Monthly Archives: March 2018

A General’s Naval Beginnings: My Named Seaman 2/c Aviation Radioman Uniform

I often grapple with what to focus a particular article upon as I sit down to write. I like to keep fresh content on this site and part of that process is for me to attempt to strike a balance with topics that might be of interest to readers and collectors while not leaning too heavily in any direction. Regardless of how much I strive to achieve this, I invariably end writing about what I prefer to collect and what interests me the most.

With my recent post regarding the aviation radioman rating and the uniforms that I presently hold within my collection, I am finding that today’s piece is going to be seasoned with some fresh redundancy considering that the most recent uniform item acquisition that I have is one from a sailor who began his career in this rating specialty. This particular uniform was unique in that in both what it lacked and what it possessed; something that I had not seen on a Navy uniform prior to happening upon this auction listing. The two Aviation Radioman uniforms in my collection have “crows” affixed to their sleeves: one, a third class petty officer and the other a chief petty officer. The new acquisition was from a seaman first class (non-petty officer) which is easily determined by the three stripes of piping on the cuff and the distinguishing mark of the ArM on the left shoulder (positioned where the sailors’ future petty officer mark would be).

This jumper is the first Aviation Radioman/Technician uniform that I have seen that includes the Radarman distinguishing mark.

Affixed to the lower left sleeve of this uniform, the distinguishing mark denotes Harpainter’s training and qualifications with radar equipment for naval aircraft.

Aside from the rating mark on the shoulder, this uniform was adorned with an additional mark – that of a radarman distinguishing mark (DM) – located on the lower left sleeve, a few inches above the cuff. Aside from the ArM redundancy, this DM has been the subject of several previous articles on The Veteran’s Collection (see: Rare Bird – Outside of Uniform Regulations, Silver Eagles: Navy Bullion Rates and Tracking U.S. Navy Specialties: The History of Radarmen). perhaps due to my own service as today’s iteration of the rating, Operations Specialist. When I saw the listing with these two elements, and its typical-low price, I was ready to buy it, solely on these factors. The seller also included a photo of the uniform tag and the name of the original owner along with a brief overview of the veteran’s career.

“A very nice jumper with both an aviation radioman rate on the shoulder and radar operator specialty on the cuff. Best part is that it’s named on the Naval Clothing Factory tag and I was able to pull his bio off the internet. His service began in the US Navy during WW2 training as an aircrewman. After WW2 he entered law enforcement and the US Army reserve and had a distinguished career at both. He served as an MP officer during the Korean War and retired as a Reserve Brigadier General. The jumper is in very good condition. Please email if you have any questions.”

I didn’t, for a second, consider buying the uniform based upon the seller’s story as I was ready to take it solely for the marks. Once I performed some searches on the web, Fold3 and Ancestry, seeking out the sailor’s information, I was able to confirm that this uniform did come from the reservist Brigadier General, Robert E. Harpainter.

Robert E. Harpainter, Brigadier General, USAR, retired (image source: San Jose Police Benevolent Association, Farsider).

General Harpainter was almost too young for World War II service (he was born in 1927) as he enlisted into the Navy in 1945 following his graduation from Berkeley High School. According to his 2016 obituary, he attended schools for both aviation radioman (rating) and aerial gunner training. I suspect that due to the lengthy of time required for his rating and specialty training, ArM seaman 1/c Harpainter most-likely never made it to the fleet prior to the end of the war. What makes this uniform even more special (for me, at least) is that Robert Harpainter, after graduating from his post-WWII undergraduate studies (at San Jose State University and University of California at Berkeley), he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army, serving with the military police in the Korean War as a military police platoon leader,security officer and assistant camp commander, as well as with the UNC-MAC Advance Camp during the prisoner exchange. His army service included command of the 496th Military Police Battalion; chief of staff and deputy commander of the 221st Military Police Brigade.By the time Mr. Harpainter’s military service was completed, he attained the rank of Brigadier General (in the California State National Guard) completing assignments as the commanding officer of the Northern Area Command from June 1987 through 1988 and finishing as Deputy Commander – Operations, State Military Reserve.

General Harpainter is shown (far left) in this San Jose Police Benevolent Association image.

Though I have assembled a fair summary regarding General Harpainter’s career, more complete research, especially his WWII naval service, would help me to piece-together awards and decorations that he would have received at the time of his discharge.  In lieu of a Freedom of Information Act request (submitted to the National Archives), I can safely assume that he received, at the very least, the American Campaign and World War II Victory medals.

The Naval Clothing Factory tag showes that it is correct for the World War II era, has R. E. Harpainter, Seaman Second Class markings.

