Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat

No, this is not an Olympic moment.

In researching the nephew of my great Grandfather I came across an interesting fact about his short military service. Robert Franklin Wilson was born in 1884 near Dade City, Florida. His father, Moses Wilson was the older brother of my great Grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Wilson.

When World War I broke out Robert Wilson enlisted in the US Navy. Considering he grew up on a farm in rural Florida that was unusual but in his large extended family, several cousins also joined the Navy during WWI.

What was more unusual was the coincidence of the two ships he served aboard during his military career. In WWI many of the men who enlisted did so only for the duration of the war. Robert served from April 21, 1917 a couple weeks after the US declared war on Germany until November 11, 1918. November 11th was the day Germany surrendered and he was released from active duty that same day.

When he started his service he was assigned to the the USS Hartford. It was a Civil War era ship that by 1917 was used only for training. But in looking at it's history I found it was a ship that took a lead in the most important naval campaigns of the Civil War.

In fact the USS Hartford was the flagship of Admiral David Farragut during the Battle of New Orleans in 1862 and the Battle of Vicksburg the next year. These two Union victories put the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico in Union control and sealed the fate of the Confederates to eventual defeat.

In the subsequent battle of Mobile Bay, it was aboard the USS Hartford that Farragut gave his famous order "Damn the Torpedoes, Full speed ahead."

After his time aboard the ancient wooden Hartford, Robert Wilson was transferred to a brand new modern steel battleship, the USS Oklahoma. The Oklahoma served as an escort for convoys crossing the Atlantic during WWI. I don't know if Robert saw any action during the two plus months he was aboard the Oklahoma. It didn't have a particularly memorable WWI record. It's much better known for what happened during the next war.

The USS Oklahoma was assigned to Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941 and yes, the next day was moored in Battleship Row with it's guns stowed when Japanese planes struck. It was hit by multiple bombs and torpedoes and within a few minutes of the beginning of the infamous attack was upside down with her masts stuck in the bottom of the bay.

So in a short military career Robert Wilson served aboard two ships that represented the two extremes of US Naval history.

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