MARK H. CROUTER, CDR, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Mark Crouter '20

Date of birth: October 3, 1897

Date of death: November 13, 1942

Age: 45

Lucky Bag

From the 1920 Lucky Bag:

Loss

1920 Crouter 1.jpg

Mark was lost when USS San Francisco (CA 38) was severely damaged during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942. He was the executive officer.

His wife was listed as next of kin. He has a memory marker in Oregon.

Career

He was aboard USS Enterprise (CV 6) from 1938-1942 as the engineering officer.

Remembrances

From Naval History and Heritage Command:

MAtt1/c Leonard R. Harmon and Commander Mark H. Crouter of San Francisco (CA-38)

Two decades separated their births; half a continent separated their birthplaces. One man graduated from the Naval Academy with the Class of 1919, the other enlisted in 1939. One man was white, the other black. The former had no limitations in his service, the latter, because of his race, could only serve in the messman branch. Yet circumstances drew them together in one ship, in one battle, and saw each give up his “life in the defense of his country.”

Mark Hanna Crouter—born in Baker, Ore., on 3 October 1897—was appointed midshipman on 21 June 1916. Known as someone who could achieve academic success without effort (and who exhibited a “handclasp that will bust a couple of fingers”) he graduated with the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1919. Over the next two decades, “Mard” Crouter, “the very best kind of shipmate,” served in cruisers, gunboats, and battleships, from Siberia to Hampton Roads.

Leonard Roy Harmon—born in Cuero, Texas, on 21 January 1917—enlisted in the U.S. Navy at Houston on 10 June 1939 as a mess attendant third class (MAtt3/c). After receiving training at the Naval Training Station, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, he traveled in the heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37) to join her sister ship San Francisco (CA-38). Harmon reported onboard the San Francisco on 28 October 1939. Advancements in rate followed: to MAtt2/c on 16 August 1940, and to MAtt1/c on 5 November 1941, a little over a month before Pearl Harbor.

On 11 May 1942, Commander Crouter reported onboard the San Francisco as her executive officer. Less than six months later, he distinguished himself in the Battle of Cape Esperance on 11 October 1942, the ship’s “high morale and outstanding skill displayed by the officers and men during the engagement” directly attributed to the “organization and training [that] he did so much to perfect.”

On 12 November 1942, less than a month after Cape Esperance, the San Francisco was covering a force of transports disembarking reinforcements off Guadalcanal when Japanese land attack planes, carrying torpedoes, attacked. During the ensuing engagement, one of the enemy aircraft crashed the San Francisco despite a withering barrage of antiaircraft fire, and caused “considerable damage and intense fires,” demolishing the after control station and burning out Battle II, which put the after antiaircraft director and radar out of commission. One officer and 15 men were either killed outright or died of their injuries soon thereafter. Four officers—including Crouter—and 25 men were wounded, most suffering horrible burns. The San Francisco transferred the wounded men to the transport President Jackson (AP-37)—with one exception.

“Rather than submit to transfer for medical treatment,” Crouter, although in “intense pain and waning strength” from severe burns on both legs, insisted on remaining on board “so that he could be returned to duty in a minimum of time,” exhibiting “sturdy endurance and courageous disregard for his own personal safety.” MAtt1/c Harmon had exhibited “unusual loyalty on behalf of” Crouter. It seems most likely that Harmon attended to the wounded executive officer before the young mess attendant had to proceed to his battle station later, since San Francisco fought again that night, this time in a desperate surface engagement at close quarters in the confined waters off Guadalcanal.

The San Francisco suffered heavy damage from Japanese guns ranging from 14-inch shells to machine gun bullets. During the battle, a projectile plowed into Crouter’s cabin and exploded, inflicting fatal wounds. Harmon, meanwhile, was rendering “invaluable service in caring for the wounded and evacuating them to a dressing station” until, as he was working as a stretcher bearer topside near the cruiser’s secondary battery 5-inch mounts amidships, a 6-inch projectile from the secondary battery of the Japanese battleship Hiei struck in the vicinity and exploded. Shouting “Look out, Doc!” Harmon moved to shield Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class Lynford L. Bondsteel from the lethal fragments, pushing him to the deck. Although Bondsteel managed to get his courageous shipmate below, Harmon died of his wounds soon thereafter.

Mark Crouter and Leonard Harmon were each awarded the Navy Cross, posthumously, and the Navy honored each in the naming of a destroyer escort. In Harmon’s case, it proved a double tribute, for he was the first African-American in the U.S. Navy to have a ship named for him. In 1975, a building at NAS North Island was named for him.

“I feel proud always,” AAMM Leonard Roy Harmon, II, his grandson, said in 1982, “I feel he has set us an example to follow.”

Navy Cross

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Commander Mark Hanna Crouter (NSN: 0-55937), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Executive Officer of the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38), during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area on the night of 12 and 13 November 1942. Although suffering from severe wounds received at the outset of the engagement, Commander Crouter, with sturdy endurance and courageous disregard for his own personal safety, remained aboard his ship rather than submit to transfer for medical treatment. Determined to render further assistance in the conduct of the SAN FRANCISCO, despite intense pain and waning strength, he carried on with grim perseverance until he was killed during the course of night action against the enemy. His unyielding devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

General Orders: Commander South Pacific Area and Force: Serial 066 (November 24, 1942)
Service: Navy
Company: Executive Officer
Division: U.S.S. San Francisco (CA-38)

Silver Star

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Commander Mark Hanna Crouter (NSN: 0-55937), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a duty of great responsibility as Executive Officer of the U.S.S. SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38), during operations against the enemy in the South Pacific Area culminating in a highly successful night action against an equal or superior force on the night of 11 - 12 October 1942. In a large measure, the heavy damage inflicted by the SAN FRANCISCO was due to his splendid leadership in operation and administration. The high morale, coolness, skill and teamwork displayed by officers and crew in night battle is attributable to a great extent to the organization and training which he did so much to perfect. His gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander in Chief Pacific: Serial 030517 (June 29, 1945)
Action Date: October 11 - 12, 1942
Service: Navy
Company: Executive Officer
Division: U.S.S. San Francisco (CA-38)

Namesake

USS Crouter (DE 11) was named for Mark.

Related Articles

James Haselden, Jr. '20 was Mark's roommate; they are also on the same page of the 1920 Lucky Bag.


Class of 1920

Mark is one of 27 members of the Class of 1920 in Memorial Hall.