At the start of 1917, Captain William Rees Rush commanded the Navy Yard in Boston and commandant of the First Naval District. He held the position since November, 1914. Although he officially retired on October 16, 1916, the Navy recalled him on October 17, 1916 to continue at Commander, Navy Yard, Boston. The Navy detached him from duty as Commander, First Naval District on February 7, 1918, but retained him as Commandant, Navy Yard. Finally, they retired Captain Rush on March 1919 upon being relieved of duty. As Commandant, he oversaw many aspects of the Navy Yard and the transition to war. Besides reports of suspicious personnel or fires, he hired George Brown to be the athletic director for the First Naval District and promoted sports. For example, the Y.M.C.A built the first recreational facilities at the Navy Yard under his command. However, this is a small section of Captain Rush’s 43 year career in the United States Navy. And, it is not even the most significant time of his career.
Born in Philadelphia on September 19, 1857, William entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in June, 1872. This was not a Naval Academy midshipman appointment. William experienced a more “traditional” navy officer’s education. It lasted nearly ten years until his promotion to ensign in October, 1881.
Officer promotion worked completely different during Captain Rush’s service than now. Currently, promotions from ensign to lieutenant (junior grade) (LTJG) and LTJG to lieutenant (LT) are each two years with a minor review of the officer’s service record. William was promoted to LTJG in February, 1889 and promoted to LT in December, 1893. Ensign to LTJG was eight years and LTJG to LT was only four years. Plus, there were examinations. However, it is difficult to find much information without digging through the Bureau of Navigation or Personnel archives.
After several years at LT, William attended the Navy’s War College in 1900. This duty assignment prepared William for promotion to lieutenant commander (LCDR) in 1901. He also married Jane Pomroy Hare while attending the War College. There’s nearly a month of leave probably because Jane and William married in Hawaii.
In 1909, William was promoted to captain (CAPT). In December 1913, he attached to the Florida (BB-30). In April 1914, BB-30 and CAPT Rush were order to Vera Cruz as part of a expedition to evict General Victoriano Huerta from the Mexican presidency after a coup d’état. Between 21 and 22 April, CAPT Rush led a naval brigade (about 1,600 men) to take Vera Cruz. In about 24 hours, the city was captured with 17 dead and 65 wounded. In December, 1915, CAPT Rush was awarded the Medal of Honor.
After WWI, CAPT Rush and Jane Hare traveled Europe. Eventually, they landed up in Pallanza, Italy. CAPT Rush died on August 2, 1940, just after the fall of France. Jane Hare passes away in Switzerland on August 27, 1947.
As Commandant of the First Naval District, CAPT William Rush promoted sports and competition. It wasn’t limited to hockey, but football and other sports as well. He hired one of the best sports promoters of the era, and likely had a hand in acquiring talent, too. Whether for public relations or a competition against the Second Naval District or concern for the health of sailors, I doubt we’ll ever know. May be it was all three. Without Rush’s appointment of George Brown, we might not have had the first united states hockey league of national preeminence, the United States Amateur Hockey Association.
2. Naval Officer’s Service Record Abstract, National Archives, courtesy of Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com/image/581042150)
3. Confidential War Diaries (of the First Naval District) (1917-1918), National Archives, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/1137572