this picture but we haven't positively identified him yet.

This is the ribbon he would have tied around his hat. It was found among some very old family heirlooms. The thread was once gold and it has the name of the USS Indiana on it. The gold paint has faded and the ribbon has taken on a brown color.

I know almost nothing about the Boxer Rebellion, except that it was fought in China and the soldiers called the Chinese "boxers" because of their hand-to-hand fighting style.  Below is a very poor quality picture that my great grandfather took during his tour of duty in China. I have reason to believe that he acted as a merchant marine, going ashore to fight.  There was a family legend that Fred liked to go off on his own a lot, and when the ship landed on an island in the Pacific or the South China Sea, he'd sneak his way on shore and have a look around. A couple times he got caught and they busted him down a rank each time he was found missing, but he never fell below the rank of ensign so he didn't care.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Boxer Rebellion of 1899 were two of America's "forgotten wars." I think most people don't like to remember these conflicts because America at the time was acting as an imperialist nation, working with their former enemies the British Empire to expand their territory.  At this time we attempted to annex Cuba to our sphere of influence and add it as a state, but they put up a stern resistance that continues to this day.

To be honest, I know next to nothing about these two conflicts other than what I already stated. I know president Theodore Roosevelt played a major part in the land victories and proclaimed himself a hero. And that it was fought mainly over the Brits and India trying to enforce an opium trade, turning the Chinese people into drug addicts as a form of oppression.  This was probably the first truly questionable conflict our country involved itself in, and the veterans of this war received no real honors or attention like the Civil War vets did.

How does all this relate to my grandfather's story?  His father had a love for the sea and sailing, and Hugh looked up to him in much the same way as I looked up to my grandpa.  It seems he also inherited a lot of traits from his father.

Frederick V. Siegel died suddenly. He served as a fireman in his later years, and he supposedly died of a heart attack on his way to a fire in 1942.  Hughie received news of this by telegram when he was in the Navy training academy. Around the same time his mother died unexpectedly, and so Hughie had no parents when he returned from the war. He went to live with his brother George for awhile before he and Jan got married in 1947.

China around the end of the 19th century.
Finally, here is what little info Hugh preserved about one of his ships, the Lancaster. He researched the story of this ship by writing the Navy historical archives.