After 66 Years In Unmarked Grave, Medal of Honor Recipient Receives Proper Funeral

Sailors assigned to Naval Base Kitsap Funeral Honors Detail fire a 21 gun salute during a funeral honor service for Chief Watertender Emil Fredreksen (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Emil Fredreksen, Danish-born recipient of the rarely awarded  peacetime medal of honor in 1906, died alone and was left in his unmarked grave in Washington state until very recently.

Early in life, Fredreksen immigrated to the United States, and he decided to volunteer for the U.S. Navy in 1897. Early in the morning on 21st of  June, 1905, Fredreksen and his ship, the USS Bennington, suffered one of the worst peacetime disasters in the Navy’s history when a boiler exploded and killed or seriously wounded more than half of the gunboat’s crew.

The Danish immigrant displayed extraordinary heroism at the time. When other people were trying to save their own lives, he thought of others. He had the presence of mind to try and save the injured and those who were trapped in the wreckage.

Frederksen, displayed a complete disregard for his own life, He saved many people and helped them to lifeboats. Many of his crewmates owed their lives to the bravery of this sailor.

Fredreksen received the medal of honor in 1906 for “extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion.”

He continued to serve with distinction until his retirement in 1930; however, he died in 1950 with no known next of kin. As there was no relative to care for his funeral, Fredreksen was buried with no headstone in Section R, Lot 0609, Grave 12 in the Evergreen Washelli Cemetery in Seattle. Fredreksen remained in his plot until March 25, 2016. An honor guard from the Bluejackets commemorated Fredreksen’s newly installed military marker by firing a salute as part of a graveside service.

For many years’ the bravery of this hero was not recognized. Fredreksen like so many other sailors of the time had not family and the idea of him lying in an unmarked grave was simply wrong to many.

The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Navy, Governor Jay Inslee’s office and the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States all played a part in coordinating the service. They all decided that Fredreksen deserved to be honored in death.

“Throughout our country’s history, courageous men and women of the Evergreen State have answered the call to protect and defend justice, liberty and the freedom we hold so precious,” said David Bloch of the governor’s office during the ceremony. “Rising above the call of duty, at the risk of grave injury and loss of life, the celebrated few of these fearless service members distinguish themselves as heroes in the eyes of their comrades.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE