Category Archives: hero

The *Other* Sole Survivors of Torpedo EIGHT

80 Years Ago Today: Here we see the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola (CA-24) as she disembarks Marine reinforcements at the Sand Island pier, Midway, on 25 June 1942. Note M1903 Springfield rifles and other gear along the pier edge. The Sand Island seaplane hangar, badly damaged by the Japanese air attack on 4 June 1942, is in the left distance, with a water tower beside it. Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) can be seen on the beach, in line with the water tower.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-12146

Another view of P-cola, same day and place, and the aircraft in the foreground, with a damaged tail, is TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) The ship in the right distance is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-12147

A closer look at Avenger 380, photographed at Midway, 24-25 June 1942, prior to shipment back to the United States for post-battle evaluation:

Catalog #: 80-G-11637

Rear cockpit and .50 caliber machinegun turret of Avenger 380. Damage to the turret can be seen in this view. The ship in the left background is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-11635

Another look, 80-G-17063

While most know the well-publicized tale of Ensign George “Tex” Gay, the “Sole Survivor” of the 4 June 1942 VT-8 TBD torpedo plane attack on the Japanese carrier force during the Battle of Midway, there is a little more to the story.

Ensign George H. Gay at Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, with a nurse and a copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper featuring accounts of the battle. Gay’s book “Sole Survivor” indicates that the date of this photograph is probably 7 June 1942, following an operation to repair his injured left hand and a meeting with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. 80-G-17678

You see, on 4 June, VT-8 was in two different elements.

Gay was part of 15 criminally obsolete Douglas TBD Devastators torpedo bombers of the squadron that had launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), led by the squadron skipper, LCDR John C. Waldron. Riding their Devastators right to Valhalla in a vain attempt to sink the Japanese carrier Soryu, all 15 were shot down and Gay, his gunner already dead, was left floating in the Pacific to be recovered after the battle.

Six other aircraft of VT-8, new TBF Avengers, were based at Midway and likewise flew against the Japanese on 4 June. These planes were the first Navy aircraft to attack the Japanese fleet that day. They attacked without fighter cover led by LT Langdon Kellogg Fieberling and of those six aircraft, five were shot down.

Avenger 308, mauled by Japanese fighters during the attack, was able to limp back home. Seaman 1st Class Jay D. Manning, who was operating the .50 caliber machinegun turret, was killed in action with Japanese fighters during the attack.

The plane’s pilot was Ensign Albert K. “Bert” Earnest (VMI 1938) and the other crewman was Radioman 3rd Class Harry H. Ferrier. Both survived the action.

Albert K. “Bert” Earnest ’938 is one of VMI’s most decorated graduates. He was awarded three Navy Crosses during World War II. Photos courtesy VMI Archives.

Earnest would earn two Navy Crosses that day, “for dropping his bomb on the Japanese fleet and a second Navy Cross for bringing his aircraft and crew back to Midway. Inspections later found 73 large-caliber bullet holes in his aircraft.”

Courtesy of Captain A.K. Earnest, USN (Ret) and Robert L. Lawson, 1990. NH 102559

As noted by the VMI Alumni Assoc: 

Of the squadron’s planes, Earnest’s was the only one to return to Midway. One pilot, Ensign George Gay, was plucked from the ocean. He is depicted in the 2019 movie “Midway.” Gay enjoyed the attention and wrote a book, “Sole Survivor,” about his Midway experiences. Earnest often joked that he and Ferrier were the “other sole survivors.”

While serving off Guadalcanal during the battle of the Eastern Solomons, Earnest earned a third Navy Cross and was rotated back to the U.S. for the duration of the war.

He continued in the Navy, retiring with 31 years of service in 1972. He had an eventful career, testing enemy aircraft, becoming a “Hurricane Hunter” and qualifying to fly jets.

Earnest died in 2009 and is buried with his wife, Millie, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Welcome, USS John Basilone

Over the weekend, Bath Iron Works in Maine hosted the christening of the USS John Basilone (DDG-122), a late-batch Burke-class destroyer, with Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Troy Black delivering the ceremony’s principal address.

Basilone via General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

The warship was transitioned to launch over a three-day period last week.

