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First Name: William

Last Name: Calhoun

Birthplace: Palatka, FL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Lowndes

Date of Birth: 13 July 1884

Date of Death: 19 October 1963

Rank or Rate: Admiral

Years Served: 1906-1946
William Lowndes Calhoun

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1906

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


William Lowndes Calhoun
Admiral, U.S. Navy

William Lowndes Calhoun was born on 13 July 1884 in Palatka, FL, son of Benjamin Putnam and Julia Catherine Peterman Calhoun. He was a great-grandson of John Caldwell Calhoun, Vice President of the United States, from South Carolina (1782). He attended Palatka High School.

Naval Career

Calhoun was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from his native state of Florida in 1902. As a Midshipman he was a member of the Rifle Team. Graduated on 12 February 1906, he served the mandatory two years at sea, then required by law, and was commissioned as an Ensign on 12 February 1908.

Ordered first to the USS Chattanooga, on Asiatic Station, he remained aboard until November 1908, then reported to the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, for duty in the USS New Jersey. In May 1909 he was ordered to Puget Sound, WA, to join the USS Maryland, and served on board that armored cruiser until 1913, as Gunnery Officer for eighteen months, and for one month as Chief Engineer as additional duty. During that period the Maryland won the Gunnery Trophy and Battle Efficiency Pennant. In July 1913 he reported as Inspector of Ordnance of the Connecticut District, Watervliet Arsenal, West Troy, NY, and Lake Torpedo Boat Company, Bridgeport, CT; and in December 1914 was assigned additional duty as Inspector-Instructor of Naval Militia, Bridgeport and South Norwalk.

From August until December 1915, he had instruction in submarines on board the USS Columbia, USS Tonopah and USS Cheyenne, and qualified for command of submarines. He was then ordered to Long Beach, CA, to fit out the USS L-7, as Prospective Commanding Officer. When so assigned he had additional duty as Inspector of Machinery and Ordnance at Craig Shipbuilding Company, Long Beach, CA, and Works of Hall Scott Motor Company, West Berkeley, CA. As additional duty he also commanded the USS Farragut, was Inspector-Instructor of Naval Militia at Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and in June 1917 served as Acting Inspector of Machinery, Works of the California Shipbuilding at Long Beach, and as a member of the Joint Merchant Vessel Board, Twelfth Naval District Section, in San Francisco.

Detached from the USS L-7 on 6 December 1917, the day before she was placed in commission, he became Commander, Submarine Force Division ONE, US Atlantic Fleet, later designated Commander Submarine Flotilla ONE, Atlantic. In December 1918, after the Armistice, he was assigned additional duty as Commander Submarine Base and Naval Air Station, Coco Solo, Canal Zone. He assumed command when that base was commissioned in 1919, and that year was awarded the Victory Medal with Submarine Clasp. In April 1919 he had temporary duty with the Cruiser Force, US Fleet, and in May joined the USS Mississippi, in which he served as Gunnery Officer until December 1920. The Mississippi won the highest individual ship gunnery honors for the years 1919-1920.

In February 1921 he reported for duty in connection with fitting out the USS California as that battleship's Prospective Gunnery Officer. Before she was commissioned, however, he was assigned duty as Naval Inspector of Ordnance in Charge, Naval Ammunition Depot, Mare Island, CA, where he served from April 1921 to July 1923. He then assumed command of the USS Young, and was serving as her Commanding Officer when that destroyer went aground at Point Honda, CA, on 8 September 1923.

The Honda Point Disaster

The Honda Point Disaster was the U.S. Navy's largest peacetime loss of ships. On the evening of 8 September 1923, seven destroyers, traveling at 20 knots, ran aground at Honda Point (also called Point Pedernales), a few miles from the northern side of the Santa Barbara Channel off Point Arguello on the coast in Santa Barbara County, CA. Two other ships grounded, but were able to maneuver free of the rocks. Twenty-three sailors died in the disaster; 20 of them from Calhoun's destroyer, the USS Young.

The fourteen ships of Destroyer Squadron 11 (DESRON 11) were making their way south from San Francisco Bay to San Diego Bay in September of 1923. The squadron was led by Commodore Edward H. Watson, on the flagship destroyer USS Delphy. All were Clemson-class destroyers, less than five years old. The ships turned East to course 095, supposedly heading into the Santa Barbara Channel, at 21:00. At 2105, the Delphy - still steaming at 20 knots - ran hard aground off Honda Point, followed, in succession, by 6 other ships steaming in follow-the-leader fashion. Only quick action by the ships farthest astern prevented the total loss of the entire group.

The Young, however, became one of the casualties. Her hull was torn by a jagged pinnacle, but she also ran into the still revolving propellers of the Delphy, which did further damage to her hull. She swiftly capsized, heeling over on her starboard side within 90 seconds, trapping many of her engine and fire room personnel below. Lieutenant Commander William L. Calhoun, the Young's commanding officer, knew that there was no time to launch boats or rafts as the ship's list increased alarmingly following the grounding. For that reason, Calhoun passed word, through his executive officer, Lt. E. C. Herzinger, and Chief Boatswain's Mate Arthur Peterson, to make for the port side, to stick with the ship, and not to jump.

