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ROLEX BLOG

We Want to Honor You – Military Watch Stories from the Community

May 23, 2022

BY Paul Altieri

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To celebrate Memorial Day, we want to honor everyone that has either served or is currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. As an essential piece of equipment, watches are inextricably connected to the military, and countless timepieces that are now regarded as luxury watches were once purpose-built timekeeping tools that were worn by soldiers into battle and survived some of the most demanding conditions on this planet.

We always say that it is the stories behind watches that make them truly special, so we reached out to the community to see if anyone has a personal story about a timepiece and its role in military use. Whether it is a vintage watch that survived a war and has since become a cherished family heirloom, or a modern Rolex sports watch that is fulfilling its role as a rugged tool and faithfully serving its owner as they perform their duties to protect this country, we wanted to hear about it!

To honor the brave individuals who are members of the armed forces and who tirelessly work to protect our beloved country, we are sharing some of the remarkable stories about these special military watches, told directly in the words of their original owners.

Rolex Submariner 116610LN – @combatrolex

Military watches Rolex Submariner 116610LN

I purchased my first watch from your Newport Beach location. It’s a Rolex Submariner 116610LN and has become priceless to me.

I’m a helicopter pilot in the military and have always brought my Sub with me on flights to ensure I have a redundant reference aside from the aircraft’s systems/avionics. It has also been on countless combat missions in the cockpit with me throughout Afghanistan. I do take it diving too and put it to work so it doesn’t dry out.

There’s something to be said for the additional layer of confidence a quality timepiece provides while flying over the Hindu Kush at 12,000′ with an SF team onboard, or entering a cave at 150′ below.

Thanks again for my “Combat Rolex.”

Rolex Submariner 1680 – M. Jones

Military watches Rolex Submariner 1680 Red Sub

It’s Grandad’s fault… After I graduated the Virginia Military Institute and was preparing for a career in the Army he handed me a small box. Inside was a Rolex Submariner, a watch I had no idea he owned.

A decorated veteran of 3 major conflicts (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam), Grandad was my paratrooper mentor, a hero in the eyes of this 20 year old, fledgling Army officer. The watch, he explained, was purchased after a third tour to Vietnam. Then Master Sargeant John Hansen had picked up the simple steel dive watch from an Army Exchange in Germany. “$300 for a good watch seemed like a way to treat myself.” I could tell the splurge still hurt his feelings… Now he saw fit to hand his beautiful stainless piece of history to me, to continue its journey, with a simple piece of advice “just wear the damned thing.”

But that was all it took. I was hooked. Watches became more than a tool for me. Sure, my red lettered ref. 1680 accompanied me through arduous land navigation training, parachute jumps, ocean surface swims, and throughout combats zones… But when I looked down at it I saw more than the time and date; I was energized by the history and legacy that radiated from its patina dial. I could simply feel Grandad’s spirit.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I have added to collection. Mortar training with my Panerai GMT, Close Quarter Battle training with my Breitling, and some time in Afghanistan with my Explorer II (42mm)… But even as the timepiece changed, the feeling of opening that little box from Grandad never did… This watch “thing” – the obsession, is so rooted in our histories and legacies, that the feeling one gets is hard to explain.

So as I go into this Memorial Day weekend, the 1680 will be on my wrist… And as I lay flowers at the graves of so many of my great warriors and friends, Grandad can rest easy knowing his spirit is alive and well, and be happy knowing I continue to just wear the damned thing.

De Oppresso Liber,
M Jones

Rolex GMT-Master 1675 – David K Kramer, Col USAF (Ret.)

Military watches Rolex GMT-Master 1675 Pepsi

I was an F-100 fighter pilot in Vietnam. In May of ‘69 I got a chance to go to Hong Kong. The first stop was the China Fleet Club, the Royal Navy’s expansive (and wonderful) Base Exchange. I had done some research – asked another pilot – and he said that the ideal pilot’s watch was the Rolex GMT-Master “Pepsi bezel” – that’s what I bought (for $146.00)!

I’ve had it ever since and love it now as much as I did then. In 2016, I had it serviced and it remains one of my most treasured possessions – one that I’ll pass on to my son in the future.

