Of 21 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. Navy personnel during World War I, five were awarded for direct combat against the enemy at sea or the result of combat at sea. Six (one posthumous) were awarded to U.S. Navy medical personnel ashore assigned to the U.S. Marines aiding the wounded during combat operations, and ten were awarded for non-combat valor.
During World War I, 21 U.S. Navy personnel were awarded the Medal of Honor. At the time, the Medal of Honor could be awarded for both combat and non-combat heroism. Of the Navy Medal of Honor recipients, five were awarded for direct combat at sea (one posthumous), six were awarded to U.S. Navy medical personnel ashore working with U.S. Marines aiding the wounded during combat operations (one posthumous), and ten were awarded for non-combat valor. At the end of the war, the U.S. Navy created two versions of the Medal of Honor to distinguish between combat and non-combat heroism, retroactive to 6 April 1917 (the U.S. entry into the war). Those who were awarded the Medal of Honor for combat heroism received the new “Tiffany Cross” version of the medal, while those for non-combat valor retained the traditional design that was created during the Civil War. The Tiffany Cross version was not a popular design as it was considered by many to bear too much of a resemblance to a German Iron Cross.
On 7 August 1942, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal was created (retroactive to the start of World War II) for non-combat acts of great valor, and the Medal of Honor was then exclusively reserved for combat action above and beyond the call of duty. (The Navy Cross was raised above the Distinguished Service Medal in precedence, and reserved for combat valor as well.) Additionally, with each war the criteria for being awarded a Medal of Honor became increasingly stringent. For example, the few days of action during the U.S. Navy’s intervention at Vera Cruz, Mexico, in April 1914, 46 U.S. Navy personnel who came under fire, mostly ashore, were awarded the Medal of Honor (these included future admirals Frank Jack Fletcher, Oscar C. Badger, William Moffet, Jonas Ingram, Theodore Wilkinson, as well as Paul Foster).
Medals of Honor (Tiffany Cross) Awarded as a Result of Direct Combat with the Enemy
Gunner’s Mate First Class Osmond K. Ingraham, USN, of USS Cassin (DD-43) (posthumous), 15 October 1917: USS Cassin was in one of the early groups of destroyers to reach Queenstown, Ireland (on 17 May 1917) and quickly commenced search and escort operations. On 15 October 1917, Cassin sighted the German submarine U-61 about 20 nautical miles south of Ireland and gave pursuit. U-61 fired a torpedo at Cassin that would have missed had it not broached twice, veering to the left each time it came out of the water.
Observing the torpedo heading for the port stern, Petty Officer Ingraham ran toward the depth charge racks and attempted to jettison depth charges overboard. He was killed in the explosion of the torpedo, which detonated several depth charges (thus becoming the first U.S. Navy enlisted man killed by enemy action during the war). The torpedo actually struck above the waterline. Somewhat miraculously, no one else aboard was killed and only nine wounded (the ship’s doctor would later die due to effects of exposure). With extensive damage to her stern and her rudder blown off, the circling Cassin nevertheless continued to fire on the submarine with her deck guns, hitting the conning tower and driving the submarine under, which then did not press the attack. Guarded overnight by the USS Porter (DD-59) and two British sloops, Cassin was taken in tow by the British sloop HMS Snowdrop. Cassin was subsequently repaired and returned to duty in July 1918. Ingraham was credited with preventing much more serious damage or loss of the ship and was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.
U-56 was a highly successful U-boat, sinking 32 Allied ships and damaging nine more, before going missing in March 1918. One of the damaged ships was the freighter USS Santee (converted to a Q-ship—a covertly armed merchant ship), which, after being struck by a torpedo, attempted lure the U-boat to the surface with a “panic party” of crewmen in a lifeboat simulating a disorderly abandon ship in the hope of surprising and engaging the U-boat with guns. The U-56 didn’t fall for it. Cassin would be sold for scrap in 1934. The USS Osmond Ingraham (DD-255) would be commissioned in 1919 (the first U.S. Navy destroyer named for an enlisted man) and, during World War II, as part of the USS Bogue (CVE-9) hunter-killer group, she would sink U-172 with gunfire and be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, earning six battle stars in the Atlantic and Pacific.
