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John Otto Siegel
Reverse of John Otto Siegel's
Tiffany Cross Medal of Honor
Born (1892-04-21)April 21, 1892
Died August 15, 1943(1943-08-15) (aged 51)
Place of birth Germany
Mt. Mercy Gary, Indiana
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Rank Boatswain's Mate Second Class
Unit USS Mohawk (YT-17)
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Medal of Honor
Spouse(s) Theresa Nealis
Mary Lou Siegel
Relations Margaret Jean Siegel

John Otto Siegel (April 21, 1892 – August 15, 1943) was a United States Navy Boatswain's Mate Second Class who earned the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism while serving on board of the USS Mohawk (YT-17) during World War I.

Early life[edit | edit source]

John Otto Siegel was the adopted son of Julius N. Siegel and Annie Vance, both of Germany. John was brought to the US from Germany arriving in New York via Canada in October 1899 with his mother and father. They lived for a short time in Winnipeg, Canada where Julius, listed as a Roman Catholic, worked as an architect.[1] By 1903, Julius Siegel was living in Milwaukee and still working as an architect. By 1905, John and his mother are also with Julius in Milwaukee.[2]

By 1910, Seigel has joined the Navy[3][4] and is listed as an "Ordinary Seaman" working on board the USS Virginia (BB-13) which was docked at Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1909 for modifications. He also shows up living at the same address as his father at 418 12th Street Milwaukee, WI.[5]

In 1911, Seigel is shown as an "agent"[6] and still living with his father in Milwaukee. In 1912, Seigel now is a "sailor" at the same address.[7]

On 22 September 1912, John married his first wife Teresa Rose Neilas, age 19 years. The marriage took place at St. James Catholic Church, Newark, Essex Co., New Jersey. The parents of John are listed as Julius Siegel & Anna Vance and the parents of Teresa are listed as John Neilas & Margaret Buckley.

By 1917, when Seigel fills out his draft card[8] he and Teresa have one child, Margaret Jean "Virginia" Siegel. His draft card also shows that he is a wagon driver "teamster" working for Wells Fargo Company Express.

Naval career[edit | edit source]

On 1 November 1918, Siegel is working as a Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class for the US Navy on board the tugboat USS Mohawk (YT-17). Working in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard the USS Mohawk rushes to give ad to a burning ship, the schooner Hjeltenaes, which was tied up along the Beltline Bridge. Siegel was able to rescue two men from the crew's quarters and was going back a third time when he was trapped by a burst steam pipe. Overcome by the smoke, Siegel collapsed and had to be rescued by his shipmates. Medical officers worked on him most of the night fearing he would die. For his actions Siegel was recommended and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions along with a $100 gratuity.[9][10]

Medal of Honor citation[edit | edit source]


For extraordinary heroism while serving on board the Mohawk in performing a rescue mission aboard the schooner Hjeltenaes which was in flames on 1 November 1918. Going aboard the blazing vessel, Siegel rescued 2 men from the crew's quarters and went back the third time. Immediately after he had entered the crew's quarters, a steam pipe over the door bursted, making it impossible for him to escape. Siegel was overcome with smoke and fell to the deck, being finally rescued by some of the crew of the Mohawk who carried him out and rendered first aid.[11]

Medal Inscription

John Otto Siegel
Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class
at Norfolk Virginia
November 1, 1918

Later life[edit | edit source]

By 1920 Siegel receives a "less than honorable" discharge from the Navy and continues to work as a driver. Later, it is believed Siegel works as an ironworker on the Brooklyn Bridge or simply a bridge in Brooklyn.[citation needed]

Around 1930, Siegel abandons his wife and daughter and heads to Oklahoma to work in the oil fields. They never divorced and he starts a new life never having any contact with them again.[citation needed]

In 1935, Siegel shows up in Lavagas (believed it to be Las Vegas) per the 1940 Census records. And in 1940, Siegel is found in Baltimore, Maryland[12] as a lineman in a shipyard living with his second wife, 20 years his younger, Mary Lou Siegel from Oklahoma.

On May 28, 1935 the New York chapter of the Red Cross writes a letter on behalf of John Otto Siegel to the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, Washington D.C. requesting a duplicate Medal of Honor be issued.[13] The letter states that in November 1934 John was employed as an "Iron Worker" on the Boulder Dam project, in the "Death Valley Junction" of Nevada. And during this time a fire swept through the camp, believed to be Williamsville (known to its inhabitants as Ragtown) destroying all his belongings including his medal and service documents. On June 17, 1935 the Bureau replies with instruction on how to apply for a replacement medal.

In 1943, at the age of 51, Siegel dies of lung cancer,[14][15] most likely from the injuries he sustained that fateful day in November 1918.[citation needed]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

Other references:
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, City Directory; 1913) Page 1524
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, City Directory; 1914) Page 1646
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, City Directory; 1915) Page 1671
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, City Directory; 1916) Page 1395
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, City Directory; 1917) Page 1456
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, City Directory; 1919) Page 1576
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin, City Directory; 1920) Page 1522

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