11.05.

1888: Willis A. Lee: The Admiral who Won Seven Olympic Medals

1888: Willis A. Lee: The Admiral who Won Seven Olympic Medals
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 11 May 1888
  • Admiral Willis A. Lee was a cousin of the famous American General Robert E. Lee - the leading Confederate commander from the time of the Civil War. Out of seven Olympic medals, Admiral Lee won five gold, one silver, and one bronze.

On this day in 1888, Admiral Willis A. Lee was born as a cousin of the famous American General Robert E. Lee – the leading Confederate commander from the time of the Civil War.

In his youth, Willis A. Lee attended the famous United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, near the U.S. capital Washington, DC. The academy at Annapolis is for the Navy what West Point is for the Army. So, the most distinguished officers are educated there, and later often become admirals.

After graduating at the Academy, Willis A. Lee served as a naval officer on American battleships and destroyers. During World War II, Willis A. Lee was promoted to the rank of admiral.

It is particularly interesting that Willis A. Lee won as many as seven medals for the United States at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp.

Of these, five were gold, one silver, and one bronze. The medals were won in shooting events, which he was passionate about since his youth.

During World War II, Admiral Willis A. Lee made an interesting use of his shooting experience at sea battles. In fact, he looked at the big guns on battleships through his knowledge of the laws of ballistics. He now had a chance to try it out in practice.

Namely, at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, he commanded two heavy battleships – the USS Washington and USS South Dakota. With his flagship USS Washington, he targeted the Japanese battleship Kirishima, which was under the command of Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo.

With his ship’s gunfire, Willis damaged the Japanese ship to that extent that the Japanese were forced to abandon and scuttle it. It was the only time in World War II that someone sank an enemy battleship in a one-on-one battle.

Unfortunately, the sunken ship took the bodies of approximately 300 Japanese with her to the bottom.

Admiral Lee did not live to see the end of the war. He died of a heart attack about a week before the Japanese surrendered.

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