First to go…Last to return.

 

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Classed as a civilian award the Merchant Marine WW2 Victory Medal was established August 1946 for service on any vessel for 30 days’ service between 7th December 1941 to 3rd September 1945 operated by the Maritime Commission or the War Shipping Administration. The US Merchant Marine took part in every landing operation in WW2 and beyond. Even before America entered the war the Merchant Marine were shipping supplies across the Atlantic to the UK and Soviet Russia on what was a dangerous journey. German Sea mines were a big threat in the Atlantic and the first US ship sunk was the MS City of Rayville November 1940 with one mariner killed. Vulnerable to attack the moment they left port, Mariners faced other perils including Kamikaze, surface raiders and U boats.

The Merchant Marine Service were responsible for delivering Tanks, Airplanes, Ammunition, fuel and food supplies and also participated in amphibious landings including Normandy and Okinawa. During WW2 some 55,000 to 250,000 seamen served with the Merchant Service and were the last to return following wars end with casualties due to ships striking mines. Although President Roosevelt pushed for better recognition, the Merchant Marine Service never received the same post war benefits as the military personnel who served. Although Congress created an application process in 1977 for Veteran status, Mariners are still seeking full official recognition for the role they played in World War 2.

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A round bronze medal designed by Paul Manship (an apt name) with the obverse showing a female figure (Possibly Nike, Goddess of Victory) holding a trident and Olive branch and to the bottom right there is a submarine conning tower, while on the reverse an Anchor with the words “Firmitas Adversaria Superat” (strong enough to overcome adversity) and “United States Merchant Marine 1941-1945” around the edge of the anchor. The ribbon has the red, white and blue of Old Glory and green, white and yellow stripes also. The medal would have been awarded for service in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Campaign.

WW2 losses totalled 1614 ships sunk of which 8421 died and 1100 more died later from their wounds. Total 9521 out of 243,000 that served. 1 in 26 or 3.9%.

Information http://www.usmm.org.

 

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US Merchant Marine Lapel button and Badge.

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Cap Badge of the US Merchant Marine depicting the Eagle, shield and Anchor on a Laurel Wreath.

Georgia Peach.

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Awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight to any person whilst serving with the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corp and Coast Guard the Distinguished Flying Cross was established in July 1926 and at that time was the highest aviation honour its first recipient being Charles Lindbergh for his Atlantic solo flight in 1927.

Members of Foreign Military Forces whilst serving with the US Forces are also eligible for this award and that’s why this award along with the Air medal is quite readily available in the UK with these awards being given to serving UK military during WW2. For his flight to and from the North Pole Commander Richard E. Byrd was the first person to receive this award for the US Navy in 1927. Other recipients include James H Dolittle, the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart.

There were many DFC’s awarded during World War 2 especially to those airmen of the 8th & 9th Air Force while stationed in the United Kingdom. 1st Lt Ray Gainey USAAF 398th Bomb Group was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 10th November 1944. Other recipients of the DFC in the 398th were 1st Lt Hollis Dalton 6th September 1944 and 1st Lt Mervyn H Honshuh 10th September 1944. They all flew missions in B17G Georgia Peach 43-37874 30W of the 398th Bomb Group, 601st Squadron.

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Georgia Peach flew 52 missions from 19th July 1944 to 25th April 1945.

The 398th was part of 1st Bomb wing/1st Air Division and flew from RAF Base Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire, England, which was operational from April 1944 to May 1945 (inactivated Sept 45). There were 4 bomb squadrons in the 398th, 600th, 601st, 602nd & 603rd and were recognizable by their Red tail marking and a “W” in a triangle.

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1st Lt Ray Gainey, on board Georgia Peach.

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1st Lt R.E Brown and crew flew in B17G Georgia Peach 4th August 1944.

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Nuthampstead Airfield as of 9th July 1946. (Wikipedia).

With thanks to Geoff Rice for the Ray Gainey and R.E.Brown Air Crew photograph and Information courtesy of the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association. RAF Nuthampstead has long been disused but there is a Memorial to the 398th plus a Museum dedicated to those who served there in WW2. The 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association has lots of history and information about the Squadrons including the 55th Fighter Group which was also based at Nuthampstead.

http://nuthampsteadairfieldmuseum.com/

http://www.398th.org/

Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, 23rd February 1945.

iwojima                                     * Picture from Wikipedia (Joe Rosenthal AP)

I should imagine that a lot of you have seen the film “Flags of our Fathers” (Dir: Clint Eastwood) based on James Bradley & Ron Powers book of the same name published 2000.  The film of the book tells the story of the invasion by the United States Marine Corp and the following battle to take the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese forces.  There were 2 flags raised that day and a picture named “Gung Ho” taken of the first flag to be raised with a lot more marines including John Bradley and Hank Hansen who was mistakenly identified as the marine at the bottom of the pole instead of Harlan Block who also features in the “Gung Ho” picture (below).

