OTDIH—Victor Porter McKnight Killed in Action at the Battle of Normandy

On this day in history, 13 Sep 1944, Private First Class Victor Porter McKnight (1922-1944) was killed in action while serving with the 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, U.S. Army at the Battle of Normandy in France.

Victor is the son of Thomas Leroy McKnight and Olive Margaret Porter McKnight. He was born on 13 Mar 1922 in Hannah, Cavalier County, North Dakota.

Porter-McKnight families at George and Ida Jane Porter’s house, 1939. Victor is the third person from the left in the back row, in the dark sweater with white buttons, his arm around the woman to his right.

He enlisted in the Army on 21 Dec 1942. The 175th Infantry Regiment trained in the United States until 5 Oct 1942 when it sailed to England on the ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth.

The 175th landed on the still unsecured Omaha Beach, Normandy, France beginning at 1230 hours on 7 Jun 1944, D plus 1. The 175th captured Isigny and Lison on 9 Jun, pushed the American lines to within three miles of Saint-Lô, and defended the high ground known as Hill 108 on 17 Jun.

From 25 Aug to 18 Sep, the 29th Infantry Division took part in the assault on Brest. It is possible Victor was there when he died. It has been difficult to find details of his service in France.

Victor was awarded the Purple Heart and the World War II Victory Medal.

The Brittany American Cemetery is located on the site of the temporary American St. James Cemetery, established on 4 Aug 1944 by the U.S. Third Army. It marks the point where the American forces made their breakthrough from the hedgerow country of Normandy into the plains of Brittany during the offensive around Avranches, France.

The 28 acre cemetery contains the remains of 4,505 of our war dead. The names of 500 of the missing are inscribed on a wall of the memorial terrace.

The sculpture Youth Triumphing Over Evil at the cemetery bears this inscription:

I have fought a good fight

I have finished my course

I have kept the faith

—2 Timothy IV, 7

PFC Victor Porter McKnight (1922-1944) is 2nd cousin 2x removed of MKS in the Watne branch.

OTDIH—Olympic Champion Ethel Hannah Catherwood

Ethel Catherwood, the “Saskatoon Lily”, 1928 Summer Olympics.

On this day in history, 5 Aug 1928, Ethel Hannah Catherwood won the gold medal for the high jump in the 1928 Summer Olympics.

Two years earlier, on 6 Sep 1926 at an event in Canada, Ethel had set the high jump world record of 1.58 meters. That record was broken on 3 Jul 1928 by the Dutch high jumper Lien Gisolf with a jump of 1.582 meters. [1]

On the final day of the 1928 Summer Olympics, Ethel set the new world record with her final jump of 1.595 meters. [1] With this jump, Ethel held the Canadian record for the next quarter century.

The Canadian high jumper Ethel Catherwood in action, 1928 Summer Olympics.

Ethel’s accomplishment is notable in several ways. The 1928 Summer Olympics was the first time women were allowed to participate at the Olympics. Hers was the first ever gold medal awarded to a female high jumper. And Ethel is still the only Canadian woman to win a gold medal in an individual track and field event at the Olympics.

The 1928 Canadian Olympic team heading off to forge their place in sports history. Ethel Catherwood is the tallest woman, center of photo.

Ethel was born on 28 Apr 1908 in Hannah, North Dakota, the daughter of Joseph Catherwood and Ethel Jane Hannah. The family moved to Scott, Battleford District, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1910. One of nine children, Ethel was a natural athlete, playing baseball, basketball, and hockey. She began to high jump before she was ten years old, and was soon jumping heights rivaling the world’s best jumpers.

After the Olympics, Ethel returned to Saskatoon, Canada, an international sensation. However, she soon withdrew from public life after her private life was sensationalized by the press [2]. She married and moved to California, where she died in 1987.

Ethel was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1949), Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1955), and the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame (1966).

Canada Postage Stamp, Sporting Heroes series, Ethel Catherwood, High Jump, 1928 Summer Olympics.

Ethel Hannah Catherwood (1908-1987) is 2nd cousin 3x removed of MKS in the Watne branch.

[1] Wikipedia, “Athletics at the 1928 Summer Olympics—Women’s high jump.”
[2] Saskatoon Lily: record-breaker, scandal-maker.

OTDIH—Christmas Day at Fort Clatsop

­On this day in history, 25 Dec 1805, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery spent Christmas Day at Fort Clatsop in the Pacific Northwest.

