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    This Month in Navy Medicine: A Look Back at Navy Medical Corps Ship Namesakes

    USS Tryon (APH-1), ca. 1943

    Photo By BUMED PAO | USS Tryon was named after former Surgeon General Commodore J. Rufus Tryon (1837-1912)....... read more read more



    Story by André Sobocinski 

    U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

    Since 1920, when the first warships were named in honor of naval medical personnel, the US Navy has honored 15 physicians (Medical Corps officers) as namesakes for some 20 vessels. They range from heroic doctors who served on the battlefields of the Civil War, World War I and World War II to prominent leaders, innovators and pioneers who helped guide the Navy Medical Department in pivotal times in our history.

    Commodore William Maxwell Wood, USN (1809-1880) holds the distinction as the first physician to be honored as a namesake for a Navy warship. Wood was a veteran of the Seminole Wars, the Mexican and Civil Wars. In 1869, he was appointed the Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and on March 3, 1871, Wood became the first naval officer to hold the title of Surgeon General of the Navy. Just over forty years after his death, the Clemson-class destroyer, USS Wood (DD-317) was commissioned.

    Two other namesake destroyers were planned—William M. Wood (DE-287) and William M. Wood (DE-557) but were never constructed. At the end of World War II, USS William M. Wood (DD-715) was commissioned, and served for 31 years.

    Two other Navy Surgeons General were honored as ship namesakes—Commodore J. Rufus Tryon, Medical Corps, USN (1837-1912) and Rear Admiral Presley Marion Rixey, Medical Corps, USN (1852-1928). USS Tryon (APH-1) and USS Rixey (APH-3) —along with USS Pinkney (APH-3), which was named in honor of Fleet Surgeon Ninian Pinkney, USN (1811-1877) of the Mississippi Squadron—were World War II auxiliary vessels originally designed for double duty—to carry warfighters into battle as well as to treat and evacuate casualties as “evacuation ships.” Collectively these three ships received 14 battle stars for their efforts in World War II. All three were each decommissioned in 1946.

    Assistant Surgeon Elisha Kent Kane, USN (1820-1857), was one of the most famous Americans in the early nineteenth century and best known for his role in two expeditions in search of the missing polar explorer Sir John Franklin. Kane has been the subject of books, honored by the United States Post Office with his own stamp, and has even served as the namesake of a lunar crater. Kane was also the namesake of two ships—the World War II destroyer USS Kane (DD-235) and the oceanographic survey ship USNS Kane (T-AGS-27).

    Other nineteenth century Navy physicians have also served as ship namesakes. USS Heerman (DD-532) was named in honor of the German-born Navy surgeon Lewis Heerman (1779-1833), a veteran of the Barbary Wars who commanded ketch Intrepid during Stephen Decatur’s daring raid to board and burn the captured frigate Philadelphia. Heerman later operated the Naval Hospital New Orleans during the War of 1812.

    Assistant Surgeon William Longshaw, Jr., USN (1836-1865) served in the Civil War. He was acknowledged by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and RADM John Dahlgren for gallant behavior for his actions on November 15, 1863 when he, under heavy fire, volunteered to help retrieve the monitor Lehigh which had run aground in Charleston Harbor. Longshaw was killed in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, NC, in January 1865 while binding the wounds of a fallen Marine. The USS William Longshaw (DD-559) was launched in 1943 and later supported campaigns in Luzon, Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

    Rear Admiral Cary Grayson, Medical Corps, USN (1878-1938), was a White House physician who had served alongside Dr. Presley Rixey in attending to President Theodore Roosevelt and the First Family. Beginning in 1913, Grayson became the primary physician and confidante of President Woodrow Wilson, serving in this role until Wilson’s death in 1924. Grayson holds the unique distinction as earning the Navy Cross for his care of the president as well as being honored as a ship namesake. In February 1941, the Greaves-Class destroyer USS Grayson (DD-435) was commissioned.

    USS Boone (FFG-28) is the third ship named in honor of a White House physician. Its namesake—Vice Admiral Joel T. Boone, Medical Corps, USN (1889-1974)—served as physician to Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. During the Hoover Administration, Boone is credited for inventing the game of “Hoover Ball” and helping to formalize the White House Medical Unit. Of course, Boone was also a decorated war hero who received the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and six Silver Star citations in World War I.

