America's Admiral: Giles Stedman - Maritime Hero
by Bill Lee
Giles Chester Stedman was born in the sea-faring and shipbuilding town of Quincy,
Massachusetts on September 2, 1897. He was the only son of Richard J. and Annie T.
Stedman, both of whose parents immigrated to this country from Ireland. His Father was
a stonecutter who worked in the world-famous Quincy quarries.
Young Giles Stedman attended public schools in the hills of West
Quincy where he was born, and graduated from Quincy High School in
1914. Nick-named “Chet” by his peers, he was a high school baseball
star. His year book, which had no pictures of the graduates, did include
famous sayings that each member of that class chose. In his case, it
was a quote from James Montgomery, an 18th century British poet:
“Hope against hope, and ask till ye receive”.
Before reaching his teens, Giles Stedman became fascinated by things nautical. The type
of ship that most aroused his interest was the North Atlantic Ocean Liner. His earliest
childhood venture with a painting set resulted in his creation of – and, as he remembered
it much later in his life: “A rather poor reproduction of the Cunard liner LUSITANIA”.
Giles Stedman’s first maritime-related job was the result of a good deed. In the spring of
1912, he and two companions witnessed the wife of the president of the local shipyard
thrown to the ground when her horse stumbled. After they rushed to assist her, the lady’s
relieved husband showed his gratitude by offering them summer jobs. Stedman and one
of the other boys accepted.
Before he attained the age of 15, Giles Stedman was working in the Fore River Ship &
Engine Company as a rivet-heater. This hot, dirty and somewhat dangerous job
commanded the princely sum of ten cents per hour for a 54-hour work week. That
experience, apparently, quenched any thoughts about a shipbuilding career.
As a young boy, Giles Stedman initially entertained thoughts of becoming an engineer.
However, by the time he had completed high school, he strongly felt he wanted to go to
sea. His family objected strenuously, in part because of the war clouds over Europe at the
time. As a compromise, they eventually agreed for him to enlist in the United States
Coast Guard, thinking that would keep him close to home and safe.
On May 9, 1917, a month after America entered World War I, and a few months before
his twentieth birthday, Giles Stedman enlisted in the Coast Guard. After a brief period of
training, he was assigned to the Cutter OSSIPEE, where he initially served as ship’s
writer. That was the modest start of a lifetime of maritime service highlighted by heroic
achievements and numerous accomplishments, which few men have ever experienced.
The OSSIPEE (WPR-50), was built by
Newport News Shipbuilding, and
completed in 1915. Initially, she
served in the coastal waters of New
England. In the early summer of 1917,
she and her crew were transferred to
the United States Navy. Refitted at
Boston Navy Yard, she then sailed for
Gibraltar in mid-August 1917.
Stedman served from August 1917 to January 1919 in the USS OSSIPEE when she was
engaged in convoy escort duty in the Atlantic. That invaluable training in seamanship,
boat handling and navigation would serve him well in later years. Before being honorably
discharged by the Coast Guard in early 1919, he qualified as a signal quartermaster.
This photograph of Stedman, attired in a Coast Guard
Petty Officer’s dress uniform, was probably taken
onboard the OSSIPEE, since the background appears to
be the towering heights of Gibraltar. It depicts him
standing imprudently atop a vessel’s storage box for
signal flags. Certainly, his superiors would not have
approved, nor would he have condoned such a thing by
one of his own subordinates later on in his career.
During Stedman’s service in OSSIPEE, the ship’s
commanding officer established a class for prospective
officers. A Bureau of Navigation bulletin indicated that
enlisted men who could pass the necessary examinations
would be commissioned in the Naval Reserve. He and
five of his shipmates accepted the challenge, but only
Giles Stedman satisfactorily completed the course.
As a result, Giles Stedman then became an officer in the reserve.
When his ship returned to the United States in February 1919, and
he mustered out, he enrolled the next month in an Officer’s Training
Course at MIT. By year-end he had passed the Coast Guard exams
for a civilian third mate’s license. Shortly thereafter Giles Stedman
entered the nation’s merchant marine, initially serving as third
officer on the Garland Lines’ SS GRAYSON.
In 1922, after serving in several additional commercial vessels, he joined the shipping
firm that ultimately became the United States Lines. He started out as fourth officer of the
passenger vessel SS PRESIDENT HARDING. By June 1925, he had attained the position
of First Officer of the HARDING. He was barely 27 by the time.
In early October 1925, the HARDING
received a distress message from the
Italian cargo ship IGNAZIO FLORIO.
She was sinking in a fierce mid-Atlantic
storm. Steaming to her rescue, the
HARDING’s crew made repeated
attempts to pass a lifeline to 28 desperate
Italian seamen onboard the FLORIO.
