The Yeoman rating (YN) is rarely associated with images of naval combat, so at first blush it might seem strange to learn that a U.S. Navy destroyer was named in honor of a “captain’s clerk,” the 1794 appellation of the rating that was officially created in 1835. But when you learn not only of the circumstances surrounding the sacrifice made by Chief Yeoman George Henry Ellis during the Spanish-American War, but also the impact his death had on future Naval operations, you’ll appreciate why the Navy decided to honor his memory by naming a ship after him.

Ellis enlisted on board the USS Minnesota in February, 1892 at the age of 16 as an apprentice, third class; he was promoted to second class in less than a year later and to first class the next year. Honorably discharged from the USS Columbia in October of 1896, he signed up for a three-year enlistment as a Seaman on board the USS Vermont on May 3, 1897 and was appointed a Yeoman Second Class five days later. He reached the rate of Yeoman First Class just five months later and was appointed a Chief Petty Officer in February, 1898.

It was a promotion he would not get to enjoy for long. Stationed aboard the USS Brooklyn during the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, Ellis was using a range-finding device called a stadimeter to target fleeing enemy ships. During a gun battle with the Spanish armored cruiser Vizcaya, Commodore Winfred Schley asked Ellis the range of the enemy ship; when Ellis replied “1700,” Schley said that he thought it was farther than that. Though he’d just taken the range, Ellis dutifully stepped onto the open deck to check his finding and was promptly decapitated by a Spanish shell. When some of the ship’s officers started to pick up Ellis’ body and toss it aboveboard, Schley ordered them to instead cover the body with a flag and save it for proper burial after the battle.

Remarkably, Chief Yeoman Ellis was the only fatality the U.S. suffered during the battle (there were no fatalities during the Battle of Manila Bay, the other large naval engagement of the war), a fact that made his willingness to expose himself to fire in order to carry out his duties even more noticeable.

Although a statue that Congress proposed to be built in Ellis’ honor never came to fruition, the destroyer USS Ellis was named after him and launched on November 30, 1918. After convoy duty during World War II, the ship was decommissioned in October 1945 and eventually sold two years later.

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