Henry Clay Drexler – Ensign, United States Navy

Born at Braddock, Pennsylvania, on August 7, 1901, he graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1924.


United States Naaval Academy Photo

He earned the Medal of Honor while serving aboard the USS Trenton on October 20, 1924 and it was awarded by a Special Act of Congress on February 3, 1933. He also received the Navy Cross for this action.

His private memorial in Section 4 of Arlington National Cemetery (next to that of his brother, Commander Louis Ashton Drexler,Jr.) reads:

“Burned to death when he threw his body on burning powder bags. He fell on the spot where he was making a supreme effort to save his shipmates. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”



The second Trenton (CL-11) was laid down on 18 August 1920 at Philadelphia, Pennsylania, by William Cramp Sons launched on 16 April 1923, sponsored by Miss Katherine E. Donnelly; and commissioned on 19 April 1924, Capt. Edward C. Kalbfus in command. On 24 May, the light cruiser stood out of New York harbor for her shakedown cruise in the Mediterranean Sea. On 14 August, while in transit from Port Said Egypt; to Aden, Arabia; Trenton was ordered to Bushire, Persia. She arrived on the 25th and took on board the remains of Vice Consul Robert Imbrie. She received and returned the gun salute to the late vice consul and departed the same day. Following stops at Suez and Port Said, Egypt, and at Villefranche France; Trenton arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on 29 September.

In mid-October, while Trenton was conducting gunnery drills in the Norfolk area, powder bags in her forward turret exploded, killing or injuring every member of the gun crew. During the ensuing fire Ensign Henry Clay Drexler and Boatswain's Mate, First Class, George Cholister attempted to dump powder charges into the immersion tank before they detonated but failed. Ens. Drexler was killed when the charge exploded, and Boatswain's Mate Cholister was overcome by fire and fumes before he could reach his objective. He died the following day. Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.


USS Trenton

Medal of Honor Citation:

Rank and organization: Ensign, U.S. Navy. Born: 7 August 1901, Braddock, Pennsylvania. Accredited to: Pennsylvania. (Awarded by Special Act of Congress, 3 February 1933.) Other Navy award: Navy Cross.


For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession on the occasion of a fire on board the U.S.S. Trenton. At 3:35 on the afternoon of 20 October 1924, while the Trenton was preparing to fire trial installation shots from the two 6-inch guns in the forward twin mount of that vessel, 2 charges of powder ignited. Twenty men were trapped in the twin mount. Four died almost immediately and 10 later from burns and inhalation of flame and gases. The 6 others were severely injured. Ensign Drexler, without thought of his own safety, on seeing that the charge of powder for the left gun was ignited, jumped for the right charge and endeavored to put it in the immersion tank. The left charge burst into flame and ignited the right charge before Ensign Drexler could accomplish his purpose. He met his death while making a supreme effort to save his shipmates.

Drexler (DD-741) was launched 3 September 1944, Bath Iron Works Corp., Bath, Maine; sponsored by Mrs. L. A. Drexler, mother of Ensign Drexler; and  commissioned 14 November 1944, Commander R. L. Wilson in command.

Sailing from Norfolk 23 January 1945 to escort Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) to Trinidad, Drexler then sailed on to reach San Diego 10 February. Three days  later she got underway for Pearl Harbor for anti aircraft and shore bombardment exercises until the 23rd when she sailed on escort duty to Guadalcanal and Ulithi, the staging area for the Okinawa invasion. Drexler departed Ulithi 27 March 1945 bound for Okinawa and dangerous duty on a radar picket station.

On 28 May at 0700 two suicide planes attacked Drexler and Lowry (DD-770). The first was downed by the combined fire of the two destroyers and planes from the  combat air patrol. The second tried to crash Lowry and failing, stumbled into Drexler, cutting off all power and starting large gasoline fires. Despite the heavy damage she kept firing, joining in splashing three planes which attacked mmediately after the crash. At 0703 yet another suicider crashed in flames into Drexler's  superstructure. A tremendous explosion followed and the destroyer rolled on her starboard side and sank stern first in 27º 06’ N, 127º 38’ E, less than a minute after the second hit. Because of the speed with which she sank, casualties were heavy: 168 dead and 52 wounded, including the commanding officer.

Drexler received one battle star for World War II service.

DATE OF DEATH: 10/20/1924





Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment