Monthly Archives: May 2013
People start collecting military patches for a number of reasons. Considering that all branches of the United States armed forces use embroidered emblems for a multitude of purposes ranging from markings of rank and rating to unit and squadron insignia, invariably, there is something worthwhile to catapult even the non-militaria collector into pursuing the colorful cacophony of patch collecting.
My own participation in collecting patches originates with my own service in the navy. What began back in those days as an effort to adorn my utility and leather flight jackets with colorful representations of my ship and significant milestones (such as deployments) morphed into a quest to complete a shadow box that would properly represent my career in the service. Many of the patches I acquired while on active duty never found their way into use and were subsequently stashed away. It was not until I began to piece together items from my career that my patch collecting interest was ignited.
Like many other military patch collectors, I expanded my hunt from a narrow focus to a much more broad approach. As I pursued patches for another shadow box project (for a relative’s service) I started to see “deals” on random insignia that I just couldn’t live without. It wasn’t before long that I had a burgeoning gathering of embroidered goodies from World War II ranging from those from the US Marine Corps, US Army Air Corps/Forces and other ancillary US Army corps, division and regimental unit insignia*. For the sake of preserving what little storage space I had available, I throttled down and began to narrow my approach once again.
In keeping with my interest in naval history in concert with my passion for local history (where I was born and raised), my military patch collecting went in a new direction. In the past several years, I have slowly acquiring items associated with several of the ships with Pacific Northwest connections. Aside from readily available militaria associated with the USS Washington, USS Idaho and USS Oregon (all of which have stellar legacies of service). items from the ships named for the various cities (in those states) pose much more of a challenge to locate. When it comes to collecting patches, that difficulty is exponentially increased.
Of the many ships named for locations or features within Washington State, the four ships named for the City of Tacoma leave very little for a military patch collector to find, considering that only one of the four served in the era when navy ship patches came into use. The USS Tacoma (PG-92), a patrol gunboat of the Asheville class was actually built and commissioned in her namesake city, served for 12 years in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1981. Though her career was relatively brief, she spent her early years operating in the Pacific and in the waters surrounding Vietnam conducting patrol and surveillance operations, earning her two battle stars for her combat service.
While searching for anything related to the USS Tacoma (all ships) last year, a patch from the PG-92 showed up in an online auction that really spoke to me. It was rather expensive and there were many bidders competing for the patch, so I let it go without participating. A few months later, another copy of the patch was listed prompting me to watch for bids. With no bids after a few days, I set my snipe with the understanding that someone is going to exceed my price. One bid came in seconds before the auction closed but my snipe hit at the very last second which resulted in successful outcome for me (winning the auction). It wasn’t until it arrived that I saw the ink-stamp mark on the back. It might be a bit of a detractor, but it certainly isn’t a deal breaker for this vintage 1970s-era patch. However, the patch I received most recently gives me pause.
The second USS Tacoma patch looked fantastic when viewed online even with the staining. The flag-theme evokes memories of 1975-76 and the celebration of the bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On the blue canton, the “PG” encircled by the stars (there are only 10 rather than 13) refers to the hull classification of the ship. Besides the incorrect count of stars, the backing material and the construction of the embroidered edge lead me to believe that this patch was made in Asia. The staining seems as though it was added to the patch to give it some aging.
Another indication of (what I believe to be) the Spirit of 92 patch’s recent manufacture is that it smelled new. I opened the mailing pouch and the scent of new fabric (rather than a musty odor) wafted out which seems quite strange for an old patch.
Regardless of the veracity of the age, both patches are excellent additions to my meager collection.
*Related patch-collecting articles by this author:
- Collecting U.S. Navy Uniform Ship Identifiers
- Collecting Olympics, Militaria-Style!
- Forecasting Patchy Skies: Sew-on Naval Aviation Heraldry
- US Marine Corps Uniform: Shoulder Sleeve Insignia Introduction
- USMC Patch Rarities and Scarcities – What to Look For
- Theater-Made Militaria
Over the past few weeks, I have taken a little time to focus on other priorities such as my primary job (I don’t write on a full-time basis), my family and my fitness (not necessarily in that order). In response to that focus, my attention had shifted away from militaria and the various aspects of collecting during that period of time. Now that we are in the latter half of May, I need to bring my thoughts back to my passion for military history as one of the most important holidays (in my opinion) draws near.
Turning on the news this morning, my interest in the weekend forecast is piqued as the meteorologist begins to discuss the cooler than normal temperatures, the risk of rainfall and how these conditions will impact camping, boating and backyard barbecue plans. The statement really struck me as my only considerations for this weekend surrounded spending time at the various cemeteries and placing flags on fallen veterans’ graves and those of my veteran ancestors and relatives. This activity is something my wife and I have been doing dating back to my time in uniform. Making alternative plans is never a consideration and now my children are so accustomed to this practice, they look forward to Memorial Day.
As our culture continues to morph and shift with each passing year, the gap of time expands and the meaning and origins of Memorial Day fade from the American population’s conscience. In a time where less than half of one percent of Americans are serving in uniform, there is virtually no understanding of the personal sacrifices (that are routinely paid by those on active duty). When someone falls on the battlefield, that societal understanding of the price paid just isn’t there. I increasingly wonder how it is that we arrived at this point.
Americans’ Participation in War
- 1860 US Population (North + South): 29 million | 3.2 million served (10.35% of population)
WWII era (avg. 1941-45): 136.7 million | 16.1 million served (11.8 %)
- Vietnam era (avg. 1964-74) 203 million | 9 million served (4.5%)
Current population: 314 million | 1.4 million serving (0.46%)
With fewer Americans serving in uniform, particularly during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, general population is disconnected from the costly nature of service. It is no wonder that our culture tends to be more self-focused as they spend Memorial Day without considering the sacrifices that afforded them the freedom to enjoy a three-day weekend.
