Medal of Honor recipient had Rome connection

Published Oct 28, 2018 at 9:00am

He was not from Rome, but World War II Medal of Honor recipient Lawson P. Ramage had connections to the area.

He was the uncle of Marella Fiore, 8506 Gates Ave., a retired Rome elementary school teacher. His brother John Ramage -- Fiore’s father -- once lived at 911 Turin St. and later at Miller Townhouses on upper North George Street, and worked at Revere for 41 years, retiring in 1976 as a national product manager. 

Lawson “Red” Ramage lived for a time in Lowville, and graduated from Beaver River High School in Lewis County. He was awarded the Medal of Honor -- the nation’s highest military honor -- for his bravery as a submarine commander in World War II. He was nicknamed “Red” for his red hair. 

Ramage was also present, along with two of his brothers -- all Navy officers -- when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. 

According to Wikipedia, this is how Ramage, commander of the submarine U.S.S Parch, earned the Medal of Honor:

The U.S.S. Parche was patrolling below the surface of the Pacific Ocean on July 31, 1944, along with two other subs, when they made contact with a heavily-guarded enemy convoy “in the dark hours before dawn.” The following 48 minutes were “among the wildest of the submarine war,” according to one author. “Ramage cleared the bridge of all personnel except himself and steamed right into the enemy convoy on the surface, maneuvering among the ships and firing 19 torpedoes. Japanese ships fired back with deck guns and tried to ram his submarine. With consummate seamanship and coolness under fire, Ramage dodged and twisted, returning torpedo fire for gunfire ... the attack on the Japanese convoy by ‘Red’ Ramage was the talk of the U.S. submarine force. In terms of close-in, furious torpedo shooting, there had never been anything like it before.”

Ramage’s submarine “sank two enemy ships and badly damaged three others.” For this action, Cdr. Ramage became the first living submariner Medal of Honor recipient. The medal was formally presented to him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Jan. 10, 1945, when he was 36 years old. Ramage’s parents attended the ceremony, in Washington, D.C..The Watertown Daily Times reporter who covered the event described the young war hero as a “typical American boy,” who was a “quiet, easy-going fellow.”

According to newspaper reports, Ramage sank more than 100,000 tons of Japanese ships during World War II, and crippled a Japanese aircraft carrier.

Born in Massachusetts, Ramage was one of five sons. His father moved the family from Massachusetts to Lowville to manage the Lewis Paper Co. in Beaver Falls. “Uncle Red was the eldest,” Fiore said, recalling that her famous uncle often spent time in Rome, visiting his brother’s family here.

When World War II started, brothers “Red,” Don and John Ramage all served in the Navy, and brother Bruce served in the Naval Reserves. “My father was a sub chaser,” Fiore said of John Ramage. Although all three were at Pearl Harbor the day of the attack, none of them were injured.

“Red” Ramage was a 1931 graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. In June 1942, “as commander of the submarine Trout, he won the Navy Cross for valor in action at Midway, Truk, the Solomons and in the South China Sea,” according to his obituary in the New York Times. Ramage went on to become a Navy vice admiral, and retired in 1969.

Asked what she remembers about him, Fiore recalled a time when her famous uncle joined her family on a boat outing on Lake Delta. The Navy officer who had guided submarines through war had no problem navigating the small boat through the relatively smaller body of water, with a much smaller “crew.”  

Also, she said, “I remember that he was always sort of thought to be a very important person, because he received the Medal of Honor.” She added that he was “sweet, kind, loving, and had four kids.”

And what does she think about her uncle receiving the Medal of Honor? “Wow! It was wonderful! Very prestigious. And he received it from President Roosevelt,” she noted.

According to his New York Times obituary, Ramage was “one of the Navy’s most decorated submariners.”

In addition to the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, he was awarded the Silver Star for his courage as a navigator in enemy-patrolled waters, when he served on the U.S.S. Grenadine from April to June 1942.

He also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. In April 1963, he led the search for the atomic sub U.S.S. Thresher, which sank in the Atlantic Ocean at a cost of 129 sailors’ lives.

Ramage and his wife, Barbara, had two sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren and a great-grandson, at the time of his death in 1990, at the age of 81, in Bethesda, Md. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Ramage was named for him in 1994. Fiore said her parents were among those who attended the ship’s christening. Several submarine-related facilities were also named after him, including the administrative building (Ramage Hall) of the Submarine Training Facility in Norfolk, Va., and the headquarters building at Naval Submarine Base New London on Aug. 20, 2010.

Fiore said she taught in local schools for “close to 40 years,” mostly as a kindergarten teacher. She and her husband, Richard, have two children, Adam and Erica, and four grandchildren.

This column was written for the Rome Historical Society by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor. Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to: chiphaley@yahoo.com. Copies of the book “Rome Through Our History,” a collection of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased at the Rome Historical Society.

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