THEODORE G. ELLYSON, CDR, USN
Theodore Ellyson '05
Date of birth: February 27, 1885
Date of death: February 27, 1928
From the 1905 Lucky Bag:
Theodore was lost on February 27, 1928, when the plane he was aboard crashed en route to Annapolis, where his "small daughter lay ill." It was his 43rd birthday.
He was the executive officer of USS Lexington (CV 2).
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Ellyson entered the United States Naval Academy in 1901 and graduated with the class of 1905. During the five years following his graduation, he served on USS Texas and USS Missouri; as Watch and Division Officer of USS Pennsylvania and later USS Colorado; and on USS West Virginia, USS Rainbow, and USS Shark on the Asiatic Station.
After his return to the United States in April 1910, he commanded the USS Tarantula until November of that year, and then had duty in connection with fitting out the submarine USS Seal at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. He commanded her briefly after her commissioning on 2 December 1910.
In December 1910, Ellyson was ordered to North Island, San Diego, California for instruction in aviation under Glenn Curtiss. While at an Aero Club show on 28 January 1911 near the flight school, Ellyson took off in a Curtiss “grass cutter” plane to become the first Naval aviator. With a blocked throttle, this ground plane was not supposed to fly, and Ellyson was not proficient enough to fly. He slewed off left, cracking up the plane somewhat by making a wing-first landing. However, Ellyson was not injured and from then on he was considered to have made his first flight on this date. He also cooperated with Curtiss in the design of a pontoon for aircraft, and after Curtiss' first flight on 27 January 1911, Ellyson went up with Curtiss in February to become the first passenger to go aloft in a floatplane. Later that month, he participated in experiments demonstrating the potential use of floatplanes from ships, when the aircraft was hoisted onboard USS Pennsylvania and subsequently lowered to the water for its return flight to North Island.
From the time Ellyson began instruction in aviation until 29 April 1913, he devoted all of his time to active flying and experimental work in aviation. This included the establishment of Naval Aviation Camps at Annapolis in September 1911 when, with then-Lieutenant John H. Towers, he flew an aircraft from Annapolis to Milford Haven, Virginia, a nonstop distance record for float planes.
In 1917, he had duty at the Naval Academy and with the midshipmen on cruise on USS Wyoming and USS Kansas. On 14 February 1918, he was detached for duty at the Submarine Chaser Base, New London, Connecticut, and in June arrived in London for duty with a submarine chaser squadron at U.S. Naval Base 27 at Plymouth. Ellyson was awarded the Navy Cross for distinguished service in World War I for his development of successful tactics for the submarine chaser squadron.
Following the Armistice in 1918, he remained in the European Area, commanding Nucleus Crew 14 (zeppelin) from March to May 1919. Upon his return to the United States, he assisted in fitting out the destroyer USS J. Fred Talbott at William Cramp and Sons, and served on that vessel as commanding officer from the time of her commissioning in June 1919 until July 1920. During the next five months, he commanded the USS Little and USS Brooks.
On 10 January 1921, he was ordered to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to serve for eight months as executive officer of the Naval Air Station, Naval Operating Base. The Bureau of Aeronautics was established in the Navy Department on 1 September 1921, and on 21 October, Commander Ellyson became head of the plans division of that bureau. He remained in that assignment until December 1922, when he became the aviation member of the U.S. Naval Mission to Brazil, cooperating in the reorganization of the Brazilian Navy. He returned to the Bureau of Aeronautics in May 1925.
On 20 July 1925, he assumed command of Torpedo Squadron 1 and from March to June 1926 was executive officer of USS Wright, a seaplane tender. On 23 June 1926, he was ordered to duty in connection with the fitting out of USS Lexington, the Navy's second aircraft carrier, and was on board when she was placed in commission.
Commander Ellyson was killed on 27 February 1928, his 43rd birthday, in the crash of a Loening OL-7 aircraft in the lower Chesapeake Bay while on a night flight from Norfolk, Virginia, to Annapolis, Maryland. His body washed ashore and was recovered in April 1928. He was buried in the Naval Academy Cemetery, in Annapolis.
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander Theodore Gordon Ellyson, United States Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Assistant for Operations to Commander, Submarine Chaser Detachment 1, during World War I. Commander Ellyson was largely responsible for the development of successful subchaser tactics and doctrine.
Division: Submarine Chaser Detachment 1
USS Ellyson (DD 454) was named for Theodore; the ship was sponsored by his daughter.
The Commander Theodore Ellyson Aviator Production Excellence Award is awarded each year to the most deserving fleet replacement squadron in the Navy and Marine Corps.