Owen Hill Kenan, Survivor of the Lusitania Sinking, 1915

The RMS Lusitania, circa 1907-1913. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.On May 7, 1915, the German submarine U-20 fired a single torpedo at the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, striking the hull at 2:10 p.m. Wilmington resident Owen Hill Kenan was onboard, making his way to Deck A when the torpedo hit its target.

A second, more powerful explosion followed the first, causing the ship to list severely. Kenan waited for the ship to level off a bit, donned a lifejacket and leapt off the starboard side. The sinking ship immediately pulled him down. Debris swirled all around him, the sunlight gave way to darkness and the ever-increasing depth squeezed him to the brink of unconsciousness.

When the suction finally stopped, Kenan began the fight for the surface, popping up directly beneath one of the ship’s smoke stacks. Again he went down, the smokestack pushing him deeper and deeper until he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, the ship had completely disappeared. Four hours later, Kenan was plucked from the water, one of only 761 survivors.

In May 1916, Kenan joined the American Ambulance Field Service, transferring later to the Medical Corps where he spent the remainder of his war service on a relief mission to Russia and Turkey.

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