Valor Friday

| February 10, 2023

Richmond Pearson Hobson

Richmond Hobson was born in Alabama in 1870. He was the nephew and namesake of Congressman Richmond Pearson, nephew of North Carolina Governor Daniel Gould Fowle, and grandson of Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Richmond Mumford Pearson (his other namesake).

Hobson attended the US Naval Academy. At Annapolis, he was not popular with his fellow midshipmen as he was a teetotaller. Apparently the Middies didn’t like a man who refused to drink or smoke. Despite this, he graduated first in the Class of 1889. He also held the highest cadet rank of cadet battalion commander (today’s brigade commander).

After his commissioning into the Navy, Hobson served as an assistant Naval Constructor. His duties as a shipwright took him to several bases and navy yards. He even did a tour as an instructor at Annapolis.

In 1898, after the explosion and sinking of USS Maine in Cuba, the country went to war with Spain. In the early days of the conflict, Hobson was with Admiral William T Sampson in New York City. Sampson’s victory at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba during the war would, along with his contemporary Admiral George Dewey, propel him to national fame and recognition.

Hobson arrived with Sampson in Cuba on 1 June 1898. Two days later, Hobson would attempt a dangerous mission to

Hobson was in temporary command of USS Merrimac, a collier ship. In the hours before dawn on 3 June 1898, Hobson volunteered to lead a skeleton crew of seven other men to sink Merrimac in the mouth of the harbor. This would strand all of the Spanish ships, preventing their escape and ability to maneuver.

As the coal ship came near the harbor, Spanish coastal defense howitzers rained shells down on the American vessel. Coming near the place where they were to scuttle, the steering gear of Merrimac was disabled.

Hobson still attempted, through the heavy enemy fire, to get his ship into the mouth of the harbor. Through a combination of his scuttling and concentrated fire from the Spanish armored cruiser Vizcaya, the unprotected cruiser Reina Mercedes, and the destroyer Plutón. The ship came to rest without obstructing the harbor.

Hobson and his men escaped the wreck of their ship only to be captured by the Spanish fleet’s commanding officer Admiral Cervera himself. Interestingly, when the Spanish fleet was destroyed only hours later, Cervera would be taken prisoner (along with nearly 1,900 of his sailors) after being rescued from the water during the Battle of Santiago de Cuba a month later.

Both sides treated their prisoners with honor and dignity. Back home, the bravery of Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Hobson’s voluntarily leading a suicide mission and subsequent imprisonment meant he was labeled a hero. His picture adorned newspapers. Some of the articles needlessly embellished what is an obvious act of heroism.

Hobson was released in a prisoner exchange a month later. By this time his story had spread enough that hundreds of American troops snapped to attention and then cheered him as he walked past.

The exchange took place a few days after the 3 July 1898 Battle of Santiago de Cuba. The battle itself was a resounding and decisive victory for the American fleet and ensured an eventual victory on the island. The Americans outnumbered and outgunned the Spanish fleet. They sunk all of the enemy vessels, with the loss of only one American ship and minimal casualties.

Hobson’s men all received the Medal of Honor in 1899 for their valiant service aboard Merrimac at Santiago. At the time, though the Medal of Honor was authorized for Army officers and enlisted men, in the Department of the Navy, it was only an enlisted award. This wouldn’t change until 1915.

Hobson, in 1933 was awarded the Medal of Honor by special Act of Congress. His award is, near as I can find, the first by date of action awarded to a naval officer.

Upon his return to the States, Hobson was inundated with speaking requests. He dined with President McKinley, then traveled by train across the country. His train was greeted by throngs of people at many of the stations along the way. He was noted for kissing any young ladies that showed him adoration, making Hobson something of a Victorian sex symbol. He was referred to as “the most kissed man in America.”

In 1899 he wrote a book on his actions aboard Merrimac. He was advanced ten places on the promotion list, receiving a full lieutenant’s promotion with date of rank to 23 June 1898 (a time when he was still a Spanish prisoner of war). By 1902 he was promoted to captain with the same date of rank.

Hobson’s assignments after the war saw him refitting Spanish cruisers at Navy shore installations and as far away as Cavite, Philippines. Hobson attempted to retire in 1903. Having only 14 years in service, he was rebuked. Instead he resigned his commission, which caused the Secretary of the Navy to reconsider and allow him to be placed on the retired list.

