USS Aphrodite WWI

USS Aphrodite (SP-135), 1917-1919

Originally the Civilian Steam Yacht Aphrodite

Converted Private Yacht: Displacement: 1,500-tons. She was 302-feet in length and had a breath of 35-feet, 6-inches, her normal draft was 17-feet aft, and she could make 15 knots speed. Her ships complement was 68. She had four 3-inch guns and two Machine guns for armament. She also carried depth charges.

The Aphrodite was a Yacht used by the United States Navy during World War One as an escort vessel. But to properly tell her history you need to start fifty-nine years before she was built. The man who envisioned her and had her built was Oliver Hazard Payne, who would one day lead men in battle during the American Civil War and would become one of the richest men in the world.

Oliver Hazard Payne was born on July 21, 1839 and passed away on June 27, 1917. Payne was an American businessman, organizer of the American Tobacco trust, and assisted with the formation of U.S. Steel, and was affiliated with Standard Oil. He is considered one of the 100 wealthiest Americans, having left an enormous fortune. His estate at Esopus, New York, known as the Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne Estate, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and is now the home of Marist College, Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership Development.

He was the son of businessman-politician Henry B. Payne, and was named for Oliver Hazard Perry the naval hero. He graduated from Phillips Academy Andover in 1859, and then studied at Yale University. At the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War in 1861 he enlisted in the Union Army, though he could have afforded to pay someone to go in his place. In 1863, he became colonel of the 124th Ohio Infantry. Upon the end of the war, he began his career, investing in iron and then oil refining. His oil interests were the first acquired by Standard Oil, and he became a trustee of that firm and acted as a lobbyist. He was charged with bribing members of the Ohio Legislature to attain a Senate seat for his father (before the U.S. Senate was directly elected), and with bribing the Democratic Party to name his brother-in-law United States Secretary of the Navy, though the charges were dropped.

Later in his life Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne who was a life long bachelor had an idea to have a private yacht built. This idea Payne had would at the time become the world’s most luxurious private yacht.

The man who would be the Aphrodite’s master was Captain Charles W. Scott. He was a seasoned yacht master and had become one of Col. Payne’s trusted inner-circle. Captain Scott was born in England in 1859 and had immigrated to the States about 1869-75. Scott was so trusted by Col. Payne that when Payne passed away Captain Scott was willed a sum of $25,000. This was second only to Payne’s confidante Emma C. Larson who received $50,000 and these amounts far exceeded any amounts Payne willed to his other employees, so clearly Captain Scott was a very trusted man by Col. Payne.

Before Col. Payne hired Captain Scott he had been the master of a steam yacht in 1893 named the Sagamore owned by a Mr. Edwin Scott of Philadelphia, who was no relation to Captain Scott. Col. Payne convinced Captain Scott to become the master of a yacht he was leasing, and so he left the Sagamore and took over as the master of Payne’s leased yacht the Endeavor. Payne had leased the Endeavor for several years before building the Aphrodite. Captain Scott had taken Payne aboard the Endeavor to Europe several times, and when Col. Payne decided to build his own yacht he asked Captain Scott to assist him in the design of a new yacht. The Aphrodite took her general lines and shape from the Endeavor but the Aphrodite would be much larger and have modern fittings.

When it came time to build his new yacht Payne called on Charles Ridgely Hanscom, the Superintendent of the Bath Iron Works to make Payne’s dream a reality. Hanscom quickly got to work and employed such designers as Stanford White who at the time was one of the country’s leading architects to create the new yacht’s interior spaces.

There were no large reception rooms on the yacht instead, there was an expansive deck with more than six feet between the rail and the deckhouse, providing a clear view from bow to stern, though this resulted in reduced space for the steel deckhouse and the mahogany-paneled quarters within. There was, however, an extra large dining saloon in the forward part of the deckhouse, enabling Payne and his guests to dine amid magnificent sea views. The yacht was classified as a steam yacht because she could navigate under steam, but she could also navigate under sail. The yacht carried some 17,000 square feet of sail, which was used often when weather permitted. On her maiden voyage from Bath, Maine down to New York City she reached a speed of 17-knots, which was two more than her contract called out. She was also a very sturdy and seaworthy vessel, which was demonstrated during one of the early trips to Europe when she was west bound out of the Azores to New York City. She ran headlong into a hurricane and weathered the storm very well and came through with very little damage.

