Why I Love Marriage Announcements: Guest Lists!

On August 29, 1911, my second cousin, twice removed, Lester Bensev married Jennie Winheim:

Ancestry.com. Colorado, County Marriage Records and State Index, 1862-2006

Lester was almost 38 years old when he married Jennie. Jennie was also born in Germany; she was born in about 1880, making her seven years younger than Lester, and according to the 1920 US census, she immigrated to the US in 1900. I was unable to find any other information about her background until I found this newspaper article about her wedding to Lester, proving once again how valuable newspapers are as a genealogy resource:

Denver Post, September 3, 1911, p. 17

From this article I knew that Jennie Winheim was the niece of a Mrs. A. Schlesinger, and I was able to find Jennie and her brother Sam living with the family of Abraham and Sarah Schlesinger and their children in Denver in 1910.1 Sarah was born in Ohio and Abraham in Miltonberg, Germany on August 10, 1851.2 According to his obituary,3 Abraham came to the US in about 1864 with an older brother and settled first in Indiana, then Kansas, and finally in Denver in the 1890s. Abraham died on April 10, 1910, and in his will he named Jennie as his niece and left her $1000.4

Thus, it appears to me that Jennie Winheim, who according to the 1910 census came to the US in 1895, must have been the daughter of a sister of Abraham Schlesinger. Her uncle had died a year before her wedding, but his widow hosted her wedding at their home.

But what made this wedding article particularly exciting to me were the names on the guest list because included on that list were my great-grandparents—Mr. and Mrs. I. Schoenthal—that is, Isidore Schoenthal and Hilda Katzenstein. Why would they have been attending this wedding?  Well, follow the bouncing ball.

Hilda Katzenstein was the daughter of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein. Eva was the sister of Sarah Goldschmidt Mansbach. Sarah was the mother of Breine Mansbach Bensew. Breine was the mother of Lester Bensev, the groom who married Jennie Winheim. In other words, Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal was Lester’s first cousin, once removed—his mother Breine’s first cousin.

Isidore and Hilda had only recently moved to Denver in 1907 after their son Gerson was diagnosed with asthma. Imagine how happy Hilda must have been to find some cousins in Denver when she got there. When she married Isidore, she had relocated from Philadelphia where she was raised to the small town of Washington, Pennsylvania, and now she was moving 1300 miles further west. I had always thought that she and Isidore knew no one out in Denver, so I was quite excited to learn that she had family there and that she and Isidore were included in this wedding. In fact, now I know that not only did she have her cousin Lester Bensev living in Denver, her first cousin Amelia Mansbach Langer and her family were also living there.

However, it’s not very likely that Hilda knew these cousins well and possible she had never met them before moving to Denver since when they immigrated and settled in Colorado, she was married and living in Washington, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Philadelphia, they grew up in Germany. But family is family, and the fact that Hilda and Isidore were invited to this wedding demonstrates that these cousins were in fact in touch when Hilda and Isidore moved to Denver.

But Lester and Jennie Bensev did not stay in Denver for very long. By 1913 they had relocated to Cleveland, Ohio.5 Their daughter Hortense was born there on February 25, 1915.6 According to his World War I draft registration, Lester was employed as the store manager for Consumers Cigar Company in Cleveland in 1918. The 1920 census reported the same occupation. In 1930, Lester was working as an information clerk for a bank in Cleveland, but in 1940 he had returned to the cigar business.7

Lester Bensev, World War I draft registration, Registration State: Ohio; Registration County: Cuyahoga; Roll: 1831765; Draft Board: 07
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

On October 20, 1940, Lester and Jessie’s daughter Hortense married Robert W. Kabb in Cleveland. Robert was a Cleveland native, son of Samuel Kabatchnik and Lillian Fisher, born on March 1, 1913.8 In 1940 he was working as a furniture salesman.9

Marriage record for Hortense Bensev and Robert Kabb , Cuyahoga County Archive; Cleveland, Ohio; Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Marriage Records, 1810-1973; Volume: Vol 193-194; Page: 386; Year Range: 1940 Aug – 1941 Mar
Ancestry.com. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Marriage Records and Indexes, 1810-1973

Lester died on March 13, 1953, in Cleveland, and his wife Jessie died three years later on August 16, 1956.10 He was 79 when he died, she was seventy. They were survived by their daughter Hortense and her family.

Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-68JS-P5T?cc=1307272&wc=MD96-BP8%3A287602201%2C293606502 : 21 May 2014), 1953 > 13601-16300 > image 2835 of 3155.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 15, 1953, p. 59

Lester’s older brother William was still in Denver during the years my great-grandparents and my grandmother were living there and thereafter. By 1918, perhaps to help William after Lester left the area, their brother Heine Bensev moved to Denver from Chicago.  According to his World War I draft registration, Heine was working for his brother William as the manager of a cigar stand. In 1920, Heine was living with William and Jessie and their daughter Theodora:

Bensev household, 1920 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T625_162; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 267, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census

But notice that here Heine is listed under the name Jack. At first I was thrown—was this yet another Bensev brother? According to the 1920 census, Jack Bensev was 39 years old so born in about 1879-1880. Heinemann Bensew was born in Malsfeld, Germany on March 14, 1879.

Heinemann Bensev birth record, Standesamt Malsfeld Geburtsnebenregister 1879 (HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 4410)AutorHessisches Staatsarchiv MarburgErscheinungsortMalsfeld, p. 14

Heine’s draft registration reports his birth date as March 22, 1879, not the exact date, but still obviously the same person:

Heine Bensev, World War I draft registration, “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-817R-9STQ?cc=1968530&wc=9FHB-BZS%3A928310401%2C928571801 : 14 May 2014), Colorado > Denver City no 5; A-Talom, William M. > image 229 of 3469; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

The 1920 census also reported that both William and “Jack” immigrated in 1881 and were naturalized in 1885. This is plainly wrong. Even based on the facts in the same census, Jack would have been only toddler in 1881 and a kindergartner in 1885.

But what really threw me was that the 1920 Denver directory has a listing for both Jack Bensev and Heine Bensev, living at the same address as each other and William Bensev, both working as clerks, Jack for William Bensev. The 1925 and the 1940 Denver directories also have listings for both Jack and Heine, but other directories only list Jack.11

Title: Denver, Colorado, City Directory, 1920
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

In the end I concluded that Heine and Jack were in fact the same man and that the family called him Heine, but the outside world called him Jack—probably to appear more American. On the 1930 census, he was listed as Heine Bensev and was living with his brother William and his family. William was the proprietor of a cigar store, and Heine was a cigar salesman. Now he listed his immigration date as 1902, which is consistent with the date on Heine’s naturalization record.

William Bensev household, 1930 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Page: 24A; Enumeration District: 0108; FHL microfilm: 2339972
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census

Roll Description: B-524 through B-550 Gustov Joseph
Ancestry.com. U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project)

Meanwhile, the other two Bensev brothers also eventually moved to Denver. Like Heine, Max was naturalized in Chicago in 191512 and was the only brother still in Chicago in 1920.13 He was then rooming with a family and working as a salesman for a clothing store. Julius had moved to Gary, Indiana by 1920 where he was rooming with a family and working as a manager for an oil company, perhaps Standard Oil where he, Max, and Heine had been working in 1910 when they were all living together in Chicago.14

But in 1923 Max and Julius sailed together on the SS Rotterdam from Rotterdam to New York, and both gave their address as 825 17th Street in Denver. If they were living in Denver for any extended period, it is strange that Julius is not listed in the Denver directories for any year. Max does appear once, in 1933, but that is also the only year he appears in the Denver directory.

Year: 1923; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3247; Line: 1; Page Number: 34, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

However, on the 1940 census, the listing for the William Bensev household in Denver included William Bensev, his wife Jessie, daughter Theodora, nephew Edwin Stern, brother Heine and his brothers Julius and Max. Julius and Max are listed on a separate page in the census report , but at the same address and clearly in the same household. Julius and Max were now working as traveling salesman selling wholesale luggage. Heine and William were both still working in the cigar business.

