This post is quite different from most of the topics about which I write. It involves research that is not related to brewing, archery, or the Middle Ages. It IS research on an artifact, but one that has a shorter history than most of the issues I write about.
My Father-in-Law, Erwin A. Schroder, always had a napkin at his place-setting on the table and it was wrapped in a napkin ring. The ring looked like a piece of pipe that someone chopped off of scrap pipe and rounded the edges to make this utilitarian ring. It had some inscriptions on it, but it was difficult to read from a distance. We never asked him about it. It was just one of those things you get used to seeing on the table in front of him. After each meal, he would put his napkin back in the holder before pushing away from the table.
Erwin died in 2000. My Mother-in-Law, Marie Schroder, passed in 2015. After her death, we came into possession of the napkin ring. I was intrigued immediately. It was engraved with the following:
Sept 22, 1937
Beneath this script 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
The first part of the inscription is self-explanatory. The USS Patterson (DD392) was the destroyer on which Erwin served in the Pacific Theater during WWII. September 22, 1937 was her commissioning date. The Patterson had a distinguished career during the war, earning 13 Battle Stars. Only a handful of the many hundreds of destroyers in WWII earned more. The Patterson was moored in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and was one of the first ships to get underway and engage the Japanese. There are a number of sources to view her history.
The “First Lieutenant” component of the inscription does not refer to rank, per se, but to duties. In the U.S. Navy, the First Lieutenant is responsible for the appearance and maintenance of the outside of the ship. This position is also responsible for underway replenishment and for coordinating mooring and anchoring of the ship.
Napkin rings for the officers in their wardrooms served an important function. According to several sources, laundering the napkins after each meal would have wasted fresh water, so to insure that each officer got his own used napkin they were kept in an identifiable ring (I have no idea how often they laundered the napkins!). Napkin rings in wardrooms often had ranks or numbers on them for identification purposes. I contacted several curators of WWII ship museums for comment on my Father-in-Law’s ring. They all suggested that it was unique among rings that they have seen.
My original musings on this artifact included the question of whether it was on the ship from the day that it was commissioned. I am still working on that question. A picture from Patterson’s wardroom shows the officer’s napkin rings on the table. Due to low detail in the old photo, it is difficult to detect too much. However, the rings appear to be circular and about the same size as the one I have.
I decided to research the names inscribed on it. What I found is quite interesting. At least 4 of the 8 persons listed on the ring went on to have their own commands during the war. One of them was awarded 2 Silver Stars for valor. Another went into the submarine service and was lost at sea.
In upcoming posts, I will present information about these brave men who may have shared this ring during the life of the USS Patterson. As a teaser, here is a little information about the first person on the list: Halford A. Knoertzer. Hal, as he was apparently called, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1932 and was one of the Plank Holders of the Patterson, meaning that he was on the crew at the time of commissioning in 1937. He was a LT(jg) at that time. After leaving the Patterson, he commanded 3 different destroyers before the formal end to the war: USS McCalla (DD 488), USS Hunt (DD 674), and USS Henderson (DD 785). By the time he took over the Hunt he was at the rank of Commander. One of the interesting things I will describe in the next post is the fact that as captain of the USS McCalla, Cdr. Knoertzer would have a literal “run in” with his previous ship, the Patterson.
UPDATE: The Ring Has A New Home.