“Twenty-eight members of the crew of the American armed steamer Aztec, 3,808 tons, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine are missing …” (Mercury, April 5, 1917)
Before we expand on this, let’s look back – both in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere.
Captain John Dominis was an Italian-American ship captain and merchant from New York who had been trading in the Pacific since the 1820s. In the 1840s, he purchased property on Beretania Street; he built a home for his family, Mary Lambert Dominis (his wife) and John Owen Dominis (his son.)
In 1847, on a voyage to China, Captain Dominis was lost at sea. To make ends meet, the widowed Mary then rented spare bedrooms; one of her tenants was American Commissioner Anthony Ten Eyck. Impressed with the white manor and grand columns out front, Ten Eyck said it reminded him of Mount Vernon (George Washington’s mansion) and that it should be named “Washington Place.”
King Kamehameha III, who concurred, Proclaimed as ‘Official Notice,’ “It has pleased His Majesty the King to approve of the name of Washington Place given this day by the Commissioner of the United States, to the House and Premises of Mrs. Dominis and to command that they retain that name in all time coming.” (February 22, 1848)
In 1862, John Owen Dominis married Lydia Kamakaʻeha (also known as Lydia Kamakaʻeha Pākī.) Lydia Dominis described Washington Place “as comfortable in its appointments as it is inviting in its aspect.” Reportedly, the American flag flew at the residence until Mary Dominis’s death, when Liliuokalani had it removed. (Mary Dominis died on April 25, 1889, and the premises went to her son, John Owen Dominis, Governor of Oʻahu.)
Lydia was eventually titled Princess, and later became Queen Liliʻuokalani, in 1891. John Owen Dominis died shortly after becoming Prince consort (making Liliʻuokalani the second widow of the mansion;) title to the home then passed to Queen Liliʻuokalani.
On the continent, former Princeton University president and governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912; under him, the US proclaimed its neutrality from the beginning of World War I (in the summer of 1914.)
After the German sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania in May 1915 (which killed 1,201 people, including 128 Americans,) Wilson sent a strongly worded warning to Germany. After attempts to broker peace, then sinking of the American cargo ship Housatonic, Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.
With German submarine warfare continuing unabated, the final straw came on April 1, 1917, when the armed merchant ship Aztec was sunk off the northwest coast of France by U-boat 46 under the command of Leo Hillebrand. The Aztec was on its way from New York to Le Havre, France with a cargo of timber, copper, steel, chemicals and machinery.
All twenty eight members of the crew were killed, including Boatswain’s Mate First Class John I Eopolucci, a Naval Armed Guard – the first US Navy sailor killed in action in World War I. The attack on the Aztec was the final straw and led to America’s intervention into World War I.
On April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before Congress to deliver his historic war message and asked for a declaration of war against Germany. (history-com) Then as Congress convened, two more ships were sunk, the large freighter Missourian and the schooner Marguerite, with no casualties aboard either ship. On April 6, 1917, after twenty-nine months of official neutrality, the US declared war on Germany, formally entering World War I.
The passage of the war resolution by Congress, April 5, 1917, and the issuance of the President’s proclamation the next day declaring that “a state of war exists between the United States and the Imperial German Government,” was the signal for Hawaiʻi once more to declare its loyalty and pledge its unfaltering support of the nation’s cause. Appropriate resolutions were adopted by the legislature and by numerous clubs and organizations. (Kuykendall)
On the very day on which President Wilson delivered his memorable war message to Congress, the ground for his indictment of the German government was brought home to the people of this territory by news that five youths from Hawaiʻi had lost their lives in the sinking of the Aztec. (Kuykendall)
When the American steamer Aztec was sunk a few days ago by a German submarine, five Hawaiians … lost their lives …. Two of these Hawaiians were residents of Honolulu, the other three of Hawaiʻi. (Hawaiian Gazette, April 3, 1917).
The five Hawaiian merchant marines that were part of the Aztec crew were: John Davis, Charles Kanai, Eleka Kaohi, Julian R Macomber and Henry Rice (they were all civilians.)
Support grew for an event to mourn the loss of Hawaiʻi’s first war dead. In a memorial service for the five, held April 22, 1917, “The dead were eulogized as heroes who lost their lives while maintaining the right of the principle that the seas are free to all. About a pavilion platform that was decorated with the Star Spangled Banner and the flag of Hawaiʻi … more than 2000 gathered …”
“That the Hawaiians died in the service of their country in upholding American right of legitimate commerce at sea was emphasized by the presence on the platform of the heads of the military and naval service in Hawaiʻi, and there was a solemn martial atmosphere to the gathering to remind even casual spectators that this was a memorial service in war time.” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 23, 1917)
“Senator HL Desha speaking in Hawaiian delivered an oration appropriate to the occasion. He spoke of the five brave men who died doing their duty and declared that for all we know on this earth, these men might have sacrificed their lives for the peace of the whole world.” (Hawaiian Gazette, April 24, 1917)
Lorrin Andrews delivered an oration on what the American flag represents, “There is a Flag floating over this building which symbolizes to all of us that which we hold most dear. It was conceived in a struggle for liberty against oppression. It presided over the birth of the greatest republic that the world has ever seen, and it has always represented honor, freedom and justice.” (Hawaiian Gazette, April 24, 1917)
Not long before her death in 1917, Queen Liliuokalani nobly expressed support of the United States in World War I by ordering that the American flag be flown over Washington Place. (hawaii-gov)
“For the first time in its long and picturesque history, Washington Place, home of Queen Liliʻuokalani, was decorated today with an American flag.”
“It was the occasion of the visit of the legislators to pay their respects to the aged queen and in view of the extraordinary crisis in international affairs and the prospect of patriotic war action by congress …”
“… the queen allowed the flag to be flown in honor of the government which years ago was responsible for her loss of a monarchy.” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 3, 1917) (Reportedly, the American flag continued to fly over Washington Place.)
Liliʻuokalani continued to occupy Washington Place until her death later that year (November 11, 1917.)