The explosion of the battleship Maine on the evening of 15 February 1898 lit up Havana Harbor. Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, writing in his cabin, heard what he thought was a rifle shot, followed seconds later by a powerful, steel-rending blast. Fire tore across the sinking vessel as ordnance exploded. Confused men scrambled along smoke-filled corridors in search of ladders and hatches, but they were hampered by rising water and debris. The Maine’s chaplain, Father John P. Chidwick, never forgot the “heartrending cries of our men: ‘Help me! Save me!’” echoing into the night. Some sailors survived, reaching lifeboats or swimming past wreckage and dismembered bodies, but others perished, their remains too burned or fragmentary to identify. Most problematic of all, the bodies of many remained entombed belowdecks.1
Remembering the Maine in Key West
As they were in life, the sailors who perished in the event that precipitated the Spanish-American War would be welcomed to the Florida outpost.
By Robert E. Cray