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ACR-6 USS California / USS San Diego



Photo of the California with her original fore mast in Bellingham, Washington, 9 April 1908.
Length: 503 feet 11 inches. Breadth: 69 feet 7 inches. Mean Draft: 24 feet 1 inch. Displacement: 13,680 tons. Machinery: 29,381 IHP; Babcock boilers, 2 Vertical, Inverted, Triple Expansion Engines, 2 screws. Speed: 22.20 knots. Coal Bunker Capacity: 900 tons normal, 1,929 tons maximum. Batteries: Main Battery: four 8 inch, 45 cal. breech-loading rifles, fourteen 6-inch, 50 cal. rapid-fire guns. Secondary Battery: eighteen 3-inch, 50 cal. rapid fire guns, twelve 3-pounder semi-automatic guns, two 1-pounder rapid fire guns, two 3-inch field pieces, six automatic guns, caliber .30, two 18-inch submerged torpedo tubes. Armor: Belt, 6 inches; turrets, 6 1/2 inches; barbettes, 6 inches; deck, 4 inches; Conning Tower, 9 inches. Complement: 41 officers, 829 men (921 as flagship). Built by: Union Iron Works, San Francisco, CA Launched: April 28, 1904. Class: PENNSYLVANIA

The second California (Armored Cruiser 6) was launched 28 April 1904 by Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California and was sponsored by Miss F. Pardee. On May 7, 1902 her keel was laid at the Union Iron Works shipyards. The hull of the California was launched April 28, 1904 almost two years after the keel was laid. On January 20, 1906 her dock trials began and on October 4, 1906 her sea trials began in the Santa Barbara Channel. The ship weighed about 15,000 tons fully outfitted and loaded for duty. Two steam-powered engines drove two eighteen-foot diameter propellers. These four cylinder engines were supplied steam by sixteen boilers and could produce 25,000-horse power. She was commissioned 1 August 1907, with Captain V. L. Cottman in command. Assigned to the Armored Cruiser Squadron, Pacific Fleet, California cruised off the west coast of the United States through August 1908. This Squadron consisted of the USS Washington under the command of Captain Theodoric Porter, the USS Tennessee under the command of Captain Albert G. Berry, the USS California under command of Captain V. L. Cottman and the USS South Dakota under command of Captain James T. Smith which, was almost completed with officers yet to be assigned. Rear Admiral Charles H. Stockton was in command of the Squadron and used the USS Tennessee as his flagship.

It was reported that on 5 January 1908 California sailed from Magdalena Bay, Mexico for San Diego. California joined the 2d Division, Pacific Fleet, and she took part with her sister ship Maryland in the naval review of 42 warships at anchor in San Francisco Bay, by Navy Secretary Metcalf on 8 May 1908. Aside from a cruise to Hawaii and Samoa in the fall of 1908, the cruiser operated along the west coast, sharpening her readiness through training exercises and drills. In the autumn of 1909, she deployed westward with the Armored Cruiser Squadron and on 5 September 1909 the West Virginia, California, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado and possibly the Maryland departed San Francisco, California and arrived on 11 September in Honolulu, Hawaii steaming 2,100 miles. The force called on ports in the Admiralty Islands, Pago Pago on Tutuila Island on American Samoa, the Philippines, Japan, and China, before returning to Honolulu on 31 January 1910. The Thirteenth Census of the United States was taken aboard the USS California on 4 May 1910 as she was moored in the Navy Yard at Mare Island, Vallejo, California. Captain Henry J. Mayo was in command and Flag Officer Admiral Giles B. Harber with his wife Jeannette was also listed aboard.

According to a post card written on the 8th of February 1911 by a crewman of the California, the California was anchored in San Diego. The California, South Dakota, West Virginia and Colorado arrived at Santa Monica on 7 October 1911 and then sailed for San Pedro. In early September 1911 she was dry-docked for routine maintenance and she exited the dry-dock on 11 September.

During December of 1911 she sailed for Honolulu, Hawaii for the opening ceremonies of the completion of the Pearl Harbor entrance channel. The Pearl Harbor Naval Station, across Quarry Loch, was authorized in 1908. Dredging of the Pearl Harbor channel entrance began in 1910 and, on December 14, 1911, USS California became the first warship to pass through the new channel into Pearl Harbor. As she entered the harbor the California and her crew were the gracious hosts to Queen Liluokalani.

USS California leaving the Dry-Dock on 11 September 1911.

Later in March of 1912 California continued westward for duty on the Asiatic Station. From the ships log of the California during mid April at Sea, en route to Olongapo, Philippines:

7 April 1912 – Fair and pleasant. Steaming through San Bernadino Straights, speed 11 knots. Entire day continued in trip through straights and evening finds us with a few hours to go before striking the China Sea. Set clocks back 32 minutes.

8 April 1912 - Partly cloudy and pleasant. At 1:30 steamed into Olongapo Harbor and at 2:37 anchored off the town of Olongapo. Naval Station fired a salute of thirteen guns, which was returned by this ship (California) with seven guns. Official calls were exchanged.

9 April 1912 – Fair and pleasant. Received in Pay Department 166 crates of potatoes and 11 crates of onions. Got underway at 12:11 and stood out of Subic Bay, en route to Cavite, P.I. Rigged ship for coaling. At 6:10 pm anchored off Cavite. Frank, C. E., this day reenlisted on board. Received two coal lighters alongside. Commenced coaling at 7:42 and finished at 11:10 pm. Total coal taken onboard 296.2 tons. Water barge Santolan came alongside.

10 April 1912 – Partly cloudy and pleasant. USS Monadnock and Naval Station fired salutes, which were returned by this ship. Got underway at 12:57, anchored at target practice rendezvous at 3:35 and sent out sailing launches with targets mounted for night practice.

11 April 1912 – Clear and calm. Got underway at 7:30 and stood out of bay for day practice runs. Manned the battery. Came inside again and anchored at 12:58. Sent out sailing launches and held night practice.

12 April 1912 – Clear and pleasant. Got underway in company with USS Colorado at 7:52 for Olongapo. Pay Day, but our Manila Liberty is knocked in the head. Held man battery drills. Anchored in Olongapo Harbor at 12:12 pm.

13 April 1912 – Fair and Pleasant. Commanding Officer inspected the crew. Commander-in-Chief called officially on Commanding Officer USS Monadnock. Liberty was granted for a few hours this evening.

On April 18 while at sea, Captain Charles H. Harlowe, a veteran of more than 30 years at sea, receives notice that he has been placed on the retired list. Captain Harlowe did this on his own request, and likely the old salt would think back fondly on his days of being a captain of the flagship of the Pacific Fleet. Captain Alexander S. Halstead would succeed Captain Harlowe as the next Commanding Officer of the California.

The California’s former Pay Clerk Charles A. Gibbons was arrested by Federal authorities in early April in Kentucky charged with the embezzlement of some $3,000 from the USS California, which had occurred sometime in the late fall of 1911. Gibbons had embezzled this money and then jumped ship while the California was in Santa Monica, California on October 7, 1911 and headed back east to his home area in the Eastern Kentucky area. After his arrest in Kentucky Gibbons was brought back to San Francisco and placed in the brig at the Mare Island Navy Yard on April 19, 1912 where he was ordered held until his court-martial, which likely would be conducted aboard the California in the Philippine Islands. Gibbons, on April 22 was then ordered held on the Independence, which was the receiving ship at Mare Island until transportation to Olongapo could be arranged. The Independence was a wooded hulled frigate built in Boston in 1812 and was at the time the oldest serving ship in the navy. The Independence by this time had her masts taken down and she was housed over to provide more room for new sailors yet to be assigned to a ship and also house naval prisoners. Then on April 24 the Navy Yard decided that Gibbons would be kept at Mare Island until the California arrived back to Mare Island in place of sending him out to the Philippines to meet the California.

Gibbons was born about 1883 in the state of North Carolina and had been in the navy for several years prior to his embezzlement and going AWOL from the California. Gibbons had been a Yeoman serving aboard the USS Vicksburg, as his name appears on the 1910 Federal Census and he was married about 1908. The Vicksburg was a 1,010-ton Annapolis class gunboat built at the Bath Iron Works in 1897. It is not known how much prison time he may have served but it is known that by January of 1920 Gibbons was living in Lexington, Kentucky on East Maxwell Street working as a traveling auditor. He was married, his wife’s name being Edith who was 3 years older than Charles. Edith and Charles had one son named Clyde R. Gibbons who was 20-years old at the time. Clyde was born in California and so was Edith, but Charles and Edith would not have been married at the time Clyde was born but it is still likely that Edith gave birth to Clyde, likely out of wedlock.

Summer of 1912 found the California in Chinese waters, and she spent the 4th of July at Shanghai, China and then cruised to Japan later in July. After this service representing American power and prestige in the Far East, she returned home in August 1912, and was ordered to Corinto, Nicaragua, then embroiled in internal political disturbance. Here she protected American lives and property, by placing naval and marine forces ashore. On August 28, 1912 a force of 16 officers, 270 bluejackets from the ships company along with a marine detachment of 1 officer and 62 enlisted men were put ashore in Corinto, Nicaragua. This force was under the command of Lt. Commander George W. Steele, USN. A second force was sent ashore on September 20 under the command of Lt. (jg) R. T. Kieran, USN that consisted of 32 men sent ashore in Corinto for duty at Chinandega, Nicaragua.

On September 1 the California was at Balboa in the Canal Zone where she embarked Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton, USMC and his brigade consisting of 29 officers and 752 enlisted men and steamed for Corinto, Nicaragua, where they arrived on September 4, 1912. While the California was at Balboa one of the California’s sailors writes a post card home to a Miss Grace Monroe in Massachusetts. In fact as the post card stated California was ordered to Balboa, Panama to pickup 750 Marines that had been brought from the Philadelphia Navy Yard aboard the USS Prairie to Cristobal, Panama and then sent across the canal on a train. The marines were under orders to be taken to Nicaragua. The USS Denver had previously left a small marine detachment at a cable station located at San Juan del Sur, and some of the Marines being transported now aboard the California were to be landed there in order that the defenses of this important cable station be strengthened so as not to fall into the hands of the rebels. The California would have to sail 650 miles at top speed to land the force and San Juan del Sur and then to her final destination of Corinto, Nicaragua in 4 days time. She would land 500 Marines at Corinto with orders for them to patrol the 72 miles of railroad from Managua to the sea. With the addition of the California’s 500 marines, this brought the total US Military force to a strength of over 2,000 men on the ground in Nicaragua with an additional 2,000 Navy Bluejackets on ships off the coast if needed all under the command of Admiral Southerland.

On three separate dates between September 6 and November 3, 1912 California sent detachments consisting of 1 officer and 25 men ashore for duty in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. These landing forces were returned to the California by November 12, 1912. Once released from Nicaraguian duties California resumed her operations along the west coast of the United States. California, and kept a watchful eye on Mexico, at that time also suffering political disturbances that had troubled Nicaragua.

By the middle of November things had calmed down enough that on November 12 the last of the fleets forces in Nicaragua had returned to their respective ships. On November 14 at 4:15 in the afternoon the fleet consisting of the California, Colorado and Maryland sailed from Nicaraguan waters for San Diego. Rear Admiral William Southerland’s force along with Colonel Pendleton’s Marines consisted of 89 Marine Corps and Naval Officers and 2,282 Navy Bluejackets and Marines ashore in Nicaragua. During these actions in Nicaragua the Marines suffered 5 killed and 7 wounded. The Navy Bluejackets had 2 killed and 4 wounded. Among the officers 2 were wounded.

When released from duty in Nicaragua California then made a cruise to Honolulu meeting up with the South Dakota there. Fall battle practice for the armored cruisers of the Pacific Fleet was scheduled off San Diego to begin on September 9, 1912 and together the California and South Dakota steamed to San Diego to assemble with her fleet mates.

During the early months of 1913 disturbances along the western coast of Mexico warranted a show of force by the United States Navy in case they were needed to protect any Americans ashore that might be threatened by these rebels. Rear Admiral Sutherland aboard the California, his flagship, was first to arrive off the coast. Sutherland asked for the South Dakota and Colorado to also be sent to the area. By February 16, 1913 all 3 ships were in the area, but the situation ashore was calm and no action was needed by Sutherlands force. The force patrolled off the western Mexican coast for several months to insure nothing would happen. By March 31 they were still on station and Admiral Sutherland’s term of service was up. He was replaced while on station off Guaymas, Mexico in early April by Admiral W. C. Cowles where he hoisted his Admirals flag on the California as Sutherland had did before him.

By early summer 1913 California had returned back to the waters off the American west coast. In mid-July she participated in Seattle’s Potlatch celebration held each year in mid-July to celebrate the cities booming prosperity. After the Potlatch Celebration California sailed southward to San Francisco on orders to enter dry-dock at Mare Island. On August 5 in mid-afternoon she was steaming into the channel at Mare Island and was then towed into the dry-dock. Her routine repairs were to be completed quickly as Captain Alexander S. Halstead had orders in hand to meet the Pittsburgh then coming from Guaymas, Mexico for target practices off the Californian coast. Captain Halstead was to leave Mare Island dry-dock within 4 days time in order to be able to meet the Pittsburgh at the rendezvous point. The South Dakota relieved the Pittsburgh on station off Guaymas, Mexico, and when the target practice was completed with the Pittsburgh, the California was to sail south to relieve the South Dakota in Mexican waters. Upon completion of the target practice with the Pittsburgh, Captain Halstead’s term as commanding officer of the California was up, and the former skipper of the USS Mayflower the President’s yacht, Captain Newton A. McCulley, replaced him as skipper on September 1, 1913.

On the fifth day of November 1913, Navy Secretary Daniels announced that the California would remain in Mexican waters. She was to be relieved by the Pittsburgh, which was now on her way to Mexican waters from San Diego, but Daniels gave orders to keep the California on station with the other ships which made up the U.S. Naval force in Mexican waters. Along with the California were her sister ships the Pittsburgh and Maryland and the gunboat Annapolis and the supply ship Glacier.

By January of 1914 the California had returned from Mexican waters and went into the dry dock at Mare Island, San Francisco for routine maintenance from her Mexican cruise. Early in the morning on January 22 she was released from the dry dock and was moored along the quay wall where she stayed until January 29 when she left for San Diego.

The California in 1914 flew the Spokane Trophy Pennant as her gun crews had the best marksmanship of any cruiser or battleship in the Navy. California was the sixth ship and last Armored Cruiser to win the Spokane Trophy; the USS Tennessee was the first ship to win the trophy in 1908. In 1907 the Spokane Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Victor Metcalf, then Secretary of the Navy in which the Spokane Chamber wanted to donate an annual award for Atlantic Fleet turret marksmanship. President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary Metcalf decided that it should be awarded annually to the battleship or armored cruiser of either fleet that made the highest final merit with all of her turret guns. Trophy costs of $1,500 was paid for and donated by citizens of Spokane, Washington to be awarded to the best battleship or cruiser in the U. S. Navy Fleet. The Spokane Trophy has undergone several changes from 1908 and is still active today being awarded by CINCPACFLT to the surface combatant ship considered to be the most proficient in overall combat systems readiness and warfare operations.