Who was Basilone?

Born in Buffalo, New York in November 1916, John (no middle name) Basilone, Roman Catholic, son of Salvatore and Dora Basilone, had done his bit for his country prior to World War II. He had served in the Regular Army from 5 February 1936 to 7 September 1939 and was still in the Army Reserves (3rd Corps) from which he had to petition the force for a discharge to join the Marines, a move that was approved 11 July 1940.

His civilian job listed on intake to the Corps was that of a truck driver.

Via Basilone’s 327-page file at the NARA

His Navy physical, when he joined the Marines, listed in addition to several minor scars and burns, two tattoos on his biceps. On his right, the “bust of a western woman.” On the left, a sword and the words “Death Before Dishonor.”

By September 1940, newly-promoted PFC Basilone was standing tall and would make Corporal the following May before grabbing his third stripe as a Sergent on 23 January 1942, just six weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Less than nine months later, SGT Basilone would become a legend for his actions at Guadalcanal.

Medal of Honor citation:

“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area. Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault.

In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, were put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.

A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

His battlefield promotion to Platoon Sergent was signed by Lt. Col Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, 1st Bn, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, FMF, in November 1942.

Basilone has long been a Marine Corps icon, and his actions on 24/25 Oct 1942 were recreated in The Pacific.

Basilone could have sat out the war and signed War Bonds and taken pictures for the cameras back home, which he did for a minute, but he voluntarily returned to action at the Battle of Iwo Jima in February of 1945, where he single-handedly destroyed an enemy blockhouse and led a Marine tank under fire safely through a minefield. He was killed in action later that day and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his unwavering devotion and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice.

He was the only enlisted Marine to receive both decorations in World War II.

On June 6, 1948, the John Basilone American Legion Post in Raritan dedicated the life-size statue of Basilone holding a water-cooled M1917 Browning machine gun.

The statue was sculpted by childhood friend Phillip Orlando. (New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs photo by Mark C. Olsen)

This is the second ship to honor Basilone. The first, USS Basilone (DD-824/DE-824), was a Gearing-class destroyer sponsored by his widow, a stern-faced Sergeant Lena Mae Basilone, USMC(WR). That destroyer remained in service from 1945 to 1977.

It is about time the Navy has another USS John Basilone on the Navy List.

A Special Flag Day, looking back 80 Years

A popular trope is that on U.S. military bases the flagpole’s finial– the golden ball at the top of the pole–contains a razor, a match, and a bullet, just in case the base falls, so that the banner doesn’t fall into enemy hands.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

With that being said, the West Point Museum holds a small strip of cloth, a fragment of an American Flag, formerly carried by Black Knights legend, Paul D. Bunker (USMA 1903).

As noted by the Museum:

(Photo: West Point)

This artifact in the West Point Museum collection rotates on and off exhibit. Following his graduation, Bunker served 40 years in the Army. During World War Two he was on the island of Corregidor when it was captured by Japanese forces, becoming a prisoner of war. On 6 May 1942, Colonel Bunker was ordered to remove the U.S. Flag from its pole for destruction and raise a white sheet (signifying the American surrender). Prior to the U.S. Flag’s destruction, he cut a piece out of the red stripe. On 10 June he cut this piece of the flag into two segments giving one piece to fellow POW Colonel Delbert Ausmus and holding on to the other. Bunker would not survive his time in captivity and died of starvation and illness on 16 March 1943. He was cremated with the segment of the flag he kept. Ausmus kept Bunker’s war diary, as well as this segment of the flag through his time in captivity.

Ausmus said, “On several occasions, the shirt and all of my possessions were examined by the Japanese without the piece of flag being discovered”. Upon liberation, Ausmus presented this segment of the U.S. Flag at Corregidor to the Secretary of War.

Colonel Bunker’s cremated remains were recovered in 1948 and re-interned at West Point. His legacy still lives as an inspiration in the West Point Community. During his time at West Point Bunker was an outstanding football player, contributing to three victories over Navy. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame in 1969, as well as the Army West Point Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

Happy (Finnish) Flag Day

Finnish soldier and dog in position near Kiestinki, 25 April, 1942, note the Mosin rifle

Happy 80th Annual Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces!

