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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.

Tracking U.S. Navy Specialties: The History of Radarmen


Many people collect U.S.Navy rating badges and many other folks collect ephemera. Still other collectors pursue metal insignia and uniform devices. But the question I have is, how many of them combine all three “genres” of militaria collecting into one, singular focus?

As a ten-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and an amateur military historian, I’ve researched a vast number of subjects ranging from basic minutia to emotionally gut-wrenching and personally significant stories with historical context that I find utterly fascinating. During my naval career, I performed my job without so much as a fleeting thought regarding the historical aspects of my chosen specialty. Navy enlisted men and women receive schooling and training to perform specific job functions to meet the needs of each unit or command. These ratings (similar to the Army’s Military Occupational Specialty or MOS) are denoted on each sailor’s sleeve insignia with a unique emblem symbolizing certain characteristics of that specialty.

My own rating, Operations Specialist, seemed to be (to me) quite ordinary and less historic as compared to traditional ratings such as boatswain’s mates, gunners mates and machinist mates. I was none too interested in discovering any of the historical aspects or the development of my rating beyond what was presented in my training manuals. Other than the basic historical narratives (also presented in the training manual) regarding the history of naval radar, I didn’t give it much thought. Despite this lack, I did manage to excel at my job and advance in a timely manner.

The foremast of the USS Washington (BB-56) showing the SG radar antennae on the foreward face of the tower. As documented in Muscant's book, the placement of this unit was cause for a significant sector blindspot, leaving the ship vulnerable during the first Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November of 1942 (U.S. Navy image).

The foremast of the USS Washington (BB-56) showing the SG radar antennae on the foreward face of the tower. As documented in Muscant’s book, the placement of this unit was cause for a significant sector blindspot, leaving the ship vulnerable during the first Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November of 1942 (U.S. Navy image).

What turned me onto the historical backstory of my rating was an insignificant story that I read about the installation of radar onto the USS Washington (BB-56) as told in the pages of Ivan Musicant’s 1986 book, Battleship at War: The Epic Story of the USS Washington. What was revealing to me was how radar was installed onto the ship and essentially turned over to untrained operators and technicians. In his book, Wahoo: The Patrols of America’s Most Famous World War II Submarine, Medal of Honor recipient Admiral Richard O’Kane made considerable mention of the submarine’s unreliable radar and the continuous need for the boat’s radiomen (the technicians and operators) to service the wonder-device. Both of these books planted a seed that my navy job had an important history that was berthed during World War II and developed into a key job function in today’s radar-reliant naval service.

Radarmen can trace their beginnings to the Electrician's Mate (EM) rating. This World War I era EM first class bears the distinguishing mark indicating that the sailor was a radio operator and technician. Shipboard radio technology was in its infancy at this time and in the ensuing decades, a specific rating would be created.

Radarmen can trace their beginnings to the Electrician’s Mate (EM) rating. This World War I era EM first class bears the distinguishing mark indicating that the sailor was a radio operator and technician. Shipboard radio technology was in its infancy at this time and in the ensuing decades, a specific rating would be created.

When I added the activity of collecting to my interests, I cultivated a new desire that prompted me into new research directions. One could say that when I was bitten by the rating badge-collecting bug, my interest was tempered by context. I focused on ratings that had connection to me such as my grand-uncle (post-WWI musician), grandfather (ship’s cook), brother-in-law (machinist’s mate), two uncles (radioman) and my own. Along with those rating badge pursuits, I picked up some of the more highly sought-after rates whose ranks were filled by more than their share of heroic blue jackets, such as hospitalmen, aviation radiomen. However, I found myself drawn to the historical aspects of my own rating, originally known as ‘Radarman’.

This EM/1c rating badge dating from the WWI timeframe shows the four electrical sparks of the radio operator/technician distinguishing mark affixed directly below the bottom chevron.

This EM/1c rating badge dating from the WWI time-frame shows the four electrical sparks of the radio operator/technician distinguishing mark affixed directly below the bottom chevron.

The Radarman rating (abbreviated as RdM) was officially established in 1943 after radar became more widely adopted aboard ships and submarines, and was at that time finding its way onto naval aircraft. The demand for highly skilled and trained operators and technicians prompted the Navy’s Bureau of Personnel to create a program to send qualified personnel to the fleet to better utilize the secret weapon. The rating badge that was subsequently created employed a borrowed feature from the radioman rating as it referenced the close connections to the communications technology. Also, many of the early Radarmen had previously served as Radiomen. The badge symbol used the electrical spark bolts (three rather than the four seen on the Radioman’s insignia) with an overlaid arrow indicating the directional detection aspects of the job, indicating the rating’s origins and the technology from radio.

This Radarman first class rating badge is date-marked with "1944" embroidered on the reverse of the first chevron.

This Radarman first class rating badge is date-marked with “1944” embroidered on the reverse of the first chevron.

In 1946, the Navy updated the insignia, incorporating the oscillator symbol while carrying over the arrow insignia. In 1973, change impacted this rate once again as BUPERS split the rate, removing the technicians (rolling them into the electronics technician rate) and those who were skilled as Electronic Warfare (ESM, ECM and ECCM) specialists as EWs. Those who remained were re-designated as Operations Specialists (OS) yet the rating badge remained and continues at present.

A selection of my Radarman rating badges. All are from during and immediately following the end of WWII.

A selection of my Radarman rating badges. All are from during and immediately following the end of WWII.

My collection of OS militaria began with what remained from my time in the service: insignia that was never applied to my uniforms. I began to pursue badges from WWII and worked my way forward to the 1960s and 70s as I picked up some special bullion versions. I searched for insignia from the rating’s roots and then onto ephemera, such as rate training manuals from several eras. I have managed to save some of the tools of the trade in the area of navigation, such as compass and dividers, parallel rulers, and nautical charts. I am still seeking an OJ-194 NTDS (Naval Tactical Data System) console for my office (OK, perhaps this would be overkill).

After WWII, the radarman With manufacture dates ranging from the 1940s, this selection of Radarman/Operation Specialist badges includes current-issue SSI.

Following the war, the Navy broke away from the lightning bolts of the radioman rating and embraced the oscilloscope and maintained the arrow of the original badge, By the early 1970s, the rating was split out – segmenting the technicians into their own rating (Electronic Technicians or “ET”) and the electronic warfare operators (EW) into their own. Radarman was disbanded in favor of Operations Specialist.

I always keep my eyes open for anything that might augment this collection without breaking my budget or fill the floorspace in my home. At some point, I would like to assemble this collection in order to create a well-rounded display that is representative of this rating.

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