Colonel Payne kept the name of his yacht a close secret right up to the launching day. The reason he kept this name a secret will never be known nor will the reason he chose her name. That secret name was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love. Possibly he chose this name because he had not taken a wife during his life and he secretly wished he had the love of a woman. But now in a sense, he did have the love of a woman, one that was 300-feet in length, and was the largest steam yacht ever to be built in the United States at that time.

On December 1, 1898 14-year old Miss Vivie Scott had the honors of bestowing the name of Aphrodite onto Payne’s new yacht. Miss Scott was the daughter of Charles W. Scott who was chosen by Colonel Payne to be her Master. On the day of the launching Colonel Payne had previous engagements and could not attend the launching, but as the Aphrodite slipped into the cold waters of the Kennebec River a dispatch was quickly sent off to Col. Payne stating that his new yacht cut smoothly into the river at 2 o’clock that afternoon. A waiting tug took the new yacht in tow and took her back to the shipyard where she was completed.

Aphrodite's launch was breathlessly covered in The New York Times, which continued to chronicle her travels for more than a decade, from her arrival in New York on March 29, 1899, when she "steamed up the North River and anchored off Forty-second Street" to her annual trips to Europe and the Mediterranean. The snowy-hulled yacht became a frequent sight further up the river at West Park, where Colonel Payne had an 800-acre country estate with nearly a mile of riverfront.

Between the years 1900 and 1914 the Aphrodite made many trips to Europe always under the hand of Captain Scott. Col. Payne and his nephew Payne Whitney who lived with the Colonel was a frequent sailing passenger on these trips. The favorite locations were to the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas and frequently trips to England.

The Aphrodite was often moored in the river at a spot visible from Payne’s estate and main house at Esopus. And there is a story of an even that happened in 1913 while the Aphrodite was moored there in the river. It seems that there was a steamer headed from Newburgh going to Albany and had struck a submerged rock near the Esopus Island just north of Payne’s estate. The captain of this steamer felt he would not make his destination safely and let the vessel drift down river where he pointed the vessel onto the eastern shore of the river and beached her. On the Aphrodite while at her moorings in the river was Captain Scott who had witnessed this event and lowered one of the Aphrodite’s boats and set out with several of his crew to help the stricken steamer. The passengers where taken to safety and Captain Scott brought then to the wharf at West Park. During the rescue several of the ladies on the beached steamer had fainted from all the excitement and commotion. Captain Scott and his crew treated the rescued passengers to lunch and waited with them until the next Newburgh-Albany boat came along and the passengers resumed their travels.

By 1917, with failing health, Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne decided to join other American millionaires who were lending their yachts to the US Navy for the war effort. The Navy took possession of the Aphrodite on May 11, 1917 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and there after began removing her luxurious interior, and her once brilliant white hull was painted gunmetal gray. While Payne had sailed her with a crew of between 55 and 60, she would now carry a crew of 128 officers and men, along with four 3-inch rapid firers, two machine guns, a Y-gun, and a large number of depth charges. No longer a wealthy man’s most prized possession, she was the USS Aphrodite, (SP-135) a United States man-of-war. Col. Payne also offered several of his crew to the Navy to serve aboard and the navy accepted several of Payne’s crew. Captain Scott also served during the war as the executive officer under Lt. CMDR Craft.

On June 14, 1917, Nine days after her commissioning, USS Aphrodite sailed from New York Harbor under the command of Lt. Commander Ralph Payne Craft, U.S.N. as her first wartime navy commander. The Aphrodite was then escorting the first American convoy carrying the American Expeditionary Force to the battlefields in France.

Sadly Colonel Payne would not live to see the return of his once glorious yacht, on June 27, one day before the convoy reached France, Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne died, leaving an estate that The New York Times estimated at $90 million. Three thousand miles away, Aphrodite and the other yachts were assigned to patrol and perform convoy escort duty on the Bay of Biscay, escorting coastwise convoys and meeting in-bound convoys from the United States and seeing them into the French ports of Brest, Le Verdon-sur-Mer, or St. Nazaire.

