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THROUGH SMOKE AND FIRE
 LIEUTENANT COMMANDER JESSE MIMMS ROPER was in charge of the
gunboat Petrel when it was in Maila Bay, soon
after the close of the Spanish War. He lost his life
while trying to save one of his sailors from a fire on
board of the gunboat. The story of his heroic
self-sacrifice is told by his second officer in about
the following words: —
"I was lying in my bunk at half-past six on a Sunday
morning. Suddenly I heard a call, but being off duty I
paid no attention to it. Then there was a great
scuffling on the deck, and my boy ran in to tell me
that there was a fire somewhere.
"I was responsible for all the powder on board, and it
did not take me long to get to my place. On the sick
list though I was, I felt that it was for me to be
wherever that fire was. It was below the hatchway
leading from the sail room to the berth deck. As I ran
forward, I saw a great
 cloud of smoke rushing up the hatchway, but there were
no flames in sight.
"Commander Roper was already there. He was clad only
in his pajamas. He had been the first man to go down
into the hatch, and was at once overcome by the smoke.
Two seamen had dragged him up, and he was just
recovering when I reached his side. Several of the
crew were at the hatch, lifting out some of the men who
had gone down with the hose and been overcome.
"Every man that went down was sure of suffocation, but
not one held back. Each man, when his turn came, ran
down and seized the body of the man who had preceded
him. He quickly slung a bowline under the arms of the
suffocated man. The seamen on deck would pull the body
up, and the man below would seize the hose and fight
the fire as long as he could breathe. Then he, too,
would drop, unconscious, and somebody would have to go
"I have been in all sorts of dangerous places at sea,
but I never saw anything that tried my nerves as that
did. The men, one after another, keeled over as they
went down into the smoke. Before
 long we had twenty-two men lying unconscious on the
"There was one man, Seaman Toner, still missing. We
knew that he was lying somewhere unconscious in the
middle of that black smoke. He had been in charge of
the hose, and had not returned. As soon as this was
known to Commander Roper, he made a rush for the hatch.
I held him back, and he tried to shove me to one side.
At last he turned away for a minute and then made a
rush for the hatch. It was too late for me to catch
him, but I shouted to him to come back.
" 'You don't know how things are down there,' I said.
'There are other men here who are willing to go, and
they are much abler to stand it than you.'
" 'I know exactly how things are down there,' he said,
turning and waving his hand to me. 'I am going down
after that seaman.'
"Before he could reach the hatchway, Cadet Lewis
stepped in front of him and said that he would go after
Toner. There was a race to the hatchway, and both
disappeared in the smoke together. Two jackies
 "The rest of us grouped around the opening without
saying a word. We gazed down the iron ladder a moment,
as if helpless. I then gave orders that no more men
should go down there unless they had bowlines about
them. There were two officers and three men already
"In another minute a negro named Girandt had slipped a
bowline around him and was going down the hatchway. He
got hold of the two men who had gone down with
Commander Roper, and all were pulled up together.
After taking a few breaths of air, the negro went down
again and tied the line around Toner. This time he
himself was unconscious when pulled up.
"I couldn't stand it any longer. There were
twenty-five men lying stretched out on the deck, and I
decided that it was my duty to go to the succor of the
officers. I put a wet handkerchief in my mouth, slung
the bowline around me, and was let down. I had ordered
the electric lights in the compartment turned on. They
flared out just as I touched the deck, and through the
smoke I could see Commander Roper seated on a pile of
canvas in a corner.