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Failure to Promote Ellsberg, Hero of S-51 Salvage, Criticized by Congressman

September 15, 1926
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Failure on the part of Secretary of the Navy Wilbur to promote Lieutenant Commander Edward Ellsberg to the rank of Commander in recognition of his heroism and leadership in the salvaging of the submarine S-51 was sharply criticized by Congressman Emanuel Celler of the Tenth Congressional District of Brooklyn, in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy made known yesterday.

The recommendation for the promotion of Lieutenant Commander Ellsberg and his comrades, Lieutenant Henry Hartley and Boatswain Richard Hawes, was made by the United States navy authorities and strongly approved by Admiral Plunkett, in charge of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the station of the above mentioned naval officers.

In his letter to Secretary Wilbur, Congressman Celler declared that unless the Secretary will advance the officers as recommended, he will introduce into Congress a resolution authorizing the president of the United States to advance Lieutenant Commander Ellsberg to the rank of Rear Admiral and to promote the other two.

“It seems that the reasons advanced for this failure properly to reward these heroes is the Department’s policy not to recommend the promotion of officers as a reward for service. It is difficult to understand this policy if any such existed. Already some twenty of the enlisted men engaged in salvaging the S.51 have been promoted. Furthermore the record of officers who have been promoted for meritorious service is not short,” Congressman Celler wrote.

“The recommendations for promotion of Ellsberg, Hartley and Hawes are so forceful that I must burden you with repeating portions thereof. Captain King says of Ellsberg:

” ‘Not only was his technical knowledge and resource adequate for every’ difficulty but he displayed the highest order of leadership. He set an example to the divers by learning to dive and by actually descending to the S-51 on the bottom no less than three times during the period April-July 1926. Again, on July 7, 1926, while working on top of No. 3 port pontoon with the aid of a derrick, a wire strap gave way, and the men on the pontoon were in great danger, but Lieutenant Commander Ellsberg (who was one of them) saved himself and turned immediately to the saving of the pontoon (on which the whole job depended at that time), even to the extent of shoving thumbs into broken vent pipes, with the pontoon awash, until wooden plugs could be secured. His ingenuity was inexhausible, his perseverance in the face of countless setbacks was unfailing and his determination animated and inspired all hands. One of his contributions to the salvage work was the perfection of a high-speed underwater cutting torch and he is responsible for the development of the technique of lowering and placing pontoons with accuracy and facility, hitherto not known. It is desired to repeat that to his efforts and skill the successful salvage of the S-51 is primarily and unmistakably due. Lieutenant Commander Ellsberg is now one of the senior Lieutenant Commanders of his Corps and I wish strongly to recommend his advancement to the rank of commander and the award to him of a Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his work on the salvage of S-51.’

“The whole country was thrilled with the daring exploits attendant upon the rescue of the ill-fated S-51, but as is readily discernable it was the heroism of the three officers mentioned that made the rescue possible.

“These men must and should be properly rewarded. The bestowal of medals upon them is insufficient. I contemplate offering the hereinafter mentioned Resolution in Congress unless it is your will to advance these men as recommended. The Resolution is as follows:

“Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled:

“Sec. 1. That the President of the United States be and is hereby authorized to place Naval Constructor Edward Ellsberg, United States Navy, on the retired list of the Corps of Naval Constructors, of the United States Navy with the rank of rear admiral, upper half, to date from July 5, 1926, with the highest retired pay of that grade under existing law.

“Sec. 2. That the thanks of Congress be, and the same are hereby tendered to Edward Ellsberg, United States Navy, for his services in raising the United States Ship S-51.

“Sec. 3. That the President of the United States be, and is hereby authorized to appoint Lieutenant Henry Hartley, United States Navy, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy to date from July 5, 1926, in recognition of his services as commanding officer of the submarine rescue ship Falcon, in connection with the salvage of the United States Ship S-51.

“Sec. 4. That the President of the United States be, and is hereby authorized to appoint Chief Boatswain Richard E. Hawes, United States Navy, an Ensign in the Navy, to date from July 5, 1926, in recognition of his services and personal bravery in connection with the salvage of the United States Ship S-51, provided that the said Chief Boatswain Richard E. Hawes shall suffer no loss of pay or allowances as a result of such promotion.”

“Furthermore, I am informed that Representative Edward T. Taylor of Colorado, from whence Lieutenant Commander Ellsberg comes, has evinced great interest in the recommendations concerning him. I am sending him a copy of this communication, and I am sure we have his unqualified support to the end that Lieutenant Commander Ellsberg may be properly advanced in rank.

“Furthermore, I am informed that Representative Carl Vinson of Georgia is very much interested in the fortunes of his constituent, Boatswain Hawes.”

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