Memorial Day

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"The Jaws of Death." A photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent, USCG. A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the U.S.S. Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the First Division on the morning of 6 June 1944 at Omaha Beach. USCG Photo.

Memorial Day. Besides the barbecues, the fireworks, the long weekend out on the boat, do you take the time to sit and think about what Memorial Day means? Will you take the time to thank the veterans that you know, or even the ones you don’t, for their service?

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a day set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. Today, decorating the graves of the fallen is still  a part of the tradition, at Arlington National Cemetery there is a ceremony where a small American flag is placed on each grave.

Here is a link for the Coast Guard Historian’s site with what wars the Coast Guard has served in and how many casualties were in each.

It seems fitting today to take a moment to talk about at a few of the Coast Guard fallen throughout history.  My apologies ahead of time as I know I will not get to all of them, but here are just a few stories that I found on the Coast Guard Historian’s site.

William L. Boyce

Acting Machinist William L. Boyce was a member of the crew of the cutter Seneca during the First World War.  He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal “for his actions while attempting to save the torpedoed British merchant steamer Wellington, which subsequently foundered.” Boyce was killed during the attempt.

Richard A. Arrighi

Ensign Richard A. Arrighi, USCGR, an officer on board the cutter Escanaba, was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on 18 August 1943, during rescue operations off Greenland on 3 February 1943.  After the troopship Dorchester was torpedoed, Arrighi was the first to go over the side as a “retriever.”  As the lifeboat was made fast to Escanaba’s side, one of its helpless members fell in between the cutter and the lifeboat.  This poor man was covered with oil and the men in the lifeboat simply could not extricate him from his perilous position.  ENS Arrighi, who was working in the water at the time, swam in between the boat and the ship, pulled the man out so that he would not be crushed, held him up so that a line could be put around him and helped the men in the boat get him on aboard.  Arrighi was in grave danger of being himself crushed between the boat and the ship’s side, but due to his disregard of his own safety and to his quick action he was spared, only to lose his life in June when Escanaba blew up.

Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro, is the only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor.

Douglas A. Munro

Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Matanikau River, Guadalcanal on 27 September 1942. From his citation extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as Petty Officer in Charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz Guadalcanal, on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machine guns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led five of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its two small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was instantly killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Robert H. Prause

Lieutenant Robert H. Prause, the executive officer of cutter Escanaba, was awarded a posthumous Letter of Commendation for his work in organizing and supervising the rescue operations of the survivors of the sinking of the troopship Dorchester on 3 February 1943.  The handling, by LT Prause, of the survivors and crew members in the water while the ship was maneuvering, plus the prompt recovery of two crew members who were pulled overboard as they tried to keep the survivors alongside, displayed sound judgment and excellent seamanship.  Despite the lack of illumination there was no confusion.  Everyone worked with grim determination to cheat the enemy out of as many victims as possible, despite the constant threat of submarine action.  LT Prause had previously planned the retriever method of rescue and had gone into the icy water off the dock at Bluie West One, Greenland, in a rubber suit with a line attached.  He perished later that year when Escanaba blew up and sank while on convoy duty.

RM1/c Benjamin Bottoms, Coast Guard veteran and fallen hero of WWII.

RM1/c Benjamin A. Bottoms

ARM1c Benjamin Bottoms was a Coast Guard radio operator assigned to the cutter Northland’s aircraft on the Greenland Patrol during World War II.  He was killed when his aircraft, piloted by LT John Pritchard, crashed while attempting to rescue a downed Army Air Force B-17 crew in Greenland.

Michael Kirkpatrick

Lieutenant (j.g.) Michael Kirkpatrick was the executive officer of the cutter Point Arden during the conflict in Vietnam.  While acting as the mount captain, directing harassment-and interdiction mortar fire against enemy positions along the South Vietnamese coast on 9 August 1969, the mortar battery exploded, mortally wounding him.

Nathan Bruckenthal

On April 25, 2004, Damage Controlman Third Class Nathan Bruckenthal, USCG, from Smithtown, New York, and two U. S. Navy sailors were killed in the line of duty while conducting maritime intercept operations in the North Arabian Gulf.  He and six other coalition sailors attempted to board a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal.  As they boarded the boat it exploded.  Petty Officer Bruckenthal died later from injuries sustained in the explosion.  Petty Officer Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guardsman killed in action since the Vietnam War.  He was assigned to Tactical Law Enforcement South in Miami, Florida and deployed with Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia aboard the USS Firebolt.  This was his second deployment to the Arabian Gulf for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

So take a moment today to think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not just from the Coast Guard but from all the services, lives that simply would not fit in just one post, or just one wall, or just one book.

Other few other links for today:

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