My Navy Uncle

Otis Thomas "Deb" BrownOtis Thomas "Deb" Brown
1901 - 1955


This page is dedicated to the memory of my uncle, Otis Thomas "Deb" Brown, who served in the United States Navy from October 13, 1919 to December 20, 1921. My uncle Deb, as he was called, was my only uncle that served in the navy. I remember as a small lad growing up, we use to sit around the tobacco barn curing tobacco and he would tell me about the far-away places he had been and the "crows nest" on the ships. He seem to always bring up the "crows nest" in conversation.

My aunt Jesse had a large oval picture of him in his navy uniform and when she passed away several years ago, it was given to me. I often wondered what ships he had served on, and recently I asked my cousin Danny, to search through his mother's (my aunt Perlie) old papers to see if there was anything on our uncle Deb's naval history. He did find some old ship's post cards and other memorabilia our uncle had mailed home . After receiving these items, I now knew two of the ships he served aboard...USS Olympia (C-6) and USS Pittsburgh (CA-4).

Little did I realized the significance of these two ships in naval history until I started researching. To think that my uncle served on board the ship where Commodore Dewey said the famous words, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley." during the battle of Manila Bay in 1898, and also the ship that started the era of naval aviation with the first shipboard landing in 1911. Although he was not on board these ships at the time the actual events took place, I feel very proud to have an uncle that served on these two famous ships that had such an impact on naval history. I can now gaze at his picture with great pride and say, "Uncle Deb, why didn't you tell me about your ships and their history? Why did you let it take more than half a century for me to discover this?"

The National Archives and Records Administration has verified from the Bureau of Naval Personnel "Muster Rolls" that he did, in fact, serve on board the USS Olympia and USS Pittsburgh and provided an enlistment date and service number. With this information, I requested, and have received a "Certificate of Military Service" from National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri to be used in applying for a Veterans Grave Marker. The certificate shows that Otis T. Brown, 261 08 65 enlisted in the U. S. Navy on October 13, 1919 and received an honorable discharge on December 20, 1921 in the rating of Seaman 2c.

The photos below will provide some insight into the history of these two great naval ships that he served on. The photos are courtesy of the Naval Historical Center & NavSource Naval History.

USS OLYMPIA (C-6), Protected Cruiser, Commissioned 05 February 1895, Decommissioned 09 December 1922.
Click for Olympia's complete history.

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USS Olympia (C-6) This is a copy of the USS Olympia (C-6) post card mailed home by uncle Deb.
Port bow of the Olympia taken in 1902 Port bow of the Olympia taken in 1902. This was Commodore Dewey's flagship during the battle for Manila on 1 May 1898. Preserved at Philadelphia.
Commodore George Dewey (second from right) and crew on the bridge of USS Olympia during the battle Commodore George Dewey (second from right) and crew on the bridge of USS Olympia during the battle. It was from this bridge that he said the famous words, "You may fired when you are ready, Gridley."
Chief Quartermaster R. C. Mehrtens in USS Olympia's pilothouse Chief Quartermaster R. C. Mehrtens in USS Olympia's pilothouse. He steered the ship during the Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898
Painting of USS Olympia Commodore George Dewey directing the battle from on board USS Olympia.

Painting by R.F. Zogbaum, 1899.
The bugler who sounded "General Quarters" aboard USS Olympia The bugler who sounded "General Quarters" aboard USS Olympia at the start of the battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898.
Chief Quartermaster R.C. Mehrtens on lookout duty on USS Olympia's bridge Chief Quartermaster R.C. Mehrtens on lookout duty on USS Olympia's bridge, where Commodore George Dewey stood during the Battle of Manila Bay.
USS Olympia painting Print after a painting by Marshall Johnson, circa 1898, depicting USS Olympia in the center.
Only visible damage the Olympia received during the battle for Manila The circle is the only visible damage the Olympia received during the battle for Manila Bay on 1 May 1898.
RADM George Dewey and his staff and ship's officers, on board USS Olympia, 1898 RADM George Dewey and his staff and ship's officers, on board USS Olympia, 1898
USS Olympia is now preserved as a museum in Philadelphia, PA USS Olympia is now preserved as a museum in Philadelphia, PA. She is the sole floating survivor of the U.S. Navy's Spanish-American War fleet.
Photo taken 14 January 1997, Richard Leonhardt



USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4), Armored Cruiser. Commissioned 09 March 1905. She was renamed USS Pittsburgh (CA-4) in 1912 to free the name Pennsylvania for a new battleship. Decommissioned 10 July 1931. Click for Pennsylvania/Pittsburgh's complete history.

USS Pittsburgh (CA-4) This is a copy of the USS Pittsburgh (CA-4) post card mailed home by uncle Deb. USS Pittsburgh at anchor, Villefranche, France
The USS Pittsburgh at Villefranche, France on Christmas Day, 1920 The USS Pittsburgh at Villefranche, France on Christmas Day, 1920. The officers and men entertained about 200 French children to a Christmas dinner on board , afterwards presenting them with presents . Excited poor French children waving American flags and admiring their presents on board.
USS Pittsburgh in the Adriatic area, circa 1919 USS Pittsburgh in the Adriatic area, circa 1919.
Eugene P. Ely making the first shipboard landing in history This is Eugene B. Ely making the first shipboard landing in history on 18 January 1911 on a platform built on Pennsylvania's afterdeck.
Aviator Eugene B. Ely Stands by his Curtiss pusher biplane, just before taking off from USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) to return to land, 18 JAN 1911 Aviator Eugene B. Ely Stands by his Curtiss pusher biplane, just before taking off from USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) to return to land, 18 JAN 1911. Note the rubber inner tubes worn around his shoulders as a life preserver.
USS Pittsburgh Starboard Bow, 1919 Starboard Bow, 1919.

Photo contributed by Larry Bonn
Infantry Drills on the pier at Danzig, Germany in 1920 Infantry Drills on the pier at Danzig, Germany in 1920. This photo was mailed home by my uncle and he is probably in the picture.
 Souvenir of Gibraltar This card, a souvenir of Gibraltar, was mailed home in 1921.
USS Pittsburgh (CA-4) Dinner Menu 1918 USS Pittsburgh (CA-4) Dinner Menu and Smoker Program for Christmas 1918
Contributed by Dawn Taylor
USS Pittsburgh (CA-4) Christmas program 1918 Christmas program continued.

This complete Christmas program contributed by Dawn Taylor, granddaughter of Kenneth H. Dickerson, who served aboard the USS Pittsburgh (CA-4)


Update: Veterans Grave Marker was installed on uncle Deb's grave with local newspaper coverage on October 24, 2002. In addition, a Presidential Certificate honoring his memory for service in the Armed Forces of the United States, signed by President Bush, has been received.

Veterans Grave Marker for Otis Brown Veterans Grave Marker placed on uncle Deb's grave in October, 2002.
Presidential Certificate honoring Otis Brown's naval service Presidential Certificate honoring uncle Deb's memory for service in the Armed Forces of the United States, signed by President Bush.
Otis Brown and Leroy Wilson This photo was taken in the 1930's. Uncle Deb is on the left with his nephew (my cousin), Leroy Wilson, who followed in his uncle's footsteps and served in the Pacific Fleet during WWII with the Seabees and on board the USS McCracken (APA-198) and USS Medrick (AMC-203).