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Thomas Withers Jr

Thomas Withers Jr
Thomas Withers Jr

Thomas Withers (Jr.) was born South Platte, CO, May 28, 1886. Thomas Withers Sr. was an Instructor of English at the University of Washington in 1915. His mother was Jennie Barnes Withers.

In 1902 he received an appointment to the Naval Academy from the state of Colorado and it was reported in the news papers of the time that he and other appointees had passed their 'mental exams' meaning the written testing for acceptance to the Academy for the class of 1906.

His US Naval Academy number is 02847. He entered the Academy in 1902, and graduated on Feb 12, 1906. The class had 116 graduates and 42 non graduates. After graduation he reported to the Battleship Alabama for duty.

May 6, 1910 the US Census shows him at Mare Island Navy Yard aboard the USS California. He is 23 years old and a Naval Officer. The next year he was commissioned a lieutenant on July 1, 1911.

On January 5, 1912 the now Lieutenant Thomas Withers, Jr, was detached from duty on the Battleship California, to duty on the the supply ship USS Glacier, as the executive officer.

On June 4, 1912 Lieutenant Thomas Withers, Jr received orders transferring him from the Glacier, to the Battleship Colorado. He was only aboard for a little over a month when, again, he was in receipt of orders on August 17, 1912. He was ordered from the Colorado and assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Just shy of two years later on March, 15 1914, Lieutenant Thomas Withers, Jr., had orders in hand detaching him from the Office of Naval Intelligence, and assigning him to take command of the submarine, USS E-1, on April 14, 1914. His first command.

In the Navy Officer Corps, officers are expected to engage in social events and to plan put them on. On July 30, 1914, in Newport, RI, Withers was attending a luncheon given by Captain and Mrs Roger, Welles. The attendees were probably the officers and wives under his command.

Thomas Withers married Lorena LaBar from Scranton, Pennsylvania on November 25, 1914.

Lieut Withers and his bride Lorena had honeymooned in Asheville, North Carolina at the magnificent stone faced, red tile roofed, Grove Park Inn and had left to return to Norfolk, Va to continue his duties on December 20, 1914.

Withers was in command of the E-1 when she was ordered from Key West to New York for the 1915 Presidential Review on the Hudson River. A trip of 1230 miles, all on her own power. Whereas the other submarines travelling with her had to avail themselves of port calls to repair equipment and/or be taken in tow. The E-l was the only submersible that made the voyage without assistance from the convoying vessel and made the entire run without a stop. He and his crew received some acclaim from this feat and had their photos in the New York Times. At the time it was the longest sea voyage undertaken by a US submarine.

The previous record for a US submarine cruising under her own power was the run from Key West to Galveston, a distance of 830 miles.

On July 12, 1915, Lieutenant Thomas Withers was in receipt of orders transferring him from command E-1 to the USS Baltimore C-3 a protected cruiser launched in 1888. On July 30, 1915 he was transferred for treatment to the Naval Hospital, New York, N. Y. for an undisclosed illness.

On October 31, 1915 Withers was transferred from the Baltimore to the USS Tennessee ACR-10 an armored cruiser, which was renamed Memphis on May 25, 1916 to free the name for another ship. The Memphis was caught by a sudden ground swell and hurled upon the rocks on August 30, 1916 while anchored in Santo Domingo Harbor.

The gunboat Castine was also caught in the swell, but escaped by putting out to sea. Twenty or perhaps more, of the crew of the Memphis were drowned. The Memphis was under the command of Captain Edward L. Beach (Sr). Withers was the Navigation officer and had recommended moving the ship when the storm began but the waves were so high so quickly that the fires were putout by waves breaking over the smokestack and driven ashore.

In 1915 Thomas Withers brother, Noble Withers graduated from the Naval Academy. He had entered the Academy, from Nevada, in 1911. Another brother, Cleeman Withers was appointed to Annapolis from Kansas in 1914. A sister of the three Withers brothers was the wife of Army officer, First Lieut Edward E. Mc Cammon, Third U.S. Infantry.

The 1920 census shows he and his wife Lorena and daughter Helen are living in Annapolis City and he is stationed at the US Naval Academy.

After leaving the Academy in 1920 he reported aboard the USS Belknap (DD-251) as her commanding officer.

May 19, 1922, now Commander Thomas Withers, is in command of Submarine Division No. 5, and was captain of the Eagle Boat #17 a submarine tender. Proceeding from Norfolk to New London in charge of four submarines, she became separated from her charges due to thick weather during the night and piled up on the beach near Amagansett, losing her propeller and opening up her seams. The crew on board were three officers and sixty-one men of which forty-two were members of the ship's crew, the others being extra submarine crew members traveling to New London as passengers. At least that is how it was reported in the newspapers. This is how it really happened.

