A Seabee’s Medals

Most of what I know about my grandfather and his medals comes from asking my mother and my uncle, who, being a retired Colonel, is a great source for all things related to the military. My basic understanding is that my grandfather enlisted in the Navy at the start of the war, and worked building airstrips and docks used for the Island-Hopping campaign.

The Medals Again

The badge at the top of the case is the seal of an enlisted Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist, a member of the Navy’s Construction Battalion, or C.B. for short (Warfare Pins/Badges). The bee with the machine gun and the wrench is their symbol, both a play on words and representation of their role in combat. These are worn on uniforms as a symbol of status and qualification, and don’t specify a particular rank, though an officer would wear a gold one. The badge signifies broad knowledge of naval history, weaponry and construction, as well physical fitness. These were minted by the Navy in 1992, which struck me as odd since my grandfather died that year. I asked my mother about it, and according to her, my uncle put in the paperwork and the badge was awarded posthumously, meaning, oddly enough, that my grandfather never owned or wore it.

As for the medals, I know the two on the right, but had to do some digging on the leftmost medal. That one is the American Campaign medal, awarded by FDR in 1942 to those who served in the US before entry to the war, and later to personnel who served during the war on the US theartre, namely our islands in Alaska and Hawaii (Herman). Its ribbon is red white and blue, the colors of the United States. Because the ribbon was issued before the medal, my grandfather may have actually had this on his uniform, though I doubt he wore it often, or any shirt for that matter.

My Grandfather (Left) in the South Pacific Wearing Traditional Seabee Uniform

The center medal is the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, given after the war to every soldier serving on the Pacific front, and the rightmost medal is the World War II victory medal, commemorating every US soldier who served in the conflict. The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal shows soldiers in the tropics, just like my grandfather’s picture above. The yellow, gold, and red ribbon mirrors the colors of the Japanese forces. On the victory medal, I was actually mistaken in my interpretation. The image is Lady Liberty holding a broken sword, and standing on the helmet of Mars, God of War (Medals of America). The central red stripe represents the conflict, and the rainbows flanking it are interpreted as the triumph of peace.

These medals are made mostly out of copper, then plated with the yellowish alloy that the Smithsonian calls “Gold-Colored Plating” (Air and Space Museum, World War II Victory Medal). After the medal is pressed into form and plated, the ring at the top is soldered on to attach the silk ribbon. The manufacture of these medals is contracted out to various mints, so it’s hard to know exactly where these were made, though judging by their wear (especially the victory medal, which has lost its gold color), my best guess is my Grandfather put in for them a few years after their issue in 1946. To get one, a valid service record that qualifies for the medal must be submitted, a precaution taken against stolen valor.

These medals are what my grandfather would have worn on his uniform after the war, at memorial day services, military balls and the like. Since then, they’ve transitioned from their initial function of mementos for him to recall and display his service with into something for my family to remember him by. I suppose its a characteristic of war medals that they are printed to acknowledge personal achievement and military history, and end up becoming family heirlooms.

The Stamp in Detail

As far as the case, I know from the stamp on the back that it was put together from four frame corners at Skyline Gallery and Framing in Killeen Texas. My uncle lived in Texas very briefly from around 2004 to 2007, so this means that the display that sits on my mother’s dresser was put together in that time, moving the medals from stand alone pieces to a collection in memory of my grandfather.

Works Cited

US Navy. “Warfare Pins/Badges .” All Hands, 2007. https://www.navy.mil/ah_online/archpdf/ah200701.pdf

“American Campaign Medal.” Stein, Herman E. – TracesOfWar.com, STIWOT, http://www.tracesofwar.com/awards/268/American-Campaign-Medal.htm.

“World War II Victory Medal | Medals of America | Military Blog.” Medals of America, Medals of America, 22 Aug. 2018, http://www.medalsofamerica.com/blog/world-war-ii-victory-medal/.

“Medal, World War II Victory Medal.” National Air and Space Museum, 13 Mar. 2018, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/medal-world-war-ii-victory-medal-2

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2 thoughts on “A Seabee’s Medals

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your grandfather’s medals. My grandfather fought in Korea, but he does not have any medals like this, to my knowledge. There is so much interesting and unique history behind your objects, which at least for me makes the objects even more complex and meaningful. I like what you said about the way they become heirlooms. Although, I think it is meaningful to consider your grandpa having worn one of them and what he did to earn them, along with the way they now sit on display. Certainly in my opinion evoking a sense of pride in what your grandfather accomplished. I also love the photo that you included. For my family, it has taken some great digging to find photos of my grandfather during his time in Korea, as I believe it is a time is his life he seldom wishes to remember. However, the ones I do have a hold on I cherish because they remind me of the immense courage my grandfather displayed during that time of his life. I hope these medals evoke a similar feeling in you.

  2. I found this discussion on your grandfather’s medals from World War Two to be fascinating. My family also has a long history of service with the United States Military, Airforce, Coast Guard, and Navy. In addition to your grandfather, my grandfather also served in the Pacific Ocean theatre during World War Two. While we still have his uniform and dog tags from when he served, we unfortunately, unlike like your family, do not know what happened to the medals he earned. I also appreciate the level of importance your family places on your grandfather’s medals. In my room in my house, I have my grandfather’s cap from his uniform on top of my dresser, and each day I wake up, it reminds me of my grandfather and the sacrifice he made for his country to combat the Axis powers abroad. Overall, well done!

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