Engraved Dolphins

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

In 1993, my wife and I visited the SubBase, New London… Make that Groton. While there, we were introduced to a lad… Fine young qualified man. He had heard that I was an old fossil left over from the diesel boat days. After he introduced himself, he unpinned his dolphins and handed them to me. I turned them over and on the backside it read


Father and son Dolphins. Can you imagine what it would mean to have your skipper pin Dolphins on you that your old man earned? That would be one explosive moment… A lifetime-keeper memory.

Over the years, I have seen several sets of 'engraved Dolphins'… I have always envied men who were so loved and respected by the lads they served with or would be loved by a woman so much that they would be given a set of Dolphins with an engraved sentiment on the back.

In the late '80s, I lost a very close shipmate. He got out when I did but never felt comfortable so after five or six years, he went back… Signed up… Eventually made Master Chief… Served a couple of tours in Viet-Nam as a U.S. Naval advisor assigned to a South Vietnamese river patrol gunboat. Hell of a man… Great submarine sailor. He died on active duty and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

It wasn't until that kid at the SubBase handed me that set of engraved Dolphins that the full significance registered. What I would have given to have purchased a set of sterling… Solid sterling Balfours (the Sub Museum sells solid Balfour enlisted Dolphins)… Purchased a set and had some jeweler engrave, 'SAVE ME A RACK IN THE ALLEY - DEX' on the back and give them to the undertaker to pin on his blues. Little thing no one would have known or given a damn about, but I would have known… And if what they say is true, he would have known.

How close were we? We enlisted together. His father swore us both in… His dad was the toughest four-striper that ever lived… And our serial numbers were consecutive… His ended in 51… Mine in 52. He always maintained he was senior to me because his old man swore him in first… When in fact, he was senior to me because he was simply the better man.

Engraved Dolphins… If the 'After Battery Rat' could leave something positive with you, it would be to foster and encourage more extensive use of the practice of presenting engraved Dolphins. I really envied guys who got them… I guess they did something very right.

Just think, what if , in your old cuff link box, there was an old tarnished set of Dolphins with 'THELMA' her bra size and 'JULY 1959' on the back. That would be submarine history!