Reluctantly, the HARDING’s captain called for volunteers to man a lifeboat and attempt
a daring rescue. Giles Stedman insisted on taking charge of the boat. Described as tall
and athletic at age 28, Stedman was already considered a superb boatman. With extreme
difficulty, he and his all-volunteer crew made their way slowly to the sinking ship and
took off the entire crew. Later, remarking about the lifeboat’s safe return, the
HARDING’s captain said: “First Officer Stedman deftly steered the overloaded lifeboat
in a raging sea and came alongside the HARDING as if she were a lake boathouse.”
On October 21, 1925, the entire crew of the SS
PRESIDENT HARDING was honored by a ticker tape
parade in New York City, honoring their heroic rescue
work. Thereafter, Stedman served for several years as
First Officer in two other US Lines’ passenger vessels,
the SS GEORGE WASHINGTON and the SS
LEVIATHAN; the shipping company’s largest vessel.
For his daring and seamanship, Stedman received metals
of honor from Italy and the United States, and the
Lifesaving Benevolent Association.
In 1926, he also received additional gifts from the citizens of his hometown, including a
medal presented to him by a committee of Italian residents. Quincy’s mayor, referring to
him as “Chet”, presented Stedman with a suitably engraved gold watch at a testimonial
reception and banquet which two of his three younger sisters proudly attended. Giles
Stedman’s acceptance remarks were reported as being ‘brief and appropriate’.
During his two years of service as LEVIATHAN’s First Officer, Giles Stedman became
well-known as an exceptional navigator. This reputation led to several pioneering
aviators of that era seeking his assistance in planning trans-oceanic flights. In 1927 and
1928, he charted courses for four such attempts; two of which were successful. The
unsuccessful ones were the result of mechanical failure, not navigational error.
While he was serving as First Officer in
LEVIATHAN, the huge ship sailed from
New York to South Boston in July 1928 for
dry-docking to facilitate underwater
inspection and repair work. In appreciation
of his 1925 rescue efforts, the Italian
Government had their chief consul in
Boston pin a silver medal to Giles
Stedman’s chest. A brief ceremony was held
on the LEVIATHAN’s bridge wing in the
presence of Stedman’s fellow officers.
On March 27, 1931, at the unusually young
age of 33, he was named Master of US Lines’
passenger/cargo vessel, the AMERICAN
MERCHANT. On January 20, 1933, while in
command of this vessel on a voyage from
London to New York, he tersely responded in
Morse Code to an SOS from the foundering
British steamer EXTER CITY:
A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N M-E-R-C-H-A-N-T P-R-O-C-E-E-D-I-N-G S-T-E-D-M-A-N
In heavy weather in the mid-Atlantic, he directed the rescue of the sinking ship’s 22-man
crew in an unprecedented display of superior seamanship. Since the sea was too rough to
risk the lives of a lifeboat crew, Captain Stedman first circled the freighter, pumping fuel
oil overboard to somewhat
calm the stormy seas.
Then, he had a line fired
across 400 yards to the
fast-sinking freighter. The
British sailors utilized this
line to pull an empty
lifeboat from Stedman’s
vessel to their stricken ship.
Clambering into the
lifeboat, they were then
pulled to safety by the crew
of the AMERICAN
The AMERICAN MERCHANT resumed her voyage, steaming into New York Harbor on
the afternoon of January 26th. She was met by dozens of watercraft, large and small,
paying tribute to Stedman’s success. As the AMERICAN MERCHANT moved to her
assigned pier, she passed the LEVIATHAN. That ship’s entire crew lined the rails to
cheer their former First Officer.
In recognition of his accomplishment, Captain Stedman received numerous awards,
including a silver plaque from the British Government, a medal of valor from the City of
New York, and the key to the City of Boston. However, the most impressive award he
received was the Navy Cross, infrequently awarded in peacetime and almost never to a
The award read as follows:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the NAVY CROSS to
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER GILES C. STEDMAN
For distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the S.S. American Merchant when that
vessel was engaged in the rescue of twenty-two members of the crew of the British freighter Exeter City which was
sinking in the mid-Atlantic, on 20 January 1933. Lieutenant Commander Stedman’s excellent seamanship, keen
judgment, and professional ability displayed in saving twenty-two lives during a howling wind and a dangerous sea
without detriment to his own command is of the highest order and in the best traditions of the Naval Service.
When receiving New York’s medal, Captain Stedman humbly remarked: “I fully realize
that in accepting this medal of valor I do so not as an individual, not as one person, but
as the representative of the officers and crew of the AMERICAN MERCHANT”.
