Gold Lifesaving Medal

Awardees of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, Lighthouse Service, Revenue Cutter Service, and Coast Guard.  Those listed in gold received the Gold Lifesaving Medal with Gold Bar.

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October 10, 1877 - St. Joseph LSS, MI (Station No. 10, Eleventh District) - Awardee(s): Captain Joseph Napier

Date of Award: May 1, 1878

A Gold Lifesaving Medal, was awarded to Captain Joseph Napier, keeper of Life-Boat Station No. 6, District No. 10, for the daring gallantry he displayed in rescuing the crew of the schooner D. G. Williams, near the harbor of Saint Joseph, MI on the 10 October 1877. The schooner lay stranded during a heavy gale on the outer bar, with the sea breaking over her, and her unfortunate crew of six men up in the rigging for safety. Captain Napier got together three volunteers, commandeered a boat, and pushed out for the wreck. At the first attempt the boat was capsized in the breakers. On the second try he reached the wreck and returned with two of the sailors. The third trip the boat was completely filled with water, but was bailed and again reached the vessel, bearing off two men. At the fourth attempt Captain Napier and his three assistants were thrown out of the boat by a furious surge and one of his legs was badly hurt. One of the men swam ashore. Another got a line flung to him from the wreck and was taken aboard. Captain Napier and the other man, clinging to the boat, succeeded in righting and bringing it alongside the schooner. They then took off the two remaining men of her crew, together with the man taken on board, and regained the shore in safety. On other occasions Captain Napier was known to have shown equal heroism on desperate seas. Most notable instance was his rescue of the crew of the schooner Merchant during a tempest in 1854. For this feat he was presented with a gold watch suitably inscribed by citizens of Chicago.


September 11, 1878 - Charlotte LSS, NY - Awardee(s): Captain Joseph O. Doyle

Date of Award: August 2, 1879

Among the distinguished surfmen attached to the Life-Saving Service, one of the very foremost was Captain J.O. Doyle, the keeper of Station the Life-Saving Station at Charlotte, NY. His efficiency upon occasions of shipwreck was always at the acme, but during 1878 he achieved, in two signal instances, rescues so splendid as to deserve the commemoration of the Gold Lifesaving Medal, which was conferred upon him. The first instance was at the wreck of the schooner B.P. Dorr of Chicago, which was discovered on the 11 September 1878. At half-past nine o’clock in the evening, the ship stranded about a mile west of Captain Doyle’s station, 1,200 yards from the beach. The night was dark and rainy. The vessel was visible by the flare of a strong torch on board.

The keeper at once ordered out the surfboat. It was dragged a mile up the beach, slid down a 20-foot bank, and launched. By eleven o’clock the surfboat reached the vessel. She was found in the worst possible position for crew operations. Her bows were directly headed to the sea so that the water was rushing along her sides like a millrace. They then converged at her stern, where they tumbled in great confusion. The life-saving crew had to get up alongside as best they could. Held to the schooner by a line they threw on board and maintaining their dangerous position with all the more difficulty, Captain Doyle constantly maneuvered the boat to keep it in the neighborhood of the vessel. These efforts, which were extremely laborious to the keeper and crew, were protracted and the steersman and oarsmen were subjected to great fatigue. The sailors on board the ship were determined not to abandon her. Captain Doyle and his men, on the other hand, were resolute not to leave them in their plight. The matter ended when the sailors consented to risk getting the cook into the boat.

At the word of command the surfboat darted alongside the hull. It rose upon the great swell and the woman, dropped over the side by the sailors, was caught by the surfmen’s strong arms. The boat then fell away. On another run up alongside, the mate jumped for the boat, fell partly overboard, and then was hauled in. Just then a terrible sea swept the boat fifty feet astern. This snapped the line which held her to the schooner and threw her up on the stern in an almost perpendicular position. This nearly pitched her end over end. To add to the terror, the same blow that flung the boat up on her stern broke out the starboard scull-hole in which the steering oar lay. With that the stout hearted Doyle had the coolness and intrepidity to change his oar from the broken scull-hole to the scull-hole in mid-stern and lashed it securely. The boat was now down in her normal position, steady in the line of the rushing undulations. At the same time, by good fortune, the vessel swung around broadside on to the sea, which gave the boat’s crew the desired lee for operations, and enabled them to dash up alongside and quickly take off the five men on board.

Despite the late hour, the storm and the darkness, a large crowd of men and women had gathered on the beach. They saw the boat, with the six men and the woman on board, drive swiftly toward the beach under the steady oar of the keeper. At length her bows grated on the sand and it was safely over.

The other case of rescue in which Captain Doyle showed his great skill and bravery involved the wreck of the schooner Star of Millpoint, Ontario on 23 October 1878. This vessel made an effort to gain the harbor at Charlotte during a fierce northwest gale, but missed the harbor entrance between the piers and was driven eastward about a thousand feet. Here she dropped her anchors to ride out the storm. She was no sooner fast than the sea mounted her bulwarks and swept all over her. The seven-man crew had to climb to her cross-trees for safety. This was at 6 o’clock in the evening. The night was very dark and the rain fell in deluge. The piers were completely flooded. The sea ran so high that it dashed in the windows of the lower lighthouse and leaped over the tower. This prevented the lighting of the lamp.

Captain Doyle and his men were assembled on the beach opposite the wreck. The vast drift was sweeping in from the northwest in huge rolling breakers, changing under the action of the wind. To launch a boat was simply impossible. It was equally impossible to reach the wreck with a shot-line. All Doyle could do was to wait until the wind had fully set to the northeast and somewhat beaten down the waves. The large beach-lantern of the station was lighted and planted in the sand. Signals were continuously made from the beach and pier to encourage the sailors upon the wreck. Under Doyle’s orders a lantern squad constantly scanned the surf ready to aid any men that might be washed ashore.

About eleven o’clock it was finally determined to risk the launch. The sea was then terrible. Although the cross action had ceased, the water was rushing with tremendous volume, breaking as it reached the beach. Over all was the sightless gloom and the streaming rain. After a few moments of wary and daring effort, the launch was made and the boat, dizzily lifting and falling cleaved its way with a strong roll of oars. It was some time, but the skeleton masts and rigging were seen dimly looming above the sunken hull in the darkness. The seven men, nearly exhausted, were still in the cross-trees of the foremast. They were gotten down into the boat and at ten minutes after midnight were landed on the beach. The vessel was demolished by the waves. But for the noble keeper and his men, her crew would have been lost.


April 1, 1879 - Nantucket LSS, MA - Awardee(s): Captain James C. Sandsbury

Date of Award: May 10, 1879

A Gold Lifesaving Medal was awarded to "Captain Thomas F. Sandsbury, and silver medals to James C. Sandsbury, Henry C. Coffin," ** "Marcus W. Dunham, John B. Dunham, Andrew Brooks, Edwin R. Smith and George E. Coffin of Nantucket, Mass., for life-saving efforts of marked mobility made by them upon the occasion of the great gale of March 31 and April 1, 1879. 

The disasters to shipping during this storm were of extreme severity. On the morning of April 1 the lifting fog revealed no less than sixty-eight vessels, more or less disabled, in the waters around Nantucket.  It was on this morning that Captain Sandsbury, hearing that a number of vessels were in distress near Tuckernuck Island, west of Nantucket, collected as a crew the men above named, hired a team, and drove over with a dory to Eel Point, which is distant six miles from the town.  Here the dory was launched, and he and his men rowed out three miles through a heavy sea to Tuckernuck.  At that place, a whale-boat was manned with double-banked oars, and rowed to the schooner John W. Hall, of Philadelphia, the crew of which was taken from the rigging and landed on the island. 

The schooner Emma was next visited, and her crew found to be in no immediate peril.  Captain Sandsbury and his men then rowed out four miles to the schooner Emma J. Edwards, of Camden, N.J.  The condition of this vessel was dreadful.  She was capsized and full of water.  Enormous seas continually poured over her, and at each one she would roll, thrashing the water with her topmasts, which would rise again fifteen or twenty feet, and flail the water anew, so that it was almost impossible to get near her.  A man, feebly motioning with his hand, was lashed to the upper horns of the cross-trees.  Underneath him were two dead bodies lashed to the rigging.  After some maneuvering, Captain Sandsbury, aware that his boat was in momentary danger of being smashed to pieces by a blow from the lifting and falling masts, contrived to get into a position to enable one of his men, George E. Coffin, to jump from the boat on to the cross-trees, a line being fast to him for his security.  Once on the crosstrees, George Coffin cast loose the living man and lowered him by the line into the sea, whence he was hauled into the boat; after some time, got the dead bodies free and lowered them also to the care of his companions; then jumped into the sea and was himself taken in.  The sea and wind were so heavy that it was found the boat could not live if pulled against them, and at the first fair chance it was quickly got before the wind, and rowed for Nantucket, eleven miles distant, where it arrived with its burden by noon.  A whale-boat was then procured at that place, teamed to Eel Point, and launched and rowed to Muskegit Island, which, like Tuckernuck, is west of Nantucket.  The pull was long and hard, the brave crew only arriving by midnight.  Sea and land were then wrapped in intense darkness, and the men drew up their boat and waited on Muskegit beach until break of day, or four o'clock.  A launch was then made and two vessels were visited in succession, neither proving to require assistance.

The boat next visited the schooner Emma, and took off her crew, proceeded to Tuckernuck and received on board the crew of the schooner J. W. Hall, and then headed for Nantucket, where she arrived with the rescued men about three o'clock in the afternoon. The entire effort occupied thirty-two consecutive hours.  It is needless to remark that it shows throughout, in both the active and passive form, the traits of a generous heroism.  Disinterestedness, active compassion, endurance of hardship, cool bravery in the jaws of danger, persistence to the last measure of the need, are all there."

** Original list of medal awardees in the 1879 Annual Report (p. 65) was incorrect; corrected list was printed in the 1880 Annual Report (p. 40).


April 4, 1879 - Cape Cod LSS, MA - Awardee(s): Captain Isaac F. Mayo

Date of Award: November 10, 1879

On 4 April 1879 the three-masted schooner Sarah J. Fort of Tuckerton, NJ bound from Hoboken to Boston with a cargo of coal, wrecked about 1.5 miles west of Station No. 7, Second District, Cape Cod. A thick snowstorm was raging with a strong northerly gale and a heavy sea. Due to a navigational error, the vessel struck on one of the outer Peaked Hill bars at one o’clock in the morning, a quarter of a mile from the shore. The darkness, the snow, and her distance from land prevented her being discovered by the patrolman then on the beach. An hour later, two fresh patrolmen from Station No. 7, going in opposite directions, encountered small pieces of wreckage thrown up by the surf at their feet. They believed this had come from a vessel sunk near Scituate some days before and returned to the station to report. They then resumed their respective patrols. One of them arrived about a mile beyond the point where he had seen the wreckage and found pieces of a boat and deck-plank. He also dimly saw the outlines of the vessel. Hurrying back to the station, he roused the crew, who at once loaded the cart with the Lyle gun and appurtenances and started, under the lead of Keeper D. H. Atkins for the wreck.

The sand, converted by the snow and surf into a species of slush, was in a terrible condition for hauling and the progress of the men was greatly slowed. After getting on nearly a mile, Keeper Atkins hastened ahead of his men for observation. Upon sighting the wreck he judged her to be too distant to be reached by the Lyle gun and hurried back, taking a portion of his crew to fetch the Parrott gun, a heavier piece of ordnance, from the station. This was a grievous error because the Lyle gun, only recently supplied to the station, was superior. On his way back the keeper came upon a horse and cart. He immediately engaged the driver to convey the surfboat on its carriage, together with extra shot-lines, to the wreck while he and his detail took the Parrott gun on a hand-barrow. Making the most violent exertions, the advanced portion of the crew contrived to come abreast of the wreck about daybreak and the remainder with the heavy gun and the surfboat arrived within an hour later. Shortly afterward Keeper Young of Station No.6 joined them with three of his men. This was subsequently followed by Keeper Worthen and two men of Station No. 8. All lent energetic assistance to the operations.

Preparations were immediately made for firing a line to the wreck. The tide was full and the magnitude and violence of the surf precluded boat service. The schooner’s hull was almost buried in the water which rushed over her and her crew of six men who were up in the fore-rigging, clinging for life. She lay nearly broadside to her main and mizzen masts. Masses of wreck-stuff continually flung from her already disintegrating frame. About seven o’clock, while the life-saving crew were using the ordnance, the main and mizzen masts fell.

With the Parrott gun and the shot-lines speedily brought into position by the crews, the firing began. From this time until nearly noon, nine shots were fired. None, however, succeeded in reaching the vessel. The firing was directly in the wind’s eye and the lines either fell short or were snapped by the heavy charges of powder employed to strain the gun’s carrying power. Before the firing ceased, the foremast fell. Still attached to the vessel, it thrashed and plunged about her hull. Fortunately, the tide had ebbed enabling the men to leave the rigging of the fallen spar and huddle together in the port bow. Although ebb tide, this small portion of the wreck to which the men clung, was the only part not submerged by the tremendous sea. During all the time of the firing the vessel steadily continued to break up. About ten o’clock the cook and the mate fell into the sea from exhaustion and perished. There were four survivors in the port bow.

