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Owen Hill

Warrant Gunner Owen Hill aboard the USS Holland SS-1 c1901
Warrant Gunner Owen Hill aboard the USS Holland SS-1 c1901

Owen Hill was born in County Cavan, Ireland on May 14, 1875. His father was named Hugh Hill, 1848-1903, and his mother was the former Margaret Ann Cusack, ?-1901. Both lived to know of his becoming an American citizen and Naval Officer. He had four siblings, a brother Joseph, who was about 4 years older, and another older brother Patrick and two younger sisters, Mary and Ellen. Their situation in Ireland is not known but Joseph and Owen boarded the steam ship Germanic most likely in Queenstown, Ireland, it being the closer port, at the end of September of 1891. They listed themselves on the ships manifest as 'Laborers'. The two arrived in New York on October 9, 1891. Whether they had friends or family in this country is an unknown. A later address for them is listed as 176 Montauk Ave, in Brooklyn, New York.

On March 24, 1892, Owen enlisted in the Navy. Records show that his brother, Joseph, was also in the Navy, but his date of enlistment has not been located. He was already in the Navy when Owen enlisted. He is shown in many documents as a Seaman, and later, as a Seaman (Petty Officer).

By July 24, 1899, it is noted that he had been discharged from the Navy, having served seven years. In July of that year, Owen was making application to become a US citizen. On Owen's petition, Joseph gives testimony as to Owen's character and honesty. Joseph is noted in these documents as a 'Seaman (Officer)'. On July 29, 1899, Owen Hill was sworn in as a citizen of the United States and received his Naturalization Certificate.

At what point Owen re-enlisted isn't clear, but on May 2, 1899, Owen is listed in the newspapers as a Chief Gunner's mate in charge of the batteries (Guns) aboard the brand new battleship Iowa prior to his discharge and naturalization in July. It is normal when a term of enlistment is over to be discharged before going through the re-enlistment swearing in ceremony. He may have put this off for a short period of time, to get the paperwork processed. Ships and stations he was assigned to prior to this, have not been discovered as of yet.

The 1900 voter lists show Owen is stationed at the Naval Torpedo Station Rhode Island at Newport as an 'Acting Gunner'. A move up the chain of command to Warrant Officer and out of the enlisted ranks.

Owen Hill in back row Right
Owen Hill in back row Right
In the year 1900, the United States Navy purchased the Submarine Torpedo Boat “Holland VI' from the Holland Torpedo Boat Company and then on October 12, 1900, commissioned it into the US Navy as the USS Holland. Owen Hill “Acting Gunner' was part of that crew. In June of 1901, the famous 'First Crew' photo was taken and shows one of the few known images of Owen Hill, looking at the camera from the back row over the shoulder of William Hall, Electrician's mate Second Class.

On October 30, 1901, by Presidential Appointment from Teddy Roosevelt, Acting Gunner, Owen Hill was made permanent in rank as a 'Gunner'. So, in a little over 10 years, since his arrival in the United States, he has gone from 'Immigrant' fresh off the boat to a US Citizen and from an enlisted sailor to Warrant Officer. He also assured himself a spot in US Submarine history as part of the first crew of the first commissioned US Submarine.

On November 25, 1902, Lieut Arthur McArthur III, (he was not 'Jr' as stated in many cases), Douglas McArthur's older brother, assumes command of USSTB Holland from Lieutenant Harry Caldwell. Owen Hill was still part of the crew of the Holland. On May 05, 1903, MacArthur is detached from Holland and the Holland put under command of Gunner Owen Hill.

On July 4, 1904, Owen Hill was one of 22 warrant officer applicants asking permission to enter the competitive examination for appointment as Ensigns.

On October 25, 1904 Gunner Owen Hill was notified that he had successfully passed an examination for an ensign's commission in the United States Navy. He received orders to hold himself in readiness for sea duty on November 10th. His examination was held in compliance with a recent Act of Congress, which at that time, permitted gunners to be commissioned as Ensigns.

On November 1, 1904, E. Swanson, Acting Gunner, another original crew member, relieved Owen Hill, the newly promoted Ensign, as Commanding Officer of the Holland.

