John Donne

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Bio

John Donne (1572-1631) was an English poet, scholar, soldier and secretary born into a recusant Roman Catholic family at a time when practice of the faith was illegal during the Reformation. He later became a cleric in the Church of England and is probably best known for this sonnet, a linguistic memento mori:

"No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if
a promontory were, as well as any manner
of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."


Turning point in American History: The Battle of Manila Bay

The pivotal naval battle on May 1, 1898 was the first significant conflict of the Spanish American War fought during April to August, 1898. It has been called "the Forgotten War" and "a splendid, little war". The first is mostly a true statement, and the second is mostly untrue, since few today would consider any war "splendid". But Manila Bay marked a significant progression in American History. There were 33 officers, 378 sailors and 44 marines on the United States Flagship (USFS) Olympia, leading Commodore George Dewey's small, seven-ship Asiatic Squadron, when it destroyed the larger, but antiquated and outgunned Pacific Fleet of Spanish Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón. Before Dewey calmly said to Olympia's captain, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley", America and its Navy were not considered a global power. Overnight, with the complete vanquishing of Spain's Pacific Squadron in four hours, America earned that status. This USS Olympia 1898 Manila Bay Crew Virtual Cemetery is dedicated to the men of USFS Olympia.

The Men behind the Guns

The turret captain of Olympia's forward, twin 8-inch, main battery that historic day was Lieutenant Stokeley Morgan, a 38-year-old Arkansas native and son of a former Confederate Civil War regimental commander. During the entire battle that lasted for a few hours, Lt. Morgan bravely stood exposed to enemy fire atop the scorching, Harveyized steel turret under a relentless, tropical sun and directed the firing. Shortly after the fall of Manila that August, Morgan fell ill, having suffered severe neurological damage from the shell concussions as he stood on the turret. He was 41 when he died of paralysis in the fall of 1900 at his home in Massachusetts. Lieutenant Commander Morgan is buried at the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery where his gravestone displays bronze relief facsimiles of the famous Dewey Medal that was awarded in 1899 by special Act of Congress to the 1,825 officers and men of Commodore Dewey's squadron at the Battle of Manila Bay.

Inside the searing turret, where the shaved-head gun crews sweat rivers and the thundering shocks caused some men to bleed from their eyes, the gun captain of Olympia's forward 8" starboard gun who aimed and fired the first shot on Morgan's order from Captain Gridley, was the ship's respected 38-year-old Chief Bo'sun's Mate, Patrick Murray. An Irish Catholic immigrant from Baltimore, he was attached to Olympia in March 1895, a month after the cruiser was commissioned at Mare Island, CA. Murray served on more than 30 ships during his 31-years in the Navy and earned seven Good Conduct awards, before he retired in April 1907. One Olympia crewman recalled, Pat Murray "as quiet and well behaved a gentleman as one would ask to meet in civil walks." After his death in 1915 from tuberculosis at age 55, Chief Boatswain's Mate Patrick Murray was buried at New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore with military honors by sailors from that city's recruiting station. His gravestone bears an incised, fouled anchor superimposed with "USN". The Irish Standard noted in his obituary that he had fired the first shot in the Battle of Manila Bay and "was most popular amongst the officers and men of the fleet."

Firing shoulder to shoulder with Murray, the port gun captain was Gunner's Mate 1c John Christopher Jordan, the 26-year-old African-American son of a Virginia freeman, and native of Washington, D.C. , where his father was a laborer at the US Capital. Jordan was detached from the cruiser, USS Baltimore, to Olympia on April 24, 1898, a week before the Battle of Manila Bay, likely by Commodore Dewey's design to have Jordan's gunnery and diving skills on the flagship for the coming battle. In 1892, Jordan had been the first black man to graduate from the Navy's Seaman Gunner school. He was a popular athlete and part of Olympia's musical troupe during his eight months on the cruiser. During his 29-years in the Navy, Jordan rose to Chief Gunner's Mate and earned six Good Conduct Awards, an uncommon accomplishment for any sailor, and monumental for a black man in the Navy of more than a century ago. Chief Jordan was 52 when he died of tubercular meningitis in 1923 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. His older brother, Thomas, an army veteran, brought his remains back to the family plot at Harmony Memorial Park, a historic African-American cemetery outside of Washington, D.C. The grave of Chief Gunner's Mate John Jordan is unmarked, and probably has been for more than 60 years since the cemetery was moved and most grave markers were lost in the 1950s.