California was renamed San Diego on 1 September 1914, in order that her name could be given to a new class of larger battleships. She served as flagship for Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, intermittently until the summer of 1915.

On Thursday morning January 21, 1915 the USS San Diego is steaming just off the coast of La Paz, Mexico in the Gulf of California near the southern end of the Baja Peninsula. Rear Admiral Howard has his flagship skippered by Captain Ashley H. Robertson, conducting a 4-hour full speed run where she is making 21.46 knots speed. While taking the half hour readings of the steam pressure at every boiler, Ensign Robert Webster Cary Jr. had just read the steam and air pressure on the No. 2 boiler. He had just stepped through the electric watertight door into the No. 1 fire room when the boilers in No. 2 fire room exploded. In the No. 2 fire room was Second Class Fireman Telesforo Trinidad, of the Philippines and R. E. Daly, along with one other man. Ensign Cary stopped and held open the watertight doors which were being closed electrically from the bridge, and yelling to the men in No. 2 fire room to escape through these doors, which 3 of them passed through. Ensign Cary held the doors open for a full minute with the escaping steam from the ruptured boilers around him. Fireman Telesforo Trinidad was driven out of fire room No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up R. E. Daly, Fireman Second Class, whom he saw injured, and proceeded to bring him out. While coming into No. 4 fire room, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fire room, but without consideration of his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fire room. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fire room.

For His extraordinary heroism Ensign Cary was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He would later retire with the rank of Rear Admiral. For his extraordinary heroism Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor also for this incident.

Captain Robertson orders his ship to the north at best possible speed and puts into Guaymas, Mexico at 2:00 AM on the morning of the 22nd of January for temporary repairs. Admiral Howard sent a wireless report to the navy base in San Diego, California informing them of the accident and in his words “A full investigation has been ordered. Am proceeding to Guaymas.” Soon after temporary repairs and her wounded were taken care of Captain Robertson steams for Mare Island Navy Yard, California where the San Diego undergoes repairs and is in reduced commission through out the summer of 1915.

The lists of dead and injured included in Admiral Howard’s report were:

Dead:
Fireman Oscar J. Wyatt, El Centro, CA
Fireman Ambus J. Hardee, Joplin, MO
Fireman William F. Elliott, Brooklyn, NY
Fireman Clifford A. Western, Davenport, CA

Died Later of wounds:
Fireman R. B. Glidden (died aboard the ship on Jan. 30, 1915)

Injured:
Fireman Benjamin H. Tucker
Fireman Darnell L. Varnardo
Fireman William H. Miller
Fireman Charles W. Peterson
Water Tender George Ohm
Seaman Emanuel A. Shippi
Coal Passer Patrick A. Merriman

But after Admiral Howard’s report as the San Diego is still undergoing temporary repairs in Mexico another of the severely burned men dies aboard ship. The death toll now stands at five dead and seven injured. Fireman Darrell L. Varnardo of Port Arthur, Texas dies of the burns he received during the accident. Varnardo’s body was sent back on the first ship sailing north to Mare Island.

350-miles south of Ensenada, Mexico on February 4, 1915 the Japanese cruiser Asama with 500 men on board struck an uncharted rock at the entrance to Turtle Bay, and began to break apart and sink. She sent out wireless distress signals for help, but details of the rescue efforts by the US Navy was kept secret in order that it may have been of some intelligence value to any German naval ships in the area. Admiral Howard on the 5th of February gave orders that the San Diego, then near Ensenada should sail for the wreck site to render aid. When the San Diego reached the Asama late on the 5th, she found the cruiser USS Raleigh standing by her. The Japanese sailors and officers were put ashore and the Raleigh and San Diego stood by the Asama until two Japanese ships, the Hisen and Idzuno came to take the Asama’s crew. As far as could be known no Japanese crew were killed or missing.

The crew has time to celebrate President George Washington’s Birthday with a feast, which was served aboard ship. On February 22, 1915 the ships cooks assembled a feast, which was enjoyed by all while the California was still in Mexican waters. The menu for the day consisted of Portage D’ Alemand, Sweet Pickles, Radishes, Celery, Filet de Boeuf, Sugar Cured Ham, Green Peas, Calwa Grape Juice, Roast Young Chicken with Giblet Gravy, Dressing and Mashed Potatoes. There was a Combination Salad with Mayonnaise and Apple Pie, Blackberry Pie Strawberry Ice Cream, Apples Wine Cake and Oranges. With Mixed Nuts and Raisins, followed by Cigars, Coffee and Cigarettes.

On November 6, 1915 San Diego answers a call for help and rescues forty-eight passengers from the wreck of the steam schooner Fort Bragg. The Fort Bragg was a coast-wise lumber schooner and had been in Guaymas, Mexico and was bound north for San Francisco, California when she went aground at San Jose del Cabo on November 5. San Jose del Cabo is about 20-miles northeast of Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja peninsula where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific Ocean. The San Diego was then in the general area and answers the call for help and steams toward the wreck site at a speed of 21 knots. She was expected to reach the Fort Bragg at about 1 o’clock in the morning of November 6. Once the passengers and crew were safe the San Diego went about her duties. Later the steamer Arctic took the Fort Bragg under tow to San Francisco, California where she was repaired in Alameda, California.

Later in November 1915, elements of the 4th Marine Regiment were again heading toward familiar waters. Civil strife caused by Mexican revolutionaries and Yaqui Indians necessitated the sending of an American force to the vicinity of the disturbances. On the 25th of November, Regimental Headquarters of the 1st Battalion, and the 25th and 28th Companies of the 4th Marines, went aboard the San Diego then at anchor off Mare Island and sailed two days later from San Francisco. As ordered, the San Diego anchored off Topolobampo, Mexico thus placing pressure on Mexican authorities to act to end the threat to American lives and property. The turmoil ashore, however, had subsided sufficiently by mid-December to allow for the recall of the San Diego and her Marines. The Marine regiment, upon transferring to the USS Buffalo, preceded north to Guaymas, Mexico and then on to San Diego, California.

About the second week in May 1916 the San Diego was known to be in the Canal Zone area. San Diego returned to duty as flagship through 12 February 1917, when she went into reserve status until the opening of World War I. Navy recruiters were busy scouring the surrounding towns around the San Francisco area in towns like Vacaville in Solano County, looking for recruits to fill the needs of the Navy. The California Naval Militia was called into active service on 6 April and was mobilized aboard the ships USS Oregon, USS San Diego and the USS Huntington then at Mare Island. The California Naval Militia was mustered into Federal Service on 3 May 1917.

The USS San Diego was placed in full commission 7 April 1917, where she operated as flagship for Commander, Patrol Force Pacific Fleet, until 18 July, when she was ordered to the Atlantic Fleet via the Panama Canal. On July 16, 1917, two days before she was ordered to steam for the Atlantic, Seaman Second Class William A. Reider comes to the aid of a drowning shipmate and saves his life. The exact circumstances of the event are unknown but Seaman Reider receives a Letter of Commendation from the Captain for rescuing the drowning shipmate.

On July 29, 1917 San Diego enters the Atlantic Ocean for the first time and would never return to the waters of the Pacific again. Reaching Hampton Roads, Virginia on 4 August, she joined Cruiser Division 2, and later broke the flag of Commander, Cruiser Force, Atlantic Fleet, which she flew until 19 September. On August 19, 1917 Captain Harley H. Christy is given command of the San Diego. Captain Christy would be her last captain.

Based out of Tompkinsville, New York, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, San Diego's essential mission was the escort of convoys through the first dangerous leg of their passages to Europe. During one of these convoy escort trips she stopped at the port in La Croisie, France. Operating in the weather-torn, submarine-infested North Atlantic she safely convoying all of her charges under her watchful eyes. It is known that she escorted a convoy during November of 1917 and among the ships in the convoy was the troopship USS Madawaska making her first trip across with 1,671 passengers and the destroyer USS Rowan (DD64). In early July 1918, San Diego had some of her 6-inch guns removed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

On June 15, 1918 the German submarine, U-156, left its homeport with 77 crewmen. It passed through the North Sea, around the north end of the British Isles and into the Atlantic Ocean towards New York's Long Island where she laid mines in the area where the San Diego was lost. On its cruise to North America, the U-156 sank 36 vessels and is credited with sinking the USS San Diego.

On Friday 19 July 1918, bound from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, San Diego steams to New York to meet up with a transatlantic convoy. The day dawned warm and hazy with the cruiser steaming along the South Shore of Long Island in a state-of-battle readiness. At about 10 a.m., a lookout spotted a small object moving on the surface. Thinking it might be a submarine periscope the gun crews fired several rounds until the target disappeared. It was the first time that the San Diego's guns had been fired at a suspected enemy. The ship was cutting through the calm sea at more than 15 kts when an explosion rocked the hull violently, and a column of water erupted along the port side. The San Diego immediately listed 10 degrees. It was 11:05 a.m. and the San Diego had less than 30 minutes to live.

Most of the crew of the San Diego feels a dull thud, which originated from the port side engine room. The explosion blew a hole in the hull at the port engine room, killing two seamen instantly. Another crewman oiling the port propeller shaft was never seen again. Just after this occurred, residents on Fire Island's Point O' Woods heard a rumbling noise at sea. The noise was the San Diego being jarred to the keel by a violent explosion on the port side just aft of the forward port engine room, later established as contact with a floating mine. The crew that worked in this area must have experienced a large explosion as bulkheads were smashed in. The ocean rushed in and flooding was unstoppable and within 28 minutes the USS San Diego gently rolled over and was gone. Three men died at the instant of the explosion, three died while in the water, and three were injured. Captain Christy rang for full speed on the undamaged starboard engine and turned toward shore, hoping to beach his ship. But the rush of water into the hole flooded the remaining engine and left the San Diego without power, preventing an SOS message. Although the U-156 was already off the New England coast, crewmembers again thought they saw a periscope and began firing at it.

C.E. Sims, an 18-year-old seaman, wrote maritime historian Henry Keatts years later that he heard the explosion while he was on the bridge. "I looked aft and saw a huge column of smoke about a hundred feet high. There was no panic. There was an officer who stood on the ladder with his hand on his holster. I remember he said “If anyone jumps before abandon ship is given, I'll shoot him.” When the captain gave the order, the crew struggled to launch the lifeboats manually. As the ship heeled, the smokestacks broke loose, one of them fatally crushing a sailor in the water. Another crewmember died when a life raft fell on his head. A sixth sailor drowned after becoming trapped inside the crow's nest.

The names of the six men killed in the sinking are:

Blain, Clyde Chester, Engineman Second Class, USN
Davis, Thomas Everett, Fireman First Class, USN
Harris, Paul John, Seaman Second Class, USN
Munson, Andrew, machinist Mate Second Class, USN
Rochet, James Frances, Engineman Second Class, USNRF
Thomas, Fraziee, O. Machinist Mate Second Class, USN

At the moment of the explosion men throughout the San Diego begin to perform duties with coolness and great courage in a time of danger. Up on the bridge with Captain Christy was Lt. Commander Gerald Bradford. Captain Christy sent him below to inspect the ship and report back to him. Lt. CMDR Bradford went below and found out just how bad things were and made his report back to Captain Christy in a way that conveyed the seriousness of the situation to Christy. After Captain Christy gave the order to Abandon Ship, Lt. Commander Bradford directed the evacuation plans and only went over the port side of the ship, without a life preserver on, as the lower bridge deck took water. Captain Christy in his after action report made specific mention of Lt. Commander Bradford’s coolness and presence of mind and devotion to duty in a time that was of great peril and danger to all.

Still other men were working with equal coolness as Lt. Commander Bradford had displayed. One such man was Carpenter David Easdale whom Bradford found alone in a compartment on the Berth Deck tightening the dogs on a watertight door that led to a flooded compartment on the other side.

In the Engine rooms Lt. (j.g.) C. J. Collins who was serving as the senior Engineer Officer was taking all measures possible to determine the extent of the damages to the machinery and ship, even after the Abandon Ship order was given. Lt. Collins was also looking after his men in the engine rooms and as a result of his devotion to his duties no lives were lost in the fire rooms. Also down in the engine rooms was Lt. J. P. Millon who happened to be on watch when the explosion took place. Millon took all measures possible to keep the effects of the explosion localized and was able to keep his machinery in operation until it was rendered useless when it was submerged by the rising water. Lt. Millon kept at his post and only left when ordered to do so by the Engineer Officer.

In other parts of the ship equally heroic efforts as what was taking place down in the engine rooms was also going on. Pay Clerk J. D. Gagan, who was the acting supply officer on account of the supply officer being absent on leave at the time, took one such effort. Gagen went to the ships safe and quickly removed all the paper money from it and took charge of the money in a canvas bag he had hastily found. Once the Abandon Ship order went out Gagen headed up on deck and jumped overboard holding the moneybag in one hand and his life preserver in the other hand. He succeeded in reaching a lifeboat and saved the government money, which amounted to $20,000.

Up on deck ships Boatswain Alva Henderson was acting with great forethought when he cut loose a pile of lumber that was stowed on the boat deck. As the San Diego settled deeper and deeper into the sea this pile of lumber was now floating and Boatswain Henderson quickly constructed a floating raft, which probably resulted in the saving of life. His coolness under fire inspired confidence in those men who were about him in the water while constructing the raft.

On the after parts of the San Diego Ensign J. P. Hildman, who recently was commissioned and was the acting Ordnance Gunner, showed great fore thought when he rushed to the depth charge racks on the after quarterdeck and doubly secured the forks in order to prevent the explosion of the depth charges as the ship sank. This would have caused many casualties among the men in the water had the dept charges went off as the ship sank deeper into the sea.

On the forward part of the ship 1st Division Officer Lt. F. G. Kutz showed exceptional poise in directing the Abandon Ship operations in his part of the ship. Then while he was in the water Lt. Kutz took charge of getting the boats that had floated clear of the quickly sinking San Diego, gathered, filled and in working condition. His coolness served to inspire and calm the men who were near him in that area of the sea. Additionally Captain Christy mentioned Lt. Paul T. Shortridge for his leadership in launching the lifeboats at a time when the deck was fully submerged and his assistance in getting the boats organized while afloat.

Captain Harley Christy jumped from the tilting bridge, descended a ladder to the deck, slid down a rope and then walked over the slowly rolling hull as if he were a lumberjack on a floating log, stopped for a moment to salute his vessel, then dropped eight feet into the Atlantic. In keeping with tradition, the captain was the last man to leave his ship. As a lifeboat picked up Christy, the crewmembers in boats, on rafts or in the water cheered their skipper. And as the San Diego sank stern first into the flat sea, the men sang The Star Spangled Banner and My Country 'Tis of Thee.

