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U.S.S. Benevolence AH-13


On a foggy August 25, 1950, the hospital ship USS Benevolence (AH-13) was rammed by the commercial freighter, SS Mary Luckenbach about four miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  Less than an hour later, the Benevolence had capsized with only a part of its hull and its big red cross showing above water.  Twenty-three persons on the ship were dead and hundreds more were struggling to stay afloat and alive in freezing cold water.

This page is still under construction.  To add more information to it, contact Lynnita via e-mail; telephone 217-253-4620; or US mail: Lynnita Brown, 111 E. Houghton Street, Tuscola, IL 61953.

Most recent update to this page: July 09, 2021

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Table of Contents

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Fact Sheet

- Haven class Hospital Ship
- Displacement: 15,000 tons (full load)
- Length: 520’
- Beam: 71’6"
- Draft: 23’6"
- Speed: 17.5 knots (max)
- Armament: none
- Complement: 800 patients
- Geared turbine engines; single screw
- 1 Battle Star for World War II

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Service in World War II

Benevolence (AH-13) was launched 10 July 1944 by Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Chester, Pennsylvania, under a Maritime Commission contract as the merchant marine ship Marine Lion.  She was sponsored by Mrs. Daisy Hunter.  The Benevolence was transferred to the Navy for service in World War II on 31 July 1944.  She was converted to a hospital ship by Todd-Erie Basin Shipyard, Inc., Brooklyn, New York and commissioned 12 May 1945, with Capt. C.C. Laws in command.

Benevolence departed for the Pacific 17 June 1945 and arrived at Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, 27 July. There she received sick and wounded brought back from the 3rd Fleet operations against the Japanese home islands. Departing Eniwetok 2 August, she joined the 3rd Fleet on the 20th for its last strikes against Japan. Benevolence anchored off Yokosuka, Japan, 29 August to begin processing liberated Allied prisoners of war. She remained in Japanese waters until 27 November 1945 and then carried wounded back to the United States. She arrived at San Francisco 12 December. Between December 1945 and 15 February 1946, she made three round trips between San Francisco and Pearl Harbor, returning wounded servicemen to the United States.

Following an overhaul that lasted until 1 April 1946, she joined JTF 1 for "Operation Crossroads." Benevolence was the hospital for this operation, which was the first post-war atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. In September she returned to San Francisco for her next deployment three weeks later. Sailing was delayed until the ship’s fresh water evaporators were cleaned of radiological contamination. Since July 1, the crew had been drinking water from the seawater of Bikini lagoon that had been processed through the fresh water evaporators. [Reference: www.virtualtexan.com/veterans/memories/allen.htm.]

The Benevolence then departed San Francisco 27 September 1946 for Tsingtao, China, where she lay between 14 October 1946 and 3 March 1947 receiving and transferring patients. She returned to San Francisco 18 March 1947. Upon her return she commenced inactivation and was placed out of commission in reserve 13 September 1947, attached to the San Francisco Reserve Group.  Benevolence received one battle star for World War II service.

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Officers Orders - 4 August 1950

Commander, Mare Island Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet
Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, CA - Ser: 753


From:  Commander Mare Island Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet
To:     Mare Island Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet
Subj:   Officers ordered to ships being activated as indicated

The following officers have been ordered by the Chief of Naval Personnel for duty on board ships as indicated:

USNS Benevolence (T-AH13)

Rank Name File & Code Des. Report
Capt. MOinC Riggs, Cecil D. Medical Corps 63661/2100 7/24 (reported)
CDR Potter, Leo E. Medical Corps 80687/2100 7/27 (reported)
CDR Johnson, Robert B. Medical Corps 79271/2100 8/8
CDR Pope, Lester J. Medical Corps 83509/2100 7/27 (reported)
CDR Marsh, William C. Medical Corps 102513/2100 8/8
CDR Mulry, William C. Medical Corps 113129/2100 7/31 (reported)
LCDR Wilson, Flavis A. Medical Corps 99489/2301 7/28 (reported)
LT Fraser, William E. Medical Corps 137646/2100 8/8
LT Sherrill, Marvin F. Medical Corps 154490/2100 8/8
LT McGehee, William G. Medical Corps 273000/2300 8/4
LTJG Pender, Bernard H. Medical Corps 173089/2100 8/8
LTJG Ingram, William Jr. Medical Corps 214522/2100 8/8
LTJG True, William R. Medical Corps 293299/2100 8/8
LTJG Hand, Rudolph H. Medical Corps 490570/2100 8/8
LTJG Hendricks, Charles M. Jr. Medical Corps 491218/2100 8/8
LTJG Raulston, William R. Medical Corps 490598/2100 8/8
LTJG Fowler, Thomas G. Medical Corps 263355/2301 8/4 (reported)
LTJG Raybourn, Byron C. Medical Corps 272899/2300 7/25 (reported)
LTJG Whitt, Malgum E. Medical Corps 272950/2301 8/9
CWOHC Mac Donough, Robert S. Medical Corps 283620/8171 8/9
CWOHC Lillie, Donald H. Medical Corps 319059/8171 8/8
LT Harrington, Eleanor M. Nurses Corps 64822/2900 8/7
LT Mathews, Gail C. Nurses Corps 232224/2900 8/7
LT Lipuscek, Marie E. Nurses Corps 146287/2900 8/7
LT McCarthy, Joseph E. [KWE Note: Should be Josephine.] Nurses Corps 146277/2905 8/7
LT Harkins, Catherine N. Nurses Corps 231966/2900 8/7
LT Fralic, Jean C. Nurses Corps 175961/2900 8/7
LT Ledbetter, Wilma Nurses Corps 219499/2900 8/7
LT Dyer, Mary E. Nurses Corps 226346/2905 8/7
LTJG Neville, Rosemary C. Nurses Corps 454832/2905 8/7
LTJG Brennan, Marie R. Nurses Corps 386908/2905 8/7
ENS Deignan, Mary Nurses Corps 180298/2900 8/7
ENS Karn, Patricia A. Nurses Corps 485252/2900 8/7
ENS Martin, Ruth W. Nurses Corps 509050/2900 8/7
ENS Wallis, Helen F. Nurses Corps 509213/2900 8/7
ENS Venverloh, Dorothy J. Nurses Corps 509254/2900 8/7
CDR Holubek, Edward J. Dental Corps 76654/2200 8/10
CDR Mosson, Lester H. Dental Corps 113159/2200 -
LTJG Davies, Ernest E. Dental Corps 301781/2200 -
LCDR Laughton, Armine W. Military 207440/1105 8/11
LT Phipps, James B. Military 271567/1105 7/28 (reported)
LTJG Dunkle, Duane E. Military 360233/1105 9/15

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On 25 August 1950, while returning from sea trials, prior to her assignment to the Military Sea Transportation Service, Benevolence collided with the freighter SS Mary Luckenbach and sank within 45 minutes off shore near San Francisco. No one on the Luckenbach was injured or killed.  There were 23 fatalities on the USS Benevolence and 500 survivors.

Although the numbers vary, one account listed the following personnel onboard the ship at the time of the sinking: 38 medical officers, including 15 nurses, 156 enlisted men hospital, 10 officers, 60 enlisted men, a civilian complement of 100 Military Ship Transport Service workers, and 13 Mare Island shipyard employees.  When the call of Mayday was received, the Coast Guard sent out 15 cutters and the Army dispatched a half a dozen tugs and fishing craft.

