While working on the latest chapter in this story, about a month ago I stumbled onto yet another story that needs to be told in this space. It involves a navy woman hero... and another ship being built by the same Ingalls shipbuilders of Mississippi that have just brought the world the latest Munro Cutter.
The was not the first in her honour. From 1945 to 1979 another sailed the oceans of the world and did such heroic service in WW11 and Korea she was awarded 8 Battle Stars. She was known as the " Leaping Lenah," but the official records called her the USS Higbee (DD806).
The ship was named in honour of Harriett Lane who was the niece of the then serving President... Buchanan, who was unmarried. She acted as a sort of First Lady if you will!
But who, you ask, was Lenah Higbee?
Lenah had been nursing for many years when, at the age of 25 she married a Marine Corps Lt. Colonel by the name of Higbee,. he was slightly older. Actually 36 yrs older. And lost his wife a year earlier. Lenah had been practicing nursing for many years and also taking post graduate training when an opportunity came her way in 1908 after her husband had passed away.
In May of that year President Roosevelt passed legislation creating the Navy Nurses Corps. Many applied, and with about a decade of nursing already, she was one of the 20 accepted into the corps that would see then become known as the Sacred Twenty.
By 1911 she would be not only the Chief Nurse but the top nurse, the Superintendent of the entire Corps. A title she would hold until retirement in 1922. Between its formation and today, the Corp was first headed by 7 Superintendents. The title was then changes to Director and a further 17 would follow suit as the head of the Corps.
Many years after her service the civilian heads were given military ranks. Six would hold the rank of Naval Captain, the later 10 would hold the rank of Rear Admiral.
Of all the heads of the corps, Lenah's service was within two months of tying the longest service of any of them.
Here's an interesting news-clip a few years later...
I have done quite a bit of research in this, more is needed, but I have yet to find ANY other document supporting this award being made. I also note that at the Arlington National cemetery site, where Lenah lies at rest today, the internet article says she was awarded a Navy Distinguished Service Medal as well. A bravery medal just 4 down from the Medal of Honor. Again I can find no confirmation yet regarding this.
However it is very well documented that only 4 women in the history of the US Navy have been awarded the Navy Cross, just the 1st medal down from the Medal of Honor, Three of these were posthumous awards and the fourth, the only medal awarded to a nurse still alive, was that awarded to Lenah.
By the way, I should probably mention that Lenah W. Sutcliff Higbee, almost the longest serving Superintendent of the US Navy Nurse's Corps and only living Navy Cross recipient, when awarded, was born on 18 May 1874. And her birth place, with a population of about 3,000 at the time, called itself Chatham.
And that is in the Canadian province of New Brunswick!
see you next week,