The Long Blue Line: BMCM “Big Wave” Dave Duren–leader, mentor and FRC namesake

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Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class William A. Bleyer, United States Coast Guard

Duren’s peers considered him an outstanding boat driver who operated with common sense and a great respect for the sea. He never asked anything of his crew that he hadn’t already done or was willing to do at the time.                

PA1 Levi A. Read, “BMCM Dave Duren: A Surfman Legend,” 2016

Public Affairs Petty Officer Read wrote the quote above as part of an essay marking the passing of one of the most accomplished enlisted leaders and boat drivers in the history of the Coast Guard. Nicknamed “Big Wave” Dave, Boatswain’s Mate Master Chief David N. Duren served at units around the world but best distinguished himself on the Pacific Coast.

Service photo of Seaman David Duren circa 1965. Duren retired from the Coast Guard as a master chief petty officer in 1993 after 28 years of service mostly along the Pacific coastline. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Dave Duren enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1965. Following basic training, he was assigned to the cargo-carrying cutter Kukui out of Honolulu, Hawaii. The Kukui traveled throughout the Pacific supplying Long Range Aids to Navigation (LORAN) stations, but Duren’s passion lay elsewhere. In 1967, he transferred to Station Depoe Bay, Oregon, and began learning the intricacies of search and rescue boat operations in the unforgiving conditions of the Pacific Northwest. The next few years would see him become a heavy weather coxswain and, in 1969, he graduated from the Coast Guard’s National Motor Lifeboat School certifying as Coast Guard Surfman #100.

As a Surfman, Duren began filling leadership roles at various units and stations. He first served at Station Coos Bay, Oregon, then as executive petty officer of Station Siuslaw River, located in Florence, Oregon. He next served as enlisted officer-in-charge of an 82-foot patrol boat out of New London, Connecticut, and, next, as enlisted commander of the LORAN station in Hokkaido, Japan. In 1979, Duren reported back to Station Depoe Bay as a chief boatswain’s mate to take command as officer-in-charge. It would be an eventful tour.

Seaman David Duren works aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Kukui, homeported in Honolulu, during his time stationed on the cutter from 1965 to 1967. After serving aboard the Kukui, Duren became a heavy weather coxswain, later designated as a surfman, all along the Pacific coastline. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Already known as an excellent surfman, Duren soon acquired the reputation of a forward-leaning and compassionate leader. On Thursday, Feb. 1, 1979, a small craft with two men on board began sinking in the treacherous surf off Oregon’s Siletz River Bar. Notified of the sinking, Duren and one of his crew loaded the station’s inflatable Zodiac on a trailer and sped to the scene. They launched the boat into the shallow water of Siletz Bay while Duren took directions by portable radio from eyewitnesses on the beach. Duren skillfully maneuvered through three lines of breaking eight-foot surf to the floating debris of the lost boat. He quickly located the cold and exhausted survivors and recovered them from the water. While the victims were being pulled on board, the Zodiac’s motor died. As the rescue boat drifted into the breakers, several attempts were made to start the motor. After many anxious moments, the motor restarted and Duren maneuvered the inflatable back through the pounding surf to shore where the victims were transferred to an ambulance. For this rescue, Duren’s Coast Guard Medal citation reads, “Chief Petty Officer Duren demonstrated remarkable initiative, exceptional fortitude, and daring in spite of imminent personal danger . . . .

Petty Officer David Duren, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard station Tillamook Bay, operates a Station Tillamook Bay motor lifeboat in the surf near Girabaldi, Ore., circa 1973. Duren is recognized within the Coast Guard surfman community as one of the most skilled boat drivers of his generation, and his legacy is carried on by today’s generation of Coast Guard surfmen. U.S. Coast Guard photo

The next year, on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 26th, three boys at Oregon’s Fogarty Creek State Park became stranded on an offshore rock surrounded by rapidly rising tidal waters. Duren organized a team of surface swimmers to assist the boys. When the swimmers approached the rock with a rescue line, the oldest boy dived from the rock and Duren coaxed him through the foaming surf to the beach. As the surf conditions worsened, Duren employed the swimmers to rescue the other two boys and assisted in hauling them ashore.

By the time the last boy neared the beach, Duren’s surface swimmers were suffering from exhaustion. Pulling the boy ashore, Duren directed his nearest surface swimmer to approach the rock to assist the swimmer stationed there and now weakened by the violent surf. The two men were forced apart when a pounding breaker tore the swimmer off the rock and into open water. With no wet suit and no hesitation, Duren entered the frigid water and swam through the treacherous surf. He reached the helpless swimmer and pulled him back through the breakers to the safety of the beach.

Petty Officer David Duren, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard Station Coos Bay, operates a motor lifeboat in the surf near Coos Bay, Ore., circa 1969. Duren is recognized within the Coast Guard surfman community as one of the most skilled boat drivers of his generation, and his legacy is carried on by today’s generation of Coast Guard surfmen. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Between 1979 and 1983, Duren deployed on search and rescue cases more frequently than any other officer-in-charge and, in one year, executed over 250 cases. During this tour, Duren received two Coast Guard Medals for exceptional heroism, and the Douglas A. Munro Inspirational Leadership Award. Perhaps more remarkable was the fact that the personnel under his watch at Depoe Bay earned a total of 24 medals and awards.

Duren served as the officer-in-charge at other stations and cutters in the Pacific Northwest before he retired in 1993 with 28 years of service. He was a firm believer in “The Creed of the Coast Guardsman” and read it aloud to new members of his units. His style of leadership and professionalism helped mold a generation of surfmen who went on to train others and lead units as officers-in-charge. In retirement, he maintained close ties to the Coast Guard surfman community and enjoyed hunting, fishing, and the outdoors.

U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter

Boatswain’s Mate Master Chief David N. Duren was one of the most iconic figures in the history of Coast Guard surfmen. Considered perhaps the finest boat driver in the history of the modern Coast Guard, he is remembered by his shipmates and mentees not only for his expertise in seamanship, but also for his leadership and character. Duren passed away in 2016 due to complications from pneumonia. His remarkable legacy lives on not only in the memories of his shipmates, the institutional knowledge of the Coast Guard’s surfman community, but also in a 154-foot Fast Response Cutter (WPC-1156) that will bear his name.

Note: The editor of “The Long Blue Line” history series wishes to thank Public Affairs Specialist Levi A. Read for providing the imagery for this story.

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