At first light on Christmas morning, 1805, the men woke the captains with a volley, a shout, and a song. They exchanged presents—Private Whitehouse gave Captain Clark a pair of moccasins he had made, Private Silas Goodrich gave him a woven basket, Sacagawea give him two dozen white weasel tails, and Captain Lewis gave him a vest, drawers, and socks. The captains divided the small quantity of tobacco they had left, keeping one part for use with the Indians and dividing the other among the men who smoked. The eight non-smokers each got a handkerchief.

The celebration didn’t last long. It was a wet and disagreeable day, and, as Clark recorded, ‘We would have Spent this day the nativity of Christ in feasting, had we any thing either to raise our Sperits or even gratify our appetites, our Diner concisted of pore Elk, So much Spoiled that we eate it thro’ mear necessity, Some Spoiled pounded fish and a few roots.’

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, by Stephen E. Ambrose, 1996.
Fort Clatsop replica built in 2007, near Astoria, Clatsop County, Oregon.

After successfully reaching the Pacific Ocean on 20 Nov 1805, the Corps of Discovery established their winter camp, Fort Clatsop, on 7 Dec 1805 near present day Astoria, Clatsop County, Oregon.

­CPT Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) is 3rd cousin 9x removed of MKS in the Knight branch.

OTDIH—World War I Troopship HMS Otranto Sank After Collision

On this day in history, 6 Oct 1918, the H.M.S. Otranto, ferrying U.S. troops from New York to Europe, went down off the coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland, just 5 weeks before the end of World War I. 470 lives were lost. [1]

A Service of Remembrance for the loss of the Otranto is being held on the Isle of Islay today, the centennial anniversary of the disaster. [2]

Many of the troops were from rural Georgia. Berrien County, Georgia, paid a terrible toll that day—25 of its sons were lost. At least three others from Berrien County survived. [6] [8] [10]

3rd cousins Private Ralph Roswell Knight of Ray City, Berrien County, and Private Thomas Jefferson Sirmons of Nashville, Berrien County, were two of the soldiers drowned.

Ralph is the son of Walter H. and Jimmie G. Gullette Knight, and husband of Mary Effie Guthrie Knight. Thomas is the son of Moses G. and Nancy Elizabeth Knight Sirmons. Ralph was 29 years old, and Thomas was 26 years old.

A convoy of thirteen ships, including the Otranto, had departed New York for Liverpool, England, on 24 Sep with almost 20,000 U.S. troops. The Otranto carried 1,083 men—a 380-man British crew, 701 American troops, and 2 American YMCA officers.

During the evening of 1 Oct, the convoy, with lights out, sailed straight through a fleet of French fishing vessels off the coast of Newfoundland. The Otranto accidentally rammed the fishing schooner Croisine, and rescued 37 of its crew.

British Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Otranto.

When dawn broke on 6 Oct, in a Force 11 storm (on the Beaufort scale, a storm with 56-63 knot winds and 37-52 foot wave height), the convoy found itself just three to four miles off the coast of Islay. The convoy was sailing in six columns, each column three-tenths of a mile from the next. The convoy turned south, but the Otranto mistakenly turned north, placing the Otranto on a collision course with the S.S. Kashmir in the next column to the north.

At 8:43 a.m., the Kashmir rammed the Otranto on the port side amidships. The Otranto was cut nearly halfway through, listing 35 degrees to starboard, flooded through a hole punched in the hull below the waterline, and soon lost electrical power and propulsion. Many of the lifeboats were severely damaged and dangling from the side. The high seas prevented the launch of any of the other lifeboats.

About 45 minutes after the collision, the H.M.S. Mounsey arrived from Belfast, Ireland, on convoy escort duty and responded to SOS calls from the Otranto.  Several times, the Mounsey pulled alongside the Otranto despite the rough seas. Each time, men leapt from the Otranto onto the deck of the much smaller Mounsey. Some fell short and were crushed between the two ships. Some were immediately washed off the deck into the high seas.

Several times, the two ships struck, extensively damaging the Mounsey as well. At 11 a.m., the Mousney was too damaged to continue the rescue, and sailed for Belfast, where it docked about 12 hours after the collision. The Mounsey was able to rescue about 600 men, 12 men dying later in Belfast from their injuries.

After the Mounsey broke off rescue operations, there were no other ships in the vicinity to come to the aid of the Otranto. The Kashmir left Otranto immediately after the collision, and landed its troops at a Scottish port without loss of life. The remainder of the convoy had also continued on, obeying wartime convoy regulations to not stop.