William Bensev household 1940 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: m-t0627-00488; Page: 14B; Enumeration District: 16-149
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census

Julius and Max Bensev, 1940 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: m-t0627-00488; Page: 61A; Enumeration District: 16-149
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census

Thus, William had three of his brothers living in his household as well as a nephew, Edwin Stern, son of his sister Roschen, plus, of course, his wife Jessie and daughter Theodora.  And a maid.

UPDATE: An email written in 2009 to Franz Loewenherz by a relative who lived with Frieda and Emanuel Loewenherz in the 1940s included this additional information about the Bensev brothers: “[Julius and Max] were confirmed bachelors. Both were sales reps for Shwayder Bros, the originators of Samsonite luggage. They operated out of Denver. Max had a territory in North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Mantana and some other northern states. Julius had the lucrative Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and California territory. Both spent several weeks in Winnetka during the winter when they wouldn’t travel. Julius was a very colorful character. He had spent several years in South Africa. He had a wagon drawn by two oxen and peddled “stu’ff” to the Boer farmers and some of the tribes in the area. He spoke Swahili fluently. He was also a good skater and loved it. One winter in Winnetka he and I went to the local skating rink and he took off skating some beautiful figure skating. Mind you he was 80 years old then.”

The younger Bensev siblings lost three family members in the next few years, first their oldest brother William, who had provided a home for so many of them. William died on January 13, 1944, at age 68.15 William’s wife Jessie died less than a year later on September 13, 1944, when she was 60.16 And then sadly William and Jessie’s daughter Theodora died October 5, 1946 when she was only forty.17 Theodora had not married or had children, so there are no descendants for William and Jessie Bensev or their daughter Theodora.

After William’s death, Julius, Heine, and Max all moved to San Diego. They are all listed at the same address in the 1947, 1948 and 1950 San Diego directories:18

Title: San Diego, California, City Directory, 1947
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

Max and Julius traveled together to Europe and other places many times in the 1950s. For example, in 1951, Julius and Max traveled to Israel for a three month stay:

The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels and Airplanes Departing from New York, New York, 07/01/1948-12/31/1956; NAI Number: 3335533; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: A4169; NARA Roll Number: 115
Ancestry.com. U.S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966 , lines 7 and 8.

They also traveled to Oslo and on the SS Queen Elizabeth to Cherbourg, France. Their brother Heine never joined them on these trips, and I wonder whether that was due to lack of interest or poor health.19

In September 1954, Julius and Max again traveled together, this time on a transatlantic cruise from New York to LeHavre, France.20 Sadly, their brother Heine “Jack” died on September 22, 1954, in San Diego, shortly after his brothers’ return. He was 75 years old. 21 (NOTE: he is listed twice—once as Heine and also as Jack on the California death index.)

Search results for “Bensev” on the California Death Index database on Ancestry.com

I cannot find a death record for Julius Bensev, but I believe he died sometime between September 1954 and April 1956 because (1) only Max is listed in the 1956 San Diego directory and (2) Max traveled alone on April 25, 1956, for a five to six month visit to Germany.22 Max died on November 14, 1959, in San Diego.23 He was 77 years old. Julius must have predeceased him because Max’s death notice named only his sister Frieda and cousin Alfred as survivors. Julius must have died outside California as, unlike Max and Heine, he is not listed in the California Death Index.

San Diego Union, November 19, 1959, p. 11

Julius, Heine, and Max never married or had children, and thus, like their brother William, they have no living descendants. Of the five Bensev brothers, only Lester has living descendants.

