Monday, April 30, 2012

TFH 4/30: CDR Richard N. Antrim, USN

Richard Nott Antrim was born on December 17, 1907 in Peru, Indiana. His service to our Nation began in 1927 when he entered the United States Naval Academy, graduating with the class of 1931 and receiving his officer's commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy. His early service days saw him posted as a fire control officer on the battleship USS New York (BB-34) after which he received flight training as a Naval Aviator.

With the outbreak of America's involvement in World War II in the Pacific on December 7, 1941, then-Lieutenant Antrim was the Executive Officer of the Clemson-class destroyer USS Pope (DD-225) in the US Asiatic Fleet. The Pope, already obsolescent at the war's opening, didn't stand a chance against the superior forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy and was sunk on March 1, 1942.

In the Pope's last battle, Lieutenant Nott's courage and leadership was exemplary. He coordinated the evacuation of the ship's crew and kept the survivors together in their boats and life rafts for three days afloat until the survivors were captured by the Japanese and imprisoned.

As a prisoner in April 1942, Nott's courage in the face of our enemy and care for his fellow sailors took an incredible course. The vicious Japanese troops guarding them started savagely beating one of his comrades. This officer, near death, could not survive unless something was done. Antrim stepped forward and volunteered to take the remainder of his fellow prisoner's punishment. His acts above and beyond the normal call of duty at incredible risk to himself saw him awarded our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):


Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy. Place and date: Makassar, Celebes, Netherlands East Indies, April 1942. Entered service at: Indiana. Born: 17 December 1907, Peru, Ind. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while interned as a prisoner of war of the enemy Japanese in the city of Makassar, Celebes, Netherlands East Indies, in April 1942. Acting instantly on behalf of a naval officer who was subjected to a vicious clubbing by a frenzied Japanese guard venting his insane wrath upon the helpless prisoner, Comdr. (then Lt.) Antrim boldly intervened, attempting to quiet the guard and finally persuading him to discuss the charges against the officer. With the entire Japanese force assembled and making extraordinary preparations for the threatened beating, and with the tension heightened by 2,700 Allied prisoners rapidly closing in, Comdr. Antrim courageously appealed to the fanatic enemy, risking his own life in a desperate effort to mitigate the punishment. When the other had been beaten unconscious by 15 blows of a hawser and was repeatedly kicked by 3 soldiers to a point beyond which he could not survive, Comdr. Antrim gallantly stepped forward and indicated to the perplexed guards that he would take the remainder of the punishment, throwing the Japanese completely off balance in their amazement and eliciting a roar of acclaim from the suddenly inspired Allied prisoners. By his fearless leadership and valiant concern for the welfare of another, he not only saved the life of a fellow officer and stunned the Japanese into sparing his own life but also brought about a new respect for American officers and men and a great improvement in camp living conditions. His heroic conduct throughout reflects the highest credit upon Comdr. Antrim and the U.S. Naval Service.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor, Antrim's Navy Cross Citation for March 1, 1942:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander [then Lieutenant] Richard Nott Antrim (NSN: 0-70111), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of this profession as Executive Officer of the Destroyer U.S.S. POPE (DD-225), in combat with the enemy in the Java Sea on 1 March 1942, when his ship engaged an overwhelming number of Japanese surface and aircraft. An experienced destroyer officer, tried in two previous battles, Commander Antrim for a period of over five hours, under intense hostile fire and bombings, coolly, calmly, efficiently, with contempt for danger and with remarkable judgment carried out his vital battle tasks of navigation, fire direction, and damage control with a preciseness that left nothing to be desired, and in such a manner as to be highly instrumental in causing the enemy extensive damage. He was exact and sound in his advising his Commanding Officer regarding maneuvering, target selection, and the use of smoke. Finally, with his ship sinking as a result of enemy bombing, although bruised and shaken and painfully injured by an explosion within the ship, he continued with extraordinary heroism and perseverance in his immediate task of supervising the abandoning of the ship. Courageously exposing himself to low-flying enemy bombers, he directed the men over the side in such a manner that group targets would not be offered the enemy from the air, at the same time supervising the removal of the wounded from the ship and the launching of the one available boat. Later events indicated the soundness of his judgment and showed him to be a prime factor in the ultimate survival of not only the wounded men in the boat but also the entire ship's compliment still alive after the actual sinking. No deaths resulted from repeated enemy strafing attacks on the crew in the water. The boat, directed by Commander Antrim, after his being picked from the water, rounded up three life rafts and one hundred and fifty-one survivors into a controllable group, and for a period of almost three days until their capture by a Japanese destroyer, this boat served to supply personnel in the sea with the necessary minimum life-sustaining requirements of water, food, and rest. There was no loss of life in the water. Commander Antrim's performance of duty in battle contributed immeasurably to the damage inflicted on the Japanese force and to his sound judgment are owed the lives of many who might otherwise have perished. His meritorious performance of duty and heroic conduct were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

His courage and resourcefulness as a prisoner didn't end there. Later, when assigned to lead a work party digging air-raid shelter trenches by his Japanese captors, he convinced them to change the design in such a way that the American prisoners occupying the trenches identities would be known to our own forces. For this act, he received the Bronze Star with Combat "V" (citation from above Military Times link).

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" to Commander [then Lieutenant] Richard Nott Antrim (NSN: 0-70111), United States Navy, for heroic service while a Japanese Prisoner-of-War. Commander Antrim was forced to take charge of a labor party and assigned the task of constructing slit trenches for bomb protection. Through self-effacing courage and sheer audacity of purpose, he caused to be constructed under the very eyes and alert surveillance of Japanese guards, a huge sign "U.S." This was done by rearranging the construction work of the slit trenches from the Japanese approved plan to one of his own devising, after causing the Japanese to concur in the changes suggested. The sign, if recognized by the Japanese, would have resulted in Antrim's immediate beheading, but Antrim's well-thought plan would result in Allied photographs indicating the occupants of the trenches and thus save hundreds of prisoners' lives.

Antrim remained a prisoner of the Japanese until his liberation in August of 1945. Until then, he had been listed as missing since March of 1942. He continued in Naval service until his retirement as a Captain on April 1, 1954. He was promoted to Rear Admiral on the retired list in honor and recognition of his wartime record. He was the only man during World War II to receive the Medal of Honor for acts performed while in captivity.

Rear Admiral Richard Nott Antrim passed away on March 7, 1969 in Mountain Home, Arkansas. He rests in peace beside so many other of our Nation's most honored dead in Arlington National Cemetery.

On September 26, 1981 our Navy paid tribute to this amazing officer and hero when they accepted into commission the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Antrim (FFG-20). Antrim sailed the Earth's oceans in defense of liberty until her decommissioning on May 8, 1996. She was sold to Turkey in 1997 and still serves with the Turkish Navy.

1 comment:

  1. The website had a very moving retelling of Lt. Antrim's act a few years ago. The site has been archived and the sermon gone, but it was the first I ever heard of Antrim's heroism. He certainly deserved the Medal of Honor for what he did in captivity.



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