Ensign Daniel Augustus Joseph Sullivan, USNRF, an officer on the armed yacht USS Christabel (SP-162), 21 May 1918: Built in Scotland and purchased by the U.S. Navy from private hands and converted to a warship upon the outbreak of World War I, Christabel was assigned to convoy escort duty off western France, under the command of Lieutenant Millington B. McComb. Although the smallest U.S. armed yacht serving in France, Christabel engaged two German U-boats during her service and was credited with sinking one on 21 May 1918 (however, the submarine was only severely damaged, but was forced to put into a port in neutral Spain where she was interned for the rest of the war). The officer of the deck, Lieutenant Junior Grade Howard Rutherford Shaw, was awarded the Navy Cross for alertly attempting to ram the submarine and put Christabel in a good location for dropping depth charges. However, during the action, explosions from her own depth charges near aboard caused several live depth charges to come loose, and which were rolling about the deck. Ensign Sullivan would be awarded the Medal of Honor for risking his life to secure the loose depth charges, preventing a likely catastrophic explosion, which probably would have sunk the ship.
British code-breaking intelligence would subsequently confirm that the submarine was UC-56 (a mine-laying submarine) and that she had been interned in Santander, Spain, as a result of serious damage. UC-56’s only kill of the war was His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Glenart Castle on 26 February 1918, with the loss of 162 people, including the captain, eight nurses and 99 patients; only 32 survived. UC-56 attempted to cover up her actions by shooting survivors in the water. The British would arrest the captain of UC-56 as he was returning to Germany from Spain and would detain him in the Tower of London as a war criminal until they could find no legal grounds to hold him during the Armistice (an obvious loophole in the document). Ensign Sullivan would go on to serve in destroyers, and then in the U.S. Navy headquarters in London at the end of the war and into 1919. Christabel had also previously responded to the explosion of the cargo ship Florence H in Quiberon Bay, France, on 17 April 1918. Although the wooden Christabel could not enter the burning water, a volunteer crew in a whaleboat did and rescued three survivors. Chief Pharmacist’s Mate Louis Zeller would be awarded a Navy Cross for diving into the water to rescue a badly burned survivor.
Lieutenant Edouard Victor Michel Izac, USN, (some accounts give his name as Isaacs or Izaacs as he changed his name from Isaacs to Izac in 1925) of transport USS President Lincoln (ex-German President Lincoln—yes, that was her German name), 31 May 1918: On the morning of 31 May 1918, the large troop transport USS President Lincoln (32,500 tons) and three other transports were about 600 miles west of Brest, France, returning to the United States after delivering U.S. Army troops to France. President Lincoln made five voyages to France carrying a combined total of 23,000 troops. The transports were mostly empty on their return voyage, and the escorting destroyers had detached as they had passed out of the area of greatest submarine threat to pick up a convoy heading to France. President Lincoln had 715 people on board, mostly crew, but including 30 U.S. Army Officers and men, a number of whom were sick and wounded. Without warning, President Lincoln was hit by two torpedoes near the bridge, killing seven immediately, followed by a third torpedo that hit further aft. One of the other transports tried to ram the submarine, unsuccessfully.
The commanding officer, Commander P. W. Foote, USN, gave the order to abandon ship as the President Lincoln quickly began to sink. The crews of her four 6-inch guns remained at their posts in hopes the submarine would surface and present a target, but fired in the general direction of where the submarine might be to possibly thwart another attack. An additional three officers and 16 crewmen were lost, some when their raft was pulled down with the ship.