Celebrated every June 4 since the Continuation War in 1942, it is also the birthday of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, the commander of the Finnish forces 30 November 1939 (the start of the Winter War) to 12 January 1945.

Old Mannerheim, who learned his trade in the Imperial Russian Army, turned 75 in 1942, and the Finnish government granted him the honorary title Marshall of Finland and made his birthday the Flag Day.

It is also the customary promotion day for each year for those wearing a Finnish uniform.

50 Years Ago: Supersonic ‘Guns’ Kill

2 June 1972: USAF Major Philip W. “Hands” Handley, 32nd TFS “Wolfhounds,” grabbed the record for the highest speed air-to-air gun kill in the history of aerial combat, smoking an enemy (NVAF) MiG-19 over Hanoi using the internal 20mm Vulcan of Brenda 01 (AF 68210), his F-4E Phantom, while in the midst of a Mach 1.2 pass.

The final run, at just 500 feet off the deck over rice paddy, was also credited as the only MiG-19 shot down by air-to-air guns during the course of the Vietnam war– as well as the world’s only documented supersonic gun kill.

The following is from the Gathering of Eagles Foundation

On 2 June 1972, while leading a 4-ship of F-4Es in a combat air patrol northeast of Hanoi, his element was attacked by two MiG-19s. With his wingman critically low on fuel and unable to engage, he fought the MiGs in a dogfight ranging in altitude from 15,000 feet to 500 feet above the ground. During the engagement, he expended all four of his air-to-air missiles, however, none of them guided.

With only 20mm cannon ordnance remaining, he closed at a rate of almost four and one-half football fields per second for a high deflection shot (high angle guns snap) on the trailing MiG. Seconds later, while 500 feet above the ground, at a heading-crossing angle of 90 degrees, and a speed of 1.2 mach, he fired a 300 round burst from his M-61 Gatling gun and destroyed the MiG-19.

Ret. Col. Handley, the holder of the Silver Star and three DFCs, passed away in 2019, aged 83, and is buried in Texas, the land of his birth.

He penned an excellent work, Nickel on the Grass, reflecting on his 26-year career, almost all of it spent in the cockpit. The cover includes the MiG-19 “guns” kill. 

Goose Green at 40

The most significant land battle fought by modern Western armies since WWII took place some 40 years ago this week, pitting some ~700 British paratroopers of 2 PARA, augmented by elements of the Royal Marines and SAS, against some 1,200 Argentines including conscripts of the 12th (12IR) and ranger-style elite troops of the 25th Infantry (25IR) Regiment with supporting forces. Although fought in 1982, other than the use of a handful of shoulder-fired guided missiles and the fleeting presence of helicopters, it was not much different from a battalion-level scrap in 1945.

In the end, it came down to little groups of men with rifles, sub guns, and, yes, even bayonets, fighting for inches and paying with blood.

At the end of the day, 2 PARA suffered so many casualties– including its commander — to meet the historical definition of being decimated while the Argentines were all either killed or captured.

Cheerful soldiers of 2 Parachute Regiment, wearing full combat gear, celebrate the surrender of Argentine forces at Goose Green. By Hudson, Ronald (Sergeant) IWM FKD 2323

Argentine prisoners of war pass a wrecked Pucara ground attack aircraft, Goose Green, 1982 NAM

Despite their name and unit history, 2 PARA arrived in the Falklands by ship, made a “feet wet” amphibious landing on 24 May, and walked almost the entire route from San Carlos to Port Stanly across inhospitable terrain, fighting both at Goose Green and again a fortnight later at Wireless Ridge, then walked into Stanley for the liberation on 14 June.

Their only airlift, from Darwin to the Fitzroy, was a brief one on 2 June by the sole British CH-47 (Bravo November) that made it ashore in which some 81 Paras were crammed into the chopper. A second trap crammed 75 men. 

Talk about a rough three weeks.