Survivors (numbers vary) were taken to:

  • 202 = Oak Knoll Navy Hospital, Oakland
  • 55 = Mare Island Hospital
  • 61 = Letterman Army Hospital, San Francisco
  • 37 = Treasure Island
  • 31 = aboard Coast Guard cutter Gresham
  • 13 = Marine Hospital in San Francisco
  • 2 = litter cases brought in by the Mary Buck
  • 4 = later reported safe from their homes

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Accident Details

"According to an article, Quartermaster Third Class Samuel Williams’ duty at that time was to record the voyage of the Benevolence. When the hospital ship began sinking he “just naturally” knew he should save what he had written. He wrapped the notes up and stuffed them underneath his shirt. He jumped off the sinking ship and had to swim for about half an hour before he found a raft full of men. He gave the notes to a man on board the raft, but had to keep swimming because there was no room for him on it. As such, he salvaged the only written record/evidence of where the Benevolence had been and how fast it had been going before the collision. His notes were used in the trial and he was asked to testify on behalf of the U.S. Navy." [Internet source: Memorial to Reverend Samuel Williams]

Forty news reporters met the survivors of the USS Benevolence.  They represented the following newspapers:

  • San Francisco Call Bulletin
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • San Francisco Examiner
  • Oakland Tribune
  • San Jose Mercury
  • New York Times
  • Two Chicago newspapers
  • Los Angeles newspapers
  • Washington Post

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Capt. Barton E. Bacon

Among the survivors was the skipper of the USS Benevolence, Capt. Barton Elijah Bacon, Jr.  Born on October 18, 1901 in Rockwood, Tennessee, Bacon graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in the Class of 1925.  He was the recipient of the Navy Cross for actions during World War II while commanding the submarine USS Pickerel (SS-177) through five war patrols.

As the result of the sinking of the USS Benevolence, a US Navy Court Martial found him guilty of hazarding a naval vessel.  He was found guilty on two counts--steaming too fast in fog and failure to reverse engines on sighting the freighter Mary Luckenbach.  He was dropped behind 200 other officers in his grade.  His final tour of active duty was on the administrative level at the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Training Center at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.  On July 1, 1956, Captain Bacon's rank was elevated to Rear Admiral prior to retirement from the US Navy.  He died January 22, 1996.

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The hull of Benevolence came to rest on its port side, in 74 feet of water, approximately one mile south of the main ship channel. It is located 4,250 yards from Mile Rock, bearing 252 degrees true. The white hull with its red crosses was clearly visible at low water following the sinking, and it was deemed a hazard to navigation.

Unable to raise the vessel, the USS Benevolence lay on the sandy ocean floor for 14 months after she sank.  During a storm, the wreck shifted and the Crowley tug Relief and MSTS Neches were both damaged while passing by the Benevolence wreckage.  As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers contracted a Delaware salvage firm to destroy the wreck for $297,000 in 1951.  It was demolished in a series of three explosions between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1951.

Now more than 50 feet of water covers the remains of the USS Benevolence and it is unlikely that significant structural sections, or objects retaining their original provenience, will presently be located at the site.

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[KWE Note: In searching for information about the fatalities from the sinking of the USS Benevolence, it was found that there are numerous discrepancies as to the total number of deaths.  Accounts vary from 18 to 23.  The KWE found 23 fatalities in its research.  This discrepancy can possibly be attributed to the fact that no manifest of those onboard (as required by maritime law) existed at the time of the collision.]

  1. Bannon, James - age 59, MSTS deck engineer, San Francisco, CA, formerly of Midvale, Utah.  Son: Stanley J. Bannon.
  2. Barker, Andre Francis - age 20, South San Francisco (electricians mate-EM3).  Born October l9, 1929.  Buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA.
  3. Cochran, A.C. - (chief metalsmith), Richmond, CA.
  4. Collins, Robert A. - age 28, electrician, Mare Island Navy Yard.  Resided with aunt: Mrs. Nellie Luddy, Vallejo, CA.  Born October 21, 1922.  Buried in Forest View Cemetery, Nevada City, CA.
  5. Costales, Jose R. - MSTS chief pantryman, Gonzalez, CA.  Brother: Paul R. Costales.
  6. Crittendon, Archie James - MSTS junior third assistant engineer, Oakland, CA.  Widow: Almeda A. Regan.  Crittendon's brother was Coastguardsman Howard W. Crittendon, Berkeley.  Archie had served four years in the Army, including duty int he Pacific war area.  His mother was Mrs. Elvira Crittendon of Atlanta, Georgia.  Gladys Murray of Oakland was listed as his next of kin.
  7. Cross, Christopher Columbus - age 28, hospital corpsman 1C, USN, from Knoxville, TN.  Father: J.A. Cross.
  8. Cuevas, Miguel B. - age 35, MSTS waiter, Oakland, CA.  Widow: Patricia Cuevas.  Son: Eight-day-old Tony Cuevas.  Uncle, Regino Bautista of Oakland.  Cuevas headed his own orchestra before signing up for sea duty.  Several members of the musical group, which played for many Metropolitan Oakland area dances, were on the vessel with Cuevas.  They planned to entertain other shipboard workers, and later hospitalized servicemen, during off-duty hours, his uncle said. 
  9. Flock, William Dallas - age 26, hospital corpsman 1C, USNR, from Chico, CA.  Mother: Lisle Marguerite Keep.  Born January 16, 1924.  Served in World War II.  Buried in Chico Cemetery, Chico, CA.
  10. Harris, Eugene Kermit - age 21, seaman first class.  Eugene was born November 19, 1929 in Bovill, Idaho, a son of Rolland Francis Harris (died 1963) and Anna Snoen Harris (died 1969).  His siblings were Rolland Leroy Harris, Verina Bell Harris (Zagelow), Carol Harris (died 1923), Gwendolin Irene Harris (died 1932), Maxine Louise (Bogar), and Loretta June (Zagelow) (died December 26, 1980).
  11. Harroun, Hubert Eugene - Captain.  Lieutenant Commander, USN, WWII.  Born January 17, 1907, he was married on April 24, 1933 to Dorothy Greer.  That marriage ended in divorce.  He was married to Mary J. Murray on May 06, 1949.  In 1952 Mary was living in Vallejo, CA.  During World War II, Harroun was an officer on the USS Seacat SS-399 from 1943-1945.  Harroun was actually in the sub service, but took the place of a buddy that was supposed to sail that day.  After the ship was rammed, Hubert Harroun went below decks to rescue three crewmen that were trapped and lost his life doing so.  According to his niece, Kathleen Harroun, "My day always said that Hubert was 'fearless' from childhood.'  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  12. Havens, Lyle Glen - Captain, civilian pilot for Mare Island Navy Yard, San Francisco.Widow: Beulah G. Havens (died 1980).  Buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA.  Captain Havens was also the captain and a survivor of the SS Coast Trader when it was torpedoed on July 6, 1942 and sank about 30 miles from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  13. Jackson, Melvin T., 28, Oakland, CA (civil service employee)
  14. Langlois, Ralph A. - electrician's mate
  15. Ledbetter, Wilma - Lieutenant, Navy Nurse's Corps nurse from Chillicothe, TX.  Died of an apparent heart attack and exhaustion on the deck of the rescue vessel.  Mother: Emma Ledbetter.  Born April 27, 1912.  Buried in Chillicothe Cemetery, Chillicothe, TX.  See Navy Nurse section of this page.
  16. Martin, William - age 35, MSTS third cook, Nashville, TN. Mother, Belle M. Martin.
  17. Perkins, Perry - age 55, MSTS employee, Rio Vista, CA.  Widow: Josephine Perkins.
  18. Regan, Fred J. - age 59, civilian engineer, Oakland, CA.  He had been "shipping out" for more than 30 years.  During World War II he served as a lieutenant commander in the merchant marine.  Surviving were his widow, Mrs. Almeda A. Regan, two daughters, Mrs. Eleanor Hesselberg of New York (died 1977) and Mary Regan of Oakland, CA.  He also had a stepson and stepdaughter, John and Madrene Stover, Oakland.
  19. Schoentrup, Cyrille Francis - yeoman 2C, USN.  Cyrille was born in Indiana in 1922, a son of Bernard Theodore Schoentrup (died 1953) and Bertha Mary Anderson Schoentrup (died 1959).  His siblings were Harold Theodore, Joseph Andrew Lyman (died 1991), Audrey Edmee Bernadiene (deceased), Thomas Lowell (died 1983), Bernard, James Malvin (died 1966), Anastasia Scholer, Guido Gilbert (died 1991), and Beverly.  He graduated from Holy Name Grade School and Warren Central High School in Indianapolis and joined the Navy in 1940.  He was in the reserves at the time of the accident and had only a few more weeks before completing his tour of duty.  He was at sea when Pearl Harbor was bombed and survived 13 battles in the Pacific.  He served aboard the heavy cruiser USS Northampton and later on the USS Minneapolis.  His brother Guido Schoentrup was serving in Korea and was not notified until later that Cyrille had died of immersion shock following the sinking of the Benevolence.  His family said that Guido "had trouble enough" at the time.  Cyrille is buried in Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Indianapolis, IN.
  20. Schroeder, Thomas Jennings - 20 years old, dental technician 3C, USN from Auburn, WA.  Parents: Mr. and Mrs. Milton H. Schroeder, 224 K Southeast, Auburn, WA.  Sister Jean Schroeder.  Thomas was born January 7, 1930.  Buried in Woodlawn Abbey, Sumner, WA.
  21. Svanun, Soren S. - age4 50, MSTS third officer, Fairfax, CA.  Widow: Theresa Svanun.
  22. Young, E.J. - Navy sailor
  23. Young, Gilbert Oliver - seaman, USN from St. Louis, MO.  Mother: Cora Young.  Born August 8, 1930.  Buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, MO.  World War II veteran.

