Willys P. Yarnell (1873 - 1928)
“Willys P. Yarnell was a brother to Admiral Harry B. Yarnell, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. (Mrs. Yarnell’s name was Alice Purroy Y.)”
An isolated sentence on a list identified only as G.H. 12, Copy 1. Found in Gig Harbor’s Harbor History Museum research room. But in looking through the files was unable to find anything else relating to Mr. Yarnell. (Although after starting this blog some additional information was discovered in the Collections archives.)
So the question is: can we reconstruct any of Willys’ life or history? And what about his brother Harry?
I’ll start by reconstructing the family with information obtained from Ancestry.com, however I will not venture further back than just Willys and Harry’s parents.
Their grandfather, Ervin Harry Yarnell, (1820-1900 ) and their grandmother, Sarah Neigh Yarnell were born in Ohio. Ervin enrolled in the Indiana Company H, Regiment 88 on August 11, 1862. On September 1, 1863 he was transferred to the Invalid Corps. Sarah died in 1887, she is buried in Independence, Iowa and Phillip is buried in Newville, Indiana. It is interesting that I found a paper entitled “Yarnall - Yarnell Family Genealogy’ on the internet and it tells us that this family first came to America from England in 1683 represented by two brothers, Francis and Phillip. The branch of the family spelling their name Yarnell is Phillip’s branch and those spelling it Yarnall are Francis’ branch.
Grandfather Phillip’s son Ervin Harry (1820-1890) was Willys and Harry’s father. Their mother was KatherCountryman Yarnell (1848-1889). They had four children: Willys (Willis) (1873-1928), Harry Ervin (1875-1959); Ross Phillip (1878-1951); Mabel (1880-1944); Viola (1882-1957) and David Leroy (1886-1937). The Find-a-Grave document for the parents states that Ross and Viola were both adopted by Caleb and Mary Sharon after the parents died.
By the time the US Census of 1910 was taken, Willys was living in Rosedale with his wife, Alice (1871-1956) here he owned a farm. The census shows they had no children and had been married four years. Willys draft registration for WWI states his occupation as shipwright at Foundation Shipyard but that he was currently “on a hospital list at present.” Willys dies age 55 on June 8, 1928.
In a letter Frank Shaw wrote to his parents June 1, 1928, he mentions Willys death. “Have we had excitement since you left? Don’t ask! MacDaniels house burned clear down last Friday night. Likewise the McIntyre house next door. Luck prevented Mrs. Fullers place from going. There was little wind. If there had been, her house could have never been saved. Nor was that all. Poor Mr. Yarnell, as soon as he arrived at the fire, dropped dead. But read the enclosed clipping.”
The Peninsula Gatway clipping Frank was referring to read as follows:
“ A Bad Fire”
On Friday evening at about 9 o’clock fire got started at the McDaniel home while Mr. McDaniel was away and before anything could be done the house was a mass of flames. All that was saved was a few valuable papers. Paper money to the value of $150 (Value in 2016 is $2,050.79) was destroyed with the other property.
The flames soon spread to the McIntyre property which was only a few feet away. However, with the help of some friends nearly all the furniture and household goods belonging to Mr. and Mrs. McIntyre were saved.
The home of Mrs. Fuller was seriously threatened at one time and but for the intervening green trees and the help of friends this home would also have been destroyed.
The property destroyed was in part covered by insurance.”
I can’t help be wonder if perhaps poor Willys knew he was in poor health because also located was a letter he had written to E. J. Simerson, Clerk District 122, Gig Harbor stating “I will Twenty Dollars $20.00 for old building on school property.”
The Peninsula Gateway June 15, 1928 notice of Willys death is quite revealing about the man we are trying to know. It is reproduced including a the error of his date of birth.
W. P. Yarnell Passes
W. P. Yarnell, for 19 years a resident of Gig Harbor, and actively identified with th growth of the Peninsula district during that time, died suddenly Friday evening , while assisting at the fire which was destroying the homes of his neighbors.
