Column: Admiral Sieglaff and his strong connection to Albert Lea

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 6, 2002

Not long ago I was doing research on the Knatvold family. One result was the article about Edward Knatvold and his Northern Creamery Supply Co. which appeared in the July 21, 2002, issue of the Tribune. However, a second article about Edward’s brother, Bernard, who was in the furniture and undertaking (funeral home) business in Albert Lea for 48 years, just didn’t quite evolve.

Yet, as I looked over the obituary for Bernard H. Knatvold, one name on the list of survivors served as a memory jogger.

In August 1995, I wrote an article about a Rear Admiral Sieglaff who gained fame as a submarine officer during World War II. The admiral’s local connection was with the Knatvold family.

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Hoping to obtain more information about this particular officer, I contacted the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. I was hoping to obtain Sieglaff’s photo which could be used for a Tribune article, then given to the Freeborn County Historical Museum for the archives. Instead, I obtained some added details about this outstanding naval officer which can be used for this column.

The U.S. Naval Academy Museum confirms that William Bernard “Barney” Sieglaff was born on July 6, 1908, in Albert Lea.

His father, Henry S. Sieglaff, came to Albert Lea in 1900 from Waterloo, Iowa, and operated the cigar stand in the Hotel Albert for a few years. Before his death on June 2, 1921, Henry was a car salesman for the Motor Inn Co. The family then lived at 414 Park Ave.

His mother, Helen, was

a member of the pioneer Norwegian-American

Knatvold family, and the daughter of Bernard H. Knatvold. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Sieglaff moved to the Los Angeles area with her son and two daughters.

Barney, who had a middle name and nickname inherited from his grandfather, attended school in Albert Lea for eight full years, then moved to California during his freshman year, and graduated from a Los Angeles high school.

Influenced by a brother-in-law, who was a Navy officer, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall of 1927. Sieglaff graduated in 1931, served two years as an officer on the battleship USS Oklahoma, then attended the submarine school.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Lt. Sieglaff was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was in charge of a gun crew on the submarine USS Tautog which shot down one of the first Japanese aircraft in World War II.

Sieglaff later commanded the submarine Tautog which made seven successful patrols and sank 26 Japanese vessels, more than any other submarine during the war.

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 MS 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, Mass., 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, Md., to live with a daughter in 1960.

Mrs. Henry Sieglaff died in a Baltimore hospital in December 1962. She is buried with her husband in Albert Lea’s Graceland Cemetery.

Rear Admiral William Bernard &uot;Barney&uot; 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.

Incidentally, a rear admiral (two stars) is the equivalent in rank to that of a major general in the U.S. Army.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.