In the summer of 1916, the USS Memphis -- an armored cruiser that had been launched by the U.S. Navy in 1904 -- was destroyed, when errant waves tossed the ship about in the harbor of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Internet sources such as Wikipedia note that the Memphis, which had been anchored in the harbor, could not get away quickly enough to avoid being battered by the waves. The ship rolled dramatically and began taking on water through its gun ports, ventilators and, eventually, through its funnels. The latter occurrence doused the fires in the ship's boilers and removed all chances of maneuvering out of the harbor.
Three successive waves almost completely swamped the ship and washed some crew members overboard. The Memphis struck the harbor's bottom and was then driven onto the beach. According to Wikipedia, "She was battered into a complete wreck in 90 minutes."
Wikipedia notes that 43 men died or went missing in the tragedy, including 25 who lost their lives as they returned to the ship from shore leave in a motor launch.
One of the men who survived the Memphis was "Commerce lad" Harry W. Hicks. Here's his story from the Sept. 21, 1916, edition of The Daily Republican.
COMMERCE LAD ON MEMPHIS SAVED
Harry W. Hicks writes his mother in Louisiana of peril.
WAS ON RECREATION BOAT
One of Six Out of 40 that Reached Shore Safely -- Saw Many Others Drowned Like Rats -- Was Member of Crew.
Harry W. Hicks, formerly a lad at Commerce, was a member of the crew of the U.S.S. Memphis which was washed ashore and destroyed by an undersea convulsion in the harbor of Santo Domingo, W.I. (West Indies), Aug. 29.
The boy was 23 years of age Sept. 18. His mother, now the wife of S.C. Sparks of Monroe, Louisiana, received a letter from him last week detailing his narrow escape. He was a member of the recreation party aboard a launch which was returning to the Memphis when a tremendous sea swell not only upset their boat but also sent the giant warship rolling inshore to the rocks where she quickly went to pieces.
It will be recalled that about a year ago, The Republican printed a "story" about the tribulations of another son of Mrs. Sparks, Ralph Hicks, who left the Untied States Army to join the British Army and take a place in the trenches in France against the Germans.
Another Son in France.
In a letter to The Republican the father says that Ralph is again in France fighting for the British and that a letter had just been received from him, stating that he was "still O.K." Ralph was wounded several times last year and was sent back to England to recuperate. Returning to the trenches he was soon made a lieutenant.
That the boys have a charmed life to pull through the battling in France and the storming of the elements in the Indies is evident from the letter which Harry Hicks wrote home, as follows:
"Santo Domingo City, Sept. 2, 1916.
"Dear Mother and All: -- I suppose you have read about the shipwreck of the Memphis in the papers and I guess you have been worried about me and wondering if I was one of the missing.
"A storm came up about 5 o'clock in the afternoon and came up so suddenly that we didn't have time to get up steam, and the ship was carried in on a big rock and was completely wrecked. Nearly all the crew was saved on account of the ship being so close to shore, it was only about 30 feet, so by securing a line on shore all the men were put in a chair, called a boatswain's chair, and one by one were landed in safety.
All Thrown in Sea.
"Two or three men were washed off the deck while they were waiting their turn and were drowned. When the ship struck the rocks the main steam line burst and two boilers blew up and scalded about a dozen men, including two officers. For the last 48 hours it has been very doubtful if the two officers would pull through, but I heard today that they were getting along nicely, but three of the other men were so badly burned that they died yesterday.
"Of course they lost a good many men on the ship but four times as many were lost in the small boats that were caught out from the ship. One boat was returning to the ship with a recreation party with between 35 and 40 men in it and was capsized when about half way out, and all but six were drowned, and thank God I was one of the six. When the boat upset, we were all thrown into the water, every fellow for himself, with the waves rolling 50 or more feet high and luckily in the scramble I got hold of a life preserver to which I believe I woe my life.
"After we had been in the water about 20 minutes, I noticed a little kid near me just about all in, so I swam over to him and let him hold on to me, which he did about 20 minutes, and then an extra big wave washed over us and kept us submerged about an hour it seemed, and when I came up he was gone. I looked back and there he was about 25 yards from me just barely keeping up, and about that time another wave came bigger than the other one and I never saw him any more. He drowned like a rat. I was powerless to help him. Most any direction I looked, I could see some one going down for this last time.
Tossed by Big Whirlpool.
"People living here say it was the roughest they ever saw the sea before. After I lost the kid and saw so many others going down, I started once to give up the fight and let myself drown, for I was almost gone anyway, but then I thought as long as there is life there is hope, so I kept my head out of the water as much as possible and let the waves wash me wherever they wanted to. It as one of the worst beaches I ever saw.
"It was a bluff bank of sharp pointed rock and the waves were dashing against it so strong that when they hit the water would go straight up like a geyser to a height of 60 or 70 feet.
"When I got within a few yards of the shore, I got into a big whirlpool, was taken down and caught by an undercurrent and swept in a half dozen different directions and finally came to the surface gasping for breath, looked up and was only a few feet from the shore. Then another big wave grabbed me and threw me high and dry onto a big flat rock, so I scrambled up higher before the next wave hit, and I never even got a scratch, while the other five men that escaped were pretty badly bunged up.
Sixty-one Men Lost.
"This all happened on Aug. 29, and up to the present (four days later) not a single body has been recovered of those that were drowned and it is believed that they were so mangled and torn on the rocks and cut into such small pieces that the fish have eaten them. We sent eight bodies back to the States today on the hospital ship Solace which were killed on the ship or died later from being burned.
"It certainly was a sad accident. Altogether 61 men are either dead or missing.
"A steamer and gasoline boat were away from the ship at the time, one with four men and the other with six; both boats were overturned and only two men escaped.
"One man given up as dead came straggling into the fort about 9 o'clock the next day barefooted, nearly naked, but uninjured and it was like the dead come to life when we saw him. His boat capsized about eight miles out to sea and he was washed ashore late that night and cared for by some natives until morning.
"The storm came up without any warning whatever. I say storm. There was not a bit of wind but oh my, how rough the water was and it is supposed to have been caused by a volcanic eruption in the bottom of the ocean close by.
Harry W. Hicks died July 3, 1982, in Victoria, British Columbia, having moved to Canada in 1946.