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Navy Nurses Onboard (and in the water)

Jo McCarthy, Eleanor Harrington, Rosemary Neville, Mary Deignan, Ruth W. Martin, Patricia Karn, Jean C. Fralic, Dorothy J. Venverloh, Marie Lipuscek, Catherine N. Harkins, Helen F. Wallis, Eileen Dyer, Marie R. Brennan, Gail C. Matthews. Not pictured: Wilma Ledbetter, who did not survive the catastrophe.
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There were 15 Navy nurses onboard the USS Benevolence when she sank.  One perished. They included the following:

  1. Marie Rita Brennan - Born April 19, 1917 in Buffalo, New York, Lieutenant Brennan married John Richard "Jack" Leister (1919-1998), a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War.  Marie died July 5, 1982 in Los Angeles, California.  She and Jack are buried in the St. Johns Lutheran Cemetery, Spinnerstown, Pennsylvania.
  2. Mary Deignan - Born May 28, 1922 in Seattle, Washington, Mary resigned from the Navy Nurse Corps on September 26, 1951.  She was married to Ltjg A.P. Lesperance, US Navy.  Her sisters were Therese Marie Deignan, Barbara Deignan, and Helen Deignan.  Her brothers were Joe and John Deignan.  Mary had twin daughters, one of whom is still living.  Mary lives in Seattle.
  3. Mary Eileen Dyer - From Cleveland, Ohio, Mary married a Sherwin.  No further information has been found to date.
  4. Jean C. Fralic - born May 7, 1913 in York, Pennsylvania, Jean died July 30, 1990 in Gulfport, Mississippi.  [Her name is also found spelled in various newspapers as Frolic].  Jean's most recent duty station before the Benevolence assignment was at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
  5. Lt(jg) Catherine Nina Harkins - From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she was the daughter of Mrs. Margaret Harkins and sister of Margaret Harkins, both of 2650 N. 60th Street in Milwaukee.  Age 43 at the time of the Benevolence sinking, Catherine had been in the Navy eight years.  She did not know how to swim.  It is believed her father's name was Richard Harkins of Milwaukee as the names Richard, Margaret, Catherine, Margaret and Francis (or Frances) Harkins show up as a household on the 1930 census there.
  6. Eleanor Elizabeth Harrington - From Lowell, Massachusetts, she was born on November 3, 1911 in Rhode Island, one of three daughters of Timothy J. Harrington of Lowell.  A graduate of St. Elizabeth's School of Nursing in Brighton, Massachusetts, she joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1935.  She was transferred to the USS Relief in 1939, where she served as senior nurse officer for three years during World War II.  Later she survived the sinking of the USS Benevolence, and thereafter became chief nurse on the hospital ship USS Haven off the Korean coast. She was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1955.  Her sister Mary Dolores Harrington [believed to later be Mrs. Frank Fox] was an Army Corps Nurse at the same time Eleanor was a Navy nurse.  In 1958 Eleanor married and her name changed to Eleanor Ritter.
  7. Patricia Ann Karn - Born March 17, 1923 in Indiana, Patricia was 27 when the Benevolence sank.  She was the daughter of Harry D. and Lucille J. Rannels Karn.  She died December 17, 1997 at Point Loma, California, at the age of 71.  She was the niece of Robert Rannels and Kathleen Carithers.  (See News Clippings, Logansport Press, August 29, 1950.)
  8. Wilma "Leddie" Ledbetter of Chillicothe, TX - The only fatality among the nurses who were on the Benevolence when she sank. After memorial services at the U.S. Naval Hospital Chapel in Oakland, California, on September 2, 1950, her body was accompanied back to Chillicothe from California by fellow Benevolence nurse Josephine McCarthy.  Wilma is buried in Chillicothe Cemetery, Chillicothe, next to her parents.  Her sister Emily told the Korean War Educator that Wilma was more like a mother to her than a sister.  Wilma paid for Emily to attend McMurry College in Abilene and Emily then taught school for about 30 years, retiring in 1986.  Emily's daughters are Wilma Sandra and Marsha Diane.  In 2013, Emily was the last living Ledbetter sister, residing in Clyde, Texas. [See "Tribute to Lt. Wilma Ledbetter.]
  9. Marie Lipuscek - Married Frank Cassani and now (2013) is 94 years old and lives in East Weymouth, MA.  (See Eyewitness Accounts.)
  10. Ruth Whitmell Martin - Born April 23, 1925 in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Ruth married Frank Siso Deus on November 25 1955 in Thibodaux after resigning as a Naval Lieutenant.  They have four children: Roderick, Frank Jr., Karin and Pamela.  Ruth currently lives (2013) in Mandeville, Louisiana.  Ruth's account of the sinking can be found in the book, A Few Good Women, by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee.  See also on this page: Eyewitness Accounts.
  11. Gail Celeste Matthews of Scranton, PA - Born February 2, 1920 in Scranton, she graduated from Central High School, Scranton and the Sherman School of Expression.  She then went on to graduate from the Moses Taylor Hospital School of Nursing in Scranton in the Class of 1941.  At Moses Taylor Gail was president of the student government.  After graduating from Moses Taylor Miss Matthews studied at Cornell Medical Center in New York.  She was a member of the American Red Cross.  She joined the U.S. Navy on September 1, 1942 and was on the hospital staff of the Monmouth Memorial Hospital at Long Beach, New York, for six months.  She was commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy Nurse Corps on January 5, 1943.  Her first duty was at St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York for six months.  She served in the dispensary at USNHS in Brunswick, Maine from August 1943 to September 1944.  From September 1944 to March 1945 she was at the US Naval Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. During World War II she served on the hospital ship USS Tranquility from March to November 1945 before returning to St. Albans from November 1945 to January 1946.  She was out of the service from January to March 1946, and then reentered the service in March of 1946.  She served at the naval hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia almost two years (March 1946-March 1948) and then was assigned to Pensacola, Florida USNHS Hospital from March 1948 until August 1950 before being transferred to the US Navy Hospital ship USS Benevolence in August 1950.  Her last duty was at the US Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was a supervisor (night duty) in the Dependents Hospital from October 1950 until she was discharged November 26, 1952.   After serving in the Navy Nurses Corps during World War II and the Korean War, Gail married Dr. Charles Fain, a Navy veteran who served with the Marines as a dentist/physician in the Chosin Reservoir campaign.  Gail died on August 13, 2011 while residing in Holly Hill, Florida.  She was predeceased by a daughter, Betsy Fain Bryant.  She was survived by her husband of 60 years and a stepdaughter, Loretta Parzenti of San Diego, California. Ironically, Gail was on a ship that picked up many survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.  Her diary about that is held in Indianapolis.  Gail's mother was Elizabeth Stover Matthews and her siblings were Carolyn, Abel S., Chester, and Edward S. Matthews.
  12. Josephine Elizabeth McCarthy - Josephine was born August 13, 1912 in Renovo, the daughter of Charles and Mary E. Russell McCarthy.  She graduated from St. Bernard High School in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and then graduated from St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing in Erie.  She served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was injured in the Benevolence accident.  She was later assigned duty as a Navy nurse in Italy.  She retired after 12 years as a lieutenant.  She was a plank member of the U.S. Naval Memorial Association.  She married Paul J. Paparella in Bradford in 1954.  He died in 1988.  Josephine died on July 22, 1991 in the U.S. Naval Hospital Center, Bethesda, Maryland, and is buried in St. Bernard Cemetery, Bradford, PA.  She had one brother Charles R. "Rick" McCarthy, who died in 2005.