Here, Owen Hill's service and life becomes sketchy. On September 15, 1904, he marries Mary Elizabeth Sommers at St. Mary's Church, Annapolis Md. He is 29 years old and she is 24. On or about 1906, daughter Margaret E Hill is born. Three years later, daughter Catherine L Hill is born and she is followed three years later, by Eleanor L Hill. Eleanor passes away in 2001. By the 1930 census, daughter Margaret disappears from the record. There is no trace of her going forward.

Lt. Owen Hill in full dress uniform with medals
Lt. Owen Hill in full dress uniform with medals
By August of 1908 he is shown as a Lieutenant and ordnance officer, (seems maybe his years as a gunners mate are still serving him well), aboard the USS Prairie, AD-5, a training ship performing training duties with the Naval Militia from May to September 1907 and July to August 1908. Later he was transferred from the Prairie to the Fore River Shipbuilding Company where submarines for the US Navy were being built.

In late October of 1909 Lieutenant Owen Hill was detached from the Fore River Shipbuilding Company in Quincy, Massachusetts to command the submarine Grayling, later to be renamed the USS D-2. The Grayling was commissioned on November 23, 1909. Seems his service aboard the Country's first submarine had come to good use.

On March 24, 1910, Owen Hill was among numerous Navy officers invited to see the launching of the new bark rigged Auxiliary Yacht, Aloha, owned by Commodore Arthur Curtiss James of the New York City Yacht Club. She had been built in the Fore River Shipbuilding Company and no doubt Hill had become acquainted with the owner during his time at the yard and the Grayling.

He next surfaces in the record on February 25, 1912 when he is in command of the supply ship USS Celtic. He reported via wireless that the ship was blown many miles off course in a heavy gale and blizzard while traveling between Guantanamo to Charlestown. He is noted to be carrying aboard a number of prisoners.

He next appears on the muster rolls of the Battleship Vermont on October 6, 1912 in preparation for the 1912 Presidential Review off New York City. On November 11, 1914, he was detached from the Vermont and sent home to await further orders. He is now 39 years old.

It seems his next set of orders posted him to recruiting duty in Baltimore, Maryland because on June 13, 1916, it was reported that Hill was to be detached from the Navy Recruiting Station in Baltimore, Md. on July 10, 1916. He was to take command of the USS Leonidas, AD-7 on August 10, 1916. She was a destroyer tender and the lone ship in her class. She had been built in England under another name and was commissioned into the US Navy on May 21, 1898 as the USS Leonidas. He was going back to sea.

On January 13, 1917, it was announced that retroactive to August 29, 1916, the promotion to Lieutenant Commanders List was published and Owen Hill, the former Seaman gunners mate, was now a Lieutenant Commander.

The 1920 census shows that he and his wife Mary and their 14 year old daughter Margret are living in his Mother-In-Laws household, the widowed Arrilla W. Sommers. He is listed as a "Naval Officer attached to the Navy Hydrographic Office."

On June 30, 1920 Owen retires from the Navy, he is 45 years old. He is use to an active life and a life at sea so he is next found over the following 10 years as an officer aboard several civilian ships, the S.S. Cristobal and the S.S. Ancon, carrying passengers and cargo between Panama, Port Au Prince, Haiti and New York. In June/July of 1926 he takes his wife Mary and youngest daughter Eleanor, age 14 at the time, with him aboard the S.S. Cristobal to Haiti and back to New York.

The 1930 US Census. He and his family are living in Annapolis, Maryland. Owen is now 53 years old and has retired from the Navy. Daughter Margret has disappeared from the scene, but 21 year old daughter Catherine and 18 year old daughter Eleanor, are both still living at home and are single.

On April 9, 1939 Owen Hill passed away at age 63 and was buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland. His widow Mary passed away on March 4, 1958 and is buried with her husband at the Naval Academy.

He came a long way from his roots as a Laborer in County Cavan, Ireland, to an Enlisted man and then later to a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy.

It is reported by Owen Hill's grandson, Don O'Neill, that Hill had had a very large influence on a young Midshipman and had taught that young man a lot about submarines. That Midshipman was later be known as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and Nimitz himself told this to O'Neills', cousin Peggy in 1961.

US Navy Photos.

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