Hobson returned to Alabama, where he was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1907, serving until 1915. He was a staunch supporter of the US Navy during and after his political career. A Democrat, he was the only Southern Democrat to vote in favor of women’s suffrage in 1915.

During his time in Congress, and more after leaving office, he was an ardent supporter of Prohibition. His push on the topic started in the Philippine-American War, to crack down on the drug trade from the far east. He was such a leader in the Prohibition movement that he became known as “The Father of American Prohibition.”

In 1913 he led a large prohibition march in D.C. Then in 1914 he introduced the bill that would become the 18th Amendment, the Prohibition amendment. While Prohibition didn’t work, he continued to advance the cause for the rest of his days.

In 1934, Hobson was advanced to rear admiral on the retired list by another special Act of Congress. He died in 1937 at the age of 66 in New York City.

The World War II Greaves-class destroyer USS Hobson (DD-464) was named in his honor when she was laid down in 1940. At Hobson’s launch in 1941 his widow, Grizelda, sponsored the ship.

On the topic of his wife, when the Hobsons were married, the best man was, as is tradition, a very close friend. The best man’s name will be familiar. Nikola Tesla stood up for Hobson on the day of his nuptials. In their later years, Hobson was the only man who could talk Tesla out of his intellectual pursuits to go see a movie.

Edouard Victor Michel Izac

Edouard Izac’s story is an interesting one. Born in 1891 in Iowa, he attended the US Naval Academy in 1915. The youngest of nine children, his father had emigrated from Alsace-Lorraine in 1852 during political instability during the coup led by Napoleon III. His mother was the child of German immigrants. As such, Izac learned to speak German fluently. He also learned to speak French. Izac’s father’s name, on his immigration forms, was changed to “Isaacs.” All of Edouard’s siblings adopted that spelling, but he elected to retain the original. Some sources list his name with the alternate spelling.

While not a stellar student at Annapolis, Izac did meet Agnes Cabell. Agnes was the daughter of Major General General DeRosey Caroll Cabell, a US Army officer on the staff of General Pershing during the Pancho Villa Expedition. Izac and Agnes were married the day after his graduation from the USNA.

After his commissioning, Izac was assigned to the battleship USS Florida (BB-30). When the US joined the Great War in 1917 he asked for a transfer to the transport service. By this time he’d been promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) and his first child was born.

From July 1917, Izac was assigned to the transport ship USS President Lincoln. Initially helping to oversee its transformation from a civilian liner to a troop ship, they soon started to ferry men from America to the war in France.

Izac was the ship’s executive officer by the time they finished their fifth mission on 23 May 1918. Six days later they left Brest, France to sail back to New York. The four troop ships lost their destroyer escort the next day, leaving them to transit the U-boat infested waters of the North Atlantic alone.

On 31 May, the convoy spotted a German U-boat. They attempted to evade the submarine, but were unsuccessful. Within a couple of hours the Kaiser’s ship had fired three torpedoes at President Lincoln, striking her all three times. They were 600 miles off France.

The stricken ship was struck just before 0900 hours, and President Lincoln’s captain ordered her abandoned at 0915. As the men fled the ship, she listed to starboard and sank beneath the water at 0930. Miraculously, she took only 26 men with her from the crew of 700 men.

President Lincoln’s crew were in their lifeboats. Policy at the time saw the remaining ships of the convoy sail on to a safe distance, and to return when the threat of further enemy attack was gone.

Among the stranded sailors’ boats, the German sub U-90 surfaced. The U-boat’s skipper attempted to find the captain of the ship he’d just sunk, to take him as prisoner. Unable to locate him, the Germans took Izac instead, having recognized his officer’s insignia. Izac, for his part, lied to the Germans that the captain had gone down with the ship.

The Germans locked Izac in a room on the sub as they dove 200ft underwater to avoid depth charges from an American destroyer that had now arrived to avenge President Lincoln.

Izac remembers being treated well by his captors. He dined with the ship’s officers and played bridge and other card games. During conversation he was able to determine the political opinions of some of the crew, capturing a snapshot of German naval morale among the rank and file. He also learned that the conditions of service aboard the U-boats were generally superior to other postings.

Izac, you’ll recall being well-versed in German, never lot on to that fact. The crew was only too happy to assume he only spoke English, and he did not want to assuage them of that belief. As such, he was able to observe and listen, gaining valuable intelligence on the operation of German fleet submarines.

