The wife and I were up somewhat late the night before last. OK, it was after 2130 which is the official Juvat hour where I have now achieved a moral victory by staying awake. In any case, I was reading General Piotrowski's book on my iPad for a future project, the wife was reading the news on hers.
At that point, I hear her saying she's found something for me to blog about and as I'm about to reply "Yes, Dear." I hear her mention something about Medal of Honor. Well, seems that March 25th is Medal of Honor day. Didn't know that. Seems also that a Navy Medal of Honor recipient had been buried and had not received proper honors, so the Navy was rectifying the situation. Well....Good, we should always show proper respect, even if a tad late, like 65 years or so.
Still not seeing a post yet. But, having been married to my wife for close to 34 years now, I realise she's way smarter than I and if she senses a post, there probably is one. So I humor her.
"Well, The Medal was awarded for peacetime actions."
"What? Send me that URL!"
I put down my Good Night Rum and dialed the URL in on the iPad. The Fox News article served as a starting point. It talked about the Navy making right the burial plot of Emil Fredreksen who died in 1950 and was buried in an essentially unmarked grave. The ceremony was held Friday and rendered honors befitting a Medal of Honor recipient.
The article then stated that Mr Fredreksen was a Watertender aboard the USS Bennington (PG-4) and was among 11 members of the crew that were awarded the Medal for "...extraordinary heroism when boiler exploded on ship". Eleven Medal of Honor recipients in one incident? I've got to look into this!
This led me in several vectors for this post.
The first vector was Mr Fredreksen himself. Born in Denmark in 1867, he was 30 when he enlisted in the Navy. He served for 33 years, finally leaving the Navy as a Chief Watertender.
According to the" source of all verified knowledge", a watertender is " a crewman aboard a steam-powered ship who is responsible for tending to the fires and boilers in the ship's engine room" . The rating was in use until 1948 when it became "Boilerman" and then became "machinist mate" in 1996. The "Chief" part meant he was a Chief Petty Officer, so E-7 to E-9.
He worked in the Northwest for another 20 years and passed away of natural causes with no known next of kin.
His Medal Citation is pretty short and sparse on details.
"Serving on board the U.S.S. Benington [sic], for extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion of a boiler of that vessel at San Diego, Calif., 21 July 1905."
A touch more detail was included with his wikipedia bio.
"On July 21, 1905, Bennington was off San Diego, California, when a boiler exploded, killing 66 and seriously wounding 46 of the 179 men aboard. In the immediate aftermath, Fredericksen "[w]as prominent in the work of rescuing the injured from confined spaces below decks" despite those areas being "filled with blinding steam and the decks covered with scalding water; and while the ship was heavily listed, rapidly filling, and thought liable to sink at any moment."Eleven sailors, including Fredericksen, were awarded the Medal of Honor on January 5, 1906, for their efforts to save their crewmates and the ship.
That's not a lot of information on someone who was awarded the Medal of Honor. So I looked in to the USS Bennington.
|Offloading the dead and injured|
The ship saw action in the Philipines at the turn of the 20th century. And on July 21st 1905, was preparing to get underway to assist the USS Wyoming who had broken down. At about 1030, they experienced a boiler explosion. Most of the crew was below decks cleaning up after loading coal into the ship. 66 men were killed, more than the entire Navy's death toll for the Spanish American war. Mr Fredreksen and 10 othe survivors made repeated trips below decks into steam and scalding water to rescue wounded crew members. Interestingly, one of those survivors, John Henry Turpin, had also survived the explosion aboard the Maine. Would that qualify him as "lucky" or "jinx"? Hmmmm.....
The crewmembers that lost their lives were buried at Ft Rosecrans and a Monument was raised to commemorate the disaster.
USS Bennington was refloated and towed to Mare Island where it was decommissioned and struck from the register. It was bought by Matson Line and used as a molasses barge and finally scuttled off Oahu in 1924.
I then got to thinking about 11 men being awarded the Medal of Honor for what, no doubt, were "actions above and beyond the call of duty" but during peacetime. I didn't think that was how the Medal was awarded.
Well, turns out, I am right, now, but back then it was possible to be awarded the Medal during peace time. In fact, it's been awarded 193 times, from the time it was created in the Civil War. Most of the recipients were Navy, although there are a few Army and Marine Recipients. Capt. Charles Lindbergh (US Army Reserve) was the most notable one.
Another name I recognized was associated with Joseph Matthews, who received the Medal for "going over the stern during a heavy gale and cutting the fastenings of the ship's rudder chains". The ship was the USS Constitution.
Many of the actions involved rescuing or attempting to rescue crewmen from drowning, but a significant number of them were in response to "boiler explosions" and fires. Apparently the transition from sail to steam could get pretty exciting.
The practice of awarding the Medal of Honor during peacetime was stopped in 1939.