Giles Stedman received over 25 medals and other tangible items in recognition of his
successful rescues at sea. In February 1933, Boston’s Chamber of Commerce hosted a
luncheon in his honor that was attended by over 500 people; including relatives and
childhood friends of his from nearby Quincy. He received a standing ovation when
entering the banquet hall. Behind the head table, a series of full-sized signal flags spelled
out in the ‘alphabet of the sea’: WELCOME CAPTAIN STEDMAN.
March 3, 1933 was celebrated in Quincy as Giles Stedman Day by the citizens of his
home town. At yet another banquet held in his honor, he received additional gifts,
including a bronze barometer crafted for that occasion. But one gift was perhaps
particularly meaningful to him, because of its simplicity - and its poignancy...
Ball of Granite, Symbolic of City of Quincy, Mass.:
"Presented to Giles Chester Stedman as an Everlasting Token of the Pride and Affection
of His Native City Quincy, Massachusetts, February 1933." Br>
As the son of a stonecutter who had toiled in
the Quincy quarries, surely this meant as
much to Giles Stedman as his many medals
and other more exotic metallic memorabilia.
This gift was a miniature reproduction of the
much larger granite ball that still sits beside
Quincy’s city hall.
The following day, Stedman visited several
Quincy schools, including the Willard
Grammar School, which he once attended. At
a high school assembly, he was characteristically modest, as always, and opened his
remarks by saying: “A release from class is probably on your minds as the biggest benefit
of my appearance here this morning.”
Stedman later penned an authoritative article, entitled Methods of Rescue at Sea which
was widely considered a document of great literary and scientific merit. As a result, a
Doctor of Literature degree was conferred upon him by Mount St. Mary’s College of
Maryland. This article, plus his epic rescues at sea and navigational expertise earned him
another honorary degree in 1934, that of Doctor of Science from Colgate University.
By 1934, Giles Stedman had returned to the LEVIATHAN, serving as ‘staff captain'.
This position entitled him to be in command of the vessel whenever her master was on
leave. In May of 1935, another article he had authored, Rescue of Crew of a Foundering
Vessel, was published in the United States Naval Institute’s Proceedings.
Then, in March 1936, he was appointed
Master of the SS WASHINGTON, flagship
of US Lines, which had been completed only
three years earlier. In November of 1937, and
again in June of 1938, Florence Schick,
widow of the inventor of Schick razors, was a
passenger onboard the WASHINGTON.
Giles Stedman, a bachelor at that time, was in
They were married December 12, 1938, in New York’s Plaza Hotel. They had one child,
Jacqueline Ann, born September 15, 1939. Their marriage eventually ended in divorce.
Giles Stedman’s destiny apparently was to be in the right place at the right time, when it
came to rescues at sea. In 1939, a U-boat torpedoed the British freighter OLIVE GROVE
off the Irish coast after first allowing the vessel’s 33-man crew to take to their lifeboats.
WASHINGTON was nearby, and responded to rocket signals, saving the entire crew.
Stedman’s wireless report, called a Marconi-gram in those days, was characteristically
brief and to the point, and quickly became a classic in the literature of the sea:
“Saved 33. Lost None. Injured None.”
Stedman served as WASHINGTON’s Master until the spring
of 1940, when he was named as the first skipper of the SS
AMERICA, then nearing completion at Newport News
Shipbuilding. Stedman spent the spring and part of the
summer of 1940 closely watching his future command being
completed. He first sailed in her as the Owner’s Senior
Representative during two sets of sea trials that were
conducted by the shipyard.
AMERICA was delivered to the United States Lines in late July 1940, the largest, finest
and fastest luxury liner built up to that time in her namesake country. When she sailed
majestically from her builder’s yard into New York harbor, the steamship company’s
most experienced and capable Master Mariner, Captain Giles Stedman, was in command.
As exciting as her initial entry was into her homeport of New York, the war clouds over
Europe denied AMERICA her destiny: being placed in transatlantic passenger service.
Instead, with her neutrality emblazoned on her sides, this brand-new Queen of the
American Merchant Marine was relegated to Caribbean Cruises and longer voyages to
the West Coast, via the Panama Canal.
On one voyage to California, what was billed as the world’s first ocean-going motion
picture premiere took place onboard the AMERICA. In March 1941, while sailing from
Los Angeles to San Francisco, the movie Sea Wolf was introduced amidst great fanfare.
Several stars of the movie were onboard,
including Edward G. Robinson and John
Garfield. Both of them visited the ship’s
bridge, where they posed for this picture
with their host, Captain Stedman. Just the
month before, he had been named as
Commodore of the entire United States
Lines’ fleet, in addition to being the Master
of the Company’s flagship.