There are many folks who enjoy collecting uniform groups of general officers (and admirals) and I can certainly understand how they can be drawn to the uniforms (they are rather ornate and their awards and decorations are unique) and the appeal of being in possession of something tangible and representative of a veteran’s lengthy career having attained a rank towards or at the top of all ranks. This particular uniform is clearly not ornate in the upper echelon of any rank structure but it does help to tell the beginning of the story of such a veteran in that he was compelled to answer his nation’s call as a young high school graduate and never ceased. As a civilian (and active reservist), Mr. Harpainter served as a law enforcement officer for 15 years as he pursued his undergraduate and juris doctor degrees. The remainder of his professional career, General Harpainter served as a senior deputy district attorney with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for 22 years. As I reviewed the general’s memorial and online tributes, a comment made by Harpainter’s partner (from his time as a police officer), Bob Moir (retired lieutenant, SJPD 1954-1985) wrote, “Always in the Veterans Day parade in Nov (sic) each year with is military uniform and shinning star.”

What’s next for me with this uniform? I enjoy seeing a uniform displayed properly (which for me means that I like to possess the proper decorations) so I will be requesting information pertaining to this veteran’s naval service. I am fairly certain that there will be, at the very least, two ribbons (the American Campaign and World War II Victory) however, there could be other elements (such as a combat air crew wing device) as indicated by details within Harpainter’s obituary and publicly-available biographical information.

It is rewarding to find (what appears to be) an insignificant uniform that was completely overlooked by other collectors and to be able to preserve part of the history of notable veteran.


“Blue Seas, Red Stars” Details How The Soviet Union Honored Heroes of the Battle of the Atlantic

Blue Seas, Red Stars: Soviet Military Medals to U.S. Sea Service Recipients in World War II by David A. Schwind (image source: Schiffer Publishing).

Many of the stories found within the pages of this site, while centered upon artifacts and items that once belonged to veterans – some those pieces possess researchable history that is traceable to the individual. If you’ve read any of these articles, you know that as much as is possible, I try to provide a snapshot of the military careers of the service members, inclusive of their decorations and awards they received. Acknowledging the achievements of the military member or those of the units for which they were assigned, or the campaigns these men and women participated in, while a common practice within this realm of military service, it is somewhat foreign in the civilian sector.

Medals and decorations are a common focus of militaria collectors – especially medals that are engraved (i.e. named) as valor medals typically are at the time of presentation to the service member – due to their unique and very specific historical nature.  A group of medals and ribbons that were worn by a veteran provide a visual narrative – a tangible representation of the career of a service member showing, at the very least, when and perhaps where the individual served, if he or she served in combat or was decorated for service above and beyond the norms of duty. There are many areas of focus within the sphere of collecting decorations. Some may zero in on a specific era, military branch, discipline or specialty (aviators, armor, etc.) or specific medal awardees (Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross or other valor medals) or those who were killed in action (Purple Heart medals awarded to those who were killed or listed as missing in action).  Though I am in possession of several decorations, I am not a collector of medals and ribbons. All that I have were either inherited (I am the steward/archivist for family history) as part of a relative’s group or were acquired as part of my restoration efforts to preserve the full story of a family member’s service.

A veteran myself, I recognize that the preservation of my own decorations is part of my responsibility to maintain the family legacy and history of service. With the exception of the decorations awarded to my father (a Vietnam combat veteran who is very much alive and well), I have been given the task of maintaining these priceless family artifacts which are inclusive of the medals and ribbons that I earned and received during my service. I couldn’t imagine seeing family history such as this falling into the hands of collectors rather than being preserved by our following generations.

It may be just my perception but it seems as though there is a steady stream of military-history books being released throughout each year with increasing frequency. With the passing of the World War II generation and their stories fading away, our nation’s interest in them, fueled by stories and films that dominated the national conscience from the mid 1990s through the middle of this decade, too has waned. The stories of the common soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen have all but been forgotten.  The attention in military stories has turned toward the more recent conflicts in the Middle East is more prevalent as the generation who fought and served in these conflicts is reaching (military) retirement age. However, there are still good stories from WWII that remaining to be told and a recent publication, though now a few years old, deserves my readers’ attention.

Prior to the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States’ participation in WWII was in support of our European allies – predominantly Great Britain – by way of supplying materials to sustain their fight against the wave of the Third Reich that was washing over Western Europe. When Americans think about the Battle of the Atlantic, it isn’t uncommon for visions of the Allied convoys and the German U-boats operating in “wolfpacks” hunting the defenseless merchant ships come to mind. However, the overall campaign in the Atlantic Ocean was far more involved and following the United States’ declaration of war on the Axis powers, was truly a multinational alliance effort that led to the defeat of Germany. Many Americans participated in the harrowing and dangerous duties in the Atlantic in striving to support the fight in Europe. Convoy after convoy of materials, food and troops departed ports in the United States heading to destinations in Europe (England, Ireland, Russia) and in the Mediterranean faced the threat of being torpedoed by German U-boats who waited for the vulnerable ships to pass by. Shore-based anti-submarine patrols flew supporting missions from each side of the Atlantic providing air cover as far out to see as could be reached but there were still gaps of open seas that were ideal hunting grounds for the wolfpacks.

