I was dining at the Mandana Inn some time ago, and saw a plaque on the wall dedicated to Osmond K. Ingram, and wondered who he was, and how his memorial found its way to Mandana.
The easy part first: Osmond Kelly “Rebel” Ingram was from Pratt City, Alabama, the son of a Confederate army veteran. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1903 while still a teenager. In 1917, shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, he was serving as a Gunner’s Mate First Class aboard the destroyer USS Cassin. Operating out of Queenstown, Ireland, the Cassin met American troop convoys at sea and escorted them to ports in England and France.
On October 15, 1917, the ship’s lookouts spotted a torpedo running on the surface toward the Cassin, fired by a German submarine, the U-61. The Cassin took evasive action, which for a fleeting moment seemed successful, but the torpedo suddenly “porpoised,” leaping out of the water and splashing down in a new direction, straight for the aft of the ship.
Osmond Ingram had been cleaning the muzzle of a gun when he saw the torpedo heading directly toward the Cassin’s rack of depth charges – eight “ash cans” each holding 250 pounds of TNT. Ingram said to his shipmates, “This is my job.” Alone, he raced to jettison the charges into the sea and away from the coming explosion. As he was wrestling them overboard, the torpedo struck. The blast killed Ingram instantly and set off the charges still on deck, which wounded more sailors and almost ripped the stern off the Cassin. But no one else was killed and the ship stayed afloat.
For giving his life to save his shipmates and his ship, Ingram was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His body was never recovered, but his name is inscribed on the wall of a chapel, along with the names of 562 other missing men, at Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial, in Surrey, England.
More honors were to come. In 1919, the destroyer USS Ingram was commissioned, the first ship ever named for an enlisted man. In 1921, the Secretary of the Navy reported that artists such as George Bellows, N.C. Wyeth and Frank Schoonover were painting pictures for the Navy Department. Among these distinguished artists, Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960), famous for his World War I posters, did a painting of Osmond K. Ingram on the Cassin, shown below.
In 1932, West Park in Birmingham, Alabama, was renamed Kelly Ingram Park in the hero’s honor. And in San Diego, Ingram Plaza at the former Naval Training Center, now Liberty Station, also bears his name.
But what of the plaque? Its original home was the Ingram Club in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston. Established circa 1919, the Ingram Club held a canteen, a library of books and motion pictures for the ships at sea, and a ballroom for dancing and parties. The base was home to sailors waiting for a ship, and hosted more than 25,000 men in the early days of World War II. But its usefulness diminished over the years, and at some point, the Ingram Club closed.
In 1974, the entire Charlestown Navy Yard was closing. Buildings were being torn down or gutted before the hand-over of the land to the National Park Service and the City of Boston. Among the few sailors still stationed there were the men of the ceremonial honor guard for the USS Constitution, the famous “Old Ironsides.” As is par for the course in the service, the honor guard was sent one day to Frazier Barracks, a 60,000 square foot ‘white elephant’ of a building, to tear out walls. And on one wall, they saw the brass plaque for the Ingram Club. The NCO in charge said, “Boy, I am going to make a killing at the scrap yard tonight.”
That didn’t seem right. And when the NCO left to answer the call of nature, a member of the honor guard ripped out the plaque, along with a portion of the wall behind it, and spirited it to safety. Upon returning, the NCO found only a hole in the wall and all of his men suffering from amnesia.
The sailor who saved the plaque was Howard “Butch” Fisher, USN, of Skaneateles. He didn’t know where the plaque belonged, but he knew it didn’t belong in a scrap yard. Three months later, when Fisher left the Navy, the plaque left Boston.
These things have a way of working out. In the 1980s, Fisher was tending bar at the Mandana Inn, and one evening, he began talking with the Inn’s owner, Mike Koziol, about their service experiences. Koziol had been in the Navy, too; on D-Day his ship hit a mine on its way to Normandy beach. But before he went to Europe, Koziol had passed through the Charlestown Navy Yard, and bunked in Frazier Barracks.
Howard Fisher realized that this was meant to be. The plaque had found a home. The two Navy men saw that it was put up on the wall of the Inn, in the light of day, where people like me could say, “Who was Osmond Ingram?” and learn the story of his heroism.
So when next you are at the Mandana Inn, do raise a glass to Osmond Kelly Ingram’s memory, with thanks to his virtual shipmates who have kept it alive.