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*By Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, USMC, staff photographer for “Leatherneck” magazine – http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/i04000/i04150c.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=424989

There followed a second flag raising which was captured by Associated press photographer Joe Rosenthal (October 9, 1911 – August 20, 2006) and due to a need to start a 7th Bond drive to raise 14 billion dollars this famous picture was used to help the Bond drive for those funds. The fact remains however that 3 out of the 6, Harlan Block, Mike Strank and Frank Sousley were killed in action on Iwo Jima sometime after the flag raising February 23rd 1945. In the book “Flags of our Fathers”, James Bradley writes of his fathers unwillingness to talk about Iwo Jima or what followed on his return to the States, preferring to dodge the lime light and get on with a normal life.  John “Doc” Bradley  was awarded a Navy Cross for his bravery on Iwo Jima and saved many lives. All those marines whether its the first or second flag they raised were brave souls and deserve as much recognition as the rest on that island. The view in the states at the time of the flag being raised was that the island had been taken but there was another 4 weeks of hard fighting ahead before the slaughter ended with a total of 26,000 US casualties with nearly 7000 being killed. Japanese casualties were 21,000 the only battle in the pacific where the invaders had suffered more casualties than the defenders although I doubt many of those were taken as POW’s? There is some controversy as to whom exactly raised the second flag but personally I think today 73 years later we should remember all those who were part of “The Picture” before and after Joe Rosenthal set his camera to 1/400th of a second and all the other brave Marines and Navy personnel who took part in that momentous battle. Semper Fi.

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                        Type V US Mint issued Navy Cross circa 1945.

Captain Clark Gable.

Hollywood Icon William Clark Gable (1901-1960) served in the United States Army Air Force during WW2. Known as the King of Hollywood, Gable joined the USAAF following the untimely death of his Actress wife Carole Lombard. Lombard had perished in an air crash on January 16th 1942 whilst on a War Bond Drive and was returning to Burbank when the aircraft crashed into mountains southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. Lombard had asked Gable to join the armed forces after the United States entered World War 2 and following this tragic event Gable who was devastated by Lombard’s death enlisted and underwent gunnery training.

Even though his bosses at MGM were against him joining the Army Air Force Gable joined the 351st Bomb Group and went to England as head of a film group to make the action documentary “Combat America”. Clark Gable served with the 351st BG at RAF Polebrook and flew 5 missions from May 9th to Sept 23rd 1943.

351st BG consisted of the 508, 509,510 & 511th Bomb Squadrons flying the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress.

Mission 1: Antwerp, Belgium, 4th May 1943. Gable flew in “The 8 Ball MK II” and fired a few rounds from the radio room machine gun. He suffered frostbite from the extreme cold even though he was wearing leather gloves.

Mission 2: Airfield at Villacoublay France.10th July 1943. Argonaut 111, Mission was hampered by low cloud so no bombs were dropped.

Mission 3: Norsk Hydro Plant, Heroya, Norway 24th July 1943. Again in Argonaut 111, mission was unopposed by the enemy’

Mission 4: Synthetic Oil Plant at Gelsenkirchen, Ruhr, Germany, 12th August 1943. In B17 “Ain’t it Gruesome” due to bad weather the group attacked Bochum, Germany where Gable encountered his most dangerous operation to date. None of the 351st B17’s was lost but 25 of the 330 planes on the raid were shot down. The 351st did suffer some battle damage and one of their crew members was killed. Gable came close to injury himself when a 20mm cannon shell hit Gable’s shoe and missed his head by inches!

Mission 5: Port Area of Nantes, France, 23rd September 1943. On this mission in “The Duchess” Gable manned one of the front nose guns. Although enemy fighters inflicted heavy damage no bombers were lost.

On 5th November 1943 Captain Clark Gable left the 351st and returned to the US to complete the production of “Combat America” which was shown in theatres in 1944. The reason he only did 5 tours was because his bosses in Hollywood got very nervous of him being exposed to the dangers of air combat and pushed the Army Air force to return him to the US.

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Captain Clark Gable and the crew of B17F “Duchess” after completing his 5th and final mission over Nantes, France September 23rd 1943 for which he was awarded the Air Medal. 351st Bomb Group RAF Polebrook. To the left of Clark Gable is Major J R Blaycock, of Council Bluff, Iowa, who was later KIA 31/12/43 Cognac, France. (Picture is original press release photograph (DS/CAS) from my own collection).