Convoy WS-12: A Vought SB2U Vindicator scout bomber from USS Ranger (CV-4) flies anti-submarine patrol over the convoy, while it was en route to Cape Town, South Africa, 27 November 1941. The convoy appears to be making a formation turn from column to line abreast. Two-stack transports in the first row are USS West Point (AP-23) — left –; USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) and USS Wakefield (AP-21). Heavy cruisers, on the right side of the first row and middle of the second, are USS Vincennes (CA-44) and USS Quincy (CA-39). Single-stack transports in the second row are USS Leonard Wood (AP-25) and USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26). US Navy Photo.

Convoys consisted of merchant ships, crewed by a mixture of merchant seaman, active-duty naval personnel and the US Navy Armed Guard (serving primarily as gunners, signal men and radio operators), destroyer-escorts, destroyers and, by 1943, small aircraft carriers that possessed the armament and tactics necessary to conduct anti-submarine offensive measures along with their role in providing protection for the convoys.

While there are many publications, documentaries and books that are fantastic in providing great coverage of the Battle of the Atlantic, not much exists regarding the men who served. Historian and fellow militaria collector, David Schwind spent years researching and traveling the United States in order to capture and retell the stories of American sailors who fought in the Battle of the Atlantic. The one aspect of his effort that is unique (and was a complete surprise to me) is that each man that he spotlights was recognized by the Soviet Union with some of that nation’s highest honors and decorations. In fact, nearly 220 men who served in these convoys (as part of the United States sea services: Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine) were awarded Soviet decorations of varying degrees, such as:

With the rise of Communism in conjunction with the West’s fight to stem the expansion of the Iron Curtain following WWII, many of these veterans tucked the medals away, opting not to wear them on their uniforms. In his December 2015 work, Blue Seas, Red Stars: Soviet Military Medals to U.S. Sea Service Recipients in World War II, Schwind provides individual narratives of each recipient, inclusive of their military careers and post-service lives. Along with the detailed information, he includes extensive photographs of each recipient’s Soviet medals, their presentation boxes, documentation, vintage photographs and images of the medals themselves. David Schwind’s photographic efforts in capturing the details of these incredible medals is nothing short of fantastic and perfectly compliments his extensive research. This book is not merely a compilation of veterans and their medals but rather a very personal presentation of vignettes, photographs and an extensive amount of supporting references.

The book production (by Schiffer Publishing) is first-rate with pages that are substantial and glossy, and printed in full color. The binding is stable and sturdy. Even the endpapers and are impressive with photographs of the veterans’ award cards. After nearly two years of use, my copy of Blue Seas, Red Stars looks like new though I have been through it, cover to cover multiple times and it shows none of the typical signs of use in many books of this size. Speaking of size, Blue Seas’ dimensions are consistent with those of many coffee-table books (9″ x 12″ x 1″) but is far from just a collection of nice pictures.  The men who received these Soviet awards were truly heroes and they were so recognized by our WWII ally for their deeds and service above and beyond the call of duty. Many of the heroes in this book will be recognizable to many contemporary navy veterans and history buffs as their names have been affixed to transoms of a few notable combatant naval vessels.

Perhaps the most noteworthy fact of Schwind’s brilliant production is that the of the 217 Soviet medals that were awarded to American sea-service personnel, a significant number of these decorations remain with the veterans’ families and are treasured for their future generations and that more than 100 of the families participated in this project, partnering with the author and granting him access to handle and photo-document these treasures for his book.

The photography reveals the details of the individuals’ awards and decorations along with other service-related pieces that breathe life into the narratives of each veteran.

The book is printed on beautiful heavy-stock coated paper which provides a wonderful measure of clarity to the text and helps the colors of the awards to leap from the pages.

It is my hope (especially within the capacity of my responsibility) that other families make the decision to preserve and maintain their family’s legacy and keep these precious awards to be handed down throughout their generations. However, if these pieces are divested, I hope that collectors will make every effort to assume the mantle of historian and continue the legacy where the family left off.

Blue Seas, Red Stars is a great addition to anyone’s library, whether they are a military or naval historian, militaria collector or simply interested in in the little-known relationship between WWII veterans and the Soviet Union’s gratitude bestowed upon them for their service during the war.

Order your copy today!