    Obituary for Josephine McCarthy
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    Obituary for Paul Paparella
    Josephine's husband
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    Obituary for Charles "Rick" McCarthy
    Josephine's brother
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  13. Rosemary Clare Neville of Omaha, NE - Believed to be the daughter of Francis M. and Rose Neville and sister of William F. Neville (he died 1998), Rosemary was born February 14, 1921 and died December 13, 2012.  She is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Omaha, NE.
  14. Dorothy J. Venverloh - Graduated from St. John's Nursing School in 1941.  In 1947 she volunteered for the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.  When she retired she spent the remainder of her life caring for elderly relatives and neighbors who had no family to care for them.  She died July 17, 2005 and is buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis.
  15. Helen F. Wallis (could not swim) - Grew up in Malvern, Arkansas, graduating from Malvern High School and the Baptist Hospital School of Nursing in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She joined the Navy in 1947.  In 1952 she married Chaplain George L. Martin and they became one of the very first dual-career military couples.  She resigned her commission in 1957 prior to the birth of their daughter Mary in 1958.  Helen died October 20, 2009 and is buried in Hillside Cemetery, Purcell, Oklahoma.  Chaplain Martin died February 23, 2002.

Eleven of the nurses were tied together before they stepped off the sinking ship into the frigid water.  Mary Deignan swam by herself to a nearby life raft.  Marie Lipuscek and Patricia Karns stuck together until they were rescued by a tugboat.  Helen Wallis was assisted by an MSTS crew member until she was rescued by an Italian fisherman.

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Tribute to Lt. Wilma Ledbetter

Lt. Wilma Ledbetter
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Family Background

Wilma Ledbetter was born April 27, 1912 in Chillicothe, Texas. Her father, William L. "Bud" Ledbetter moved to Chillicothe with his brothers George Mitchell, Henry, Hiram and Dick Ledbetter in the early 1900s.  Bud later became mayor of Chillicothe for a number of years and also served several years as a city councilman.  He was the last surviving member of the original Chillicothe Volunteer Fire Department that was organized in the early 1900s.  Bud also had a feed and seed store for years and was manager of the Kell Mills for years.

There were five girls in the Ledbetter family. The eldest three, Lucretia (1907-1996), Edith (1909-1982), and Wilma (1912-1950), were the daughters of William Luther "Bud" Ledbetter (died 1978) and Christina Hale Ledbetter.  Christina Ledbetter died of influenza in 1918.  The youngest two Ledbetter sisters, Jacqueline "Jackie" (1923-2000) and Emily, were the daughters of William and Emma Jane Powell Ledbetter (died 1961). Wilma's aunt and uncle were Davidson Victor York and Nell Pitcomb (Powell) York of Ada, Texas.

Although Emma Ledbetter was not the birth mother of Wilma, family members told the KWE that she loved Wilma as her own daughter and Wilma's death took a terrible toll on Emma.  Wilma's sisters each married: Lucretia to a Wickliffe, Edith to Thurman McPherson, Jacqueline (Jackie) to Bennie Emile Reynolds, and Emily to a Shoemaker.  Jacqueline had two children, Jerry William Reynolds (1947-2011) and Jane Reynolds Howard of Collinsville, OK.

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According to her sister Emily, Wilma graduated from high school in Chillicothe circa 1929.  Naval records show that she attended Texas State College for Women, Denton, Texas, from 1929 to 1930.  She then attended Central State Teachers College, Edmond, Oklahoma in 1933 while thinking about becoming a teacher.  After deciding to become a nurse, she received three years of nurses training (1936 to 1939) at the Northwest Texas Hospital School of Nursing in Amarillo, Texas.  The school closed in 1985.  (See also: American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 50, October 1950, page 680.)

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Nursing Career

Lt. Wilma Ledbetter
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Prior to becoming a Navy Nurse, Wilma Ledbetter was employed at Northwest Texas Hospital, Amarillo (general duties) from 1939 to 1940.  She then worked at Charity Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana, where she not only had general duties from 1940 to 1942, but also took nine hours of nurses education (1942) at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.  She then had general duties at Brackenridge Hospital, Austin, Texas, in 1942.  She reported for a physical examination to join the Navy Nurse Corps on March 4, 1943 in Norman, Oklahoma, where it was found that Wilma was physically qualified for appointment in the USNR Nurse Corps.

Naval records show that she proceeded to active duty as Reserve Nurse, USN, on July 6, 1943.  Her service number was 219499.  Ensign Ledbetter had duty at the Naval Hospital, San Diego, California, before receiving orders to Hawaii.  She sailed from the USA on the USS Antigua on September 9, 1944, arriving at Pearl Harbor on September 15, 1944.  She served as a nurse at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Aiea Heights, Hawaii, and then at the Naval Air Station, Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, until November 8, 1945.  According to her income tax report for that year, her total taxable pay in 1945 was $2,137.25.  Her military exclusion was $1,500.00. 

She returned to the States on November 13, 1945 on the S.S. Monterey, and then traveled from San Francisco, California to the U.S. Naval Hospital in New Orleans, LA.  She was released to inactive status effective May 17, 1946, but proceeded to active duty as Reserve Nurse USN again on January 14, 1947.  She was assigned to a duty station at the US Naval Hospital, Houston, Texas.  Records show that she was transferred from there to the dispensary at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Hawthorne, Nevada. She received permission to travel from her duty station at the US Naval Hospital, Houston, Texas, to Hawthorne, Nevada on 14 November 1947.  The orders gave her permission to travel there via an automobile owned by Lt. Marie Edith Charron, NC, USN, and described the auto as a 1947 Kaiser Special, 4-door.  In 1948 she received a permanent appointment to the rank of Lieutenant, NC, USN.

Wilma was also a nurse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but the dates of her service there have not yet been determined.  Lieutenant Ledbetter rejoined the active Navy Nurse Corps when the Korean War broke out and was assigned to the USS Benevolence.

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Service-related Documents

*The Egnor letter was sent to the KWE with the following message from Emily Ledbetter Shoemaker:

"This letter made me sick.  It is worse than insulting.  I wish I had reported Russell D. Egnor to someone."

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Survivors List

View a list of survivors of the USS Benevolence here.

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Freighter SS Mary Luckenbach

First Two Mary Luckenbachs

There were three ships with the name SS Mary Luckenbach.  The first one was SS Mary Luckenbach (ID-3861) built in 1920 as a cargo ship by Southwestern Shipbuilding Company, San Pedro, California.  She was sold in 1936 to Sabine Transportation and renamed the C. B. Watson.  The Watson was sold to Italo-Argentina in 1947 and renamed Indiana.  In 1954 the Indiana was sold to Egiziano Lloyd Med and renamed Al Horreya.  Three years later the ship was sold again and renamed Mansoura.  She was scrapped at Alexandria in 1983.

The second SS Mary Luckenbach was built in 1919 by American International Shipbuilding Corporation, Hog Island, Pennsylvania.  Built for United States Shipping Board, she was allocated to National Steamship Company, N.O. Pedrick and Mississippi Shipping Company and later American Diamond Line.  She was purchased in 1932 and renamed Black Falcon.  Then in 1941 she was sold to Luckenbach Steamship Company and renamed Mary Luckenbach, On September 13, 1942, while in Convoy PQ17, this ship was sunk by an aerial German torpedo west of North Cape, Norway.  The ship's cargo of high explosives was detonated and all 63 persons on board were killed.

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Luckenbach Collides with Benevolence

The third SS Mary Luckenbach was the freighter that collided with the USS Benevolence in August of 1950.  A Tolland-class attack cargo ship, she was built at Wilmington, North Carolina by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company.  She was launched as the USS Waukesha (AKA-84) on November 6, 1955.  The Waukesha served in the Pacific toward the end of World War II, and was a participant in "Operation Magic Carpet" in 1945, transporting demobilized sailors, soldiers and marines back to port at Seattle, Washington.

She was decommissioned on July 10, 1946 and the next year was sold to the Luckenbach Steamship Company of New York, where she was renamed SS Mary Luckenbach.  Luckenbach Steamship Company (1850-1974), New York, was one of the longest-lived and successful of U.S. shipping companies. Mr. Lewis Luckenbach started with a single tugboat in New York and built his fortune by pioneering tug-and-barge transport of coal from Norfolk, Virginia to New England. Luckenbach was later a major force in the inter-coastal trade.

On August 25, 1950, with Leonard C. Smith as its master, the SS Luckenbach was bound from San Francisco to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a general cargo when the freighter rammed the hospital ship USS Benevolence on a foggy Friday afternoon, causing the deaths of 23 persons on the Benevolence.  The bow of the Luckenbach was smashed, but none of its 46 crew members were injured.  Visibility that day was estimated at 300-400 yards due to fog.

After repairs, the freighter SS Mary Luckenbach continued to operate with the Luckenbach Company until 1959, when she was sold and renamed SS Bayou State.  She sailed under the States Marine Lines, Inc. of New York until 1970.  SS Mary Luckenbach was then sold to Taiwan Shipbreakers and was scrapped in October 1970 in Taiwan.

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Marine Board of Investigation Report - January 11, 1951

The US Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation completed its finds of fact, conclusions and recommendations in a report dated January 11, 1951.  The report was submitted to the Commandant of the US Coast Guard in Washington, D.C.  View the report here (PDF File).

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Appeal No. 586 - Leonard C. Smith vs US - 28 November 1952

Leonard C. Smith, Master of the SS Luckenbach, lost his license following the collision with the USS Benevolence, but he successfully appealed the revocation and got his license back in 1952.  View the text of the appeal here (PDF File).

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Eyewitness Accounts

Many eyewitness accounts were written by survivors of the USS Benevolence and other witnesses. View them here.

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Hospital Ship Down - (COMING SOON)

Dusty Rhodes
(Click picture for a larger view)

Durward L. "Dusty" Rhodes offers a naval military history article about the sinking of the USS Benevolence, complete with primary sources and commentary. Click here to read this article, along with survivor's accounts by Capt. James C. Cochran and LCDR Dorothy J. Venverloh.

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Collision at Sea: USNHS Benevolence and S.S. Mary Luckenbach
authored by Lionel C. Meeker

Collision at Sea by Lionel C. Meeker appeared in the publication, Mains'l Haul - A Journal of Pacific Maritime History,Volume 29: 2, Winter 1993, published by the Maritime Museum of San Diego. It is reproduced on the KWE with permission of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

According to news in "The Master, Mate & Pilot" newsletter (Volume 43, No. 5, September-October 2007, author Lionel C. Meeker was well-known in the transport line industry.

"Lionel C. Meeker, 87, died May 1 [2007]. A resident of Sea Level, N.C., and a pensioner since 1971, he last sailed for Pacific Transport Lines Inc. as third mate on the Japan Transport. He was a builder of model ships and the author of many articles for modeler magazines."

View his Collision at Sea article here (PDF File).

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Fisherman John Angelo Napoli

John A. Napoli was one of the first men on the scene after the USS Benevolence sank on August 25, 1950.  He selflessly gave up his day's catch and suffered extensive damage to his fishing vessel during the rescue effort.  He died in a hospital in Terra Linda, a small town in Marin County, California, in January of 1969.  He was 64 years of age at the time of his death.

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Compensation for Life Salvage at Sea - by David W. Brown (Hastings Law Journal), p. 53

"On the night of August 25, 1950 the U.S.S. Benevolence, a Navy hospital ship, collided with the S.S. Mary Luckenback [sic].  The collision took place on a foggy night about four miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Upon instructions from the United States Coast Guard, John Napoli proceeded to his small fishing boat to the scene of the accident and commenced taking on survivors of the U.S.S. Benevolence, which sank thirty minutes after the collision.  Napoli transferred the first load of survivors to the S.S. Mary Luckenback [sic].  After this, some of the crew of the S.S. Mary Luckenback [sic] boarded Napoli's vessel to aid him in taking on more survivors.  To make room for the victims and to facilitate rescue operations a valuable part of Napoli's catch for the day had to be jettisoned.  Also, in the risky business of transferring people to the S.S. Mary Luckenback [sic] Napoli's ship was damaged as waves continually pushed the two vessels together.  In all, Napoli rescued seventy members of the crew of the U.S.S. Benevolence from the water.

The Navy Department has seen fit to reimburse Napoli for his loss of cargo, for repairs to his vessel and for loss of income while repairs were being effected.  The decision has met universal approval. [Note 1 - Perhaps the payment is explained as an in quantum meruit recovery based on an implied contract arising when the Coast Guard directed Napoli to the scene of the collision.  Whatever the explanation, the precise legal basis for the award has not been made clear.]

By compensating Napoli the Navy has gone beyond the duty usually assumed in compensating those who have performed meritorious service in saving life at sea.  Since the case of The Zephyrus in 1842 the idea has been imbedded in our law that salvage is a reward for saving property in peril at sea, and life salvage is awarded only out of property saved concurrently with the lives.  It is the purpose of this comment to show how this principle has been treated since the International Salvage Convention of 1911 and to point out the possibilities for a more equitable interpretation as regards the life salvor.

According to the usual definition, "salvage is due to persons by whose assistance a ship or her cargo has been saved from impending peril on the sea, or in recovering property from actual loss in the case of shipwreck, derelict, or recapture.  Success is essential to the claim.  The objet must be maritime.  G.H. Robinson in his work on admiralty law states that "the whole theory of salvage is predicated on the proposition that by general admiralty law there is no legal duty to aid a thing or person who is in distress.  The award is made to encourage voluntary, meritorious service which is successful.

Despite this emphasis on the voluntary aspects of salvage, 46 U.S.C.A., section 728, reads as follows:

'The master or person in charge of a vessel, shall so far as he can do so without serious damage to his own vessel, crew, or passengers, render assistance to every person who is found at sea in danger of being lost; and if he fails to do so, he shall, upon conviction, be liable for a penalty of not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both.'

[KWE Note: Brown's comments continue to page 54 of this volume of the Hastings Law Journal, but that page has not yet been found.]

