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Capt. John Allen Midgett
&
The Mirlo Rescue
[Some Photographs from USCG Headquarters Historical Files compiled by LCDR Don Midgette, USCGR]

John Allen Midgett, Jr.


              USCG Headquarters Historical Photo                     Last photo taken of Captain Midgett 5 days before he was fatally hurt
                                                                                                       in an auto accident with Christmas presents for his grandchildren
                                                                                                       shown here with him in this picture.

John Allen Midgett, Jr. was born in Rodanthe on Aug. 25, 1876 to John A. Midgett, Sr. & Phoebe M. O'Neal.  He married Jazania Spencer Payne in Rodanthe on Nov. 14, 1897 and to them were born four children.  Reared on Cape Hatteras Island near Diamond Shoals, he attended the village school through whatever grades were prevalent at that time. The remainder of his formal education was accomplished in a private academy in Elizabeth City, N.C. Returning to his native soil as a very young boy, he grew up strong in stature, absorbing the lore and lure of the sea, knowing no fear of the vast ocean but learning a deep respect for it. With the Midgett lifesaving tradition behind him, it is no wonder that he too chose his life's work in becoming a member of the U.S. Life Saving Service, enlisting from North Carolina in 1898 and serving through the merger of the Life Saving Service with the U.S. Coast Guard until his death in 1938. Prior to his service at Chicamacomico Station, he served at Little Kinnakeet and Gull Shoal stations. After the Mirlo rescue he was called by the U.S. Navy to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, probably to act briefly in the role of Coast Guard consultant concerning the German submarine activity off the east coast. This is supposition, since information of that nature is strictly classified.  No man in the United States Coast Guard became more widely known than he, when a hero's fame came to him on an August afternoon in 1918 when he rescued 42 men from the burning British tanker Mirlo. Chief Warrant Officer Midgett has had a profound influence on the Coast Guard's history and is an inspiration to the young boot and old salt alike. On July 2, 1972, acknowledging the contribution by the famous Outer Banks family of Midgetts and to honor John Allen Midgett, Jr., the North Carolina Navy League Councils, the state of N.C. and the U.S. Coast Guard proclaimed "Midgett Day". in remembrance of Chief Warrant Midgett, his skill and daring, the Coast Guard named its newest cutter "Midgett", and had the 378-foot ship on exhibition at Morehead City on Midgett Day. This class of cutter is named after either past Secretaries of the Treasury or Coast Guard heroes. The cutter is primarily a search and rescue vessel, but plays an integral part in the Coast Guard's many other roles such as aids to navigation, a floating landing pad for helicopters, oceanography, meteorology and of course, in time of war, an anti-submarine vessel.  In December 1920, Midgett received the Gold Medal for gallantry in lifesaving from the British government, along with his Mirlo rescue crew--Zion S. Midgett, Leroy S. Midgett, Arthur V. Midgett, Clarence E.  Midgett and Prochorus O'Neal who married a Midgett,--he received a Gold Medal and the American Cross of Honor from his own country. He was ambitious and actively interested in politics. An Independant from tradition, environment and conviction--voting for "the man" rather than a party--this brave and modest man had many friends both Democratic and Republican. He was a close friend of Franklin Roosevelt and most of the congressmen during the Roosevelt years, many of the said congressmen leaving their Washington seats to come to Rodanthe to attend his funeral in 1938. He sprang from deeply religious Methodists; he was noted for his honesty, courage and kindness. He advised justly, assisted readily, took provocations patiently, defended courageously, and was a friend unchangeably. He was a leader on his native Cape Hatteras, taking an interest in education and in community improvements such as roads and better transportation on the Outer Banks. He was a 32nd degree, Scottish Rite Mason, having membership in the Wanchese, N.C. Masonic Lodge.  On February 9, 1938, John Allen Midgett, Jr. died a "landsman's" death in the Public Health Hospital at Norfolk, Va., as the result of complications suffered in an automobile accident during the 1937 Christmas holidays. He would have been 63 years old, and that month would have marked the 42nd year of his active service in the Coast Guard. The next year, as a Warrant Officer, he would have retired, and his period of service would have remained a record for a long while. He, his wife, and his daughter Nora, are buried in the Manteo Cemetery on Roanoke Island, N.C.