Through my quest to understand the origins of this particular holiday, I have been led to be more forgiving of people who choose outdoor activities over trips to cemeteries. Considering that the present-day Memorial Day federal recognition was born from Decoration Day – a tradition started following the end of the American Civil War as surviving veterans began to deal with the battlefield losses of their comrades. Over the passing years, these veterans formed various veterans organizations (ranging from unit-specific to the enormous such as the GAR and UCV) and took the lead on preserving the legacy of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Because of the efforts of these groups, battlefield and cemetery preservation and monument construction efforts were undertaken along with ceremonial gatherings for commemorative dedications.
Throughout our nation’s history, it has been the veterans who have taken the lead on honoring the war dead. Mourning the loss of a brother (or sister) who fell on the field of battle is something a surviving veteran never forgets. That moment isn’t simply a memory etched into their minds but rather akin to a remaining scar in place of a missing limb. It cannot be forgotten or, as some civilians would suggest, something to “get over.”
A few years ago, I started taking notice of various references to Decoration Day and antique items that make mention of it. One of those items that caught my attention was a postcard (from the early 20th Century) depicting an elderly Civil War veteran placing a wreath of flowers at a grave. The image, an illustration, was so moving that I was overwhelmed with emotions. The postcard evoked more recent memories of World War II veterans (at D-Day celebrations) paying respects to their fallen comrades some 70 years hence and the fresh, vivid memories painted across their faces.
Over the course of the past century, it seems that nothing has changed. Veterans still ache for their lost buddies and they are compelled to continue to honor them as long as they are physically able to do so. As a veteran, I am committed to continuing the tradition of honoring and remembering those who gave their last full measure protecting and ensuring freedom for future generations.
There are times when I find myself with so many topics to write about that my mind wanders so rampantly that I am left with seemingly nothing to cover. It is akin to my wife walking into our closet (that is filled with clothes) and finding nothing to wear.
I look back on all that I have covered during the past 15 months (including my year of writing for CollectorsQuest) in an attempt to avoid repeating myself. I check my collection for items that I haven’t covered yet (there is an abundance at the moment) while looking ahead at some event/calendar-based ideas that I am working on and I realize that I can begin to narrow the field a little. I can focus in on a subject knowing that as this article begins to develop, it may very well transform into something vastly different when I am ready to publish it.
Speaking of closets filled with nothing to wear, there among the garments that I rotate through each week are several garment bags packed full of military uniforms. While some of the uniforms were worn during my naval career and a few others belonged to my grandfather, the lion-share are truly pieces in my modest collection (dominated with U.S. Navy uniforms). Looking at the last few articles that I’ve written for this blog are Navy-focused, I am pushed toward covering one of the two non-Navy uniforms in my possession.
Why collect uniforms someone (new to militaria collecting) might ask? For me at least, the idea of possessing a tangible object that was worn by a service member (especially during a significant period of our nation’s history) provides a sensory connection (sight, scent, touch) that is unattainable with written words or images. In addition, the uniforms themselves possess some elements and characteristics that make them, on their own, aesthetically pleasing.
My uniform collection, when compared with that of other (long-term) collectors, is quite humble and ordinary when it comes to the identities of the veterans who previously owned and wore the items. This is not to suggest that anyone’s service to this country is ordinary, but in comparison to veterans whose careers shaped and impacted history (so much so that their names are legendary because of their battlefield deeds), my uniforms are quite modest.
One colleague owns (or owned) uniforms that would make almost any collector salivate at the mere thought of touching, let alone owning. Imagine having the uniform from the man who, while in command of a diminutive destroyer escort, bore down on Japanese task force that consisted of four battleships (including the Yamato), eight cruisers and several destroyers in order to protect the carriers in his own task force? That commanding officer, Robert Copeland risked himself, his ship and his crew in order to successfully protect the American carriers from certain destruction near Samar in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Copeland received the Navy Cross for his actions that day in October of 1944.
Not everyone has the finances or the perfect timing to locate items from such legendary people. Some collectors seek uniforms that serve to illustrate a story or, perhaps to demonstrate the progression of uniform changes throughout history. In either case, high-dollar uniforms from well-known figures (of American history) would serve to highlight such a story line but are not necessarily needed pieces. For those who (with limited budgets) want to pursue something from a specific (i.e. monumental) period of military history, “settling” for uniforms from the common soldier, airman, sailor or Marine.
I am particularly interested in the history surrounding the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) when discussing or researching World War II. Being a Navy veteran and the grandson of a WWII PTO Navy veteran, my collection tends to be focused in this area. I’ve taken considerable interest specifically in the southern Solomon Islands and the battles (both on land and sea) that took place in the surrounding area. When many people think of this region, immediate thoughts of Guadalcanal and the saga of the First Marine Division’s legendary fight (and “abandonment” by the U.S. Navy following substantial vessel losses on August 8-9, 1942 near Savo Island). When a WWII USMC uniform from a 1st MarDiv veteran became available (at an affordable price), I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a purchase.
As a research project – trying to determine the service and experiences of the original owner – it possesses next-to-nothing that would afford me a path to pursue. The only identifying marks in the uniform jacket were three initials, “G. E. M.” The odds that I could pinpoint a veteran in the 1st Marine Division with those three letters makes the challenge daunting, to say the least. At this point, I haven’t had the time or desire to begin such an endeavor leaving the uniform to simply fill a space within my collection. I am happy just to own this uniform with the idea that this private first class Marine possibly served in one or more of the notable battles alongside the his brothers in The Old Breed.
Related Uniform Topics:
All images are the property of their respective owners or M. S. Hennessy unless otherwise noted. Photo source may or may not indicate the original owner / copyright holder of the image.