At low tide conditions improved and an attempt with the boat became possible. The keeper, therefore, discontinued further effort with the gun and made up a selected crew of four men from No. 7 and three from No. 6. To these were added Captain Isaac F. Mayo, of Provincetown, a surfman of great experience and bravery, who had come upon the beach with a number of volunteers from the town.

The boat was launched. Keeper and crew sprang to their places, but at the same instant the surf boarded her and filled her half-full. She was immediately dragged back upon the beach, emptied, and made ready for a second trial. An interval of twenty minutes was allowed in the hope that the continuing ebb would diminish the surf and the effort was again renewed with the same crew. The launch was made and the boat cleared the first breaker. The second, however, combed over and filled her. A moment after, full to her gunwales, she rose on the summit of an enormous sea which cast her and her crew back upon the beach with a heavy shock, springing five of her timbers and splitting her garboard. The hardy men spilled from her, scrambling up, and hauling her out of reach of the surf. Examining the boat, they found her disabled and unfit for service.

It is probable that in the intense excitement and confusion following this failure, the injuries to the boat were magnified and that she might soon have been repaired and got ready for another trial. Another boat, however, was approaching. During the firing of the forenoon, Captain Harvey S. Cook of Provincetown came down to the beach in a buggy. He had driven back again to town, with the assent of Keeper Atkins, to send a whaleboat to the scene for service. This had had started Captain Mayo to the beach with a considerable number of townspeople. They arrived by a short cut in advance of the team.

The boat brought proved to be a different and smaller model than that originally proposed. This happened to be favorable given the conditions. She arrived upon the beach a short time after the failed surfboat launching and Captain Mayo assumed command. He chose a crew of fresh men, declining to receive on board Keeper Atkins and several members of his crew who pleaded to be allowed to go. In taking this course, Captain Mayo was undoubtedly justified for several reasons. The keeper and his men had eaten nothing since the evening before were much spent by their exertions since about three o’clock in the morning. Also their long exposure upon the wintry beach, could not reasonably be preferred to an unworn crew.

As soon as the preliminaries were settled, the launch was made. The life-saving crews assisted, but the boat instantly filled and had to be hauled up on the beach and emptied. Upon a second trial, the boat became half-full, but was pulled through the breakers. The crew bailed in the comparatively unbroken water outside. The most difficult and dangerous part of the exploit was then entered upon. The unstable sea was encumbered with masses of wreck debris--snarls of cordage, wefts of canvas, broken planks, and timbers convulsively driving and tumbling on every side. To pilot the boat through this obstructing and perilous drift required as much skill and patience as courage. The obstacles and dangers thickened as the wreck was gained and fresh difficulties were added by the helplessness of the exhausted men on board. The captain was especially exhausted. By taking time, and exercising great skill and perseverance, the remaining crewmen were finally taken off the wreck one by one. The boat being small, their number crowded her very much. Her management on the return to land was no easy matter. The hazard of the surf in a following sea was, of course, always great. Notwithstanding the precautions taken, a heavy wave swept up under the stern as the boat reached the last breaker and threw her end over end. This tossed every one on board into the surf and undertow. An instantaneous rush was made by all on shore and the people were seized by scores of hands and dragged from the water. Some were under the boat and all were in imminent danger of being swept away and drowned. It is fortunate that the great crowd of spectators provided much needed assistance. Otherwise, loss of life would probably have ensued.

The rescued men from the vessel were nearly insensible with cold and exhaustion when brought ashore. Their hands were badly frostbitten. They were at once conveyed to Station No. 7, where the life-saving crew, faint with hunger and fatigue, were gladdened to find that food had been prepared for all hands by the keeper’s wife and a mother of one of the station members. These ladies were also of great service in dressing the frostbitten hands of the rescued sailors, relieving the weary surfmen of this duty.

In recognition of the services he rendered in this rescue, Captain Mayo received the Gold Lifesaving Medal. It was to be regretted that Keeper Atkins’s success was not equal to his efforts on this occasion. He had always been regarded as an efficient keeper and his record for fidelity, courage, and energy at scenes of shipwreck was well-known to the officers of the USLSS.


November 20, 1879 - Glen Arbor LSS, MI - Awardee(s): William A. Clark, Charles A. Rosman, Welby C. Ray, John Tobin, John Blanchfield

Date of Award: April 8, 1880

On 20 November 1879 two forlorn survivors of a crew of seven were rescued from the wreck of the schooner W. B. Phelps. This was done under circumstances in which ingenuity, persistence, endurance of extreme hardship, and the most perilous daring mingled to form a striking instance of heroic enterprise. The evening previous, at about 7 o’clock, during a heavy northwest gale and a very severe snowstorm, the vessel drove ashore about a mile east of the dock of Glen Arbor, MI. She came on stern foremost and her center board broke up her decks so completely that only a small fragment of them remained. On this fragment her mate and one of the sailors remained all night. The vessel was covered with ice, heeled over with her lee rail under water, the rail upon her weather side all gone, and the sea pouring across her. Five of her crew had perished and it was only at daybreak that a citizen of Glen Arbor discovered the two miserable survivors clinging to the bows. The alarm he gave brought to the scene a number of the townspeople. They sledded an old leaky flat-bottomed fish-boat to the scene. This was launched at once by William A. Clark, Charles A. Rosman, John Tobin, Welby C. Ray, and Willard W. Tucker.

The effort these brave men made to reach the wreck was soon baffled. The terrible sea and wind drove back the boat, half-filled with water and with her crew drenched. Amid the cries of the two men on the wreck, the boat was dragged about twenty rods to windward to get the advantage of a strong current. The same crew, with the exception of Willard W. Tucker, whose place was supplied by Howard Daniels, made another attempt and succeeded in reaching the stern of the vessel. They tied a line to the wreck and surveyed the situation. The two sailors were away from them in the bows. They were unapproachable on the windward side of the hull due to the terrible sea and inaccessible on the leeward side due to the great mass of debris in the water. The prospect of rescue was therefore gloomy and the boat was fast filling. It was concluded that what could possibly be done must be decided on shore. The crew then returned with their boat stern foremost, not daring to turn it for fear of the heavy seas.

When they gained the land they were so drenched and covered with ice that they left a man on the beach so that the poor sailors would not think they were deserted and ran to their homes for dry clothing. Returning as soon as possible, they resolved to wedge the boat into the mass of wreckage and endeavor to get the sailors across it. With this purpose they again started for the wreck, the place of Howard Daniels being this time filled by John Blanchfield.

Despite their efforts to make headway, the boat at times fell astern. Meanwhile, the unhappy sailors shouted, "Pull hard, boys; pull hard!" The hard pulling enabled them to drive the boat into a small opening in the floating debris about sixty feet from where the two men were standing. Here their position was one of extreme danger, all their strength and skill being brought into constant play to prevent the boat from being crushed. Still more hazardous was the task of getting the two nearly helpless sailors for a distance of sixty feet over this mass. A line was thrown to the mate, John Hourigan. He fastened the end around his body and, steadied by it, he began his desperate journey over the pitching and tossing tangle, pausing frequently and clinging as the seas flew over him. By these efforts, he contrived to crawl to within about fifteen feet of the boat.

The crew then worked the boat over an intervening piece of deck, letting it remain partially resting thereon. Getting within reach of Hourigan, they took him on board. The other man, Edward J. Igoe, who had followed in the same way, being weaker than his companion and nearly helpless through exposure, came very near being lost. As he crept along over the constantly mixing spars and timbers, some of them caught his leg and held him so fast that he had not strength enough to get it free. He was feebly struggling in this terrible strait. Then two of the gallant rescuers sprang out, leaping from point to point over the tumbling debris and reached and extricated him. One of them, gripped him by the collar and dragged him on the run along a spar about twenty feet. The piece of deck was finally reached on which the mate had been. Here, he was seized by the others and got into the boat. The boat was now shoved off the slab of deck on which it partly lay and cautiously maneuvered toward land. It was filled with water by the time the shore was reached and a score of men rushed into the surf and hauled it up on the beach. The terrible work, triumphantly ended, had lasted about eight hours.

When the mate stepped from the boat, he threw up his arms and cried: "Thank God! I shall see my children again!" To men capable of the noble rescue achieved by these five heroes of Glen Arbor, it is certain that no tribute from admiring fellow-townsmen could equal the sweet honors of these words. The Gold Lifesaving Medal was awarded to the five rescuers, William A. Clark, Charles A. Rosman, Welby C. Ray, John Tobin, and John Blanchfield. No men ever better deserved the token by which the nation commemorates such deeds of valor and charity.


February 3, 1880 - Monmouth Beach, NJ (Station No. 4, Fourth District) - Awardee(s): Captain Charles H. Valentine, Surfman Garrett H. White, Surfman Benjamin C. Potter, Surfman Nelson Lockwood, Surfman William H. Ferguson, Surfman John van Brunt

Date of Award: June 18, 1880

About an hour after midnight on 3 February 1880, Patrolman Van Brunt, of Station No. 4, Fourth District, New Jersey came upon the schooner E.C. Babcock, of Somers’ Point, NJ.  Driven near the shore by a storm, she was laden with cordwood and bound from Virginia to New York.  Van Brunt caught sight of her red port running light and fired his Coston signal.  The warning came late however, the schooner having got too near the beach to wear or tack.  Ten minutes later, she struck within a hundred yards of the shore.  Patrolman Van Brunt immediately went running to the station, a quarter of a mile to the south, and roused the crew.  The keeper, Charles H. Valentine, was quite sick at the time, but he and his men turned out with the mortar-cart and traveled to the wreck with all speed.  At times the wheels sank in the hollows of the beach and had to be lifted out.  The hard journey was accomplished in a very short time.  They determined the position of the vessel by the dull red spot of her port lantern.  With this to guide his aim, the keeper attempted to fire a shot-line across the deck of the schooner, beneath her rigging.

The first attempt failed because the frozen line broke.  The second shot had better fortune, carrying the line between the fore-stay and jib halyards. The men on board seized and hauled in the line.  A few minutes sufficed to bend on the hauling-lines and the hawser was soon dragged out to the vessel.  The first person that came ashore was a black man, who told, the crew that the captain’s wife and two children were on board. After the breeches buoy was sent back, it was quickly hauled ashore again, bearing the captain’s wife.  The next to come was the captain with his six year-old.  The mate soon followed with the captain’s other girl, ten years old.  Then, one by one, three sailors were drawn to land, being all on board.

Haste characterized this energetic rescue. Within one hour and fifty minutes after the vessel struck, the eight people on board the crumb­ling schooner were safe on land. They were taken to a nearby cottage where the custodian cared for them properly. By ten o’clock the next morning, the deserted vessel had broken into fragments and her cargo rolled and tumbled about the surf. 

Their work at the wreck of the E.C. Babcock over, Captain Valentine and the crew of Station No. 4 reloaded the cart with the apparatus and lines, arrived at the station by five o’clock in the morning.  After taking breakfast they fell to work, with the exception of two men who went out on patrol, cleaning and arranging the lines and getting the apparatus in working order.  At 10:00 AM they were still busy in the boat-room, when a patrolman bounded in with the news that a brig was coming dead for the shore.  The keeper, however, held them at their tasks, commanding them to hurry.  He realized nothing could be done until the apparatus was ready.  A few minutes later, the keeper went to the door and looked out over the swollen surf.  Able to see for a great distance, he saw the Spanish brig, Augustina, rushing toward the station.  Bound from Havana to New York, she had a crew of 8 and a cargo of cedar and hides.  Though several of the crew could be seen huddled up against the house, the man at the wheel steered with composure despite being soaked by a massive wave.  Within minutes the vessel struck head on with a tremendous shock and she swung around broadside to the sea, heeled down upon her side.

About 200 men and women had gathered upon the sand dunes.  Within ten minutes after the vessel struck, the crew was on site with the apparatus.  The Lyle gun was hastily prepared and the shot fired.  The line, however, broke shortly after fired.  Another shot had the same result.  The brig, in the meantime, had been driven further into the shore.  Surfman Garrett H. White, running into the surf as far as possible, succeeded in casting the heaving-stick and line on board, forward of the main rigging.  The sailors seized the cord and hauled the whip-line on board. An ugly mishap now occurred.  The sailors getting the tail-block on the end of the whip, pulled it on deck, but did not appear to know what to do with it.  They paid no attention to the instructions in two languages.  The E.C. Babcock, meanwhile, had broken up and while the sailors were dallying with the whip-line, its slack became entangled with the debris.