On February 16, 1918, she was reassigned to the base located at Rochefort, France, from which she served as an offshore escort until March 1918. On March 28, 1918, Aphrodite was assigned to Division 7, Squadron 3, Patrol Force, based at Le Verdon-sur-Mer. She served as a convoy escort along the French coast for the remainder of the war. These converted yacht squadrons became known as the "Suicide Fleet", and still in other circles they also became known as the "Easter Egg Fleet." The moniker of "Suicide Fleet" has obvious meanings but the term "Easter Egg" came from the way these converted yachts were painted in the early parts of the war. The camouflage paint schemes of that day were quite vivid and likely took a bit of getting used to for the crews, over the traditional gray of a warship.

While serving in the war zone Lt. Commander Craft was re-assigned to the Battleship USS Pennsylvania, and Captain Frederick C. Billard, later Rear Admiral and Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, took command.

Captain Billard had been in command of the USCGC Onondaga based out of New London, Connecticut and had received orders relieving his command of the Onondaga and ordering him to report to London, England where he was to take over command of the Aphrodite from Lt. Commander Craft. Now under the command of Captain Billard the Aphrodite served as the flagship of a squadron of converted yachts based out of the French port of Bordeaux. Aphrodite was tasked with escorting merchant vessels operating along the French coast.

A few days after the Armistice, with Billard at the helm, Aphrodite left Brest, France, first for England, where she served as station ship in Harwich and Portland, England, and at Hamburg, Germany.

Within a month of the end of the war the Aphrodite was steaming in the North Sea when she was passing by the German island fortress of Helgoland and struck a floating German mine. Aphrodite had sustained significant damage but Captain Billard’s crew reacted quickly and very professionally and managed to bring the Aphrodite back to Portsmouth, England for repairs. After her repairs were completed from the mine damage, she was the first American ship to pass through the Kiel Canal, which is the 61-mile-long canal that links the North Sea at Brunsbuttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau.

After the war ended, Captain Billard was awarded the Navy Cross, his citation read, "for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the USS Aphrodite, engaged in the important, exacting, and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines."

On April 1, 1919 the following officers were serving aboard the ship under the command of Captain Frederick C. Billard, USCG:
Lt. J. G. V. Astor, Executive Officer, USNRF
Lt. (jg) J. O. Huse, USN
Lt. (jg) Huntington English, USNRF
Lt. (jg) H. F. Johnson, USN
Ensign R. Hammond, USNRF
Ensign Charles White II, USNRF
Ensign Charles H. Burton, USNRF
Lt. Paul T. Crosby, Medical Corps, USN
Lt. (jg) W. A. Marcus, Pay Corps, USNRF
Ensign Robert E. Burney, Pay Corps, USNRF
Ensign William M. Corliss, Pay Corps, USN
Officers who served aboard the Aphrodite during WWI:
Lt. (jg) Charles W. Scott, USNRF
Lt. (jg) Charles F. Fornason, USNRF
Ensign William H. Horkan, USNRF
Ensign G. Holmes, USNRF
Ensign A. C. Meyers, USNRF
Surgeon R. D. N. Jones, National Naval Volunteers
Assistant Surgeon Morton D. Willcutts, USN

USS Aphrodite returned from Europe to the New York Navy Yard on June 29, 1919 where she was placed out of commission at the Fleet Supply Base, Brooklyn, NY, and on July 12 she was returned to her owner that same day.

Colonel Oliver Payne's favorite nephew, Payne Whitney, who'd received the bulk of his uncle's estate, took ownership of the Aphrodite. When the battle-scarred ship reached Brooklyn, she was decommissioned and her fighting equipment removed. Her buff-colored smokestack was painted with two gold chevrons – indicating her overseas service for her country – and on her bridge, a tablet was installed that contained a brief summation of her wartime activities. Sadly, she couldn't be returned to her original glory; the interior finishing’s so carefully removed two years earlier had been destroyed when the Long Island warehouse in which they had been stored burned.

In 1928, following the death of Payne Whitney, Aphrodite was sold to a Greek firm that used her for inter-island transport in the eastern Mediterranean. A draftsman who'd worked on her in 1899 captured the only known picture of Aphrodite after her purchase; it shows her war chevrons still painted on her smokestack. It was believed that she was still in service into the 1930s, but then she disappeared, an ignominious end for the glorious Maine-built ship once hailed as "America's most beautiful yacht." Mighty Aphrodite sailed through life as a party boat, a warship, and at last sighting, a lowly transport for hire.