Christy dispatched a small boat to shore to contact the Navy. Two hours later, it sailed through the surf at Point O' Woods. Rescue vessels were soon on their way to help survivors and search for the sub. The ships dropped depth charges on a target that turned out to be the San Diego.

The Fire Island Radio Station telephoned stating that they had picked up a very faint SOS from a naval vessel. The Navy Yard was notified and boats were sent out from Oak Island and Fire Island. Over 1100 men were in the water clinging to wreckage when the boats arrived. Four officers and 28 men were carried to the shore of Point O' Woods and the others were transported to Hoboken, NJ.

Saturday night July 20 policeman Patrick Corcoran walking his beat near Ninety-sixth Street and Broadway in New York finds 30-40 sailors who were aboard the San Diego when she sank wandering around not knowing where to go or where to report to find a place to stay for the night. After they were rescued and taken to shore they did report to the Brooklyn Navy Yard but strangely enough they were turned away because there was no place for them to sleep for the night. They went to the Ninety-sixth Street area because the San Diego would anchor there at the Ninety-sixth Street landing so they knew the area. The other survivors of the San Diego sinking were taken care of by several organizations but this small group of 30-40 sailors fell through the cracks and just wandered around.

But it was Policeman Corcoran who got the watchman of the Riverside Theatre at Ninety-sixth Street to open up and let the sailors in to the smoking room of the theater. Patrolman Corcoran then made a sweep of the area restaurants and returned with sandwiches and hot coffee for the men. The group of sailors spent the night at the Riverside Theatre and in the morning Patrolman Corcoran was still looking after them. He took them out and got each one of them breakfast from some of the restaurants in the neighborhood. The local citizens in the morning who began to learn of Patrolman Corcoran’s goodness towards the sailors informed Mayor John Francis Hylan and later Police Commissioner Richard Edward Enright gave a commendation to Patrolman Corcoran for his actions.

A few months later, on its way back to Germany, the U-156 hit a mine between Scotland and Norway. Within a few seconds, the German U-boat, U-156 met the same fate as the San Diego and disappeared from the surface of the ocean.

The USS San Diego today lies upside down about eleven miles southeast of Fire Island inlet, Long Island, New York at Loran 26543.4 / 43693.2 in 115 feet of sea water. She was the only major warship lost by the United States in World War I. The weight of the massive armor belt along with the hull and its contents crushed the superstructure into the sand soon after she sank. The hull is relatively intact, its keel is at seventy feet and the sand is at around 115 feet. The ship rests upside down with a list to the port side. This angle allows for more light on the starboard side, which is commonly called 'the light side'. The port side is called 'the dark side' because of the shadow in which it resides. The sand line is higher on this side because of the list. The stern has started to collapse, but the propeller shafts, which are the diameter of 55-gallon drums, hang out into space at the seventy-foot mark. The propellers were removed in the early sixties, however one was lost while on its way to Staten Island, New York. A bilge keel on each side on the hull runs a good length of the ship. These were attached to give the ship stability. They now give divers a line of reference for navigating the wreck. Along 'the light side', the 3-inch guns can be found sticking out from their mounts in the hull. Many holes exist at various locations around the hull. These can give advanced divers the opportunity to investigate the San Diego's dark interior. The inside doesn't resemble a ship, but rather a junkyard of collapsed machinery, bulkheads, and ship stores. Penetration of the wreck requires special skills and equipment. Hallways and rooms ranging in size from small to very large can quickly silt out, reducing visibility to zero. Six divers have died on this wreck. It is the most popular dive site in New England, attracting hundreds of divers every year.

ARA Post card of the USS San Diego "Gone but not forgotten"


LOSS OF CRUISER OFF N.Y. STILL A MYSTERY AFTER 42 YEARS

By: Herb Grossman (The Copley News Service) This news article was evidently published in 1960.

After 42 years, mystery and contradictions still shroud the World War I sinking of one of the U.S. Navy’s proudest ships - the armored cruiser San Diego that went to the bottom a scant 50 miles off Long Island. Did the proud ship hit a mine, was it torpedoed, or is there another answer? More than 1,000 men survived the sinking, but none were certain what caused the blast that sank their ship on July 19, 1918.

There was nothing about the sea that July morning that indicated danger ahead. Capt. H. H. Christy and the men knew what troubled waters could be like. They had taken their ship through many crossings of the stormy, U-boat-infested North Atlantic. But on this day, the sea was calm, the air warm. The San Diego was proceeding to New York City from Portsmouth, N.H., where she had been dry-docked 16 days after a strenuous seven months on Atlantic convoy escort duty.

San Diego’s slim bow cut through the Atlantic at an easy 15 knots, zigzagging as a precaution against the German U-boats which were harassing coastal shipping as well as ocean convoys. The calm was broken at 10 a.m. when lookouts spotted a “fast moving” barrel close at hand. The ship’s gunners pumped some shots into the swells and the barrel disappeared. For the next hour, San Diego proceeded without further interruption. About 11 a.m. the big cruiser was 10 miles south of the Fire Island lightship, about 50 miles from the New York harbor entrance.

Suddenly, at 11:18 a.m., the San Diego rocked with a violent explosion. Water poured in through a gaping hole in her port side, rapidly flooding the engine rooms. Christy, suspecting the ship had been torpedoed, ordered gun crews to fire at the direction from which the torpedo would have come. The gunners kept firing until the water reached their gun barrels on the fast sinking ship. Then they dove overboard. Thirty minutes after the explosion, the San Diego sank.

An alert Navy pilot had spotted the disaster and had flown to shore to report. His station started rescue ships, heading for the sinking. Residents of Point O’Woods, a small New York resort area, heard the explosion and saw a white flash of fire. They were on hand when the two ship’s boats reached shore in the early afternoon. They quickly provided assistance to the exhausted boat crews and relayed the request for rescue vessels.

Three merchant ships answering the short-sent SOS signals soon arrived at the sinking scene. Working heroically, the three - Maiden, Bostonian, and S. P. Jones - pulled the 1,156 survivors out of the water. In a rapid sinking that could have been disastrous in terms of lives, only six crewmen were lost and another six injured.

The real question, however, was: What sank the San Diego? Many of the surviving crewmen thought the ship had hit a mine. Others blamed an internal explosion. Still others, including Christy, were convinced they had been torpedoed. The torpedo theory was backed strongly by some of the crewmen, who believed they had sighted a submarine, and by the barrel incident. It was discounted, though, by the fact that the three unarmed rescue ships had worked unhampered by any enemy submarine activity.

A British Admiralty report, after the war, indicated that German U-boat 156, according to German records, had torpedoed and sunk the San Diego. Strong evidence pointed to a mine as the explosion cause. Navy ships exploring the area spotted six mines the day after the sinking. The official Navy Court of Inquiry concluded the sinking had been caused by the external explosion of a mine.

Ironically, it was reported the day after the sinking that one of the officers had anticipated the incident. Only an hour before the San Diego left for the Atlantic, services ran a news story pointing out a ship officer’s warning at the launch, and told a group of bystanders?

“Take a good look at the gallant old ship. I don’t think you’ll ever see her riding off anchor again in this harbor.”


U-156

The German U-boat, U-156 which is credited with the sinking of the San Diego

The Atlas Werke in Bremen, Germany built the German U-boat U-156 and her hull was laid down on 29 November 1916. She was launched 17 April 1917 and commissioned on 22 August 1917 under the command of Konrad Gansser who commanded her until 31 December 1917 when on 1 January 1918 Richard Feldt took command. Feldt was in command when the U-156 hit a mine in the Northern Passage. Her crew of 77 was lost on 25 September 1918 when she did not report that she had cleared the Northern Passage. During her career U-156 sailed on 2 war patrols from 28 August 1917-25 September 1918 with the Kreuzer Foltilla and had 56 kills to her account. Her 56-ship total included war ships and totaled 63,795 tons of shipping sent to the bottom.


The Ship's Muster

As I find information on the USS California/San Diego's crew I will list them here in this section. If you have a family member who served on this ship please let me know and I will add it to this list.


George Dewey Neal

Mendy Hufstedler shared this about her Great Grandfather who was a crewman on the USS San Diego when it sank. His name was George D. Neal, born 8 February 1898 and passed away on 2 April 1985. She shared this short excerpt from his writings about the war and the sinking of the San Diego.

"When I was 17, I went out west of Fort Worth to work. I joined the Navy for 4 years. The First World War had started, so I saw lots of it. I crossed the ocean seven times, and went through the Panama Canal twice. I was on a cruiser that conveyed troops overseas. Our ship had big guns and an 850-man crew to back them up. We were in lots of storms. On July 19, 1918, our ship was hit with a torpedo when we were several hundred miles out from Pharr Island. It tore our wireless up, so we had no way to send for help. The ship, the San Diego, sank real quickly. I was down in the boiler room and when I tried to get out, the watertight doors were closed, so I had to climb the ladder up the smoke stack. When I got on deck, the men were jumping. I dove in, and when I came up, someone jumped in on top of me and down I went again. When I came up again, I came up swimming to get as far away from there as I could. We had seven men killed. [Official US Navy account of this was 6 men killed] There was not enough life rafts so some had to hold on to the rafts. We were in the water some four hours when a freighter came by and picked us up. They carried us to New York and we were put on a battleship. We went from there to Norfolk, VA. I was in Norfolk when the Armistice was signed."

San Diego crewman George Dewey Neal

Ensign Robert Archibald Hall

Robert A. Hall was born on November 28, 1888, and was from the State of Nebraska. Hall was appointed to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on May 8, 1908 where he graduated with the class of 1912. Midshipmen Hall was assigned to the cruiser California on August 15, 1912 and was then commissioned an Ensign. Hall would serve aboard the California through January of 1914 when he was detached for duty on the USS Intrepid.

Fireman First Class Robert Bruce Scott
One of the Last to Leave the Boiler Room

Beverly Gould shared the following about her grandfather, Robert Bruce Scott of Cisco, Texas.

Robert Bruce Scott was born May 6, 1898 in Joplin, Missouri to William Wallace and Eldora Stone Scott. Bob, as he was called, was raised in Cisco, Texas. Bob enlisted in the Navy on April 10, 1917, about a month before his nineteenth birthday. He received training at the Great Lakes Training Station from April 11-20 before being assigned to the USS San Diego on April 20, 1917 as an Apprentice Seaman. He was rated Fireman First Class at the time the San Diego was sunk on July 19, 1918. He later told his son, who was my dad, his memories of the watertight doors closing behind him and the other men as the ship was sinking. Bob was next assigned to the USS Powhatan where he served until his discharge on September 6, 1919. After the war, Bob returned to Cisco, Texas where he worked as a house painter, married my grandmother, Annie Laurie Boon and raised three children. Bob passed away October 6, 1968 in Brownwood, Texas.

Leo Lucas, survivor of the sinking during WWI

Troy Troutwine’s great-great-grandfather was Leo Lucas. Through family stories Troy was told that Leo Lucas was aboard and survived the sinking of the San Diego in 1918. Troy has a photo of Leo Lucas, which stated that he was aboard the USS Powhatan. Troy then did a internet search for links between the sinking of the San Diego and the Powhatan, where he was led to the story of Robert Bruce Scott (see the Robert Bruce Scott story above) who was also aboard the San Diego, survived the sinking and then was re-assigned to the Powhatan. So it is assumed that Leo Lucas was in fact a member of the crew of the San Diego, survived the sinking and then just like Robert B. Scott was re-assigned to duties aboard the USS Powhatan.

Steam Fitter James Keane

Jim Keane contacted me about his great-uncle, (who he is named for), who was a steam fitter aboard the San Diego when she was torpedoed or mined off Long Island during WWI. His great-uncle was from New Haven, CT, which is where Jim Keane now lives. Jim relates about his great-uncle; " he passed away in the 1970s, in his 90's. My father and I heard many stories about the sinking from him, which he believed it was a torpedo attack. Great uncle Jim served in the navy for some years after the war, including service on one ship that supported US forces in Murmansk, which he called "The Russian War". In civilian life he traveled the country as a steam fitter and builder to large steam projects and eventually returned to New Haven, CT and worked on the New Haven Fire Department inspecting and maintaining the system of fire hydrants throughout the city.

Petty Officer 2nd Class, Cook, Joseph S. Moyar

PO 2c Moyar was a crewman on the San Diego on the morning of the 19 July as she steamed to New York to meet up with a transatlantic convoy. As the waters rushed in to doom the San Diego that morning when it came time to abandon her PO 2c Moyar gave his life vest to another sailor named Ed Echolin, in the galley and Moyar used a coffee storage bin to stay afloat in the Atlantic for over 6 hours before being picked up by a civilian tanker or freighter. After PO 2c Moyar was rescued and the war ended he came home to raise a family and he spoke many times to his grandson David Moyar, who shared this story with me, that the explosion was not a torpedo or a mine, but was sabotaged with a bomb on board. It has never been proven that this was the case but there has been claims that a German spy who was captured by the Russians had admitted to setting a bomb onboard the San Diego. There is mention of this at this web site.

FM2C Telesforo Trinidad

Telesforo Trinidad was born on November 25, 1890 in New Washington, Capig, Philippine Islands. In 1909 Telesforo immigrated to the United States and joined the Navy. It is likely that he became a U.S. Citizen when he joined the Navy likely in the Philippine Islands. Telesforo was a fireman second class aboard the USS Mindoro serving in the Philippine Islands in June of 1910.

The USS Mindoro was a 142-ton gunboat, built in Hong Kong, China in 1886 for the Spanish Navy warship under the same name. Stationed in the Philippine Islands, she was taken as a prize of the Spanish-American War and was purchased by the War Department in 1899, transferred to the U. S. Navy and placed in commission in June 1899. During the last half of 1899 and the first quarter of 1900 Mindoro was employed off northern Luzon. She operated in the southern Philippines from late 1900 to September 1901, taking part in combat operations against local insurgents. Laid up at the Cavite Navy Yard for nearly three years, Mindoro was again active in the southern Philippines from mid-1904 until early 1906 when she was then loaned to the Army for service in Manila Bay. After spending 1907 and 1908 in decommissioned status at Cavite, she returned to service in May of 1909 for another tour in the waters south of Luzon. Decommissioned in April 1911, USS Mindoro was stricken from the Navy list in June 1911 and sold in April 1912.

Sometime after his duty on the Mindoro, FM2c Trinidad was transferred to the Armored Cruiser USS San Diego where he was still a Fireman Second Class. On the 21st of January 1915 Telesforo Trinidad was on duty in the No. 2 fire room along with R. E. Daly, and one other man. A boiler explosion occurred and several men were killed and injured. Telesforo Trinidad help save several men with disregard to his own safety that day. For his extraordinary heroism Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor also for this incident.