What about the two sisters, Frieda Bensew Loewenherz and Roschen Bensew Stern? What happened to them in the 20th century? Stay tuned for the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Abraham Schlesinger household, 1910 US census, Census Place: Denver Ward 10, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T624_116; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0122; FHL microfilm: 1374129, Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census 
  2.  JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry  
  3. “Death Removes One of Denver’s Best Merchants,” The Denver Post, April 23, 1910, p. 11 
  4.  Probate Records, 1900-1946; Author: Denver County (Colorado). Clerk of the County Court; Probate Place: Denver, Colorado, Ancestry.com. Colorado, Wills and Probate Records, 1875-1974, Case Number: 13356. 
  5. Cleveland, Ohio, City Directory, 1913, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  6. Ancestry.com. Ohio, Birth Index, 1908-1964, State File Number: 1915015448. 
  7. Lester Bensev, 1920 US census, Census Place: Cleveland Ward 22, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: T625_1371; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 431, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census. Lester Bensev, 1930 US census, Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0456; FHL microfilm: 2341510, Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census. Lester Bensev, 1940 US census, Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: m-t0627-03228; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 92-630, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census. 
  8. Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 
  9. Kabb household, 1940 US census, Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: m-t0627-03228; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 92-618, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census. 
  10. Ancestry.com and Ohio Department of Health. Ohio, Death Records, 1908-1932, 1938-2007 
  11.  Denver, Colorado, City Directory, 1925, 1940, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  12. Max Bensev, Year: 1923; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3247; Line: 1; Page Number: 34, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  13. Max Bensev, 1920 US census, Census Place: Chicago Ward 12, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_320; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 685, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 
  14. Julius Bensev, 1920 US census, Census Place: Gary Ward 1, Lake, Indiana; Roll: T625_446; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 239, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 
  15.  JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR). 
  16. JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) 
  17. JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) 
  18.  San Diego, California, City Directory, 1947, 1948, 1950, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  19. Passenger manifests, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels and Airplanes Departing from New York, New York, 07/01/1948-12/31/1956; NAI Number: 3335533; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: A4169; NARA Roll Number: 73, Ancestry.com. U.S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966. Year: 1951; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 8016; Line: 7; Page Number: 24, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists 
  20.   Passenger manifest, Year: 1954; Arrival: New York, New York;Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957;Microfilm Roll: Roll 8504; Line: 1; Page Number: 270, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957. 
  21. Ancestry.com. California, Death Index, 1940-1997. 
  22. San Diego city directory, 1956, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Passenger manifest, Year: 1956; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 8792; Line: 4; Page Number: 21, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  23. Ancestry.com. California, Death Index, 1940-1997 (listed as Max Bensey on Ancestry) 

Morton Tinslar Seligman:  Naval Hero, Part I

Midshipman Morton Tinslar Seligman c. 1918  Courtesy of Arthur Scott

Midshipman Morton Tinslar Seligman c. 1918
Courtesy of Arthur Scott

The story of Morton Tinslar Seligman is a fascinating one.  Morton, the son of James Leon and Ruth Seligman and my first cousin twice removed, was a decorated Navy hero in World War I and in World War II, but his name is also clouded by accusations that he leaked important classified information to a member of the press after the Battle of the Coral Sea during World War II.

Morton was born on July 1, 1895, in Salt Lake City, but grew up in Santa Fe, attended the University of New Mexico and then the US Naval Academy, from which he graduated in June, 1918, as described earlier.  After he graduated from Annapolis, he was commissioned as an ensign and was assigned to the U.S.S. Manchuria transport service.  By July, 1918, he was overseas engaged in submarine patrol off the coast of England and France.  After the war ended, he was promoted to lieutenant j.g., and from December, 1918, until October, 1919, he was engaged in an operation to clear the North Sea of mines.  He returned to New York in November, 1919, having overseen twenty subchasers in his command. Of those twenty, one was lost at sea due to explosions and fire, one was damaged so severely that it was not safe to sail it back to the US, and one was damaged but did eventually return.  No crew members were lost as a result of these damages, and his mission was completed successfully.