This current was interrupted by Augustina’s hull.  This caused an eddying swirl that held the great mass of the wreckage between the beach and the vessel.  The whip-line thus fouled was carried by the eddy towards the bow of the brig, where it was caught and held by the port anchor.  The life-saving men vainly tried to direct the sailors to arrange the line properly.  Spaniards failed to comprehend the warning gestures of the men on the beach and they hurriedly used the line as they supposed and tried to ashore hand over hand.  This would have been a hazardous venture in such a sea under the most fav­orable circumstances, but the debris made it all the more dangerous.  The course the sailors took could only have been adopted in the temerity of ex­treme fear.  The life-saving crew tried vainly to stop them.

In a few moments one of the half-naked group was hanging on the line and pulling himself along through the sea.  He had made about half the distance when the surf flung him over the whip-line.  He held on, but the two parts of the line crossed and caught him by the neck, almost strangling him.  Surfman Garrett H. White rushed waist deep into the breakers, holding to the line, and disentangled him.  At that moment a rush of the driftwood threw both men off their feet and they were swept from the line.  Surfman White, by a desperate effort, regained a foothold in the undertow and succeeded in landing him.  Meanwhile, two more of the sailors were swinging along the line.  Surfman John Van Brunt tried to get to one, but the driftwood knocked him off his feet.  Thrown into peril, a number of fishermen on the beach rescued him.

In the mean time Surfman White and an outsider had dragged in the sailor.  The third sailor from the wreck was on his way when the sea tore him from his hold.  For a few moments he was struggling in the water, then fell upon some driftwood.  Surfman Potter sprang for him, but was thrown from his feet on to the driftwood. Upon his back, Potter was held down by the whip-line, which was tautened by the current across his chest.  He managed to extricate himself from the line, and was washed seaward.  He fortuitously got a spar on the next incoming breaker and made out to struggle to the beach.  During these efforts Surfman Ferguson had reached the imperiled sailor and dragged him to the land.  Surfman Lockwood went for the fourth sailor and was hurled from his feet into the surf like his comrades, but kept hold of his man and brought him in.  In this way, five sailors of the Augustina were saved.  It is as wonderful as fortunate that the crew accomplished this gallant rescue without loss of life.  The risks run by the life-saving crew, and those who aided them, were extreme.  “Three of my men,” Captain Valentine afterwards remarked, “I never expected to see again.”  The Augustina was soon completely demolished by the sea. Her mainmast, which was about 120 feet long, was ultimately placed as a flagstaff on an elevation over­looking the ocean where she was destroyed.

The inspector who shortly after its occurrence visited the scene of disaster and ascertained the facts connected with it, closed his account with the following comment and recommendations:

The services of the crew of Station 4 during the gale in successfully rescuing the crews of the two vessels, one of them in the darkness of night, and the other under the most unpromising circumstances for success, were of an extraordinary character, and their efforts deserve something more than honorable mention; for in addition to their prompt performance of the important duty for which they are employed, they dis­played the most indomitable courage in braving the dangers to life and limb with which the lumber-laden surf was fraught, to rescue their fellow beings from almost certain destruction.


In my opinion, no man could have undertaken to encounter the perils of a surf thick with cord-wood and floating spars and timbers without imminent risk of life and that these men nobly carried their lives in the hands which they extended to the imperiled Spanish sailors, Is beyond all question.


It is therefore recommended that Surfmen Garrett H. White, B. C. Potter, Nelson Lockwood, William H. Ferguson, and John Van Brunt be rewarded by medals of the first class, and that Keeper Charles H. Valentine be similarly rewarded for his gallant and conspicuous devotion to the service and the cause of humanity in his conduct of the operations of his station during the stirring events of the morning, as well as for actually venturing his life in exposing himself to the fury of such a storm while in impaired health.




February 3, 1880 - Swan Point LSS, NJ (Station No. 11, Fourth District) and Green Island LSS, NJ (Station No. 12, Fourth District) - Awardee(s):  Captain Britton C. Miller, Captain William P. Chadwick, Surfman William H. Bower, Surfman Louis Truex, Surfman Abram J. Jones, Surfman Charles W. Flemming, Surfman Demarest T. Herbert, Surfman John Flemming, Surfman James Numan, Surfman Tylee C. Pearce, Surfman Charles Seaman, Surfman Peter Sutfin, Surfman Benjamin Turex, Surfman William Vannote, Abner R. Clayton (volunteer), David B. Clayton (volunteer), David B. Fisher (volunteer), Abner Herbert (volunteer), Isaac Osborn (volunteer)

Date of Award: June 10, 1881

On 3 February 1880 the schooner George Taulane of Camden, NJ, with a crew of eight, was bound from Virginia to New York with a cargo of cordwood when it wrecked on the Jersey shore. This wreck produced the most protracted suffering for those on board and involved loss of life. It also became an occasion for perseverance so noble and loyal under the most discouraging hardships and trials for the lifesaving crews engaged. In this they displayed the highest level of heroism without taking into account the dauntless courage which accompanied it. The evening before the vessel was off the Highlands of Navesink in 11 fathoms of water, with every prospect of soon reaching her destination, when a snowstorm began. The weather so thick it became dangerous to attempt a run for Sandy Hook.

The captain, therefore, stood off shore, getting the vessel into 15 fathoms of water. Gradually the storm grew into a furious gale. The schooner labored heavily. At two o’clock in the morning, the deck-load started plunging and staggering vessel. To make matters worse, the schooner was soon on fire communicated from the forecastle stove. The flames spread to her deckload and it was thought that she would have to be abandoned. At length, however, the fire was quenched with great difficulty. During all these troubles the vessel drifted toward the beach. Hoping still to save her, the captain let go both anchors when about a mile from land. This step proved disastrous and made the rescue of those on board a task of stupendous difficulty.

The anchors at first clawed the bottom and brought the vessel head to the wind; but immediately after, the strong current setting to the southward, and the force of the storm, made them drag without holding. The vessel, broadside to the gale, swung helplessly in the trough of the tremendous sea. The water swept everything off her deck and did not give the men time to slip the cables. They could only scramble aloft for their lives. The result was three of them in the fore rigging and four in the main. The violent swaying of the hull almost jerked them from their hold. Going along with the current, they plowed through the breakers. Drawing nearer to the beach they saw the life-saving crew of Station No. 11, Fourth District (NJ).

The crew followed along the shore with lines and heaving-sticks in their hands intent to render assistance. The captain afterwards said that the very fact of seeing this determined squad gave new life to his despairing men. The life-saving crew had seen the vessel nearing the beach. When she dropped her anchors and began to drag along the coast, over two miles south of Station No. 11, they followed joined by a few fishermen who were on the beach. Knowing that no boat could get out in such a sea, they took only heaving-sticks and lines. Furthermore, they wisely calculated that the vessel would ground near Station No.12.

The patrolman of No. 12 had, meanwhile, seen the vessel something over a mile north of that station when she dropped her anchors and hurried back to notify the keeper, Captain. William P. Chadwick. At once he ordered out the mortar-cart with the apparatus and started for the wreck with the crew. The tide was unusually full, being four feet higher on the beach than at ordinary high tides. The beach consequently was covered with a frothing flood and the only road to the wreck was across the skirting beach hills of sand. A number of these hills had been split by the sea and sluices had formed. The water rushed into these every minute under the pressure of the surf and poured back again. In these rushing streams debris soon increased and menaced the adventurous crewmen .who often had to wade hip-deep across these ugly fords.

Soon a man from No. 11 joined the crew of No.12. The conditions of travel over the inundated waste made hauling by hand necessary for at least portions of the distance, but a team of horses, taken along by Chadwick, followed the cart. It was half-past eight when the journey began. The wind was then blowing hard and the sleet came down furiously. On every other side was a dismal stretch of interlocked knolls of sand. The loaded cart thus plodded on for about a quarter of a mile. The horses were then hitched to the cart and got half a mile further. When they reached a deep sluiceway, they refused to pull. The men again took hold and hauled the load across the beach, waist-deep in water. The team was again used until another sluiceway intervened. Once more the men dragged the mortar-cart. The horses were then put on again, but the water got so deep that they could no longer draw. The men took the burden in hand and tugged until they came abreast the wreck between nine and ten o’clock. There they met and were reinforced by Keeper Britton C. Miller and the crew of No. 11. With six additional volunteers the rescue party now numbered nineteen men.

A singular and memorable struggle was now entered upon. The vessel drifted and rolled fearfully. Her hull almost submerged in the foaming seas which fled across it. She was about 400 yards from shore. The crewmen were in her rigging. One of them hung by his arms over a ratline with one leg through below and Keeper Chadwick at once remarked, "There is one man gone; we will never save him." Without delay the Lyle gun was planted on the summit of a sand hill and fired. The line leapt from the muzzle across the flying jib-stay. It could not, unfortunately, be used by the men on board and it had to be hauled back. The vessel continued to drag her anchors to the south and the heroic march along her flank and through the floods and sluices began.

The clefts in the hills had increased and the way was trenched with tide-filled runnels of various depths and breadths. The men splashed and staggered through these with their load. With great labor and difficulty 200 yards were made and a sand hill was reached. From here they fired another shot. The line, however, was now heavier and the firing point was further from the vessel. This shot fell short. The cart was reloaded and the men got on about 400 yards to another unflooded hillock, from whence a third shot was fired. The line parted. The vessel was still reeling along shore in a southerly direction.

The devoted crews again loaded up the cart and resumed their mission. From first to last their difficulties and the perils that beset them never slackened. The wheels of the cart "sanded down" so rapidly that the conveyance had to be constantly kept on the move lest it should be lost. Often, in order to lighten it, the cart had to be partially unloaded and portions of the apparatus carried by the crews. At other times the men would have to fling themselves upon the wheels and hold them with all their strength to prevent the cart from being capsized by the overwhelming rushes of the sea over the axles. All the time, moreover, the ocean tore off and smashed the upper works of the vessel, scattering the pieces. This continued and the surf was full of debris that constantly hurled over the sand hills in the paths of the advancing lifesavers.

On the less inundated ground several men were knocked down by flying pieces of wood. Others suffered bruises and contusions. Four months afterward, Keeper Chadwick’s .right arm was still lame from one of the blows. The escapes were numerous. It was with great difficulty that the men could keep their feet in these conditions. But not a man fell away nor flinched from the work. The volunteers, like the crews, bore the labor with indomitable courage and composure and obediently followed the direction of the leader.

The care and patience observed by the men in their operations were no less remarkable. Not the least difficult of their tasks was keeping the lines and the powder dry. Aside from the number of actual firings, at least a dozen times the cart was hurriedly unloaded on the nearest eminence, the gun planted, and the shot-line arranged for the effort when the wreck would suddenly roll away upon her course. The men would then have to reload the cart and toil on again after her. In this way they worked down along the beach to No. 12 and a quarter of a mile beyond it. When chance offered another shot, the line parted. The crew again moved on stubbornly.

It was now noon, suddenly the man long seen hanging in the rigging, fell into the sea and was gone. The crew still followed the vessel. Half an hour later, they saw another man drop lifeless from the ratlines. Laboring forward now for the rescue of the remaining five, they suffered a misfortune. In staggering and floundering through one of the worst sluiceways with the cart, the gun toppled off into the flood and was lost. A desperate search was at once made, and finally the gun was found in four or five feet of water. Fished up and wiped dry it was, thenceforth, carried by the stout keeper on his shoulder.

A man was dispatched back to No. 12 for a dry shot-line, while the crew moved on to a point three-quarters of a mile below the station. Here they got another chance to fire a shot that fell short. The tide had forced the firing party farther and farther back on the hills and the line was too wet and heavy. The cart was again reloaded and the march resumed. A mile below the station, the man overtook them with the dry shot-line and chance for a sixth shot was offered. This time it was a success. The line flew between the foremast and the jib-stay. The sailors got hold of it and fastened it to the fore and main rigging.

As the schooner still continued to drift and roll nothing could be done, but while crewmen loaded the cart, three or four kept fast hold of the shore end of the shot-line and kept pace with the wreck. At the end of another quarter of a mile, the vessel suddenly stopped and the time had come at last. The whip line, with its appurtenances, was bent on to the shot line, hauled aboard, and made fast by the tail of the block to the mainmast head. The wreck now rolled frightfully. The hawser followed the whip-line on board and the breeches buoy was rigged on. The vessel, however, rolled so that it was impossible to set the hawser up on shore in the usual manner. So it was hove through the bull’s-eye in the sand-anchor, while several men held on to the end to give and take with each roll of the vessel. The work of hauling the sailors from the wreck was now begun with electric energy.

After two men were landed the vessel took the ground, but the circumstance increased her rolling. In fact the breeches buoy with a man in it, swung in the offshore roll fifty feet in the air. The strain and friction upon the hawser were so great that the lignum-vitae bullseye, through which it ran at the sand anchor was worn fully half an inch deep during thirty minutes of use. Within those thirty minutes, however, the five men were safely landed, the last man getting out of the buoy at 2:30.

The distance the life-saving crews followed the vessel with the loaded cart appears to have been over three miles. The time rescue also occupied no less than six hours. When the various conditions of the enterprise are considered, it is nothing less than marvelous that the heroic courage and the lofty endurance of these men were not fruitless, but resulted in a successful rescue. The most experienced beachman said that he never saw a time when the chances of rescue seemed so improbable. That those chances were outweighed is due to the noble pulses that beat so strongly that wild February day in the generous blood of nineteen men, of whom their country have reason to be proud. No commentary can add to the plain record of what they did and suffered for the five men they saved.

