When I wrote the adventure novel Wreck of the Huron, I used the Admiral’s Inquest into the sinking of the ship for much of the background in the story. I wanted the events of that night where more than 100 sailors died off the North Carolina coast to be as accurate as possible.
As it happened, though, one story that I missed in the tragedy was probably the most important of all. In my defense, it wasn’t included in the Admiral’s Inquest because the central character in the story was still in the hospital recovering from his own injuries and wasn’t interviewed.
That night, November 24, 1877, Antonio Williams was on board the Huron when it ran aground near Nags Head on the Outer Banks. Williams was a naturalized US citizen, born in Malta. His heroism that night earned Williams the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valiant efforts to save his fellow sailors. He is the oldest person to ever receive the award. At the time, the medal was given in war time and in peace time. Since World War I, the Medal of Honor has been limited to war time valor.
Steve Lovell, an Englishman, made me aware of Williams’ honor and service after he read my book Wreck of the Huron. As it turns out, Williams eventually retired from the Navy and moved to England to live with his British-born wife. When he died, he was given honors in the England, but more than 100 years later, his headstone is missing and there is nothing on his grave that indicates who was buried there or how he served the United States.
Lovell has made it a personal project to obtain a headstone for Williams’ grave and to give the man, the hero, the honor he deserves. He has been to endless meetings with various cemetery officials and met with the stone mason to make the arrangements. He has done this for no reason other than it is something that should be done..