As we prepare to commemorate Olympia's 125th anniversary, we will be featuring essays by descendants whose relatives served aboard the ship.
Paul C. Hutchins, Sr.
By Carol Elliott, granddaughter
One beautiful day, my husband and I went on a walk through the Arlington National Cemetery. I began chatting with a tour guide who was waiting for his group. He began to tell me about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and how it was that the soldier’s remains were selected and came to Arlington National Cemetery.
I mentioned to my mom, Jane Hutchins Ewing, about that conversation, and she told me that her father, Paul Cecil Hutchins, Sr., had actually been in the Navy and served on the USS Olympia for that very voyage - the ship that carried the unknown soldier’s remains from France to Washington, D.C.
Many years passed, and on the 100th anniversary of V-Day, November 11, 2018, a large article appeared in the Washington Post about the end of World War I and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It piqued my interest as I remembered what my mom had shared about her father.
I contacted the author of the article, and he put me in touch with Denise Krepp who is working with the Foundation for the ship. She was so helpful and explained to me how to do some additional research to confirm my grandfather’s naval service and time on the USS Olympia.
I learned about the very historical and storied significance of the USS Olympia. It was the first and only steel naval vessel ever made, and its success in the Spanish American War under Commodore Dewey solidified the U.S. Navy’s position as a world leader. The ship was in service for twenty-seven years, under the administration of six presidents. It is such a special part of American history that it was selected for the voyage to bring home the remains of the Unknown Soldier.
My grandfather, Paul Hutchins, was a young man, 19 years old, from Hall County, GA and enlisted in the Navy in 1920. He was sent to the Naval Training Station in Hampton Roads, V.A., and went through training. We have a large panoramic photo of his training class. He was assigned to the USS Olympia after training. On October 3, 1921, he sailed on it to La Havre, France and back to Washington, D.C. The sole mission of that voyage was to collect the remains of the Unknown Soldier and return the remains to the newly installed Tomb at the Arlington National Cemetery. The ship arrived in Washington, D.C. on November 11, 1921 and the Unknown Soldier was buried on November 11, 1921.
My grandfather stayed on the USS Olympia as it sailed on up to Philadelphia, PA where it was retired. He was discharged in good standing from the Navy and returned to his home state of Georgia. The Olympia has been docked in Philly since 1922 and is part of the Independence Seaport Museum.
My grandfather died when my mom was only 15 years old. She remembers hearing about his time of service in the Navy and that he was on that very special voyage. It has been a rewarding experience to research and confirm his service, especially since my mom is now 83 years old and the family seems to know so little about my grandfather. Thanks to the help I have received getting information, we have pieced together facts and learned so much about my grandfather, the USS Olympia, the Unknown Soldier and the very significant occasion when the remains were laid to rest and have been respected, honored and guarded to this day. Our family, including my children, have enjoyed learning about this very real piece of their history and the history of our country.
It was very special to take my parents to visit the USS Olympia in June, 2019 and get to walk through the ship, knowing my grandfather walked the same steps and accompanied the Unknown Soldier on the voyage from France to Washington, DC. From reading about the occasion, it is easy to imagine the awe of a young country boy from North Georgia traveling the world and experiencing the many unique things that happened for that special voyage. The Olympia was greeted in both England and France with 21 gun salutes, special dignitaries, escorts, etc. And on the arrival in DC there was fanfare as such that has not been seen since.
As the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Soldier being laid to rest approaches, we have renewed appreciation for the significance of the sacrifices of those who have served before, currently and in the future to protect and preserve this land and the freedom it stands for.