Heroes remembered: Crew of CG-238

The crew of CG-238 was one of many tasked with operations during “The Rum War” – the period extending from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s. These crews were part of an effort that included many law enforcement agencies charged with the suppression of illegal liquor traffic during prohibition. Searching for smugglers and their illicit cargo, often in the darkness of night, presented many dangers, including those presented by Mother Nature.

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Upon first glance, the above sequence of numbers and words looks like an arbitrary listing; a string of figures. But the series is actually an important list; the location of the names of the Crew of CG-238 on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

The crew of CG-238 included Chief Petty Officer Jesse K. Rivenback, Petty Officer 1st Class Leo S. Krzyzanowski, Petty Officer 1st Class Cornelius C. Shea, Petty Officer 1st Class Raymond H. Clark, Petty Officer 2nd Class Frank C. McCausland, Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles A. Freeburn, Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph V. Maxim and Petty Officer 3rd Class Clarance Alexander.

The CG-100, one of the 203 75-foot patrol boats built specifically for Prohibition enforcement duties. They were known as the "six-bitters" and entered service between 1924 and 1925. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The CG-100, one of the 203 75-foot patrol boats built specifically for Prohibition enforcement duties. They were known as the “six-bitters” and entered service between 1924 and 1925. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The crew was one of many tasked with operations during “The Rum War” – the period extending from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s. These crews were part of an effort that included many law enforcement agencies charged with the suppression of illegal liquor traffic during Prohibition. Searching for smugglers and their illicit cargo, often in the darkness of night, presented many dangers, including those presented by Mother Nature.

The crew of CG-238 was no stranger to gale-force winds. In October 1925, cutter Tampa towed the crew to shelter and the entire crew survived the ordeal. The same could not be said for the great gale of February 1927.

CG-238 was patrolling for smugglers off Cape Cod, Mass., four miles east of Highland Light. It wasn’t illicit activity they had to watch out for that night – it was the snowstorm that lasted more than 12 hours. The winds, seas and blowing snow squalls were trouble enough, but soon the engines went dead. The crew, led by Krzyzanowski as coxswain, tried to anchor but the sea state was too violent and the anchor would not hold.

“In all, it was a situation, sometimes happening, where human aid was set at naught by the unconquerable elements,” wrote Rear Adm. Frederick Billard, commandant of the Coast Guard at the time of the accident.

A distress call was made but it was too late. The ship foundered off the coast and the entire crew was lost to the sea.

“It is just such heart-breaking visitations, such devotion to duty, such heroic spirit and self-abnegation, that have made the Coast Guard what it is today,” wrote Billard of the CG-238’s crew in a letter dated April 5, 1927.

Decades later, CG-238’s story went largely unknown. Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Vince Patton shared the story with Chris Cosgriff, founder and executive director of the Officer Down Memorial Page, and Coast Guard reservist Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Rofidal.

A Coast Guard crew overlooks illegal liquor they seized. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
A Coast Guard crew overlooks illegal liquor they seized. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Rofidal, armed with the information from Patton and Cosgriff, worked with the Coast Guard historian’s office, law enforcement office and the National Personnel Records Center to obtain official documentation from the crew’s last patrol. Rofidal and the team’s effort paid off. CG-238’s crew was accepted into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

While these eight men perished aboard their boat in 1927, this will finally be the year they will be recognized among their fellow law enforcement brethren. Tonight, their names were officially added to the memorial.

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