Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TFH 11/12-13: LCDR Herbert E. Schonland, USN

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal off the shores of Savo Island was fought between the United States and the Japanese Empire on November 12 & 13, 1942 - seventy-one years ago. As regular readers of Their Finest Hour know, since December 7, 2011 I have endeavored to blog each and every World War II Medal of Honor Recipient on the seventieth anniversary of their heroics.

Last November 12 & 13, I had my post honoring what I thought were the four Medal of Honor recipients from the battle: Rear Admiral Daniel Judson Callaghan, Boatswain's Mate First Class Reinhart John Keppler, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless, and Rear Admiral Norman Scott.

It turns out I made an error. My list of World War II Medal of Honor Recipients was compiled by me from the United States Army Center of Military History database. There was a fifth Medal recipient from the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, and I missed recognizing him because a typo on the Army site lists his award as being from 1943 instead of 1942. My sincere apologies to his descendants and memory that the recognition of this great American in this space was delayed by a year.

Herbert Emery Schonland was born on September 7, 1900 in Portland, Maine. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with the class of 1925 and was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy.

As the New Orleans-class heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA-38) sailed into battle on November 12, 1942 off Guadalcanal, then Lieutenant Commander Schonland was the ship's damage control officer, responsible for keeping the cruiser in the fight after being attacked.

When the San Francisco was heavily damaged by Japanese bombs and shellfire, killing most of the ship's chain of command and Admiral Callaghan, who used the cruiser as his flagship, it fell to Schonland as the senior surviving officer to take command. He left Lieutenant Commander McCandless on the bridge to conn the ship and continue fighting while he did everything in his power to stave off the incredible damage and flooding San Francisco was beset with.

Schonland courageously decided to open up hatchways to lower decks to allow the flooding aboard San Francisco to spread downwards, which had the dual effect of increasing the ship's stability by lowering her center of gravity and allowing the crew to use the more powerful bilge pumps to get the water back overboard.

Thanks largely to the heroism and efforts of Lieutenant Commander Schonland, San Francisco lived to fight another day - and she did, until V-J Day on September 2, 1945.

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

Schonland, after his promotion to Commander
and wearing the Medal of Honor (FindAGrave.com)

Rank and organization: Commander, U.S. Navy, U.S.S. San Francisco
Place and date: Savo Island, 12-13 November 1942
Entered service at: Maine

Citation: For extreme heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as damage control officer of the U.S.S. San Francisco in action against greatly superior enemy forces in the battle off Savo Island, 12-13 November 1942. In the same violent night engagement in which all of his superior officers were killed or wounded, Lt. Comdr. Schonland was fighting valiantly to free the San Francisco of large quantities of water flooding the second deck compartments through numerous shell holes caused by enemy fire. Upon being informed that he was commanding officer, he ascertained that the conning of the ship was being efficiently handled, then directed the officer who had taken over that task to continue while he himself resumed the vitally important work of maintaining the stability of the ship. In water waist deep, he carried on his efforts in darkness illuminated only by hand lanterns until water in flooded compartments had been drained or pumped off and watertight integrity had again been restored to the San Francisco. His great personal valor and gallant devotion to duty at great peril to his own life were instrumental in bringing his ship back to port under her own power, saved to fight again in the service of her country.

Schonland retired from the Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral in 1947. He lived until age 84, passing away on the forty-second anniversary of the battle for which he received the Medal of Honor: November 13, 1984. He rests in peace with the United States' most honored dead in Arlington National Cemetery.

The Navy's damage control officer's school in Newport, Rhode Island is housed in a building named for Schonland, but there has never been a vessel in the fleet named for this heroic sailor. I'd like to take this opportunity to point out again that there will, however, soon be a USS Gabrielle Giffords.

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