Uncle Tom

My grand-uncle Thomas Napoleon Dudley was born December 12, 1890 in a one-room cabin in Clark Township, Clinton County, Ohio.   He was the fifth of six sons born to Jesse and Mary Shaper Dudley.  My grandmother, Mary Dudley Donaldson, was the youngest of the Dudley children and the only girl.

The earliest clear photo of Tom shows a sweet-faced teenager with a determined expression.  After working as a laborer for a few years in his hometown of Lynchburg, Ohio, on October 1, 1913 he enlisted in the United States Navy at Cincinnati, Ohio.  The country boy wanted to see the world.  His enlistment papers state that Tom was 5’ 9 ¾” and weighed 145 pounds with hazel eyes, auburn hair, a ruddy complexion, and scars on his left knee and his left index finger.  He had a star tattoo on his left forearm, a common tattoo among sailors symbolizing their hope to find their way home safely.  He reported to the Naval Training Station at Norfolk, Virginia as an apprentice seaman a few days later.

In Norfolk, Tom was assigned to the receiving ship U.S.S. Franklin for training.  In January 1914, Tom was appointed an apprentice chief petty officer, which he performed in an “excellent” manner.  His instructor wrote that Tom was a “hard worker – attentive and subordinate.”  He held this appointment until he was transferred to general service as an ordinary seaman in February.

On April 1, 1914, Tom reported to the U.S.S. Arkansas.  Soon the Arkansas was en route to Veracruz, Mexico, landing later that month to defend United States interests during the Tampico Affair.

Returning from Veracruz to Norfolk, Tom sustained a compound fracture of his right leg on October 5, 1914.  There is no documentation in his military service file of how he sustained this injury, except that it was not in combat, was in the line of duty, and was not due to misconduct.  Tom entered the Naval Hospital at Norfolk on October 7, 1914.  On January 18, 1915, a medical report stated:
Both bones of right leg broken at junction of middle and lower third. This has been a very difficult case to treat and many efforts have been made to get the bones in proper position. At present, the union is solid, but there is still some tenderness and swelling persists. He still uses crutches in walking. It is thought that in about thirty days he will be entirely well.
He remained in the Naval Hospital until May 1915, nearly seven months.  He then returned to the Norfolk Training Station before reporting to the U.S.S. South Carolina in June.    While war raged in Europe, the South Carolina conducted battle exercises at home and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Tom’s rating was changed to Seaman in November 1915.  He was assigned to the South Carolina until April 1917 when he was assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Tom sent this picture to his sister Mary.  He wrote, "This picture was taken while
coaling ship at Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  Some dirty gang.  I think I am the worst
on the extreme left."
The United States was now involved in World War I.  Tom served on the S.S. H.C. Folger as an armed guard on overseas duty from June 6, 1917 to July 13, 1917.  I have been able to find very little information on the H.C. Folger, but it appears to have been a privately-owned oil tanker used to deliver fuel to the allied naval fleet.  The U.S. Shipping Board commandeered private vessels and shipping yards for use in the war effort, which probably explains how Tom ended up serving on the H.C. Folger.  Tom had returned to the Philadelphia Naval Yard by July 1917 and remained there until he was honorably discharged on October 12, 1917.

He reenlisted at Philadelphia on October 23, 1917 with a rating of Gunners Mate 3rd Class.  Since his first enlistment, he was a little bigger, a little more scarred, and a little more tattooed.   He served as an armed guard at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  His rating changed to Gunners Mate 2nd class on January 1, 1918 and to Gunners Mate 1st Class on April 3, 1918.  Tom was only disciplined once during his time in the Navy, on April 1, 1919 when he was out of uniform when going on liberty. 

 On July 1, 1919, Tom was assigned to the U.S.S.  J. Fred Talbott, which departed for the Mediterranean Sea to assist with post-war stability and reconstruction.  On July 30, 1919, Tom requested that the length of his enlistment be changed from four years to Duration of War.  At that time and at the time of the 1920 census, Tom was in Spalato, Dalmatia (now Split, Croatia).  He served on the J. Fred Talbott until June 28, 1920.  He was honorably discharged at the Philadelphia Receiving Station on June 30, 1920.  For his service in the U.S. Navy, Tom received the Mexican Campaign Medal, the Armed Guard Clasp, and the Victory Medal.

Gertrude Clemons Dudley
After leaving the Navy, Tom remained in the Philadelphia area and married Gertrude Irene Clemons on November 26, 1926.  He continued to work with ships, making his living as a rigger.  

Tom and Gertie moved back to Lynchburg in the 1930s.  Tom’s health was failing.  My mom was very young when Tom died, but has one memory of him.  She was standing outside the theatre in Lynchburg with some family members and Tom bent down and picked her up.  My mom also has fond memories of Gertie.  Tom and Gertie never had children of their own.

Mary Shaper Dudley and her sons, Charlie, Ab, Tom, and Clarence
Tom was diagnosed with throat cancer in early 1939.  According to a local newspaper, in September 1939 he was hospitalized in the Veterans Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.  The newspaper reported that his health was improving and that he would be returning home soon.  However, in January 1940, the newspaper again reported that Tom was in the Dayton Veterans Hospital .   That same month, he was transferred to Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Hospital near Chicago, Illinois.  He died there on March 13, 1940.  Tom is buried in a corner of Troutwine Cemetery in his hometown of Lynchburg, Ohio.


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