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Felix Xerxes Gygax

Felix Xerxes Gygax
Felix Xerxes Gygax

Felix Xerxes Gygax was born March 30, 1884, in Hancock Township, Osborne County, Kansas. He grew up on the family farm owned by his parents, Rudolf and Regina (Zimmerman) Gygax. He attended the local one-room schools in his area.

After graduation from Downs High School Gygax taught school for a number of years until he was awarded an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1903. He graduated on September 12, 1906, and was sent home to await orders. He had originally tried to get an appointment to West Point but the Army turned him down.

He was finally assigned to the USS Kearsarge and reported on board but on November 10, 1906 he was granted a one-month sick leave for unspecified reasons. He returned to the USS Kearsage in a round about way via the USS Ohio on January 15, 1907. Apparently the Kearsarge had sailed while he was on sick leave and he was placed aboard the Ohio to meet up later with the Kearsarge.

He was to participate in the 14-month voyage of the Great White Fleet around the world that had been ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt from December 1907 to September 1909 but he received orders on April 9, 1909 to report home to await orders.

He was transferred to the U.S.S. Minnesota from home a short while later. He was detached from the Minnesota to temporary duty at the Bureau of Steam Engineering at the Navy Department in Washington DC on October 8, 1911.

On November 4, 1911 he received word he had been promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade). A few days later, on November 16, 1911, Lieutenant (jg) Gygax married Estelle Ise at the Ise family home in Lawrence, Kansas. Estelle and her family were also Osborne County residents. She was born on Aug. 22, 1887.

Estelle's family were; father, Henry Christopher Ise (1841 - 1900), mother, Rosa C. Haag Ise (1855 - 1947). The family name had been Isenmenger but when her father joined the Union Forces during the Civil War a recruiting officer told him that the name was too large for such a little man and promptly shortened it to Ise. Felix and Estelle raised two sons, Felix Jr., and Rex Gygax.

After the wedding Gygax was ordered to duty, as a naval inspector, at Winterthur, Switzerland. The Swiss were building submarine diesel engines in a factory there for the U.S. Navy. He was appointed naval attaché when he learned that the Swiss wanted to charge him income tax, as the naval attaché, which exempted him from the tax. He and his wife returned to the US and on March 13, 1913 he was posted back the Bureau of Steam Engineering.

On December 31, 1913 Gygax was ordered to report to the USS Tonopah, she was acting as a Submarine Tender in the Atlantic Fleet, for submarine instruction and command. He was then ordered to the USS G-3, then under construction and to take command when completed.

On February 13 1914 he was promoted to Lieutenant from Lieutenant (junior grade) but wasn't notified until August1, 1914.

On September 8, 1914 he was detached from the G-3 construction to take command of the Tuckerton wireless station, one of the only two plants in the United States in direct touch with Germany, able to receive messages from the belligerent European Powers. Gygax was given command because of his linguistic ability. Assisting him was Ensign George B. Junkin and Ensign C.B. Platt.

The station had been owned by German Americans and was taken over because of the suspected assistance being given to German ships off the coasts. The station was to maintain the strict neutrality of the United States in not giving and information to the Germans and the allies. All messages incoming and outgoing were subject to scrutiny by Gygax and higher command. The station was soon out of operation due to suspected German sabotage and damage of the main high voltage transformer generator.

On Christmas 1914 Gygax was detached from the radio station and returned to the USS G-3 under construction at the Lake Torpedo Boat Company to take command when completed.

The G-3 was placed into commission on March 22, 1915, with the engines Lieut. Gygax had supervised being built in Switzerland, installed aboard and he as the commanding officer.

G-3 spent the greater part of her entire career out of the submarine base at New London, Conn. She was constantly employed in the training of student officers in Block Island Sound and in Great Salt Pond Bay. In addition she carried out pioneering work that included: experimental submarine net operations off Port Jefferson, N.Y.; use of the submarine rescue diving bell; experiments with reflector recognition lights; submerged sound and magnetic detection tests with patrol boats and submarine chasers; and use as target in approach and attack problems that involved the testing of depth charges. Gygax was involved with the some of these trials and problems while in command.

On January 13, 1917 Gygax was detached from command of the G-3 and dispatched to the tender USS Fulton AS-1.

In June of 1917 New London hosted the Mayors of Connecticut, past and present with many events and luncheons. Mrs Estelle Gygax, wife of Lieut. Felix Gygax was included in the festivities.

