During the weeks and months that followed the collision of the ocean liners Republic and Florida in 1909, Marconi operator Jack Binns was the toast of the maritime world and an American hero. The 26-year-old Binns stayed at his post and miraculously relayed his messages for help, managing to save all 1,500 souls aboard the sinking vessel just off Nantucket on a frigid January night.
Binns was honored in a ticker tape parade. His heroics were celebrated in film and in song. The world was his oyster.
And he couldn’t understand why.
“He was very confused by the honors that reached him at the end of this story, because he was just doing his job,” according to Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace, the granddaughter of “CQD Binns, the first hero of wireless.” (CQD was the distress call that preceded SOS.)
“The people who were in the boiler room of the Republic, who had to shut off all the boilers so the whole thing wouldn’t explode, those were the people that he thought were the real heroes.”