Landing craft sail past HMS Fearless, carrying men of 2 Para from SS Canberra to San Carlos, during the Falklands War

Heavily laden British soldiers of 11 Platoon, D Company, 2 Para wait to embark in a helicopter at Fitzroy during the Falklands Conflict. The three seen are (left to right) Private Dave Parr (who was killed shortly afterward during the assault on Wireless Ridge – having earlier been shot at Goose Green), Lance Corporal Neil Turner, and Private Terry Stears. IWM FKD 2124

2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment enter Port Stanley on foot, in 1982. NAM. 2004-12-35-8

Just after Goose Green, Para-qualified Lt. Col. David Chaundler was rushed from a staff position with MoD in London, boarded an RAF C-130 for Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island, then carried another 3,300 miles for a solo parachute landing into the sea from 1,500, feet into the South Atlantic, landing near the frigate HMS Penelope. Dubbed Operation Ursula, it remains the longest distance combat drop (8,000 miles all told) into an active conflict zone in history, and Chaundler, who led 2 PARA at Wireless Ridge, was the only member of the Parachute Regiment to jump during the Falklands.

Falklands land campaign, note the path of 2 Para at the bottom in dark red.

The British over the weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of the liberation of Goose Green, East Falkland.

“With a brisk wind blowing snow across the monument, a service of commemoration was held to remember those who gave their lives in the battle.”

Peter Kennedy was a 25-year-old Lieutenant at Goose Green and spoke in a recent 21-minute interview about the battle, in which he was suddenly thrust into leading the final attack.

Smokin and jokin

Official caption:

“These American tankmen have just completed a hazardous trip back to the American lines near Cisterna, Italy, after the loss of their M-4 Sherman tank, 26 May 1944.”

L-R: Front row; Pvt. Floyd W. Shelton, Wichita, Kan., and Pvt. Vassar Nance, Leahville, Ark., and back row; Pvt. Donald Jones, Dexter, NY, and Cpl. Earl L. Larson, of S. Minneapolis, Minn.

For reference, the above men are likely of the 751st Tank Battalion, who led the breakout from the Anzio Beachhead in the Italian campaign. Notably, the 751st had already seen action in the African Campaign and Salerno. They would go on to be one of the first Allied units to enter Rome and be the first armored unit to reach the Po Valley and cross it. In all, they would spend 581 days in combat.

A Salute to Telesforo Trinidad

One of the few enduring U.S. Naval ship naming conventions is to honor heroic Sailors and officers (as well as the occasional Marine) by bestowing their names on destroyers. With the Burke-class proving to be the unintended backbone to the Navy and the only serious surface combatant standing for a while once they get rid of the Ticos, gratefully they are still being named for such heroes.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t heard, SECNAV is naming the future DDG-139 for Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad, who received the Medal of Honor for actions taken on board the cruiser USS San Diego on 21 January 1915.

Of note, he is the only Filipino in the U.S. Navy to receive the MoH.

Vignette gives details on why Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad received the Medal of Honor for actions taken on board the USS SAN DIEGO on 21 January 1915. Published in the Navy Times. By artist Mario DeMarco. NH 86980

Trinidad, born November 25, 1890, in Aklan Province, Panay, back when the Philippines were part of the Spanish Empire, enlisted at age 19 in the U.S. Navy as part of the Insular Force in the Philippines in 1910 and served during both the Great War and WWII until his retirement in 1945.

His MoH Citation, which he received alongside “a gratuity of one hundred dollars”:

For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession at the time of the boiler explosion on board the USS San Diego, 21 January 1915. Trinidad was driven out of fireroom 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 fireroom, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fireroom, but without consideration for his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fireroom. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fireroom.

Filipinos were long directly and actively recruited into the Navy. Going back to 1901 when President McKinley signed an executive order allowing the recruitment of 500 Filipinos a year into the Navy, they were a fixture in the fleet. Much like Trinidad, many served in the World Wars.

Filipino Sailors (Photo from the Filipino American National Heritage Society)

As part of the Military Bases Agreement between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines signed in 1947, 1,000 Filipinos were allowed to join the Navy each year, typically signing up at Subic Bay Naval Station. In 1952, this was expanded to 2,000. Between that year and 1992, when Subic was closed and the U.S. Navy’s Philippines Enlistment Program (PEP) was terminated, more than 35,000 Filipinos swore an oath and put on cracker jacks.

