NEWPORT, R.I. —
Gray skies above served as a solemn backdrop on May 23 as the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport paid tribute to employees who have died in the line of duty while in service to our country.
“As we build the Navy we need for our nation, the agility in our forces and our workforce, it’s very important to reflect on the civilians who lost their lives for our nation,” said Rear Adm. David Goggins, Program Executive Officer for Submarines, who was the principle speaker at the Memorial Day Remembrance ceremony. “They’re also warfighters, in my opinion, and have done a great service for our country.”
Goggins, NUWC Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Michael Coughlin and Technical Director Ron Vien were the featured guests at the event, which was attended by about 75 employees.
The ceremony began with Public Affairs Officer Jeffrey Prater explaining that NUWC is celebrating its 150th anniversary in July. He shared NUWC’s history and then talked about 34 individuals who have lost their lives in service to this installation and its predecessors.
Remarks from Coughlin and Goggins followed, and then the remembrance concluded with a wreath-laying ceremony by the featured guests while R.I. Army National Guard member Sgt. William Chilton played taps.
“I think back to President Abraham Lincoln delivering the now-famous Gettysburg Address in 1863, and a portion of that short but immortal speech reads: ‘We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives so this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this,’” Coughlin said. “It continues to be fitting and proper that we celebrate, once per year, the Americans that have given their lives in defense of our country and our way of life.”
Prater opened the remembrance by talking about the history of the monument. It was erected in 1930 at Government Landing in downtown Newport under the auspices of the Newport Metal Trades Council, but was later relocated to its current location.
“On May 27, 1966, a ceremony, with Frank Smith, president of the Local 119, International Association of Machinists presiding, marked the relocation of the station’s memorial from Government Landing to this flagpole area on what is now the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport,” Prater said before foraying into NUWC Newport’s roots.
The Naval Torpedo Station was established on Newport's Goat Island on July 29, 1869 with the mission of testing and development of both torpedoes and the parts required for production. One of the components was an explosive called gun cotton.
Tests conducted in Newport found this substance to be a suitable replacement for gunpowder in torpedo warheads, yet it was highly volatile and the substance cost Patrick H. Cremin his life in 1874.
After Petty Officer Adam Upleger tolled the bell in honor of Cremins, Prater noted that two new names recently were added to the monument. Through research for an internal monthly history column, in honor of NUWC Newport’s 150th anniversary, it was uncovered and later confirmed that Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin L. Edes and Lt. Lyman G. Spalding died in the line of duty in 1881.
Edes and Spalding were killed by the explosion of a torpedo because of mismanagement of an electrical switch on Aug. 29, 1881.
In 1882, the station was ordered to manufacture gun cotton for the Navy, and by 1884, a staff of five had produced 10,000 pounds of the material. The factory was wiped out on July 3, 1893, however, by an explosion caused by a fire that originated in the picked-cotton room.
Jeremiah Harrington, Franklin Loughlin and Michael O’Regan were killed by the explosion while attempting to fight the fire in the north end of the building. Ten other men were also injured in the blast.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare policy made development of antisubmarine warfare countermeasures the highest priority at the station. Torpedo research and development virtually ceased, while production of depth charges, aerial bombs and mines soared.
During this production process, though, an explosion occurred in the No. 2 workroom in January 1918. The affected area contained the daily allotment of detonators to be filled with fulminate of mercury.
Joe C. Andre, William G. Caswell, John H. Connolly, Timothy F. Fitzgerald, Joseph Frazier, George L. Giblin, Joseph G. Moitozo, John F. Murphy, Horace A. Pelletier, George H. Spooner, David J. Sullivan and Frank E. Wyatt were killed in the blast, and six more were injured. James Mahoney survived the explosion but later died as a result of his injuries.
Reginal S. King and Patrick F. Shea were killed in another explosion in May 1918, while James E. Babcock, Frank Mazzulla, Arthur M. Gardner, Ralph A. St. Denis, Alexander C. MacLellan and Fidele Arsenault all died while serving their country through the years.
On Tuesday, April 26, 1955, there was a “tremendous explosion” at the Naval Underwater Ordnance Station in Building 115. The blast occurred at about 11 a.m. in the Dynamometer Test Room, and is believed to have been caused by a high-pressure airline rupture while testing a high-energy monopropellant fuel, called Normal Propyl Nitrate, in a modified Mark 16 Mod 3 torpedo.
Peter J. Lada, John R. Lavender, Howard E. Staats Jr., Daniel J. Sullivan and Anthony Zimon were killed in the explosion that also injured five others.
In 1968, Randall J. Whitaker was nearing the end of a 33-year career, the last years as a mechanical engineer in the Engineering Assurance Branch, Design Approval Department, when the plane carrying him home from an assignment to Washington crashed. Whitaker was killed in the accident.
Also listed on the monument is Electricians Mate First Class (EM1) L.W. Fletcher, who died in the line of duty but no date is listed.
NUWC Division Newport, part of the Naval Sea System Command, is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Division Newport’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC’s other division is located in Keyport, Washington.