Citizens and medical staff from around the city, personnel from the new Army post Fort Rosecrans, and hacks and wagons of local mortuaries rushed to the scene to lend aid where they could.
Two days later, a mass funeral was held and 47 bodies were laid in a single, large grave on Point Loma. Another 19 sailors succumbed to injuries in the days following the disaster. (Ultimately, some bodies were removed and sent home by rail to families across the nation.)
Today, 37 dear sailors remain in the burial site at the foot of a tall obelisk erected in 1908 by the Pacific Squadron. (The Post Cemetery was not commissioned Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery until 1934.)
Each July a group of historians places carnations at the Bennington headstones, or holds the commemorative ceremony, to remember one of the worst peacetime disasters in the history of the U.S. Navy.
But what about successive ships being given the name Bennington? Is the wrath of Poseidon incurred in a vessel’s name? Sea lore and superstition have existed as long as men have wrangled the sea. But it is believed that to name a vessel after one that has experienced tragedy is asking for trouble. So it goes with the name Bennington (derived from the 1777 Battle of Bennington in the American Revolutionary War).
In 1905, the gunboat USS Bennington (PG-4) suffered a boiler explosion, as noted above.
Three years later, a wrecking barge known as Bennington experienced hull failure, foundered in fair weather while under tow, and took her crew of two to the bottom of Lake Superior.
On May 26, 1954, while cruising off Narragansett Bay, a hydraulic catapult exploded setting off a series of explosions aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Bennington (CVA-20), killing 103 crewmen and injuring 220. She labored under her own power into Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island, past horrified witnesses aboard other naval vessels in the area.
Philip Hinshaw of San Diego was aboard the anchored USS Severn. “This is a scene you never forget; it is as clear in my mind now as it was in 1954. Bennington came in on fire, smoke, and flames pouring from every opening. Helicopters were flying overhead. We knew what they were doing. We felt a sense of dread and empathy. Transporting wounded to hospitals in Newport.”
Today, Hinshaw is actively involved in Bennington ceremonies at the National Cemetery.
Finally (some believe), on Sept. 25, 1946, the tanker Bennington rolled in heavy seas and suffered an explosion and fire about 225 miles off Savannah, Ga. Seven of her crew died.
Adding insult to injury, three weeks after the explosion in San Diego, the crippled warship, flanked by her flagship, limped past Fort Rosecrans and out to sea by tow.
The ships were headed for the only naval yard on the West Coast, at Mare Island, 23 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Along the route, Bennington lost her towline in rough seas and slammed into the protected cruiser USS Chicago, causing severe damage to Bennington’s bow. Had the ill-tempered god of the sea raised his trident in warning?