A study of such volunteers in the 1990s found that:

PEP recruits, when compared as a group with the sample of other Navy recruits, have higher educational attainment prior to enlistment, higher AFQT mean scores; higher short-term and long-term continuation rates; more rapid promotion rates; and relatively fewer separations for adverse reasons.

No longer stokers and stewards, increasingly, the face of Navy Medicine became more Filipino. According to 2021 data, 11,208 Navy active duty service members identify as Filipino including 1,480 physicians, dentists, nurses, MSC officers, and hospital corpsmen.

In short, it wouldn’t be so bad to have more Telesforo Trinidads around, and, with all things considered, a modern PEP program could be a great idea.

Warship Wednesday, April 27, 2022: Sparks Paratus

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 27, 2022: Sparks Paratus

U.S. National Archives Local Identifier 26-G-01-19-50

Here we see the U.S. Revenue Cutter U.S. Grant, in her original scheme, seen sometime late in the 1890s, likely off the coast of New York. With the Union general and 18th President’s birthday today– coincidentally falling on National Morse Code Day– you knew this was coming, and interestingly, the above cutter, which had served during the SpanAm War, was the first post-Civil War U.S. vessel named in honor of Ulysses S. Grant.

Built at Wilmington, Delaware at the yards of Pusey & Jones Corp in 1871, Grant was a one-off Barque-rigged iron-hulled steam cutter ordered for the Revenue Cutter Service at a cost of $92,500. With the Revenue Marine/Cutter Service one that typically ran quick little sloops and schooner-rigged vessels between 1790 and 1916 when it became part of the newly-formed U.S. Coast Guard, Grant was one of the few built for the seagoing service with three masts.

Some 163-feet in length (overall) the 350-ton ship was the largest of four new steam cutters– the other three were paddle-wheelers– authorized by Congress in 1870 as part of a plan by N. Broughton Devereux, head of the Revenue Marine Bureau, in an effort to revitalize the force that had languished in the days immediately after the Civil War despite having been the sole federal agency tasked with patrolling the broad and wild seas off Alaska.

Cutter Grant via the New York Historical Society

Despite the massive amounts of left-over Civil War ordnance being sold as surplus, Grant was given a battery of four bronze M1841 24-pounder muzzleloading howitzers– field guns that had been considered obsolete at Gettysburg– and a small arms locker made up of rare .46 caliber (rimfire) single-shot Ballard carbines. She was known to still have this armament into the early 1890s. Her crew consisted of about 35 officers, engineers, and men.

Her shakedown complete just after Christmas 1871, Grant was assigned to the New York station on 19 January 1872 a cruising ground that covered from Montauk Point to the Delaware.

For the next 20 years, she maintained a very workaday existence in the peacetime Revenue Service. This included going out on short patrols of coastal waters, assisting with the collection of the tariff, catching the occasional smuggler, responding to distress calls (helping to save the crew of the reefed Revenue Cutter Bronx in 1873, saving the schooner Ida L. Howard in 1882, the British steam-ship Pomona bound from this port for Jamaica in 1884, and the demasted three-masted schooner William H. Keeney in 1887), policing posh ocean yacht races (even hosting her namesake President aboard in July 1875 for the Cape May Regatta), taking President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Treasury Secretary John Sherman (Gen. William T. Sherman’s brother) for a tour of all Revenue Cutter stations along the east coast in 1877, searching for lost cargo (notably spending a week in December 1887 along with the sloop-of-war USS Enterprise on the hunt for a raft of logs towed from Nova Scotia hat had departed its line off New England), suppressing mutinies (the steamer Northern Light in November 1883), and getting in the occasional gunnery practice.

In 1877, Grant had the bad fortune of colliding with the schooner Dom Pedro off Boon Island on a hot July night. Standing by, the cutter rescued all nine souls aboard the sinking vessel and brought them safely into Boston. An inquiry board found the Dom Pedro, who had no lights set while in shipping lanes at night, at fault.

In July 1883, Grant inspected– and later seized under orders of the U.S. Attorney’s office and at the insistence of the Haitian government– the tugboat Mary N. Hogan, which had reportedly been fitting out in the East River as a privateer under finance from certain British subjects to carry arms to rebels in Haiti.