In accordance with standard procedure, the other three transports continued on, lest they become targets themselves, but radioed the position of 689 survivors in lifeboats and rafts. The abandon ship was noteworthy for being one of the most disciplined recorded, executed by a well-trained crew, contributing significantly to the relatively low loss of life. An hour after the sinking, the German submarine U-90 surfaced and searched the boats and rafts for a senior officer who might provide useful intelligence, ultimately taking aboard Lieutenant Edouard Izac (USNA ’15), who had tried to remain inconspicuous. As the U-90 searched the boats looking for the commanding officer, all officers removed rank insignia, and crewmen in different boats all claimed that the commanding officer had gone down with the ship (he survived in one of the boats).
After the submarine left, all boats and rafts were lashed together in an orderly fashion. During the night, two U.S. destroyers, USS Warrington (DD-30) and USS Smith (DD-17), rescued all the survivors, a notable feat. With almost 700 survivors on board the two ships, the destroyers encountered U-90 (with Izac aboard) the next day and Smith attacked with 22 depth charges, narrowly missing the submarine, according to Izac’s later report. President Lincoln was the largest U.S. Navy ship sunk during the war, with a loss of life (26) that could have been vastly worse were it not for the well-trained and disciplined crew of Commander Foote.
Izac’s odyssey had just begun. U-90 was a very successful U-boat: sinking 30 merchant ships and damaging two more during her seven patrols, she survived the war. Izac learned considerable information of intelligence value during his time on board the submarine before she returned to Germany. The Germans did not know that he was the son of German-speaking immigrants and spoke German. Believing this information was critical, Izac made multiple unsuccessful escape attempts, including jumping from the window of a moving train. On the night of 6–7 October 1918, he escaped from a German prison camp, drawing attention to himself so that others might escape. Nevertheless, he succeeded in reaching neutral Switzerland on 13 October, after swimming the Rhine River, in company with another American who had been shot down while flying with the French air force. Upon reaching London, Izac passed his information to Vice Admiral William Sims, who, with the war almost over, turned out to be not much interested in his report. Izac was awarded the Medal of Honor in November 1920; however, he was forced to leave the service in 1921 due to injuries sustained in his escape attempts.
After retirement Izac went into the newspaper business and politics, serving as a Democratic representative from San Diego, California, to the U.S. Congress from 1937 to 1946. In 1945, Izac was part of a delegation of 11 U.S. senators and congressmen invited by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to inspect the recently liberated Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. Izac subsequently co-authored the report “Atrocities and Other Conditions in Concentration Camps in Germany,” published by the U.S. Congress, which described in great detail Nazi extermination efforts against the Jews. When he died in 1990, Izac was 100 years old. He was the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War I. He was survived by five children, 19 grandchildren, and 25 great grandchildren. One of his children, Commander Carrol A. Izac, served as a Navy Catholic chaplain from 1972 to 1993 and was serving aboard USS Abraham Lincoln at the time of Edouard Izac’s death.
Ensign Charles Hazeltine Hammann, USNRF, aircraft pilot, flying from the U.S. Navy seaplane station at Porto Corsini, Italy, 21 August 1918: Enlisted Pilot Hammann (Naval Aviator No. 1494) would become the first U.S. aviator (of any service) to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for an action that took place on 21 August 1918 off the Austro-Hungarian coast (now Croatia) during which he rescued downed naval aviator Ensign George M. Ludlow (Naval Aviator No.342).
On 21 August 1918, five U.S. Navy Macchi M.5 seaplanes (a small single-seat seaplane fighter built by the Italians) flew their first combat mission, escorting two Italian M.8 seaplane bombers on a leaflet-dropping mission over the heavily defended Austro-Hungarian port and naval base of Pola. Five land-based Austro-Hungarian Albatross fighters and two seaplanes engaged the escorting U.S. aircraft.