According to a September 1899 interview of Olympia's warrant officer Gunner, Leonard J. Kuhlwein, "Murray and Jordan were the best shots on the ship, and so the handling of the big guns was given to them." Six score years ago, Stokeley Morgan, Pat Murray and J. C. Jordan had their jobs on the merits of what each could do, not a pseudo-virtuous and poisonous fixation on immutable, superficial physical characteristics that only divides Americans into tribes. To paraphrase the words spoken by Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. 65 years later, these three brothers-at-arms were judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character.

Newspaper articles, obituaries, headstone photos (if memorial has none), photos of USS Olympia sailors, marines and their families or their prized Congressional Dewey Medals are welcome, as are suggested edits and further biographical information. Feel free to send me a message, I'd like to hear from you. God bless America, and all who read this.

Burial records and information engraved on headstones are not infallible. For example, here's a headstone at Arlington Nat'l. Cemetery (ANC) in Virginia, that for more than 70 years marked the grave of a Manila Bay USS Olympia sailor and later World War I Army second lieutenant, but erroneously was inscribed to a Spanish American War Army captain buried at Jefferson Barrack's Nat'l. Cemetery at St. Louis. I discovered this mistaken identity in 2020 and notified ANC. After nearly a year and verifying the evidence I provided them, the ANC administrators placed a correct headstone in April 2021.

USS Olympia (C-6)

The newly formed Navy Board on the Design of Ships began the design process for Cruiser Number 6 in 1889. For main armament, the board chose 8-inch (200 mm) guns, though the number and arrangement of these weapons, as well as the armor scheme, was heavily debated. On 8 April 1890, the navy solicited bids but found only one bidder, the Union Iron Works at San Francisco, CA. The contract specified a cost of $1,796,000, completion by 1 April 1893, and offered a bonus for early completion. During the contract negotiations, Union Iron Works was granted permission to lengthen the vessel by 10 ft (3.0 m), at no extra cost, to accommodate the propulsion system. The contract was signed on 10 July 1890. The naval architect who designed and drew the lines for Olympia was William Bell Collier, II of San Francisco. Bell was also a ranked, amateur tennis player at the turn of the last century.

For further reading on USS Olympia, the world's oldest surviving steel-hulled warship that can be toured at Philadelphia's Independence Seaport, and the iconic Battle of Manila Bay Medal, commonly known as the "Dewey Medal", that was authorized by Act of Congress in 1898 to be struck by Tiffany & Co, and individually named and awarded to each of the 1,848 sailors and marines of Dewey's Asiatic Squadron at Manila Bay, I suggest the following:

Stewart, Robert, "Historic American Engineering Record: USS Olympia", (1998) Independence Seaport Museum, Phila., PA
digital copy here: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/pa/pa3500/pa3529/data/pa3529data.pdf

Strandberg, John E., and Menke, Allen R., "The Battle of Manila Bay Medal, The Dewey Medal" (2022)

***

"Poor is the nation that has no heroes, but poorer still is the nation that having heroes, fails to remember and honor them." -Cicero, Roman orator

"Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore." - Eccles 44:14

"We should strive to live in peace, before we hope to rest in peace." - Me

"To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the lives of our ancestors by the records of history?"

"Zeus guided mortals to have wisdom
and laid it down with authority
that from suffering comes learning.
And, in our sleep, at least, pain of unforgettable suffering
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
and wisdom comes to us against our will:
Perhaps the favor of the gods sitting on their
sacred throne comes about through force."
- Aeschylus, " -Agamemnon", 176-183

"Not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity, but in simple obedience to duty as they understood it. They suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all, and died."

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
- William Faulkner

"Wise men speak because they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something." Plato

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