HIGHLANDS – Visitors to the Twin Lights Museum may have noticed the display telling one facet of the life of Robert Blume. the very interesting, challenging, and very brave Medal of Honor recipient who had been one of the 52 Sailors and Marines who cut communications between the Spanish fighting on land and their other sources at sea during the Spanish American War, thereby playing a vital role in aiding Cuba. But Blume stands out for several reasons.
In addition to that medal for heroism during the Spanish American War, he made headlines in the next two centuries as well. But he could have made more headlines had he received the second Medal of Honor he earned, which would have made him one of only 13 American military members who have earned two Medals of Honor.
Blame it on Seaman Blume’s penchant for alcohol.
The Pennsylvania native held the position of third lighthouse keeper at the Twin Lights from 1906 to 1910, serving under that well known and respected lighthouse keeper, Ole Anderson, who was principal keeper from 1906 to 1928 and had been at the lighthouse as assistant for three years previous.
It was just before coming to Highlands as a civilian that Seaman Blume was nominated for a second Medal of Honor. He was stationed aboard the USS Raleigh, a Cincinnati class protected cruiser built in the latter part of the 19th century. One of his shipmates Robert Klein, had also served in the 1898 war, and was chief carpenter’s mate on the Raleigh.
Medal of Honor as it was in 1898
The two of them, Chief Klein and Seaman Blume, crawled into what was described as inaccessible compartments in the double bottom compartment of the ship to rescue two other sailors who had become overcome from turpentine fumes and lack of air. The compartment in the after part of the ship was being examined and overhauled. Because of its comparative inaccessibility and poor ventilation, it was necessary to use a portable electrical blower to ensure air. However, an electrical fuse burned out, the blower shut down and the two men working in the compartment were overcome with turpentine fumes and lack of fresh air and became unconscious.
LT. W.J. Terhune, executive officer of the Raleigh, recommended both Klein and Blume for their bravery in rescuing the stricken Sailors for Medals of Honor.
In his letter to secure the Medal recommendation, Lt. Terhune said he wanted to tell the “acts of resourcefulness and courage displayed by two members of the crew of the vessel, namely Carpenter’s Mate Klein and Seaman Blume. He wrote: “A big man, and strong, Blume “with the utmost fearlessness” succeeded in getting into the compartment and attaching a line to the unconscious men, enabling them to be pulled to safety by Chief Klein and others.
Blume, the seaman was the lowest rank in the Navy at the time, having once been Chief, the highest enlisted rank. But his records through all his years in the Navy were pretty dismal other than his heroism and clear thinking in times of danger.
Blame it on his penchant for alcohol.
His records from all ships on which he served showed he spent time in the brig, received demotions, was the subject of courts martial, and was restricted, all for violations of alcohol regulations…either he smuggled alcohol on board ship, was caught drinking on ship, was later returning from liberty, was involved in fights while under the influence, and more. It certainly was not a pretty picture.
Those records had been cleared a few times after he served his time and when he earned that first Medal. Still, apparently a slow learner or an avid drinker, he had been found guilty of the same infractions several more times, one resulting in his being demoted from Chief to the Seaman.
Klein received his award, but Blume turned it down. Instead, he made an offer the Navy could not refuse. He asked instead of the second honor, he would respectfully request that his rank be restored to that of Chief. The Navy complied.
And that is why, instead of that second Medal of Honor in 1904, Seaman Blume was then Chief Master at Arms just before arriving in Highlands. Chief Klein earned the Medal for the actions he and Blume had taken. His medal reads “for heroism in rescuing shipmates overcome in double bottoms by fumes of turpentine, 25 January 1904.
Whether he yearned to once more be on the sea or whether he had more to prove to himself about shipboard life, Chief Blume decided to leave lighthouse work towards the end of 1909. Once more he applied to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for permission to reenlist in the US Navy. He wrote in his letter of request, what he had said many times before, “I would like very much to reenter the service and promise faithfully to live up to rules and regulations.” This time he added, “I am a medal of honor man and have a few lives to my credit.”
His request was granted.