Later in April of 1915, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniel awarded FM2C Telesforo Trinidad his Congressional Medal of Honor and $100 in Washington, D.C. The Congressional Medal of Honor citation of FM2c Telesforo Trinidad reads as follows:

TRINIDAD, TELESFORO
Rank and organization: Fireman Second Class, U.S. Navy. Born: 25 November 1890, New Washington Capig, Philippine Islands. Accredited to: Philippine Islands. G.O. No.: 142, 1 April 1915. Citation: For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession at the time of the boiler explosion on board the U.S.S. San Diego, 21 January 1915. Trinidad was driven out of fire room No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up R.E. Daly, fireman, second class, whom he saw to be injured, and proceeded to bring him out. While coming into No. 4 fire room, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fire room, but without consideration for his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fire room. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fire room.

Robert Webster Cary, Jr., Rear Admiral, United States Navy

Born at Kansas City, Missouri, August 18, 1890, he graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1914. He was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as Lieutenant Commander aboard the USS San Diego on January 21, 1915. He died on July 15, 1967 and was buried in Section 6 of Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Jane Christian Cary (February 4, 1897-October 8, 1969) is buried with him.

His Medal of Honor Citation Reads: 
For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession on the occasion of an explosion on board the U.S.S. San Diego, 21 January 1915. Lt. Comdr. Cary (then Ensign), U.S. Navy, an observer on duty in the firerooms of the U.S.S. San Diego, commenced to take the half-hourly readings of the steam pressure at every boiler. He had read the steam and air pressure on No. 2 boiler and was just stepping through the electric watertight door into No. 1 fireroom when the boilers in No. 2 fireroom exploded. Ens. Cary stopped and held open the doors which were being closed electrically from the bridge, and yelled to the men in No. 2 fireroom to escape through these doors, which 3 of them did. Ens. Cary's action undoubtedly saved the lives of these men. He held the doors probably a minute with the escaping steam from the ruptured boilers around him. His example of coolness did much to keep the men in No. 1 fireroom at their posts hauling fires, although 5 boilers in their immediate vicinity had exploded and boilers Nos. 1 and 3 apparently had no water in them and were likely to explode any instant. When these fires were hauled under Nos. 1 and 3 boilers, Ens. Cary directed the men in this fireroom into the bunker, for they well knew the danger of these 2 boilers exploding. During the entire time Ens. Cary was cool and collected and showed an abundance of nerve under the most trying circumstances. His action on this occasion was above and beyond the call of duty.

Brothers Louis Patrick Haack and Bill Haack both survived the sinking

Pat shared with me about her father, Louis Patrick Haack, who told me the story about this incident, which happened when he was in the Navy, when I was very young. Both he and his brother (my Uncle Bill Haack) were on this ship and survived the sinking. He was always very impressed that the Captain stayed on the ship until it sank - he was evidently the last to leave. My father’s mother (Nana) told the story about having a vision of this incident, even before it was reported by the press (in those days, it evidently took several days for such news to be made known). She woke up the morning that it happened and told my Aunt Anna what she thought had happened (that she had a dream that her two sons were in the water and that their ship sank) - days before they actually heard about it.

Fireman First Class Robert Bruce Scott,
One of the Last to Leave the Boiler Room

Beverly Gould shared the following about her grandfather, Robert Bruce Scott of Cisco, Texas. He was almost 19-years old when he was assigned to the USS San Diego on April 17, 1917. Scott was aboard the day of the sinking and survived, being one of the last to leave the engine room compartments before the water-tight doors were closed.

Chief Boatswain Mate George Sanderson

George Sanderson, a quintessential example of a Chief in the United States Navy at the early part of the 20th Century. This photo came from the collection of Vice Admiral Newton A. McCully (1867-1951) and was inscribed on the reverse with these words from the Admiral.

George Sanderson, C. B. M., U.S. Navy

Shipmate on the USS California, 1907-1910

A Character, and a tough one, never found any good in anyone or in anything, but in an emergency he would be on hand.

N. A. M.

From this short description we can draw a picture of Chief Sanderson. From the Admiral’s words we can see that George Sanderson as a man was tough and weathered, able to stand on his feet with other men and when called on he would be there to lead his men when they needed him, just the sort of man to have by your side in battle at sea. And it is likely that while shipmates on the Armored Cruiser USS California, McCully relied on the Chief many times. Admiral McCully and Chief Sanderson served together on the California from 1907-1910 but it is not known what their ranks were at that time.

Chief Sanderson proudly displays on his arm, ten service stripes, which represents 40 years of service in the United States Navy. Chief Sanderson is a man who is very proud of his service as can be seen from his pose and also you can see it in his eyes, his cigar tells us that he is a seasoned old “Sea-Salt” and likely has served on every kind of ship the navy had, under sail and steam both.

It is not known the exact date of this photo and it may have been given to the Admiral upon Sanderson’s retirement from the navy as a gift to the Admiral later after they both served together.

It is known that George Sanderson was born in England about 1862. George Sanderson’s father was born in Scotland and his mother was born in England. It is not known exactly when the Sanderson’s came to America but it was likely sometime between 1879 and 1882. He would have been about 18 at the time and that may also be the same time he joined the navy. So if this may be the earliest date at which George joined the navy then with the service stripes in his picture this would date it to about 1920.

During the time Chief Sanderson and Admiral McCully served together from 1907-1910, Sanderson’s rating was as a Boatswain mate and may not have been a Chief yet. As on the 1910 Federal Census that was taken on the USS California then at anchor in the Navy Yard at Mare Island, California, Sanderson is listed as “Boatswain mate” and was 48 years old at the time. McCully’s name does not appear on the Census form so by the time the Census was taken on May 4, 1910 he may have been transferred off the ship. George would serve many more years in the navy and was serving on active service during WWI.

On January 9, 1920 Sanderson was still in the navy serving at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at the rating of Chief Petty Officer. At the time Sanderson was living on Ft. Green place in Brooklyn with his wife, 42 year old Minnie H. Hutchings. She was born in the state of Maine as were her parents. In the home with George and Minnie was Minnie’s father, Hauson Hutchings who was 76-years old and was widowed at the time. Also from the 1920 Federal Census it states that George Sanderson immigrated to the States in 1879 and became a Citizen in 1919. This was also the same year he and Minnie were married.

George and Minnie lived in New York because their daughter, Margaret was born there in 1921. Sometime after Margaret was born and the taking of the 1930 Federal Census in April of 1930 the Sanderson’s moved from New York to California.

By 1930 George Sanderson who was now 68-years old had retired from over 40-years active service in the navy. He and his wife Minnie were now living in Richmond, California. George owned a home valued at $5000 located at 300 Bissell Ave in Richmond.

Nothing more is known about Chief Petty Officer George Sanderson other that he did find some good in someone, his wife Minnie and his daughter Margaret. The tough old “Sea-Salt” retired as a husband and father and served his Country to the fullest and he deserves to be remembered as such. Rest Ye Oars Chief Sanderson.

Wallter William "Dock" Shaw, USS San Diego Suvivor

Walter William “Dock” Shaw was serving on the USS San Diego as a cook when she went down in 1918. He survived the sinking. Walter William Shaw was born on January 7, 1896 to Jefferson Davis Shaw and Mattie Virginia Shaw. Walter was known by his nickname of “Dock” through out his life. Walter died on April 9, 1950 in Texas. He is buried at Laural Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. His wife’s name was Gladys Everette Drummond and she is buried next to him. Together they had 3 sons: Charles Franklin Shaw, James William Shaw, and Roy Douglas Shaw. Both Charles and James served in the US Army during WWII.

Information and photos were shared by Wendy Craig the Great-granddaughter of Walter William “Dock” Shaw

Walter William "Dock" Shaw
“Dock” Shaw on the right side
with fellow sailor Pete Winsor.
Naval Training Station San Diego, California.
“Dock” Shaw is pictured front row, circled.

Coal Passer William Carl Henkel

Aboard the armored cruiser USS California in July and September of 1910 a crewman named William Carl Henkel who writes two post cards to friends back home. From these two post cards we can assume that Henkel was in the navy sometime in early 1909 or before. The post card he writes on July 31, 1910 is a Japanese post card showing six young Japanese girls wearing traditional clothing and wooden Geta shoes. Henkel likely bought this post card while on liberty in Yokohama, Japan when the California was visiting that city in December of 1909. The second post card Henkel writes is one he likely bought in South America while the California was sent to Valparaiso Chile to represent America during the Chilean Centennial Celebration in mid-August 1910.

William Carl Henkel would spend several years in the navy and his story begins in Nienburg, Germany on May 24, 1888 the day and place he was born. This is known from family information gained from William’s baptismal records. In mid May of 1894 in Bremen, Germany William Carl Henkel along with his mother Sophia Anna Charlotte, née Wiechmann (1857-1930) and sister Alma boarded the SS Aller bound for New York. Sophia and the children were sailing to join her husband August Heinrich Diedrich Henkel (1861-1946) who had already been in the States. August had previously sailed to America and would send for his family once he had obtained work to support his family. On the passenger manifest of the sailing of the Aller William is listed as “Willi” and was 4-years old at the time.

The Aller was a Norddeutscher Lloyd Line ship built by the Fairfield Govan Company, Ltd. of Glasgow, Scotland at their yard No. 310, and was launched on January 12, 1885. She was a passenger liner used on the Bremen-Southampton-New York run. The Aller was 4,966 gross tons with a length of 438-feet, with a beam of 48-feet, she was a single screw steamer making 17-knots.

On May 24, 1894 the Aller arrives in New York harbor and was in sight of the Statue of Liberty, where that same day the Henkel family sets foot on American soil for the first time at Ellis Island. After being processed through Ellis Island the Henkel family settled on a farm in the Campbell, Nebraska area. Campbell is a small village in Franklin County located along the state line in south central Nebraska. Now in America August and Sophia Henkel added to their family with the birth of their American born children. Dorothea “Dora” was the first born on April 6, 1895 then came Frederick Henry, born on July 2, 1896, then Rudolph Deidrich August born on October 1, 1899, and lastly Mathilda Sophia Anna born on August 30, 1903.

After William finished school in the Campbell area he joined the Navy at an unknown age and date, likely in late 1908 or very early 1909. But what is known is that on May 5, 1910 as the Armored Cruiser USS California was in the navy yard at Mare Island, California, the Federal Census was taken aboard ship. On the Federal Census form is the name of Henkel, Charles W. But it is obvious that Cliff A. Jones who was the enumerator that day made a mistake on his first name. It is in fact William C. Henkel who was born on May 24, 1888. Another mistake unknown to Mr. Jones as he writes down the information on Seaman Henkel is the place of birth Henkel tells Mr. Jones who records that he was born in Nebraska. But the fact of the matter is, that due to reasons known only to Seaman Henkel he prefers to keep the fact that he is German born hushed and tells Jones he was born in Nebraska. At the time 21-year old William Carl Henkel’s rating was a Coal Passer.

On July 31, 1910 William C. Henkel writes to a Mr. Albert Egger in Henkel’s hometown of Princeton, Nebraska. Henkel uses the Japanese post card and writes this to Egger; “Dear friend, how are you. I am well and hope you will get this card as it leaves me. Your friend. W.C. Henkel USS California C/O P. M. San Francisco Cal.” Albert Egger was 2-years younger than William Henkel, and may have lived near each other while growing up. Both the Henkel’s and the Egger’s were farm families.

The second post card Henkel writes on September 20, 1910 was the post card he picked up in Chile. Henkel writes to Miss Josephine Koch, who was an 18-year old from Princeton, Nebraska. In fact Both Josephine Koch and Albert Egger were neighbors and lived on the farms next to each other in Princeton. Later in life Josephine Koch would become the sister-in Law to William Henkel’s sister Alma Henkel. Alma being married to Fred Koch, Josephine’s brother. So clearly the Henkel, Koch and Egger families were connected, and they were all of German backgrounds. William Henkel writes,

“Dear Friend, How are you still getting along? I am well. We are still in Valparaiso Chile, are going to stay here 3-weeks. This is the first day of the Exhibition, are having fine weather. Hope this card will reach you the same as it leaves me. Your Friend, W. C. Henkel.” Seaman Henkel like any sailor looks forward to getting mail from the girls back home and he ends his writing with “Ans. Soon”

While Henkel is still serving in the Navy his oldest sister Alma passed away on September 4, 1913 while living in Denver, Colorado.

During WWI Henkel was still serving in the navy but not known on what ship. This is known from a notation on the 1930 Federal Census where it is marked “WW” in the veteran section, which denotes service in World War One. After WWI Henkel was still in the navy and was according to the 1920 Federal Census, stationed aboard the destroyer USS Ward DD139, with his present rating of Chief Machinist Mate. The Ward had the distinction of sinking a Japanese midget submarine at the entrance to Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 prior to the air attack.

On the 1920 census taken aboard the Ward Henkel, now 30-years old, was single and listed his home as Campbell, Nebraska. Sometime between 1920 and 1930 Henkel was discharged from the Navy after serving about 12-15-years active service. Now a civilian William sought work in which he could put his navy skills to good use working as a machinist in or near Philadelphia. Back home in Campbell, Nebraska William Henkel’s mother Sophia passed away on January 29, 1930.

On July 27, 1925 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Henkel married Catherine Theresa Callahan (née White) who had been previously married and had two daughters named Catherine and Agnes, ages 10 and 9. By About 1926 William and his wife Catherine had their first child together a daughter named Regina. By April of 1930 the Henkel family was living in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania and likely were living there before their daughter Regina was born in 1926. In 1938 Catherine and William had their second daughter they named Patricia. There in Upper Darby William was working as a machinist for an oil company, which may have been the Atlantic Refining Company. This company William listed as his place of employment on his WWII Draft Registration Card. He registered for the Draft on April 27, 1942 and the Henkel family was then living at 630 S. 55th Street in Philadelphia, PA.

During WWII William C. Henkel was recalled to active service with the Navy due to the war needs. Being that he was over the age for sea duty he was kept State side. His last rank was Chief Machinist Mate he was assigned to duty at the Receiving Ship, Philadelphia Navy Yard, working were his skills could be put to good use. Chief Henkel served on active duty from May 25, 1942 through May 29, 1946. Just about a month after William was honorably discharged from the Navy back home in Campbell on June 22, 1946 his father August Henkel passed away.

William and Catherine Henkel would live the rest of their lives in the Delaware County, Pennsylvania area. William would pass away on January 15, 1967 and his wife Catherine lived until May 31 of 1988. Both are buried in Plot W 797 of the Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey.

Chief Carpenters Mate, Herman George Froehlich

On July 19, 1918 as the USS San Diego is sinking Chief Carpenters Mate Herman George Froehlich was finding his way off his mortally wounded ship. Froehlich would survive the sinking and go on to serve in the navy for years to come.