August 11, 1918 Gygax was included in a mass wartime promotion to Lieutenant Commander (temporary) rank.

On September 11, 1918 he commissioned the Submarine USS R-18 at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. The R-18 initial operations were in the Panama Canal Zone until the end of 1918 when she reported to San Pedro as her new homeport and base of operations.

After leaving the R-18, Gygax was appointed to be the first Officer-In-Charge of the US Navy Submarine School in New London, Groton, Connecticut, until 1920, he was then transferred to assist in the establishment of the submarine base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii under Chester Nimitz.

On April 30, 1920 the Maui News reported he was in charge of the submarine division at Pearl Harbor. In June we learn he was commanding the submarine R-15. On July 14, 1920 he was ordered to command of Submarine Division 14 at Pearl Harbor.

From 1924 to 1932 he served with the Engineering Section of the Fleet Training Division. We find him on January 18, 1929 as a Commander and the Aide and Flag Secretary to Admiral Charles F Hughes, the Battle Force Commander and the Chief of Naval Operations. He attended the launching of the 10,000-ton cruiser USS Salt Lake City at the American Brown-Boveri Electric Corporation. Camden, N, J. He also served as the Executive Officer of the Battleship Colorado.

From 1932 to 1935 he served as a Professor of Naval Science and Tactics and served as the Officer in Charge the NROTC at the University of California.

From 1935 to 1937, now promoted to Captain he was the Commanding Officer of the Cruiser Augusta which was the Flagship for Admirals Frank Upham, Orin G. Murfin and Harry E. Yarnell, each a 1 turn commander in chief of the Asiatic Fleet. It was while on this duty that the Mikado and the Empress of Japan received Captain Gygax.

During the following three years he was director of Naval Reserve Division, the Bureau of Navigation. Then he was ordered to duty as Commander of Cruiser Division There, receiving a presidential designation as Rear Admiral on assuming those duties in October 1940.

By September 1941 he seems to have been ordered to Portsmouth as the Yard Commandant when Secretary Knox and his party toured the shipyard.

In 1942 he was appointed commandant of the First Naval District in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was in charge of the Boston Naval Yard and later the Norfolk Navy Yard.

One of the admiral's greatest sources of satisfaction was his command of the Norfolk Yard and its tremendous expansion. It comprised over 700 acres and a workforce of over 40,000, up from almost 23,000 the year before. He frequently used his favorite bicycle in his rounds of the yard every day.

In February 1944 Gygax was present at the launching of the aircraft carrier Shangri-La CV-38 from Portsmouth Naval Shipyards. Mrs. Jimmy Doolittle christened the carrier. Gygax was there as the representative of and to read messages from Secretary of War Frank Knox.

On January 15, 1945 Mrs. Estelle Gygax, wife of Rear Adm. Felix Gygax, christened a Cargo Combat Ship in Providence, R.I. The vessel wasn't named in the report due to wartime restrictions on reporting vessel names and locations.

On May 15, 1945 the German U-Boats, U-805, U-1228 and the U-873 surrendered to US Forces and entered Casco Bay, Maine, under the control of Rear Admiral Felix X. Gygax, commandant of the First Naval District who was serving as task group commander for the commander of the Eastern Sea Frontier.

On July 13, 1945, Gygax was present at the commissioning of the USS George K. MacKenzie (DD-836), named for the commanding officer of the USS Triton SS 201. It was thought that Japanese depth-charging had sunk the Triton on March 15, 1943. The Trigger who had been in the same area and depth charged also on that day could hear the attacks through the water.

Rear Admiral Gygax retired August 1, 1946. He was called the "4-X Admiral" because he was the only man in the Navy with four X's in his name.

He was awarded the Legion of Merit and had been given an honorary "Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" probably because under his command many British ships had been repaired in yards under his control.

He and his wife, Estelle, built their retirement home in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

Estelle passed away on Jan. 24, 1965.

Felix Xerxes Gygax passed away February 24, 1977, in San Diego, California, He is buried, along with Estelle, at Arlington National Cemetery at Washington, D.C. Plot: Section 9 Lot 6220

Thanks to James Haas and Patricia Lynn for the proofreading.

We'd like to thank 'The Osborne County Hall of Fame' and 'Kansapedia - Kansas Historical Society' for supplying the basic outline and some early hard to access information on Admiral Gygax and his family.

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