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Bill Passed

May 17, 1961 - A bill to pay John A. Napoli, heroic San Francisco fisherman who singlehandedly rescued 70 people in the USS Benevolence sinking in 1950, was passed by the Senate and sent to the White House for signature.  Napoli hurt his back so badly in the rescue that he could no longer do heavy work.  He sold his boat and crab traps and since then has held only minor jobs as a waterfront clerk.  The disaster, in which 23 crew members of the Navy hospital ship Benevolence lost their lives, occurred on August 25, 1950, when a freighter, the Mary Luckenbach, rammed the ship in a dense fog in the Golden Gate.  The Benevolence sank in 20 minutes.  Napoli, returning from a day's fishing, was informed by the Coast Guard.  He spent hours hunting survivors in the fog, transferring them to the freighter.  The Navy paid him $4,422 for damage to his boat and the loss of his catch and his inability to work.  The Luckenbach line paid him $15,000.  North Beach gave him a banquet and the Board of Supervisors a commendation.  But Napoli, now 57, has never been able to go back to his lifelong trade, and on that basis Congress approved the bill that was finally passed.

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Peter J. Hayes Newspaper Account

[KWE Note:  The following San Francisco, California newspaper article entitled, "Fisherman Who Saved 70 Lives Due for Award, 11 Years Later", was found in the Milwaukee Journal of May 26, 1961.  It was written by UPI writer Peter J. Hayes, and all credit goes to him for the information found within the following.]

What price heroism?  To gallant John Napoli a grateful nation is about to make a final installment--11 years later.  Napoli's story goes back to an August afternoon a few weeks after the Korean War began in 1950.  The short, barrel-chested San Francisco fisherman was headed back toward the Golden Gate alone in his34-foot fishing boat, the Flora.  Fishing boxes on the deck were filled with 550 pounds of shining silver salmon.

Suddenly a "mayday" crackled over his radio.  A hospital ship was reported sinking 30 miles away.  "I took a bearing and headed through the fog toward him," said Napoli.  "Then it was just like God pressing a button.  The fog lifted and I saw heads bobbing up and down. I started hauling them aboard." 

The Flora was one of the first of a fleet of rescue craft to reach the scene of the collision of the hospital ship Benevolence and the freighter Mary Luckenbach.  The Benevolence was returning from sea trials after being activated for service in Korea.  It carried a navy and civilian crew totaling 526, including nurses, and sank within 40 minutes with a loss of 28 lives.

That the death toll was not higher was due in large measure to Napoli, now 57.  Single-handed, he hauled 54 shocked, shivering survivors aboard his boat, throwing his fish overboard to make room.  "The noise was terrible," he said.  "Everywhere, people crying, "Helm, mama."  "Help, please."  "Over here, help please."  I called, "OK, we'll be there, we'll be there."

After transferring survivors to large rescue craft, the exhausted Napoli once again headed for home but he hadn't traveled far before he came on 16 more navy men clinging together in the water.  He wept because he was too weak to pull them over the railing but he tied them to the rail and towed them to another vessel. In 3 hours he had saved 70 lives.

Besides losing his catch, Napoli suffered a serious back injury and his boat was badly battered against the Luckenbach during the transferring of the survivors.  Napoli could no longer fish for a living.  He couldn't lift anything and was in and out of hospitals for 3 years. 

"I sold my boat for a loss, also my crab traps.  I still owe the doctors.  My wife Flora died in 1958.  She worried more about me not being able to work than about herself.  This killed her," he said.

He received $19,422 in a claim against the owners of the Luckenbach and from the navy, but he could only work at odd jobs on the San Francisco waterfront and the fund soon drained away.  Congress has finally approved a tax free $25,000 special measure rewarding Napoli's heroism.  It was introduced by Representative William Mailhard (Republican, California) and awaits expected White House approval.

Now snowy haired, Napoli works as a shipping clerk for General Steamship Company.  Mornings on his way to work he pauses at Fisherman's Wharf for a word with old friends.  "I can't go fishing anymore, but the worst thing is that hardly any of 70 I pulled out of the water ever remembered," Napoli said.

"A Navy paymaster, Arthur Smith, was the first one I pulled in that day.  He looked like a turtle on the water and I nearly missed him, but every Christmas, wherever he is, he sends me special delivery a check for $50. I tell him not to, but he says, 'Well, I wouldn't be here to give it to you if it wasn't for you.'  It isn't the money....it's just that he remembers."

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I Saved 25 Persons From Drowning

by Dominic DiMare
as told to Terry Hansen

Dominic DiMare
(Click picture for a larger view)

[KWE disclaimer: The material contained in "I Saved 25 Persons from Drowning" is copyrighted by The DiMare Family Trust with permission given to the Korean War Educator to reproduce this material solely for historical and educational purposes.]

"Sure, I’m a fisherman. But it wasn’t crab or salmon I was hauling into my boat the late afternoon of August 25, 1950. My cargo was human bodies! I, along with two other fishermen, Dominic Tringali and John Napoli, had stumbled innocently upon San Francisco’s worst sea disaster in years.

Our three boats, lined behind one another, had groped through a damp, gray-white fog into a pocket of open weather. The sight that greeted us wasn’t one that we had expected. Human heads dotted the calm Pacific Ocean water, like fields of lettuce. They were some of the survivors off the USNS Benevolence. The big, white-painted, 11,000-ton vessel had collided with a freighter four miles out in the ocean from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Groups of survivors, some wearing life preservers, were linked to one another in chain-like fashion. Others were alone in the water, their faces blue from the cold. There were 527 persons in the water. Twenty-three of them never survived the tragedy.

In the cabin of my fishing boat, I deftly manipulated the wheel, keeping the craft on course in the water, headed towards the human dots on the surface. My helper, Dominick Fruciano, ran to the boat’s rear cockpit where most of our 300 pounds of salmon laid. Holding a grapple hook, he stood at the edge of the boat’s side, ready to begin plucking in our human cargo. Tringali and Napoli, in their boats, were scurrying around in the water to rescue the survivors.

The three of us hadn’t had the slightest inkling we’d stumble upon a sea disaster that day. Before, we’d been fishing about 25 miles out at sea. Our luck had been poor. So, with our light loads aboard the three fishing boats, we started for San Francisco and the city’s famous Fishermen’s Wharf, where we keep our boats berthed. En route, we ran into ghost-like clouds of fog. As we approached the shoreline, the fog worsened. Nevertheless, we kept our boat radios turned off since the three of us could see one another.

Meanwhile, the Benevolence was on a shakedown cruise. Built in 1944, the 522-foot-long hospital ship had been de-mothballed and was being readied for use in the Korean War. In addition to its crew members, the boat had many Navy doctors, dentists, and nurses aboard it.

Near the cruise’s end, a dead gray fog settled down over the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Benevolence was in the main ship channel when, suddenly, it collided with an 8,162-ton, C-2 type freighter. The freighter’s bow was smashed in, but she didn’t capsize. Luck, however, didn’t ride with the Benevolence. In 35 minutes she had keeled over and was on its side in 75 feet of water.

The first impact of the two vessels forewarned the 527 persons aboard the Benevolence something drastic had happened. The ship began quickly to capsize. Hundreds of persons dove into the water. Two men, who’d been in the engine room, ran topside and slid 40 feet down a rope into water. Their hands were badly burned by the rope. Another man was on a ladder inside the ship when the crash occurred. He was flung to the bottom of the ladder. Despite his painful injuries, he crawled up to one of the decks and flung life preservers into the water, as the ship was keeping over. The air over the water was filled with screams of the frightened, pain of the injured. In barely more than half an hour, the Benevolence was in her watery grave. One side of her was stretched out just below the water’s surface. Waves slapping over the ship’s side couldn’t hide one of the Benevolence’s gleaming red crosses.

The first person to sound the rescue call was Lt. Donby J. Mathieu. He was at the Coast Guard rescue coordination center when he received a call from the staff duty officer of the Twelfth Naval District. The Navy message was, “Am four miles off Golden Gate Bridge. Need emergency assistance.” Within three minutes, Lieutenant Mathieu had alerted an 83-foot Coast Guard ready duty boat, and other Coast Guard boats at the Ft. Point and Port Reyes lifeboat stations. In the next 10 to 12 minutes, he had a vast armada of vessels, including Army tugs and commercial ships, hurrying to the scene of the disaster. It was the maritime industry’s teamwork that prevented the Benevolence human loss from being more extensive than what it was.