At age 43, Commodore Stedman was probably the youngest man to ever be given such a
title and associated responsibilities. In an attempt to take full advantage of his success,
Warner Brothers’ publicists announced at the premiere that a movie about the
AMERICA’s captain was in the planning stages. They said that The Captain and His
Ship would star George Brent and would be filmed onboard the SS AMERICA.
That motion picture was never made, because the AMERICA and Captain Stedman were
both ‘drafted’ by the United States Navy weeks later, in late May 1941. Ordered to cut an
ongoing Caribbean cruise short and steam directly to her builders’ yard in Virginia, Giles
Stedman managed, via radiotelephone, to get the Navy to agree to allow him to first go to
New York and discharge his passengers. His last day in command of the AMERICA was
June 2, 1941, when he delivered her to the craftsmen of Newport News.
AMERICA was quickly converted to a naval transport and
renamed USS WEST POINT (AP-23). Giles Stedman,
Commodore of US Lines and AMERICA’s first skipper was
‘demoted’ to the naval rank of Commander and assigned by the
Navy as the ship’s Executive Officer. Commander Stedman, in
dress whites and with his Navy Cross ribbon prominently
displayed, was present on June 15, 1941 at Newport News
Shipbuilding where the USS WEST POINT was commissioned.
What must have been a humbling
experience, no longer master of his
command, but required to remain onboard,
was made far easier than he might have
anticipated by the WEST POINT’s first
skipper, Captain Frank H. Kelley.
Stedman and Kelley worked together
closely and cooperatively to transform
America’s greatest ocean liner into the
Navy’s biggest and most successful troop
transport. As a result, they also became
close friends and stayed in touch after the
war until Captain Kelley passed away.
Most of the WEST POINT’s plank owners were young naval reservists from New
England, with little or no sea-going experience. Working largely behind the scenes, Giles
Stedman imparted his years of sea experience and intimate knowledge of the AMERICA
to the ship’s navy crew. Stedman stoically did his duty, although it surely must have still
rankled a bit, at times.
This photo may have been taken at one of those reflective
times while he was on the flying bridge of AP-23,
keeping close watch on everything associated with the
operation of the USS WEST POINT. Regardless of any
personal feelings he may have had, Stedman performed
admirably and professionally as the WEST POINT’s first
Executive Officer. According to all accounts, he was not
only respected but also very well liked by the ship’s
company; just as he had been by civilian crews on the
numerous ships he sailed in and commanded between the
two world wars.
By all accounts, he always ran a tight ship and exhibited a stern demeanor when on duty
and in the company of WEST POINT’s enlisted personnel. But in his private life, he was
reputedly a modest, self-assured individual. As the WEST POINT’s Executive Officer,
Stedman was quick to delegate responsibility, for he fully understood from his own
experiences as an enlisted man that learning is best accomplished by doing. Under his
guidance, the crew of WEST POINT quickly became proficient.
Members of the WEST POINT’s original crew well remember that during abandon ship
drills he roamed the Sun Deck, constantly checking on every little detail associated with
the launching of lifeboats. After all, safely launching lifeboats was his forte.
On another occasion, just before
going into an active war zone,
Commander Stedman assembled a
small number of seamen in the
ship’s steering gear room,
remotely located all the way aft on
D Deck, directly above the rudder
and the ship’s twin propellers.
In this cramped, low overhead
space, located well below the
waterline, he described the series
of steps required to disengage the
steering engine in case battle
damage disabled the engine or its hydraulic controls. Stedman then demonstrated how to
attach a system of blocks and tackles to each side of the rudder head so that the WEST
POINT could be crudely steered by raw manpower under any extreme conditions that
might befall her.
Certainly, this was the mark of a consummate seaman who left absolutely nothing to
chance, when it came to keeping his ship, her crew and her passengers as safe as possible
under every conceivable circumstance that this remarkable man of the sea could envision.
The WEST POINT’s first overseas mission was a most unusual one and a real challenge
to her crew. Ordered to transport 464 Italians and Germans from their shuttered
consulates, the ship left New York on July 16, 1941, bound for the neutral port of Lisbon,
Portugal. On her return trip to New York, AP-23’s passenger manifest included 321
Americans and 67 Chinese who were consular staffers and their families, plus a number
of United States private citizens and civilians from several foreign countries desperate to
escape war-torn Europe.
The WEST POINT was selected for this task because her staterooms had been initially
left largely intact during her conversion work the month before. However, the needs of
civilian passengers for the mission required some additional, specialized personnel to be
placed onboard AP-23. For this purpose, the Navy contracted with a commercial shipping
company for civilians with talents not normally found in the complement of a
commissioned naval vessel.
When the WEST POINT left New York, her navy crew was augmented by 164 men and
women with distinctly non-military titles such as Stewardess, Hairdresser, Child Nurse,
Bartender, Sous Chef, and Kennel Attendant.
