The Story of Lee Otis Battle, Lost at Sea in World War I:
Back in 1917, if you were a young man in the small South Alabama town of Andalusia, you may have enjoyed a Sunday afternoon horse and buggy ride around the Public Square with your girlfriend. You may have gone with friends to a picnic down by Prestwood Bridge. Or you might have gone to Brown and Broughton Drug Store downtown for a chocolate malt. You might have milked the cow in your back yard or gathered eggs for your mother to bake a cake or chopped the chicken’s head off in your back yard chicken coup so your mother could cook chicken and dumplings for Sunday dinner. As a young fellow you might be wishin’ and hopin’ that one day you could afford to buy one of those newly invented automobiles. You might be thrilled to hear a baseball game on the family radio when Babe Ruth hit another home run. You and your friends might have looked forward to hearing and dancing to that first jazz recording released by RCA played on the radio (“Dark Time Strutters Ball”). If you heard in April 1917 that the US had declared war on Germany, entering WWI, you might have been one of 10 million young men to register for the draft or enlist in the war.
One young man from Andalusia, Seaman, 2nd Class Lee Otis Battle, entered the US Navy on August 3, 1917. He was the son of Dr. and Mrs. H.E. Battle. On April 20, 1918, he was aboard the USS Cyclops when the ship disappeared while steaming from Barbados to Baltimore. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Only God and the sea know what happened to this ship.” No wreckage was ever found. On June 4, 1918, the Navy Department declared that the USS Cyclops was officially sunk and all hands lost. SN Battle was 18 years old when he died.
He was one of the first Andalusia, Alabama, casualties in WWI. The VFW Battle-Malcomb Post 3453 in Covington County, Alabama, was named in his honor along with another young man named James Malcomb. His name is on the Hall of Honor Walls at the Alabama Veterans Memorial Park under Covington County.
The USS Cyclops:
The Cyclops was a carrier ship that supplied fuel to the American fleet during WWI. In January of 1918, the ship stopped in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A large amount of the coal on the ship was unloaded and 10,000 tons of manganese ores used for making steel were loaded onto the ship, making it very heavy. After making a stop in Balia, the ship was to head home. On February 16th with 309 persons on board it was homebound for Baltimore, Maryland. But for a reason no one knows, the captain did not sail straight to Baltimore but took the ship out of the way to Barbados in the West Indies. There more coal and supplies were loaded on board. On March 3rd the ship set sail again and was to reach Baltimore on March 13th. But the ship was never heard from again. A massive search by the naval ships took place when the ship did not arrive. Now, almost 100 years later, there is no trace of the ship. All 309 people on board were presumed dead. Seaman 2nd Class Lee Otis Battle was one of the casualties.