Here I am at Tuy Hoa AB, Viet Nam, just after flying my last F-100 combat mission in Dec ‘69. I am on the right and the watch is just visible. My Crew Chief, SSgt Tom Kempster is on my left. My old reliable GMT-Master is lying on the photo. (Purchased for $146.00 in May of 1969 at the “China Fleet Club,” the Royal Navy’s BX in Hong Kong.)

David K Kramer, Col USAF (Ret.)

Rolex Submariner Date 1680 – Bernard Cenny

Military watches Rolex Submariner 1680 Red Sub

Here is my watch story: I retired from the US Army as a Lt Colonel after 28 years active duty. My watch story is about my Rolex Submariner Date model 1680, serial number in the 3,9xx,xxx. Originally purchased in 1975 for $320.00 by my father for me in Johnstown Pennsylvania from an official Rolex dealer. I am the original owner.

I have worn this watch and dived this watch all over the world. Attached is a photo that shows me as a US Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Detachment Commander in Thailand in 1985. I’m wearing the Rolex Submariner on a black nylon military-issued strap with brass buckle. I took off the USA rivet bracelet it originally came with because the rivet bracelet periodically sprang open during physical activities and was also too shiny to wear on missions.

During a Scuba dive off Sunabe on Okinawa in 1986, my Rolex Submariner became damaged and the bezel ring ripped off underwater. Upon return to the USA I sent the watch off to Rolex NYC for repair. Over the years it was also repaired at Rolex Dallas. The original tritium dial ended its luminous half-life decades ago. The watch today sports what I am told is the very rare Rolex Service Center Replacement Red Luminova dial. I still scuba dive with this watch. Thank you for your interest.

Bernard Cenney
Lt Colonel, Retired
US Army

Rolex Submariner 1680 “Red Sub” – Robert Terrell

Military watches Rolex Submariner 1680 Red Line DIal

I recently bought a beautiful 2022 Submariner from Bob’s Watches, almost exactly fifty years from the date at which I acquired my first Rolex Submariner, so I hereby submit the following story:

I was a Navy pilot, and, later, a US Coast Guard helicopter pilot, but in the late 1960s, during my very first Navy tour, I worked closely with a number of members of the Underwater Demolition Teams, later to become early SEALS. I gained my original enthusiasm for the excellence of Rolex watches as a function hearing the stories of these Frogmen about how the Navy had tried less expensive dive watches, such as the Zodiac and the Bulova Snorkel models of the day, but had always gone back to the Rolex Submariner because it was the only watch that would not leak during extreme Navy dive operations. I remember some of the senior UDT and SEAL instructors in those days being especially proud of their “Silverback” Rolexes, so described because the bezels in those days would change in color from black to silver, with sufficient age and use. These Silverback Rolexes were highly prized, and served as very seriously valued badges of honor among the Navy Special Forces.

I acquired my own Rolex Submariner in 1971, and I’m very proud to say that it has only very rarely left my wrist since that time, surviving many years of flight and diving duty all over the world, including more than thirty years flying with our civilian LifeFlight Emergency Medical Programs here in the US. Somewhere along the way it became a Silverback itself, and I’m almost as proud of it as those old Navy SEALS were all those years ago. Even though I’ve had it cleaned and serviced a few times since the early 1970s, it has proven completely reliable, just as I knew that it would, and it certainly has never leaked!

In honor of my old watch, and of the Navy Silverbacks from years past, I have just acquired my second Rolex Submariner, but I’m proud to declare that my original will continue on duty as my primary watch further into the future, and into the futures of my descendants, presumably indefinitely! (I should add here that it turns out that I’ve recently become aware that my original watch is now described by knowledgeable collectors as a “Feet First Red Sub” early date model, due to red lettering and other distinctive features of its dial. The photo was taken recently.)

Robert Terrell

Rolex GMT-Master II 1267110LN – Stephen Morris

Military watches Rolex GMT-Master II 116710LN Black Bezel

In January 1991, Desert Storm commenced against the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein. It was also my 25th birthday, the exact day the assault began in Kuwait City. I was a Radio Platoon Commander and First Lieutenant of U.S. Marines serving with the 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In one of the oddities of modern warfare, my unit regularly received mail even though we were in the middle of a desolate desert as far as the eye could see. A magazine had a Rolex advertisement for the Submariner, and it immediately captured my imagination. To ward off stress or thoughts of possible death, many of us made plans for exactly what we would do, who we would see, or our first purchase when we made it back home.

