The Coast Guard Compass was proud to unveil the first 14 heroes the service’s new fast response cutters would be named for and we are even prouder to share the next 10 names with you in a continuation of our Coast Guard Heroes series. Over the next two weeks we’ll be sharing profiles of the namesakes of the Coast Guard’s fast response cutters, from legends of the U.S. Life-Saving Service to courageous men who served during the Vietnam War. Today, we share with you the story of Lawrence O. Lawson.
Written by Christopher Havern.
Lawrence O. Lawson was keeper of the Evanston, Il., Lifeboat Station. Nov. 28, 1889, he and his crew, made up entirely of students from nearby Northwestern University, came to the aid of the foundering steam vessel Calumet.
In the course of affecting the rescue, Lawson and his crew traversed 15 miles through a gale by train, by horseback and by foot. After two failed attempts to conduct the rescue by firing a line to the vessel, Lawson decided to launch the surfboat. Under near-impossible icy conditions, the crew was finally able to launch.
In three successive trips through the breakers, the crew brought all 18 members of Calumet’s complement ashore. The rescue was affected only after the display of extraordinary courage and heroism by the boat’s crew.
For his resolute direction of his crew and dogged conduct of this rescue, Lawson became known throughout the U.S. Life-Saving Service. His leadership and heroic efforts in the rescue of the crew of Calumet did not go unnoticed and Lawson was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal on Oct. 17, 1890.
Of this rescue, the United States Life-Saving Service Annual Report for 1891 noted that:
It was the opinion of all who were present that, but for the heroic conduct of this student crew, every man belonging to the Calumet must have perished. In recognition of their noble devotion to duty, each man was presented with the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the highest token of its appreciation that the Department can bestow. Thanksgiving Day 1889 (28 November) will doubtless ever be remembered by the crew of Calumet, as truly a day for thanksgiving. For on this day the student surfmen of Northwestern and their fearless keeper kept them from a watery grave.