Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II

Father Thomas Michael Conway

(Much of the information contained in this post was taken from a post on Father Conway written by Bill Millhome.  Go here to read his post.)

Early this year the Navy rejected efforts to have Father Thomas Michael Conway awarded the Navy Cross.  I would be angrier at this injustice if I was not certain that the Chaplain had not been awarded the ultimate blessing of sainthood and the Beatific Vision immediately after his heroic death in shark infested waters at the tail end of World War II.

Born on April 5, 1908 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he was the oldest of three children of his Irish immigrant parents.  Ordained a priest in 1934 he served as a priest in various parishes in Buffalo, New York.  His main leisure activities was sailing a boat on Lake Erie.  On September 17, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned as a chaplain.

On August 25, 1944 he was assigned to the cruiser USS Indianapolis as a chaplain.

July 29, 1945 was a Sunday, and the Chaplain had said Mass for the Catholic sailors, and conducted a service for the Protestant sailors.  Fourteen minutes past midnight two torpedoes fired by the Japanese sub I-58 ripped into the starboard bow of the Indianapolis.  The ship sank in twelve minutes, taking 300 men to the bottom with it.  Nine hundred sailors, including the chaplain, were adrift in the pitch black shark infested waters.

Frank J. Centazzo, one of the 317 survivors of this ordeal, recalled what the Chaplain did, as he swam from group to group, tending the wounded, leading the men in prayer and giving the  Last Rites to sailors beyond all human aid:

“Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates. I was in the group with Father Conway. … I saw him go from one small group to another. Getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness. He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again. Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he finally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remembered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the ‘Indy’ and especially three days in the ocean.” (more…)

Published in: on August 4, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II  
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General John Glover and His Marbleheaders

A good argument can be made that but for the presence of John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment in the American Revolution, the War might well have been lost.

Born on November 5, 1732, Glover grew up in poverty in Marblehead, Massachusetts, after the death of his carpenter father when Glover was 4 years old.  Glover became a cordwainer and rum trader, working his way up to become a merchant and a ship owner.  Elected to the Marblehead Committee of Correspondence following the Boston massacre, Glover’s political sympathies were firmly allied with the patriot cause.  A member of the  Marblehead militia since 1759, with the coming of the War Colonel Glover marched the Marblehead militia, Almost all fishermen, to the siege of Boston in April 1775.

While active on land in the fight for independence, Glover was also active on the sea.  General Washington commissioned Glover’s schooner Hannah, to raid British supply vessels.  The Hannah is considered to be the first ship of the US Navy.

The Marblehead militia regiment joined the Continental Army, becoming the 14th Continental regiment.

In 1776, Glover and his “amphibious regiment”, as it was called, saved the army after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Long Island, by ferrying it to Manhattan in a nighttime operation.  On land throughout the New York campaign the regiment fought fiercely in every engagement.  It capped its service by ferrying the Army across the Delaware on Christmas 1776 to attack the Hessians at Trenton. (more…)

Published in: on December 26, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on General John Glover and His Marbleheaders  
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March 21, 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh Enlists in the Navy


A bit of naval history was made a hundred years ago when twenty year old Loretta Perfectus Walsh enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman F, becoming the first woman to be a member of the US military.  Some 13,000 women would serve in the Navy as Yeomen, or Yeomanettes as they were often unofficially called,  during World War I as clerical personnel, freeing up men for sea duty.  Walsh served her four year tour and tragically died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1925.  She was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery in Olyphant, Pennsylvania.  Her tombstone bears the following inscription:

Loretta Perfectus Walsh
April 22, 1896–August 6, 1925
Woman and Patriot
First of those enrolled in the United States Naval Service
World War 1917–1919
Her comrades dedicate this monument
to keep alive forever
memories of the sacrifice and devotion of womanhood


Published in: on March 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 21, 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh Enlists in the Navy  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Pius VII



“The American commander, with a small force, and in a short space of time, has done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages”.

The above comment of Pius VII was in regard to Commodore Edward Preble, commander of the American naval squadron that humbled the power of the Barbary States that had for centuries sent forth pirates to prey upon Christian commerce in the Mediterranean, the white captives being held for ransom, or sold at a handsome profit in the slave marts of the Arab world.  The first of two wars fought by America against these pirate principalities, the First Barbary War, 1801-1805, established that the United States Navy, although tiny by European standards, was highly professional, with an officer corps filled with “Salamanders”, men who were quite willing to seek out hot enemy fire to accomplish their missions.  The Marine Corps Hymn recalls “the shores of Tripoli”, where eight Marines, after a 600 mile forced march, led 500 mercenaries to victory in an all out attack, seizing the key city of Derna in Cyrenaica, an astounding, near miraculous victory. (more…)