Dealing with such an unusual group of passengers and a
mix of military and civilian crewmembers would have been
beyond the capability of most naval officers. But Giles
Stedman’s civilian experiences enabled him to handle the
situation, organizing numerous activities and announcing
them daily in the ship’s newspaper, The Pointer, in order to
make his passengers as comfortable as possible, under
those decidedly unusual conditions.
A few months later, when the attack at Pearl Harbor took
place, the WEST POINT was steaming in convoy off the
tip of Africa with a full load of British troops originally
destined for India. After making a brief call there, AP-23
was diverted further east, into truly troubled waters. In
early 1942, the WEST POINT pulled into Singapore harbor
and off-loaded her cargo of British troops.
And then, while serving as Executive Officer of the USS
WEST POINT; Giles Stedman participated in what was his
last and greatest rescue operation. Under frequent enemy
air attack, and with Singapore very close to being overrun
by Japanese ground troops, he organized the embarkation
of approximately two thousand British refugees; mostly
civilians and including many women and children.
Of course, Captain Kelley’s name is most often mentioned
with regard to this dramatic rescue. However, anyone
knowledgeable about how a naval vessel is organized and
run knows full well that a ship’s Executive Officer
masterminds the details of such exploits. Captain Kelley
undoubtedly would have been the first to agree.
Relieved as XO of WEST POINT on May 19, 1942, Giles Stedman was named the
Commandant of Cadets at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY while
that institution was still under construction. Promoted first to the rank of Captain, and
then to Rear Admiral in the United States Naval Reserve, Stedman became the second
Superintendent at King’s Point in late November 1943. He served in this capacity until
March 31, 1946.
During his tenure at the Academy, he guided and inspired the 6,600-plus midshipmen
who graduated and went to sea to man the ships of an enormously expanded wartime
merchant marine. Of all of Giles Stedman’s accomplishments, providing the leadership
for the training of these thousands of men during World War II was undoubtedly his
greatest contribution to his beloved, sea-faring nation.
Admiral Stedman’s portrait hangs in Wiley
Hall, the Academy’s administrative building,
along with the portraits of all other past
In addition to his pressing duties as
Superintendent, he often talked informally to
the school’s student body in evening sessions
that he liked to call ‘smokers’, even though he
was a non-smoker. According to those who
were lucky enough to attend those gatherings,
Giles Stedman was a bit of a spellbinder;
telling tales of his own seagoing adventures
and envisioning oceans filled in the post-war
period with American-flagged vessels manned
by “King’s Pointers”. That now-familiar
nickname for midshipmen and alumni alike is
one that he reportedly coined.
Admiral Stedman was also instrumental in
creating the Academy’s Alumni Association.
In appreciation of his efforts, and his
commitment to excellence, which has set a
standard for generations of midshipmen, that organization has named one of their major
donation mechanisms in his honor:
The Giles C. Stedman Society
King’s Point was and still is unique amongst the nation’s military academies. As an
integral part of their undergraduate training, midshipmen routinely went to sea during
World War II to acquire the skills required, upon graduation, to obtain an unlimited
mate’s or engineer’s license from the United States Coast Guard. Consequently, at any
one time, hundreds of King Point students were serving in vessels transiting active war
zones. Most survived when their ships were sunk, and went right back to sea. Others did
not. By the war’s end, 142 King’s Point midshipmen had made the ultimate sacrifice.
In 1943, to help remember and honor them, a bronze relief plaque was placed behind the
head table in the center of Delano Hall, the Academy’s dining hall. The names of
undergraduate King’s Pointers who had died in defense of their county were periodically
added to the plaque throughout the war.
As the list of names grew, Giles Stedman became concerned that it was probably not very
good for the digestion or the morale of cadets eating three meals a day in Delano Hall to
see the names of friends and classmates constantly being added to the list. So, he ordered
that a large painting be created and placed over the plaque. As a suitable subject for
display at the Academy, he chose a lovely lady of the sea…the SS AMERICA. The
painting shows his last and greatest command entering New York harbor on the morning
of July 29, 1940, when she began her long, useful and colorful career.
Artist Howard B. French created
this spectacular 17-foot high by 12-
foot wide painting that remains
there today, in appropriate
remembrance of both the
AMERICA and of her first skipper.
Nearby, in the American Merchant
Marine Museum, the builder’s
plate, brass bell and numerous
other artifacts from the SS
AMERICA are also appropriately
Returning to civilian life and to the
United States Lines in 1946, he
became the Company’s Vice
President of Pacific Operations.
Stedman became chief of all of US
Lines’ foreign operations in 1955,
and was named a director of the
nation’s premiere steamship
company in 1958.
