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Diesel Boats Forever

The Diesel Boats Forever Insignia was an unofficial uniform breast pin worn in violation of uniform regulations by some officers and men of the United States Navy's Submarine Service in the 1970s.

The United States Navy authorizes the Submarine Combat Patrol Insignia for war patrols in any submarine, and the SSBN Deterrent Patrol Insignia for any patrols in a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. However, there was no way for a diesel boat submariner to earn a recognition pin in peacetime, a situation that exacerbated the natural rivalry between the two groups of submariners. (Regulus missile patrols did not earn the SSBN patrol pin.)

During the 1950s and 1960s, the early classes of nuclear submarines suffered reliability problems, and on occasion were unable to complete their various missions. In 1969, USS Barbel (SS-580) was ordered to Japan to relieve a nuclear attack submarine that suffered such a casualty. As the crew celebrated the nuclear boat's misfortune, they held a contest to design a pin recognizing when a diesel boat needed to take a "broke-down nuke boat's" mission.

The winning design, submitted by former commercial artist ETR3 (SS) Leon Figuredo, showed a guppy submarine embraced by two mermaids (sea hags), along with the letters "DBF." Holes in the scroll allowed for stars to be added for subsequent awards.

Upon arrival at Yokosuka, the design was taken to "the Thieves' Alley" where a local craftsman made up one thousand pins, some gilt for the officers and some in natural (gray) color for the men. When the Barbels picked up their pins, they made the mistake of leaving the die with the craftsman.

The original intent of the Barbels was that the pin (and subsequent stars) would be awarded to the crews of diesel boats that relieved nuke boats. The Yokosuka craftsman, however, began producing and selling the pins to anyone who wanted one.

In 1970 a drawing was sent to the Navy Department for official approval, which was never given. Without official support, the "proper" display of the pin was impossible to enforce, even with the cooperation of lenient commanders. The original intent of "times a diesel relieved a nuke" was lost, and the most common meaning of the stars became "number of diesel boats served on."

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