About three hours after the collision, the Otranto—with roughly 489 men still aboard—drifted onto a reef near the entrance to Machir Bay and the high cliff walls of Rhinns Point on Islay, and quickly broke apart in the enormous waves. “A ship’s officer, whom many presumed to be Captain Davidson, was heard to shout, ‘Boys, we’ll have to swim for it after all.'” [5]

Only 21 were able to swim ashore, two dying later from their injuries. The rest perished in the sea or on the shore—including our Private Ralph Knight and Private Thomas Sirmons.

The best estimate of the casualty toll from the disaster is 470 men: 12 officers and 84 crewmen from the Otranto, 1 officer and 357 American enlisted men, and 6 French fishermen. Of these, the bodies of 316 Americans were recovered from the sea or shore. [1]

In additional posts, we will look at the incredible response of the people of Islay toward our troops, and meet the commander of the Mounsey.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Ray City History Blog for introducing us to the story of our family members Private Ralph Knight and Private Thomas Sirmons; and say thank you to the people of the Isle of Islay for caring for them as their own 100 years ago and remembering them still today.

PVT Ralph Roswell Knight (1889-1918) is 2nd cousin 4x removed of MKS in the Knight branch.

PVT Thomas Jefferson Simons (1892-1918) is 3rd cousin 3x removed of MKS in the Knight branch.

Note: This is post 1 of 4 today about the H.M.S. Otranto disaster.

Acknowledgement: This post is primarily based on and liberally borrowed from these excellent references. The Ray City History Blog has many more posts about the Otranto.

[1] Wikipedia, “HMS Otranto.”
[2] WW100 Islay.
[3] The Wreck of the Otranto: 6th October 1918, WW100 Islay article.
[4] The Otranto Disaster – 90 Years ago Today, Islay Blog, 6 Oct 2008.
[5] Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of the HMS Otranto, by R. Neil Scott, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 18 Jun 2012.
[6] Otranto Sunk in Collision, Ray City History Blog, 11 Oct 2010.
[7] HMS Otranto Sank Ninety-Four Years Ago, Ray City History Blog, 6 Oct 2012.
[8] Oct 12, 1918 ~ 372 U.S. Soldiers Lost in Sinking of Otranto, Ray City History Blog, 12 Oct 2016.
[9] Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster, Ray City History Blog, 6 Oct 2017.
[10] Berrien County Paid Terrible Toll on the Otranto, Ray City History Blog, 6 Oct 2016.

OTDIH—Jasper Newton Joiner Killed in Action at the Battle of the Wilderness

On this day in history, 6 May 1864, Private Jasper Newton Joiner Sr (1837-1864) was killed in action at the Battle of the Wilderness in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

Jasper was a private in Company E, 17th Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia, C.S.A. Company E was comprised of men from Mitchell County, Georgia. Jasper and his brother, Andrew, enlisted on 12 Aug 1861. Their brother-in-law, Manning “Dow” Shiver Jr, husband of Celia Elizabeth Joiner, served in the same unit.

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought 5-7 May 1864, was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. Both armies suffered heavy casualties, a harbinger of a bloody war of attrition by Grant against Lee’s army and, eventually, the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia. The battle was tactically inconclusive, as Grant disengaged and continued his offensive.

Battle of the Wilderness—Desperate fight on the Orange C.H. Plank Road, near Todd’s Tavern, 6 May 1864, by Kurz & Allison.

U.S. casualties and losses were 17,666 including 2,246 killed, 12,037 wounded, and 3,383 captured/missing. C.S.A casualties and losses were 11,033 including 1,477 killed, 7,866 wounded, and 1,690 captured/missing. [from Wikipedia]

The 17th Regiment fought at the Peninsula Campaign (May 1862), the Battle of Garnett’s & Golding’s Farm, the Seven Days Battles at the Battle of Malvern Hill, the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of Chickamauga, the Knoxville Campaign, the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Cold Harbor, the Siege of Petersburg—some of the most significant battles of the Civil War—and surrendered at Appomattox Court House on 9 Apr 1865.

In the 1860 US Census, Jasper is listed as a laborer, probably on his father’s farm, living in Mitchell County, Georgia, with his wife Sarah D. Shiver Joiner, apparently married less than one year.

Jasper was survived by Sarah, young daughters Laura and Anna, and son Jasper Jr. The children are listed with Sarah in the 1870 US Census.

PVT Jasper Newton Joiner Sr (1837-1864) is 5th great-uncle of MKS in the Knight branch.