Grant would serve as a quarantine vessel hosting Siamese royalty, as well as Hawaiian Queen Kapiʻolani and Princess Liliʻuokalani, the latter royals stopping in New York on their way to attend the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in London.

From November 1888 through April 1889, Grant had her steam plant replaced at the DeLamater Iron Works docks– the same plant that had constructed the steam boilers and machinery for the ironclad USS Monitor.

Shortly afterward, Grant landed her ancient Army surplus howitzers for a pair of brand-new rapid-fire Mark 1 Hotchkiss Light 1-pounders, from a lot of 25 ordered by the Revenue Cutter Service from a Navy contract issued to Pratt & Whitney of Hartford.

Unidentified officers around an early 1-pdr on the gunboat USS Nahant. Detroit Publishing Company Collection Photograph. Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-D4-20046.

Her skipper at the time, a man who would remain with Grant for the rest of her career, was Captain Dorr Francis Tozier. Something of a legend in the service already, the Georgia-born Tozier received his commission from Abraham Lincoln one month before the president’s assassination and was awarded a Gold Medal by the President of the French Republic “for gallant, courageous, and efficient services” in saving the French bark Peabody in 1877, while the latter was grounded on Horn Island in the Mississippi Sound.

Tozier, 1895

In July 1891, it was announced that the 11 large sea-going cutters of the RCS would switch to a white paint scheme– something that the modern Coast Guard has maintained ever since.

In October 1893, as part of beefing up the Bearing Sea Patrol which enforced a prohibitory season on pelagic sealing as well as protecting the Pac Northwest salmon fisheries, the East Coast-based cutters Perry (165 ft, 282 tons, four guns)– which had been based at Erie Pennsylvania to police the waters of Lake Ontario– along with our very own Grant, were ordered to make the 16,000-mile pre-Panama Canal cruise from New York to Puget Sound, where they would be based. The two vessels would join the cutters Rush, Corwin, Bear, and Wolcott, giving the RSC six vessels to cover Alaskan waters, even if they did so on deployments from Seattle.

The re-deployment from Atlantic to Pacific was rare at the time for the RSC, as vessels typically were built and served their entire careers in the same region. Sailing separately, the two cutters would call in St. Thomas, Pernambuco, Rio, Montevideo, Stanley, Valparaiso (which was under a revolutionary atmosphere), Callao, and San Diego along the way.

Leaving New York on 6 December, Grant arrived at Port Townsend on 23 April 1894, ending a voyage of 73 days and 20 hours, logging an average of 8.45 knots while underway, burning 358 pounds of coal per hour.

Late in her career, with an all-white scheme. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections. Oliver S. Van Olinda Photographs and Ephemera Collection. PH Coll 376, no UW22223


Rather than chopping as a whole to the Navy as the Coast Guard would do in WWI and WWII, President McKinley’s Secretary of the Treasury, John D. Long, implemented a plan to transfer control of 20 cutters “ready for war” to the Army and Navy’s control during the conflict with Spain.

Supporting the Army, from Boston to New Orleans, were seven small cutters with a total of 10 guns, crewed by 33 officers and 163 men, engaged in patrolling, and guarding assorted Army-manned coastal forts and mine fields.

A force of 13 larger revenue cutters, carrying 61 guns, staffed by 98 officers and 562 enlisted, served with the Navy. Eight of these cutters, including the famed little Hudson, served under the command of ADM Simpson off Havanna while the cutter McCulloch served with Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron for the conquest of the Philippines. Meanwhile, four other cutters (ours included) served with the Navy on the Pacific coast, keeping an eye out for potential Spanish commerce raiders, and filling in for the lack of Navy vessels along the West Coast at the time.

The four cutters patrolling the Pacific:

Arriving at San Francisco from Seattle on 7 April 1898, U. S. Grant and her crew were placed under Navy control four days later, on 11 April, operating as such through June.

Dispatched northward once again to search for a rumored Spanish privateer thought seeking to prey on the U.S. whaling and sealing fleet in Alaskan waters ala CSS Shenandoah-style, Grant found no such sea wolf and returned to the Treasury Department on 16 August, arrived back in Seattle on 18 September.

