The Surface Navy Association recently inducted five individuals into its Surface Warfare Hall of Fame. This award recognizes a person who has made an exceptionally significant contribution to the Continental Navy, U.S. Surface Navy, or to Surface Navy Warfare, whether as a member of the armed services or as a civilian.
Cmdr. Jesse Grant Coward, USN
Cmdr. Coward was the commanding officer of the USS Sterett (DD-407) during an engagement with the Japanese naval forces near Savo Island on the night of Nov. 12-13, 1942. On this occasion the force to which Cmdr. Coward was attached engaged at close quarters and defeated a superior enemy force, inflicting heavy damage upon them and preventing the accomplishment of their intended mission. His daring and determination contributed materially to the victory which prevented the enemy forces from accomplishing their purposes. He received the Navy Cross for this action.
Later as captain and commander, Destroyer Squadron Fifty-four, in an action against enemy Japanese forces at Surigao Strait during the Battle for Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Islands on the night of Oct. 24-25, 1944, although illuminated and subjected to enemy fire, he brought his ships to within short range of heavy enemy vessels, launched a daring torpedo attack, which inflicted severe damage on the enemy, and retired without loss or injury. The successful attack contributed in large measure to eliminating an imminent and dangerous threat to our transports and other ships in Leyte Gulf. His high professional skill, forceful leadership, and gallant devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
He received his second Navy Cross citation for this action. He later retired as rear admiral.
Lt. Cmdr. John N. McKay USN
On Nov. 22, 1975, while conducting night flight operations east of Sicily, the USS Belknap (CG 26) and the USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) collided, Belknap sustaining major damage and a fire which raged for more than 2 hours before going under control. At the first sound of the collision, Lt. Cmdr. McKay, without regard for personal safety, left the wardroom and went to Damage Control central. In spite of heavy, blinding smoke, he went below to main control and supervised the securing of engineering spaces to minimize damage, loss of life and casualties. Following an explosion in the after fire room, he succeeded in having emergency power quickly brought on the line to assist the ongoing firefighting and rescue efforts. When the gas turbine failed, he ingeniously contrived an emergency coolant water method using a P-250 damage control pump. He then ensured the functioning of each of the ship’s five pumps, keeping them on the line as long as possible. He repeatedly went through the ship below decks despite acrid smoke and numerous explosions of 3-inch ammunition. Alternately, from each end of the ship, he acted as a human communications link and directed the organization of fire parties and movement of equipment to the various fires amidships. When a starboard list developed, he investigated and determined water trapped in the wardroom pantry to be a significant contributing cause, and immediately directed that holes be cut in the bulkhead to drain the water and correct the list. His persistent display of bravery in the face of great danger to his own life inspired those around him. His courageous, tireless and brilliant supervision of the damage control effort, unquestionably, contributed to the saving of many lives as well as saving the ship. For his actions, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.