Curators at The National World War II Museum solve readers’ artifact mysteries
1. While visiting friends we came across this patch tucked inside the book Submarine Operations in World War II. It measures about eight-by-six inches, and belonged to my friend’s now-deceased father, Allie H. Lamer, who served as a chief petty officer (gunner’s mate) aboard the submarine USS Pargo. We have no idea what the many flags represent—but considering their number, Pargo must have been quite busy. Our friend is proud of his father and his service; we would like to be able to illuminate for him some of his father’s contributions in defeating the Axis powers. —Lawrence Loughlin, Palm Harbor, Fla.
This patch is a copy of the USS Pargo’s battle flag. During World War II the submarine completed eight patrols, represented by the numbers on the dice inside the horseshoe. The flags at top left signify ships the Pargo sank; the 14 Japanese national flags represent merchant vessels, while the three flags with rays symbolize warships. The flag that looks like a sun with three tick marks next to it means that the Pargo destroyed three floating mines.
The flags at bottom right represent one warship and nine merchant ships that the sub damaged, hence the letter “D” in the center of each flag. The island flag signifies a shore bombardment—in this case, Woody Island in the South China Sea, which Pargo shelled on February 4, 1945, during its seventh war patrol. Rounds from the Pargo’s four-inch deck guns destroyed several Japanese installations, including a weather station and radio equipment. —Eric Rivet, Curator
2. My father brought this knife back from Germany in 1946, along with a Luger with a clear, engraved grip. One side of the grip reads “Germany 1945,” the other bears his name—“SSgt Robert Miller.” He was a staff sergeant in the 973rd Engineer Maintenance Company, assigned to the Ninth Air Force, and served in Europe from August 1944 until April 1946; he died in 2011. The only emblem on the knife is a Nazi swastika, with writing around it reading, “dap national sozialist.” Any help in identifying the knife would be appreciated. —Chris Miller, Columbus, Ohio
This is a German trench knife whose plain wooden grip was replaced with a custom Plexiglas grip, much as with your father’s Luger. The swastika in the grip is simply a Nazi Party pin. This type of modification is common; many pistols and knives in the collection here at the National WWII Museum have been similarly customized. These modifications were usually done by servicemen who had access to machine tools, as your father’s unit surely did. Plexiglas was easy to scrounge at airfields because it was used in airplane windows, gun turrets, and bomber noses. —Larry Decuers, Curator
3. Among my grandfather’s effects I found several small stamps. My grandfather, Vincent Bell, trained as an aircraft mechanic and served in the Aleutian Islands from August 1943 to November 1945. Can you tell me anything about his stamps? —Joshua Bell, Providence, R.I.
Vintage stamp expert Steve Shebetich of the Arlington, Virginia, firm Latherow & Co. told us the stamps are known as patriotic or “Cinderella” stickers, with no postal value. They were used to show support for the organization in question—in this case the U.S. Air Corps. The insignia, a two-bladed propeller over wings, dates to the World War I-era Army Air Service, and saw use through World War II as the branch insignia of all Air Corps and Army Air Forces personnel. —Eric Rivet
Originally published in July/August 2014.