Saving oneself or saving others: Pvt. George Watson
Pvt. George Watson was born in Laurel, Miss., but moved to Birmingham, Ala. He attended Colorado A&M (Colorado State University) and graduated in 1942. He was married with one daughter. Watson was drafted and entered the U.S. Army on Sept. 1, 1942. After basic training at Camp Lee, Virginia, he was sent to Charleston, S.C. Next, moved to Newport News, Va., where he embarked on the USS Hermitage (AP-54) on Dec. 27 for the Pacific Theatre during WWII. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 29th Quartermaster Regiment as a bath and laundry specialist. On Jan. 31, 1943, after arriving at Brisbane, Australia, he embarked on the U.S. Army controlled chartered Dutch steamer, Jacob. On March 8, 1943, the Jacob was near Porlock Harbor, New Guinea, when it was attacked by nine high-flying Japanese bombers that scored three direct hits on the Jacob, causing a large fire which could not be extinguished. The order was given for all to abandon the ship. After the ship was abandoned, Watson remained in the water and, instead of trying to save himself, assisted soldiers who could not swim into life rafts. Weakened by those efforts, he was dragged down by the suction of the sinking ship and drowned. The minesweeper HMAS Bendigo, which had been escorting the Jacob, rescued 158 men. Watson's body was never recovered. On June 13, 1943, he was awarded posthumously the Army's second-highest medal for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), for extraordinary heroism. He was the first African American serviceman in World War II to receive this decoration. His name is memorialized on the Wall of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery.