The Next Page: A sailor's death, 100 years ago

Recounting the sacrifice of Bloomfield native Francis Patrick DeLowry in the battle of Veracruz


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Mayor Joseph G. Armstrong designated Thursday, May 14, 1914, a public holiday so the citizens of Pittsburgh could honor Navy Seaman Francis Patrick DeLowry on the day of his funeral.

DeLowry, born and raised in Bloomfield, attended St. Mary School on 46th Street before going to work as a messenger. His father, Richard C. DeLowry, was a shipping clerk at the Marshall Foundry Co. along the Allegheny River in the Strip District.

Richard and his wife, Margaret, lived in a modest home on Darsie Street with their three sons and three daughters. Francis, or "Turk" as he was known, was the third eldest. He enlisted in the Navy in 1910, when he was 17, and in April 1914, he was stationed aboard the battleship USS New Hampshire, part of the Navy's mighty Atlantic Fleet.

South of the border, Mexico was in turmoil. A year earlier, during "10 Tragic Days" of February 1913, the elected president of Mexico, Francisco I. Madero, was overthrown by one of his army generals, Victoriano Huerta, and murdered. Huerta manipulated himself into the presidency, throwing the country further into disorder.

Woodrow Wilson, inaugurated U.S. president shortly after Huerta's seizure of power, viewed the events in Mexico with sorrow and anger. He resolved to see Huerta overthrown and democracy restored.

His opportunity came a year later.

With much of the world thirsty for petroleum to feed its internal-combustion engines, the free flow of Mexican crude oil exports through Tampico, a port on the Gulf of Mexico, had become strategically important to America and other countries.

In March 1914, Huerta's garrison at Tampico came under intermittent attack by rebel forces, and western warships, including elements of the Atlantic Fleet under the command of Rear Adm. Henry T. Mayo, began to mass off the coast. Additional U.S. forces patrolled in the vicinity of Mexico's other major eastern port, Veracruz, some 250 miles to the south.

On April 9, one of the U.S. warships at Tampico sent a smaller boat ashore to load gasoline for the admiral's launch. Upon pulling into a commercial wharf, eight U.S. sailors and the officer in charge were seized by Mexican troops and marched to the local regimental headquarters.

Though the U.S. personnel quickly were released, the damage had been done. Mayo demanded that a U.S. flag be raised ashore and saluted by the Mexican authorities. As diplomatic overtures failed, tension escalated, and Wilson learned that the German-owned liner Ypiranga was due in Veracruz with ammunition, rifles, machine guns and barbed wire for Huerta's forces.

Determined to keep the materiel out of the dictator's hands, Wilson decided to land sailors and Marines at Veracruz so they could intercept the Ypiranga's cargo.

Rear Adm. Frank F. Fletcher, the senior officer at Veracruz, ordered the first landings on the morning of April 21. Although the Wilson administration expected little or no opposition, the landing force of nearly 800 sailors and Marines soon came under fire.

Mexican soldiers and civilians shot from rooftops and other positions. By early afternoon, nearly 400 reinforcements from the battleship USS Utah were put ashore. Men from still more ships, including the New Hampshire, followed.

Marching into the heart of the city, DeLowry's unit came under fire. Heavy guns from U.S. ships soon silenced the Mexican guns, but it was too late for DeLowry, felled with several other New Hampshire crewmen.

Word of the bloodshed spread across the front pages of newspapers back home, and the Navy began issuing casualty lists, including one April 23 bearing the name "F. T. DeLowry." Fearing the worst, the DeLowry family nonetheless clung to the hope that -- because the initials did not match -- the dead sailor was not their son.

Their hopes were dashed the next day with the arrival of a telegram to DeLowry's father. The message from Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels said, "I extend deepest sympathy to you in the death of your son, Francis P. DeLowry, killed in battle in Vera Cruz, Mexico, April 22, 1914. His heroic courage gives his name a place among our country's heroic defenders."

In all, 13 sailors and four Marines were killed on the ground, along with 200 or more Mexican troops. Two more U.S. sailors died of their wounds aboard a Navy hospital ship.

The bodies of the 17 were put on board the armored cruiser USS Montana. As the Montana sailed north from Hampton Roads, it was joined by the presidential yacht Mayflower, with Daniels onboard.

On Sunday, May 10, thousands watched as the Montana, Mayflower and the battleship USS Wyoming moved past Staten Island and anchored in the Hudson River, near the Statue of Liberty. Among the first visitors to the Montana was Richard C. DeLowry, who had traveled to New York by train so that he could bring his son's body home for burial. A Pittsburgh newspaper reported that the elder DeLowry "...was received by Cmdr. Nulton in his cabin and arranged to take his son's body home ... Surrounded by the implements and atmosphere of war, and with the body of his son lying under its drapery, he broke down and wept, and was comforted by Cmdr. Nulton with the greatest difficulty."

The next morning, the 17 flag-draped coffins were brought ashore and placed on horse-drawn caissons. Led by sailors, Marines and units of the New York Naval Militia, the procession made its way past hundreds of thousands of onlookers along Broadway, past City Hall and across the Manhattan Bridge to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Behind the caissons came carriages bearing the Navy and Agriculture secretaries, congressional delegations and members of the New York legislature. Also present was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Wilson met the procession at the Navy Yard. In remarks lasting about 20 minutes, he said the U.S. action in Veracruz was intended as a service to the Mexican people. He honored the dead for serving something greater than themselves.

After the speeches, prayers, rifle salute and "Taps," the coffins began journeying to hometowns, including Pittsburgh.

Arriving at the Pennsylvania Railroad's Shadyside Station early on Tuesday, May 12, DeLowry's casket was taken to the new Beaux-Arts "Memorial Hall" in Oakland. DeLowry was the first serviceman killed in action to lie in state in this imposing building, today known as Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum.

The public was admitted at noon, and by the time the building closed nine hours later, thousands had paid their respects. Guarding the bier were a pair of Navy men who had accompanied the body from New York, a National Guard platoon and United Spanish War Veterans.

After Memorial Hall closed, the casket was moved to DeLowry's home, where it remained the next day. The floral tributes included a wreath of lilies that Wilson sent from the White House conservatories.

On Thursday, May 14, the casket was placed on a caisson drawn by six horses. Nearly 75 carriages made up the procession. Pittsburgh had not seen a funeral of this magnitude since that of Navy Lt. Friend W. Jenkins, killed when the USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor in 1898.

The cortege included mounted police officers and a band, "cadets" from local churches, about 300 parishioners from DeLowry's home parish and carriages of clergy, altar boys, relatives and friends.

The procession moved along Darsie, Minerva and Ella streets to Liberty and Millvale avenues to Baum Boulevard and Craig Street to St. Paul's Cathedral. Church bells tolled, thousands lined the streets and others watched from windows and rooftops. Vice President Thomas R. Marshall was among those who packed the cathedral.

Most businesses had closed. Courts adjourned for the funeral. By order of the mayor, the bells at City Hall and at Engine Co. 46 tolled every two minutes during the procession and funeral. At city schools, which remained in session, teachers were encouraged to read Wilson's Brooklyn Navy Yard address to their students.

Another large procession accompanied the casket to St. Mary Cemetery in Lawrenceville. Three volleys were fired over DeLowry's grave, and two buglers played "Taps." The body of Pittsburgh's young sailor hero finally had been laid to rest.

Rosslyn Farms resident Tom Davis (tdavis463@verizon.net) is a Navy veteran who has written for Military History and the Quarterly Journal of Military History. Before joining Westinghouse, where he is a project manager in the nuclear power plants business unit, he spent five months in Veracruz in the mid 1990s helping to manage the oil tanker fleet of the Mexican national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, commonly known as Pemex.


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