Herman George Froehlich was the eldest of four children of Herman and Rosalie Froehlich. Herman was born in Denver, Colorado, 1894.

Herman enlisted in the US Navy as a plumber and steamfitter at $49.50 per month on Oct 24, 1912. Family story was that he and a friend were off to help build the Panama Canal, but got as far as Salt Lake City where his friend chickened out and Herman Froehlich then joined the US Navy instead.

His first assignment was in Puget Sound, Washington at the Bremerton Navy Yard. Froehlich was a ship fitter first class from December 1914 to August 1917. One of Froehlich’s first ship assignments was aboard the USS Chattanooga. The Chattanooga had been in reduced commission at Puget Sound and was placed in full commission 21 April 1914, for duty in Mexican waters and as such Froehlich was aboard when the Chattanooga sailed south to Mexican waters. Through 1915 and 1916, Froehlich remained on the Chattanooga as she cruised to protect American interests from the disorder of the Mexican Revolution.

In August of 1917 Froehlich was promoted to chief carpenters mate and may have transferred to the Armored Cruiser USS San Diego. What is known is that Froehlich was aboard on July 19, 1918 when the San Diego was sent to the bottom just off Long Island, New York by mines from a German U-boat.

After the sinking of the San Diego Herman Froehlich was assigned to the Naval repair unit at La Harve, France where in March of 1918, he was promoted to Aviation Chief Carpenters Mate. In March 1919 he again served aboard ship this time it was the USS Santa Teresa, a troop ship, which carried the 113th Field Artillery of the 30th Division, AEF troops home from St Naziare, France to New York City. He may have just sailed on the Santa Teresa to return home from France as by October of 1919 he was stationed on North Island at the Naval Air Station, San Diego, California. On the 1920 Federal Census there is a name of Froehlich, Herman G. aged 28-years listed serving at the NAS, San Diego.

While living in California Herman met a woman and fell in love and married. Her name was Mabel and in 1921 they were married. On the 1922 Voter Register of San Diego County, California there is the name of ‘Froehlich, Herman G.’ listed living at 1261 Cleveland St. with a job description of ‘Carp.’ This is assumed to mean ‘Carpenter’ as this was his trade. He was listed as voting as a Republican. When Herman and Mabel married they moved into another home on Cleveland Street just 4 homes away to 1265 Cleveland.

From June 1923 to 1925 Froehlich was stationed at NAS Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Mabel came out from California shortly after Herman was stationed in Hawaii and they lived there while Herman was stationed there. His main duties were to build the CPO housing on Ford Island, which some of these units are still standing today.

From June 1925 to June 1929 he served aboard the USS Medusa, which was a newly commissioned Fleet Repair Ship. Medusa commissioned as a very modern repair ship by the standards of 1924, capable of blacksmith work, boiler repairs, carpentry, coppersmithing, electrical work, foundry work, pipe work, plating, sheet-metal work, welding, and repairs of optical and mechanical equipment. Her machinery shop's equipment included lathes, radial drills, milling machines, slotting machines, boring machines, optical repair equipment, armature bake ovens, and coil winding machines. To meet additional demands from the fleet, she had a motion picture shop, large laundry and bakery facilities, and large refrigeration units.

Medusa first demonstrated her capability to keep up and support the fleet in 1925 during "The visit of the American Fleet to Australian Waters in 1925." Herman Froehlich sailed with the Medusa as she departed Honolulu, Hawaii on 1 July 1925 with the battle fleet and accompanied it on a voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Australia and New Zealand and then steaming back to San Pedro, California, where she arrived with the fleet on 26 September 1925. On 11 May 1927 she departed San Pedro carrying seven officers and 78 enlisted men of the U.S. Marine Corps's Marine Observation Squadron 4 (VMO-4) and their six Boeing O2B-1 aircraft to Nicaragua. In July 1928, she again carried Marines to Nicaragua, this time in company with the store ship Bridge.

While Herman Froehlich was still with the Medusa, Mabel his wife was living at 1265 Cleveland St. in San Diego as this is known from the 1928 San Diego County Voter rolls. Herman was listed as “USN” as he would have still been aboard the Medusa and Mabel was listed as “HW” for Housewife. It is known that Herman and Mabel lived at the 1265 Cleveland Street address until after 1930 from the Voter Rolls of San Diego, County.

Herman’s next duty after he was transferred from the Medusa in June of 1929 was at the Naval Air Station, San Diego where he served until he retired from Active duty in April of 1933. Upon retirement from the navy in 1933, Herman, and Mabel moved to Route 2, El Cajon, California. Now according to the San Diego County Voter Rolls, the Froehlich’s had switched political parties and voted Democrat for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mabel and Herman lived in El Cajon until at least the late 1940’s.

After Herman and Mabel had settled in El Cajon, California Herman entered into Civil Service about 1935. He was again assigned to the Naval Air Station, San Diego in an airplane repair unit. Two months previous to the bombing of Pearl Harbor Herman was recalled to active duty with the navy in October 1941 and served until late 1942 when he was medically discharged. Herman went back to his old Civil Service job and continued until his retirement in the late 1950’s. When Herman George Froehlich was recalled to active duty during WWII he had always spelled his last name as “Froehlich” with two letter h’s in his name. But the Navy in its never ending quest to make things simple dropped off the one letter “h” in Froehlich, and according to the Navy way it was now “Froelich.” From that moment on the family name was now Froelich and that is how the family today still spell’s the name.

In the late 1970’s Herman and Mabel moved to Pasadena, California where Herman Froehlich, the sailor who had survived the sinking of the USS San Diego some 61-years previous, died in 1979 at the age of 84.

Photo of Herman G. Froehlich taken in 1919 while he was in Brest, France. The photo is matted and has a French photo studio marked at the bottom. Chief Aviation Carpenter’s Mate Herman G. Froehlich taken in 1933. On his sleeve are 5 service stripes representing 20-years of active service in the Navy. A view of the USS San Diego getting some fresh paint, in the dry dock at Mare Island Navy Yard.
Photos courtesy of H. G. Froehlich US Navy Collection.

Mountford Cameron Lowrey, USS San Diego Crew

The study of the men who sailed aboard ships is just as important as the study of the history of the ship herself. The men who sailed in these old coal-burning ships had to be tough and that held true through out the lives of the men once they were no longer in the navy. One such study is Mountford Cameron Lowrey.

Mountford Cameron Lowrey served aboard the Armored Cruiser USS San Diego and may have been aboard when she sank during WWI but this is not confirmed. The story of Mountford Cameron Lowrey, a medium built man with brown eyes and light brown hair, begins on May 18, 1894, the date on which he was born. Mountford is the eldest son of Robert Lee Lowrey and Martha M. Lytaker Lowrey. His father Robert L. was born in California on August 27 of 1867 and passed away on November 27, 1951 living all his life in California. Robert at the turn of the century worked possibly in the logging or timber industry. His wife Martha M. Lytaker was born in April of 1870 also in California. She and Robert were married about 1896, but obviously had been together several years before as their first son Mountford was born in 1894.

In 1900 the Robert L. Lowrey family was living in rural Rohnerville Township of Humbolt County, California. Humbolt County is a densely forested, mountainous, and rural county situated along the Pacific coast in Northern California. Today Humbolt County contains over forty percent of all remaining old growth Coast Redwood forests. Robert and Martha would have a total of 5 children, Mountford, Elvira, Claude, Robert R, and Winnered.

Mountford C. Lowrey joined the United States Navy possibly as early as 1915. This is known from a few post cards with his picture dated to 1915. It is known that Mountford was not in the navy at the time of the first call up for the Federal Draft during WWI as he filled out a draft card on June 5, 1917. On the card he stated he was working in Morgan Hill, which is located in Santa Clara, County, for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a warehouseman. Mountford also stated that he was married and was born in Santa Rosa, California.

Family stories told by Ed Morris, the Great-grandson of Mountford Lowrey tell that Mountford left the navy sometime in 1922 due to the death of his wife Ruth Multer leaving two daughters to take care of. Ed Morris also tells that he believes Mountford may have been a Gunners mate.

Mountford was known to live in California after 1922 and it was said that he always kept busy doing one thing or another. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and outdoorsmen. He also was a patriot as during WWII he joined the U.S. Army. Although it is not known what his duty was. Later after the end of the Second World War he joined the Merchant Marine. The family has today a photo of Mountford in an engine room of an unidentified ship bound for Tortuga. He also had married for a fourth time and his fourth wife was a schoolteacher.

Mountford retired from the Merchant Marines and he and his fourth wife settled down in Cayucos, California. Mountford was said to have built the two-story home located at 2635 Ocean Boulevard by himself. They would live in that home until Mountford’s death on May 1, 1981. The home was then sold on June 3, 1981. And so ends the story of the restless man, known as Mountford Cameron Lowrey.

This photo was post marked January 19, but the year however is a bit smudged and may be 1916. This would place this photo likely to have been taken along the Californian coast. It shows a group of marines and sailors from the USS San Diego after a successful fishing expedition. The post card was addressed to Miss Ruth Multer of Calistoga, California. Ruth Multer was Mountford’s first wife. Mountford writes “Some Sea Trout and Blanket fish we caught. Like my mustache. Love Monte” Mountford is identified by the arrow pointing to him. He has the white sailor hat on with a white tee shirt. This photo is identified only as “March 5, 1915 Mountford Lowrey” Again he is identified with the arrow pointing to him. The view is of the USS San Diego’s forward turret and this group possibly could have been the gun crew.

Ship's Cook Third Class, Lee Bryan Crain

Lee Bryan Crain was a Ships Cook, Third Class serving on the armored cruiser USS San Diego during WWI. He was aboard for several convoy escort trips and was aboard on July 19, 1918 as the San Diego is just off the coast of Long Island, NY. That morning deep within the hull of the San Diego as Seaman Crain is in the ships galley he feels a dull thud at 11:05 AM, and within 28-minutes time Seaman Crain is without a ship and swimming on the surface of the water. He is rescued and survives the sinking that day.

During Crain’s many trips escorting convoys across the Atlantic before the sinking of his ship he wrote a poem, no doubt from personal experiences aboard ship.

When the submarines are lurking
'Neath the surface of the deep,
And the enemy is watching,
While the world is fast asleep,
'Tis then that memories haunt us
Of the ones we hold so dear,
And for them, we sometimes shudder
As for us, we have no fear.

In the night there came a message
And the "code" is something strange.
So we translated and read it,
Five Subs have got our range.
A whispered word, the breeches click;
A shell slips into place.
A flash of fire, a quick report,
And the enemy is hurled into space.

I am lonely since we left port,
And as blue as blue can be.
Life don't seem so sweet, dear ones,
Since we sailed away to sea.
When I see the lazy water,
And watching each lazy rolling swell,
I just can't keep from thinking,
Sherman was right, "War is Hell."

Composed and written by Lee Bryan Crain on board the USS San Diego, while convoying troops to France.

On July 21 two days after the sinking of the San Diego, back in Mineral City, Kansas, Seaman Crain’s hometown, a Western Union message is delivered at his mother’s home. Stella Crain who was widowed now holds the Western Union envelope in her hands and has the horrifying feeling something bad has happened to her son. She opens and reads it, moment’s pass before she reads the words “Lee Bryan Crain reported as rescued from the USS San Diego” These words are of some comfort to her, as she has not lost her son but neither is there any news of his present condition. She could only wait for further word.

Seaman Lee B. Crain survives the sinking and survives the remainder of the war. He is discharged after the end of the war and re-enters civilian life, no worse for the wear. Lee Crain does not however return to Kansas but remains in New York. In late 1919 he falls in love and marries an Italian woman named Rose. She was at the time 19-years old and had come to America in 1904 and was naturalized in 1905.

By the spring of 1920 Rose and Lee were living in a boarding house ran by Catherine Tackney located at 4585 Park Avenue in The Bronx. There was another young couple also living in the same boarding house by the name of Robert and Susan Gunther, and Robert and Lee were both working at the same bakery as bakers. Lee had put his skills he learned while in the navy to good use.

Within two years Lee and Rose had their first child a son named Edward born in 1922, which was followed by Michael born in 1923, Floyd born in 1925 and Rosalie born in 1927. By 1930 Lee and Rose still were living in The Bronx and now Lee was working as an Inspector for the street railroad.

Lee’s early life began in January of 1896 when he was the first born to E. L and Stella C. Crain in Kansas. Lee’s father E. L had been born in September of 1874 in Illinois and his mother Stella was born in August of 1880 in Indiana. E. L. was farming and they in 1900 lived on a farm in Lola township of Cherokee County, Kansas.

E. L. and Stella would have 6 children, 4 of whom lived to adulthood. Lee Bryan was the eldest followed by Connie C. born about 1899, Bertha M, born about 1902 and William M. born about 1908, all in Kansas. By 1910 the father E. L, had passed away and Stella and the four children were living on George Street in Mineral City, Kansas. Stella worked as a laundress doing laundry in the home to support her family.

Lee Bryan Crain and his wife Rose and children would live in New York until Lee’s early death on August 23, 1939. On August 25, Lee is buried in the Long Island National Cemetery, in Farmingdale, NY. Today Lee lies buried in Section F, Site 1682.

Shown on the left side is Seaman Lee Bryan Crain, Ship’s Cook, Third Class. He is standing on the forward quarterdeck just in front of the anchor chain lockers, behind that is the forward main 8-inch gun. It is obvious that this photo was taken during the winter from the heavy clothes the men are wearing, and from the evidence of ice and snow on the gun and bridge. The officer facing Lee wearing the overcoat appears to be either a Commander or Lt. Commander.

The Western Union delivered to Stella Crain, Lee’s mother. It reads:

Washington DC 1150 PM 20-21
Estella Crain West Mineral, Kansas.
Bureau very glad to inform you that your son Lee Bryon Crain Seaman Third Class USN reported as rescued from the USS San Diego and landed at New York. Letters should be addressed to him care of USS San Diego Postmaster New York.

L. C. Palmer

Poem, photo and Western Union document provided by Ed Crain.

Seaman Clarence Philip Claus, Survived the Sinking of the San Diego


Seaman Clarence P. Claus

On the warm and hazy morning of July 19, 1918 aboard the Armored Cruiser USS San Diego is a 22-year old sailor by the name of Clarence Philip Claus who is unaware that in moments his life would be in danger. But that was how life was for the men on the ships sailing on the Atlantic at that time. Each sailor had to know how to react when that moment came and Seaman Claus, who was a coal passer knew what he had to do to survive. When the San Diego disappeared from the surface of the sea that morning Seaman Claus found himself alive and on the surface with out a ship as did all but six of his shipmates.