In addition to his work for United States Lines overseas, in 1947 he was appointed as the
Far Eastern Baseball Commissioner for the American Baseball Congress. He
subsequently was instrumental in setting up baseball leagues in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and
This activity was due to his longtime interest in baseball,
dating back to the 1920s when he frequently attended
major league games whenever his ship was in New York.
His relationship with athletics is further perpetuated by
the Admiral Giles C. Stedman Trophy.
This beautiful award is presented annually at the US
Merchant Marine Academy to a graduating first class
male athlete for demonstrated athletic excellence
throughout his career. The trophy signifies the highest in
achievement, sportsmanship and general excellence in
Between 1922 and 1957, immigration records indicate that Giles Stedman arrived in New
York as a civilian seafarer after crossing the Atlantic westbound an amazing 273 times.
In addition to an equal number of eastbound trips, he also sailed into New York
numerous times from other points of European origin. During the time he served in
WEST POINT, he made several additional overseas voyages, including one hazardous
around-the-world trip in 1941. Immigration records also show that he was often a
passenger on other vessels in his post-war travels to the Orient.
In his last years of service to US Lines, Giles Stedman traveled frequently to Europe. On
at least two occasions, in 1955 and 1956, he sailed from Southampton to the United
States onboard the SS AMERICA. He may very well have sailed in AMERICA
additional times, but immigration records after 1957 are not readily available.
How enjoyable it must have been for him to sail again in the ship he first skippered in
1940. Almost certainly, some of the officers on the AMERICA in the 1950s were peers
or prior protégés of his, and Giles
Stedman undoubtedly would have been
privileged to spend unlimited time on the
bridge; something no other passenger
would have ever been permitted to do,
regardless of VIP status. He may even
have conducted a few sea-going ‘smokers’
At the end of those voyages, when he
departed AMERICA, he surely must have
looked back and savored scenes such as
Two decades before, Giles Stedman had written an article entitled ‘The Captain Loves the
Sea’ for Collier’s Magazine. However, it was not a recitation of his personal exploits;
rather, it was more of a ‘how to’ piece; created for the benefit of novices entertaining
thoughts of trans-Atlantic travel at the height of the passenger liner era.
In the lengthy article, published on June 22, 1935, he talked about such practical things as
how to select a ship in which to travel. His principal advice was to do so based on the
reputation of the ship’s chef; not that of the ship’s captain! He also eloquently extolled
the virtues of being at sea in ‘cabin class’ ships, such as WASHINGTON, that were a bit
slower than foreign lines’ blue-ribband greyhounds. In his own words, drawn from that
“Your crossing may take a day or two longer, but you’d be glad of it. Walk on deck,
alone, in the hour after dinner when the sea is opalescent and open your soul to the
understanding of sunset at mid ocean. Then you may come to love the sea as I have loved
it since the day, long ago, when I presented myself to my first captain and was so
overawed that I began to salute rapidly with both hands!”
AMERICA’s Admiral conducted business in London and made his home there for a few
years before passing away there as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 10, 1961.
Still in the employ of US Lines, Giles Chester Stedman, Rear Admiral, USNR (Retired)
was only 63. The next day, the Mayor of Quincy ordered the flags at city hall lowered to
half-staff in memory of him.
An extensive obituary in the New York Times
summarized his lengthy career, highlighting his valor
at sea in war and peace, and particularly noting his
rescue work. The operation he directed in 1933 which
earned him the Navy Cross was retold in detail, and
was referred to as ‘a masterpiece of marine
Understandably, for Giles Stedman was a masterpiece
of marine performance.
Any member of our military who has been awarded the Navy Cross is entitled to be
buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Accordingly, Admiral Stedman was interred
there on April 18, 1961. A funeral mass was held the day before in New York’s St.
Patrick’s Cathedral, and a Requiem Mass was conducted in London on the day of his
His final resting place is marked by one of those tens of thousands of simple, yet eloquent
gravestones that cover the rolling hills of this hallowed ground in precise formation.
STEDMAN, GILES C
RADM, US NAVY
WORLD WAR I, WORLD WAR II
DATE OF BIRTH: 09/02/1897
DATE OF DEATH: 04/10/1961
Appropriately, and quite likely at his own request, Giles Stedman was laid to rest in a
section of the cemetery which overlooks the United States Coast Guard Memorial.
Inscribed on that impressive monument are the names of all of the Coast Guard sailors
lost at sea during World War I.
~ POSTSCRIPT ~
The story of AMERICA’s Admiral is a particularly inspiring one, in my humble estimation, and a
‘must-share’. Not because of my months of research and repeated drafts that have led to this
fairly comprehensive telling of Admiral Giles Stedman’s life story and of his many
accomplishments, but simply because it’s a truly great story about a real-life American hero.