While the survivors clung to their precarious, oily, surf-battered refuge, Boatswain's Mate Peterson proposed to swim 100 yards to a rocky outcropping to the east known as Bridge Rock. Before he could do so the USS Chauncey (DD-296) luckily grounded between the Young and Bridge Rock, greatly shortening the escape route. The two ships were only about 75 yards apart.

Peterson dove into the sea and swam, with a line, through the surf to the nearby Chauncey. She was also aground but in a far better situation, as she remained on a comparatively even keel. The crew of Chauncey hauled Peterson aboard and made the line fast. Soon, a seven-man life raft from the Chauncey was on its way to Young as a makeshift ferry. The raft ultimately made 11 trips bringing the 70 Young survivors to safety. By 2330, the last men of the crew were on board Chauncey; at that point, Lt. Cmdr. Calhoun and Lt. Herzinger (the latter having returned to the ship after having been in the first raft across) left the Young's battered hull.

In the subsequent investigation of the disaster, the ensuing Court of Inquiry and General Court Martial rendered a verdict of "Fully acquitted." Calhoun was awarded a Letter of Commendation by the Secretary of the Navy which included the following statement: "His coolness, intelligence and seaman-like ability shown after the vessel under his command stranded, was the outstanding feature of the disaster. Every member of the crew who reached the beach owed his life to Commander Calhoun." Boatswain's Mate Peterson was also cited for his "extraordinary heroism" in swimming through the turbulent seas with a line to the Chauncey; Lt. Herzinger drew praise for his "especially meritorious conduct" in helping to save the majority of the ship's crew. Rear Admiral S. E. W. Kittelle, Commander, Destroyer Squadrons, subsequently cited Lt. Cmdr. Calhoun's display of leadership and personality that saved "three-quarters of the crew of the Young" and Lt. Herzinger for his "coolness and great assistance in the face of grave danger."

In December 1923, following temporary duty in the USS Melville, he reported to the battleship USS Maryland, commissioned in 1921. He served as her Navigator until June 1925, when he was detached at Honolulu, T.H., and then returned to the U.S. for a second tour of duty as Naval Inspector of Ordnance in Charge, Naval Ammunition Depot, Mare Island. He next served as Commander Division 31, Destroyer Divisions, Battle Fleet, his pennant in the USS Farragut. That Division won the Battle Efficiency Pennant in 1928, and for continued battle efficiency attained while he was in command, June 1927 to June 1929, he received Letters of Commendation from President Calvin Coolidge and Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur.

Completing the senior course at the Naval War College, Newport, RI, in May 1930, he served from June of that year until February 1932 as Head of the Department of Navigation at the Naval Academy. He then returned to sea as Commanding Officer of the USS Rochester, and from July 1933 until July 1934 served as Chief of Staff to Commander Base Force, US Fleet, reporting to Headquarters, Eleventh Naval District, San Diego, CA, for his next tour of duty. On 5 June 1937, he assumed command of the USS California, which he had assisted in fitting out in 1921. He remained in that command until January 1938, when he was designated Chief of Staff and Aide to Commander Battleships, Battle Force. In November 1938 he was commissioned Rear Admiral.

From 1937-39 he served as Commanding Officer of the battleship USS California. He attended the advanced course at the Naval War College for six months, and on 27 December 1939, became Commander Base Force, US Fleet, re-designated Base Force, Pacific Fleet, in February 1941. From August of that year until February 1942 he had additional duty as Commander Train Squadron 2. On 27 February 1942, he became Commander Service Force, US Pacific Fleet, with the accompanying rank of Vice Admiral, and served in that capacity until March 1945. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit, with citations, in part, to follow:

Distinguished Service Medal: "For exceptionally meritorious service...as Commander Base Force and Commander Service Force, US Pacific Fleet, in connection with operations against the enemy in the Pacific War Area from December 1939 to February 1945. Charged with logistical support of the Pacific Fleet and Naval shore-based establishments in the Pacific Ocean Area, (he) applied keen intelligence and resourceful initiative to the complexities of his assignment and, working with tireless energy, planned and organized a greatly enlarged service of supply which enabled him to provide personnel, provisions, fuel and ammunition for all fleet operations and thereby accommodate the vital needs of our constantly increasing Naval forces in this strategic theater of war with remarkable expediency..."

Legion of Merit: "For exceptionally meritorious conduct...while attached temporarily to the Staff of Commander South Pacific, during the period 18 October to December 1942...(He) was instrumental in initiating and establishing the logistic supply system for the South Pacific Forces...in the face of most difficult transportation problems and concurrent combat reactions..."