Of course, Tringali, Napoli, and I didn’t receive the Coast Guard message because our ship radios were turned off, as we headed for San Francisco in the gloomy, murky weather. The fish catch for all three of us had been small for the day. But then, the fisherman is in a crazy business to start with.

My case is typical of the other San Francisco commercial fishermen. I get up at 3 o’clock in the morning and go to Fishermen’s Wharf, a scenic tourist attraction with its aroma-filled restaurants, sidewalk crab stands, and boats. At the Wharf, I pick up my bait. Squid if it’s crab season, herring if I’m going out for salmon. About 150 boats leave the harbor at the same time in the morning, bound for the fishing grounds out in the ocean. It’s usually dark when we leave, but sometimes when I’m at the rear of the armada, the sea of lights from the boats make them resemble a small city skimming over the water.

Sometimes I go out into the ocean for only a day. Other times I’ll be out for a week, fishing from Eureka to the north, to Monterey Bay to the south. Our boats fan out in all directions. When one of us hits a “strike”, he reports it over the radio. The other fishermen hear the important call and swarm in towards the boat taking in fish.

But it’s crazy business. You work long and hard hours. One year you make good money. The next year the fish price is way down and you’re lucky to make expenses. And remember, you got some $2,500 worth of gear down in the water. And you’re surrounded by danger a lot of the time. The fog’s our worst enemy. More than once I’ve peered out of a thick haze of fog and seen a big freighter almost overhead. Only a hard pull on the wheel saved me and my boat.

Before the Benevolence disaster, Tringali, Napoli, and I had been at Port Reyes, a harbor nestling along the California coastline bout 30 miles north of San Francisco. “Let’s go back to the city and get some fresh bait,” Tringali suggested. Napoli and I agreed. We were willing to try anything to get fish. We departed from Port Reyes, fished for awhile some 25 miles out from the San Francisco harbor, and then left for Golden Gate Bridge, and home. My crewman was Fruciano while Tringali had Salvatore Bramante as his helper. Napoli was alone on his boat.

The fog had thickened as we neared the coastline. I was at the wheel on the bridge, directly above the cabin. There’s another wheel in the cabin, another one behind the cabin, and a fourth one at the stern. But in the fog, I wanted to be on the bridge so I could get a better view of any approaching ships. I was also alert for the main ship channel and the shoal bars. Should a fisherman get stranded up on a shoal, he’s done for. The breakers will pound him and his boat to pieces. Even if he can get into the water, wearing a life preserver, he will be pounded against jagged rocks at the shoal shoreline, or be sucked down by a swift 10-mile-an-hour tide.

My boat, the San Dominoco, powered by a 85-horsepower diesel engine, entered the channel. Through the fog I could see the flickering lights atop the buoys. Buoys to our left had red lights, the ones to our right had white lights. “This fog is getting bad,” I told Fruciano, standing alongside me on the bridge. “We should have returned to Port Reyes, spent the night there, and come on in tomorrow.” Franciano murmured, “Yeah,” keeping his eyes peering with the same intentness as mine out into the white shrouds of fog. “Well, we’ll keep going,” I decided. I was warm in my long underwear, wool shirt, heavy pants, and big leather fur-lined jacket. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel leery. This was bad weather. Very bad.

Suddenly, a big freighter hovered ahead of us. It was standing still in the water. Its bow was smashed in. It was the ship that had collided with the Benevolence. A small Coast Guard boat was alongside it. An officer, megaphone in hand, stood on the deck. “There’s been a wreck,” he shouted at us. “A lot of people are in the water. Start hunting for them.”

Tringali, Napoli and I cut the speeds of our boats, staying close to one another, as we began to make a cautious search of the water. One moment I was in a patch of fog so thick I hardly could see the other two boats. The next moment my “San Dominico” slid out of the fog and entered a section of clear weather. My God, look at those people in the water,” Fruciano gasped.  It was the same sight I’d seen once before, when I was in the Army. We’d been crossing the English Channel when one of our boats in the convoy hit a mine. There were persons everywhere in the waster, just like there were now.

I stayed at the wheel of the boat and Fruciano ran to the rear cockpit. Some survivors, almost frigid from fatigue and cold, groped through the waster with their arms and reached the sides of our boats. They could cling to the rubber tires along the water line of the craft, but they couldn’t pull themselves aboard. I knew they wouldn’t be able to do that. I weigh nearly 200 pounds, but with all that added weight from water-filled clothes, I couldn’t get myself aboard.

Fruciano bent low over the side of our boat and began to haul the survivors aboard. He’d grab a person by clothing at the back of his neck, and a leg, and pull. One blue-faced man groaned, “I thought we’d never be rescued.”  Fruciano hauled more persons into our boat. Tringali and Napoli, nearby, were doing the same. After awhile, Fruciano became so weakened from his rescue task he hardly could stand. There were more persons in the water. “Take the wheel,” I told him, and hurried to the stern. The first person I grabbed was a bulky man. As I wrestled him overboard, I knew what Fruciano had gone through.

I kept working. A man, barely moving his arms, floundered in the water. He couldn’t reach the boat. I grabbed the 7-foot-long grapple hook that has a dull end, reached out with it and snared his life preserver. I pulled him through the water to the boat. When I got the man aboard I could see he badly needed artificial respiration. I told two other men I’d rescued to haul in the others, and began to give the water-soaked man artificial respiration. However, it was apparent I had to get to the boat’s side to haul in more persons out of the water. The other men I’d sent to perform this task were too weak for the job.

One man had been in the water so long the skin around his fingernails peeled off as he clutched the rubber tires alongside my boat. Now I had 25 persons aboard. Tringali had 27 and Napoli 16. Tringali and his helper, Bramante, even had two dead persons on their boat. Our boats were filled to capacity. Besides, there now were other rescue craft around us. One Army tug had 140 persons aboard it.

Every muscle in my body ached as I got my boat underway. I could hardly lift my legs. I’d never been so tired in all my life. Yet, we had to keep going, get the survivors ashore and to hospitals. If we didn’t, some of them would die. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but one man on my boat had expired. He was the one I’d given artificial respiration. We reached the Coast Guard station located almost directly beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. An army of ambulances awaited us there. Coast Guard corpsmen hurried aboard and began caring for the survivors.

After we’d unloaded our human cargo, Tringali, Napoli, and I headed our boats for Fishermen’s Wharf. It was nearly 10 o’clock that night when we snugged our craft to the dock and unloaded our fish. That is, what there was left of it. When we’d taken on the survivors, we’d had to dump some of our salmon over-board.

Tringali and I went home together. Tringali, his face strained from fatigue, said, “I’m so tired I’m not going out fishing tomorrow.” “You’re right. I’m not either,” I said. At my house I walked into the front room and saw my family grouped around the short wave radio set that picks up calls from ships at sea. “Heh, did you hear about the big ship disaster?” my wife said to me. “Sure I did,” I answered. “I was in on it.” I gulped three or four swigs of whiskey and went to bed.

A few weeks later the Navy held a ceremony for Tringali, Napoli, and me. We received scrolls, part of which read, “The outstanding humanitarian service rendered in saving the lives of his fellow men follows the best traditions of sea faring men and is worthy of the highest tribute from all.” My back was still pushed out of shape, when I stood with the other two fishermen to receive the scrolls. But I’m proud of the honor, and that we could save all those people. Who knows? From the life a fisherman leads, I may need help someday myself."

View Dominic DiMare's newspaper clippings and thank-yous here (PDF File - 4.2MEG).

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Status of Wreckage - A Report

Submerged Cultural Resources Assessment - 1989
Golden Gate National Recreational Area, Gulf of the Farallones National
Marine Sanctuary and Point Reyes National Seashore

by James P. Delgado and Stephen A. Haller

[AUTHORS' NOTE: The Submerged Cultural Resources Unit (SCRU) was established in 1980 to conduct research on submerged cultural resources throughout the National Park System with an emphasis on historic shipwrecks. One of the unit’s primary responsibilities is to disseminate the results of research to National Park Service managers, as well as the professional community, in a form that meets resource management needs and adds to our understanding of the resource base. A report series has been initiated in order to fulfill this responsibility.]