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Pius VII  
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June 25, 1864-Diary of Gideon Welles



Called Neptune by President Lincoln, Gideon Welles was perhaps the most effective Secretary of the Navy the nation had, as he oversaw the expansion of the United States Navy from a miniscule force into a force of 84,000 men and more than six hundred ships, the largest fleet in the world in 1865.  His three volumes of diary entries from 1861-1869 are an invaluable source for a behind the scenes look at the Lincoln cabinet.  Welles was not afraid to put down on paper his opinion of the men and events of his time in blunt prose.  Here is his entry for June 25, 1864:

June 25, Saturday. There are some blunders in the finding of the court in Scofield’s case that I do not like. I telegraphed to Wilson, Judge-Advocate, to come here for consultation and explanation, but a telegram just received says he is unable from indisposition.

            The Treasury management is terrible, ruinous. Navy  requisitions are wantonly withheld for weeks, to the ruin of the contractor. In the end the government will suffer greatly, for persons will not under these ruinous delays deal with the government at ordinary current rates. The pay of the sailors and workmen is delayed until they are almost mutinous and riotous. There is no justifiable excuse for this neglect. But Mr. Chase, having committed blunders in his issues, is now desirous of retiring certain paper, and avails himself of funds of creditors on naval account to accomplish this. It is most unjust. The money honestly due to government creditors should not be withheld for Treasury schemes, or to retrieve its mistakes.

            I am daily more dissatisfied with the Treasury management. Everything is growing worse. Chase, though a man of mark, has not the sagacity, knowledge, taste, or ability of a financier. Has expedients, and will break down the government. There is no one to check him. The President has surrendered the finances to his management entirely. Other members of the Cabinet are not consulted. Any dissent from, or doubts even, of his measures is considered as a declaration of hostility and an embarrassment of his administration. I believe I am the only one who has expressed opinions that questioned his policy, and that expression was mild and kindly uttered. Blair said about as much and both [he and I] were lectured by Chase. But he knew not then, nor does he know now, the elementary principles of finance and currency. Congress surrenders to his capricious and superficial qualities as pliantly as the President and the Cabinet. If they do not legalize his projects, the Treasury is to be closed, and under a threat, or something approaching a threat, his schemes are sanctioned, and laws are made to carry them into effect; but woe awaits the country in consequence.

The diaries are available online from google books and they are well worth the time to read for any Civil War scholar.


Published in: on June 25, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 25, 1864-Diary of Gideon Welles  
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Anchors Aweigh

Something for the weekend.  Anchors Aweigh.  The fight song of the United States Naval Academy, it was composed in 1906 with music by Charles A. Zimmerman and lyrics by Alfred Hart Miles.  Universally regarded as the song of the United States Navy, it has never been officially adopted, although that has not stopped it being loved by most of the sailors who have served in Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club. (more…)

Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Happy Birthday Swabbies!

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.

Captain John Paul Jones, November 16, 1778

Something for the weekend.  Eternal Father a/k/a The Navy Hymn.  I can think of no better song as I wish a belated Happy Birthday to the United States Navy.

Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.

That a Committee of three be appointed to prepare an estimate of the expence, and lay the same before the Congress, and to contract with proper persons to fit out the vessel.

Resolved, that another vessel be fitted out for the same purposes, and that the said committee report their opinion of a proper vessel, and also an estimate of the expence.”

Continental Congress, October 13, 1775

Published in: on October 19, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Happy Birthday Swabbies!  
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“We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours”

A guest post by my friend Jay Anderson of Pro Ecclesia:

Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie by Currier and Ives.

On this day 200 years ago – 10 September 1813, Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry, United States Navy, won a resounding victory over a British fleet near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812:

At dawn on the morning of September 10, 1813, a lookout spotted six  British vessels to the northwest of Put-in-Bay beyond Rattlesnake  Island. Immediately Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry issued a  flurry of orders and made preparations to sail forth to engage the  British.   

