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The Story of Henry Breault
This article dismantles the grand narrative surrounding Medal of Honor recipient Henry Breault and examines its contemporary enshrinement, long period of intermittent interest, and later iconographic creation as a subterranean folk hero in present-day.
TM2c Breault was an extraordinary Navy sailor who went above and beyond his duty by returning to his submarine after its collision in order to help his fellow crew members.
Early Life and Education
Henri Breault was born in 1900. At sixteen, he joined the Royal Navy before later enlisting with the United States Navy – four years later becoming one of its submariners and receiving the Medal of Honor award.
Once Breault had left the submarine force, he became a pediatrician in Windsor, Ontario and often dealt with cases of children being accidentally poisoned at home from medications and other potentially hazardous products in easily opened packages. Breault initiated an unsuccessful public education campaign about these risks to children’s wellbeing.
He then turned his focus from prevention to protection, spearheading the design of the Palm N Turn bottle cap – now widely recognized for saving lives. In recognition of Henri Breault, Western Ontario created the Henri Breault Pediatrics Centre while Tecumseh honored him by naming a street after him.
On 28 October 1923, Torpedoman 2nd Class Henry Breault was serving aboard the USS O-5 when it collided with and sank within one minute after colliding with steamship Abangarez. Though tempted to jump offboard himself, instead he returned to his torpedo room to help save a fellow seaman before sealing its hatch and remaining until their rescue 31 hours later.
His bravery earned him the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest and most distinguished military award. TM2 Breault became the first and to date only submariner ever honored with this recognition for actions on board an U-boat.
Recent survey findings by an active and retired Navy submariners group on Facebook demonstrated that 67% recognized Breault and confirmed his status as the sole enlisted Medal of Honor recipient, suggesting renewed interest in him for this community of submariners. These results may point towards Breault becoming a hero figure among its ranks.
Achievement and Honors
Torpedoman’s Mate Second Class Henry Breault was honored by US President Calvin Coolidge at the White House on March 8, 1924 for his actions during the sinking of submarine 0-5 at Limon Bay, Panama Canal Zone on 28 October 1923.
Breault sacrificed himself during the collision between their submarine and steamship Abangarez, in order to close down its torpedo room hatch and save a trapped shipmate’s life, before being himself rescued 31 hours later with another colleague.
Breault’s actions became a symbol of heroism for submariners, and his story served to convey expectations to enlisted sailors. In honor of this great deed, the Naval Submarine League instituted an award bearing his name.
In 1957, Breault was hired by Hotel-Dieu Hospital in Windsor to establish its poison control centre, in response to the growing number of children being poisoned accidentally with medicines and household products packaged in easy-open containers. His work eventually led him to create the Palm-N-Turn cap, which dramatically decreased accidental childhood poisonings across Canada.
Breault was serving on board the USS O-5 when it was struck and sunk by steamship Abangarez on 28 October 1923 in Panama Canal. Instead of abandoning his shipmates to jump overboard for himself, Breault closed his torpedo room hatch instead and remained trapped until they were eventually rescued 31 hours later.
Breault represents a desire for meaning amid the monotony of submarine service, while his popularity as an enlisted folk hero echoes nostalgia for heroism from World War II.
Breault was serving as a torpedoman second class on USS O-5 when it collided with steamship Abangarez and sank in Limon Bay of Panama Canal Zone in October 1923, inflicting extensive damage. While he could have left, instead staying behind to help aid his trapped shipmate he earned himself the Medal of Honor for his valorous action. After being trapped inside for more than 24 hours local engineers and divers managed to raise O-5 enough off its bottom so Breault and crewmate could escape. O-5 raised enough off its bottom for rescue, with rescue engineers eventually managing to lift enough off before Breault could escape and eventually escape; his story remains popular topic among current and former Navy submariners alike.