Clarence Philip Claus was born on April 19, 1896 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to John and Daisy Claus. John Claus had been born in September of 1865 in Pennsylvania and his wife Daisy was born in January of 1875 also in Pennsylvania. About 1894 John and Daisy had married and in April of 1896 the couple’s first child Clarence Philip was born. In June of 1900 the John Claus family lived at 426 Chester Street in Lancaster and by then had added to the family with daughter Eva born in August 1897 and son John, Jr. born in May of 1900. John the father worked in a local Buggy shop to support his growing family.

By 1910 the family had now grown to include another daughter named after her mother Daisy, and another son named Samuel. The John Claus family had now outgrown the home on Chester Street and now lived at 121 Locust Street, still in Lancaster. John was still working building buggies as a carriage painter.

The Claus family lived at the Locust Street home past 1917 as when Clarence registered for the first call up for the Federal Draft in June of 1917 he listed his address as 121 Locust Street, Lancaster, PA. Clarence was then a 21-year old single man working as a candy maker for the R. E. Rods Candy Company. Clarence was a brown haired, gray-eyed, tall slender man when he registered for the draft.

Clarence P. Claus joined the United States Navy and served through out the war. Arlene Claus Sears who is the daughter of Clarence recalls of her father, “Daddy would talk a lot about his time on that ship [USS San Diego]. He also worked down in the engine room. I think he passed coal. He carried scars on his legs the rest of his life. He would talk about his trip to South America and when he crossed the equator. I have his papers from that experience, he was only nineteen then an plenty scared!”

Being that Clarence served down in the Engine Rooms of the San Diego he suffered hearing damage during the explosions and received a disability pay after he was released from service with the navy. Later in life due to the hearing loss caused from the sinking of the San Diego Clarence hearing was quite bad at the end of his life. As it turns out Clarence was not the only Lancaster, Pennsylvania boy who was serving aboard the San Diego when she was sunk. From the notes Clarence kept after the war the other Lancaster boys were, George Jarrett of 450 East Chestnut St. and Thomas J. Coolidge of 127 Juniata Street. Clarence, George and Thomas were friends during and after their time in the navy.

After the war ended he returned to Lancaster and in 1919 married a 16-year old local woman who had been born in Germany. Her name was Mary A. Fox and had immigrated with her family to the United States in 1910. About 1924 Clarence and Mary had their first child a daughter Mary E. named for her mother. The following year a son named Robert C. was born and that was followed in late 1929 with a daughter named Arlene and finally in 1931 another daughter named Daisy in honor of Clarence’s mother who was also named Daisy.

In 1930 Clarence and Mary lived in a rented home located at 436 Beaver Street in Lancaster, PA. Clarence worked as a pattern maker for the Armstrong Linoleum Company in Lancaster. Living in the home with the Clarence Claus family were two others listed as boarders on the 1930 Federal Census form. Their names were Herman J. Fox aged 20 and born in Germany, and Dorothy M. Fox aged 17-years, she being born in Pennsylvania. Herman was the sister of Clarence’s wife Mary. Herman had the same job at the Linoleum plant that Clarence had.

In April of 1942 Clarence again had to register for the draft, this time because of WWII. Clarence and Mary’s home was then at 1020 Marshall Ave. in Lancaster. Clarence was still working for the Armstrong Linoleum Company and he had listed his mother Daisy as the person who would always know his address on the draft form. Daisy was then living at 446 Perishing Ave. in Lancaster.

Clarence Philip Claus would live his entire life in Lancaster and would pass away in July of 1972.

Seaman George F. Jarrett Survived the Sinking of the San Diego


Seaman George F. Jarrett

George Frederick Jarrett was born on October 30, 1894 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. His parents were George C. (b. Feb. 1871) and Lena (b. Feb. 1870) Jarrett. His mother Lena had been born in Germany and had come to America at the age of 12 in 1882. Sometime in late 1892 Lena and George C. married making their home on Broad Street in the city of Lancaster, and in June of 1893 the couple had their first child a daughter named Catherine. Then son George Frederick was born in October of 1894 and another daughter named Bertha E followed this in December of 1896. The father, George C. worked as a farmer to support is family.

By April of 1910 the Jarrett family had grown to include two more children, Albert born about 1903, and Henrietta born about 1905. George C. and Lena had moved from living in the city of Lancaster to a farm located in Providence Township just outside of the city, where George worked the farm.

On June 5, 1917 during the first call up of the Federal Draft 22-year old George Frederick Jarrett went to the sixth ward in Lancaster City and registered for the draft as her was required to do by law. George a medium build man with brown eyes and black hair filled out the required papers and he listed his home at the time of 213 E. Chestnut Street in Lancaster. He was single at that time and was working as a laborer and Pressman for a company in Mount Union, Pennsylvania. This company had something to do with blasting and due to the large numbers of coalmines in that area was connected to the coal industry somehow. Mount Union is a small borough in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania several miles to the west of Lancaster.

Within several days George F. Jarrett would leave the hills of Pennsylvania for duty in the United States Navy and take him to the dangerous waters of the Atlantic. He likely never dreamed that he would have his ship sunk from under him and would have to swim for his life in the cold Atlantic one day. 

George F. Jarrett served in the Navy during WWI survived the sinking of the armored cruiser USS San Diego and returned home to Pennsylvania after discharged from the Navy in 1919. By the beginning of 1920 George’s father had passed away and George Frederick lived with his widowed mother Lena in a home located at 450 East Chestnut Street in Lancaster. Also living in the home was Catherine who was now married to John Stoe and they had one daughter named Jane who was 2 years old. George’s other siblings, Albert and Henrietta and Bertha were also living in the home. At the time George was then working as a laborer for the Pennsylvania Rail Road.

It is likely that George F. Jarrett never married, because at age 47-years old he, during WWII again for the second time in his life registered for the Federal Draft, and was at the time single. In early 1942 when he registered he was living at 135 Fairyview Avenue in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and was working for the Cream Top Dairy in Lancaster. George listed his younger brother Albert as the person who would always know how to contact George.  It is not known when George Frederick Jarrett passed away and nothing more is known about his life.

The following is a transcript of an undated newspaper, which can be assumed to come from a local Lancaster County newspaper about the time of the sinking of the San Diego, which was found in some of Seaman Clarence P. Claus personal papers of the time. It is placed here in the story of Seaman Jarrett’s because it seems to be an article written about him.

Sinking of Cruiser San Diego told of by local boys who were rescued

One of six Lancaster County men unaccounted for in sinking of naval ship by submarine.

How the men of the U. S. Cruiser San Diego leaped into the water and clambered upon life rafts after the ship had been hit by a torpedo off New York, and how they began to sing the “Star Spangled banner” as the big boat began to take its final plunge, was told yesterday by George F. Jarrett, son of Mrs. George Jarrett, of 450 East Chestnut Street. Jarrett was a fireman on the boat, and was home for a forty-eight hour leave.

It was Jarrett’s first sea trip. He enlisted in the Navy here March 15, and had undergone training at the Newport School. He had been on the San Diego three days, and was seeking his pay slip when the vessel was struck.

“There was not the slightest bit of excitement or disorder,” he said. “Every man stuck to his post until they were ordered to move and the officers remained at their posts until the vessel had leaned over on one side. Then they slid down the side of the vessel into the water.”

Jarrett was on a raft for almost four hours before being picked up. He was taken to Hoboken, and there had to stand in line for five hours before he could secure new clothing.

FIRED EVERY GUN

“After we were hit,” he said, “there was a great outburst of firing. Every gun on the boat began to shoot at targets in the water, in case there might be a submarine. There was a constant rattle of shots for several minutes. I saw a barrel blown to pieces, but do not know whether the sub was hit or not.”

Six Lancaster County boys were on the San Diego, two of whom have not yet been accounted for. The remainder have been officially reported as safe. They are:

Chester J. McComsey, aged 26, son of Elmer McComsey, 346 Hand Ave., U.S. Marine Corps, clung to a mess table for 3-hours and was rescued. Arrives at home tonight.

George F. Jarrett, aged 22, of 450 East Chestnut Street, sailor. Rescued and returned home Sunday.

Clarence P. Claus, ages 22, son of John A. Claus, 121 Locust Street. Rescued and returned home Sunday.

Harold Swank, son of H. R. D. Swank, of 335 East Walnut Street, U. S. Marine Corps. Reported safe and well.

Thomas J. Coolidge, aged 20, son of A. H. Coolidge, of 127 Juniata Street. Sailor. Reported safe.

Carl Shank, aged 17, of Mount Joy. Sailor. Unaccounted for.

Seamen Claus and Jarrett arrived in Lancaster Sunday morning shortly after 1 o’clock, having traveled together after being rescued. Both were ordered to return to port last night. Before leaving for Lancaster on Saturday night, when they received permission to take a short leave of absence, they were given strict orders not to say too much about their experiences. Consequently when interviewed by a representative of the News Journal yesterday afternoon, they refused to give an account of the affair, or their rescue.

BOAT SUNK QUICKLY

Claus reached home about 3 o’clock Sunday morning to the great surprise of his parents. He related the story of the sinking of the ship and his rescue, confirming the stories previously published, relative to the discipline and order maintained on board the cruiser, after it was torpedoed or struck a mine. The boat settled beneath the surface of the water so rapidly that there was little opportunity for the lowering of boats. Claus jumped overboard, after adjusting a life preserver about his chest, which buoyed him until rescued. Claus was in the water 4-hours, and the muscles in his arms and legs were so cramped that he was practically helpless for sometime after taken on board a boat. Hundreds of sailors and marines were floating in the water, nearly one mile from the ship, and as it went down they joined in singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” He confirmed the story told of the Quartermaster, who was unable to leave the ship in time to swim enough distance away from the doomed ship before it settled, and was one who drowned.

Claus and Jarrett were doing duty in the boiler room, but fortunately were not at work at the time of the accident. They were just about to eat dinner, after which they were to go on duty, when the ship was struck. All the men on board hold the captain of the cruiser H. H. Cristy, in high esteem and orders were carried out expeditiously.

One of the most pathetic and heroic scenes witnessed by the men, was the drowning of young fellows on board who could not swim. Several boys were seen picking out life preservers after the ship was struck, but after seeing that the life preservers were needed by those who could swim, and knowing they would be of little use, they discarded them, and jumped overboard. It was declared; they never came to the surface.

Elmer McComsey, of Hand Avenue, father of Chester J. McComsey, who was on board the cruiser as a marine, stated last night that he had received no word from his son, or the Navy Department relative to his son. McComsey enlisted in the Marine Corps in June of 1917, and was 26-years old. Prior to enlisting he was employed at the linoleum department of the Armstrong Cork Company.

H. R. D. Swank of 335 Walnut Street received a telegram from his son, Harold Swank, also with the marines, Saturday afternoon, stating that he was “Safe and well.” This telegram was received at 4:15; a telegram was received earlier, at 3 o’clock from Mr. Swank, stating, “I am Well.”

Thomas J. Coolidge, son of A. H. Coolidge, of 227 Juniata Street, who has been in the Navy for nearly five-years, was reported safe, according to a telegram received last evening at 5:30 by his father. The telegram came from Washington, DC, and stated that a letter would follow.

Carl Shank, of Mount joy, aged 17, formerly a student at Stevens Industrial School, just recently enlisted, was said to be on the ship, but no word has been received by his relatives as to his safety.

Seaman Thomas J. Coolidge Survived the Sinking of the San Diego


Seaman Thomas J. Coolidge

Thomas J. Coolidge was one of at least six Lancaster County, Pennsylvania boys who were on the USS San Diego when she sank in 1918. His early life began and was formed in the hills of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Thomas J. Coolidge was born in September of 1897 to Arthur H. and Lily N. Coolidge.

Arthur was born in May of 1860 in the state of Massachusetts and his wife Lily was born in January of 1877 in Pennsylvania, likely in and around Lancaster County. In mid-summer of 1900 the Arthur Coolidge family consisted of Arthur and Lilly and their two children, son Thomas J., and daughter Vivian B. (b. Sept. 1899). Arthur worked as a stationary engineer in the Lancaster area.

By 1910 the Arthur Coolidge family had moved and were now living in a home on South Market Street in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. Arthur was now working for the Rail Road as an engineer. The family by then had grown to include another daughter who was born about 1901 and may have been named Hazel, a son named John born about 1905 and tow more sons who may have been twins Horace E. and Howard E. both born about 1908.

It is not known if Thomas J. Coolidge entered the Navy before the First World War or enlisted when he would have had to register for the draft, but this decision to join the navy would be a life altering decision for young Thomas. During WWI Thomas J. Coolidge would serve aboard the USS San Diego and would be one of the survivors of the sinking of that ship in July of 1918. This however would not be the last ship he was on that sank.

After the end of the First World War it is not known if Thomas J. Coolidge came home to Pennsylvania to live again with his parents. In January of 1920 the Arthur Coolidge family lived on Juniata Street in Lancaster City. Arthur was now a conductor for the railroad and in the home lived his wife Lily sons John, Horace, Howard and two new additions to the family, daughters Mary who was born about 1912 and Helen who was born about1915. But Thomas J. Coolidge who would have been 23 at the time was not living there. He may have still been in the navy at the time or simply was living someplace else.

Nothing more is known about Thomas J. Coolidge except that his name appears on a stone tablet in the American Cemetery at Ft. William Mckinley in Manila, Philippines with names of other men who were listed a Missing in Action or Buried at Sea during WWII.


The stone tablet located at Ft. William McKinley in Manila, Philippines that contains the name of Thomas J. Coolidge.
His name is the last name on this tablet.

The name of Thomas J. Coolidge Chief Water Tender USN Service No. 1225099 from Pennsylvania with a death date of December 15, 1944 is all that remains of the boy from Lancaster County who survived the sinking of the USS San Diego in 1918. The facts of his death remain a mystery but because of the date of his death he could have been killed in the actions off Mindoro, Philippines during the beach landings there when the LST-738 was hit on December 15, 1944 by a Japanese Kamikaze plane.

Assigned to the Mindoro Landing force, the LST-738 (Landing Ship Tank) and her crew sailed in convoy for their first taste of combat, and arrived off the landing beaches on December 15th ready for anything. As they awaited the order to head for shore to discharge their cargo, the crew onboard the LST-738 nervously watched the shore and sky for the Japanese, particularly for the new and terrifying Kamikazes being used with increased ferocity in the Philippine theatre.

With the first wave of troops and materials ashore meeting little resistance, the Japanese finally showed up to fight the landings, and did so in force. Gunners on LST-738 lent their fire to the dense AA screen put up by the ships laying off the shoreline, but the large and slow moving LST force was clearly targeted by the Japanese pilots and only a few minutes into the attack the LST-472 was kamikazed and aflame. LST-738's crew fought with increased ferocity to prevent a similar fate from befalling their ship, but despite their best efforts a single Japanese fighter weaved through their AA defenses and slammed into the Port side of the ship, passing through her hold with a shower of flaming gasoline and punching out the other side, but not before its bomb detonated.