The names of the six gallant volunteers assisted with this rescue were William L. Chadwick, Isaac Osborn, David B, Fisher, David B. Clayton, Abner R. Clayton, and Abner Herbert. The crew of No. 11 included Keeper Britton C. Miller and Surfmen William H. Brower, Louis Truex, Abram J. Jones, Charles W. Flemming, and Demerest T. Herbert. Those of No.12 included Keeper William P. Chadwick and Surfmen Peter Sutfin, Benjamin Truex, Tyler C. Pearce, William Vannote, Charles Seaman, James Numan, and John Flemming. The vessel was a total wreck.


April 23, 1880 - Point au Barques LSS, MI (Station No. 2) - Awardee(s): Keeper Jerome G. Kiah

Date of Award: November 8, 1880

The gratifying record of so many human lives preserved also has the sad obverse of loss. On 23 April 1880 the crew of Station No. 2, Tenth District (Point-aux-Barques, MI), one of the most gallant and skillful crews in the service, lost six of seven members. It is the second time in its history that the establishment had had to mourn the loss of a life-saving crew. The first instance was at the wreck of the Italian bark Nuova Ottavia on the coast of North Carolina in 1876. This latter tragedy, however, had a great degree of uncertainty regarding what caused the deaths of the crewmen. The Point aux Barques disaster, on the other hand, is fully known through the evidence of a single survivor, and the calamity in all its details can be recounted. Nothing could be sadder than the story of this sacrifice. It is here given in the report of the district superintendent, who immediately visited the locality and investigated the circumstances.

"I arrived at Sand Beach the evening of the 24th, and learned there that the life-saving crew were lost in their attempt to reach a vessel in distress off their station, and that the vessel had afterwards got out of trouble and was then lying at the breakwater at Sand Beach. As the steamer on which I was going up was to remain there a little while, I went out and saw the master of the vessel and got his statement, which is substantially as follows:

"‘I am the master and owner of the scow J.H. Magruder, of Port Huron. Her tonnage is 136.71. The crew consists of myself and four men, namely, Frank Cox, Thomas Purvis, Eddy Hendricks, and Thomas Stewart. I have my wife and two little children aboard. I left Alcona with a load of 187,000 feet of lumber for Detroit at noon the 22nd instant, wind north, fresh. Sighted Point aux Barques light at ten o’clock that night, wind east, light, but breezing up. Took gaff-topsails in at eleven o’clock. When abreast of light we commenced listing bad to starboard. Saw we were making great leeway and the lee rail under water. Discovered here, for the first time, that the vessel was leaking badly, with two feet of water in the hold. About midnight was laboring very heavy, with high wind and heavy sea. I feared we would roll over, and was satisfied we could not weather the reef. Got both anchors ready and let go about 2 AM the 23rd, when she immediately righted. Had fourteen feet of water under the stern, and at every heavy surge on the chains she would drag anchor, the seas breaking over her bows. Hung a red light in main rigging, as a signal of distress to the life-saving station. I certainly feared the vessel would be lost, and that our lives were in great danger, if assistance was not rendered. The vessel would strike bottom between every heavy sea. At daybreak I displayed my ensign at half-mast, union down, and about 7:30 AM observed the answering signal from the station. About eight o’clock saw the surfboat coming out. We were about three miles southeast from the station. Lost sight of surfboat in a few moments; thought the sea was too heavy for her, and that she had gone back, but in about 1.5 hours (9:30) saw her again about one mile north of us, pulling to the eastward, to get out of the breakers on the reef. In a short time I saw her go down in the troughs of a heavy sea, and when she came up we saw she had capsized. We saw them right her and bail out, when she again started to pull for us. In about twenty minutes she again capsized. Saw several men clinging to her, for some time, but finally saw only one. Our boat was in good condition. She is 16 feet long. Did not think of launching her. No ordinary yawl-boat could live in such a sea. I thought the life-saving crew used good judgment in crossing the reef where they did. I then commenced throwing my deck-load overboard, and at noon, the wind shifting to the northeast, we made all sail and started, cleared the reef, and arrived in Sand Beach all safe, but leaking badly. The weather was piercing cold, and all that day the spray would freeze as it came aboard of us.’"

The superintendent continues:

"I arrived at Huron City at one o’clock Sunday morning (25th). The two dead bodies of surfmen Petherbridge and Nantau were put aboard of the steamer here, and sent down to Detroit, by direction of their friends. I arrived at the station at 3 AM, and found Keeper Kiah in a very bad condition, both mentally and physically. The sad story of his experience, and the loss of his brave crew, is as follows:

"‘A little before sunrise on the morning of the 23d, James Nantau, on watch on the lookout, reported a vessel showing signal. I got up, and saw a small vessel about three miles from the station, bearing about east and by south. She was flying signal-of-distress flag at half-mast. I saw that she was at anchor close outside the reef. All hands were immediately called; ran the boat out on the dock; and, when ready to launch, Surfman Deegan, on patrol north, came running to the station, having discovered the vessel from McGuire’s Point, 1.5 miles north from the station. At this time a warm cup of coffee was ready, of which we all hastily partook, and a little after sunrise (5:15 by our time) we launched the boat. Wind east, fresh, sea running northeast, surf moderately heavy. We pulled out northeast until clear of the shore surf, and then I headed to cross the reef where I knew there was sufficient water on it to cross without striking bottom. ‘We crossed the reef handsomely, and found the sea outside heavier than we had expected, but still not so heavy as we had experienced on other occasions. After getting clear from the breakers of the reef, the boys were in excellent spirits, and we were all congratulating ourselves how nicely we got over. I then bore down towards the vessel, heading her up whenever I saw a heavy sea coming. When heading direct for the vessel, the sea was about two points of the compass forward of our port beam, and for the heaviest seas I had frequently to head the boat directly for, or dodge them. When about a quarter of a mile from the vessel, and half a mile outside the reef, and very nearly one mile from the nearest point of land, I saw a tremendous breaker coming for us. I had barely time to head her for it, when it broke over our stern and filled us. I ordered the boys to bail her out before the sea had got clear of her stern, but it became apparent at once that we could not free her from water, as the gunwales were considerably under water amidships, and two or three minutes after she was capsized. We then righted her, and again were as quickly capsized. We righted her a second time, but with the same result. I believe she several times capsized and righted herself after that, but I cannot distinctly remember. As near as I can judge, we filled about one hour after leaving the station. For about three-quarters of an hour we all clung to the boat, the seas occasionally washing us away, but having our cork jackets on, we easily got back again. At this time Pottenger gave out, perished from cold, dropped his face in the water, let go his hold, and we drifted slowly away from him. We were all either holding on the lifelines or upon the bottom of the boat, the latter position difficult to maintain owing to the seas washing us off. Had it been possible for us to remain on the bottom of the boat, we would all have been saved, for in this position she was buoyant enough to float us all clear from the water. My hope was that we would all hold out until we got inside the reef where the water was still. I encouraged the men all I could, reminded them that there were others, their wives and children, that they should think of, and to strive for their sakes to keep up, but the cold was too much for them, and one after another each gave out as did the first. Very little was said by any of the men; it was very hard for any of us to speak at all. I attribute my own safety to the fact that I was not heated up when we filled. The men had been rowing hard and were very warm, and the sudden chill seemed to strike them to the heart. In corroboration of this theory I would say that Deegan, who did the least rowing, was the last to give out. All six perished before we had drifted to the reef. I have a faint recollection of the boat grating or striking the reef as she passed over it, and from that time until I was taken to the station, I have but little recollection of what transpired. I was conscious only at brief intervals. I was not suffering, had no pain, had no sense of feeling in my hands, felt tired, sleepy, and numb. At times I could scarcely see. I remember screeching several times, not to attract attention, but thought it would help the circulation of the blood. I would pound my hands and feet on the boat whenever I was conscious. I have a faint recollection of when I got on the bottom of the boat, which must have been after she crossed the reef. I remember too in the same dreamy way of when I reached shore; remember of falling down twice, and it seems as if I walked a long distance between the two falls, but I could not have done so, as I was found within thirty feet of the boat. I must have reached the shore about 9:30 AM, so that I was about 3.5 hours in the water. I was helped to the station by Mr. Shaw, lightkeeper, and Mr. McFarland; was given restoratives, dry clothes were put on, my limbs were dressed, and I was put to bed. I slept till noon (two hours), when my wife called me, saying that Deegan and Nantau, had drifted ashore, and were in the boatroom. My memory from this time is clear. I thought possibly these two men might be brought to life, and, under my instructions, had Mr. Shaw and Mr. Pethers work at Deegan for over an hour, while I worked over Nantau for the same time, but without success. I then telegraphed to the superintendent and the friends of the crew. The four other men were picked up between 1 and 2 PM, all having come ashore within a quarter of a mile from the station. The surfboat and myself came ashore about one mile south of the station, the bodies drifting in the direction of the wind, and the boat more with the sea. I ordered coffins for all. On the 24th, Hiram Walker, of Detroit, telegraphed to ship the bodies of Petherbridge and Nantau to Detroit, which I did, together with their effects. The other four men were delivered to their friends, all residents of this county.

"‘The following are the names of the lost crew: William I. Sayres, Robert Morison, James Pottenger, Dennis Deegan, James Nantau, and Walter Petherbridge. Sayres and Morison were widowers. Sayres leaves five children, the youngest eight years old. Morison leaves three children, the youngest six years old. This would be the third season for these two men at the station. Pottenger and Deegan each leave a wife and four children, the youngest two months old each. This was the second season for these two men at the station. Nantau and Petherbridge were single men, and this was their first season at the station.’

"Mr. Samuel McFarland makes the following statement:

"’I am a farmer, and was working on the farm about one-fourth of a mile from where the surfboat came ashore, when I heard gulls screeching, as I supposed, several times, but paid no attention to it. Presently my two dogs started to run for the cliff, and thinking that somebody might be calling from the shore, I went to the edge of the high cliff overlooking the lake, and saw a boat bottom up about 100 rods from shore, with one man on it. Not knowing that the station crew were out, started to notify them of what I saw. Upon getting to the station, about 9 o’clock, and learning that they were out, concluded it was the surf-boat I had seen, and went to the light-house after Mr. Shaw to accompany me to where the boat was drifting in. When we got there the boat was ashore, and Captain Kiah was standing on the beach about 30 feet from the boat, with one hand holding on to the root of a fallen tree, and with the other hand steadying himself with a lath-stick, and swaying his body to and fro, as if in the act of walking, but not stirring his feet. He did not seem to realize our presence. His face was so black and swollen, with a white froth issuing from his mouth and nose, that we did not at first know who he was. We took him between us, and with great difficulty walked him to the station. Several times on the way he would murmur, "Poor boys, they are all gone." At one time he straightened out his legs, his head dropped back, and we thought he was dying, but he soon recovered again. Upon reaching the station he was given restoratives, his clothes were removed, and he was put to bed. His legs from above the knees were much swollen, bruised and black.’

"Mr. Shaw corroborates this statement from the time he took part in it.

"I attended the funerals of Deegan and Pottenger, the 25th, and hope I may be spared from ever again witnessing so sad a scene. The wives of these two brave men were almost crazed by their great loss, and the cries of the poor children left fatherless, were heart-rending in the extreme. It is sincerely to be hoped that the bill now pending in Congress, granting pensions to the families of surfmen who lose their lives in the discharge of their duty, will become a law, so that the families of these truly brave men may be compensated to the extent of its provisions.

"In conclusion, I would state that I feel very keenly the loss of this crew, but I can lay the blame at no one’s door. It was one of those unfortunate accidents that are liable to occur with the best of men and under the best management, but not likely to occur twice in a lifetime. Had the boat been two seconds earlier or later, the sea would have broken ahead of her, or she would have passed over it before breaking; but upon straightening up the boat there was no time left to back or dodge. The sea broke when she lay in the most critical position to take it. Certainly it was the duty of the crew to answer to the signal of distress, and certainly they responded most promptly. There was no discord here; there was more than a friendly feeling existing between the keeper and crew. They had together made a good record at their station, and when duty called each strove to be foremost in the boat.

"I have conversed with several who have served with Keeper Kiah, and all speak in the highest praise of him as a man, and of his superior skill in handling a surf-boat. He has the sympathy of the entire community, including the friends and relatives of his dead crew, in his present trouble."

The closing incident in the Point-aux-Barques tragedy was the resignation of the stanch keeper, too shattered in mind and body, for the time at least, to retain his position. Thus the heroic station was by a day’s experience left at once vacant of its crew, who, this very year, had saved nearly a hundred lives.


