Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Seth Johnson
To many people, the Coast Guard is synonymous with saving lives, and rightfully so. Coast Guard members spend their careers training, strengthening and honing their abilities to help people in need. History is filled with case after case of heroic deeds that were done not because it was a person’s job, but because it was their calling.
There are also times in history when the rescuers need rescuing, and recently, two men were posthumously recognized for actions that, while at the cost of their lives, saved those of their shipmates.
On the evening of Jan. 28, 1980, the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn, a seagoing buoy tender, was involved in a collision with a tanker off the coast of Tampa, Florida, which would ultimately sink the Blackthorn and take with it the lives of 23 Coast Guardsmen.
“Within the story of the sinking of the Coast Guard cutter Blackthorn, you will find the story of Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary Crumly and Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Gauld, who by all accounts, both written and verbal, risked life and limb to serve their fellow crewmen,” said Rear Admiral David R. Callahan, commander of the 8th Coast Guard District. “By all accounts these two men remain committed to our core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty, remain grounded in Coast Guard ethos and, most of all, remain loyal to their shipmates.”
After the collision took place, Crumly directed a crewmember away from aft-steering and toward the bridge, which ultimately saved the man’s life. Once at the bridge, Crumly and Gauld made their way to the ship’s chart room to pass out inflatable life jackets to the crew. Crumly entered the space, passed them to Gauld, who then would pass them to crewmembers. Tragically, the Blackthorn capsized and both Crumly and Gauld were unable to escape.
While others in the past have been recognized for their heroics, such as the actions of Seaman Apprentice William Flores, Crumly and Gauld had never been formally recognized for their efforts. While the collision took place 35 years ago, members of the Coast Guard and surviving crewmembers pushed forward with an initiative to formally recognize the two crewmembers and honor their sacrifice. Both men were posthumously awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Coast Guard during an official ceremony in Birmingham Alabama, October 24, 2015.
Crumly and Gauld’s medals were presented to their families by Callahan in an audience which consisted of loved ones, Coast Guard members and surviving crewmen from the Blackthorn.
“I was really looking forward to [today] I felt excited about it but also a little bit nervous because I knew it was going to be a hard thing to get through and it was going to be bittersweet, which it was,” said Jean Gauld-Jaeger, mother of Richard Gauld. “Receiving the medal was quite an honor. It confirms what his family has always known about Rick, is that he had a very strong sense of loyalty to friends and family both.”
“I just appreciate everything that the Coast Guard has done and I appreciate all of the survivors who were able to come, and honoring themselves, because they survived something that none of us can even begin to imagine,” said Ruth Crumly, mother of Gary Crumly. “They came to honor Gary, but I’m just so proud of them that they’ve gone on with their lives like God intended for them to be.”
Callahan closed his remarks about the heroics of both Gauld and Crumly with a charge that their actions inspired.
“The charge to all of us that these men left behind is summed up in four simple words: Honor, Remember, Service, Sacrifice.”