Morton Seligman WW 1 service history page 1

Morton Seligman WW1 service history

New Mexico Commission of Public Records, State Records Center and Archives; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Series Title: Service Reports; Series Number: 18.1.6; Box Number: 10899; Collection Name: New Mexico Adjutant General Records; Collection Number: 1973-019

For his service, Morton was awarded the Navy Cross for distinguished service.  (“Servicemen Cheer Hero at Canteen,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 1943, p. 18)  His commendation read:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Morton Tinslar Seligman (NSN: 0-34590), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. C-272, engaged in the important and hazardous duty of sweeping for and removing the mines of the North Sea Barrage during World War I.

http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=10339

I am not sure where Morton was stationed once he returned to the US, but as of August 19, 1925, he was stationed in Honolulu as part of the aviation corps, according to a wedding announcement in the San Francisco Chronicle.  On that date, Morton married Eleanor Reynolds, the daughter of Ziba Wells Reynolds, who had been a pay director in the Navy; her brother Lieutenant Stewart Reynolds was also serving in the Navy.  The article, reprinted below with a photograph of the bride, reported that Morton was assigned to Honolulu for the next three years.  (Another article stated that his Honolulu assignment was for two years, and that appears to have been more accurate.  “Sail from San Pedro,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 2, 1925, p. 14)

Morton Seligman marriage article 8 19 25

San Francisco Chronicle, August 10, 1925, page 14

On August 29, 1925, Morton and Eleanor sailed out of Los Angeles to Hawaii on the SS Calawaii, arriving in Honolulu on September 5, 1925. (National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Honolulu, Hawaii, compiled 02/13/1900 – 12/30/1953; National Archives Microfilm Publication: A3422; Roll: 083; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: RG 85)

Two years later they returned to California on the SS City of Honolulu, departing June 18, 1927, for Wilmington, California, where Morton was assigned to V.F. Squadron 6, a fighter squadron, part of the US Navy Battle Fleet. (Ancestry.com. U.S., Military Registers, 1862-1985[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.)

Although he is listed as residing in San Diego in the 1929 San Diego city directory, he must have been reassigned during that year to Washington, DC, with the Bureau of Aeronautics. (“Mrs. Seligman Leaves for Washington, D.C.,” San Diego Union, September 23, 1929.)

It seems that the marriage did not survive long thereafter because by April 3, 1930, the date of the 1930 census, Morton was divorced, and he was living with a fellow Navy aviator in Washington, DC.  He was still with the Bureau of Aeronautics in 1931, according to the Washington city directory of that year, although he was temporarily attached to the US Marine Corps as part of a special assignment to transport aircraft to Port au Prince, Haiti, in October, 1931. ( Ancestry.com. U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.)  He returned from Haiti on November 2, 1931, giving the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington as his address. (Year: 1931; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 5067; Line: 7; Page Number: 64.)

Lt. Morton Seligman c. 1932  Courtesy of Arthur Scott

Lt. Morton Seligman c. 1932
Courtesy of Arthur Scott

By 1933, Morton was living in San Diego and was remarried to a woman named Adela.  I cannot find a marriage record or any other document that reveals Adela’s birth name, but she is listed with him as his wife on the 1933 San Diego city directory. He was now a Lieutenant Commander with the VF-1-B squadron, according to the U.S. Military Register for the year.  He and Adela were still living in San Diego as of 1939, according to that year’s directory, and Morton was still serving in the US Navy. According to the US Military Register for 1939, Morton was now a commander at the Naval Air Station in San Diego.  The 1940 census also has Morton and Adela living in San Diego, Morton’s occupation still as a naval aviator. By this time, Morton was 44, Adela was 41.   Morton had been serving in the Navy for over 20 years.  (Ancestry.com. U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.)

In October, 1941, Morton risked his life in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue two naval aviators who died when their plane crashed into the bay off the coast of San Diego.  According to the San Diego Union:

“Comdr. Morton T. Seligman, Naval Air station executive officer, made a dramatic attempt to rescue the fliers a few minutes after the crash.  Speeding to the scene of the accident in a crash boat, Cmdr. Seligman discovered that no one aboard was a diver.  Despite the fact that he had never donned a diving helmet in his entire navy career, the officer put on the helmet and diving suit, instructed the crew of the crash boat how to operate the air pumps and then dived overboard. 

