Jesse Whitfield Covington
Ship's Cook Third Class, U.S. Navy. For actions at sea aboard the U.S.S. Stewart.
April 17, 1918
Accredited to California, Covington was born September 16, 1889, in Egypt, TN, in Haywood County.
He joined the U.S. Navy as an Apprentice Seaman in January 1908 and served on board the receiving ship Pensacola and on the cruisers California, Pennsylvania and St. Louis. After reenlisting in 1912 he served for three years on the USS Iris as well as receiving ships in California. In November 1918, Covington was assigned to the destroyer Stewart in the rating of Ship's Cook. On April 17, 1918, the American steamer Florence H. accidentally exploded in Quiberon Bay. The Stewart went to her assistance, leading Covington to dive overboard to rescue a survivor surrounded by exploding powder boxes.
Covington later served on the destroyers Ingraham and Greene and the cruiser Charleston. After a brief tour at San Diego, he returned to sea duty in December 1921 aboard the USS Aroostook, followed by service in numerous other squadrons. Covington reenlisted in April 1924 and was assigned to the battleship Arizona. He was promoted to Chief Steward in the late 1920s, and transferred to the Fleet Reserve in January 1931. He retired in May 1935 and died at Richmond, Virginia on November 21, 1966 and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Portsmouth, VA.
Citation: For extraordinary heroism following internal explosion of the Florence H. The sea in the vicinity of wreckage was covered by a mass of boxes of smokeless powder, which were repeatedly exploding. Jesse W. Covington, of the U.S.S. Stewart, plunged overboard to rescue a survivor who was surrounded by powder boxes and too exhausted to help himself, fully realizing that similar powder boxes in the vicinity were continually exploding and that he was thereby risking his life in saving the life of this man.