This excerpt from an article in the 14 September 1942 issue of TIME magazine offers insight into Calhoun's sense of humor. In speaking of the Pearl Harbor attack it said:

"In Honolulu last Dec. 7 Vice Admiral William Lowndes Calhoun broke a standing routine. For once he missed Sunday morning church services. Instead he found himself among officers who were directing streams of yellow obscenities at the raiders overhead. "Gentlemen," he said, "you mustn't address those fellows that way. After all, they are just fighting for their country the way we must for ours." All jaws dropped. Turning his face upward, Calhoun added meditatively, "Yes, the dirty, yellow-bellied sons of bitches."

The aforementioned TIME article was titled: Army & Navy - NAVY: Calhoun of SerFor. The article did an excellent job of explaining - in simple terms - the important job the Vice Admiral did for the Navy, so that information is provided here, verbatim.

"The Japs were just bombing Billy Calhoun into his biggest job. That job is one of the most manifold, complicated and far-extended jobs in the Navy. For Calhoun, as Commander of the Pacific Fleet Service Force, provides everything needed to keep the Navy running everywhere in the Pacific. As he puts it: 'We handle everything under the shining sun for the Navy and Marines which is not actually connected with fighting the ships.'" The chief duties of SerFor are:

"To provide for every ship and base fuel, food, shells, radios, detecting equipment, chewing gum, bosun's pipes-everything for existence, everything for fighting. (To insure deliveries Calhoun commands fighting ships assigned to escort convoys.)"

"To maintain every ship and shore installation at advance bases: repairing and altering damaged ships, airfields, hangars, oil tanks, barracks, docks."

"To anticipate repairs and replacements and be ready to provide them every time a task force returns."

"To deliver all the equipment that invasion forces may require-entrenching tools, materials for emergency airfields, medicines for insect bites."

"To deliver the mail everywhere in the Pacific to the fleet and the Marine Corps."

"To refuel and resupply ships at sea."

"To have hospital ships ready during every action to snatch serious cases from the sick bays of the warships, and be ready to land complete mobile hospitals."

"To put ashore a police force to maintain order in any captured hostile area."

"After every action, as ships steam toward their base, they are boarded at sea by Serfor men. Swinging aboard like advance agents of ship chandlers, they find out what is needed, are ready to service the ship the minute she anchors or docks."

"Battles will be won and battles will be lost and SerFor will be heard of no more in the future than it has in the past. But when the Japs are beaten across the great reaches of the Pacific, the victory will belong no less to the outfit which delivered the groceries, the ammunition and the fuel than to the fighting forces."

From 6 March to October 1945 he served as Commander, South Pacific Force and Area, and was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Legion of Merit for outstanding services and skill in the performance of his duties. The citation states that he was "instrumental in promptly initiating and administering efficient measures for moving personnel and supplies forward from the South Pacific Area into the more advanced combat areas...resulting in the acceleration of the campaign in the Central Pacific..."

Returning to the U.S. in October 1945, he had temporary duty in the Office of the Inspector General, Navy Department, and in February 1946 reported to Commander Western Sea Frontier for duty as General Inspector for that area. In April 1946 he was ordered relieved of all active duty and, following a period of leave, was transferred to the Retired List after forty-four years of active Naval Service.

On 14 January 1954, Calhoun was given a combat promotion to Admiral, USN, Retired, with his commission dated 7 August 1947. Fleet Admiral Chester. W. Nimitz flew from Berkeley. CA, to Coronado, CA, to make personal delivery of this commission at the Naval Air Station, San Diego.

Medals and Awards

Navy Distinguished Service Medal (2 Awards)
Legion of Merit with Combat 'Valor" Device (2 Awards)
Nicaraguan Campaign Medal
World War I Victory Medal
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Stars
World War II Victory Medal

Personal Life

On 10 February 1946, Calhoun married Rosalio Oneschuk of Milford, MA, ex-First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Rosalio served from June 1943 to August 1945 in the South Pacific Force, at 8th Army General Hospital, Dumbea, New Caledonia. They had two sons and a daughter. He had two sons by a former marriage.

Death and Burial

Admiral William Lowndes Calhoun died on 19 October 1963. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA.

A Last Personal Note

In 1939, Calhoun visited his home town of Palatka, FL. And, as the state's only Admiral son, they gave him a big picnic. The Mayor eloquently praised Calhoun as Palatka's first citizen, greatest man, etc. (Lieut. General Joseph Stilwell. U.S. Commander in China, also a Palatka son, had not yet gained fame.) As Bill Calhoun listened to the Mayor he began rocking with laughter. "Why are you laughing, Willie?" the Mayor asked. "When I was last here," Calhoun chuckled, "your old lady was my schoolteacher.' When I went away she said, 'Willie Calhoun, you'll never amount to anything!' "

The mayor's wife was wrong, Willie.

Honoree ID: 473   Created by: MHOH




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