Mr. Yarnell was not in the best of health, however, when his neighbor was in trouble he responded and did his best, falling while in the path of duty and friendship. It would be difficult to say more for anyone.
Deceased belonged to the Grange and the Tribe of Ben Hur.
The funeral services were held at the St. John’s Hall on Monday and were conducted by the Rev. Arthur Bell. There was a large number of friends in attendance.
Interment took place at Mountain View cemetery, Tacoma.
Mr. Yarnell was born in Iowa, March 30, 1878. He had lived in Gig Harbor and vicinity for 19 years; for the past two years he acted as justice of the peace. He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Alice Yarnell; two sisters, Mrs. Viola Webber of Seattle and Mrs. William Blair of Des Moines, Iowa; three brothers, Capt. Henry Yarnell of the U.S. airplane carrier Saratoga, Ross Yarnell of North Dakota and David Yarnell who is employed in the government service.”
Alice lived another 28 years, having moved to Tacoma, Washington where she earned a living as a music teacher.
Harry Ervin was as mentioned earlier, two years younger than Willys. According to Wikipedia, Harry entered the US Naval Academy at age 18 in 1893. His first service was in 1898 during the battle of Santiago de Cuba. Following his commission as an ensign he was attached to the Asiatic Station.
By age 27 in 1902 he had served in the Philippines and the Boxer Rebellion, and was commissioning commanding officer of the USS Dale (DD-4) destroyer. In 1907 he was the officer of the deck on the ‘Connecticut (BB18)’ ran aground. Both he and the Captain, William Swift, were courtmartialed; Harry was acquitted while Swift was convicted as he was captain and at the wheel at time ship was grounded. Harry then sailed around the world as part of the Great White Fleet. This was followed by tour of duty at Newport Torpedo Station and the Naval War College.
I found it very interesting in the Wikipedia entry on Harry E. Yarnell where it was mentioned that in the period 1928-1929 while serving as Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering and appointed Rear Admiral that he advised against smaller type submarines stating “our prospective opponent (Japan) has always started operations by attacking before a declaration of war.” (Holwitt, Joel I. “Execute Against Japan”, PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 2005, p.134fn16).
After three years service as Commander in Chief of the Asiatic Fleet, Admiral Yarnell was transferred to the Retired List. However as war became more apparent, in November 1941 he was placed back in active service and worked in officer of Secretary of the Navy as a special advisor to the Chinese Military Mission. in the beginning of January 1943 he was again retired by by June recalled once again as Head of Special Section in Office of the Chief of Naval Operations until December 1944.
He died in 1959 in Newport, Rhode Island where he had made his home. His obituary in The Stars & Stripes July 9, 1959 read as follows:
AdmYarnell Dies at 83
Newport, RI (AP) —Adm. Harry E. Yarnell (ret.), commander of the Asiatic Fleet when the Japanese bombed the gunboat Panay, died at the Newport Naval Hospital.
Yarnell was 83. The cause of death was not announced. He had been hospitalized two weeks.
Yarnell, holder of the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, retired in 1939. He returned for special duty with the Navy in Washington after the outbreak of World War II.
Every Shooting War
He participated in every shooting war involving this country from the time of his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1897 until his retirement.
His four decades of service at sea and on shore duty encompassed service under fire in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, the China Relief Expedition during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion and World War I.
He took part in the occupation of Vera Cruz in 1914.
He was instrumental in bringing about the payment of $2,200,000. indemnity by the Japanese after the Panay incident on the Yangtze River in 1937. The U.S. firm policy in the Far East came to be known as the “Yarnell Policy.”
In 1961 the USS Harry E. Yanell, originally a ‘destroyer leader or frigate and then in 1975 reclassified as a Leahy-class guided missile cruiser was commissioned.
- The Peninsula Gateway, June 12, 1928
- Wikipedia© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.