WWI Photo of the Aphrodite in the dry-dock in Portsmouth, England being repaired from damage froma mine.
Photo of Seaman Horace Conway Collection.

Seaman Conway's photos were shared by Shirley Conway-Algie, Granddaughter of Seaman Conway.

Crew photo of the Aphrodite during WWI.
Photo of Seaman Horace Conway Collection.

USS Aphrodite greeting the 26th Division.
Photo of Seaman Horace Conway Collection.

USS Aphrodite as she looked during WWI.

A painting of the SS Aphrodite by artist Antonio de Simone, which is owned by Mike Dodd.

Close up view of the bridge area.

Mike Dodd who lives on the Island of Jersey, which is located in the English Chanel just of Normandy, France, owns a painting of the Aphrodite and sent a photo of the painting. Mike stated that he came across this web page while searching for some information about the steam yacht Aphrodite. Mike related that, “My search was prompted because I own a painting of Aphrodite by the marine artist Antonio de Simone. In the painting the Aphrodite is pictured in the Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius in the background, which is typical of this artist's maritime paintings.”

Mike goes on to say, “Unfortunately, my painting has at sometime been damaged by water and is in poor condition and so in the future it will require some restoration work. I bought this painting about 20 years ago without a frame, and its edges are broken and tattered but it now looks better for being sympathetically reframed. The painting of Aphrodite must have been done before the First World War and maybe on a around the world voyage. I don't know how it came to be in the island of Jersey where I live. I would like the painting's existence to be known in the USA as it may possibly be of interest to people like yourself who are interested in such an iconic American vessel.”

Yours sincerely, Mike Dodd

Island of Jersey, UK

Ships Muster

As I find names of men who sailed this ship I will add them here with what I know of each. If you know additional facts about these men or others who were crew of the USS Aphrodite please e-mail them to: Joe Hartwell

Rear Admiral Frederick C. Billard, U.S. Coast Guard

Captain Billard was the Commanding Officer of the USS Aphrodite during World War I. As such he was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions as commander of the Aphrodite. His Citation reads:

The Navy Cross is awarded to Captain Frederick C. Billard, United States Coast Guard, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Aphrodite, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines.

Rear Admiral Frederick C. Billard was born in Washington, DC on 22 September 1873. He was appointed a cadet from Maryland on 11 January 1894 and received his early training on the practice ship, USRC Chase. He was appointed a Third Lieutenant in the Revenue Cutter Service on 27 April 1896 and a Captain on 12 September 1912. During the Spanish-American War he served on the Cutter Corwin, then attached to the Pacific Fleet. From 1900 to 1905 he was navigator and instructor on USRC Chase and from 1906 to 1911 he was Aide to Captain Worth J. Ross, Chief of the Revenue Cutter Service. In 1918 he commanded USS Aphrodite, operating in the European War Zone. This was the first American war vessel to pass through the Kiel Canal after the signing of the Armistice. In May 1919 Admiral Billard returned from Europe and became Aide to the Commandant of the Coast Guard. He was made Superintendent of the US Coast Guard Academy at New London, CT in 1921. With the rank of Rear Admiral, he succeeded William E. Reynolds as Commandant on 11 January 1924.

Billard's tenure saw great change and challenge for the Coast Guard. The service grew considerably, both in vessels and manpower, as a result of Prohibition. New patrol craft, and the personnel to man them, were needed to interdict the importation of alcohol. The procurement and construction of these ships along with the acquisition of destroyers from the US Navy posed many problems for the service. Billard oversaw the incorporation of these new vessels and the re-organization of the service with great skill. With his experience as Academy Superintendent, he also led a campaign for improvements. The result saw the reform of the curriculum and the eventual construction and re-establishment of the Academy at its current New London location in 1932. Not only was he an indefatigable worker, he was personable and seemingly knew most of the Coast Guard officer corps even to the most junior level. This engendered a deep sense of loyalty in all of those who served under his command.

