Landsman John Phillip Rilley (or Riley) was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Spanish-American War when he was just 21 years old. Mr. Riley is the only Salem resident to be awarded this honor. His citation notes: “On board the U.S.S. Nashville during the operation of cutting the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, 11 May 1898. Facing the heavy fire of the enemy, Rilley displayed extraordinary bravery and coolness throughout this action”
From www.homeofheroes.com: “The mission was a daring operation to cut undersea cables linking the Spanish fortifications at Cienfuegos with the rest of the world. Destruction of the cables was ordered to disrupt communications. In two boats, sailors from the USS Nashville and the USS Marblehead were joined by a Marine guard as they moved within 15 feet of the enemy shore, under fire from the hidden enemy, to dredge up and cut two such cables. During the 80 minute operation, the cable cutting party was under constant enemy fire from a short range, while they coolly dredged the cables across the bow of their boats, then cut through them with hacksaws.”
Mr. Rilley was born in 1877 in Allentown PA, and died in Salem November 16, 1950. Riley Plaza, across from the Salem Post Office, is named in his memory.
Friends of Greenlawn would like to thank Mr. Don Morfe for his kind permission to use his images in this post.