He even got maps and binoculars from the crew. This enabled him to plot the route they were taking, which they did to avoid minefields and patrols. Izac also found they used a rendezvous point near Denmark. He also learned about an island the U-boat crews would land at to poach mutton.

It was during this time that Izac’s first attempt to escape was thwarted. Arriving in Keil, Germany, he was ferried to a prison camp in Karlsruhe. He attempted another unsuccessful escape there.

Four weeks later, while being transported to a different camp by rail, Izac attempted a third escape. This time, he dove head first out of the window of the rail car, as it was going about 40 miles per hour. As you can imagine, his landing was less than graceful. He struck his head and knees on the rail track, was promptly caught, and was severely beaten by his captors. After all that, they made him run the remaining five miles to the prison camp as penance.

Arriving at the second camp, Izac’s injuries kept him bed-ridden for three weeks, after which he was sentenced to two weeks of solitary confinement. His knees were so badly damaged that he couldn’t bend them for two months. By the end of his time in solitary, Izac had lost 30 pounds and was down to just 120 pounds.

During his recapture on the train, one of the guards beat Izac with a rifle so hard he broke the weapon. The soldier was court martialed for destruction of military property. Post-war, Izac sued for damages related to the incident and was awarded $27,000 (roughly worth $400k today).

Conditions in the German camps were poor, especially this late in the war. Despite this, Izac was determined to escape. He built up his strength and stamina with weightlifting, walking, and running.

Unbeknownst to the prisoners, the war was coming to its conclusion. Only a month before the end of hostilities, Izac and a group of American prisoners succeeded in staging a mass escape from the camp. On the night of 6 October, they cut power to the camp. Dressed as German guards, they just walked right out.

Izac’s award citation says that he made his escape by passing through the barbed wire fence, then drawing enemy guard machine gun fire so that others could escape. Either way, it took balls to even make the attempt. The last time he’d tried to escape he nearly died (in more than one way).

Izac paired with Harold Buckley Willis. Willis was an American aviator serving with the famed Lafayette Escadrille. Willis had even designed the instantly recognizable insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille, a bust of Chief Sitting Bull. His path to the POW camp started when he volunteered to be a civilian ambulance driver in Paris. From there he was recruited to be a French fighter pilot in the all-American unit. He was twice cited for valor in combat, once as an ambulance driver and once as a pilot.

Izac and Willis, in an attempt to evade pursuit from guard dogs, took a roundabout trip through the Black Forest, headed towards Switzerland. They followed a rail line before crossing the Rhine River on 13 October, and arriving in neutral territory. They made the crossing at night, but passed German sentries guarding the border. Though only 18 miles from the camp, they’d traveled 120 miles.

The men were brought to the US Consulate, given money with which to travel to Paris, and from there Izac went back to London. After meeting with Admiral William Sims (commanding officer of all US naval forces in Europe), he returned to the US, arriving home on 11 November 1918, Armistice Day.

Willis would return to the US as well. During World War II, he volunteered for service with the US Army Air Forces. Commissioned a major, he saw active service in North Africa, England, and France. He finished the war as a colonel.

On his return to America, Izac was hailed as a hero. Promoted to lieutenant commander, he served as director of munitions at the D.C. Naval Yard. In 1920, he received the Medal of Honor for his conduct as a prisoner from Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt. The two men would become friends.

Izac would soon be forced to retire from the Navy due to the severity of his war wounds. Surviving on a meager pension, Izac and his family lived with his father-in-law in San Diego. He found work, until the market crash of 1929, as a freelance news writer. After losing that job he briefly moved his family to rural France before returning to San Diego in 1931.

Izac then went into politics. In 1934 he stood for election to Congress (having won the nomination of both the Democratic and Progressive Parties) but lost in the general election.

Up until now, Izac had shunned using his war record and the Medal of Honor. Both in his personal life and professional life, he didn’t want to be known only for his wartime heroism. In 1936 though, he shifted his tune.

At campaign rallies, Izac animatedly retold the story of his capture and escape. A supporter of the New Deal, he tied his campaign to his friend FDR, now President of the United States. He ran on a platform of neutrality, support for veterans, and wanted to boost military spending in the San Diego area.

His strategy worked, he won the election this time. As a member of the House of Representatives, he fought for veterans issues, and advocated a position of non-interventionism in the coming European war.