Having been appointed to three consecutive terms, he died in office on 17 May 1932. Dearly loved by all those who had the honor of serving under him, his passing was deeply mourned. In his book Guardians of the Sea: History of the United States Coast Guard, 1915 to the Present, Robert Erwin Johnson stated that "Frederick Chamberlayne Billard must rank with the greatest commandants of the Coast Guard. He had guided his service through a very trying period, presiding over an unprecedented expansion and attempting to deal with the herculean task of prohibition enforcement without neglecting his service's traditional responsibilities."

Horace V. Conway (Service No. 122-42-22)

Horace Vaughn (Jim) Conway was born in Bloomfield, Ohio on February 10, 1897. One year after Congress and President Wilson declared War on Germany Horace entered the Naval Recruiting Station in Columbus, Ohio and enlisted into the Navy Reserve Force on May 7, 1918. Seaman Conway was assigned to the Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, and IL from enlistment until June 5, 1918 where he was assigned to the Receiving Ship in New York Harbor. On the 10th of June Seaman Conway was assigned to the USS Covington, which was a seized German Passenger liner, formerly the Cincinnati, now being used by the Navy to transport American troops to the war in Europe.

Seaman 2c Conway was on board the Covington the day she was torpedoed and sank and on the 14th of July after he was rescued, reported to the District Commander in Rochefort, France. He remained there until August 28, 1918 when he was assigned to the converted Yacht USS Aphrodite and served on her until the end of the war and until he was released from the navy on August 15, 1919 at the Demobilization Station in Pittsburgh, PA.

Seaman 2c Conway then reverted back to Reserve status and when finally discharged from the Reserve Force on September 30, 1921 was at the present rank of Engineman 2c. At that time his discharge from the Navy was due to the lack of funds from the government.

After his service in the navy Horace Conway began his career working for the railroad in Dennison, Ohio. He and his wife Marie lived in Dennison, Ohio in a rented home at 67, 10th Street with his wife and two sons. The rent was $28 per month and the family enjoyed one of the early radio sets in their home. Marie was born about 1900 in Ohio and Horace and Marie were married in 1921 when he got out of the navy. On April 16, 1930 Horace worked as a Railway Express Manager in Columbus, Ohio. Horace and Marie’s two sons were born in Dennison, Ohio. They were Fred who was born in 1923 and Clair, born in 1925. They later had two daughter’s, born in Columbus, Ohio, Marianne, born in 1931 and Susan born in 1936.

Horace worked for the railroad all his life as his Social Security number was issued through the Railroad Board. Horace lived in Columbus, Ohio when he passed away in March of 1979.

Joseph Albert Geery Engineman First Class

Joseph Albert Geery was born on February 14, 1893 to Joseph F., and Bertha Geery. The Geery’s lived in Queens, New York in April of 1910 where Joseph F. the father, worked as a clerk at a local lumber-yard, and his son Joseph Albert who was now 16-years old work with his father as a helper in the lumber-yard.

Joseph Albert Geery joined the navy before America entered WWI on August 16, 1916 and served briefly aboard the converted Yacht USS Aphrodite from February 26, 1919 – March 9, 1919. She was then employed as station ship at Harwich and Portland, England, and at Hamburg, Germany. While in the Navy Geery was classified as Engineman First Class. He was then assigned to be part of the new crew of the Ex-German Submarine recently taken over by the United States Navy.

By the terms of the armistice, Germany was required to destroy her aircraft and submarines or surrender them to the Allies. On 26 November 1918, UB-148 was surrendered to the British at Harwich, England. Later, when the United States Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several former U-boats, to use in conjunction with a Victory Bond drive, UB-148 was one of the six boats allocated for that purpose. Her American crew, sent to England early in March 1919, took her over later that month, and began preparing her for the voyage to America, and placed her in commission with Lt. Comdr. Harold T. Smith in command.

Engineman Geery and his fellow shipmates departed England on 3 April 1919 sailing the UB-148 in company with Bushnell (Submarine Tender No. 2) and three other Ex-German submarines-U-117, UB-88, and UC-97. That task organization, the Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force, steamed via the Azores and Bermuda to New York, where they arrived on 27 April 1919. After a period of repairs, the Ex-German submarines were opened for visits by the general public. Tourists, reporters and photographers joined Navy technicians and civilian shipbuilders in swarming over UB-148 and the other submarines. Following that, UB-148 received instructions to call at ports along the east coast of the United States in the immediate vicinity of New York City in conjunction with the bond drive. At the conclusion of the drive that summer, she and U-111 were subjected to extensive tests and trials to evaluate their performance capability.

