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   WWI-Era  

 The Gillespie Plant Explosion
Recipients Of The
Navy Cross

(This listing is as complete as we are able to provide from numerous resources, however it is possible that a few recipients may not be listed.  You can verify if someone received the Navy Cross from this list, but absence of a name should NOT be construed to definitively negate a veteran's claim to this award.)

Statistics:


On October 4, 1918, building # 61 in the T. A. Gillespie Shell Loading Plant in Morgan, New Jersey exploded causing the evacuation of South Amboy. This particular plant was one of the largest facilities of its kind. At one time it provided 10% of the shells used at the front. These shells were stacked on open railroad cars and under floorboards at the facility. The 7:36 P.M. initial blast was followed by three days of subsequent blasts. Most houses in South Amboy suffered shattered windows, crumbling plaster walls and blown over chimneys. Damage was estimated at $18 million dollars.

To this day the cause remains unclear. Initial reports blamed the explosion on an accidental spark, company negligence and German sabotage. Sixty-four residents and employees died from the explosion.  

Twelve Coast Guardsmen received Navy Crosses for heroic actions in the 2-day period following the explosion. These heroes were stationed at Perth Amboy and quickly responded to deal with fires and the continuing explosions.  When fire threatened a trainload of TNT, some these men repaired the track and moved the train a safe distance to prevent further disaster.  Two Coast Guardsmen were killed in this heroic effort. In addition to those who earned Navy Crosses, other awards were presented to many of the men involved.

Name Rank/Rating Branch

Date of Action

Bennett, William S. Keeper USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Birkett, F. J. III Lieutenant USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Caveston, William F. Bugler USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Grimes, J. O. Seaman USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Hearon, Jesse G. Keeper USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Horton, Albert V. Quarter Master USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Noble, F. M. Master At Arms USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Ryan, H. J. Coxswain USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Stika, J. E. First Lieutenant USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Walsh, W. V. Seaman USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Wright, Charles L. Gunner USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918
Bennett, Clifford F. Ordinary Seaman USCG Oct 4 & 5, 1918

 

 

Full Text Citations

 

BENNETT, CLIFFORD F.
Ordinary Seaman, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Clifford F. Bennett, Ordinary Seaman, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the Gillespie shell-loading plant on Oct. 4 and 5, 1918. While the explosions were still continuing, Bennett drove a motor car on trip after trip through a barrage of flying shell splinters, carrying out the wounded and dead and carrying in guards. Although the door of his car was blown off and the car riddled, he persisted in his work throughout the night.

BENNETT, WILLIAM S.
Keeper, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to William S. Bennett, Keeper, U.S. Coast Guard, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service during the explosion and fire of the shell-loading plant Gillespie, at Morgan, N.J., October 4 to 5, 1918 Bennett remained in charge in a very dangerous zone with shell fragments flying in the vicinity, standing bravely at his post for hours and hours.

BIRKETT, FREDERICK J., III
Lieutenant, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Frederick J. Birkett, III, Lieutenant, U.S. Coast Guard, for heroic service in connection with the explosion of the shell-loading plant [T. A. Gillespie], Morgan, N.J., where he personally took charge of rescue work and continued throughout the night while under constant fire from a barrage of shell splinters.

CAVESTON, WILLIAM F.
Bugler, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to William F. Caveston, Bugler, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the T. A. Gillespie plant on Oct. 4 and 5, 1918, in moving a train of nine cars loaded with T.N.T. from the danger zone when it was not known at what moment further explosions might be expected.

GRIMES, JOHN O.
Seaman, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to John O. Grimes, Seaman, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the T. A. Gillespie plant on Oct. 4 and 5, 1918, in moving a train of nine cars loaded with T.N.T. from the danger zone when it was known at what moment further explosions might be expected.

HEARON, JESSE G.
Keeper, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Jesse G. Hearon, Keeper, U.S. Coast Guard, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service during the explosion and fire of the shell-loading plant Gillespie, at Morgan, N.J., October 4 to 5, 1918 Hearon remained in charge in a very dangerous zone with shell fragments flying in the vicinity, standing bravely at his post for hours and hours.

HORTON, ALBERT V.
Quarter Master, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Albert V. Horton, Quarter Master, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the T. A. Gillespie shell-loading plant on Oct. 4 and 5, 1918, in assisting in the removal from the danger zone of valuable carloads of high explosives within close proximity to exploding ammunition dumps.

NOBLE, FRANCES M.
Master At Arms, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Frances M. Noble, Master At Arms, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the T. A. Gillespie plant on Oct. 4 and 5, 1918, in moving a train of nine cars loaded with T.N.T. from the danger zone when it was known at what moment further explosions might be expected.

RYAN, HARRY J.
Coxswain, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Harry J. Ryan, Coxswain, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the T. A. Gillespie plant on October 4 and 5, 1918, in moving a train of nine cars loaded with T.N.T. from the danger zone when it was known at what moment further explosions might be expected.

STIKA, JOSEPH E.
First Lieutenant, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Joseph E. Stika, First Lieutenant, U.S. Coast Guard, for heroic conduct on the occasion of the fire at he shell-loading, Morgan, N.J., when, with others, he moved a train loaded with high explosives to a place of safety through an area where fire was liable to break out at any moment.
Birth: 9/21/1889 - Milwaukee, WI
Home Town: Kewaunee, WI

WALSH, WILLIAM V.
Seaman, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to William V. Walsh, Seaman, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the T. A. Gillespie plant on Oct. 4 and 5, 1918, in moving a train of nine cars loaded with T.N.T. from the danger zone when it was known at what moment further explosions might be expected.

WRIGHT, CHARLES L.
Gunner, U.S. Coast Guard
New York Division
Date of Action: October 4 & 5, 1918
Citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Charles L. Wright, Gunner, U.S. Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the occasion of the explosion of the T. A. Gillespie shell-loading plant on Oct. 4 and 5, 1918, in assisting in the removal from the danger zone of valuable carloads of high explosives within close proximity to exploding ammunition dumps.

Please Contact Us if you have further information on any of these awards.

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