On this Memorial Day, we remember all of the heroic men and women who have put their lives on the line for the freedom of the United States of America and the many countries around the world who have been equally impacted by their heroic efforts.
So too we will highlight the story of a great swimming champion who, though he didn’t die in combat, risked his life in World War I and is worthy of the true moniker of a ‘heroic’ swimmer. Cann is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
Cann grew up in New York, where he attended the High School of Commerce in New York City. At age 17, in 1913, he defeated the great Duke Kahanamoku in a swimming race the year after Duke won an Olympic gold medal in Stockholm.
During World War I, Cann was a member of the United States Navy Reserve, where his skills as a swimmer saved his patrol vessel from disaster. He dived into a flooded compartment and closed a leak, underwater, to save the ship, and was awarded a Medal of Honor for his efforts, which credited him for saving both the sinking ship and its crew. He was the first winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I.
After World War I, Cann trained with the New York Athletic Club and the Detroit Athletic Club, and set the World Record in the 220 yard freestyle in 2:19.8, a record that lasted from 1920 until 1922 when the great Johnny Weissmuller (aka Tarzan) broke the mark. He was also the first swimmer to win the AAU National Championships in the 50, 100, and 200 meter freestyles in the same year.
A car accident that shattered his leg held Cann out of the 1920 Olympic Games, but he would go on to be named a 1924 Olympian in water polo.
Cann died in 1963 at the age of 65 and was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. In 1967, four years after his death, he was posthumously inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Cann is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.