For his service to the United States Army Air Force, Capt Gable was awarded the following medals:

Distinguished Flying Cross, Air medal, WW2 Campaign, European African Middle East Campaign and Victory Medals. (As below left to right, not his originals).

 

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Distinguished Flying Cross, for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.

Air medal, awarded for heroic action or meritorious service while participating in aerial flight.

WW2 Campaign, for service outside the U.S. in the American theatre for thirty days ( or within the U.S. for one year).

European African Middle East Campaign, for service in the European, African, Middle East theatre for thirty days or being awarded any combat decoration.

WW2 Victory Medal, awarded for service during World War 2.

Other Hollywood stars also served during WW2 including James Stewart (USAAF), David Niven (British Rifle Brigade, Army and Film Unit), Humphrey Bogart (US Navy), Ronald Reagan (USAAC) and Henry Fonda (US Navy).

Aircraft Captain Clark Gable flew in during his time in the 351st BG:

“The 8 Ball Mark 11” serial No 41-24635.

“Argonaut III” serial No 42-29851 508th BS.

“Ain’t It Gruesome” serial No 42-29863.

“The Dutchess” or “Duchess” serial No 42-29925 510th BS.

 

Lest we Forget.

At this time of year in the UK (November 11th) we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of freedom. We remember all those who have served their country not only from the UK but also the United States of America. Especially those from the 8th & 9th USAAF and those who came to these shores in preparation for D Day. I have visited a number of cemeteries and memorials over the past few years both in the UK and Europe from Slapton Sands in Devon to Foy in Belgium.

We Will Remember Them……..

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A World Wide Web of Access.

The internet has opened a world of access to enable us to purchase all manner of things and you can purchase medals from internet auction sites and internet dealers because that’s where the majority of medals are. Car boot sales (Yard Sales in the US), antique and collectible shops, flea markets and militaria shows are also a good source and yes there are some shady dealers operating out there but there are a lot of honest dealers who have their reputations to think of and would not wish for any bad publicity based on selling items that are not what they appear to be? If in doubt leave it out is the best course of action and sometimes instinct can tell you if it’s a good buy or not. Experience in buying medals will come from making mistakes and learning from them. Use any bad buy as a positive to gain experience and I know it’s a pain when it happens but the more experience you gain the better you become at collecting.

U.S. medal collecting has been limited due to the small amount of pre WW2 medals (original issue) available. The Internet does offer access to these types of medals and some of these are re strikes or Issued/Un issued, especially those from WW2 or after with some still in their original boxes with ribbons. Unless a medal has some provenance then it may be difficult to tell if the medal has been issued and if it is still in its original packaging, it may still have been issued to someone but never worn. I have experienced this with British WW2 medals still in their original box of issue, the ribbons and medals wrapped in paper and what appears to be maybe never worn. If you want to put together a set of medals or need a gap filler for a set then a restrike could be the answer but you need to know the difference between what I call original issue and replacement or restrike.

I hope this blog will go some way towards that and give the reader some confidence in going forward if embarking on collecting medals of the United States Armed Forces.

Arthur E. Du Bois states in National Geographic Magazine from October 1943, Heraldry of Heroism, that “Decorations and medals stand for more than the Nation’s grateful acknowledgment of fidelity. They are a constant incentive to performance of outstanding deeds” and Evans E Kerrigan in the introductory note in his book, American War Medals & Decorations puts it more simply, “Each is intended to be a distinctive symbol of a nation’s gratitude to its citizens”. In the United States, medals are issued for all the services especially for commendation and achievement. The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corp, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine all receive individual medals but have the same merit. Personal decorations for bravery shaped in a cross, star or hexagonal, the Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service being examples. Some of the service and campaign medals which are circular in design have the same obverse but are issued on the reverse to the Navy or Marine Corp. Medals are authorized by the President of the United States, Congress and Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The most popular period for collectors of US medals has to be World War 2. There are a lot of awards from this era but notably most service medals are post WW2. Gallantry awards like the Purple Heart, Air Medal, Silver & Bronze Star were awarded during the conflict but the service awards apart from the Good Conduct medal were awarded as ribbons which were issued and worn on the uniform to indicate what award had been granted. Post WW2 medals include Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan. The medal that is hardest to obtain is the Congressional Medal of Honor (MoH). The sale of this medal and ribbon is prohibited by law in the United States (1994 amendment to 18 U.S.C. § 704) but not in the UK, but to obtain anything original is very rare. Although there are some authorised but non issued MoH’s which were made and sold by Lordship Industries (HLP) that may be available. These were sold up until the 1990’s and unfortunately led to HLP losing their government contract in 1996. The story is that 300 and maybe as many as 900 were sold to the general public for approx $75 each and some were then recovered by the FBI but not all? Previously in a 1969 edition of the forces newspaper “Stars and Stripes” HLP in an article about the manufacture of the MoH stated that the medal was not for sale at any price!

