In previous posts (see here, here, and here), I described a naval officer’s napkin ring that my father-in-law, Erwin Schroder, used for the better part of his post WWII life. He apparently continued the routine he used on board the USS Patterson (DD392). Linen napkins were used in the officer ward rooms, but were not laundered after each use to save fresh water. In order to keep the napkins separated by user, ships typically had some type of system for identifying the napkins. Some ships merely used numbers while others used positions (e.g., Executive Officer). The Patterson apparently had another approach. Each ring contained the ship’s name, commissioning date, hull number, and a position. Erwin’s ring contained the following in engraved script:
Sept 22, 1937
The position or billet, 1st Lieutenant, is responsible for maintaining the ship’s exterior, management of the ship’s deck, underway replenishment, moorings, etc.
Beneath this script, stamped in block letters there were 8 names:
- Halford A. Knoertzer
- William K. Ratliff
- Jack H. Brandt
- Greer A. Duncan
- John B. Wilkes
- James E. Hook
- George W. Jenings
- Erwin A. Schroder
Research shows that each of these officers held the 1st Lieutenant position in the order on which they appear on the napkin ring. Erwin was the final 1st Lieutenant who served in that position until the ship was released for scrap. Apparently, he liberated his napkin ring to use in civilian life.
It was only after the death of Erwin and his wife Marie and after considerable research that we figured out that this ring traveled with the Patterson during its eight years in service. The Patterson was one of the most active destroyers in the Pacific in WWII, earning 13 battle stars. She was moored in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942. She was involved in the disaster known as the Battle of Savo Island in which the Allies lost four heavy cruisers. The Patterson picked up over 400 of the crew of the HMAS Canberra before she sank. She was also involved in action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, action off Iwo Jima, and the various actions involved in the liberation of the Philippines.
My sister-in-law, Sarah, and my wife, Simone, and I discussed the possibility of donating the ring and other artifacts to a museum so that this artifact might be preserved. We thought that a museum in Erwin’s home town might be a good place, but the town is small and has no museum. On a whim, I contacted the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, part of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) in Washington, DC and asked if they would take it as a donation for their archives. I received a response last week:
The Collections Committee met this past Wednesday and they very enthusiastically approved the addition of this napkin ring to our collection. They also want to thank you for all of the hard work you did researching the names engraved on the ring that was very valuable.
Ms Lea French Davis, Associate Registrar for Acquisitions at the museum, replied with the following to request for comment by a local newspaper:
Napkin rings in the U.S. Navy are not that unusual, we have about 44 of them in our collection. However, this one was unusual because it was handmade and made with the intention of recording the names of the First Lieutenants of the ship and also that it was from a significant ship in the Navy. This provenance spoke to us of the traditions of the Navy and also to the life of an officer aboard ship.
The Committee reviewing this donation was very enthusiastic because of the unusual nature of the napkin ring and also because of the wealth of information that Mr. Johnson brought to us to document the object. That was most invaluable to us and made for fascinating reading.
We will be sending this ring off to Washington soon. We hope that this rather mundane artifact will serve as a reminder of those who served on the Patterson and other ships in the Pacific Theater. At least it will not end up in an estate sale or on Ebay some day in the future!