A Commander Lost, Saving His Men
( Originally Published 1902 )
FIRE was discovered on board the United States Steamship Petrel, in the harbor of Manila, March 31, 1901. A number of the ship's crew, with the intention of getting a stream of water upon the flames, went down into the passageway leading to the sailroom, where the fire broke out in the early morning. They were driven back by the smoke and gases, but Lieutenant-Commander Roper, who had gone down with the men at the first attempt, upon learning that one of them had been left behind unconscious, went below to his rescue, in spite of earnest entreaties from those on deck. Naval Cadet J. E. Lewis gallantly stepped ahead of his commanding officer in an effort to relieve Commander Roper from such a hazardous duty, and other officers and sailors followed him below.
The imperiled seaman was rescued, but Lieutenant-Commander Roper was brought on deck in an unconscious state and, despite the most earnest efforts of the ship's surgeon, died without regaining his senses. In all, twenty-three officers and men were overcome by the smoke and gases, but all recovered with the exception of their gallant commander.
The brave officer might have lived to command his vessel successfully in battle, to sink the ships of his enemy ; he might have been spared to enjoy promotion in his rank, but he could not have done as much for his country or his fellow men in a dozen ordinary lives as he did in laying down his life for one of his sailors.
If he had lived to become the Admiral of a fleet, he could not have secured such earthly immortality as he did in offering himself as a sacrifice for another. And the pages of naval and military history are adorned with just such brilliant in-stances of heroism and sacrifice. The American soldier and sailor is such a splendid type of a man that it is the usual, and not the unusual, thing for him to be brave and self-sacrificing in his devotion to his country. When volunteers were called for to sink the ship in the mouth of Santiago harbor, almost all of those who had an opportunity to do so offered themselves, knowing that the chances were death, not life, and were willing to give their young lives for the cause they loved so well. And those heroic men illustrate the well-nigh universal bravery and loyalty of the army and navy of the United States. The death of Commander Roper is another water-mark to tell how high the tide of human love may rise.