“His Lordship Products” pleaded guilty to selling 300 unauthorised copies of the Medal of Honor for a total of $22,500 in the early 1990’s to various collectors and militaria outlets.

I have endeavoured to use as much of my own experience when writing this blog as possible. I have had to draw on various reference material also and this has been very helpful and rewarding and if you can obtain this material or use the web to research then this is an invaluable resource. I recommend joining medal, militaria or collectors forums where you will have access to a wealth of experience in medal collecting available to you and are very helpful especially if you have questions about your collecting. There is however one note of caution when undertaking any research especially on the web. As with any information sometimes it may be people’s opinions and this can sometimes be inaccurate so try to make sure the information is as accurate as can be. Don’t be put off by people’s comments as we are all “experts in our field” and I’m still learning every day. When it comes to medal collecting do your research, go to medal and collectors fairs and be prepared to make mistakes. Even the best dealers sometimes get it wrong and sometimes that works in the collectors favour! The idea behind writing this was to pass on the knowledge and experience I have gained from my years as a collector but I am always open to new information and my research and collecting never stops!

Good Hunting!

 

A short introduction as to why I started to collect.

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 My interest in US awards began over ten tears ago when collecting British & Foreign medals of World War One. My very first U.S. medal (above). WW1 Victory medal bought off the internet for £7 but not realizing at the time it was a restrike or reissue medal. The WW1 Victory medal was originally issued early 1920’s but the above was re struck possibly during the 1990’s. It took me a while to understand this and it was only whilst attending a medal fair that I discovered there were earlier issue medals. I then set about finding an original issue WW1 Victory Medal and bought one via the internet which had 4 battle clasps. This medal sat proudly alongside my other WW1 medals until that is I happened upon 2 rather nice US Bronze and Silver Star medals from WW2. This is what really got me started in collecting military medals of the United States of America and researching further which has eventually led to the writing of this blog. After ten years of research on the internet, reviewing books on the subject and of course purchasing medals I have accumulated a lot of information on these medals and must admit have found this research interesting to the point of almost being obsessive.

It happens to the best of us but think of it as an education and an ongoing one at that. With any hobby especially collecting you never stop learning and that’s the enjoyment I gain from collecting.

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Original issue WW1 Victory Medal with battle clasps for Aisne-Marne, St Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne and Defensive Sector. 4th Division of the American Expeditionary Force.

Please note; I have tried whilst writing this blog to use with the best of intentions the English language as used in the U.K. but alas due to many hours of research there may be a crossover into U.S. English and apologies in advance for what may seem like spelling mistakes. The “Congressional Medal of Honor” instead of “Honour” being an example. Also I have used metric measurements when describing medal brooch sizes. 9mm = 3/8” and 12mm = ½”.

Collecting Military Awards of the United States by James Findon.

Collecting military medals of the United States (US) covers a wide area and are within reach for those of us on a limited budget. This blog covers primarily the conflicts from World War 1 up to the more recent Iraq War. There are a large amount of military and civilian medals available for service within the United States armed forces including the National Guard but due to the variance in the amount out there this blog mainly deals with the more popular medals available. The main conflicts of the 20th century can allow a less expensive area of collecting due to the sheer volume of medals awarded compared to the wars of the 19th Century and more recently the past 30 years. The medals from these conflicts especially British medals can be quite expensive for those wishing to begin medal collecting and there are the higher decorations from the first and second world wars that command a high price but generally service medals are available for purchase and all services in the United States are represented with their own medals especially for Achievement or Commendation. The one thing to remember here though in the United Kingdom (UK) is the lack of original issued US gallantry medals due to the reluctance by families to sell their family history and who can blame them. Recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen a rise in patriotism on both sides of the Atlantic and their unwillingness to part with medals associated with a loved one’s service to their country which can be seen mounted in shadow boxes adorning the walls of their homes. I have also found that some service personnel awarded medals whilst in the field would buy replacement medals on return from duty to wear on their uniform similar to British veterans having tailors copies made for parade rather than risk losing their originals. There are however US gallantry medals which were issued to UK personnel especially during WW2 which become available now and again on the market and I have been fortunate enough to obtain some of these for my own collection. One of the reasons for writing this blog is to pass on my knowledge of what to look for when collecting these medals and as you read further I hope you will have a better understanding of what you should be looking for before parting with your money.