The Honor Roll stories continue with that of Milton resident Franklin Kenneth Edginton (3/14/1921 – 6/1/1944). Among the men on the honor roll, Franklin is the only one to have served aboard a submarine, a dangerous assignment for which he volunteered. There was nothing in his family background that could explain that decision, or at least no seafaring tradition. There was another Milton industry where family history would lead Franklin: button making.
Franklin’s father Harry Edginton was born in Birmingham, England in 1890. Grandfather Walter, a button maker, emigrated to the U. S. in 1894, and the rest of the family arrived between 1902 and 1903. The Edgintons settled in Camden, NJ, and by 1910 Walter was the owner of a button factory. Four of his children (including Harry) were in his employ. Harry married Sara Gardner in 1918, and Franklin was born in 1921, in Camden. Sometime after the birth of Franklin, Harry saw an opportunity open up in Milton’s Lippincott button factory, and by 1928 he was a foreman there. He moved his family, which now included Frank and daughter Marian, to a rented house on Chestnut Street.
The family wove themselves into Milton’s social fabric. From various short newspaper mentions we know that Harry was elected Worshipful Master of Endeavor Lodge #17 (A. F. of F. M.) in 1929 and was president of the PTA in 1930, while Sara’s singing talents were requested at church services and funerals.
Franklin’s name first appeared in a newspaper notice of a children’s birthday party he attended at the age of eight, and then appears again among the list of graduating seniors in the notice of Milton High School’s 1939 commencement exercises. Franklin, who had been working part time as a helper at the Lippincott button factory, was destined to be the third generation of his family to enter the trade. But he was also a good enough baseball player to be signed to a Philadelphia Phillies farm team, the Federalsburg A’s of the Eastern Shore League. There are almost no statistics available about Franklin’s baseball career, leading one to believe that he did not play a full season, or perhaps not at all.
If Franklin had any serious thoughts about becoming a professional ballplayer, or working alongside his father at the button factory, the onset of WWII put them on indefinite hold. Franklin’s engagement to Thelma Pearl Tubbs of Willards, MD was announced by her parents on April 9, 1942, in both the Salisbury Times and the Wilmington News Journal. There would be no wedding, however. On November 9, 1942, Franklin enlisted in the U. S. Navy in Baltimore MD. It is unclear when he volunteered, trained, and was assigned to submarine duty, but in April of 1944, he was assigned as part of a relief crew to the U. S. S. Herring.
His official rank at the time of his assignment to the USS Herring was MoMM3c (Motor Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class), which meant he was assigned to the engine room.
The Herring was engaged in operations off Matua Island in the Kuril chain, now owned by Russia but a Japanese possession in 1944. Uninhabited today, during WWII it hosted one of the Japanese military’s largest and most heavily defended bases. There is no publicly available explanation of the Herring’s mission there, but given what is known about Matua at the time, it is likely to have been some form of reconnaissance. It is believed that the Herring was sunk by artillery fire from shore batteries. The entire crew was reported MIA until 1946, when they were declared dead.
Interestingly enough, two Russian news agencies have reported on a research expedition to Matua in 2016 as a possible first step in re-establishing a military presence on the strategically located island.
Wilmington News Journal, 1928 – 1946