Frank Hill Received Medal of Honor
The Presidential Peacetime Medal of Honor was given posthumously to Frank Ebenezer HILL at a grave-side ceremony in the Center Point Cemetery on June 29, 2014. Mr. HILL was a Ship’s Cook First Class, U.S. Navy at the time of his heroic act in 1905. His citation was for “extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion” of a boiler on the U.S.S. Bennington docked at San Diego, Calif., 21 July 1905. Mr. HILL helped with the rescue of those aboard the ship after the explosion. According to the Naval Report, General Order, Page 3: “Ship’s cook first class Frank E. HILL stood in the hatch leading from sick bay at the moment of disaster. HILL turned and went below to retrieve injured men from passageways and machine shops filled with steam. Part of the citation from HILL‘s Congressional Medal of Honor read, “He had been on the sick list for several days previously, and fainted on two occasions on gaining the deck with injured men, but continued the work.”
The combination of the explosion and the scalding steam killed a number of men outright and left others mortally wounded; the final death toll was one officer and sixty-five men, making it one of the U.S. Navy’s worst peacetime disasters. Nearly all of the forty-six who survived had an injury of some sort; eleven of the survivors were awarded the Medal of Honor for “extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion.
Mr. HILL was born 31 July 1880 and died at the age of 52 on 23 September 1932. He is buried with his wife, Lulu, at the Center Point Cemetery in Clay County, Indiana. Lulu was the daughter of Samuel WILSON and Srepta STEPHENS of Clay County.
Boiler Explosion on USS Bennington, 21 July 1905
At about 10:30 a.m. on 21 July 1905 the gunboat Bennington suffered one of the Navy’s worst peacetime disasters. She had arrived at San Diego, California, just two days earlier, after a difficult seventeen-day voyage from the Hawaiian Islands. Though both the ship and her men could have used a rest, they were soon ordered back to sea to assist the monitor Wyoming, which had broken down and needed a tow.
While steam was being raised, much of Bennington’s crew, having completing the hard and dirty job of coaling, were cleaning their ship and themselves. Below decks, an improperly closed steam line valve, oily feed water and a malfunctioning safety valve conspired to generate steam pressures far beyond the boilers’ tolerance. Suddenly, one of them exploded. Men and equipment were hurled into the air, living compartments and deck space filled with scalding steam, and the ship’s hull was opened to the sea. But for quick work by the tug Santa Fe, which beached Bennington in relatively shallow water, the gunboat would probably have sunk. As it was, she was so badly damaged as to be not worth repairing. Even worse, more than sixty of her crew had been killed outright or were so severely injured that they did not long survive.
The number of casualties overwhelmed the then-small city of San Diego’s hospitals, and badly burned Sailors had to be cared for in improvised facilities largely staffed by volunteers. Local morticians were hard pressed to prepare the Bennington’s dead for burial. On the 23rd of July, the great majority were interred at the Army’s Fort Rosecrans, located on the Point Loma heights overlooking the entrance to San Diego Harbor and what would, years later, become the North Island Naval Air Station.
Despite the awful death toll, which far exceeded that sustained by the Navy in the Spanish-American War, and sometimes lurid rumors of misconduct on the part of some members of Bennington’s engineering force, official investigations concluded that the tragedy had not resulted from negligence. Eleven surviving crewmen were awarded the Medal of Honor for “extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion.” USS Bennington was raised, but remained inactive and unrepaired until sold in 1910.