Frank R. Crilley

F-4 (SS-23). (U.S. Navy photo.)
F-4 (SS-23). (U.S. Navy photo.)

When Chief Gunner's Mate Frank W. Crilley was unable to reattach a hawser wire to the wreck of the submarine F-4 in 1915, no one had yet heard of or named the condition now known as "depth narcosis." In this state, at extreme depths, a diver's mind becomes numb from the pressure. Crilley was probably confused by the fact that he was having trouble doing something he'd trained for so often that it had become routine.

Without modern equipment or modern scientific knowledge, early deep-sea rescue like the operation in which Crilley was taking part was fraught with danger. Until 1940, the Navy was authorized to award Medals of Honor in peacetime for personal heroism "above and beyond the call of duty" because of the unique hazards associated with life at sea. Before this situation changed in 1963, many Medals of Honor were given for brave and resourceful acts outside of combat.

The U.S.S. F-4 sank with all hands off the Honolulu coast on March 25,1915. On April 17 during the salvage operation, Chief Gunner's Mate William F. Loughman descended to the wreck at 304 feet. He examined a hawser and began his ascent, only to become entangled so that he could not go up or down. Because he had been down for a while and because the pressure was so intense, immediate action had to be taken. Crilley realized the desperate case and volunteered to go to Loughman's aid.

Crilley donned a diving suit and descended in order to reach the hawser wire and untangle its snarled lines. It took two hours and 11 minutes, but Crilley and Loughman were both brought to the surface alive. Crilley had, according to his Medal of Honor citation, shown "a superb exhibition of skill, coolness, endurance, and fortitude."

He had also set a record: by diving to 306 feet in order to better assist his comrade, he had gone deeper than any previous man and survived.

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