During the dogfight near Pola, the M.5 flown by Ensign George Ludlow was hit and so badly damaged that Ludlow had to set down in the Adriatic about three miles off the coast of Pola, where he risked being captured (and the Austrians had threatened to execute any downed aviators flying missions over their territory). As Ludlow took steps to scuttle his aircraft, enlisted pilot Charles Hammann landed his seaplane on the water alongside Ludlow. Although Hammann’s seaplane had also been damaged in the dogfight, and was not designed to carry the weight of two people, Hammann brought Ludlow on board as Ludlow’s aircraft sank. Barely able to get the plane airborne, Hammann nevertheless succeeded in doing so while avoiding additional searching Austro-Hungarian planes. He made his way back to Porto Corsini, whereupon his plane sank after landing due to the excessive weight. Hammann would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, along with an Italian Medaglia a’Argento al Valore Militare. Ludlow would receive the Navy Cross. Hammann would also be commissioned an ensign in October 1918, but unfortunately was killed in a crash of an M.5 at Langley, Virginia, on 14 June 1919. (See also H-Gram 021.)
Lieutenant Commander James Jonas Madison, USNRF, commanding officer of the transport USS Ticonderoga (ID-1958—ex-German Camilla Rickmears) of the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, 30 September 1918: During Ticonderoga’s fourth trip to France, she suffered an engineering casualty on the night of 29–30 September that caused her to fall behind her convoy. At 0545, she spotted the large German “U-cruiser” U-152 ahead on the surface. As the crew went to battle stations, Lieutenant Commander Madison attempted to ram the U-152, missing by a narrow margin. U-152 opened fire with her two 5.9-inch deck guns, quickly knocking out one of Ticonderoga’s two forward guns, hitting the bridge area, severely wounding Madison, and knocking out radio communication. Despite his grave injuries and after having his crew prop him up in a chair, Madison continued to fight and maneuver his ship for over two hours. He maneuvered the ship so her after gun (a 6-incher) could be brought to bear, forcing U-152 to submerge. However, U-152 subsequently re-surfaced and knocked out Ticonderoga’s after gun, poured fire into Ticonderoga until she was unable to steer or fight back, and wounded almost everyone on board. U-152 put holes in all but one of Ticonderoga’s life boats and fired a torpedo that hit just behind the ship’s engine room, which caused her to begin to sink. (The previous day U-152 had fought a prolonged gun battle with the oiler USS George G. Henry, which got away despite heavy damage; this time U-152 was taking no chances of losing a kill.)
Eventually, Madison went unconscious due to loss of blood. The ship’s crew attempted to abandon ship under a white flag, but the submarine continued firing. Madison was placed into the last lifeboat. U-152 captured the executive officer, Lieutenant Frank Muller, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Junious Fulcher (who both would survive captivity, and would still be on board U-152 when she surrendered at the end of the war), but left everyone else adrift. After four days, the British freighter Moorish Prince rescued 22 men still alive in the boat, including Madison. Everyone else on board Ticonderoga perished, including 112 U.S. Navy crew and 101 U.S. soldiers, the greatest combat loss of life aboard any U.S. Navy ship in World War I. Madison would subsequently be awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallant and prolonged resistance against the submarine. Although he survived the battle, he lost a leg and would be hospitalized for the rest of his life until he died on Christmas Day in 1922.
(Of note, Lieutenant Commander Madison’s Medal of Honor citation states that 31 were rescued of 236 on board, which differs from other official records. The oiler USS George G. Henry would pass into commercial service after the war as the SS George G. Henry, when she would find herself in Subic Bay. She escaped being hit by bombs during the Japanese raid on Cavite on 10 December 1941 before escaping to Australia, where she would be taken over by the U.S. Navy, renamed USS Victoria (AO-46) and earn four battle stars during World War II. During the action with U-152, one of her crew would be awarded a Distinguished Service Medal and two would receive the Navy Cross for keeping the tanker’s engines running despite being surrounded by fire, which was the key to the tanker’s escape. U-152 would be surrendered to the British, who would deliberately sink her in 1922.)
