|AMERICAN FLAG WITH 48 STARS, A U.S. NAVY SMALL BOAT ENSIGN FROM A WWII SUBMARINE, WITH ENDEARING WEAR FROM LONG-TERM USE; THE FLAG MADE IN JANUARY, 1944 AT MARE ISLAND, CALIFORNIA; BROUGHT HOME BY GUNNER’S MATE 2ND CLASS, JAY J. BURKINS OF LANCASTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
|Frame Size (H x L):
|37" x 68"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|25.75" x 57"
|48 star, U.S. Navy small boat ensign, made during WWII (U.S. involvement 1941-45) at Mare Island, California, Headquarters of the Pacific Fleet. A black stencil along the hoist on the reverse side reads as follows: "U S Ensign No 11,” followed by “M I Jan 1944.” While U.S. involvement in the Second World War (1941-45) necessitated the acquisition of flags from many sources, the Navy had long made their own flags at several locations, of which this was one. “Ensign” is simply a term for the primary flag flown on a ship. "No. 11" was a size designation for a small boat flag that, per U.S. Navy Regulations of 1914, was to measure 2.37 x 4.5 feet.
Flown extensively, with beautiful, endearing wear, the flag was brought home by U.S. Navyman, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class, Jay J. Burkins (May 19th, 1925, - July 27th, 2016) of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, who served aboard a Gato class submarine called the U.S.S. Hoe (SS-258). Like most other U.S. Navy submarines of the period, boats of the Gato class were given the names of marine creatures. A Gato is a small species of cat shark. Hoe is a nickname for the basking Shark, a variety of dog shark (a.k.a., dogfish). It is actually the 2nd largest type of shark or fish across all species, the only larger being the Whale Shark.
The Navy introduced the Gato class sub between 1941-1943, and it became the staple of the U.S. submarine fleet, used very effectively in the destruction of the Japanese Merchant Marine, as well as much of the Imperial Navy. This particular Gato class sub was laid down by the Electric Boat Company at Groton, Connecticut on January 2nd, 1942 and launched on September 17th of that same year. Sponsored by Miss Helen Hess, it was commissioned on December 16th, 1942.
The Hoe was sent on eight patrols in the Pacific, the first five of these between March of 1943 and August of 1944, ranging from Pearl Harbor, to Guam, to Wake Island, where it searched for downed aviators following the famous engagement at that location, then to Philippines, to Australia. From September of ’44 to March of 1945, it was employed to disrupt Japanese trade in the South China Sea.
Near Indochina, the Hoe became one of the only submarines to ever experience an underwater collision with another sub, when it traded paint with the U.S.S. Flounder (SS-251), on February 24th, 1945. The patrol report of the Flounder read as follows:
“All clear on sound, all clear by periscope, depth 65 feet. Suddenly the whole ship gave a peculiar shudder. Started deep. 30 seconds later ship gave another shake and water started entering boat through the APR cable. Shear valve was closed and stopped leak. Sound soon reported a tremendous rush of air and high speed screws, starting and stopping on our starboard bow. By this time we had figured out that someone has run into us. Screws began to get fainter so at [1711, or 5:11 PM] came to periscope depth and took a look. Calm seas, blue skies, nothing in sight. We were then convinced we had run into a Jap sub and we hoped that he had sunk.”
According to the Submarine Library & Museum Association, “Had the Flounder surfaced just a moment sooner, she might have seen Hoe and the mystery would have been solved on the spot. Instead, the Hoe steamed away thinking she’d tangled with a small piece of the bottom of the ocean, and the Flounder left hoping she’d aided the war effort by destroying an enemy vessel.”
Returning to New York on September 29th, 1945, via Peral Harbor and the Panama Canal, the U.S.S. Hoe was decommissioned at New London, CT on August 7th, 1946. Five of its eight patrols were considered successful and the Hoe rec’d seven battle stars for meritorious wartime service.
It is unclear as to why Jay J. Burkins was gifted the flag, but it was acquired directly from his family by an antiques dealer, from whom I acquired it. It is accompanied by Burkins’ journal from his position at Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class, with limited entries that primarily include the list of guns aboard the vessel, and related information. Also included is Burkins’ pocket Bible (New Testament), of the sort given out by the White House to soldiers during wartime. The Bible was dedicated to Jay by his wife, Bettie [Sarah Elizabeth (Mersinger) Burkins (Jan. 10th, 1924 – Sept. 24, 2013)], by way of hand-written information on a page intended for this purpose.
Copies of various documents are included, such as muster rolls from the Hoe, Burkin’s draft registration card, his obituary with a photo from the local newspaper, etc. Hand notations on Burkins’ draft registration card note that he was discharged from service on November 2nd, 1945. According to his obituary, he was a member of both the Ephrata VFW and the Subvets of Lancaster. He worked for the Denver and Ephrata Telephone Company as a grounds manager for 40 years, loved fishing and bowling. It is reasonable to expect that, prior to being drafted, Jay J. Burkins had never before left Lancaster County—the quintessential, small town, American sailor, who served his country honorably in its time of need, in a suffocating, claustrophobic quarters, in a very dangerous environment, completely on the flip side of the world, underwater, operating guns on a WWII submarine.
The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting, of an unusually heavy weight, that has been pieced and sewn with machine stitching. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a heavy canvas binding along the hoist, with four metal grommets. The general manner in which the flag is made, with higher grade fabrics and uncommonly stout construction, is indicative of U.S. Navy flags of the WWI-WWII era.
Most flags of this nature, brought home by sailors, were ships stores and never saw wartime service. Endearing wear from legitimate use, especially during wartime, is, in this instance, both visually and historically attractive.
The 48 star flag became official in 1912 following the addition of New Mexico and Arizona. It remained the official flag throughout WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18), WWII (U.S. involvement 1941-45), and the Korean War (1950-53), until Alaska gained statehood in 1959 and the 49th star was added.
Brief Information on Mare Island:
Located on the western edge of the City of Vallejo, about 23 miles northeast of San Francisco, Mare Island (actually a peninsula) served as a principal seat of U.S. Navy defense, beginning in the mid-19th century. The site was originally chosen following an expedition that set forth in 1850, when Commodore John Drake Sloat was ordered to lead a survey party in quest of a logical site for the nation's first Pacific naval installation. Sloat recommended the island across the Napa River from the settlement of Vallejo; it being "free from ocean gales and from floods and freshets." On November 6th of that year, two months after California was admitted to statehood, President Fillmore reserved Mare Island for government use. The U.S. Navy Department acted favorably on Commodore Sloat's recommendations and Mare Island was purchased in July, 1852, for the sum of $83,410 for the use as a naval shipyard. Two years later, on September 16th of 1854, Mare Island became the first permanent U.S. naval installation on the West Coast, with Commodore David G. Farragut serving as Mare Island's first base commander.
The base became home to what was known as the Pacific Fleet, and remained so until the threat of Japanese expansionism caused the shift to a more advanced position at Pearl Harbor. It was very active in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but would eventually close in 1993 after Congress approved the findings of the Base Realignment and Closure Report.
Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.
The extraordinary, 3-part molding is constructed of wood, but has a finish that presents like antique iron. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was washed and treated for colorfastness. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: Check back or email me for full report.
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