Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day




 Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Throughout my (brief) course of work as our self-appointed family genealogist (!), I've loved stumbling upon heroic stories of our ancestors and their military experiences.  While Memorial Day is specifically set aside to honor the memory of our fallen heroes - the men and women who died while protecting our country as members of the US Armed Forces - today's journal entry is a little different.  A few months back, I came across an article in the Aberdeen American (South Dakota) documenting the unbelievable account of Ernest Melvey and his experience aboard the USS Westover in WWI.  Ernest Melvey (1896-1973) is my husband's paternal great-uncle.  I've transcribed the article below in its entirety.

Why write about this at-sea adventure for Memorial Day?  While our fallen military heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice...many of our heroes have been affected by the traumatic stress of war and extreme danger.  PTSD is part of our vernacular these days.  While some sacrificed their lives - others sacrificed bits and pieces of their heart as a lingering affect of wartime.  I can only imagine that the details of such traumatic events - admittedly not forthcoming, according to this article below - left a lingering mark on my husband's great-uncle.  We thank God for the service of all of our military heroes - past and present included.  We are thankful for their sacrifice - whether it be of life, limb, or heart.



Image of the USS Westover before her ill-fated maiden voyage (SOURCE)

IMAGE SOURCE


Moorhead Man Blown Out of Water by Sub - Spends 4 Days in Open Boat
Aberdeen American (Aberdeen, SD).  Wednesday, January 1, 1919

Fargo, N.D., Dec. 31 – Blown out of the water by a German sub, wounded to the hip and leg and then four and a half days at sea in an open boat before he was picked up by a French fishing smack 100 miles off the coast, was the experience of Electrician Ernest Melvey, son of Mayor N.N. Melvey of Moorhead.
Although all this happened last May, his parents knew nothing about hospital at Brest after being “hit by something heavy”, until he reached home talks but little and the story has been drawn from him piecemeal.
He was one of the crew of the Westover, one of the new boats build by the United States, and when 400 miles off the French coast on the first trip over, the ship was twice torpedoed by a German sub.  The first torpedo struck the Westover well forward and did not cause much damage, but the second “struck her squarely amidships and blew her clear out of the water.”
This is when the “something heavy” hit Electrician Melvey, for “the boat went up faster than I did”.  When the torpedo exploded, 11 of the crew of 93 were killed.  The officers and other members of the crew took to three boats and were later overhauled by boats from the sub demanding the surrender of the captain.  The captain was wearing a seaman’s uniform and the survivors told the [Germans] he had been drowned when the torpedo struck.
The Germans returned to the sub and the Westover boats with the 82 survivors headed for the French coast.  They had made 300 of the 400 miles from the place where they were torpedoed when they were picked up by a small French fishing boat.  Later, they were transferred to an American cruiser and landed ad Brest, where Electrician Melvey was taken to a hospital.
He was granted a furlough the second day out of the hospital where he had been the third time.  The third trip to “sick bay” was due to a dislocated hip.  Now he wears to wound stripes on one arm, balanced by two service stripes on the other.
Electrician Melvey enlisted at Fargo on November 26, 1917, and was sent to Great Lakes for training.  Three months later, he was sent to Philadelphia and assigned to the S. S. Wisconsin.  When he was selected for overseas service he was transferred to the Westover and both met disaster on their first trip across.
Electrician Melvey is one of four sons of Mayor and Mrs. N.N. Melvey in the service.  Jalmer and Elert, twin brothers*, were on the front for several months with the doughboys and are still in overseas service.  Arthur, the fourth son, is also in the army and was on his way over there when the transport was stalled the second day…[unable to read last few words of article].
(*One note - this article asserts that Jalmer and Elert were twins...something that I don't believe to be correct)

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