Tuesday, May 08, 2012

TFH 5/8 Edition 3: Lieutenant Milton E. Ricketts, USN

Milton Ernest Rickets was born on August 5, 1913 in Baltimore, Maryland. He attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating with the class of 1935, and receiving his commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy.

Rickets was an engineering officer, and served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) prior to transferring to the larger carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). One of his duties on the Yorktown was to be the Officer-in-Charge of a damage control party.

During the final phases of the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942, the Yorktown had evaded repeated Japanese air-dropped torpedo and bomb attacks, save but one. At 1127 hours, a single 250-pound armor piercing bomb sliced through Yorktown's flight deck and exploded three decks below the hangar - and one deck below Lieutenant Ricketts' battle station.

Ricketts' damage control team was decimated by the explosion and he himself was mortally wounded. At that moment, his wounds mattered not to him, for he had a ship to save. Ricketts' actions, recognized with the award of the Medal of Honor, may have directly altered the course of World War II.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):


Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy. Born: 5 August 1913, Baltimore, Md. Appointed from: Maryland. Citation: For extraordinary and distinguished gallantry above and beyond the call of duty as Officer-in-Charge of the Engineering Repair Party of the U.S.S. Yorktown in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea on 8 May 1942. During the severe bombarding of the Yorktown by enemy Japanese forces, an aerial bomb passed through and exploded directly beneath the compartment in which Lt. Ricketts' battle station was located, killing, wounding or stunning all of his men and mortally wounding him. Despite his ebbing strength, Lt. Ricketts promptly opened the valve of a near-by fireplug, partially led out the fire hose and directed a heavy stream of water into the fire before dropping dead beside the hose. His courageous action, which undoubtedly prevented the rapid spread of fire to serious proportions, and his unflinching devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Yorktown's damage control teams were able to put out the fires and maintain flight operations without hardly an interruption despite the massive internal carnage to man and metal caused by the Japanese bomb. These early repair efforts doubtlessly prevented further damage to this vital aircraft carrier, which after the Battle of the Coral Sea, was estimated to need three months in the yard to complete full repairs. Yorktown didn't have that luxury and wound up back in the teeth of the enemy less than a month later.

There is no way Yorktown would have been able to fight in the Battle of Midway in early June 1942 had she suffered any worse damage on May 8, 1942. Many men were responsible for saving her that day, but Milton Ricketts is the hero's name we know.

One of the other Medal of Honor recipients for the Battle of the Coral Sea, John James Powers, was a classmate of Ricketts' in the USNA Class of 1935.

Ricketts was buried at sea. On October 5, 1943 the Navy commissioned the Edsall-class destroyer escort USS Ricketts (DE-254). The Ricketts fought valiantly in both the Atlantic and Pacific before war's end. She was decommissioned to reserve status in 1946 and scrapped in 1974. No other US Navy ship has ever been named for the brave Lieutenant who may just have won a war with a fire hose.

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