February 4, 1881 - Lime Rock Lighthouse Station, RI - Awardee(s): Ida Lewis, Keeper, U.S. Lighthouse Service

Date of Award: July 16, 1881

A gold medal was awarded to Mrs. Ida Lewis-Wilson who won a national celebrity for her many rescues under her maiden name, Ida Lewis. The papers accompanying the application made in her case to the Department showed that she saved thirteen persons from drowning and it is understood that the number was probably much greater. The special incident upon which Ida Lewis earned the medal was her rescue on 4 February 1881. At 5 o’clock two soldiers belonging to the garrison of Fort Adams near Newport, RI were crossing on foot between the fort and Lime Rock lighthouse of which Mrs. Lewis-Wilson was the keeper. They suddenly fell through the ice that had become weak. Hearing their drowning cries, Mrs. Lewis-Wilson ran toward them from the lighthouse with a rope. In imminent danger of the soft and brittle ice giving way beneath her, and also of being dragged into the hole by the men, she succeeded in hauling first one, and then the other, out of the water. The first man she got out entirely unaided; her brother arrived and helped her with the second.

The action on her part showed unquestionable nerve, presence of mind, and dashing courage. The ice was in a very dangerous condition and only a short time afterward, two men fell through the ice and drowned, while crossing during the night. All the witnesses certified that the rescue was accomplished at the imminent risk of Mrs. Lewis-Wilson’s life.


October 31, 1884 - Cleveland LSS, OH (Station No. 8, Ninth District) - Awardee(s): Keeper Charles C. Goodwin, Surfman Lawrence Distel, Surfman John L. Eveleigh, Joseph Goodrof, William Goodwin, Frederick T. Hatch, Delos Hayden, Charles Learned, Jay Lindsay

Date of Award: December 3, 1884

About 7 o’clock in the evening on 31 October 1884, during a hard northwesterly, the three-masted schooner Sophia Minch arrived off the harbor of Cleveland, OH with a cargo of iron ore from Marquette, MI. While attempting to run in, however, the heavy sea disabled her rudder. She at once came to with both anchors off the east pier and hoisted a signal for assistance. The tug Peter Smith answered the call and steamed out to her. Two of the crew of the Cleveland Station (Ninth District) accompanied to assist in handling the lives. The captain of the Minch, deeming one tug insufficient to tow his vessel, refused to heave up his anchors until another tug could be procured.

The Smith, therefore, returned and obtained the assistance of the Fanny Tuthill. Keeper Goodwin and the rest of the life-saving crew, save one man left in charge of the station, jumped on board the Smith as she again steamed out to assist the disabled craft. Once alongside it was only with the greatest difficulty that the life saving men gained the schooner’s deck, one man, Surfman Distel, being left on the tug to aid in handling the lines. As soon as the anchors were tripped, the two tugs started with the vessel in tow. Before going very far, however, both towlines parted. The two tugs, unable to do anything further, sought safety behind the breakwater. The sea then began dragging the vessel towards the rocky shore. It was also discovered that the water was finding its way into the hold and the men were sent to the pumps. They could do very little, however, as they took every effort to save from being washed overboard.

The captain, fearful of the vessel driving onto the rocks, had a hasty consultation with Keeper Goodwin and resolved to scuttle her. He planned to let her sink to the sandy bottom where she would not receive so much damage and trusting to the chances of raising her after the storm. The scuttling was accomplished by boring auger holes in the deck forward. The schooner, in a short time, sank in shoal water with her deck just awash. All those on board, except two men, took to the fore rigging for safety. The other two, a surfman belonging and the mate, were cut off from the rest and were compelled to climb into the mizzen rigging.

Surfman Distel, who had landed from the tug Smith, acted promptly. He, however, had only one of the station crew to assist him. Though it was now between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, he cast about for volunteers. Customs Inspector Bates, the lighthouse keeper, George H. Tower, and three others, Messrs. Pryor, Duffy, and Tovat, promptly responded to the appeal. The latter, with his team to draw the apparatus cart, took the beach gear abreast of the sunken vessel. The first shot was successful, carrying the line just abaft the fore rigging. In a short time the gear was rigged and the breeches buoy hauled off. Keeper Goodwin was the first to come ashore to take charge of the operation. The rest in the fore rigging following one by one until all but Surfman Hatch were safely landed.

There were also the two men in the rigging aft who were unable to get forward. Surfman Distel volunteered to go off in the buoy to consult with Hatch as to the best means of saving the two men. The result was that Hatch agreed to attempt to reach the mizzen rigging and see what could then be done. It was an extremely hazardous undertaking, as the main boom and gaff were swaying from one side to the other in a most frightful manner. Literally taking his life in his hands, he told Distel that if he did not return in a reasonable time, it might be taken for granted it was impossible for him to do so. He further advised him to return to shore in the buoy and report the situation to the keeper.

Hatch succeeded in reaching the after part of the vessel and found the men safe, but it was utterly impossible for him to get back. Distel, therefore, faithfully followed out his instructions and when his comerade failed to return, he gave the signal to be drawn ashore and made known the facts to Captain Goodwin. As soon, therefore, as Distel could be sent off again, the gear was unrigged, the gun got into position, and communication established with the other end of the vessel. It took Hatch only a little while to haul off the whip and hawser. As soon as everything was all right, they were drawn safely ashore, Hatch being the sixteenth and last man to be rescued.

The-whole affair reflected great credit both on the members of the life-saving crew and upon the little band of volunteers, who came so bravely forward to assist Distel in landing his comrades and those belonging to the vessel. The personal effects of the captain and crew were recovered and landed subsequently when daylight gave them the opportunity. A few days later (November 4), the station crew boarded the vessel and assisted in stripping her of sails and rigging, On the day following, they aided in setting up a steam-pump on her deck and removing a portion of the cargo. When all the arrangements were completed (6 November), she was floated and taken into the harbor.

On 1 November, during the same gale that damaged the schooner Sophia Minch, the three-masted schooner John B. Merrill of Milwaukee, WI hove into sight off Cleveland Harbor. She was inbound from Escanaba, MI deeply laden with iron ore. A vessel of nearly six hundred-fifty tons and carried a crew of ten persons including the captain’s wife, who acted as cook. It was about 5 o’clock when she was met and taken in tow by the steam-tug James Amadeus. The latter had brought almost under the shelter of the breakwater, when the towline parted and the schooner began drifting toward the beach. The tug succeeded in getting a line to her again and renewed the attempt to tow her in, but the towline snapped a second time. The schooner was now so near the breakers that it was dangerous for the tug to again risk an attempt. As a last resort the anchors were let go, but failed to hold.

The life-saving crew closely watched the two vessels. As soon as it became apparent that the schooner must go ashore, Keeper Goodwin ordered the beach apparatus out. As it was already dark, the keeper started down the beach after giving his orders so as to keep track of the vessel. It was about half past 6 when the vessel stopped a little less than half a mile east of the station and nearly abreast of the Lake Shore Railroad freight house. It was, therefore, in close proximity to the sunken Sophia Minch.

As soon as she struck, the captain ordered the hatches opened in order to let her fill with water and remain steady. This saved the ship from thumping itself to pieces. This was a wise precaution, as she lay on the smooth, sandy bottom and it prevented her from driving up onto the rocks. Some of the volunteers, Messrs. Tower, Bates, Tovat, and Assistant Lightkeeper Reed, who had assisted the station crew in the morning with the Sophia Finch, were soon on hand. They rendered excellent service in getting the apparatus down and with the subsequent operations. The relief party arrived abreast of the vessel, which lay about four hundred feet from shore, at a quarter before 8. As soon as the gun could be placed in position, the shot was sent whizzing over the schooner. It dropped the line against the mizzen rigging. The whip and hawser speedily followed. When all was ready Surfman Hatch, with the keeper’s call for a volunteer, stepped forward and went off in the breeches-buoy to manage the gear on board. He had done likewise earlier on board the Sophia Minch.

As soon as he reached the schooner the landing of the people commenced. The captain’s wife was the first one hauled ashore. The rest followed one by one. Within 45 minutes from the firing of the shot, all hands were safe and quickly taken to places of shelter. The landing was effected none too soon, as the weather was freezing cold.

On 3 November, the gale having abated, the station crew lent valuable aid in pumping the Merrill out and in running lines to the three tugs employed to raise her. The task was successfully accomplished by 5 o’clock in the evening of the same day. The local press gave unmeasured praise to the life-saving crew and the little band of volunteers who acted so nobly at these two disasters. The captain of the John B. Merrill wrote the following complimentary letter:

The schooner John B. Merrill, in trying to make the harbor at Cleveland on the evening of 1 November, in charge of the tug James Amadeus, when near the end of the breakwater parted her tow-line and the vessel’s anchors were let go, but failed to hold. She drifted onto the beach, where she soon filled with water, the sea making a clean breach over her, making it extremely dangerous to launch a boat in the heavy sea that was running. The life-saving crew was promptly on hand, and in a very short time had succeeded in getting a line on board. Everything worked like clockwork, without a hitch, and in less than an hour all the crew of nine men and one woman were got on shore. It was blowing a gale, with a heavy sea running, and the night very dark. Too much praise cannot be given to Captain Goodwin and his crew for the efficient service they rendered in saving the lives of the crew, and also in getting the vessel off the beach on November 3.


Master of Schooner, John B. Merrill

One of the most thrilling episodes of the Cleveland Life-Saving Station (Ninth District) occurred on 11 November 1884. About 9 o’clock at night, during a violent northwesterly gale, the station’s crew observed a vessel under reduced sail heading directly for the harbor. She failed to reach the sanctuary of the breakwater and was compelled to anchor off the end of the east pier. Keeper Goodwin predicted trouble and ordered the surfboat deployed.

The sea was running so high that the lighthouse was often completely buried in foam. As the boat passed out of the harbor, the captain of the tug Forest City hailed the keeper. He told him that if he would run a line from the vessel and stand by to slip her cable, the tug would try to tow her. The lifesavers got on board all right, but found the sea breaking over her. She was covered with a glare of ice. She proved to be the schooner-rigged barge John T. Johnson of Sandusky, OH inbound from Escanaba, MI with a cargo of iron ore consigned to parties in Cleveland. Her crew consisted of six men and one woman serving as the cook.

The keeper realized that steps needed to be quickly taken, as there was danger of the schooner parting her cable and driving ashore. He hailed Customs Inspector Bates and Lightkeeper Reed, who were on the pier, and requested them to send the tug out. The message was promptly delivered, but by the captain of the Forest City had changed his mind. Fearful of risking his vessel, he refused to go. The other tug lying in the river also declined. This was soon communicated to Goodwin. He realized that it would be madness to attempt to land the people with the boat. Especially as chances were that they would be capsized and drowned before reaching the harbor.

As the vessel could not hold on much longer, he decided to return ashore with his men and make ready the breeches buoy apparatus. He left one of the surfmen, John Eveleigh, on board to see that the gear was properly rigged. The boat had less than a hundred feet when it was nearly swamped and rendered almost unmanageable. To make matters worse the men were nearly exhausted by the pulling out to the vessel. Before they could bail out the water, the boat had drifted so far to the east of the pier that they could not get back into the river. They were compelled to square away for a short stretch of beach between the harbor pier and freight piers of the Lake Shore Railroad. This course, while expeditious, was also dangerous. If they missed the beach, they would be swept into certain destruction among the piers beyond.

They had barely got the boat under control again, when a tremendous sea overtook and capsized them. All hands were thrown into the ice cold water. Washed off again and again, they made desperate but fruitless efforts to right the boat. Several of them had also been badly bruised from contact with the boat. In the meantime an excited crowd had gathered upon the pier. They threw pieces of plank to the struggling surfmen. Though well-intended, this only added to their peril. With their cork life-belts providing sufficient buoyancy, the poor fellows now had to exert their energy to avoid being struck by one of the timbers.

At last after great exertion two or three of the men got to within forty or fifty feet of the pier. They caught the ropes thrown to them and were pulled out. The rest boat soon afterwards reached the beach. They were in a pitiable condition and for some time could not speak. It was one of the narrowest escapes in the history of the Life Saving Service. But for their life preservers, they every man would have been lost.

They were taken to the office of the customs inspector. Here their wet clothing was removed and replaced with dry garments and in a short time, they began to revive. The situation of the people on the schooner was foremost in their minds and the report that the vessel was drifting ashore acted like magic. They were instantly on the alert again, forgetting all else. The gallant fellows repaired to the station and with the assistance of others brought out the beach apparatus. It was now nearly midnight.

The schooner had moved almost into the same spot as the Sophia Minch a few days prior. Her crew could be dimly seen perched in the mizzen rigging. As quickly as possible the gun was placed in the most favorable position and fired. Surfman Eveleigh, who was in the rigging with the rest, caught the line. Although the storm raged with unabated fury, the work was now comparatively easy. Under Eveleigh’s directions the whip block was hauled out by the sailors and made fast. The whip and hawser soon followed and were secured to the mast. When taut, the breeches buoy went out and the rescue commenced. The woman was landed first. Then followed, one by one, the four seamen, the mate, the captain, and, lastly Surfman Eveleigh, who reached the shore at 25 minutes after 12, just thirty minutes from the time the gun was fired. The seamen were at once taken to shelter. Though badly damaged, the schooner was subsequently saved along with most of the cargo.