Benevolence was a U.S. Navy hospital ship converted from the U.S. Maritime Commission standard C-4 type cargo vessel launched as Marine Lion.  She was built at the Sun Shipbuilding Company of Chester, Pennsylvania, and launched on July 10, 1944.  Within the month Marine Lion was transferred to the U.S. Navy for conversion to a hospital ship.  That work was carried out at the Todd-Erie Basin Shipyard at Brooklyn, New York, and completed by May 12, 1945, at which time the vessel was commissioned into the U.S. Navy as Benevolence (AH-13).  Her displacement was 13,330 long tons, arid her dimensions were 520 feet long, '71-foot beam, and 21-foot-3-inch depth of hold. Vessels of her class were powered by dual-cylinder steam turbine engines, and could make 18.5 knots.

Benevolence spent the waning weeks of World War I1 tending to those sick and wounded in operations against the home islands of Japan, and entered Japanese waters shortly after the cease-fire in order to begin processing of liberated Allied prisoners of war. She was on station near Bikini Atoll during the 1946 atomic bomb tests, and went to China in 1946-47 for her last cruise before inactivation.

Benevolence was removed from the reserve fleet in 1950 and refitted at Mare Island Naval Shipyard for service in the Korean War. On August 25, 1950, she completed a series of routine test runs outside the Golden Gate. Proceeding in a generally easterly direction in the main ship channel at a speed of 16 to 18 knots, she entered a fog bank, but continued as before since her radar screen clearly showed five ships, but none near enough to be a hazard. Suddenly, the freighter Mary Luckenbach appeared out of the fog, and in spite of evasive action by the hospital ship, cut into her port side. Water poured into the 20-foot by 30-foot hole, the ship listed to port, and began to settle by the bow. Her captain immediately requested assistance by radio, but assumed that the vessel would remain afloat, and gave no order to abandon ship. However, Benevolence sank within 40 minutes.

Two crews had been aboard: one of Navy personnel, the other made up of civilians being trained to take over--526 persons in all. Many struggled in the cold water for hours, as a fleet eventually totaling about 40 rescue vessels combed the foggy ocean for survivors. In all, 18 people lost their lives in the area's worst maritime disaster since the wreck of Rio de Janiero in 1901.

An extensive investigation disclosed some curious particulars that contributed to the disaster: Luckenbach's radar was not in use at the time of the collision, in spite of the fog; reports of her speed at the time varied from 8 to 16 knots. Capt. Leonard C. Smith of Luckenbach testified that he ordered his vessel to drop anchor after the collision, and that he remained in that location for an hour and a half, hearing no distress signaIs, without attempting to contact Benevolence by radio, and without lowering lifeboats. He had concluded "that the damage to the hospital ship was all above the water line and that she was proceeding into port."

The hull of Benevolence came to rest on its port side, in 74 feet of water, approximately one mile south of the main ship channel. It is located 4,250 yards from Mile Rock, bearing 252 degrees true. The white hull with its red crosses was clearly visible at low water, and was deemed a hazard to navigation. Unable to raise the vessel, the wreck was dynamited in 1952 to clear the obstruction. More than 50 feet of water now covers the remains of Benevolence. It is therefore unlikely that significant structural sections, or objects retaining their original provenience, will presently be located at the site."

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Newspaper Clippings

Read clippings from newspaper articles about the USS Benevolence here.

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Awards and Medals

Coast Guard Awards

  • CS2 Arthur L. Amos Jr. - Silver Lifesaving Medal
  • HMC Ollie E. Bonine - Letter of Appreciation from the Commandant
  • BOSN Charles V. Cowing - Commandant's Letter of Commendation (died 1962)
  • EN1 Louis A. Grcina - Silver Lifesaving Medal
  • LT Donby J. Mathieu - Letter of Appreciation from the Commandant (Born 3/29/1917-died 9/7/2010.  Buried in Florida National Cemetery, Sumter County, FL.)
  • Senior Surgeon Clifford E. Nelson, USPHS - Commandant's Letter of Commendation (Born June 27, 1924-died January 21, 2002.  Buried in San Francisco Presidio National Cemetery.)
  • SR Clarence R. Sanderson - Silver Lifesaving Medal
  • RM3 Billy J. Slaton - Commandant's Letter of Commendation

Navy and Marine Medal Recipients

  • Chief Wilfred R. Jackson, Chief Aviation Electronicsman - General Orders: All Hands (Feb 1952)
  • Chief Boilerman Horace W. Hall - General Orders: All Hands (Feb 1952)

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Past Accidents in and near Golden Gate

  • September 7, 1888 - Vessel City of Chester sunk in bay after collision with British steamer Oceanic
  • September 9, 1900 - Freighter May Flint sunk off Folsom street dock after double collision with battleship Iowa and barque Vidette
  • November 30, 1901 - Ferryboat San Rafael sunk off Alcatraz after colliding with ferryboat Sausalito
  • June 19, 1902 - Steamer Eureka wrecked near Cliff House
  • November 23, 1914 - Steamer Hanaei wrecked off Point Bollinas with 25 lost
  • August 6, 1921 - Steamer Alaska wrecked off Blunt's Reef (30 miles north) with 29 lost
  • October 7, 1922 - Union oil tanker Lyman Stewart went ashore near Mile Rock after colliding with the Walter Luckenbach
  • February 7, 1923 - Motorship Sierra in collision with steamer Wilhelmina off San Francisco lightship
  • February 6, 1926 - Steamer Yosemite went aground near Cliff House, blew up
  • April 24, 1927 - Ferry Golden City sank after collision with steamer Newport off Hyde street pier
  • October 7, 1936 - Steamer Ohioan went aground on Point Lobos in dense fog and broke up
  • March 6, 1937 - Liner President Coolidge and tanker Frank H. Buck collided in dense fog just west of Golden Gate bridge
  • August 25, 1950 - Hospital ship Benevolence collided in dense fog with Mary Luckenbach off Golden Gate with 23 lives lost

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Readers' Comments

Klebusch, Jeanne Venverloh

"My brother Jerome Venverloh forwarded to me your e-mail re: More information about our sister, Dorothy J. Venverloh, who was a survivor of the Benevolence sinking on August 25, 1950.  Your story, along with the extra information, was exciting to read again, and well done.  In the Navy Medicine periodical, January-February 2002, there is an article written by our sister Dorothy Venverloh telling of her complete experience regarding the Benevolence sinking.  I have a copy of that article which I will forward to you by post office mail, since I don't have the necessary pc equipment to quickly get it to you. 

My sister Dorothy was such a wonderful, generous person to me and to all of us.  (Dorothy was the third child in our family of eventually nine children.)  She was the first of my siblings to attend college, Nursing School, St. John's in St. Louis, and for us younger sisters (three), a good example.  Our youngest sister, Susan, wrote and put together a booklet telling all about Dot's life, including her letters to our family telling about the Benevolence sinking, etc.  On July 17, 2005, Dorothy died suddenly of a heart attack."

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Circular of Information - Moses Taylor Hospital School of Nursing

[KWE Note: In order for our readers to have a better understanding of the training that nurses of the World War II/Korean War time frame had to undergo, the family of Lt. Gail Matthews (Fain) provided to the KWE a booklet with the rules and regulations of Moses Taylor Hospital School of Nursing.  Lieutenant Matthews was one of the Navy nurses who survived the sinking of the USS Benevolence.  She graduated from the nursing school in 1941.  View the circular here: Part 1 (PDF File), Part 2 (PDF File), Part 3 (PDF File).]

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Photo Album

View a collection of photos relating to the USS Benevolence here.


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