A Piece of Memphis Belle’s Heart

In the sub-freezing temperatures, you find yourself watching for them. Anxiety has long-since set in and your heart-rate is rapid causing you to draw quick, short breaths from the cold oxygen flowing into your mask. You’re thinking back to the darkness of the early-morning hours, reviewing all of the landmarks as you check the heading. At 35,000 feet, your aluminum tube is barreling ahead, amidst a cloud of familiar shapes, at nearly 200 miles per hour. Your body is no longer aware of the vibrations and deafening roar of the four Wright Cyclone radial engines and their steady drone. You’ve been through this same routine (as if any of this can be considered “routine”) two dozen times before.

Sighting numerous Focke Wolfe 190 fighters was sadly a common occurrence for B-17 crews.

Suddenly, excited chatter is piped directly to your ears via the cold headset. Your fellow crew-members have sprung to life as they call them out – the dreaded camouflage-painted Focke-Wulf Fw 190 bearing the black cross of Germany. The flight of attackers begins to assail the surrounding B-17F aircraft in your group. You reach for the trusty Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun as you scan the skies for the attackers.

Gripping the handle of the gun with your fleece-lined leather gloves, you begin to train the weapon as you search for the enemy. You try to fight back the fear while looking through the Plexiglas nose, seeing another Flying Fortress rollover into its deadly dive. You don’t have time to look to see if there are any chutes, yet you are hold on to a shred of hope that those men do somehow manage to survive…

The crew of the Memphis Belle pose in front of the aircraft that returned from 25 deadly missions over German-held positions. Captain Evans is pictured, second from the right in the back row.

52,000 Americans perished in the air over Europe during World War II over the span of three and a half years. Contrast that to 58,000 Americans who lost their lives during the entire Vietnam War. It is difficult to imagine that bomber crews had to complete 25 bombing missions before they could be sent home. More than 750,000 bombing sorties were flown by U.S Army Air Force aircraft over Europe and just under 10,000 bombers were lost. The odds were infinitesimal that one aircraft could survive all of those missions and return home during the war. One of those B-17s that achieved that mark was the famed Memphis Belle (Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress Serial 41-24485) – the first heavy bomber to do so. The monumental feat was the subject of a William Wyler documentary, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, released in 1944 to American audiences by Paramount Pictures.

Though I attempted to paint a picture of what it was like for these men, words could never come close to describing that experience. A single mission was harrowing for these amazing men. I often wonder which was more unnerving – the first mission or the twenty-fifth and final one. For Captain Vince Evans, sitting in the bombardier chair for those several harrowing hours on May 19, 1943 on a raid over German port-city of Kiel on the Jutland peninsula.

Many questions surrounded this jacket as to its authenticity. Some collectors were quite doubtful while still others suggested that it was genuine (source: eBay image).

When an item from one the 10-member crew of the Memphis Belle, it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. A few years ago, what appeared to be a cut-down, tailor-made officers jacket complete with period correct insignia and devices was listed at auction. Inside the jacket was a label with Captain Evan’s personal information, including his Army serial number (ASN). One issue some collectors raised with this listing was the seemingly incorrect ribbon bar. One important piece absent from the bar was Captain Evan’s Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) ribbon which was awarded to all ten crewmen. Vince would subsequently receive an additional DFC. The ribbon for the Air Medal is also absent devices which Evans would have had to indicate multiple awards.

The Captain Evans jacket label shows his name and service number (source: eBay image).

Regardless of the minor shortcomings, the jacket is believed (by several collectors) to be genuine and was more than likely set aside by Evans after the war in favor of a newer uniform. The correct (or better yet, original) ribbon bar was probably removed (by Evans) for wear on the new uniform.

Following his WWII service, Evans began working with Wyler in his new profession as a writer in Hollywood with two films to his credit: Chain Lightning (starring Humphrey Bogart) and Battle Hymn (starring Rock Hudson). Evans served in the USAF Reserve until his discharge (at the rank of major) in 1953. Sadly, Major Evans would perish (along with his wife, Margery and their 21 year-old daughter, Venetia) in a small airplane when it crashed a few miles short of the Santa Ynez Valley airport in 1980. What the Luftwaffe and Nazi anti-aircraft gunnery could not do, a series of atmospheric conditions did. It was never determined who was in control of the aircraft (Evans or the flight instructor) at the time of the crash.

The Memphis “Belle lost one of her sweetest members” wrote Colonel Robert Morgan (in his book, The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle: Memoir of a WWII Bomber Pilot), “a large piece” of her heart went down that day.

More than 40 bids from buyers eager to land a piece of history so closely-tied to the famed aircraft drove the final sale price to $1,026.97 which for many militaria collectors is a bargain considering the notoriety of the Memphis Belle and her crew.