British Tanker Mirlo

In 1914, a proposal to combine the U.S. Life-Saving Service and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service was put forth, and met with the approval of the heads of the two Services. On January 15, 1915, the two organizations were merged to form the U.S. Coast Guard.

The new U. S. Coast Guard continued the lifesaving traditions of its predecessor and was soon put to test. On August 16, 1918, at the height of World War I, the lookout at the Chicamacomico Station, North Carolina, spotted a British tanker, the Mirlo, hit by a torpedo. The shout of the lookout began a rescue by the station crew, under the command of John Allen Midgett, that has become a legend in the annals of the Coast Guard. Twelve years later, in 1930, Midgett and his crew received one of Great Britain's highest honors, The Grand Cross, for their bravery.  The logbook for that evening had the following entry:

    4:00 p.m. to Mid. At 4:30 p.m. lookout reported seeing a great mass of water shoot up in the air which seemed to cover the after portion of a steamer that was about seven miles E by S of this Station and heading in a Northerly direction, a great quantity of smoke rising from the after part of the Steamer was noticed but continuing her course for a few minutes when she swung around for the beach and then heading off shore, the fire was now seen to shoot up from the stern of the Steamer and heavy explosions were heard. I called all hands including the liberty man and started with power Surfboat No. 1046, Wind N.E. moderate, heavy sea on beach, had difficulty in getting away from the beach, cleared the beach at about 5:00 p.m. and headed for the burning wreck, then about 5 miles off shore. I met one of the ship's boats with the captain and sixteen men in her; I was informed that their ship was a British tanker and that she was torpedoed which caused the loss of ship. I was informed that two other boats were in the vicinity of the burning gas and oil that was coming up from the sunken ship. I directed the captain of that boat where and how to go and wait my arrival, but not to attempt a landing as the sea was strong and there was danger of him capsizing his boat without assistance. I then headed for the burning gas and oil.
    On arrival I found the sea a mass of wreckage and burning gas and oil, there were two great masses of flames about one hundred yards in places covered with the burning gas. And in between the two great flames at times when the smoke would clear away a little, a life boat could be seen bottom up six men clinging to it, the heavy swell washing over the boat. With difficulty I ran our boat through the smoke, floating wreckage and burning gas and oil, and managed to rescue the six men from the burning sea. Who informed me that at times they had to dive under the water to save themselves from being burned to death, all had burns but non serious. They informed me that they were sure that there were no men afloat except those in the boats. But this did not stop our searching in the vicinity of the fire for those missing men, but no more men could be found. These six men seemed to know nothing of the other boats, they being lost sight of in the fire and great clouds of smoke that were rising from the burning gas and oil. I headed our boat before the sea and wind in hopes of finding the missing boat, and in a short time the 3rd which was the missing boat with nineteen men was sighted about nine miles S.E. of station. I ran alongside took this boat in tow and proceeded to where I had directed the first boat to be, this boat was soon reached and taken in tow. I had in station boat six men rescued from the bottom of overturned boat. And one of the boats being towed containing seventeen and the other boat containing nineteen, the wind was beginning to freshen from the N.E. and sea rising on beach.
    I was heading for my station when about two mile South of station it began to get dark and for safety I decided to make a landing. I anchored the two ship's boats about six hundred yards from the beach and transferred the men to station boat, landing all in station boat at four trips, and then put surfmen in the two ship's boats and had them landed. As fast as the men were landed they were carried to the station by my team of horses and the horse from station No. 180. The Keeper and crew from station No. 180 met me at the beach and assisted me in landing the crew. All boats including the station boat were pulled up on the beach out of danger of the sea. I landed last trip at 9:00 p.m. and arrived at station at 11:00 p.m., myself and crew very tired. I furnished the Captain and all his crew who needed it medical aid, and then with some dry clothing, and their supper, and with a place to sleep.
    /s/ John A. Midgett, Keeper


Surfmen who assisted in the Mirlo rescue.

L to R: Keeper, John A. Midgett, Sr.; Levene W. Midgett; unknown; Clarence Brady; Prochorus Lee O'Neal (identified by his great-grandson, Glenn Kevin McCroskey)  [the rest are unknown].  If anyone can identify the other men please let me know.

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2007