December 22, 1884 - Creed's Hill LSS, NC (Station No. 22, Sixth District) and Cape Hatteras LSS, NC (Station 23, Sixth District) - Awardee(s): Keeper Patrick H. Etheridge, Keeper Benjamin B. Daily, Surfman Isaac L. Jennett, Surfman Thomas Gray, Surfman John H. Midgett, Surfman, Jabez B. Jennett, Surfman Charles Fulcher

Date of Award: April 24, 1885

On 22 December 1884 the crew of the Cape Hatteras (NC) Station (Sixth District), performed one of the most heroic feats in the annals of the Life-Saving Service. Under the leadership of Keeper Benjamin B. Daily, assisted by Keeper Patrick H. Etheridge, they rescued the nine men composing the crew of the barkentine Ephraim Williams. Out of Providence, RI the vessel was bound home from Savannah, GA with a cargo of pine lumber. On 18 December, when to the northward of Frying Pan Shoals, she encountered heavy weather and became waterlogged and almost a complete wreck. In this condition she drifted helplessly before the southerly gale until near Cape Hatteras.

On 21 December her anchors were let go to save her from driving onto the outlying shoals several miles from shore. The ill-fated craft dragged some distance further. Just before dark, she seemed to fetch up. The crews of the Durant’s, Creed’s Hill, and Cape Hatteras Stations saw her but it impossible for them to do anything. Experienced local surfmen swore that the surf was the heaviest and most dangerous they had seen for years. The aforementioned station crews, along with that of the Big Kinnakeet station, maintained their vigilance through the night for any signal from the bark. Nothing was seen, however, during the night.

At daylight on 22 December, it was found she had made it past the shoals lay six or seven miles northeast of the Cape Hatteras Station, nearly opposite the Big Kinnakeet station. The Big Kinnakeet crew, nearly all of whom were at the Hatteras Station, set out at once for their own station to get their boat. Tired from loss of rest, they ate breakfast upon arriving at the station. Keeper Daily came up with his horse-drawn boat. Keeper Patrick H. Etheridge of the Creed’s Hill station took the place of an absent member of the crew. It was then about 10:30 AM. Up to that time the was no sign of life on the bark, but as they stood watching her a flag was run up to the mast-head as a distress signal. That was enough for Daily and his crew to launch their boat. The Cape Hatteras men were soon ready. They lashed all loose articles in the boat, stripped off clothing that might impede them the boat capsized. Then, donning their cork belts, they shoved the boat in and gave way.

To those on the shore it seemed a forlorn hope. Few believed it would be successful. The breakers on the inner bar were safely crossed, but then came the infinitely more hazardous outer bar. The scene was enough to make even the most stout hearts quail. As Daily neared the barrier, he held his boat in check for a brief period awaiting his chance. The chance soon came. Quick as a flash, the word was given to the rowers and a few powerful strokes carried the boat safely beyond the bar and through the greatest danger. Keeper Scarborough and the crew of the Big Kinnakeet Station attempted to follow in Daily’s wake, but could not get through. They were compelled, very much against their inclination, to turn back and beach the boat.

There was still a pull of several miles for Daily and his gallant fellows, they reached the bark about 12:30. It was impossible to lay the boat alongside for fear of being swamped. So it was anchored off the bark’s quarter by means a line thrown to them by the captain. This allowed them to move close enough to take the men off one by one. This required the most skillful maneuver to avoid staving the boat. The rescued people were distraught with cold and hunger, as they had been battered by the weather for over ninety hours. As soon as they were seated and everything was ready, the anchor was weighed and a start made for the shore. Keeper Etheridge relieved Daily at the steering-oar while the latter tended the drag. The boat, laden with sixteen souls, was almost gunwale deep, but it rode the seas like a duck.

After safely passing the outer line of breakers, they reached the shore in good shape. Once there, they were met by the Big Kinnakeet crew and the others on the beach. A hearty meal had been prepared at the Big Kinnakeet Station by Keeper Scarborough’ s direction and the castaways were taken there to be revived. Thus was accomplished one of the most daring rescues by the Life-Saving Service since its organization.

The officer detailed to inquire into the circumstance of the gallant affair closes his report with the following remarks:

I do not believe that a greater act of heroism is recorded than that of Daily and his crew on this momentous occasion. These poor, plain men, dwellers upon the lonely sands of Hatteras, took their lives in their hands and, at the most imminent risk, crossed the most tumultuous sea that any boat within the memory of living men had ever attempted on that bleak coast, and all for what. That others might live to see home and friends. The thought of reward or mercenary appeal never once entered their minds. Duty, their sense of obligation, and the credit of the Service impelled them to do their mighty best. The names of Benjamin B. Daily and his comrades in this magnificent feat should never be forgotten. As long as the Life-Saving Service has the good fortune to number among its keepers and crews such men as these, no fear need ever be entertained for its good name or purposes.

For their conspicuous bravery the boat’s crew was awarded medals of the first class. Those receiving awards included Keeper Benjamin B. Daily and Surfmen Isaac L. Jennett, Thomas Gray, John H. Midgett, Jabez B. Jennett, and Charles Fulcher of the Cape Hatteras Station and Keeper Patrick H. Etheridge of the Creed’s Hill Station.


January 28, 1885 - Cape Elizabeth LSS, ME - Awardee(s): Keeper Marcus A. Hanna

Date of Award: April 25, 1885

A gold medal was awarded to Marcus A. Hanna, principal keeper of the Cape Elizabeth Light-Station near Portland, ME for nobly saving two men from the wrecked schooner Australia on 28 January 1885.

The schooner Australia, with a crew of three men, J. W. Lewis, master, and Irving Pierce and William Kellar, seamen, left her homeport of Booth Bay, ME for Boston, MA laden with fish and guano on 27 January 1885. Around midnight a furious gale and snowstorm set in. After losing some of her sails, she attempted to reach Portland Harbor. Making the land to the leeward, she was driven onto the rocks at Cape Elizabeth, near the fog-signal. She struck soon after 8:00 AM on the 28th.

The seas now poured over her, sweeping away everything about decks, including the house. The men had barely enough time to take to the rigging. Even there it was not safe, for in a few moments the captain was washed away and drowned. The sufferings of the other two men were terrible. With the temperature at 10 degrees below zero, they were drenched to the skin. Mrs. Hanna, the wife of the lightkeeper, soon discovered through the driving snow the masts of the vessel. Marcus Hanna had lain down for a nap upon being relieved at the fog-signal by one of the assistants, Hiram Staples. His wife’s exclamation of alarm upon seeing the wreck was sufficient to awaken him. Slipping on his coat, hat, and boots, he rushed down to the shore.

Upon reaching the fog-signal he called to Staples to follow and the two were soon abreast of the wreck. Two men could he seen in the rigging. They began shouting for help. Hanna knew it was impossible to launch a boat, but his mind was soon made up. He returned to the fog-signal for an axe, and then hastened to a boathouse three hundred yards distant for a line with which to rescue the men. Finding the door blocked by a great mass of snow, he ran back to the fog-signal and shouted to Staples to bring a shovel. An entrance was soon cleared with the axe and they obtained a suitable line.

Meanwhile. Mrs. Hanna had alarmed the other families at the station. Only Mr. Staples’ 15-year old son, however, could render any help. Hanna dispatched him to summon the neighbors. He then got down to his work. Weighting one end of the line with a piece of METAl obtained from the signal house, he clambered down the slippery, ice-coated rocks, almost into the surf, and attempted to heave it on board. His situation was one of great peril. The slightest misstep would have been fatal. The brave fellow had been ill for a week or more, and it was only through the exercise of a most determined will that he was able to stand the hardship and exposure and maintain his footing. After many unsuccessful efforts to reach the men with the line, which fell short, he was compelled to crawl back on to the level ground to warm his hands and feet. He also freed the stiffened line of its coating of ice.

His assistant, Staples, also suffering from the cold, retreated to the signal-house to warm himself, leaving the keeper alone. Soon a wave lifted the schooner and threw her on her beam-ends, thus placing the two men in greater peril than before. Filled with dismay, Hanna again descended the rocks despite the drenching spray. Summoning all his remaining strength, he succeeded in reaching the schooner with the line. One of the men. Pierce, at once tied it about his body, and while he was doing so Hanna crawled back on to the bank and shouted for aid. No response came. As soon as he was ready, Pierce signalled the keeper and cast himself into the icy breakers. He was, with difficulty, drawn out onto the shore. The man’s jaws were set and he appeared to be almost gone. Realizing that every moment was precious, Hanna quickly loosened the line from Pierce’s body and after a few more efforts, threw it within Kellar’s grasp. The process was then repeated and Kellar was nearly ashore when Staples and two of the neighbors came hurrying to his assistance. The rest of the story is soon told. The two sailors were carried into the fog-signal building, where their frozen garments were removed and every possible means was used to warm them up. They were both badly frostbitten, but as the storm made it impossible to remove them to the more comfortable keeper’s dwelling until the following morning.

Hanna and his wife nursed the two until the roads were opened and communication with the city restored. When the poor fellows were carried to the marine hospital in Portland for treatment, they soon came round. That these men would have shared the fate of the captain, but for the self-sacrificing devotion of the brave keeper is beyond doubt. His noble conduct was held deserving of the highest form of recognition within the power of the Service to bestow.


July 27, 1885 - Shark River LSS, NJ (Station No. 7, Fourth District) - Awardee(s): Keeper John C. Patterson

Date of Award: February 3, 1887

On 27 July 1885 the stout-hearted life-savers of the Shark River (NJ) Life-Saving Station (Fourth District) made a heroic rescue under the intrepid leadership of Keeper John C. Patterson. On 25 July the cat-rigged yacht Foam, with three men on board, left Jersey City for a pleasure cruise on Barnegat Bay. All were experienced sailors. After meeting with light and variable weather, on 26 July they encountered a northeast wind and rainstorm that quickly increased to a gale. The sails were shortened, but the storm grew and the men decided to take in the sails and drop anchor. All night the small craft pitched in the seaway. At daylight on 27 July, they saw that they were half a mile from the shore about six miles south of Long Branch, NJ. Realizing the extreme danger of their situation and not knowing at what moment the cable might part, they hoisted their ensign upside down as a signal for help.

Soon after, about 6 o’clock, Keeper Patterson was patrolling the beach and saw the boat through the rain and mist. He first thought her to be a fishing vessel, but the proprietor of the Avon Inn notified him that the craft was in distress. The keeper at once hurried down the beach, mustering, a volunteer crew of surfmen as he went. These men were in the USLSS, but they were working as lifeguards for the summer at the Ocean Grove and Asbury Park beaches. Patterson then went to the station and set the signal for the crew to "assemble." Soon those who had responded to Patterson’s signal manned the beach apparatus. With a team of horses procured from a stagecoach, the equipment was hauled to a point on the shore opposite the yacht. By this time a multitude of people had gathered on the beach. The keeper remained resolute and did not swerve from his conception of duty.

The gun was carefully trained and fired, but the shot-line parted and the shot fell beyond the boat’s mast. Three succeeding trials to send the line over the craft proved ineffective. At last it was decided to launch the surfboat. It was drawn, with difficulty, through the heavy sand to a favorable spot. The lifesavers stripped for the work and put on their cork jackets. There was now a crowd of between three and four thousand people on the beach. The men on the yacht could be seen still holding on for dear life.

The surfboat was finally launched and succeeded in getting through the fierce undertow. By vigorous handling of the oars, it reached the heavy break outside. Here the strong current drove the surfmen far to the southward. As it was impossible to pull to the yacht in the raging sea, the boat turned for the beach and landed. It was now taken well to windward. Before making the second attempt, the keeper wrote a message in charcoal on the canvas covering the beach apparatus. In large letters, he wrote, "Cut cable, make sail, run for the shore." This was to be held up if the life-saving crew was not able to land them. It was hoped that, if the craft was swamped, the occupants could be rescued with lines and the breeches buoy.

Around 11:00 the surfmen saw their first real chance for a successful launch. At this point a messenger ran up and handed Keeper Patterson dispatch calling him to ‘the bedside of a dying brother, the lighthouse keeper at Sandy Hook. "Telegraph back that I cannot go now," was all he said. The boat got off in good style and a rousing cheer went up from the spectators. It soon sped through a temporary rift in the wall of foam. Not a mistake was made in crossing the bar.

The lifesavers, with every muscle strained, rowed as near as was safe to the craft. The young men were told to leap into the boat. They all sprang together and landed safely. After an hour’s unflinching fight the yachtsmen were brought unharmed to the shore. Their names were A. J. Goubert, A. P. Stanton, and E. J. Halsted of Jersey City. They were taken at once to the Avon Inn and kindly cared for by the hospitable host, Mr. B. H. Yard. The next morning the yacht was brought in, partially filled with water, and moored in Shark River Inlet. When all the circumstances are considered, the fury of the gale, and the high and dangerous surftoo much praise cannot be uttered for the cool courage, the undaunted pluck, and the daring work of the lifesaving crew. The men who manned the surfboat under charge of Keeper Patterson were John H. Pearce, John Redmond, John H. Smith, David Kittell, H. A. Bennett, Edward Brand, and William Newman. Forman Brand and Ferdinand Newman also lent valuable help. For his brave actions Keeper Patterson was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal. The faithful men of his crew were awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal for their part in this heroic effort.


