+12-11-4 William Halford 2000 miles in a Gig


The following provided by Val John Halford, Distant relative to LT William Halford who the USS HALFORD DD480 is names after. Val's father served in the Merchant Marines during WW-II.

William Halford
Sailed over

Not all Medals of Honor awarded are the result of bravery on the battlefield, as acts of courage and military sacrifice abound even during times of national peace. Desperate circumstances compel ordinary men to step forward and voluntarily place their lives in peril to save the lives of others. Such was the case with William Halford, a cockswain aboard the USS Saginaw in 1871.

Born on August 18, 1841, in Gloucestershire, England, William Halford emigrated to the United States and settled in California. In 1869, he enlisted in the US Navy and signed aboard the USS Saginaw, a pre-Civil War, side-wheel steamer. In the Fall of 1871, the Saginaw was assigned to survey and deepen the entrance to the lagoon of Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean. With season growing late and provisions running low, Commander M. Sicard, in command of the ship, decided to start back to San Francisco with a short side trip to Ocean Island to see if there were any shipwrecked men on the island. The Saginaw expected to arrive at Ocean Island at sunrise on October 29, but strong currents caused the ship to reach the breakers outside the reef in the early morning dark. Before sail could be got off or the engines backed, the Saginaw struck the reef which stove in her bottom. The ship could not be saved and the crew was forced to abandoned the Saginaw taking what food and equipment that could be saved. Their new home was a small, low, sandy island barren of trees or shelter or any kind and inhabited by sea birds and a few seals.

The crew was immediately put on quarter rations and sailors were detailed to kill birds and seals, which were made into soup, along with some fish that were caught in the lagoon. With no hope for rescue in such an out-of-way location, and faced with the prospect of eventual starvation, Commander Sicard decided on the desperate measure of sending a five man crew in one of the Saginaw’s small boats to Honolulu for assistance. These men would have to sail over 2,000 miles of open ocean before reaching the Hawaiian Islands. Lieutenant John G. Talbot, the ship’s executive officer, took command and Peter Francis, James Muir, John Andrews and William Halford volunteered to attempt the journey. A gig was refloated and repaired with material on hand and the crew set off on their dire voyage on the morning of November 18, 1870.

Provisions for twenty-five days were loaded prior to their departure, but it was soon discovered that their rations, previously contaminated by seawater, had fermented. The men, already weaken from sickness caused by eating the tainted rations, were obliged to throw much of their food overboard. According to Halford, “We had a small amount of desiccated potatoes left and these were dealt out twice a day, one spoonful morning and evening with what fresh water we had in the boat...” After about twenty-five days the potatoes gave out. From that point on the crew survived on a captured sea bird that was “cut in five pieces and served out warm and bloody” and occasional flying fish that dropped into their boat.

On the morning of their thirty-first day at sea, the weaken crew sighted the destination, Kauai Island. Lightning and heavy rain squalls prevented them from making a safe landing during the day. As darkness fell, the storm lessened its intensity and the crew pulled for the shore. Cockswain Halford stated, “In attempting to debark, we got caught in the breakers on the reef, about a mile from the beach. The boat was capsized and all hands were lost except myself...” Suffering a harsh knee injury in the mishap, Halford struggled to shore and passed out. “When I awoke, or regained consciousness, I found a piece of driftwood and used it for a crutch. I found some natives, but none spoke English. They treated me kindly and one went off and got a half-white native who spoke English. He got some clothing to cover me, as I was stark naked and took me over the mountain to a plantation.”

Within two days time, Halford was able to engage a small native schooner to take him to Honolulu where he reported the wreck of the USS Saginaw to the United State Consul. That same day, two ships were loaded with food and medical supplies and dispatched to Ocean Island and the survivors of the Saginaw. “We had sailed over 2,000 miles in a small boat, suffered untold hardships from cold and hunger, and had not someone been left to tell the story in all probability the ninety-six men left behind would have starved to death before any assistance would have reached them.” An incredible feat of seamanship, navigation, endurance and bravery resulted in the successful rescue of the Saginaw’s crew.

Upon his return to San Francisco, Cockswain Halford was promoted to Acting Gunner on April 14, 1871. For his actions in helping to save the crew of the USS Saginaw, William Halford was awarded the Medal of Honor on February 8, 1872. Serving another 47 years in the US Navy, Lieutenant Halford died in Oakland, California at age 77 on February 7, 1919 while still on active duty. During World War II, a Fletcher Class Destroyer (DD-480) was named in his honor. Commissioned on April 10, 1943, the USS Halford served with distinction earning 13 battle stars during the course of the war, including one for a nighttime surface engagement with Japanese forces in the Suriago Straits during the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.

"Return to Contributor Page"
"Return to Halford Home Page"