Back to peace

Returning to her peacetime duties and stomping grounds, Grant ran hard aground on an uncharted rock off Saanich Inlet just northwest of Victoria on 22 May 1901. Abandoned, she languished until her fellow cutters Perry and Rush arrived to help pull her off, patch her up, and tow her to Seattle for repairs.

Portside view of Revenue Cutter Grant at anchor without her foremast, likey after her wreck in 1901. Port Angeles Public Library. SHIPPOWR206

Fresh off repairs, in December she was part of the search for the lost Royal Navy sloop HMS Condor, which had gone missing while steaming from Esquimalt to Hawaii. Never found, it is believed Condor’s crew perished to a man in a gale off Vancouver. Grant recovered one of her empty whaleboats, along with a sailor’s cap and a broom, from the locals on Flores Island, with Tozier, the cutter’s longtime skipper, trading his dress sword for the relics. The recovered boat was passed on to the British sloop HMS Egeria, and Tozier’s sword was later replaced by the Admiralty, a matter that required an act of Congress for Tozier to keep.

Switching back to her role as a law enforcer, Grant was busily interdicting the maritime smuggling of opium and Chinese migrants from British Columbia to the Washington Territory in the early 1900s.

She also was detailed to help look for one of the last of the Old West outlaws, Harry Tracy, “the last survivor of the Wild Bunch.” After a shootout that left six dead in 1902, Tracy was at large in the region, taking hostages and generally terrifying the citizenry.

The Seattle Star, Volume 4, Number 113, 6 July 1902

By early 1903, with Tracy dead, it was announced the aging cutter would be sold.

The San Juan islander February 19, 1903

To tame the airwaves!

Grant, mislabeled as “USS” at Discovery Bay off Washington’s Strait of Juan de Fuca, October 1903. NOAA photo

Nonetheless, as part of a maintenance period, Grant was fitted by the Pacific Wireless Company while berthed in Tacoma with experimental Slaby Arco equipment to receive wireless messages. Regular use of wireless telegraphy by the Revenue Cutter Service was inaugurated by Grant on 1 November 1903. This was an important achievement for the service, as the Navy had only three ships with wireless equipment installed at the time.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Historian’s office: 

Tozier’s initial wireless tests proved successful, allowing the Grant to keep in contact with the Port Townsend Customs House throughout its patrol area—a 100-mile radius from the cutter’s homeport. After testing and adjustment of the new equipment, the Grant was ready for its first practical use of wireless for revenue cutter duties. On April 1, 1904, the Grant switched on its wireless set and began a new era of marine radio communication between ship and shore stations.

The new wireless radio technology proved very effective in directing revenue cutters and patrol boats in maritime interdiction operations. However, it took another three years to convince Congress of the importance of “radio” (which superseded the term “wireless telegraph” in 1906) to both its law enforcement and search-and-rescue missions. In March 1907, Congress finally appropriated the $35,000 needed to fund wireless installations on board 12 cruising cutters.

However, Grant would not get a chance to use her new radio equipment much, and by 1906 she was reported condemned, although still in service.

The San Juan Islander, Volume 15, Number 49, 6 January 1906

Grant’s last official government duty, in February 1906, was to solemnly transport bodies from the Valencia accident from Neah Bay to Seattle for burial. The affair, the worst maritime disaster in the “Graveyard of the Pacific” off Vancouver Island, left an estimated 181 dead.


Grant was sold from government service in 1906 to a Mr. A.A. Cragen for $16,300, and then further to the San Juan Fishing and Packing Co. who rebuilt her as a halibut fishing steamer. The old cutter was wrecked for the last time in 1911 on the rocks of Banks Island.

Her logs are in the National Archives but, sadly, have not been digitized. 

As for her longtime skipper Tozier, while stationed in Seattle he became a renowned collector of local artifacts. As related by the Summer 1992 issue of Columbia Magazine:

The assignment gave Tozier the opportunity to put Grant into remote rivers and harbors where natives were as eager to trade the things they made and used as their forefathers had been to trade fur pelts. He became imbued with collecting fever, realizing that his was a rare opportunity to bring out from the wilderness, to be seen, preserved, and appreciate, the elements of a civilization that was rapidly being superseded by that of the white settlers.