Years ago, through books, my Father introduced me to such heroic figures as the fictional Captain
Horatio Hornblower and the US Navy’s famous salvage expert – Admiral Edward Ellsberg. They
quickly became my boyhood heroes as I systematically read of their adventures.
Stedman and Ellsberg were contemporaries and kindred spirits….men of the sea. Each one
contributed much to the rich maritime history of our nation. While Stedman was somewhat less
prolific than Ellsberg, who wrote seventeen books, Giles Stedman did write, and write
instructively and well, of his exploits.
A recent discovery of the articles Stedman penned in the 1930s provided
me much of the heretofore uncombined story of his life. Three chapters
of a book long out of print about rescues at sea provided exhaustive
details about Giles Stedman’s trio of epic sea rescues.
As I read those passages, I was magically transported back to my youth
when I shared, albeit only vicariously, in such adventures; soaking up nautical terms and stirring
passages, such as: “Stedman bent at the steering sweep, flexing, standing, a strong figure swaying
against the background of a raging sea. ‘Way! Give way together, boys!’ he shouted.”
It’s never too late to acquire new heroes, and now I have another one.
AMERICA’s Admiral : GILES CHESTER STEDMAN
I am indebted to several organizations and individuals for greatly assisting me in this quest:
• Martin Skrocki and Donald Gill, United States Merchant Marine Academy
• Linda Beeler, Thomas Crane Public Library of Quincy
• Richard Rabbett, SS United States Conservancy
• Doug Sterner, Home of Heroes Museum
• John Dion, USS WEST POINT Plank Owner
• Liz Willis Neger and Mary McAvoy Zimmer, Daughters of US Lines Executives
Their invaluable assistance gave new meaning to the quotation Stedman selected in 1914:
“Hope against hope, and ask till ye receive”.
In addition, I had the pleasure of being able to share this story and its extensive background
material with Michael Stedman Wyatt, grandson of Giles Stedman. Mike and a twin brother were
not born until the year after their Grandfather passed away. Before I made contact, they knew
very little about their grandfather’s varied career. They proudly know a great deal more now.
Finding and sharing has so many wonderful rewards!
USMMA Difficult Times, August 08
Editor's Note: What follows is an open letter from a fellow alumnus and former teacher at KP. The letter contains factual information and some editorializing. At this time there is a new CEO for the USMMA Foundation, Mr. John Connolly, and a new CFO. Mr. Peter Rackett holds the posiiton of VP, Alumni Affairs and Annual Giving (Class Gifts, etc.). We apologize if you are not able to link directly to the Senate report.
I can assure you that the broad view presented here does not register with the general ranks of the midshipmen, except that they know there are winds of change. I believe it is still important for we as Alumni to support them through donations to support programs that the government is unable to. Our chapter traditionally has and will continue to support the M/N Morale Fund and Waterfront Activities with your membership dues and other donations.
Like the author, I remain optomistic that there will be good outcomes. Otherwise, I would not be chairing my Class of 1983 Homecoming Gift Campaign...
Thanks to Stacy Reese for forwarding this.- SWO
2 August 08
Dear USMMA friends,
As many of you know, I had been teaching at the USMMA for several years. After 3+ years, in November of 07 I left to help build a clean energy company based on the South Shore of Long Island. I have, however, been very close to the affairs of the school, and feel compelled to give my friends and classmates an update on some difficult times.
This whole narrative emerged as a response to a friend asking about affairs at the USMMA. I then realized that many of you may not have heard much of anything about what is really going on lately. Thus I ended up typing much more than I had originally intended. I suppose I have been so close to it over the last several years, and really wanted to get it written down. You are welcome to forward it on, BUT please know that these are just my opinions and observations, which are accurate only to the best of my understanding. This short update is ultimately intended to give a positive message. I have also tried to address these things rather carefully. The question for us (alumni) is what to do next ? Okay, moving forward..
So yes, there haven't been good times for our school of late. But based on my experience and time there, I truly hope the best will emerge. In the final conclusion, these may be the best thing that has happened in years.
In short, there has been a financial stand-down at the Academy. Not small stuff, but very major in the last 2 months or so.
Essentially all NAFI positions which were performing services which a government service member could otherwise do, were cited as illegal, and all have been essentially fired. (NAFI stands for "non appropriated funding instrument". NAFI funds are those the Academy gets which aren't appropriated by congress. A NAFI employee is not a government worker.) The concept here is that, as a government school, government people should be used to perform such work. Sample positions include much the entire DoIT department (Department of Information Technology), all athletic coaches, and a wide array of other service positions at the school. I understand nearly 30 positions in all are affected. They have, however, replaced many of the NAFI positions under the "civil/government" umbrella, but it is not an easy transition, and simply not enough Government funding is available to cover them all (generally they are much more expensive positions).
