Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Renee C. Aiello
Coast Guard men and women are taught early in our careers, “to do the right thing when it’s the right thing to do, even when no one is looking.” For Steward’s Mate 3rd Class Warren T. Deyampert , doing the right thing was the obvious choice during the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943. Until now, Deyampert’s story has gone untold. His life ended in tragic irony, but he remains a Coast Guard hero.
“There are so many individuals in the history of the Coast Guard who have placed themselves in harm’s way so others might live,” said Atlantic Area Historian William H. Thiesen, PhD. “These men and women deserve to be recognized and honored. Mr. Deyampert is a perfect example and it is time his story is told,” said Thiesen.
A Mobile, Ala., native, Deyampert was stationed aboard Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba, homeported in Grand Haven, Mich., at the time, and was one of approximately 5,000 African Americans that served as Coast Guardsmen during World War II.
By June 1942 the Escanaba changed stations from the Great Lakes to Boston to serves as part of the Coast Guard’s Greenland Patrol. The cutter was fully dedicated to the mission of protecting and preserving U.S. waters during World War II.
On Feb. 3, 1943, Deyampert, the Escanaba and crew were all part of an escort of three steamers, including the U.S. Army Transport Dorchester. The steamers were being escorted from Newfoundland to Greenland. The Dorchester, carrying approximately 900 crew and passengers, was pierced by a torpedo at 1 a.m. creating a massive hole through the hull of the Dorchester, causing the transport to sink within 20 minutes.
The crew of the Escanaba quickly sprang into action. Deyampert was one of many who volunteered to go into the icy waters in an attempt to rescue any survivors from the Dorchester. This was the first time in the cutter’s history that crewmembers would utilize the tethered rescue swimmer method to retrieve “debilitated” survivors. This system, complete with rubber exposure suits, was developed for cutters by Lt. Robert H. Prause, executive officer of the Escanaba.
Despite the cold temperatures, frigid water and unforgiving seas, Deyampert and fellow crewmembers were credited with saving 133 lives that morning. According to Thiesen, this rescue effort took a total of eight hours, and the rescuers, including Deyampert lived, thanks to their training and skill set.
Nearly one year later, the Escanaba and crew joined the crews of Coast Guard Cutters Storis and Raritan on a convoy escort from Greenland to Newfoundland. At approximately 5 a.m. June 13, 1943, an explosion rocked the Escanaba, causing the cutter to sink, taking 100 crewmembers with it. In an ironic twist of fate, Deyampert, who was responsible for saving so many lives in the February sinking of the Dorchester, perished as the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba sank into its watery grave.
“When you look at Deyampert’s case, you see a young man who had his whole life ahead of him. He, like thousands of other young Americans serving in the military, gave his life so that our nation could live in peace and enjoy the freedoms that it does today,” said Thiesen. “I hope readers will appreciate the sacrifice made by Petty Officer Deyampert, who fought to save the lives of others, but lost his own in the defense of our country,” he said.
Deyampert was honored posthumously with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for, “the bravery, determination and disregard for his own safety….in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” Truly an American hero.