As of Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Thousands of miles from Idaho County, an historic tragedy tied Idaho to Ireland.
On Feb. 5, 1918, the SS Tuscania was torpedoed and sank at nightfall in the Irish channel.
On board was a large contingent of Idahoans, including men from Idaho County and Kamiah. Of these men, William I. Droogs of Mt. Idaho was killed in the incident, as was another Idaho man, John C. Robinson of Potlatch. They were Idaho’s first combat fatalities in World War I.
“This is a very significant event to Idaho and our county,” said Idaho County Historical Society member Floyd Whitley of Cottonwood, who has researched the event and created a PowerPoint presentation. A program commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking will feature this Monday, Feb. 5, 6 p.m., at Grangeville High School. Admission is free, and the public is encouraged to attend the event, which will also include live period music performed by locals.
Idaho County/ Kamiah men on the Tuscania
Passengers aboard the ill-fated Tuscania included Delmar J. Hockersmith of Cottonwood, Richard Vineyard of Grangeville, Willard Griffeth, Andrew Jackson Parsell, Forest Turner, Rex Oser and William Watkins of Kooskia, William I. Droogs of Mt. Idaho, and Charles Brewer and Arthur G. Horning of Kamiah.
On Jan. 24, 1918, the Tuscania departed Hoboken, N.J., with 384 crew members and 2,013 U.S. Army personnel on board. On Feb. 5, she turned south for the Irish North Channel en route to Liverpool. The German submarine UB-77 torpedoed the Tuscania, sending her to the bottom of the Irish Sea within about four hours. 210 troops and crew were lost, while many others were recused by Royal Navy destroyers.
The wreck of Tuscania lies between Scotland’s Islet and Northern Ireland’s Rathlin Island, about seven nautical miles north of Rathlin lighthouse, under 328 feet of water.
Notable passengers included Harry Randall Truman, who later died in the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
Richard Vineyard of Grangeville wrote a letter home to his father, Judge Vineyard, which appeared in a March 1918 issue of the Idaho County Free Press:
“Feb. 18, 1918: My dear father: I expect you to be unnecessarily worried until you get this account of the Tuscania and not knowing whether I was on her or in the states …. My sergeant major and myself were rolling a pack out in the hall adjoining my state room when about five minutes to six a big explosion occurred, then everything went pitch black with the whole ship trembling and when you make a ship 650-feet long weighing 16,000 tons tremble, it takes some bump. It threw us both off the deck a foot, and fairly made your teeth rattle …,” he penned.
Kooskia Survivor Rex Oser also wrote home in March 1918 and his words were printed in the Kooskia Mountaineer newspaper:
“While we were standing on the ship, several boys jumped overboard into the sea and immediately were calling for help. It was an experience that I don’t care to repeat. They shot sky rockets from the big gun on the rear of the boat. There were calls for help from men in boats and in the water: commands of officers to me in line: some fellows praying; some cussing and some talking of home, wives and children, and trying to get someone to write in case they were drowned …,” he wrote.
Whitley presented a program last fall on the Thomas Fellowes Medals Group.
The Idaho County Historical Society purchased the medal set, which is housed at the Bicentennial Historical museum in a display area, alongside items on the Tuscania and its sinking during WW I.
Whitley said many Northwest area men were on the Tuscania as they were recruited as foresters who knew how to work in the woods.