Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. --
In 1898, Cuban colonists were revolting against Spain. The new Cuban government had taken control of the island. A few Spanish officers were still there and managed to provoke a riot in Havana. This prompted the United States to send a battle ship to the harbor in Havana to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens in the area.
The USS Maine, under the command of Navy Capt. Charles Sigsbee, sailed for Havana from Key West, Fla., on Jan. 25. The ship pulled into the harbor on Feb. 15. After “Taps” was sounded more than five tons of the ship’s gunpowder exploded. The front third of the ship was immediately destroyed and more than 250 Marines and sailors were killed. This sparked the U.S. involvement in the Cuban uprising and began the Spanish-American War.
Of the Marines aboard, only 11 survived. Most of those Marines went on in the Marine Corps with relatively uneventful careers but two stood out from the rest: Pvt. William Anthony and 1st Lt. Albertus Catlin.
Anthony was an orderly to the commander of the ship and was standing watch when the explosion occurred. Unlike other men on the ship who jumped off to save themselves, Anthony ran to the captain’s quarters to inform him of what happened.
Sigsbee, in his report of the incident to government officials, wrote about his encounter with Anthony on that fateful night.
“...[following the explosion] I groped my way through the cabin into the passage, and along the passage to the outer door. The passage turned to the right, or starboard, near the forward part of the superstructure.
“… Some one ran into me violently. I asked who it was. It was Pvt. William Anthony, the orderly at the cabin door. He said something apologetic, and reported that the ship had been blown up and was sinking. He was directed to go out on the quarterdeck, and I followed him. Anthony has been pictured as making an exceedingly formal salute on that occasion. The dramatic effect of a salute cannot add to his heroism. If he made a salute, it could not have been seen in the darkness of that compartment. Anthony did his whole duty, at great personal risk, at a time when he might have evaded the danger without question, and deserved all the commendation that he received for his act. He hung near me with unflagging zeal and watchfulness that night until the ship was abandoned.”
Anthony was mentioned in many reports for his unwavering dedication to the ship’s captain. When Sigsbee was reassigned, he let all but a few of his crew on the Maine be sent elsewhere but he kept a few of them to be part of his personal staff. Anthony was one.
Anthony went on to be successful in the Marine Corps, working his way to sergeant major before retiring.
The other Marine who saw success after the sinking of the Maine was Catlin.
Catlin was the commanding officer of the Marine detachment aboard the Maine. After the sinking, he moved around the Marine Corps before getting command of the 1st Marine Regiment in Cuba. After gaining the command of the 3rd Marine Regiment, he commanded his Marines in the battle of Vera Cruz in 1911 where he won the Medal of Honor for bravery.
His Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For distinguished conduct in battle, engagement of VERA CRUZ, April 22nd, 1914. Was eminent and conspicuous in command of his battalion. He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22nd and in the final occupation of the city."
After his time in Cuba, Catlin, now a colonel, became the commanding officer for the 6th Marine Regiment during World War I. His regiment fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood where he was shot in the chest by a sniper.
When he recovered from his injury, Catlin’s career in the Marine Corps was not over and included duty stations in France, Cuba, Haiti and Quantico where he eventually retired as a brigadier general.
At Quantico, Catlin served as a commander. Now, there is a street named after him that runs behind John A. Lejeune Hall, the base commanders building.
Although these Marines began their career with an explosive experience, that did not scare them away. Both Catlin and Anthony served full careers in the Marine Corps with their performance excelling above others.