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Ensign Newman K. Perry and the USS Bennington Disaster

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Ensign Newman K. Perry and the USS Bennington Disaster
  • by Margaret G. Riddle
  • with contributions by Ray Merriam
    • Merriam Press Military Monograph Series
    • First Edition 2011
    • 80 8.5x11-inch full color pages
    • 133 photos, illustrations, documents
  • Paperback
    • $18.95
      • Purchase paperback here
Only twenty-four years old, and married less than two years to his sweetheart, the author's great uncle Ensign Newman K. Perry, of Columbia, South Carolina, was the only officer killed, when sixty-five sailors lost their lives in the 1905 explosion of the gunboat Bennington in San Diego harbor.

This book uses the author's narrative, unique family photos and memorabilia, actual newspaper articles and postcards, and documents to tell of Perry's naval career, of the love story of Perry and his beloved young wife, Vipont, and of the horrific and tragic peacetime ship explosion. There are also several special eyewitness accounts of the event. Details are included about both turn-of-the-century San Diego and Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Vipont's hometown.

Through the descriptions of the injuries and death of Perry, and of the suffering and loss of life of the other men, one can comprehend the magnitude of this disaster. It caused the US Navy and other government officials to make important changes in navy standards and procedures that led to greater safety for future sailors. Perry was regarded as a gallant and brilliant young officer, who was expected to have a fine naval career, thus, his untimely death, which he faced with great courage, was met with deep sorrow by his friends and family.

The Author

A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Mrs. Riddle now resides in North Carolina with her husband Joe. Their two daughters, son, son-in-law and grandson live nearby. She graduated from Mary Baldwin College and worked for over a decade for the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. Her interests are history, photography, travel, genealogy research in France and Great Britain, and music. She sings in both a large symphony chorus and in her church choir. A distant relative of Theodore Roosevelt, she is a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.


A little background of yours truly,  I grew up on a farm in Minnesota and enlisted in the US Navy in 1961 and reported aboard the second USS Bennington on December 2, 1961 and served on her until January 29, 1965.

In September 2003, I attended my first reunion of the USS Bennington Association at Baton Rouge. Henceforth I have become the Secretary of the USS Bennington Association.

I had known about the first USS Bennington for quite a while so I was intrigued to find out more. I have pictures of the memorial at Point Loma taken by a shipmate of mine, Jimmie Wedder, whose father is buried there. He was a pilot, killed ferrying aircraft from Texas to California prior to World War II before Jimmie was born.

This book gave me a personal look at one of the men who was killed by the explosion and gives quite an account of everything that happened in the aftermath. In reading this book I felt I was witnessing history as it followed Ensign Perry through the Naval Academy, his courtship, his marriage and his service in the Navy.

Because I had been stationed in San Diego for boot camp, radio school and homeport of the second USS Bennington, it wasn't hard to imagine, reading the newspaper accounts, of being there during the trying times of the crew of the first Bennington and the people of San Diego. I was impressed with the way this book was put together to allow me to see into the life and times of Ensign Perry and his wife, Vipont. Thank you for allowing me to relive history.

—Loren L. Weers, RM3 (1961-65), Secretary, USS Bennington Association

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