For me, that Rolex Submariner became symbolic of the future, and resilience in the face of danger. When we returned, I got distracted by other plans, as we often do. I returned to school for pre-medical studies; next came medical school and a return to military service in another branch as a physician. I ended up deploying another two additional times to a combat zone during my career, but nothing is quite like that 1st time.

Throughout the decades, the symbolism and desire for a Rolex stayed with me. So, for my 50th birthday and retirement from federal service in 2016, I purchased a Rolex GMT-Master II (Model # 116710LN). Since I’m not a scuba diver but travel internationally rather frequently, the GMT function was an excellent addition.

As this model is no longer in production, it’s unique and fitting to my young man’s daydream of returning home safely. Now I smile whenever I put it on my wrist, feeling like I own a bit of history and will proudly pass the watch, and its story, on to my son when he reaches adulthood.

That’s my watch story,

Stephen Morris

Rolex Submariner 5513 & Rolex GMT-Master 1675 – Karl (Fritz) Eickemeyer

Military watches Rolex Submariner 5513 GMT-Master 1675 Pepsi

As a young soldier in Vietnam, I was intrigued by the cult following for Rolex watches by my fellow Special Forces soldiers. It seemed that many of them proudly wore either a GMT-Master or Submariner as badges of our military culture.

Almost a year into my assignment with a Special Forces unit near the Cambodian border, I was transferred to an elite Special Forces unit, which was responsible for reconnaissance and strike operations anywhere in the Third Tactical Region of the Republic of Vietnam. This unit had an unofficial “Unit Fund,” where members were encouraged to contribute. This fund was used to support “unofficial” unit activities, such as celebrations upon completion of operations and the running of our “Team House,” which generated additional revenue. At the end of a tour, each member was presented with a Rolex GMT-Master watch and Special Forces Dagger.

In addition to receiving the pictured GMT-Master, I purchased the pictured Submariner from the China Fleet Club in Hong Kong in 1969. I no longer have the purchase papers for the Submariner, but my recollection is that I paid just under US $100 for it. While there, I purchased another GMT-Master, and my recollection is that I paid about US $136. That was a fair amount of money for an Army 1st Lieutenant at that time.

I have alternatively worn both of these watches during my 31-year Army career, followed by a 12-year career in construction management. I am a recreational diver and have used the Submariner as a dive watch on dives throughout Asia, the Caribbean, and the US before the use of dive computers, and later, even while using dive computers. My careers have involved significant travel around the world, and I have used my GMT-Master as a travel watch to keep track of time in different zones.

The picture is to illustrate the use both these watches have endured. I have faithfully maintained both watches, and that has resulted in the unintentional devaluation of both. I had always sought out authorized Rolex service centers, usually in Asia. When I specified that the dial luminance was fading, or that my GMT Bezel was losing its original color, I requested replacement. That was stupid of me. What I got were service dials, hands, and bezels, which looked great to me. I did not receive the originals back in every case, or just told the service center that I didn’t want them. Another dumb move. I now regret these decisions, although I treasure the watches. They are survivors which have been through over 50 years of hard use with reliability, excellent timing, and intended functionality.

The picture shows the watches as they are today. The original bands had gotten so loose that I was afraid to use them for fear they would break, with the possible loss of the watch. I have sent the original bands to be refurbished in, of all places, Hong Kong. They are due back in a few weeks. I expect them to be as tight and functional as original. Meanwhile I am using the aftermarket bands shown in the picture. I actually like these bands, and I may continue using them to save the original bands, or rotate bands for wear, just as I do with the watches.

I’m glad to submit my Rolex watch story and hope you enjoy it. I consider it an honor to have served in the US Army and appreciate your interest in connecting watches worn and used during military service.

With best regards,
Karl (Fritz) Eickemeyer

Tudor Prince Oysterdate “Big Rose” – Mark McCormack

Military Watches Tudor Prince Oysterdate Big Rose

Attached is a picture of a Tudor Big Rose my Dad purchased in Hong Kong when we was coming home from Viet Nam in 1963. He was a Physician and Flight Surgeon in a MASH unit from 1961 – 1963.

The watch is original, has never been serviced or reconditioned, and it remains fully operational. No box but we have the original certificate as well as the paperwork /receipt from Artland Rolex in Hong Kong, which is still an authorized dealer.

Thank you,
Mark McCormack

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