Frederick Lois Riefkohl
|Frederick Lois Riefkohl|
Rear Admiral Frederick Lois Riefkohl
The first Puerto Rican to graduate from the United States Naval Academy
February 27, 1889|
Maunabo, Puerto Rico
|Died||September 1969 (aged 79–80)
Brevard County, Florida
|Place of burial||United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1911-1947|
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Rear Admiral Frederick Lois Riefkohl (February 27, 1889–September 1969), a native of Maunabo, Puerto Rico, was an officer in the United States Navy and the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the United States Naval Academy and to be awarded the Navy Cross. The Navy Cross is the second highest medal, after the Medal of Honor, that can be awarded by the U.S. Navy for heroism or distinguished service. He was a World War I Navy Cross recipient who served as Captain of the USS Vincennes during World War II.
Riefkohl (birth name: Luis Federico Riefkohl Jaimieson [note 1]) was born and raised in the town of Maunabo, Puerto Rico to Luis Riefkohl y Sandoz [note 2] and Julia Jaimieson. His older brother was Rudolph W. Riefkohl, a Colonel in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, who played an instrumental role in helping the people of Poland overcome the 1919 typhus epidemic. His other siblings were Helen, Emily and Louise Riefkohl. Riefkohl received his primary and secondary education in the towns of Arroyo; Christainsted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin IslandsVirgin Islands and spent three and a half years at Phillips Andover Academy in Boston, Massachusetts. Riefkohl received an appointment on July 5, 1907, from Beekman Winthrop, the U.S. appointed governor of Puerto Rico from 1904 to 1907, to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1911, he became the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the Academy.
During World War I, Lieutenant Riefkohl served as Commander of the Armed Guard of the USS Philadelphia and on August 2, 1917 he was awarded the Navy Cross for engaging an enemy submarine. The Navy Cross is the second highest medal that can be awarded by the U.S. Navy and is awarded to members of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps for heroism or distinguished service.
|“||The Navy Cross is awarded to Lieutenant Frederick L. Riefkohl, U.S. Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commander of the Armed Guard of the U.S.S. Philadelphia, and in an engagement with an enemy submarine. On August 2, 1917, a periscope was sighted, and then a torpedo passed under the stern of the ship. A shot was fired, which struck close to the submarine, which then disappeared.||”|
Pre-World War II
Riefkohl was re-assigned to the Fifteenth Naval District, Balboa, Canal Zone as District Communication Officer. From 1920 to 1923, he served in various ships and in different positions, among which were Squadron Radio Officer for Destroyer Squadron 3, Atlantic Fleet, Aide and Force Radio Officer on the Staff of Commander Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet and Executive Officer of the USS Preble en route to Asiatic Station. From August 1922 until October 1923, Riefkohl served as Aide and Flag Secretary and Fleet Radio and Communication Officer to Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet.
From July 1926 to August 1928, he assumed command of the destroyer "USS Corry". He returned to the Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, after a naval tour which included the ports of Port au Prince, Haiti; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and served as Executive Officer of the USS Kittery until June 1929. Riefkohl served as Chief of Staff to the governor of the Virgin Islands until April 30, 1931, when he became Commandant of the islands Naval Station. He continued to serve in various ships until he was placed in charge of the Navy Motion Picture Exchange, Navy Yard, New York, during his senior year at the Naval War College. From January 1935 to December 1936 he served as an advisor to the Argentine Navy Department at Buenos Aires, Argentina. From July 19, 1939 until April 4, 1941, Riefkohl served as War Plans Officer on the staff of the Commandant Fifteenth Naval District, Balboa, Canal Zone.
World War II
Riefkohl assumed command of the USS Vincennes on April 23, 1942. Upon the outbreak of World War II, Riefkohl was assigned to the Fire Support Group, LOVE (with Transport Group XRAY) under the command of Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner's Task Force TARE (Amphibious Force) during the landing in the Solomon Islands on August 7, 1942.
His ship served as an escort to the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which launched the Doolittle Raids on Tokoyo. The USS Vincennes belonged to the Northern Force, known as Task Force 62.2. The task force consisted of the USS Quincy, the USS Astoria and other Allied cruisers, destroyers and minesweepers under the command of Rear Admiral Victor A. Crutchley and found themselves just off Guadalcanal. On August 9, 1942, Rear Admiral Crutchley, left with his flagship HMAS Australia to meet with the top brass without notifying Riefkohl.
Japanese Admiral Gunichi Mikawa of the Japanese Navy decided to make a surprise attack on the American ships, leading to Battle of Savo Island. He first destroyed an Australian cruiser, then damaged the USS Chicago before going after the USS Vincennes. Riefkohl was summoned up to the bridge and believed that a minor skirmish was taking place with some ship. When the Japanese ships turned on their searchlights, Riefkohl mistook them for the American ships from the Southern Force and asked them over the radio to turn off their lights because enemy vessels might be near. The Japanese answered the message with a fusillade of shells and torpedoes.
Riefkohl ordered a starboard turn, but torpedoes hit and exploded, destroying both engine rooms. The USS Vincennes fired back and may have hit the Kinugasa, a Japanese cruiser. The Vincennes received 85 direct hits and Riefkohl ordered his men to abandon ship. The sailors manned the life rafts and the Vincennes rolled over and went down with 342 men still aboard. Riefkohl was presented a Purple Heart for the wounds which he received.
Rear Admiral Riefkohl wrote in an epitaph: "The magnificent Vincennes, which we were all so proud of, and which I had the honor to command since April 23, 1941, rolled over and then sank at about 0250, August 9, 1942, about 2½ miles [5 km] east of Savo Island . . .sic Solomons Group, in some 500 fathoms 900 m of water."
Riefkohl never commanded a United States Naval vessel again. In October 1942 he reported to the Office of the US Attache, American Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico, and joined the staff of the Commander, Mexican Forces, Region Gulf of Mexico, at Vera Cruz, as Liaison Officer for US Commander, Gulf Sea Frontier. Throughout the remaining war years, Riefkohl served in different positions, among them District Intelligence Officer, Eighth Naval District, with headquarters at New Orleans, Louisiana.
He later served as the Chief of Staff to the governor the U.S. Virgin Islands, advisor to the Argentine Navy and as Inspector of the 10th Naval District in San Juan, Puerto Rico until his retirement from the Navy on January 1, 1947. Rear Admiral Frederick Lois Riefkohl died in Brevard County, Florida in 1969 and was buried with full military honors in the United States Naval Academy Cemetery of Columbarium. He was married to Louisa Gibson Riefkohl (1902–1974) and did not have any offspring.
Awards and recognitions
Among Rear Admiral Frederick Lois Riefkohl's decorations and medals were the following:
- Navy Cross
- Navy Distinguished Service Medal
- Purple Heart
- Mexican Campaign Medal
- World War I Victory Medal with Armed Guard Clasp
- American Defense Service Medal with bronze "A" device
- American Campaign Medal
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- Hispanic Admirals in the United States Navy
- List of Puerto Ricans
- Puerto Ricans in World War I
- Puerto Ricans in World War II
- List of Puerto Rican military personnel
- German immigration to Puerto Rico
- Puerto Rican recipients of the Navy Cross
- Hispanics in the United States Navy
- Hispanics in the United States Naval Academy