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Rear Admiral Solomon Isquith, US Navy

Solomon Silas Isquith was born in 1896 and grew up in New York, the second of seven children.

As a young man, he wanted to serve his country. He tried to enlist in the US Navy during World War I but was initially turned away because he was considered too short. As the family story goes, he tied flat irons to his ankles one night to stretch his legs and somehow managed to beat the height requirement the next day. He enrolled at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and graduated in 1919. Isquith was immediately sent overseas to serve aboard river gunboats, destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in Europe and the Far East.

Later, he was transferred to the Pacific Theater aboard the USS Utah, a target ship that was used for dive bomb training. When World War II broke out, Isquith had been serving aboard as an engineering office for almost two decades. On December 7, 1941, the Utah was stationed on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese attacked at 8:00 AM, the captain and executive officer were away on leave, and then-Lt Commander Isquith found himself as the senior-ranking officer on board. After two torpedoes slammed into the vessel, Isquith directed more than five hundred crew members to abandon ship.

Amid heavy strafing from Japanese warplanes, Isquith stayed aboard Utah to oversee the evacuation until the ship turned turtle, at which point he escaped through a porthole in the captain’s cabin. He led his fellow sailors in an effort to save more people by sailing around the harbor on smaller boats and cutting holes through ships’ hulls, including Utah. Although 58 crew members of the Utah lost their lives, an incredible 461 survived, which the survivors attributed to their excellent training and Isquith’s calm efficiency. For his courage and bravery, Isquith was awarded a Navy Cross and a Purple Heart. His Navy Cross reads:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant
Commander Solomon Silas Isquith, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Target Ship U.S.S. UTAH (AG-16), during the Japanese attack on the United States Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 7 December 1941. With extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety, Lieutenant Commander Isquith directed the abandonment of the ship when it was capsizing rapidly, in such a cool and efficient manner that approximately ninety per cent of the crew were saved. The conduct of Lieutenant Commander Isquith throughout this action reflects great credit upon himself, and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Isquith oversaw salvage operations and received recognition for raising several sunken ships. He also served on battleships and destroyers in the Pacific. After being promoted to captain, he commanded the troop ship USS Noble and participated in the Battle of Okinawa. He later served as the Commander of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Somehow, he also found time to complete law school and contributed to parts of the Navy’s court martial policies. Isquith also had a pivotal role in creating the modern strategy for national defense, which ultimately led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In 1947, Isquith ended his 30-year military service with the rank of Rear Admiral.

Rear Admiral Isquith passed away in 1969 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Originally published in the Chanukah 2023 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.