Aboard the LST-738, all was bedlam. Massive fires raged through the ships cargo hold, fed by a large supply of munitions, fuel and stores all destined for the beachhead. The ship had sustained critical damage from the Kamikaze and it's bomb, and was settling to its Port side as her crew raced to control the damage. The destroyer USS Moale DD693 from the landing force lent their assistance, but as more and more of the ordinance aboard the ship began to cook off, she was ordered abandoned. While the Moale was along side of the LST-738 an explosion killed one man aboard the Moale and injured several others. The Moale rescued at least 88 men from the LST-738 before ordered to pull away.

After her colors were struck and her last man was removed, the LST-738 was left a drifting, burning wreck, suffering near-constant detonations. As a fairly significant hazard to the landing fleet, she was scuttled by gunfire by friendly Destroyers at this location on December 15th, 1944.

If the LST-738 is the ship Chief Water Tender Thomas J. Coolidge lost his life on it is interesting to note that this ship was built in his home state of Pennsylvania. She was laid down at the Dravo Corporation Yards in Pittsburgh on February 20, 1944.

Chief Yeoman Arthur T. Bennis, Survived the Sinking of the San Diego

David B. Joyce related about his grandfather Arthur Thomas Bennis, who served in the U. S. Navy, and was aboard the armored cruiser USS San Diego and survived the sinking on July 19, 1918. Joyce tells of family stories told about Bennis was supposed to have been in the San Diego’s sick bay at the time of the explosion, and how he was said to have been in the water for 17-hours after the sinking.

Arthur Thomas Bennis was born in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on July 29, 1888 to Susie (Quigley), and Thomas Edward Bennis. In Punxsutawney the Bennis name was and still is a well known name, where, Thomas Edward Bennis had owned several hotels.  Today the Bennis house is now the historical society building. Growing up the family was doing quite well and at 22-years of age on July 27, 1910, Arthur Bennis applied for a United States Passport for travel abroad. On his passport application he states he is a student and would be traveling abroad and would be back within six-months time. It was not known where he had traveled to.

On June 5, 1917 Bennis registered for the Draft and was then a 28-year old single man who was working as a bank clerk for the Punxsutawney National Bank. Six-months later on December 11, 1917 at the Boston Navy Yard Arthur Bennis enrolled into the United States Navy, where he took his basic training at the First Naval District at the Boston Navy Yard from December 31, 1917 through January 31, 1918. Then from March 1 through March 14, 1918 he had additional schooling at the Naval Training Camp at Hingham, Massachusetts. Bennis was then sent to Bumkin Island California from March 15 through March 31 for more training courses. During the training period his rating was Seaman Second Class.

On March 31, 1918 Seaman 2c Bennis reported for sea duty aboard the cruiser USS San Diego then on convoy escort duty in the Atlantic. He served aboard the San Diego until she was sunk on July 19, 1918 and then was reassigned with the surviving crew to the Naval Barracks at Pelham Bay, NY from July 20 through August 23, 1918. For unknown reasons he was in the Naval Hospital at the New York Navy Yard from August 23-30. After he was out of the hospital he went back to the barracks at Pelham Bay until September 27, 1918, when he again was in the hospital at Pelham Bay until the war ended on November 11, 1918.

Sometime after the sinking of the San Diego Bennis’s rating was changed to Yeoman 3rd Class, and then to Yeoman 2c, Yeoman 1c, and finally Chief Yeoman. Bennis was then assigned to the USS Tiger on April 5, 1919 and would serve aboard through September 17, 1919. The Tiger (Id. No. 1640) was a single-screw, steam freighter of 410-feet in length built in San Francisco, California by the Union Iron Works, and was completed in June of 1917. SS Tiger operated as a merchant ship by the Standard Transportation Co., of Delaware, until she was chartered by the War Department on November 12, 1917. On March 7, 1919, the Tiger was transferred to the United States Cruiser and Transport Force to assist in the returning of some two million American troops from Europe. By mid-summer 1919 Bennis likely had at least one round trip across the Atlantic aboard the Tiger.

Chief Yeoman Bennis was honorably Discharged at the Receiving Ship at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on September 24, 1919.

After Bennis was discharged from the Navy he went back home to Punxsutawney where he was living with his parents, and had taken his old job back at the Punxsutawney National Bank. Within a few years after the war Arthur Bennis was married. His wife was Lucy McNamee, and together Arthur and Lucy had four children; Jane, Moira, Leo, and Angela. Arthur and Lucy made their home at 124 Church Street in Punxsutawney.

By 1930 Bennis was now working as a Public Accountant and was still living in Punxsutawney. But the time the next World War came around Bennis again had to register for a Draft. At the time he was 53-years old and was self employed likely as an accountant and his office was located in the Spirit Building in Punxsutawney.

Sometime during the 1940’s Arthur and Lucy moved to a home on Claremont Street in Montclair, New Jersey. Bennis would live the rest of his life in Montclair and throughout his life experienced lingering health effects, which he attributed to being in the cold water for so long from the sinking of the USS San Diego in 1918. Arthur Thomas Bennis passed away on September 21, 1973 in Montclair, and is buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Punxsutawney, PA.


Military stone of the grave of Arthur T. Bennis, located in the Calvary Cemetery in Punxsutawney, PA.

J. Paul Miller, USN Survived the Sinking

The original letter was sadly thrown away by accident but Peggy Dickison who is the granddaughter of J. (Jean) Paul Miller, saved a transcript of the letter her grandfather wrote on July 23, 1918 four days after the sinking of the San Diego. His letter reads;

July 23, 1918
Dear Folks:
I am awfully sorry that I did not get to write sooner but events have been happening in such rapid succession that I have not had time to write. I wonder if you got my telegram and how much you knew about the sinking of the govt [?] ship San Diego before you got the telegram. I suppose you know all about it now from the newspapers, perhaps more official news than I do because I haven’t seen a newspaper since yesterday morning, and do not know what has been done since they held court of inquiry yesterday morning.

I can only just give you my version of the disaster and let it go at that.

I was on the port side forward when the explosion occurred, and it affected that part of the ship almost the same as the firing of a six-inch gun, but, owing to the fact that we were having no drill and that the ship began listing to port immediately, we knew differently. I did not hear submarine defense quarters sounded but of course it was. We immediately put on life preservers and stood by to abandon ship. It was simply wonderful the way the men behaved, keeping cool and ready to do anything necessary. When it became apparent that the ship would go down, the order to abandon ship was given, which was done in marvelously orderly precision. Of course, I did not think much of it just then, but later had time to think it over. You probably know that a great many fellows were getting ready for liberty in New York, where we were due in for a few hours, and consequently were scantily clad. I was dressed just as I said I generally was about the ship. Only a suit of underclothes, a pair of trousers and a white hat. Happened to have a handkerchief and some clothes-stops [sic] in my pockets. That was absolutely all that I saved, and that was more than some fellows did. What I hated worst was my new saxophone. I refuse to be worried tho [sic]. One fellow lost a $75 cornet of his own and the bandmaster said several of the fellows lost some of their own instruments. We have had no band concerts since then.

Soon after we left the ship, yea, before she was clean under water, we saw another vessel which we thot [sic] was coming our way, but later passed by. You should have heard the cheering and singing just as the ship went down, but when we saw the other ship going away, an awful stillness prevailed, until we saw some more ships coming. I don’t see how that other ship could help but see us or at least hear our gunfire, but perhaps they did not.

We were in the water about three hours before anybody was picked up by an oil tanker “Bessum,” bound to Boston from Baltimore, but of course she turned back to New York. After we got on board, we ate some emergency rations we had with us and later got some grub from the galley.

Soon after we entered the harbor we dropped anchor and awaited orders. I found a good place to “cork off,” and when I awoke we were laying alongside a dock, ready to get off. We crossed the dock and just as we started up the gangplank to come on this ship, we were given a comfort kit, suit of pajamas and a pair of sox [sic] and a sweater and at the top a blanket, by the Red Cross. We had a little to eat and then found a place to sleep. It was then 3 a.m. of the twentieth. It was so warm that [?] not sleep much but didn’t get up till after 9 o’clock. Of course there was some confusion as to how we were to eat and sleep, but it is nearly straightened out now, and we are beginning to feel more comfortable.

Saturday afternoon they began issuing clothes. After standing in line for three hours, I got mine. They had only a limited supply and not a great variety of sizes. We got a hat, suit of whites, pair of shoes and a pair of sox [sic] and the Red Cross gave us a suit of underwear. The shoes are all that fit me, altho [sic] the jumper is not much too large. The trousers are too long and everything else is entirely too large.

That might they gave all hands liberty and made no stipulations as to uniform or personal appearance. Some went with just underwear and dungaree trousers, and perhaps a hat. By the way, I never even got my head wet while in the water and my hat stayed on all the time. I slid down a line into the water feet first and swam about 20 yards to a life raft, where I stuck. Had lots of fun. Had to keep up our spirits.

I got my new uniform before I left so didn’t look so bad. Took the ferry to Barclay St., walked up past the Woolworth Building, and took the subway to 72nd then walked up to 76th. One fellow who I always see there treated us to pie, ice cream and a drink (soft). We stayed there a while & then I went to a barber shop, my first chance since the Tuesday before, when I came thru [sic] Buffalo. Then went to bed where I generally do after being at the Manhattan Congregational Church club for enlisted men. Believe me, I sure slept some. Didn’t get up till 9:30. Had the impression that Sunday School was after noon at Calvary M.E., so took my time & got there at 10:45. A son of the regular minister preached. The Misses Jackson, old maids (very) invited me to dinner, & I went. They mentioned some people who would like to see me, so we went up there in the afternoon. Took a surface car & went a roundabout way, not thru [sic] the Bronx, to see the scenery. And this place is not in New York at all, but in Yonkers, the fashionable residence district. The name is Rendell, accent on the last syllable, and Mr. & Mrs. Harry Parker live there too. I think she is Rendell’s daughter. They have lots of room (for a city) something like the residence district of Des Moines. She helps in a Red Cross Canteen two or three times a week. You needn’t worry about it not being a good place to go because they said Bishop Strinz [?] always stays there when he is in Yonkers. It gives me a real homey feeling to be there. They told me to come back anytime day or night and I would be welcome. I went back and stayed with the Misses Jackson and returned from liberty at 9 a.m. Monday.

At ten they held court of inquiry and took final muster to see who all were here, which process took until well into the afternoon. Then I found out that the even numbered divisions rated liberty so I went, altho [sic] I was somewhat delayed by the making up of the liberty list so it was 9 o’clock when I left. They said we had to have a full clean uniform and show that we had at least $2 before we could go. That was any kind of uniform, even dungarees, might pass, but neckerchiefs were not necessary. My uniform was not very clean but I got away all night & wanted to wash it so went up to Rendell’s (it is only about fifteen miles). Got there about nine.

They gave me a pair of “civies” trousers to put on and I washed my whites, and besides, I was this lucky: a new neighbor and friend of theirs has recently been commissioned Ensign, U.S.N. As he is stationed in New York, he can be at home nights. Of course they knew my condition regarding clothes & they thot [sic] he might have some so when he came they brought him over, went thru the introductory ceremonies (did away with Naval customs for the time being) and after a while he went after his “gobs” (sailor) clothes. He is somewhat smaller than myself, but I could wear his clothes. He gave me a suit of whites, a blue jumper, sweater and neckerchief. My clothes were not quite dry this a.m. so I left all but my new whites & the neck. Which I wore, & will get them next time, or perhaps not till I get a new bag. Isn’t that what they call lucky? I left there at 6 o’clock this a.m. & it took me just an hour & a half to get back. Liberty was up at 7:30.

We will have liberty every other night now while we are here.

I have heard everything from: that we will have nothing at all given us to replace what we lost; to: that we will get a $100 clothing allowance, 30 days pay & 30 days extended leave. So I don’t know any more than I did last Friday afternoon.

We are on the transport ship _ _ _ _, located at pier no _, U.S.A.J.S., _ _ _ _ _ _ _, N. _. We expect to be here _ _ longer and then go to ___________. They may keep the whole crew together & may not. As far as I am concerned, I would just as soon go thru [sic] the experience again if I knew I would come out all right and could get equal values for what I lost.

Perhaps you wonder where I got enough money for any liberty. Well, I had a five-dollar bill left from my trip and it was in my money belt, which I forgot to tell you I was wearing, as I didn’t think of it. I also have my identification tag. I thought of that and wondered if it was soon to be used for it’s [sic] intended purpose. Well, my money got wet but it didn’t hurt it any. I had intended sending the money back as we were going to get paid yet [?] they were paying when the ship was struck. Began at 11 o’clock, but I did not have mine yet, so it is still coming. I had loaned Winberg 50¢ and got that back this morning. I did not have that draft cashed and now it is at the bottom of the ocean, ten miles from Fire Island and about fifty from New York. Do you know how long they wait for a draft not cashed?

Those pictures I told you about were sent to me on the ship instead of to you, as I had directed, so you will never see them. Most of them were pictures I took in Boston the fourth [sic].

I also received a letter from Clarence Vernon, who is now on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania. He didn’t go to Harvard at all. And then there was a letter from you dated June 9. I presume that was the last shipment of mail which [sic] had accumulated while we were gone. There were one or two a little later than that too. We have as yet received no mail since we have been here, I don’t know what our future address will be. Of course will let you know when I find out. I may find out our temporary address before I send this. If so I will attach it at the end of this letter.

Have you as yet thought of this very peculiar coincidence: The Titanic struck the iceberg on my birthday. The Carpathia picked up the Titanic’s passengers. I was, until recently, on the San Diego. The San Diego convoyed the Carpathia at least the last two trips, and the Carpathia and the San Diego sunk on the same day!! I don’t think this letter will be in the paper. It is too long. And moreover, I think it is the first letter of any length I have written without many interruptions.

I really ought to write another page to make it ten but don’t know [of anything __so I will __ {unclear}] let it go. With apologies for not writing sooner, and much love, with the accompanying emotions to all,

J. Paul Miller

S2c Henry L. Weidling, Survivor of the Sinking

Henry Louis Weidling was born on May 19, 1897 in Chicago to Mary E. (Greene) and Louis P. Weidling.

In Chicago the Weidling family lived on Nebraska Street where Louis worked as a house painter to support his family. During the summer of 1900 the family consisted of Louis and Mary and three children, Tessie S., Henry L. and Mildred C. Also living in the same house was Louis’ 68-year old widowed father August, and five of his children, Louis’ brothers and sisters; 33-year old Linda, 28-year old Julius, 26-year old August, Jr., 19-year old Henry, and 15-year old Mildred. Julius and Henry were machinists and August worked with his brother Louis as a painter.

By 1910 the Louis P. Weidling family had moved from Chicago to Wilmington, Illinois where the family had grown to include two more children, Martha M., and William A.