December 4, 1886 - Hereford Inlet (NJ) Station (Fourth District) - Awardee(s): Captain Christopher Ludlam

Date of Award: November 17, 1888

At 10:30 PM on 4 December 1886, a Hereford Inlet (NJ) Station (Fourth District) beach patrolman, during a gale and thick snowstorm, noticed a torch in the direction of the north bar. This was about two miles east of the station. It was evident to him that a vessel was ashore and in distress. He hurried back with all speed and alarmed the crew. The surfboat was quickly launched. After a hard pull in the heavy sea, lasting more than two hours, they finally arrived alongside the craft at 1 o’clock in the morning.

The ship was the schooner D. H. Ingraham from Rockland, ME. She was bound to Richmond, VA with a cargo of lime. The ship was on fire and the sailors, five men, were fearful that they would have to abandon the vessel in their small yawl-boat, should they not receive assistance in time. Such action, doubtless, would have had fatal results. The sailors were taken into the surfboat without delay, conveyed safely ashore, and conducted to the station. By sunrise the deck had burned completely off and the schooner began breaking up. She soon became a total wreck. Her crew was sheltered and fed by the surfmen for four days. The following letter appeared in a subsequent issue of the New York Herald:

To the Editor of the Herald:

I desire through the columns of the Herald to extend to Captain Christopher Ludlam and crew, of life-saving station No. 30, my most heartfelt thanks for the assistance rendered my crew and self in taking us off the schooner D. H. Ingraham, which went ashore at half-past 10 p. in., on December 4, during the heavy snowstorm of that date, and amid an exceedingly heavy sea. As our striking so far off the beach, about a mile and a half, we could scarcely expect the life-saving crew to come to our assistance before daylight; but Captain Ludlam, seeing our pitch and oakum torches burning, and knowing our perilous position, was equal to the occasion, and after a hard row of two hours succeeded in coming alongside and taking us off the vessel, which was on fire. At half-past 1AM, the morning of December 5, we made our landing on the beach, a very thankful party, as you can readily understand, and were treated in the most humane manner possible and our wants were in every way supplied. Realizing that an hour’s delay would have compelled us to take to our own small yawl-boat we can never forget the brave deed of this captain and crew.


Master of D. H. Ingraham

Somers Point, NJ

18 December 1886

For his courageous actions on the night of 4-5 December, Captain Ludlam received the Gold Lifesaving Medal. Each member of his crew received the Silver Lifesaving Medal.


November 25, 1888 - Hull LSS, MA - Awardee(s): Captain Joshua James, Joseph T. Galiano, Louis F. Galiano, Osceola F. James, Alonzo L. Mitchell, Ambrose B. Mitchell, H. Webster Mitchell, John L. Mitchell, Eben T. Pope, George F. Pope, Frederick Smith

Date of Award: January 10, 1889

Note: At the time of this rescue the men were part of the Massachusetts Humane Society. As they later became members of the US Life-Saving Service, they are included in this list.

On 25-26 November 1888 a furious nor’easter swept the New England coast. The storm was particularly severe in the vicinity of Boston. Many vessels were driven onto the Nantasket, Cohasset, and Scituate beaches and other sections of the Massachusetts coast. A large number of lives and much property were also lost. Those lost may have been greater in number if not for the volunteers of the Massachusetts Humane Society who, by their heroic efforts, saved thirteen lives from the schooners Gertrude Abbott and H.C. Higginson.

On the afternoon of 25 November, the veteran lifesaver Captain Joshua James, of Hull, observed several vessels dragging their anchors in Nantasket Roads. He called together a crew of sturdy fishermen and got the society’s surfboat, the R.B. Forbes, ready for use. No sooner had this been done than a large schooner stranded a short distance west of Toddy Rocks. The sea, however, was so high that it was thought best to fire a line to her and land the crew by means of the breeches- buoy. With the assistance of a number of local residents, they successfully accomplished the task. Meanwhile, the coal-laden schooner Gertrude Abbott of Philadelphia, PA struck the rocks about an eighth of a mile to the east. She soon hoisted a distress signal in the rigging. Being so far off, however, it was clear that communication could not be effected with the beach-apparatus.

It was now growing dark, the tide was high, and the storm was raging with increased fury. These conditions prompted James and his men to wait for lower water before attempting a launch. A fire was lit on a bluff so the vessel could be kept in view. Owing to the violence of the gale, the tide fell but little. As such, it was between 8 and 9 o’clock at night when the men decided to make an attempt at boarding the schooner. They managed to launch the surfboat through the breakers and bent vigorously to the oars. Two of the crew bailed constantly in order to keep the boat from swamping. The vessel was lying head-to and the volunteers, after a desperate pull, got near enough to heave a line on the bow. The eight sailors then swung themselves into the boat. Shortly thereafter, they started for the beach.

The return was exceedingly hazardous. The wind and sea swept wildly along the shore and, as there was little or no room to work the oars, the very crowded boat was hard to manage. Within two hundred yards of the beach, it struck a rock, filled, and rolled one side deep under. The occupants quickly shifted to windward and succeeded in righting the boat. One man fell overboard, but his comrades hauled him in before the sea swept him beyond reach. Captain James admonished every one to stick to the boat as long as possible. It struck the rocks a number of times and was buffeted along at the mercy of the waves. The men just managed with the few oars that were left to keep it headed for the shore so that the sea might heave it in. It is a wonder that it was not completely capsized in the breakers or demolished on the ledges. Finally, it was thrown upon the rocks in shoal water and all hands promptly jumped out and scrambled safely ashore. The schooner’s crew were immediately taken to ‘a neighboring house and cared for. This was a notable rescue and one that put to the test the noble qualities of every member of the boat’s crew. Actuated by the highest motives, they set forth amidst peril and triumphed by their cool courage and determination of purpose. There are few examples of greater heroism.

During the remainder of the night a strict watch was kept along the beach. At 3:00 AM on the 26th, Captain James was again called out. The wind was blowing with unusual violence, accompanied by rain and sleet. At daybreak James assembled another boat’s crew, including sveral who had been on the Gertrude Abbott rescue. They pulled out to the sunken schooner Bertha F. Walker and took from the rigging seven men who were in danger of perishing.

In the late morning Captain James and his men were again summoned. This time to render assistance to the schooner H.C. Bigginson, ashore on Nantasket Beach. Captain James and his men launched their large surfboat, the Nantasket, which had been brought to the scene. The sea was very rough and breaking heavily along the stranded vessel. After a hard pull the boat was rowed near enough to the schooner so the men could throw a line on board. A sailor who was in the mizzen rigging came cautiously down the shrouds. He tied the line around his body, leaped overboard, and was hauled into the boat. The rest of the sailors, four in number, were in the fore rigging and very much exhausted from their long exposure. It was with great difficulty that they worked their way, by aid of the hawser, to the main rigging. They then fastened lines to themselves and, in turn, jumped into the breakers and were hauled one by one into the surfboat. Once in the boat, they were taken safely to the shore. The half-starved and half-frozen men were quickly conveyed in carriages to the home of Selectman David 0. Wade of Hull. Here they were rubbed dry, warmed, and furnished with a change of clothing. Three of the schooner’s crew lost their lives at this wreck. The captain and one other were washed overboard in the night and a third died in the rigging from exposure

The Humane Society’s men by their zealous and unswerving work rescued some twenty-eight people from different vessels during this great storm. When it is considered that they imperiled their lives practically without hope of reward, influenced solely by the desire to assist their fellow man, too much praise cannot be accorded them. Gold medals were awarded to Captain James and the following men who composed his crew at the rescue of those on board the Gertrude Abbott: G. F. Pope, L.F. Galiano, A.B. Mitchell, Joseph Galiano, O.F. James, A.L. Mitchell, E.T. Pope, J.L. Mitchell, Frederick Smith, and H. W. Mitchell. Upon those who did not participate in that rescue, but who with some of those already mentioned made up the boat’s crew that went to the H. C. Higginson, silver medals were conferred. These were Eugene Mitchell, Alfred Galiano, George Augustus, Eugene Mitchell, Jr., and W.B. Mitchell.


November 26, 1888 - Jerry's Point LSS, NH - Awardee(s): Keeper Silas H. Harding, Winslow A. Amazeen, Ephraim S. Hall, George W. Randall, Ernest Robinson, John Smith, Selden F. Wells

Date of Award: January 10, 1889

On the morning of 20 November, the schooner Oliver Dyer went on the rocks near the Jerry's Point (NH) Station (First District). The following account of the disaster is from the report of the investigating officer, Lieutenant Charles F. Shoemaker of the Revenue Marine, assistant inspector, Third Life-Saving District:

"It appears that the schooner Oliver Dyer anchored at 1.30 A. M., of November 25th, just inside the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor and about one-half mile northeast of Jerry’s Point Station. The wind at that hour was northeast, weather cloudy. The vessel was of Saco, Maine, from Weehawken, New Jersey, bound for her home port, coal laden, and with a crew of five men; the wind being ahead, she put in here for a harbor, but, owing to the strong ebb tide and scanty breeze, was unable to reach the upper anchorage."

"The wind began to breeze on at sunrise of the 25th; and at sunset was blowing a howling gale from northeast, with a thick snow-storm, while a tremendous surf had grown upon the shore. Keeper Harding, fearing that the vessels at anchor in sight of his station (of which there were three, including the Dyer) might drag their anchors or part their chains if the gale. continued during the night, at sunset displayed from the staff at his station the international code signal M T (signifying, ‘Lookout will be kept on the beach all night’) to notify those on board the vessels that help would be at hand if required. Throughout the night a vigilant watch was maintained by the keeper and his crew. Before dark, as a precautionary measure, the keeper took a heaving-stick, with a long drift of line attached, to the patrol-box upon the shore and deposited it there to be dry and ready for use. At 5.45 A. M. of the 26th, Surfman Robinson, while on the north patrol, descried a vessel dragging her anchors, fired his Coston signal, and hurrying to the station gave the alarm at 6. Keeper Harding at once called all hands, and then, with Robinson, ran to the shore. Arriving there (about two hundred feet from the station), he discovered that the vessel reported had been brought up by her anchors, just clear of the breakers, about four hundred yards from the station, and two hundred yards off shore, where she was laboring heavily. The first thought, notwithstanding the huge surf, was to launch the boat, it being at hand upon the beach, but as the attempt was about to be made the keeper saw the schooner’s head fall off to the southward and the vessel driving before the gale, indicating that her chains had parted, and with this came the inevitable conclusion that she must strike upon the ragged ledges east of the station, about one hundred and fifty feet off shore, and, therefore, that the only hope of rescuing her people lay in the gun and line. Accordingly the beach-apparatus was hurried to the scene, and meantime the vessel had stranded upon the ledges. As the-gun was about to be charged, a tremendous sea caught the vessel upon her broadside and lifting her bodily threw her thirty or forty feet inshore. When the vessel struck upon the ledges the crew took to the fore and main rigging. As soon as the schooner brought up on the rocks the sea boarded her entire length, fore and aft, forging her shoreward and making clean breaches over her. The first sea washed a man from the main rigging forty feet above the deck. The keeper says: The truth is that when the first seas went over that vessel there was nothing of her in sight but her top masts and lower mast heads, and it is a miracle that every soul was not washed into the sea. ’It was thus seen that the gun and line could not be successfully operated, as the crew on board could not handle lines if thrown to them, so continually were the vessel’s decks swept, and besides the vessel was rapidly coming on and had now worked shoreward to within fifty or seventy-five feet of a huge flat rock, which, although almost constantly swept by heavy breakers, was the only spot from which there was the least hope of rendering aid. Harding took in the situation on the instant, dropped everything else and had recourse to the heaving-stick and line which he had judiciously placed the night before in the patrol-box near by. The rock indicated above, was reached by the life-saving crew between seas, and then a man who had jumped from the wreck was seen struggling in the water. One of the life-saving crew (Surfman Hall, it is believed) jumped to the rescue and was helping him out, when, just as the rest of the crew were getting hold of him, a huge breaker washed the rescuers and the rescued together off the rock. Fortunately they fell upon the inshore side, or all would have been swept out by the undertow and drowned; they, however, clung to the ragged edges of the rock, tearing the, flesh upon their arms until the blood ran, and when the sea receded, they regained their footing. While this was going on the vessel’s cook jumped overboard, and Surfman Randall seeing him in the water jumped to the rescue and caught him as he was being washed out by the undertow the second time, and landed him. Two men now remained on board the wreck. The heaving-stick, with the line attached, was thrown to them, and when they got hold of it, the other end of the line was fastened to the hauling part and, by keeping the bight on shore, the sailors were enabled to haul aboard a double line and provide themselves with a single part each. Keeper Harding then hailed and told them to each make the part he held last around his body, under the armpits, and jump overboard. This they did, and both were landed. Having thus rescued all in sight, the keeper sent Surfmen Randall and Amazeen to the rock to see if they could get sight of the man washed from the rigging. Nothing daunted by previous experience at this dangerous spot, the brave fellows had just succeeded in gaining a footing upon the rock, when a big sea took them off their feet. Amazeen caught hold of Randall, and, as the sea rolled back, they clung to the rock and were saved. Their escape was narrow indeed, and when recovered from their peril by the rest of the crew they were far gone with exhaustion."

