Charles Nakao, survivor of the Aztec, writes home to Hawaii, 1917.


A MESSAGE from a Hawaiian survivor of the steamship Aztec, sunk by a German submarine, came to the Star-Bulletin in yesterday’s mail from Brooklyn, New York.

Charles Nakao in a letter to this paper tells how some of his comrades were lost in trying to launch a lifeboat, and of the suffering of those on the wintry sea. Five Hawaiians were among those who perished, and a few weeks ago the legislature held a public memorial in their honor.

The letter says:

“Brooklyn, New York, April 26, 1917.

“Dear Sir: I, Chas. Nakao, was one of the members of the crew of the S. S. Aztec which was the first American vessel armed with two three-inch guns. Number of crew was 49, including 12 navy gunners and an officer of the U. S. S. Dolphin. We sailed from New York March 18, 1917, and were torpedoed by a submarine April 1, 1917, Sunday night, at 9:30 o’clock, off the coast of France. It was very stormy weather, the seas were about 30 feet in height and the current from English channel was running about 7 miles an hour. It were dark hail storm and were impossible to launch any lifeboat over the weather side. Seven of the crew got excited and try to launch the boat No. 2, which were on the weather side they were all smashed between the life boat and the ship side one of the boys were from Honolulu, Ekela Kaohi, the other were Chinese boy from Puna Pahoa Henry Look. No. 3 boat there were Hail Rice of Honolulu, Chas. Pumoku, Julian Makama of Honolulu, one from Tahiti Islands, John Davis. I were on board the No. 1 boat which I suppose to be the gunners’ boat. There were 19 of the crew on board. The vessel had sunk within 15 minutes it took 9 minutes because we were away from the ship side. After we were probably about 100 yards away some one gave four long blasts. Nobody knows how it happened. After four hours and a half in lifeboats on the high seas and hail storms and rain and darkness we were sighted by a French patrol boat. We had signaled to the boat with flashlights. They got full speed away from us. The second one had passed by and we lighted a torch and they came and picked us up. The temperature of the water was 40 degrees and I didn’t have any shoes or hat on. I was frozen and could hardly speak for about two hours after we got picked up. It was 1:30 o’clock in the early Monday…

Charles Nakao, survivor of the torpedoed Aztec

…morning and we had looked around for about 18 hours for the other boat. There were know sign whatsoever. So we landed at Brest, France, the American consul came and met us at the dock and over 6 hundred Frenchmen were treated fine. I got warm and were send to Brest hospital. From Brest we were send to Bourdeaux, France, about 48 hours ride train.

“We got on board the S. S. La Tourine, the French passenger boat from Bourdeaux, and we got back to New York safe.

“I remain yours truly,


Waiakea, Hilo, Hawaii.

“If any of boys’ family wants to get any information about the clothes or anything else please sent me your address and I will try my best to send it over. This is my address: Chas. Nakao, 324-32th street, Brooklyn, New York.

“P. S.—Thinking our Queen for her kindly remembrance to us boys off the ill-fated S. S. Aztec.

“Yours sincerely,

“C. N.”

[This article seems to be summarized in the Kuokoa of Iune 1, 1917, p. 5]

(Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 5/9/1917, p. 1)


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Volume XXIV, Number 7822, Page 1. May 9, 1917.