This Compass series chronicles the first 14 heroes the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters have been named for. These men and women, who stood the watch before us, lived extraordinary lives as they lit the way for sailors in times past, braved gunfire in times of war and rescued those in peril at sea. As Coast Guard heroes, their stories are a constant reminder of our service’s legacy. As the namesake of the Coast Guard’s newest patrol boats, they will inspire the next generation of Coast Guard heroes.
With contributions from LTJG Ryan White
Stewards-Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. served aboard CGC Comanche on North Atlantic convoy duty during World War II. His dauntless character was put into action on the night of February 3, 1943 as the U.S. Army transport USS Dorchester was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Greenland.
The Comanche was on scene with the Dorchester and its crew desperately searched for survivors in the frigid North Atlantic waters. David fearlessly volunteered to leave the safe haven of Comanche to dive overboard, with air temperatures below freezing, to help rescue the Dorchester’s crew.
As other Comanche crewmembers volunteered to dive in, 93 survivors from the Dorchester were rescued and plucked out of cold riotous waters.
One of the men David saved was a fellow Comanche crewman, the cutter’s executive officer, Lieutenant Robert Anderson who had fallen overboard and after exhaustion set in he was unable to pull himself out of the water. David was able to tie a line around Anderson and the crew aboard Comanche hoisted him to safety.
After the last of the survivors were safely aboard Comanche, David began to climb the cargo net to the ship’s deck. One of David’s shipmates, Storekeeper Richard Swanson had volunteered to dive overboard to assist with the rescue but was having trouble climbing the net due to his freezing limbs. David encouraged his friend to continue but Swanson was fatigued and frozen. David descended the net and with the help of another crewmember, pulled Swanson to Comanche’s deck out of harm’s way.
Tragically, David died a few days later from pneumonia that he contracted during his heroic efforts to save the Dorchester’s survivors and members from his own crew. He was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery, which was received by his wife and son, Kathleen and Neil David.
A special place in the Coast Guard’s history
Two hundred and thirty one thousand men and 10,000 women served in the Coast Guard during World War II. Of these, 1,918 gave their lives in service.
In the spring of 1941, Coast Guard cutters were assigned to the Navy and operated in anti-submarine warfare escorts, amphibious landings, search and rescue, beach patrol, port security and LORAN duty.
Coast Guard-manned ships sank at least 11 enemy submarines and its cutters and aircraft rescued more than 1,500 survivors of torpedo attacks in areas adjacent to the United States. Cutters on escort duty saved another 1,000.
David served his country at a time when the service was segregated and was aboard a cutter where he was barred from the officer ranks and limited in his enlisted specialty. Despite this, David exercised the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty to the highest measure.
Swanson, recalling his friend in an interview, described David as a “tower of strength” on that tragic day, and his heart and commitment to his shipmates is something to be revered.
“Charles Walter David Jr. is a selfless American hero,” said Petty Officer Third Class Forest C. Reimann, a cutter surface swimmer on Coast Guard Cutter Waesche. “The sacrifice he made for his shipmates is a perfect example of why the Coast Guard Cutter Rescue Swimmer Program is indispensable. As one of the first three cutter swimmers onboard Coast Guard Cutter Waesche I am honored to fulfill this duty.”