Elmer Charles Bigelow WT2c, USNR
Medal of Honor
Elmer Charles Bigelow was born in Hebron, Illinois, on July 12, 1920. On September 21, 1942 he enlisted as an Apprentice Seaman in the U. S. Naval Reserve at Chicago, Illinois and was promoted as follows:Fireman, Third Class, January 21, 1943Fireman, First Class, September 1, 1943Water Tender, Third Class, January 1, 1944Water Tender, Second Class, August 1, 1944.
Following his enlistment in the U. S. Naval Reserve, young Bigelow received training at the U. S. Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois, and subsequently at the Naval Training School, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. Bigelow reported aboard FLETCHER on June 12, 1943.
On February 14, 1945 FLETCHER was attached to Task Unit 77.3.2 in the support of Task Group 78.3 in the Manila Bay area which was making amphibious landings on Mariveles and Corregidor. A six inch Japanese shore battery on Corregidor fired on FLETCHER and one shell crashed into the forecastle penetrating below decks where it exploded killing several men and starting a fire in a magazine. The quick action of WT2c Elmer Bigelow without doubt saved FLETCHER and her crew so they could fight another day and in other wars. He died from his injuries the following day and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the citation reading as follows:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving on board the U.S.S. Fletcher during action against enemy Japanese forces off Corregidor Island in the Philippines, 14 February 1945. Standing topside when an enemy shell struck the Fletcher, Bigelow, acting instantly as the deadly projectile exploded into fragments which penetrated the No. 1 gun magazine and set fire to several powder cases, picked up a pair of fire extinguishers and rushed below in a resolute attempt to quell the raging flames. Refusing to waste the precious time required to don rescue-breathing apparatus, he plunged through the blinding smoke billowing out of the magazine hatch and dropped into the blazing compartment. Despite the acrid, burning powder smoke which seared his lungs with every agonizing breath, he worked rapidly and with instinctive sureness and succeeded in quickly extinguishing the fires and in cooling the cases and bulkheads, thereby preventing further damage to the stricken ship. Although he succumbed to his injuries on the following day, Bigelow, by his dauntless valor, unfaltering skill and prompt action in the critical emergency, had averted a magazine explosion which undoubtedly would have left his ship wallowing at the mercy of the furiously pounding Japanese guns on Corregidor, and his heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
The destroyer USS Bigelow DD-942 was named in honor of Elmer C. Bigelow.