Izac had his name floated for higher positions, such as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but he publicly rebuked the suggestion, saying he wanted to remain in Congress. He eventually became the chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee during World War II. From this position he played a role in the defense of the Pacific Coast and questioned Army General John DeWitt on the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Izac’s liberal positions started to draw negative attention from his native San Diego press. As a result, while he won re-election, he won by slimmer majorities. By the 1942 election, the count was so close that a winner wasn’t decided until the absentee ballots were tallied.

He won re-election in 1944, and in 1945 was one of 12 Congressmen and Senators invited by General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower to tour the concentration camps. Izac was deeply affected by the horrors he witnessed there. He came to the belief that the fanatical Nazis should be “eliminated” rather than reintegrated into post-war German society. He also supported harsher penalties for the German people.

Izac was also present in the South Pacific in 1946 for the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests in the Bikini Islands.

Leaving office in 1947, Izac retired to farmland he’d inherited from his father-in-law in Virginia. He once more returned to a humble life, downplaying the Medal of Honor. His son Edouard Izac Jr. would follow his dad into service. He served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, retiring as a commander. Another son, Andre, was a Navy chaplain.

Agnes Izac died in 1975 at age 80. Edouard continued for several years, residing with one of his daughters after suffering an accident shortly after the loss of his wife. By 1989 he was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, and his final birthday was noted by Willard Scott on the Today Show.

Izac died in January 1990, having just celebrated his 98th birthday the month prior.

We have only two other Congressmen who received the Medal of Honor. Both are men I’ve talked about before. Willis Winter Bradley was mentioned in my article on the McCandless Clan.

Daniel Inouye was a Representative before being elected a Senator, and he was discussed at the start of this series when I talked about Senators with the MoH.

Other Congressional men of valor include;

  • James Roosevelt (D-CA) – Marine Corps brigadier general in World War II. The son of President FDR, he was a recipient of the Navy Cross and Silver Star for his service in the Pacific War.
  • Hugo Sims (D-SC) – Army captain during WWII. An officer in the famed 101st Airborne Division, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star in the European Theater.
  • Lamar Jeffers (D-AL) – Army major during World War I. Received the DSC for valor in action in France as a member of the 82nd Division.
  • Vincente Blaz (R-Guam) – USMC major general who served in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star Medal w/ “V”.
  • Frederick Muhlenberg (R-PA) – Army captain during World War I. He earned a DSC for remaining in action despite being wounded and gassed.
  • Olin Teague (D-TX) – A World War II Army colonel. In the European Theater, while a member of the 79th Infantry Division, he thrice earned the Silver Star for gallantry in action. His first two were received for actions within weeks of each other. His first and last SS were earned for actions in which he was seriously wounded but remained on the field.
  • Sam Johnson (R-TX) – An Air Force colonel. He was a combat fighter pilot veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam. He flew with the Thunderbirds, was a flight school classmate (and lifelong friend) of Buzz Aldrin, and flew nearly 100 combat missions during his two wars. On his 25th mission in Vietnam he was shot down, becoming a prisoner of war for nearly seven years (42nd months in solitary confinement). He was then a somewhat controversial (for his lack of a verbal filter) Congressman. He earned two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Bronze Star Medal w/ “V” for Valor during his military career.
  • Randall “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) – Commander Cunningham earned the Navy Cross and two Silver Stars as a naval aviator in Vietnam. He was the only Navy ace (shot down five enemy aircraft) pilot of the war, and along with his RIO (the guy in the back seat) was one of only two aces the Navy produced during the war. He was later convicted of taking bribes while a Congressman.

Category: Historical, Medal of Honor, Navy, Valor, Veterans in politics, We Remember

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Old tanker

Both of those men led lives of many accomplishments. So much done in a short time. Izac especially was darn near a James Bond movie script in what he was able to do.


Ships named Merrimac caught Hell all around, didn’t they? But each one was crewed by Heroes. Have always heard that it took a real sailorman to tie one on. But you don’t have to be drunk to be a Hero.

Another example of an immigrant that became an American.

BZ, Mason, on another great write up. Thanks!


Thanks again, Mason.


Damn sure big props for their wartime exploits, and the MoH, but it does seem that these too are good examples of the maxim that honorable military service means that and nothing more, as both of them seemed to turn into leftist politicians wanting to impose their ideals on others. I will NEVER understand why a military vet would want to be a democrat…