USS Bennington Commemoration at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
by KAREN SCANLON
Published - 07/09/17 - 08:07 AM | 4155 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
USS Bennington while at anchor on San Diego Bay.
USS Bennington while at anchor on San Diego Bay.
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More than a century ago on July 21, 1905, two boilers let loose aboard the gunboat USS Bennington while at anchor on San Diego Bay. One of the worst peacetime disasters in the history of the U.S. Navy was underway, and the lives of 65 sailors and one officer were sent to eternal rest.

On Saturday, July 22, at 11 a.m., a public commemoration ceremony will take place at the Bennington Monument, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.

Local historians, and compatriots of Sons of the American Revolution San Diego Chapter (SAR), commemorate San Diego’s naval disaster in cooperation with cemetery personnel.

The focus of each event has been based on some aspect of the explosion as reported in newspapers of the time. For example, “San Diego at large fed and coddled the injured and dying sailors, each with a motherly volunteer at his side,” according to the San Diegan Sun.

Two years ago, volunteers stood at each of the 35 graves holding a pile of clean white linens, empty casks for ice cream, or baskets of oranges, representing the help offered to the Bennington crew by citizens of San Diego in early days of the explosion.

This year’s commemoration will honor the Navy’s Admiral Caspar F. Goodrich, commanding officer of the Pacific Squadron in 1905, and Ensign Lindsay M. Lacy, whose efforts to launch the lifeboats for Bennington’s injured is worthy of remembering. Goodrich held a Court of Inquiry in San Diego aboard his flagship, USS Chicago, as to the cause of Bennington’s explosion.

Goodrich also gave the keynote speech at the 1908 dedication of the Bennington Monument. According to historian Mary Ellen Cortellini, the admiral traveled cross-country from Brooklyn Naval Yard to San Diego just five months after losing his only child, a son, Caspar, Jr., in a turret explosion aboard another Navy vessel, USS Georgia.

Forty-seven sailors were buried at the post cemetery two days after San Diego’s disaster. (Interestingly, at the time, the Navy did not return bodies to families. After public outcry, Navy officials revoked, and 12 bodies were disinterred and sent home. Note, too, that with the 1904 completion of Army Post Fort Rosecrans, the burial grounds were known as the post cemetery. The cemetery was not given federal status until 1934.)

At July’s ceremony, grand nephew of Goodrich, Don Farnam, professional engineer of Long Island, N.Y., and his brother, Chris, will read excerpts of the admiral’s monument dedication speech.

Local ship historian, Steve Lawson, will read Secretary of the Navy Charles J. Bonaparte’s commendation letter to Naval Officer Lacy paying tribute for rescue efforts of his fellow sailors.

Finally, Graham Wright, assistant director, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, will read a moving 1905 letter by Goodrich commending Lacy.

Colors will be presented by Clairemont’s Boy Scout Troop 260; and also by compatriots of SAR dressed in yellow wool uniforms of the Revolutionary War. Since there was no West Coast involvement in the American Revolution, SAR members join local historians recalling the Battle of Bennington, the namesake of the stricken ship.

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