Friday, August 20, 2010
Henry Clay Drexler 1901 – 1924
Henry Clay Drexler (August 7, 1901 – October 20, 1924) was an Ensign in the United States Navy and a recipient of both the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor.
Born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, on August 7, 1901, Drexler grew up in a seaside home in Bethany Beach, Delaware. His father, Louis Drexler, was a Delaware state senator. The family home still stands in Bethany Beach, although it has been moved further inland. Like his older brother Louis, Henry Drexler attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1924.
When Henry Clay Drexler was a youngster, he and his older brother, Louis, played on the sand at Bethany, where the surf rolled up to the front doorstep of their family's beach house. Not long after the first horseless carriages began bouncing along the unpaved roads of Sussex County, Henry's father, Sen. Louis Drexler, had became an aficionado of cars and helped organize the Sussex County Automobile Association. Henry and his brother, however, seemed more interested in the sea, and both boys attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
In 1924, Henry was still a freshly commissioned officer when he was assigned to the U.S.S. Trenton, a new light cruiser. Sixteen days after joining the ship, he was in the forward turret, where he served as a gunnery observer during a firing exercise. To load the large guns on the cruiser, crewmen placed a shell and a bag of explosives, which were brought up from a lower deck by a power hoist, into the breach of the weapon. After the breach was closed and secure, the weapon was fired. The cramped quarters of the turret made firing these weapons dangerous, dirty, ear-shattering work for the nearly two dozen men in the metal bunker.
On Oct. 20, while conducting a trial firing of the two six-inch guns in the ship's forward twin mount, a spark ignited one of the powder bags in the hoist and Henry reacted immediately. He and Boatswain's Mate First Class George Cholister attempted to grab the charges and thrust them into an immersion tank to extinguish the flames. Henry, without thinking of his own safety, grabbed the charge on the right side of the turret. As he was doing this, the left charge burst into flame and ignited the right charge in his hands. Before he could thrust it into the tank, the smoldering charge exploded, killing him instantly.
Of the 20 men trapped in the turret, four were killed by the explosion, and 10 others passed away from burns and the inhalation of flames and gases. Six others were severely injured, but survived. Boatswain's Mate Cholister died the day after the accident. For their exceptional valor, both Cholister and Henry were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Drexler was subsequently buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery. The destroyer Drexler (DD-741) was named in his honor.
Medal of Honor Citation
Rank and organization: Ensign, U.S. Navy. Born: 7 August 1901, Braddock, Pa. Accredited to: Pennsylvania. (Awarded by Special Act of Congress, 3 February 1933.) Other Navy award: Navy Cross. Citation: For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession on the occasion of a fire on board the U.S.S. Trenton. At 3:35 on the afternoon of 20 October 1924, while the Trenton was preparing to fire trial installation shots from the two 6-inch guns in the forward twin mount of that vessel, 2 charges of powder ignited. Twenty men were trapped in the twin mount. Four died almost immediately and 10 later from burns and inhalation of flame and gases. The 6 others were severely injured. Ens. Drexler, without thought of his own safety, on seeing that the charge of powder for the left gun was ignited, jumped for the right charge and endeavored to put it in the immersion tank. The left charge burst into flame and ignited the right charge before Ens. Drexler could accomplish his purpose. He met his death while making a supreme effort to save his shipmates.
"Burned to death when he threw his body on burning powder bags. He fell on the spot where he was making a supreme effort to save his shipmates. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."