White Alder, 1947

July 10, 2020

White Alder, 1947

WLM / WAGL-541; YF-417

White alders are medium-sized deciduous hardwood trees of riparian woodland habitats in southern California.  Scientific name is Alnus rhombigolia of the family Betulaceae.

Builder:  Niagara Shipbuilding Corp., Buffalo NY

Commissioned: 1943 USN; 19 September 1947

Decommissioned:  N/A; sank after collision on 7 December 1968 (see below for details); 17 crewmen perished.

Length:  132' 10"

Beam:  30'

Draft:  8' 9" max

Propulsion:  2 x 600 bhp diesels with twin screws

Complement:  1 warrant, 20 crewmen (1948)

Armament:  None


White Alder was the former Navy lighter, YF-417.  The Coast Guard acquired a total of eight of these former Navy YF-257-class lighters between 1947-1948 for conversion to coastal buoy tenders.  They were needed to complement the larger seagoing buoy tenders in servicing short-range-aids-to-navigation, typically those placed in coastal waters and harbors. 

They were built entirely of steel and were originally designed to carry ammunition and cargo from shore to deep-draft vessels anchored off-shore.  These lighters were well suited for a variety of coastal tasks because their hull design incorporated a shallow draft with a solid engineering plant.  All of these 133-foot lighters had sufficient cargo space for storing equipment and an open deck and boom for handling large objects.  They proved to be capable and useful buoy tenders.  Each was named for a plant, shrub or tree, prefixed by "White."


White Alder was stationed throughout her Coast Guard career, which spanned 1947 until 1968, at New Orleans, Louisiana.  Her primary assignment was to tend river aids to navigation although she was called upon to conduct other traditional Coast Guard duties, such as search and rescue or law enforcement duties, as required.  In mid-November 1965 she escorted raised barge carrying chlorine to a chemical plant and on 4 December 1968 she refloated cutter Loganberry, which had been beached on 3 December.

At approximately 1829 C.S.T. on 7 December 1968,  the "downbound" White Alder collided with the "upbound" M/V Helena, a 455-foot Taiwanese freighter in the Mississippi River at mile 195.3 above Head of Passes near White Castle, Louisiana and sank in 75-feet of water.   Three of the crew of twenty were rescued, the other seventeen perished.  Divers recovered the bodies of three of the crewmen but river sediment buried the cutter so quickly that continued recovery and salvage operations proved impractical. The Coast Guard decided to leave the remaining 14 crewmen entombed in the sunken cutter which to this day remains buried in the bottom of the Mississippi River.

The Coast Guard dedicated a memorial, at the Coast Guard base in New Orleans, to the White Alder and her crew on 7 December 1969.  The memorial was moved to the new Coast Guard Group New Orleans offices in Metairie, Louisiana, and rededicated on 6 December 2002.


Seaman Apprentice Walter P. Abbott, III

Electrician's Mate, second class Michael R. Agnew

Seaman Frank P. Campisano, III

Fireman Maurice Cason

Quartermaster, second class John R. Cooper, Jr.

Seaman Richard W. Duncan

Seaman Apprentice Larry V. Fregia

Seaman Apprentice Ramon J. Gutierrez

Seaman Roger R. Jacks

Seaman Steven D. Lundquist

Yeoman, second class Joseph A. R. Morin

Commissaryman, second class Charles R. Morrison

Engineman, third class Walton E. O'Quinn, Jr.

Engineman, first class John B. Rollinson

Chief Engineman [ENCP] William J. Vitt

Boatswain's Mate, third class Guy T. Wood

Chief Warrant Officer [BOSN] Samuel C. Brown, Jr.


Fireman Bruce L. Kopowski

Boatswain's Mate, second class Richard (n) Kraus

Seaman Apprentice Lawrence E. Miller


Chief Boatswain's Mate [BMCP] Richard F. Batista was ashore on authorized leave at the time of the collision.

Dedicated to the Buoy Tender WHITE ALDER
In loving memory of
John Boyd Rollonson and shipmates
Mrs. Pat W. Rollinson, Mother

Out of her dock in New Orleans
She left on her final trip
The buoy tender, White Alder
A gallant little ship
Just 133 foot of wood and steel
She did her duty brave.

Not a sailor on board had dread or fear
Of meeting a water grave
The last buoy had been retrieved
And near the Bayou Goula Light
All men were thinking of shore leave
Homeport was near in sight.

Then came the 455 Chinese freighter, Helena
Cruising around the bend.
Colliding with the little White Alder
A hurt that time will only mend.
Death was at the wheel that night
He served as pilot too.
And took the lives of 17 brave men
That formed most of her crew.

On this unusual moonlight night
To everyone's awakening.
The shocking news of this mishap
Brought tears and hearts a-quaking
Unfortunately as this story is retold
To all who read, as of this day.

The little White Alder presently rests
At the river bottom to stay
It's not for us to judge the dead
such men as those deserve a crown
For when the warning whistle blew
The men were duty bound.

With men like those the Coast Guard boasts
And as of old can sing:
"O grave; Where is thy Victory?"
"O death; Where is thy Sting?"


Cutter History File.  USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.

Robert Scheina.  U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990.

U. S. Department of the Interior.  National Park Service. U.S. Coast Guard 133-Foot Buoy Tenders.  HAER booklet.  Washington, DC: National Park Service, February, 2004.  [HAER no. DC-57; Todd Croteau, HAER Industrial Archeologist (project leader); Jet Low, HAER Photographer; Mark Porter, NCSHPO Consultant (historian), and Candace Clifford, booklet design.]