Rain squalls and thick weather, accompanied by a driving gale, overtook the little group of ships, and Commander Withers lost sight of his submarines. Unable to pick up any shore lights and not knowing his position, he decided to anchor until the weather cleared. The ship dropped anchor in eighteen fathoms of water. There was a heavy sea running and the wind rose continually.

Anchor watch was stationed and soundings were made on a regular basis. These showed the water was shallowing and Capt. Withers, fearing the tender was being driven ashore, got under way again. By this time it was too late, the propeller was on the bottom and the propeller shaft was twisted off, leaving the vessel at the mercy of the wind, which soon beached her at Amagansett.

Here we loose track of him for a bit but on June 23, 1928 we find that he had had a tour of duty on the staff at the Navy War Collage and it ended on this date.

The 1930 US Census has them living in Newport, Rhode Island and he is a Commander by this time.

January 23, 1931 he was Chief of Staff for the Commander of the Submarine Force. Previous to that he had been an Inspector of Ordinance in charge at the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, RI.

In June of 1932 he travels to Honolulu aboard the SS Malolo.

July 21, 1934, now a Captain, Withers as Commandant at New London, welcomed Franklin Roosevelt to the Submarine Base when the Presidential Yacht Sequoia moored at the sub base to attend the Yale-Harvard boat races on the Thames River the next day. Roosevelt was to then travel by car to his mothers home, Hyde Park and then on to the West Indies.

August 11, 1934 Withers is mentioned as being on various social committees for the communities in the Long Island area.

August 24, 1934 Withers and wife moved into the social life of New London. On August 24, 1934 they were guests of a Mrs. Emily B. Swindell who threw a dinner party who included a number of names familiar in the submarine world. The guests included Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Y. Spear, Capt. and Mrs. Isaac I. Yates.

On August 5, 1936 the Marriage their daughter, Helen Withers and Lieut (junior grade) Howard Fletcher Stoner in New London. Conn., was announced and was attended by Col. and Mrs. Edward B. Mc Cammon, who was Thomas Withers sister. It is noted in the papers that Thomas Withers was in command of the United States submarine base at New London.

Jan 2, 1937 the wife of Captain Thomas Withers, Mrs Lorena LaBar Withers, died at the Submarine Base, New London, probably at the base hospital. She was buried on Jan 5, 1937 in Scranton Pa.

After his tour as Commandant at the Sub Base he received orders to take command of the battleship Colorado BB-45.

June 1, 1939 promoted to the temporary rank of Rear Admiral. Rank made permanent on December 1, 1940.

In the 1940 census living alone in Newport, Rhode Island with two Negro servants; Pattie Purdy age 56, is his Housekeeper and is a widow and Lillian Dixon age 31, who is listed as being married and is a maid for the household.

In January 1941 he and new wife Helen S Withers travel to Honolulu aboard the SS Lurline.

On December 7, 1941 Admiral Thomas Withers, Jr., was ComSubPac at Pearl Harbor, he had relieved Adm. Wilhelm L. Friedell earlier that fall. He was succeeded by Rear Admiral Robert H. English, in May of 1942 who served until January 20, 1943 when he was killed in an aircraft accident.

Withers now became the Commandant of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery, Maine.

March 10, 1943 Helen S Withers christened the USS Apogon at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where her husband was the yard Commandant.

November 22, 1943 Withers presented Commander Lawson P (Red) Ramage with the Navy Cross for directing hazardous operations 'against a dangerous and desperate enemy' as the former commanding officer of the submarine USS Trout.

Among the many vessels built at Portsmouth was the USS Torsk who was launched from his yard in 1944 that was to sink the last combatant ships in WWII.

June 1, 1946 Withers was retired as a Rear Admiral from the Navy. He was 60 years old.

He passed away on June 25, 1953 in Coronado, CA. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery Plot: Sec: 10, Site: 10700-A-B


An interesting side note, printed in a 1960 newspaper, cites 'An official Navy record', being the 'Submarines in World War II', that the Navy ordered to be written, in which is carried an account by Rear Adm. Thomas Withers, commander of submarine forces of the Pacific. He described how Pat Mignone, of the submarine Tautog, shot down the first Japanese airplane during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mignone just said, 'I just went down and got a machine gun and went to work.' 'I know I got one myself. I didn't hear anyone else shooting when I hit it. Later I think I knocked down two more, but by then the two destroyers had started shooting,' Mignone fired more than 1,800 rounds through his .50 caliber weapon while perched in the sub's conning tower.

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