Medals of Honor (Tiffany Cross) Awarded for Supporting U.S. Marines in Combat Ashore
23 April 1918—Lieutenant Commander (Dental Corps) Alexander Gordon Lyle, USN. While serving with the 5th Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps, on the French Front, he exposed himself to heavy shellfire to assist Corporal Thomas Regan, rendering effective surgical aid while under bombardment, saving Regan’s life (see also H-Gram 018).
6 June 1918—Lieutenant Junior Grade (Dental Corps) Weedon E. Osborne, USN (posthumous). While serving with the 6th Regiment, U.S. Marines, during the advance on the town of Bouresche, France, at the southern end of Belleau Wood, he was credited rescuing Marines while under heavy fire, before he was killed while carrying a wounded officer to a place of safety (see also H-Gram 018).
11 June 1918—Lieutenant (Medical Corps) Orlando Henderson Petty, USNRF. While serving with the 5th Marine Regiment during the Marines’ attack in Belleau Wood, near the town of Lucy, rendered effective aid to wounded Marines while under heavy shellfire and gas attack. When an exploding gas shell tore a hole in his gas mask, he discarded the mask and continued to render aid, until his aid station was hit and demolished. He then carried a wounded officer to a place of safety.
19 July 1918—Lieutenant (Medical Corps) Joel Thompson Boone, USN. While serving with the 6th Marine Regiment near the town of Vierzy, France, he repeatedly went into an open field under heavy fire and gas attack, to aid wounded Marines. When his medical supplies were exhausted he went back for more and then returned to the field to administer aid, and did so yet again later in the day.
19 July and 5 October 1918—Pharmacist’s Mate First Class John Henry Balch, USN. While serving with the 6th Marine Regiment near Vierzy, France, on 19 July 1918, for 16 hours during the day and into the night he repeatedly exposed himself to machine gun and shell fire to give aid to the wounded, and did the same at Somme-Py, France, on 5 October 1918.
15 September 1918—Hospital Apprentice First Class David E. Hayden, USN. While serving with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, near Thiaucourt, France, he ran to the aid of Corporal Creed in an open field swept by machine-gun fire, finding the corporal so badly wounded that he had to dress the wounds in the open under intense fire before carrying the mortally wounded man to safety.
Medals of Honor Awarded for Non-Combat Heroic Acts
23 July 1917—Commander Willis Winter Bradley, Jr., USN. While serving aboard the armored cruiser USS Pittsburgh (ACR-4) in the South Atlantic when an accidental explosion occurred while loading saluting cartridge cases in an after casemate. Blown to the deck by the explosion and rendered temporarily unconscious, he came to and crawled into the casemate to put out the fires burning in close proximity to a large amount of powder, preventing additional explosions that could have resulted in the loss of the ship.
23 July 1917—Seaman Ora Graves, USN. While serving aboard the armored cruiser USS Pittsburgh, in the South Atlantic, narrowly avoided being killed when a 3-inch saluting cartridge accidentally exploded, killing another sailor. Despite being blown to the deck, he recovered and put out burning waste scattered about the deck, knowing he was in close proximity to a large powder store. This was the same incident that involved Commander Bradley (above).
17 September 1917—Shipfitter First Class Patrick McGunigal, USN. While assigned to the armored cruiser USS Huntington (ACR-5) escorting a trans-Atlantic convoy when the launch of a manned kite balloon went awry. A sudden temperature change caused the balloon to rapidly descend from 400 ft. to 200 ft., where it encountered a squall. When the balloon was hauled to the ship, the basket was trailing underwater with the observer, Lieutenant Junior Grade H. W. Hoyt still in it submerged. McGunigal climbed down ropes to the basket and was able to free Hoyt, dragging him clear, putting a bowline around him enabling Hoyt to be pulled up to the deck, before the line was passed to McGunigal and he was pulled to safety.
5 November 1917—Seaman Tedford H. Cann, USN. While assigned to the armed yacht USS May (SP-164) operating out of New London, Connecticut, when he risked his life to go into a flooded compartment to stop a serious leak, preventing the ship from sinking.