    Serving in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France with Boone was Lt. Malcolm Pratt (1891-1942), another Navy physician and decorated war hero. Pratt earned the Navy Cross and Silver Star for operating a regimental aid station under heavy shell fire during the Battle of Belleau Wood. Although resigning from service in 1919, he returned to the Navy in 1941. Pratt and his son (1Lt. John Pratt, USMC) were both killed during the Guadalcanal campaign. The John C. Butler-class escort USS Pratt (DE-363) was named in honor of both father and son in 1944.

    Navy physician Lt. Henry Ringness, Medical Corps, USN (1912-1942) also lost his life during the Guadalcanal campaign. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for efforts as a flight surgeon with Marine Air Group (MAG)-14 during the enemy bombardment of Henderson Field that ultimately took his life. His namesake ship—the high-speed transport USS Ringness (APD-100)—was commissioned on October 25, 1944.

    USS Ringness was one of six ships named in honor of physicians killed in World War II. Like Lt. Ringness, Lt (j.g.) Ben Bronstein (1915-1942) and Lt.(j.g.) Richard Rall (1909-1941) were just starting their promising careers in the Navy when killed in action. Bronstein was the medical officer aboard the destroyer escort USS Jacob Jones in February 1942 when it was sunk by the submarine U-578 off the New Jersey coast killing the young physician and all but 30 crewmembers. Bronstein holds the distinction as the namesake of two ships— USS Bronstein (DE-189) and USS Bronstein (FF-1037).

    Rall was the junior physician aboard battleship USS Pennsylvania while moored at Pearl Harbor. On December 7th, 1941 he was one of two physicians killed in the attack on the naval base. The Navy launched the ship USS Rall (DE-304) in 1944.

    Whereas Bronstein, Rall and Ringness were just beginning their careers in the Navy, Capt. Elphege Gendreau (1888-1943) and Cdr. J. Douglas Blackwood (1881-1942) were decades into their careers when they were killed in action. Both Blackwood and Gendreau were World War I veterans; the former was a recipient of the Navy Cross for his heroic actions following the sinking of transport USS President Lincoln in May 1918. On August 9, 1942, Blackwood was the medical officer aboard the cruiser USS Vincennes when it was sunk during the Battle of Savo Island. A year later, USS J. Douglas Blackwood (DE-219) was named in his honor.

    Gendreau had been the most senior medical officer killed in World War II. From 1940 to 1941, he served as Force Surgeon of the Navy’s Battle Fleet and staff of Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. In the summer of 1943, while on temporary assignment to inspect medical facilities in the South Pacific, he volunteered for duty aboard LST-343 to assist in the evacuation of the sick and wounded on Rendova. On July 21, 1943, Gendreau was killed in a dive-bombing attack. His dedicated service prompted Admiral Nimitz to recommend that a destroyer be named in his honor. USS Gendreau (DE-639) was commissioned on March 17, 1944.

    In 2021, as the US Navy Medical Corps marks its 150th anniversary as a staff corps, there is no active ship that bears the name of a Navy physician. When it was decommissioned in 2012, USS Boone (FFG-28) was the last active ship named in honor of Navy physician.

    To be sure there are many worthy candidates that deserve consideration when the next warship is named. These include dynamic leaders like William Barton, Edward Cutbush, Ross McIntire and James Zimble; war heroes like Corydon Wassell, Orlando Petty and Usher Parsons; innovators like Al Behnke, George Bond, Edward Squibb and Charles Stokes; pioneers like Jose Antonio Perez, Gioconda Saraniero, Hulda Thelander, Arthur Lee Thompson, and Joseph Kerwin; and preeminent scientists like Robert Phillips and Edward Stitt.

    We shall see what the future may hold and perhaps someday soon a Navy physician will again achieve one of the greatest honors bestowed by the Navy.



    Date Taken: 03.02.2021
    Date Posted: 03.02.2021 16:32
    Story ID: 390384
    Location: FALLS CHURCH, VA, US 

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