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John Henry Helms

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Years of service  1897 - 1919
Rank  Sergeant
Awards  Medal of Honor

Died  February 17, 1919
Name  John Helms
John Henry Helms John Henry Helms 1852 1939 Find A Grave Memorial
Born  March 16, 1874 Chicago, Illinois (1874-03-16)
Place of burial  Mound Grove Cemetery, Kankakee, Illinois
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps

Allegiance  United States of America

John Henry Helms (March 16, 1874 – February 17, 1919) was a United States Marine and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for saving a shipmate from drowning.


Helms was born on March 16, 1874 in Chicago, Illinois, and enlisted in the Marines on July 6, 1897, at the Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. At one point in his service, he jumped overboard from a tugboat in rough seas and rescued a drowning sailor, Fireman Second Class W. Gallagher.

Helms later served as a sergeant aboard the USS Chicago, the flagship of the South Atlantic Squadron. On January 10, 1901, the Chicago was anchored in the harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay, and the crew was allowed to go swimming. One sailor, Warrant Officer's Steward Ishi Tomizi, began struggling in the water and was "in imminent danger of drowning." Helms jumped overboard in full uniform and saved the man.

For this action, Helms was awarded the Medal of Honor, although his nomination was not without controversy. He was first recommended for the Medal of Honor by the Chicago's captain, Charles H. Rockwell. The nomination was endorsed by Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, commander of the South Atlantic Squadron, and forwarded to the Bureau of Navigation, which was in charge of personnel affairs. The bureau chief, Admiral Arent S. Crowninshield, advised that the nomination be rejected. Crowninshield believed that, since the Chicago had been at anchor in calm seas, Helms' actions did not put himself in danger and did not constitute "extraordinary heroism." The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Charles Heywood, felt otherwise, stating that Helms "displayed extraordinary heroism in saving lives at the risk of his own." The final decision was made by the Secretary of the Navy, John Davis Long. Long agreed with Crowninshield that the rescue of Tomizi by itself was not sufficient for the decoration, but added that Helms' previous rescue of Gallagher and the endorsements by Admiral Schley and General Heywood were enough to warrant the medal. Crowninshield's opposition to the award led to accusations of "snobbishness", with the Baltimore American alleging that Helms' nomination had been objected to because he was not a commissioned officer.

Helms was officially awarded the Medal of Honor and a $100 gratuity on March 23, 1901, two and a half months after his rescue of Tomizi. His citation reads:

Serving on board the U.S.S. Chicago, for heroism in rescuing Ishi Tomizi, ship's cook, from drowning at Montevideo, Uruguay, 10 January 1901.

Helms died at age 44, while still serving in the Marine Corps. He was buried at Mound Grove Cemetery in Kankakee, Illinois.


John Henry Helms Wikipedia

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