17 December 1917—Chief Boatswain’s Mate John MacKenzie, USN. While assigned to the armed yacht USS Remlik (SP-157) in a heavy gale when a depth charge box was washed away, leaving a depth charge rolling about the deck. On his own initiative, MacKenzie sat on the depth charge to keep it from rolling until the ship could be brought into the sea and the depth charge could be secured, thereby preventing potential catastrophic damage and loss of the ship. Earlier in the day, Remlik had tried unsuccessfully to attack a German submarine, which was thwarted by the heavy seas.
17 April 1918—Ship’s Cook First Class Jesse Whitfield Covington, USN, and Quartermaster Frank Monroe Upton, USN. While assigned to the destroyer USS Stewart (DD-13) in Quiberon Bay, France, when the American freighter Florence H., with a cargo of ammunition and steel, spontaneously exploded. Stewart closed in to the flaming water to rescue survivors, finding numerous floating powder cases that were frequently exploding. Despite danger from the floating powder boxes, Covington dove into the water to rescue a badly injured survivor. Stewart saved nine of the 34 survivors (many badly burned) of the 75-man crew of Florence H., and was commended by the Secretary of the Navy. Both Covington and Upton were awarded the Medal of Honor, while the Stewart ’s commanding officer, Lieutenant H. S. Haislip, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.
25 September 1918—Chief Machinist’s Mate Francis Edward Ormsbee, Jr., USN. While assigned to Pensacola Naval Air Station, observed another aircraft crash in the water. Ormsbee’s pilot landed their aircraft and Ormsbee dove in the water, swam to the crashed aircraft, and was able to partially extract the gunner and hold his head above water until a speedboat arrived, saving his life. Ormsbee then repeatedly dived in a vain attempt to rescue the pilot, cutting his hands in the process.
9 October 1918—Chief Gunner’s Mate Oscar Schmidt, Jr., USN. While assigned to the tanker USS Chestnut Hill (ID-2526) in the mid-Atlantic escorting and refueling a group of submarine chasers, when submarine chaser No. 219 suffered a gasoline explosion and fire that killed four crewmen and injured eight more, causing the sub chaser to sink. Seeing a crewman whose legs were partly blown off, hanging from a line on 219’s bow, Schmidt jumped in the water, climbed aboard the 219 and carried the man from the bow to the stern of 219, where he could be brought aboard Chestnut Hill . He attempted to go forward to rescue another man, but flames amidships prevented it. However, when that man fell overboard, Schmidt was able to grab him and bring him aboard.
1 November 1918—Boatswain’s Mate Second Class John Otto Siegel, USN. While assigned to the yard tug USS Mowhawk (YT-17), when the schooner Hjeltenaes caught fire. Siegel went aboard the burning vessel and rescued two crewmen from the flames in the crew’s quarters. He went back into the fire to rescue a third crewman when he became trapped by a burst steam pipe and was overcome. Siegel was in turn rescued by some of Mohawk’s crew.
Sources include: Numerous documents and Dictionary of American Fighting Ships entries published on Naval History and Heritage Command website; America’s Sailors in the Great War: Sea, Skies and Submarines by Lisle Rose (University of Missouri Press, 2017); The Victory at Sea by Rear Admiral William S. Sims, USN (Naval Institute Press, 1984 reprint of 1920 edition); Information at Sea: Shipboard Command and Control in the U.S. Navy, from Mobile Bay to Okinawa by Timothy S. Wolters (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013); Learning War: The Evolution of American Fighting Doctrine, 1898–1945 by Trent Hone (Naval Institute Press, 2018): United States Naval Aviation: 1910–2010 by Mark L. Evans and Roy A. Grossnick (5th Edition, Naval History and Heritage Command); Sea Power by E. B. Potter (Prentice-Hall, 1960); History of the U.S. Navy, Volume One: 1775–1941 by Robert W. Love, Jr, (Stackpole Books, 1992).
(Back to H-Gram 023 Summary)