When that experimentation ended, UB-148 joined U-117 and U-140 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where they were laid up pending final disposition. She was dismantled at Philadelphia; and, during the summer of 1921, her hulk was used in gunnery and aerial bombing tests conducted off the east coast. Following those tests, UB-148 was sunk by gunfire from Sicard (DD-346).

Before the UB-148 was laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Engineman Joseph Geery left duty aboard her and was assigned duty at the New York Navy Yard. This is known from the 1920 Federal Census where on January 8, 1920 Joseph Geery was listed as a machinist at the Navy Yard. He was now married, and he and Margaret his wife lived in Brooklyn, New York. He and Margaret lived in a rented apartment on Moffate Street in Brooklyn. Margaret was born on January 28, 1892 in New York.

By the spring of 1930 Joseph and Margaret Barbara Geery had moved to East Rockaway, New York where they owned a home located at 10 First Avenue in East Rockaway. Joseph was now out of the Navy and now worked as a lineman for the local telephone company. He and Margaret had begun to grow the family as in 1922 the first child was born, a son named Walter and then in 1926 a daughter was born she was named Margaret after her mother.

Joseph and Margaret would live the rest of their lives in New York. Joseph Albert Geery would pass away on May 26, 1961 and was buried in the Long Island National Cemetery, section 2J site 3704. Margaret would later pass away on December 31, 1973 and was buried on January 4, 1974 next to her husband in the long Island National Cemetery.

Arthur C. Geiger, Engineman Second Class

Arthur C. Geiger, Engineman 2c was a crewman aboard the USS Aphrodite during WWI. He was a native of Erie County, New York. Born on June 29, 1894 he was the sixth child born to Frank and Maggie Geiger of Buffalo, New York.

The father Frank Geiger was born in July of 1863 in New York and was a first generation German-American. Frank worked as an engineer and was a mechanical type person, a trait in which he passed on to his son Arthur. The mother Maggie or Margaret as she was sometimes known, was born in December of 1863 also in New York and was like her husband of German heritage. She and Frank were married about 1883 and would have 9 children all born in Buffalo.

Through out his early years Arthur C. Geiger was around engines of one sort or another. His father ran a stationary engine of some sort in Buffalo and Arthur found that working on these relative new engines was of great interest. I fact the children of Frank and Maggie were all somewhat mechanical as in 1910 several of the children had jobs of mechanical skills. John the eldest son was an ironworker, Frank, Jr. the second eldest son worked as a potter in a local pottery company, Katherine the eldest daughter worked as a box maker in a local paper box company and Arthur was then working as a molder in the same pottery company as his older brother Frank Jr.

When American entered into the First World War in April of 1917 Arthur C. Geiger joined the navy on March 18, 1917 and they quickly put his mechanical skills to good use. They gave him a job working with engines and during the war he was an Engineman Second Class serving aboard the converted yacht USS Aphrodite.

After the war Arthur Geiger returned to the Buffalo, NY area and would live the rest of his life in New York. He would pass away on August 3, 1960 and was buried in the Bath National Cemetery, Bath, NY, Section K, Row 32, Site 7.

This photo is of six sailors from the USS Aphrodite taken in Hamburg, Germany on May 10, 1919 and shows Arthur Geiger second row on the left end.
Left to right front row: Devens, E. J. F1c, Brooklyn, NY; Little, J. R. ENG2c, San Francisco, CA; Donahue, P. MM2c, Elizabeth, NJ
Second row: Geiger, A. C. ENG2c, Buffalo, NY; Roberts, F. L. ENG2c, Wichita, KS; French, B. H. ENG2c, Bridgeport

Chief Machinist Mate August A. Barendt

August A. Barendt was a Machinist Mate aboard the USS Aphrodite during WWI. Barendt was a Merchant Mariner before the war and enlisted into the navy at the age of 23 on July 13, 1905. He was discharged from the Navy in 1922 at the grade of Chief Machinist Mate.

August A. Barendt was a first generation German, born on November 23, 1882 in New York and likely in or near Buffalo, NY. He was the son of Fred and Augusta Barendt both German born. Of his father Fred little is known other than his name. Augusta his mother was born in Germany about 1862 and had immigrated to the States in 1884.