The "squeeze" really began over the last few years (starting in ~2006) when Congress continually failed to pass a budget. This means that a "Continuing Resolution" goes into effect, resulting in allowed spending of 80% of the budget which was approved the previous approved year. Year after year congress repeatedly failed to pass Bush's budgets, meaning consecutive years of CR's. To date, the USMMA is still operating under a CR. The war in Iraq and slipping economy haven't helped the USMMA get adequate funding.
The recent problems started with the use of "capitol funds" (ie, money for rebuilding barracks according to the school's "master plan") to pay for people and services. I understand that this is a cardinal sin in government -- the use of money from one pot to serve another with out permission. Eventually DOT got wind of the details, started probing, and ultimately exposed 10+ years of fuzzy books and bad accounting practices. However, MARAD has been approving this practice for years!
This is in addition to USMMA Alumni Association difficulties, which have been hidden very well. Essentially, the Alumni Association was recently on the brink of financial collapse. A consulting firm was hired to come in and re-architect the entire operation and organization, which included the firing of Gene McCormick (the director at the time), and the laying off of numerous other positions. As I understand it, Peter now has the helm, and is keeping things on track.
Back to DOT related issues, in the most recent development, Stewart was forcefully pushed into retirement (tenure ends at end of this August 08), and McMahon (Deputy Superintendent) has been "repositioned" immediately (aka, each were gently fired by the DOT). Not to mention, that other employees are apparently leaving the school "left and right".
I personally cannot claim to be much different than them, which makes this all the more complicated for me. After more than 3 years in a faculty tenure track, I still left, seeing that my program wasn't going to get any support in the near future. I believe that it will in time, but not soon. Our company recently hired Tom Bussi from the machine shop, a good but difficult thing for me to do, knowing the great value "Chief Warrant Officer Bussi" brought to our school. Right now we need good people stick around, not leave..
While I don't wholly agree with this report, because it was written by people who really don't understand what kind of pressure the school has been under to make due with little they have gotten for funding, it is still pretty shocking language.. This is a Congressional report, and about as public as you can get.
See excerpts from the 110TH CONGRESS, 2d Session, SENATE REPORT 110–418. (Abbreviated as attached, full report below.)
Information about MARAD starts on page 133, the USMMA specific stuff starts on page 135.
So our school is undergoing a GAO (Government Accounting Office) audit. I hope and pray that they are intelligent people and realize the story behind the story.
The bottom line, in my opinion, is that we (the USMMA) are suffering from years of general ineptitude, including an identity crisis (aka, what should our mission be in these changing times), inability to play REAL politics in Washington (aka getting known, earmarks, and adapting as necessary), and inability to make the right difficult decisions at the school (including promoting good/bad faculty and staff, proper marketing and recruitment, etc). I personally have a lot of respect for Stewart and McMahon, because I truly believe they understood the problems ahead, and did their best under the conditions given to them. But now they have been ousted, for better or worse. If you haven't heard, Captain Wallischeck is no longer at the waterfront, and now senior staff. He is doing an impressive job, and holding the fort down, with select others.
Another root cause is being stuck under MARAD with no real USMMA champion in Washington at all.(!) MARAD seems generally powerless, and is essentially a shell organization, whose primary mission is subsidizing Jones Act ships, etc. (Where was MARAD during the Dubai-World fiasco ? Why has the CG taken over many functions that arguably should be under MARAD ? .. These are rhetorical questions.) I understand that more than half of MARAD's budget is the USMMA alone. MARAD is getting slapped pretty hard as part of this fallout also.
We (the alumni) know that the school has potential to be a true "Tier One" university/Academy, but we also know how nearly impossible it seems to make it a reality.. Essentially a comprehensive gutting the entire way the school operates is likely necessary. It seems a completely new "branding" and culture must take place at the school, and realistic funds must be appropriated to accomplish what it actually needs to do.
The school is about to hire an entirely new set of senior staff. Of course, this could be good or bad, depending on so many factors. The next few years will be crucial as the school goes through this complete reforming of itself.. it may emerge on the trajectory of the school we want it to become, or it may crumble.
But, as mentioned at the beginning of this narrative, and being an optimist, I truly believe that the events of late, culminating in the Congressional Report and the GAO audit, may be the best thing that has ever happened to our school, at least in the last 10 to 15 years.
There is no real clear next step, if nothing else to support our Alma Mater morally. If I find out more, I will certainly sharhele. I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing many of you at the next homecoming events.