“In 25 feet of water, Cmdr. Seligman discovered the bodies of the airmen in the smashed plane.  In trying to extricate them, Cmdr. Seligman suffered severe cuts on his left hand from jagged pieces of metal and wood.”  (“Two Fliers Die As Navy Plane Falls Into Bay,” San Diego Union, October 5, 1941, p. 1)

Two months later, the US would enter World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a place where Morton had once served.  Not long after, Morton was an officer on the USS Lexington, which was destroyed during the Battle of the Coral Sea, which took place from May 4 through May 8, 1942.  The battle was described as follows on the official US Navy website Naval History and Heritage Command:  http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/coralsea/coralsea.htm


“The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought in the waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and eastward from New Guinea, was the first of the Pacific War's six fights between opposing aircraft carrier forces. Though the Japanese could rightly claim a tactical victory on "points", it was an operational and strategic defeat for them, the first major check on the great offensive they had begun five months earlier at Pearl Harbor. The diversion of Japanese resources represented by the Coral Sea battle would also have immense consequences a month later, at the Battle of Midway.  ….. 

“Preliminary operations on 3-6 May and two days of active carrier combat on 7-8 May cost the United States one aircraft carrier, a destroyer and one of its very valuable fleet oilers, plus damage to the second carrier. However, the Japanese were forced to cancel their Port Moresby seaborne invasion. In the fighting, they lost a light carrier, a destroyer and some smaller ships. Shokaku received serious bomb damage and Zuikaku’s air group was badly depleted. Most importantly, those two carriers were eliminated from the upcoming Midway operation, contributing by their absence to that terrible Japanese defeat.”

English: Battle of the Coral Sea

English: Battle of the Coral Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The website also notes that “The U.S. Navy [was] tipped off to the enemy plans by superior communications intelligence” that helped them in their fight against the Japanese in this battle.

As for Morton’s role, a US Navy Cruise Book described the battle and the USS Lexington’s role in that battle in great detail.  According to this source, on the morning of May 7, 1942, the aircraft carrier was hit by five torpedoes and numerous bombs.  Although seriously damaged, the ship did not sink, and by 1 pm it was on even keel and only had one fire burning.  Then another major explosion occurred, caused by gasoline vapors igniting below the deck.  Several fires started, and by 5 pm the commanding office of the ship, Admiral Fitch, ordered the crew to abandon ship.  After the admiral and the crew had left, “Captain Sherman and his Executive Office, Commander Morton T. Seligman made a final inspection of their vessel amid flying debris, smoke and flames.  They then slid down a line, with the commanding officer being the last to leave—just as the torpedo head locker exploded, shaking both from the line and into the sea.  All but 26 officers and 190 men were rescued (including seven brothers aboard named Patten), and it is thought that none of these casualties occurred by drowning after abandoning ship.”

(Ancestry.com. U.S. Navy Cruise Books, 1918-2009 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2011. Original data: United States Navy. Various U.S. Navy Cruise Books. Navy Department Library, Washington, D.C.)

English: USS Lexington (CV-2), burning and sin...

English: USS Lexington (CV-2), burning and sinking after her crew abandoned ship during the Battle of Coral Sea, 8 May 1942. Note planes parked aft, where fires have not yet reached. Removed caption read: Photo # NH 51382 USS Lexington burning during the Battle of Coral Sea, May 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For his service and heroism aboard the Lexington, Seligman was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross.  His citation read:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to Commander Morton Tinslar Seligman (NSN: 0-34590), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of this profession as Executive Officer of the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. LEXINGTON (CV-2), in action on 7 and 8 May 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea. During and after that battle Commander Morton directed the damage control and fire fighting parties, inspecting and visiting all critical parts of the ship. He personally assisted in removing all the wounded in many places. His distinguished leadership and timely decisions contributed greatly to the success of our forces and was largely responsible for the small loss of life that occurred when the ship was abandoned. Commander Seligman’s conduct throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Navy of the United States.

http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=10339

Navy Cross

Navy Cross

A month later, Morton Seligman would be caught up in a controversy involving another major Pacific battle, the Battle of Midway.  More on that in Part II.