By 1910 Fred had passed away and the family consisted of Augusta and three sons and two daughters. On the 1910 Federal Census there is a question that asks how many children were born and how many living. Fred and Augusta had 9 children 5 of who were living. August and his mother and siblings lived at 23 Alwin Place in Buffalo, New York. The home was a small two-story row type house with a detached garage and still stands there today. It is in a run down section of Buffalo but back then it was home to the Barendt family. The home at 23 Alwin Place was actually owned by Charles Drexler, who was married to Emma Barendt. Emma was Augusta’s 25-year old daughter. Charles Drexler worked as a printer for a local Buffalo Lithographer shop. Charles and Emma had been married for 4-years and had one 3-year old daughter. Augusta the mother worked as a cleaning lady in a local department store. August who was the eldest was then in the navy, the next eldest son at the age of 23-years was Charles who was working as a florist, Henry the next son who was 16 years old worked as a salesman in a desk store and Caroline the youngest daughter at the age of 12 went to school and likely took care of things around the house and helped her sister Emma with her 3-year old child.

Little is known of August A. Barendt’s merchant mariner life or of his early naval career. What is known is that during WWI Barendt was a crewman aboard the converted Yacht USS Aphrodite serving as a Machinist. By 1920 Barendt was now a Chief Machinist Mate and was in January of 1920 stationed at the Bay Ridge Barracks, of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. These barracks were located between 69th and 81st Streets in Brooklyn along the shore facing the bay, and had recently in 1918, been occupied by the navy in lieu of using the old rickety ships anchored there to house sailors.

By 1922 Barendt was discharged from the Navy at the Norfolk Navy Yard with 17-years service behind him. He was still a single man and may have never married during his life. August Barendt returned to live in Buffalo with his mother and brother. In 1927 and 1928 living at the 23 Alwin Place home was August, Henry and their mother Augusta. Both August and Henry were working as laborers.

The only other thing that is known of his life is that from December 15, 1931 through March 8, 1933 he may have lived at a Disabled Veterans home where he was under the care of the effects of severe Psoriasis. When he was discharged he listed his residence in Chicago, which was the home of his youngest sister Caroline Fuller. He was then a 51-year old single man of blue eyes and gray hair.

August A. Barendt passed away on January 12, 1953 and was buried in Section 4, Row 5, Site 27 of the Mt. Moriah Naval Plot, located at 62nd Street and Kingessing Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Arthur Leonard Hargreaves

Arthur L. Hargreaves served aboard the Aphrodite during WWI he kept a log book of day to day activities at sea off the coast of France. Today his grandson Russ Hannah has this in his possession. Arthur Hargreaves was born on October 20, 1897 and died on September 21, 1976. Hargreaves enlisted into the navy on May 31, 1918 and was discharged on September 30, 1921. Hargreaves passed on his tradition of naval service to his grandson Russ Hannah who during WWII served as a Signalman aboard LCS 129 on picket duty off the coast of Okinawa to intercept the Kamikaze planes.

Seaman 1st class George Ernest Way

Once a man puts on the uniform of the Unites States Navy he puts on a uniform of heritage that goes back to the roots of our beloved Country. No matter when a man had served in the Navy a brother sailor always seeks to pay respect to his fellow sailor. An example of this respect comes from a retired U.S. Navy submariner named John Schrum. He had been researching his Schrum family history and on a trip found himself at a cemetery near Gilmer, Texas. There he found several unidentified Schrum grave stones, and among them was a Ruth Schrum who it turns out was married to a Vernon D. Way (1924-1991). John Schrum upon research into who Vernon Way was discovered that Vernon’s father was a brother sailor. This is the story of that brother sailor, George Ernest Way.

In the Forest Park Cemetery in Houston, Texas lies a flat granite grave marker. It is the grave marker of George Ernest Way who was a veteran of the First World War. George was in the navy and served aboard the USS Aphrodite in the Atlantic during the war. But who was this man, and what was his life like?

George Ernest Way was born on May 26, 1898 to Claude Weston Way (1870-1948) and Helene Julia Arnold (1874-1951) in Bloomington, Nebraska. Bloomington is a very small town located in Franklin County along the Nebraska-Kansas State line. The Claude Way family consisted of Claude and his wife Helene, and their four children Eloise F., Hedwig C., George Ernest, and Naomi C. The town of Bloomington is a very small town and even today there are just over 100 residents living there.