Captain Dorr F. Tozier, USRC Grant, top row right. He brought the cutter around the Horn from New York in the 1890s and remained in command for 14 years. Here he is visiting Numukamis Village on Barclay Sound, Vancouver Island, BC. Photograph by Samuel G. Morse. 21 Jan. 1902. Courtesy of the WA. State Historical Society. # 1917.115.217

In all, once retired from the RSC in 1907, Tozier sold his collection of some 10,000 artifacts including 2,500 baskets, 100 stone chisels and axes, carved jade pipes, harpoons, war clubs, knives of copper, ivory, shell and iron, a war canoe, and “12 mammoth totems, each weighing between 600 to 20,000 pounds.” In all, the collection weighed 60 tons and required 11 large horse-drawn vans to move to the Washington State Art Association’s Ferry Museum in 1908.

A fraction of Capt. Tozier’s artifacts, c. 1905. Model canoe, house posts, sculptures, part of a house front, masks, and a replica of a copper. The collection was first exhibited at the Ferry Museum (Tacoma,) then removed to Seattle in 1909, and finally to the National Museum of the American Indian under the Smithsonian, WA. DC. This photo c. 1905 courtesy of the WSHS #19543.19

When the Ferry Museum was dissolved in the 1930s, the collection was scattered and spread out across the world, with some pieces making their way to the Smithsonian.

Speaking of museums, the last pistol owned by the Outlaw Tracy is on display at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn, Washington. Bruce Dern portrayed him in the 1982 film Harry Tracy, Desperado.

As for Grant’s name, neither the RCS nor its follow-on USCG descendant reissued it.

The Navy only felt the need to bestow the moniker post-1865 to a successive pair of unarmed Great War-era transports before finally issuing it during the centennial of the Civil War to a James Madison-class FBM submarine, USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631), which served from 1964 to 1992.

The Coast Guard, however, did mention our old revenue cutter in its last HF CW transmission, sent by station NMN from Chesapeake, Virginia, at 0001Z on April 1, 1995. As an ode to the first wireless message transmitted in 1844, “What hath God wrought,” the message concluded with, “we bid you 73 [best regards]. What hath God wrought.”


Displacement: 350 tons
Length: 163’
Beam: 25’
Draft: 11’ 4”
Machinery: Barque rigged steamer, vertical steam engine, two boilers, one screw, 11 knots max
Complement: 35-45
4 x M1841 24-pounder guns, small arms (1871)
2 x Hotchkiss MK 1 37mm 1-pdrs, small arms (1891)

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Happy 200th, Sam!

On this day in 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and merchant, and Hannah Simpson Grant welcomed their first child to the planet. With his name chosen from ballots placed in a hat, the boy became Hiram Ulysses Grant, although the first name soon dropped out of common use by the family.

Speaking of names, by the time young Ulysses made it to West Point at age 17, his local Congressman had made a clerical error on his nomination to the military academy, enlisting him as U.S. Grant. Classmates soon bestowed him with a simple “Sam,” and he graduated almost dead center of his year, 21st of 39, in 1843.

Leaving the Army after 11 years, which included the Mexican War and the California Gold Rush, Grant went through a period of extreme stability and, in the end, found that civilian life did not suit him.

However, when the great war between the states erupted in 1861, Grant’s efforts to rejoin the U.S. Army were turned down by McClellan (ironically) and Nathaniel Lyon in turn, so he settled for a colonel’s appointment in the Illinois state militia. Before the autumn leaves fell, he was a Brigadier General of Volunteers. 

Soon, the Western Campaigns through Missouri and Kentucky and then along the Mississippi called and Grant’s star rose meteorically, ending as the first four-star general in the nation’s history in 1866, then eventually as the Commander and Chief in 1869.

Good old Sam.

A mosaic of five photographic prints taken in Cairo, Illinois in October 1861, only 6 months into the Civil War. It shows Brig. Gen. Grant (Commander of the District of Southeastern Missouri), in the middle, with his staff officers Clark B. Lagow, William S. Hillyer, John Aaron Rawlins, and James Simons. This photo image is from Library of Congress DIG-ppmsca-55864.

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