Society & Culture

97 years ago, a Vermonter stayed in a sinking submarine to rescue fellow crewman

Henry Breault survived and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. But no-one knows where in Vermont he lived

By Guy Page

October 28, 2020 – Today marks the 97th anniversary of the heroic event that earned a Vermont man the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor. 

President Calvin Coolidge – himself a Vermonter, of course – personally presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Torpedoman Second Class Henry Breault on March 8, 1924. The Putnam, Connecticut native’s citation tells the story of his heroism:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Torpedoman Second Class Henry Breault, United States Navy, for heroism and devotion to duty while serving on board the U.S. Submarine 0-5 at the time of the sinking of that vessel at Limon Bay, Panama Canal Zone. On the morning of 28 October 1923, the 0-5 collided with the steamship Abangarez and sank in less than a minute. When the collision occurred, Torpedoman Second Class Breault was in the torpedo room. Upon reaching the hatch, he saw that the boat was rapidly sinking. Instead of jumping overboard to save his own life, he returned to the torpedo room to the rescue of a shipmate whom he knew was trapped in the boat, closing the torpedo room hatch on himself. Breault and Brown remained trapped in this compartment until rescued by the salvage party 31 hours later.

According to Wikipedia, “Henry Breault was born in Putnam, Connecticut, on 14 October 1900. During World War I he enlisted in the British Royal Navy at sixteen years of age and, after serving under the White Ensign for four years, joined the U.S. Navy. Following twenty years of U.S. Navy service, Henry Breault became ill with a heart condition. He died at the Naval Hospital at Newport, Rhode Island, on 5 December 1941, two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought on U.S. entry into World War II. He was buried in Saint Mary Cemetery in Putnam, Connecticut.

“Petty Officer Breault was the first submariner to receive the Medal of Honor and the only enlisted man to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism while serving as a submariner. Seven submarine commanders received the Medal of Honor during World War II.”

The historical record does not say where in Vermont Breault lived, nor why he claimed Vermont as his home state. The Putnam Historical Society told Vermont Daily today: “Part of our town’s River Trail was dedicated to him November 11,2003. A commemorative plaque was donated by Putnam VFW Post 1523, and American Legion Post 13. Unfortunately all our research material is not accessible at this time. The town is building a new Municipal Complex, which the Historical Society will be part of, and everthing is securely locked away in a storage pod. At this point I can not tell you when he relocated to Vermont.”

So, Vermont amateur historians and Vermont Daily readers, there’s a challenge for you: before the 97th anniversary of his presentation of the nation’s most prestigious military medal, can you tell us more about Henry Breault’s life in Vermont? 

Categories: Society & Culture

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