By 1910 the Claude Way family had moved to Hastings, Nebraska. Hastings was in Adams County just northeast of the little town of Bloomington. Hastings was a much bigger town and it was here that Claude W. Way put his trade to good use. Claude was an architect and the city of Hastings was then undergoing a period of renewed growth. Many homes were being built in the styles of the day. And the leading architect was Claude W. Way drawing plans for many of the cities Craftsman, Prairie, Colonial Revival and American Foursquare style homes. Hastings had in 1911 four separate brickyards in operation, which were producing more bricks, that any other city in Nebraska, and they produced all the street paver bricks in the entire state.

For young George Way this was a much different place that the small dirt roads of Bloomington. The Way family home was located at 1116 West 3rd Street, and the home was a large two story wooden framed home with an open front porch made of bricks across the bottom and large white columns to support the roof. It had a brick sidewalk and a brick carriage house out back. The house still stands today, and the brick carriage house is now used as an apartment.

We will never likely know for sure why George Way joined the United States Navy, but from the few facts that are known a story can be pieced back together. On June 27, 1917 George Way enlisted into the navy and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, IL. After his training was completed he was assigned to overseas duties in France at the Naval Aviation Station located in Gujan-Mestras, France. This was located in Arcachon Bay on the western coast of France southwest of the city of Libourne. It is not known how long Seaman 1st Class Way was at this station, but at some point Seaman Way was assigned to sea duty aboard the USS Aphrodite, which was then operating in the convoy routes in the Atlantic. Likely he may have been a replacement crew to the Aphrodite as the ship had sailed for European duty from America in early June 1917 before Way joined the Navy. So it is fair to say Seaman Way would have been assigned to the Aphrodite sometime early or mid 1918.

After the war ended the Navy did not need the services of the Aphrodite and so she was decommissioned and her crew was discharged. It is known that George was Honorably Discharged from the Navy on July 15, 1919.

Again putting the pieces back together we can say that at age 22, which would have been in 1920, George took a wife, her name was Florence C. Wachter, and she was 20 years old when they married. Florence was born on December 7, 1900 in Nebraska, and she would pass away on 15 December 1968. It is also known that the couple settled in Pearland, Texas where a son named Vernon D. was born on August 29, 1924, and another son named Robert G. was born on April 10, 1926. Pearland, Texas is now part of the greater Houston area, but back in the 1920’s it was a very small farm community. The population in 1914 was only about 400 or so and the area was known for growing fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupes, corn, figs, pears and watermelons. When the Way family lived in Pearland George was working as a farm laborer likely on one of the many farms in the area.

It is known that in April of 1930 the George Way family lived in a rented house at 839 Oxford Street in Houston, Texas. The house on Oxford Street was a small bungalow style home that still stands today. George Way was then supporting his family by serving as a Houston Police officer. From notations on the 1930 Federal Census we can see that there were 6 homes on the block on Oxford Street, between East 8th and 9th streets. Of the 6 homes only two of them had a radio set in the home. One of the two homes was the George Way home, and the other was the Walter Stevens home right next door, so on Patrolman Way’s salary the family was able to afford one of the few luxuries of the day, that being a radio set.

Also from the 1930 Census we learn that Florence’s older sister Edith Wachter was living with the family. Edith was 2-years older than Florence and was not married.

Sometime about 1935 the family bought a small craftsman style home located at 823 Fugate Street on the corner of Fugate and Julian Streets in Houston. The value of the home was estimated at $3,700 according to the 1940 Federal Census. George Way would work many years for the Houston Police Department. By 1940 he was no longer working a beat, by then he was working in the radio department as a radio dispatcher.

The end of the story for George Way came on August 16, 1950 when he passed away. He was buried in the Forest Park Cemetery in Houston. On January 9, 1952 Florence C. Way, George’s widow signed a form to have a military gravestone laid for her husband. A flat granite marker was delivered and laid on March 26, 1952 thereby ending the story of a good and faithful servant to his fellow man and a devoted husband and father, George Ernest Way.

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This page was created on 6 November 2005 and last modified on: September 20, 2018

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