Oliver Hazard Perry by Gilbert Stuart

With Perry’s fleet on Lake Erie the British supply route from Fort  Malden to Port Dover had been severed. The British had to either fight,  or abandon Fort Malden. The British squadron consisted of six ships with sixty-three cannons, while the American flotilla comprised nine vessels and fifty-four guns. The British were armed with long guns that could  throw a cannonball approximately one mile, accurately to about one-half  mile. The American ships primarily armed with carronades had less than  half the range of a long gun. The carronades could inflict much more  damage at close range. Perry needed the wind to his back to close within carronade range. When the squadron sailed from Put-in-Bay harbor at 7 a.m. the American  vessels were steering west-northwest; the wind was blowing from the  west-southwest. For more than two hours Perry repeatedly tacks his ships in an effort to put the wind to his back, but with no success. The  frustrated Perry, conceded to mother nature at 10 a.m., issuing orders  to turn his fleet in the opposite direction. But before the order could  be executed the wind suddenly shifted and blew from the southeast,  placing the wind directly behind the Americans. Perry’s opponent, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay, was an experienced  Royal Navy officer who had fought with Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, and two years later he lost an arm fighting the French. Barclay’s  options did not alter when the wind shifted, so the Scotsman pointed his bow sprits to the westward, and hove to in line of battle. With the wind at his back and the British battle line finally revealed,  Perry made his own tactical adjustments. The Schooners Ariel and  Scorpion were placed off the flagship’s weather bow to engage the first  British vessel and to prevent the enemy from raking his fleet. The  Lawrence, a 20-gun brig serving as Perry’s flagship, was third in line  and would engage the Detroit, Barclay’s 19-gun flagship. Next in line  floated the Caledonia, a small brig with only three guns. Fifth in the  American line of battle was the Niagara, Perry’s other 20-gun brig and  the Lawrence’s sistership. The Niagara, captained by Master Commandant Jesse Elliott, would engage  the 17-gun Queen Charlotte, the second largest British ship. Lastly came the smaller schooners and sloop; these would engage the smaller British vessels. Just before the engagement opened Perry hoisted his battle flag to the  flagship’s main truck. The large navy blue banner was emblazoned with  the crudely inscribed words, “DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP”. For his battle  slogan Perry used the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, a friend of the commodore who was killed on June 1, 1813. Perry’s flagship was  named for the fallen Lawrence, and the dead hero’s inspiring words  clearly indicated Perry’s determination to prevail.

Perry’s Battle Flag, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”
U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, MD (more…)
Published in: on October 2, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on “We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours”  
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April 22, 1863: Farragut Complains of New Uniforms

Admiral Farragut

Admiral Farragut throughout his career was fairly outspoken, and on April 22, 1863 he sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox.  Among other topics, Farragut expressed his dislike for the new uniforms for naval officers.  Farragut had served in the Navy for 53 years by 1863, beginning his career as a nine-year old midshipman in 1810 and seeing combat duty in the War of 1812.  Over a half century he had seen many changes in the uniforms of the Navy, and no doubt he was simply sick of what he clearly viewed as frequent and unnecessary changes:

Pray do not let those officers at Washington be changing our uniform every week or two.  I think there should have been but one change made.  As you made a new grade it would have been but right to make a uniform of it, and I wish that uniform [for Rear Admiral] had been simply a broad stripe of lace on the cuff say an inch and a quarter wide with a narrow stripe of a quarter of an inch above it, and a little rosette with a silver star in the centre. The star is the designation of the Admiral and therefore should be visible.  The other uniforms were all well enough but this adding stripes until they reach a man’s elbow, appears to me to be a great error .   In the first place you must count the stripes to ascertain the officer’s rank, which at any distance is almost impossible, and I presume the objects of uniforms are principally for the purpose of recognizing the grades in order to pay the honor due on all official occasions.  It appears to me, however, that the object of the present change of uniform is to blend the grades as much as possible;  or, in other words, to avoid distinctions.  If such is the case, bring us down to the simple blue coat with navy buttons;  but if the grade is to be marked, let it be distinct and unmistakable.  (more…)

Published in: on April 22, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 22, 1863: Farragut Complains of New Uniforms  
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April 7, 1863: First Battle of Chaleston Harbor

Fort Sumter

For a brief period in the Civil War it was commonly thought that ironclads were such a revolutionary feature in naval and amphibious warfare that their mere presence ensured victory.  That period ended abruptly with the first battle of Charleston Harbor on April 7, 1863.  Throughout the War Charleston was the great white whale for the Union, not only as an important port, but also the gem of South Carolina, the home of secession.  Charleston would not fall until February 18, 1865 as a result of Sherman’s march through South Carolina, by which time the War was irrevocably lost in any case.  The siege of Charleston lasted 567 days, and is the epic American siege of our history.

Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont had seven monitors under his command.  He did not share the assumptions of his superiors that the monitors, along with two additional ironclads, could batter the forts and batteries that ringed Charleston Harbor into submission.  Dupont’s doubts quickly were found to be accurate.  Two hours of bombardment did not enable the Union fleet to penetrate the first line of Confederate defenses.  Realizing he was getting nowhere, Dupont withdrew.  USS Keokuk sank that evening.  Casualties were slight:  1 killed and 21 wounded for the Union and 5 killed and 8 wounded for the Confederates.  Dupont and his captains decided not to renew the attack the next day.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was appalled, and Dupont was relieved from command on July 5, 1863.  This section of a dispatch from a New York Times correspondent with the fleet, captures well the air of unreality of this attack: (more…)