Monday, March 28, 2016

Eleven


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.  

"And.........?"

"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.  
Source


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
Source
USS Bennington (PG-4) was a gunboat commissioned in 1891.  As such, She was equiped with six 6-inch guns, two on the forecastle deck, two on the poop deck (love that term) and two amidships.  The guns were capable of sending a 105 pould round 18000 yards.  Additionally she was equiptes with 4 x  57mm and 4 x 37 Hotchkiss guns with a range of about 1000 yards.

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.....
Source

The crewmembers that lost their lives were buried at Ft Rosecrans and a Monument was raised to commemorate the disaster.
Source

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.
Source

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.  
Source

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.  








   

25 comments:

  1. As Buck might have said, "I had no ideer" that the MoH was ever awarded for peacetime actions. But when you think about it, why not? As we know, training in peace time can be dangerous as Hell, being underway on a ship has a danger all its own. When one risks one's life to save his fellows, be it wartime or otherwise, the award of the MoH seems merited. Though I don't have any problem with making it a combat-only medal.

    For those interested, the nearest equivalent we have for a peacetime MoH would be (by service):

    Army - Soldier's Medal (Most recently awarded to SPC Alek Skarlatos after thwarting a terrorist attack on a train in France. He was also awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French government.)

    Navy & Marine Corps - Navy and Marine Corps Medal

    Air Force - Airman's Medal

    Coast Guard - Coast Guard Medal

    These medals are just below the Distinguished Flying Cross in order of precedence.

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    1. I think that's the right way to handle it in Peacetime. Although, I think I'd be ok with awarding SPC Skarlatos a wartime award for his actions, if you get my meaning.

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    2. Absolutely. Whether the ee-jits in the government realize it or acknowledge it, we're at war. The enemy knows it, the troops know it...

      But yeah, I do get your meaning. (Look at me, preaching to the choir.)

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  2. Just as a curiosity, The MOH was the only award for valor before WW I, thus it follows that it was awarded for a wider range of heroic activity than it is now. Now, of course we have a whole series of awards (Navy Cross, DSM, LOM Bronze/Silver Star etc.)which are awarded for various kinds of activity but rank below the MOH.

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    1. I think that's probably the reason. While I think, the military in general and the Air Force specifically, seems to have way to many ribbons and medals, I think the peacetime use of the Medal dilutes it somewhat. I think having the other awards preserves the Honor in the Medal of Honor. As Sarge is wont to say "YMMV".

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  3. I read Bennington and immediately went O/T.
    I remember the Bennington as a CVS.
    I have heard tales of boiler explosions and steam line breaches.
    They all served to remind me why I did not wish to be a snipe.

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    1. Yeah, reading the list of peacetime MOH recipients, there were a lot of ship's names I recognized and then realized that the hull number was WAY to small to be the one I was thinking about.

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    1. Thanks to your post I found out what a Chief Water Tender was . . . and did. My great-uncle, William Grear, retired after 30 years as a Chief Water Tender (With a sleeve full of gold stripes). His retirement was in 1938. I'd always thought of sailors of his generation as "Iron men in iron ships."
      (Witness my uncle's first ship, USS Beale: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151093674458521&set=a.10151006602683521.427023.542333520&type=3&theater)
      At the start of WWII, Uncle Bill was recalled to active duty and served at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for the duration.
      I think he had something to do with procurment . . . I know he was involved with the building of the USS New Jersey.

      As to medals and ribbons worn on the uniform . . . my personal belief is that there are too many ribbons and pins being worn, awarded for ordinary duties being performed . . . especially for my own service, the army. (I once read that, as a rule of thumb, the competence of any army was inversely proportional to the amount of bling that is worn on the uniform.)
      Just look at any photo of Dwight Eisenhower towards the end of WWII . . . wearing five stars and one row of ribbons.

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    2. Well, after researching this story, I'm definitely in agreement with the Iron Men in Iron Ships comment.

      From a personal point of view, I finished twelve years of operational flying and had one row of ribbons, a short tour overseas ribbon, a long tour overseas ribbon and a commendation medal with a couple of clusters. At retirement after 20, I had 4 rows of ribbons, only one of which, a humanitarian service medal, meant anything to me. WEB Griffin had it right, I got all those decorations for not catching VD and not stealing from the MWR fund. So, I'd say your rule of thumb is spot on.

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    3. The military awards program long ago took on one of the truer views of the deck force, "work it may, shine it must." Any flag officer has to wear them all to give all of them validation as each achieves new lows for insignificance and absence of meaning, sacrifice or merit.

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  5. The monument to the crew of the USS Bennington is not far from Lex's final resting place.

    Overhead view.

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    1. I figured as much. When I saw the picture in Wikipedia, I recognized the view from the pictures on your post.

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    2. I remember the monument well. At the time I first viewed it, it pre-existed the www. I wondered, what happened to that ship.

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  6. I am reading General Piotrowski's bio on the Kindle, good read and we could use a lot more leaders like him.
    If you get get it, I suggest reading "The Wreck of the Memphis" by Edward L. Beach.

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    1. I finally got to the point in the book where the quote was about targeting in Vietnam. Haven't found the actual quote in the film. Frankly, the film's POV is very leftist and I have a hard time watching it.

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  7. Minot point, but the rating of Boilerman became Boiler Tender (BT), they are (or were, not too many steam powered ships outside nukes, these days)the folks who oversee the boilers (located in the fire room), freshwater production and fuel bunkers. Machinists Mates (MM) oversee the engines (turbines since WWI, steam piston before) in the engine room. Not trying to be pedantic, just used to work with these guys, as a SWO.

    Shadow

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    1. No worries. I call it the "source of all verified knowledge" with a healthy dose of facetiousness.

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    2. Why it is just as valid and real as the nightly news!

      Oh wait. I see what you mean.

      :)

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  8. Another good reason to walk to work.

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    1. Good point, but you've also got a lot of things that go bang! They're just not caused by things breaking, at least not generally.

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  9. Just an FYI, the last BT retired in 2009 as the Force Master Chief in Norfolk. And I and a few other Navy types are following the Fredrickson story with interest!

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    1. With all due respect and a certain admiration, OLDnfo, did you serve with him?

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  10. I live in a rather historic old town by a river and a stroll though the historic cemetery reveals 2 common reasons for death: Boiler explosions and typhus (or cholera).

    I think the MoH was given fairly liberally up to the beginning of the 20th century or so - from what I have read there are a number from Iraq and Afghanistan who certainly would be eligible but never considered.

    But, I had never heard of one given outside a battlefield before.

    Well, I'll take that back - Col Lindbergh as you said. After 1927 until about 1939 (when he got heavily into the America First movement) he was treated like a deity.

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  11. Great post!

    Another Chief Watertender to earn the Medal was Peter Tomich.

    http://prairieadventure.blogspot.com/2011/12/broken-noses-heroes-pearl-harbor.html

    Regarding the Boiler Technician (BT) rating, you haven't lived until you've been sent down to the fireroom to collect a BT punch.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)