Ronald Reagan and the HellcatsPublished 9:10am Friday, January 7, 2011
Column: Between the Corn Rows
This may come as a real surprise for many folks, but there’s a rather odd connection between the nation’s 40th president and the Hellcats in Operation Barney. However, there are a few other details to be explained first. If this looks like a teaser, then be assured that’s exactly what it is.
The naval officer who really created Operation Barney and the Hellcats was Vice Adm. Charles A Lockwood, commander of submarine operations in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. He’s the person who has a sub officer named William Bernard (Barney) Sieglaff who set up the Hellcats for a submarine raid into the Sea of Japan during June 1945.
In 1947 Adm. Lockwood retired from the U.S. Navy. He wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post magazine based on submarine warfare in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, I had a quote from this article in a previous column that clearly made the connection between Barney Sieglaff and Albert Lea. Lockwood also wrote the book, “Sink ’Em All.” with an obvious theme in 1951.
The retired three-star admiral and retired Air Force Col. Hans Christian Adamson became the co-authors of the 1955 book, “Hellcats of the Sea,” based on Operation Barney. Then in 1956 or 1957, Lockwood and Adamson joined with three other writers to create a script for the film, “Hellcats of the Navy.”
The stars of this film were Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis. In reality, they were married and she used her professional acting name. This was, by the way, the only film where they appeared together.
Somehow, the plot was based on a love triangle between two submarine officers (Reagan and another actor) and a Navy nurse (Nancy Davis Reagan). I’ve never seen this film so a determination as to its relationship to reality won’t be made here.
Reagan has been quoted as being disappointed with this film and as a result decided to quit film acting. He later became a politician, governor of California (1967-1975), then our nation’s President (1981-1989).
To conclude this series of columns, here’s more information about the life of Barney Sieglaff after World War II.
He was twice awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star three times, three Legions of Merit, a Navy Unit Citation, and other decorations for his wartime and peacetime military service.
During his 39 years in the U.S. Navy, Sieglaff earned a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, commanded several surface ships (including a Cruiser Division), and served three years on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
In the early 1950s, Sieglaff became the commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base at New London, Conn. In 1965, the admiral was promoted to the position of commandant of the First Naval District in Boston which includes all of New England.
The admiral’s mother came back to Albert Lea in the early 1940s and resided at 613 E. Park Ave. until moving to Baltimore to live with a daughter in 1960.
Mrs. Henry Sieglaff died in a Baltimore hospital in December 1962. She is buried next to her husband in Albert Lea’s Graceland Cemetery.
Rear Adm. William Bernard (Barney) Sieglaff retired from the military service in 1966, and died on Aug. 16, 1995, in Urbana, Va. He is buried in the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Md.
Special thanks go to Mark Jones for inspiring this and the three previous columns.
Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.