Family stories told of Henry Louis Weidling, or sometimes he was known as “Heiney” was that he had joined the U. S. Navy at age 16, but it is more likely that he was actually 19-years old when he joined the Navy. It is known that Henry Louis Weidling enlisted into the navy on May 5, 1917, which would have made him a few days short of his twentieth birthday.

Seaman Second Class Weidling served aboard the cruiser USS San Diego during World War One, and was aboard the day the San Diego sank. He was among the men who survived, and would serve through out the end of the war and was finally Honorably Discharged on April 1, 1919.

Bill Weidling who is the nephew of Henry Weidling tells how he remembers his uncle Henry telling how he never was able to get off the ship to see France on the one stop they made. The story was told that Seaman Weidling was locked up serving punishment for fist fighting while aboard the ship.

Now out of the Navy Henry returned to the Chicago area and his family. Sometime after returning home Henry met Alice G. Larson (1896-1981) and they were married about 1926. In the Spring of 1930 Henry and Alice were boarders in a house owned by Warren and Harriet Clark, which was located on George Street in Chicago. Louis was then working as a clerk for a railroad express agency. By 1935 they had their own place, and were living in Cook County, in the Chicago area. Henry and Alice were still living in the same place past 1940 and he was still working for the express agency.

Alice and Henry in their later years had moved south to lake County, Florida. Henry Louis Weidling would pass away on March 24, 1975 in Florida, and his wife passed away in 1981. Today both are buried in the Braceville-Gardner Cemetery in Braceville, Grundy County, Illinois.


Seaman Weidling shown with a mustache and the "USS San Diego" marjing on his hat.

Seaman 2c Henry Louis Weidling shown with "USS San Diego"
ribbon on his hat.

Above is a photo of Henry L. Weidling's collection marked as "Boot Camp."

On the left is Seaman Henry L. Weidling shown in uniform in front of the Stewart House, likely before being assigned to the USS San Diego.

Quartermaster Edwin B. Ellis,
Last Enlisted man to Leave the Bridge of the Sinking San Diego

On Friday July 19, 1918, the Armored Cruiser San Diego is steaming along the southern coast of Long Island and was just a few hours away from making port in New York Harbor where she was to pick up her next convoy. Many of her crew are dressed in their white uniforms because they had Liberty in New York City. Up on the San Diego’s bridge was a young Signalman named Edwin B. Ellis. At 11:05 that morning Seaman Ellis was unaware that within 30-minutes the very deck he was standing on would be gone from the surface of the sea. The San Diego had hit a mine and was sinking, she was mortally wounded and her commanding officer Captain Harley Christy gave the order to Abandon Ship. Signalman Edwin Ellis remained at his duty station throughout the 30-minutes of the San Diego’s final moments. When all enlisted men had abandoned the ship Ellis was the last enlisted man left on the bridge. Only Captain Christy, Lt. Commander Gerald Bradford, the Executive Officer and Signalman Ellis were all who were left on the bridge. Ellis asked permission to abandon ship, permission was granted, Ellis turned and saluted the flag and jumped off. The next 4-hours were spent in the water in a life preserver.

Ellis survived the day and was given a Letter of Commendation from Lt. Commander Gerald Bradford the Executive Officer for his devotion to duty during the sinking of the San Diego. Ellis would remain on Active Duty through out WWI and was assigned to duty on the USS Imperator (ID-4080) after the war ended in November of 1918. The Imperator was then being used as a troop transport returning American troops from France.

Once Ellis was Honorably Discharged from the Navy in late 1919 he returned to civilian life in Maryville, Tennessee where he lived with his parents, James and Mary Ellis.

Edwin Breckenridge Ellis was born on October 28, 1897 in Maryville, Tennessee to Mary Lou Knox and James Napoleon Ellis. At the turn of the century in June of 1900 the Ellis family lived in Blount County, Tennessee near Maryville where James was then farming. James Ellis and Mary Lou Knox had been married about 1895 and by 1900 had 3 children, Horace K., Edwin B. and Elizabeth. On the farm in Blount County lived the 3 Ellis children, James and Mary Lou, and Mary’s mother Martha Knox. Also on the farm lived a boarder, Estelle Scott, who worked as a servant to the family.

By 1910 the Ellis family now lived in a home on the Louisville Pike in Blount County. Louisville Pike is Tennessee Highway 334 running north west out of Maryville. James by now had quit farming and was now a storekeeper in a men’s dry goods business. Edwin was then about 12-years old and was in school.

As America entered into the First World War Edwin who would have been 20-years old when America joined the fight in April of 1917 likely joined the navy before he would have had to register for the first call up of the Federal Draft in June of 1917. This is surmised because no WWI Draft Registration form can be found for Edwin Ellis.

After his service in the navy during WWI Edwin Ellis was again living at his parent’s home located at 317 Main Street in Maryville, TN. His father James was still working in the dry goods store and Edwin had taken a job as a salesman in a department store. Edwin wanted to find a career that would take him someplace in life other than the department store he was presently working in. Practicing law would be his profession of choice and it would take him from Tennessee to the State of Florida. Edwin enrolled in the University of Virginia Law School, graduated and passed his Bar examinations becoming a Lawyer.

About 1927 Edwin Ellis would marry Greta Lucille Wyatt (1904-1976) and they would begin their lives together in a home they rented on 19th Avenue South in St. Petersburg, Florida. The rent was $30 per month and Edwin was in April of 1930, a practicing lawyer. About 1932 Edwin and Greta started their family with the birth of a daughter named Sally, followed by twin daughters Sandy and Sue, and lastly a son named John Edwin Malott who was born about 1934, all born in St. Petersburg.

As America was being pulled into another war, Edwin Ellis felt he had more to give of himself for his fellow Countrymen. And so about May of 1942 Edwin again joined the navy. Commissioned as a full Lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve Force he was assigned to the staff of LST (Landing Ship Tank) Group 28, LST Flotilla 10 based in Panama City, Florida. Later Flotilla 10 operated in the Mediterranean Sea areas. Lt. Ellis did not deploy with Flotilla 10 to the Mediterranean, but was sent to Military Government School at Princeton University, and then to Chinese language school at Monterey, CA. Prior to the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands in the summer of 1946, the opposing China shore was to be occupied for a large build up of troops and supplies for the invasion. Lt. Ellis was to help govern the occupied Chinese towns.

In late 1945 Lt. Ellis was serving aboard an LST then in San Francisco Bay fully trained and ready for the coming invasion of Japan in the spring and summer of 1946, but the dropping of the Atom Bomb in September of 1945 ended the war and Lt. Ellis’s LST remained in Californian waters. After the war Ellis was advanced to Lt. Commander, USNRF.

Edwin’s son John Edwin Malott, recalled how when he was 10-years old how his father arranged for him to go on a combat training exercise. John stated, “dad arranged for me to go on a day and night combat training exercise aboard Capt. Scott’s LST. The crews fired 20mm and 40mm canons at targets on the water, and aircraft towed aerial targets, and lighted night buoy targets. I still have a 40mm shell case given to me by Capt. Scott. I got to go all over the ship, eat in the officer’s mess, see highly classified radar room and watch officers fire a full auto Thompson from the rear 40mm turret!”

After discharged from the navy for a second time Ellis returned to his family in St. Petersburg, Florida where he served as a city judge for St. Petersburg. In June of 1951 Judge Ellis was appointed the first judge of the newly created Pinellis County Court of Record.

Edwin’s son, John Edwin Malott Ellis, and grandson John Breckenridge Ellis both would follow in Edwin’s footsteps. John Edwin Malott would like his father practice law in St. Petersburg, Florida, and would earlier serve in the United States Air Force as a B-47 pilot in SAC (Strategic Air Command). Edwin’s grandson John Breckenridge would serve 8-years in the United States Air Force as a Captain, serving in the Philippines, and also during the First Gulf War as a fighter squadron Adjutant, along with working in the control towers while in the Middle East.

Edwin Breckenridge Ellis, the last enlisted man to leave the bridge of the sinking USS San Diego in 1918 would pass away on June 6, 1970 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Edwin B. Ellis in 1917 giving a snappy salute in front of some barracks huts.
Quartermaster 3rd Class Edwin B. Ellis during WWI
Edwin Ellis shown in Navy summer white uniform during 1917.
Note that in his shirt pocket is a letter.
Lt. Edwin B. Ellis during WWII
On the left is John Edwin Malott Ellis standing proud with his father Lt. Edwin B. Ellis during WWII.
Lt. Ellis seated center, in Navy Combat fatigues during WWII.

Joseph John Duffy

Joseph John Duffy was a memeber of the crew of the San Diego when she sank in 1918, and he survived. After the war Duffy worked as a lonshoreman in Philadelphia, PA. He never married and passed away in 1941 and is burried in the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery just out side of Philadelphia.

Seaman Walter George Wittman
USS California, 1907-1910

In 1907 Walter George Wittman joined the United States Navy at the age of 17, and received a small item from his brother Phil that would serve him and begin a Wittman family tradition that would serve four other family members during their military service to their country. The item was an 1880 silver dollar coin.

The story behind the silver dollar began when Walter G. Wittman was 17-years old in 1907 he wanted to enlist into the navy. Walter went home and told his parents that he wanted to enlisted, and Walter’s father Frederick George Wittman (1852-1926) gave permission for him to join the navy. Walter’s older brother Phil in a gesture of brotherly love gave him the 1880 silver dollar to keep in case he ever needed it. At the time the Wittman family lived in southern Indiana in Spencer County along the Ohio River, in a little town of Maxville located in Huff Township.

Walter’s father was from a German family and had been born at sea likely while the Wittman family was immigrating to the United States in 1852. In 1900 Frederick George Wittman was a store keeper in the little village of Maxville, Indiana. He and his wife Sarah (Saunders) had at the time four children, Philip, Walter, Eulalia Anna, and Rosco. In 1907 when Walter was leaving the family to join the navy he needed to enlist in Evansville, Indiana, which was about 50-miles down the Ohio River. Walter walked the entire distance and enlisted at the recruiting station in Evansville. The silver dollar his brother had given him stayed with Walter during his entire enlistment in the navy. Likely Walter felt it was a good luck piece or it was something he could carry with him that reminded him of home and family. Either way this was the start of a long journey for this silver dollar all around the world, and would begin a tradition with at least three of the men in the Wittman family.

Walter G. Wittman would serve aboard the armored cruiser USS California and likely was part of her original crew, as the California was put into commission of August 1, 1907 under the command of Captain Cottman.

Aboard the California Seaman Walter G. Wittman and his silver dollar would visit many Pacific islands such as Pago Pago, Samoa, and Hawaii. He would have crossed the equator and become a Shellback before King Neptune in his ancient rites. Seaman Wittman cruised along the western coasts of Mexico and down to Central American and South American ports and visited Lima, Peru. He would have visited Manila in the Philippines and made ports in China and Japan while serving aboard the California, never spending his silver dollar.

Wittman would serve a 3-year tour in the Navy and would have been discharged sometime in late 1910. Wittman would return to his family in Indiana after he was discharged. Walter had taken a job working in a machine shop that took him to the Indianapolis area. By 1913 Walter had met Mona Burk Fuller and on April 2, 1913 Walter and Mona were married.

By 1914 Walter and Mona had their first child a son they named Henry. In late 1917 a second child a daughter named Thelma was born, and that was followed again in 1919 by another daughter named Helen. By June of 1917 Walter and Mona were living in Indianapolis where Walter worked for the Lyons-Atlas Company in Indianapolis as a case-hardner. The Lyons-Atlas Company of Indianapolis purchased the Atlas Engine Works in 1912, and were builders of 2-cycle engines. From this factory in Indianapolis the Lyons-Atlas Co. built an American Automobile called the Lyons-Knight. The company also made Lyons-Knight gasoline engines and Lyons-Knight Diesel engines. By 1920 Walter Wittman was a foreman at the factory.

The Wittman family, in January of 1920, was then living at 1048 Hough Street in Indianapolis. Living in the home with the family was Walters’s youngest brother Rosco, who was working at a foundry as an inspector, which may have been part of the Lyons-Atlas Company.

In 1921 Walter and Mona added to the family with a son named Warren, another daughter named Betty in 1924, and another daughter Virginia in 1926 and lastly a son they named Walter, Jr. in late 1929. Walter by 1930 was still working in the auto industry, and by 1942 Walter was at the time working for the General Motors Corporation, Allison Division in Indianapolis.

America had now entered into another World War, and Walter and Mona’s son Warren, would now be serving in the Military. Walter in the tradition his brother had begun in 1907, got a second silver dollar and gave it to Warren to keep during his time serving in the Navy during WWII.

Warren would serve aboard the USS Iuka and USS Virgo in the Pacific during the war. Warren’s silver dollar would travel aboard the Fleet Tug USS Iuka through the Panama Canal, and to Bora Bora, the Society Islands and Espiritu Santo. Later Warren would transfer to the Attack Cargo Ship USS Virgo where he would see Hawaii, the Marshall Islands and Kwajalein Atoll. They would also make anchorages at Eniwetok and participate at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and Guam. The Vigo with Warren and his silver dollar were also at anchor in Tokyo Bay to witness the surrender of the Japanese forces on September 9, 1945. After the end of the Second World War Warren Wittman returned back to Indianapolis, Indiana.

Walter’s namesake, and youngest son, Walter Jr. would serve in the navy during the Korean War. He would also be given a third 1889 silver dollar from his father, and kept it with him during his deployment in the Korean War.

The original 1880 silver dollar that Walter was given by his brother Phil, was given by Walter to his grandson Raymond Mitchell Lawrence, Jr. (1926-living), who carried it with him when he served in the Army in Germany during the Viet Nam War. When Raymond’s son Eric Lawrence enlisted into the United States Air Force in 2000 he was given this same 1880 silver dollar that had been given to his great-grandfather Walter G. Wittman back in 1907. If these silver dollars could talk, oh of a thousand stories they could tell.

Walter George Wittman, who was the first man to carry the silver dollar, and begin the Wittman family tradition, during his military service, would work the rest of his life in the automotive industry in Indiana. He would retire and live in the Indianapolis area until his death of lung cancer on July 26, 1983, being just 4-days short of 94-years old. His wife Mona would pass away in 1985. Both are buried next to each other in the Floral Park Cemetery in Indianapolis, IN.

This is the 1880 silver dollar coin that was given by Phil Wittman to his younger brother Walter George Wittman in 1907 when he enlisted into the U. S. Navy. It has traveled the Pacific Ocean and been passed down to Walter’s grandson Raymond Lawrence, Jr. who served in the U. S. Army in Germany, and finally to Walter’s great-grandson Eric Lawrence who served in the United States Air Force. Oh of the thousands of miles this coin has traveled and of the stories it could tell.


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This page was created on 24 May, 2004 and last modified on: 10/23/16

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