Thus have I recounted the details of this disaster, and told of the service rendered by the Jerry’s Point life-saving crew. Within thirty minutes from the stranding the four survivors were safe at the station and eared for. That the fifth man of the Dyer’s crew was lost was owing to no fault of the life-saving crew, but solely due to a power that human endeavor could not stay, nor mortal man combat. It is not often that life saving crews are called upon to perform service under such circumstances as environed this case, but this crew was equal to the emergency, and under the able leadership of Keeper Harding performed prodigies of heroism seldom equaled. Every man in this crew came within an ace of losing his life, from the keeper down; so that while they were doing their utmost to save the crew of the wreck, they were in turn saving the lives of each other. Harding was washed from the rock and saved by Randall; A mazeen and Randall were washed from the ledge and dragged almost lifeless from the seething smother; all hands were tumbled from the rock by merciless breakers and rescued each other. Every time they went to that sea-combed rock upon, their errand of mercy it was a forlorn hope, but they led it and conquered.

It should be stated that the weather was piercing cold and the ground was covered with slush and ice. The man who was lost, Giuseppe Puez, was said to be an Austrian. He fell from the rigging into the sea outside of the schooner when she first struck, and was not seen afterwards. Although the station men diligently searched for the body for several days no trace of it could be found. The four survivors, after being taken to the station. They received shelter and care for two days. The vessel and cargo became a total loss. The surfmen, however, saved the personal effects of the sailors.

On the recommendation of Lieutenant Shoemaker, and after a full review of the testimony, the Secretary of the Treasury awarded a gold medal to Keeper Harding and each of his men, in recognition of their heroism.


December 22, 1888 - San Francisco LSS, CA - Awardee(s): Surfman John Regnier

Date of Award: February 6, 1892

On 22 December 1888 the steam collier Mendocino wrecked on the Humboldt Bar. Surfman John Regnier of the Humboldt Bay (CA) Life-Saving Station sprang into the furious surf and took a child from the water after the surfboat twice failed to make a recovery. Unfortunately, the child could not be revived. Despite his inability to save the child’s life, Surfman Regnier’s selfless actions not only demonstrated his personal heroism, they further bolstered the noblest traditions of the United States Life-Saving Service.


November 28, 1889 - Evanston LSS, IL - Awardee(s): Keeper Lawrence O. Lawson, George Crosby, William Ewing, Edson B. Fowler, Frank W. Kindig, Jacob Loining, William L. Wilson

Date of Award: October 17, 1890

On 28 November (Thanksgiving Day) 1889 the crew of the Evanston (IL) Station, (11th District) Lake Michigan rendered memorable service in rescuing the crew of the steamer Calumet. Out of Buffalo, NY she wrecked off Fort Sheridan, IL during one of the region’s fiercest blizzards. The achievement reflected great credit upon the boat's crew who upheld the reputation of the US Life-Saving Service. The highest praise is also due to the garrison at Fort Sheridan and a party of civilians who aided in getting the surfboat down a steep bluff opposite the vessel. These brave men suffered great hardship in helping to launch the boat after it was lowered from the bluff. It may be justly said that without the aid thus afforded them, the station crew may have been unable to reach the wreck. The result was the rescue of every man from the steamer Calumet.

The ship was bound to Milwaukee WI with a cargo of coal. A few days previous, as she was passing through a shallow part of the Detroit River, she ran afoul of an anchor on the bottom and sprung a leak. The damage was so serious that Captain Green, her commander, deemed it prudent to repair as much as practicable and take a steam pump on board to keep the ship afloat. This would have been sufficient to save her had a gale not come on after she passed through the Strait of Mackinac. It was a terrible storm with blinding sleet and snow. The thermometer dropped to ten degrees. The high sea caused the leak to begin anew. It increased with such rapidity that it got out of control even with the pumps working at full capacity. Another element of danger was that they were unable to find the lights of Milwaukee Harbor.

 In this dilemma the captain resolved to attempt to reach Chicago. Before long, however, the wrecking pump gave out. Captain Green decided to run her ashore to save the lives of his crew. The vessel had not run far before she grounded heavily on a shoal about a thousand yards from shore. She lay off Fort Sheridan, some ten to twelve miles north of the nearest life-saving station at Evanston, IL. This was about 10:30 o’clock on the night of the 27th. To save her from pounding herself to pieces, the captain ordered the valves in the ship’s bottom opened to permit her to fill completely. The eighteen on board found themselves in a terrible situation. An attempt to save themselves by the boat was out of the question and no help could reach them before dawn.

Mr. A W. Fletcher, a resident of Highland Park, was the first to discover her and he quickly sent a dispatch to Keeper Lawson around 12:30. The message simply said, "There is a large vessel ashore off Fort Sheridan. Come !" Lawson hurried to the railroad station and asked the night operator when the next train would go north. He replied, "Not before 7:30 A. M." The operator then added that a freight train from Chicago would pass, without stopping, at about 2 o’clock. A request was immediately wired to the train dispatcher at Chicago to direct this train to stop at Evanston and take the station crew to Highland Park. As it, was too late to couple on suitable cars for the transportation of the apparatus, and as the train would reach Evanston in thirty-five minutes, there was little time for other arrangements to be made.

Lawson dashed off to the nearest livery stable and engaged teams to haul the boat and beach apparatus to the fort. He then went back to the station and mustered his crew. One man was directed to remain behind, with instructions to wait for the north patrol to come in and then to take the boat and other appliances by the county road. These preliminaries settled, he and the other four men hurried to the railroad station. Joined by the police officer who had delivered the dispatch, the party boarded the train. It was 4 o’clock before they reached Highland Park. They were met by Mr. Fletcher, who furnished a guide to conduct them the remaining two miles. The shore at that point was a bold, precipitous bluff some seventy or eighty feet high, with a ravine extending down to the water’s edge. The guide became confused in the darkness and storm and lost his way. This compelled the party to traverse several ravines before they finally reached the place from which they could operate at 5 o’clock.

A fire was built by the surfmen to serve as a beacon to the people on the vessel and to warm themselves by while waiting for daylight and the arrival of the life-saving appliances. The boat and gear arrived at 7 o’clock. It was then light enough to see that the people on board the ship could not hold out much longer. The keeper decided to attempt to reach her by line rather than risk the lives of the men and the destruction of the boat. Two shots were fired, but each fell a long distance inshore of the vessel. This showed that she was much farther out than had been estimated and, therefore, beyond working range of the lines. Boat service was therefore the only alternative.

Discarding the gun, the men made immediate preparations for a launch. The place selected for sliding the boat down to the water was the ravine in which the fire had been built. Axes were soon at work cutting a way through the brush wide enough for the boat. Once this was done, the boat was started down the ravine. Soldiers from Fort Sheridan and others eased it to within a few feet of the water. The gully was about three hundred yards to the south of the point directly abreast of the wreck. It was, therefore, necessary to drag it along the narrow shelf of beach at the foot of the bluff.

With the heavy surf rolling in, it was only by watching for their chances between the breakers that any progress could be made. Even then the gallant fellows were half the time waist-deep and over in the cold icy water, the boat completely filled three times and emptied out the same number. There was also a danger of the men on the inner gunwale being crushed or maimed when the sea struck the craft on its broadside and hurled it against the bank. In spite of this danger and difficulties, the boat was finally gotten to a point a little to the windward of the steamer. As soon as its bow could be pointed lakeward, the crew sprang to their places at the oars. When the next sea lifted the craft, the soldiers pushed it out and the oars were put in motion. The rescuing party was off on their perilous errand.

In crossing the inner bar they met an immense breaker which nearly threw the boat end over end. The shock of its impact was so great, Keeper Lawson was almost thrown overboard from his post at the steering-oar. Before he could recover, a second wave dashed over the boat and filled it to the thwarts. This made the boat almost unmanageable, but with strong and steady pulling of five of the oars they managed to keep going and soon were beyond the heaviest line of surf.

In the meantime, however, the current had put them far to the leeward. This gave them a long, hard pull directly in the teeth of the gale. The oars were constantly slipping from the rowlocks as both became encased with ice. In the annals of life-saving effort there can be found few instances so frought with such hardship and peril as it was the lot of these brave men to encounter. Yet not a man quailed. It should be noted that the members of this crew were not regular surfmen. Instead, they, with the exception of the keeper, were students of Northwestern Academy (later Northwestern University). Yet nobly, they stuck to their work.

Recovering the ground lost in passing through the breakers was a rough and arduous task. An eyewitness from the bluff declared that at times he thought they would never succeed. The steamer’s crew was clustered about the pilothouse. The vessel was literally encased in ice and the men were stiff after so many hours of exposure. At last, after one of the most perilous trips ever undertaken by a lifesaving crew, they got near enough to the bow of the steamer for Captain Green to throw them a line. Every watcher on the shore, as well as those on board, breathed easier when the boat got alongside. Six of the castaways were, with some difficulty, taken into the boat. After putting a life preserver on each man, a start was made for the shore. Owing to the strong current, the landing was made fully a quarter of a mile south of the point of starting. As soon as the sailors were helped out, they were conducted to the fire on the bluff where the ice was beaten, from their frozen garments and they were supplied with hot coffee.

While this was being done, the boat was emptied and dragged to a point where it could be launched for another trip. Much refreshed by the coffee provided them by the soldiers, the surfmen, after a brief rest, again made their way down to the boat. Another launch was made in the same manner as the first. With the knowledge gained by their previous experience, the boat was from the start headed more to the current and they were not swept so far to the leeward. Consequently, the wreck was more quickly reached and the trip was made in much less time. Three trips in all were made, six men being landed each trip. Thus the entire crew of eighteen men were saved and without any of them being seriously frostbitten. By the time this work was accomplished, the station men were almost in as bad a plight as the men they had saved.

The assisting party took charge of the boat and after hauling it back onto the bluff saw it safely on its carriage in charge of the teamster en route to the station. While this was being done, the surfmen again refreshed themselves with coffee. They then took the first train for Evanston, where they arrived early in the afternoon. A few hours after the rescue of her crew, the steamer broke up completely and on the following morning nothing was left of her but the stem and sternpost. 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.


October 26, 1890 - Cleveland Breakwater Light Station, OH - Awardee(s): Keeper Frederick T. Hatch

Date of Award: February 26, 1891

During the night of Sunday, 26 October 1890, the schooner barge Wahnapitae of Port Huron, MI, while attempting to reach the harbor at Cleveland, OH, wrecked against the breakwater about a half-mile from the life-saving station. This resulted in the drowning of one of the crew, Orla W. Smith of Oswego, NY. The Wahnapitae was a large craft from Ashland, WI bound to Fairport, OH with a cargo of nearly two million feet of lumber. She was in tow of the steamer John M. Nicol of Detroit. The latter was bound to Cleveland. There were eight persons on the schooner, including the captain’s wife, who acted as cook.

Overcast and dark, it was a bad night for an attempt to enter the harbor. A strong gale was blowing from the north and the lake was rough, especially off the breakwater and piers. Under these circumstances the captain of the steamer saw that he would jeopardize his own craft if he tried to tow the schooner in. As his vessel was quite large, his best judgment and skill would be necessary to enter alone without being handicapped by a heavy tow. The towline was cast off and the steamer proceeded into the harbor while the Wahnapitae came to anchor just off the breakwater. It was expected that the harbor tugs would take hold of her and bring her in. The tugs did attempt to get a line to the schooner, but the sea was so heavy they were obliged to abandon the project.

It was soon realized that a single anchor could not hold the schooner. She soon began dragging until she crashed against the easterly end of the west breakwater. She stuck fast until very shortly she became a complete wreck. As soon as she struck, the people jumped onto the breakwater and made for the lighthouse that was about one hundred feet from where she lay. Some of them succeeded, with the aid of the lightkeeper, in reaching shelter. Others were less fortunate and narrowly escaped drowning.

The arrival of the tow off the harbor had been observed by the life-saving station lookout. He kept a sharp watch and realized that the schooner was dragging toward the breakwater. The alarm was promptly sounded and the lifeboat was launched as the crew set out to render whatever assistance they could. The boat was already on its way when the tugboats Tom Maytham and H. L. Chamberlin signalled to the station.

Upon reaching the mouth of the harbor, the crew realized that the boat could approach the schooner only from the windward. Any attempt to board her would be madness resulting in the destruction of the lifeboat. Keeper Goodwin, therefore, turned about and shot in under the lee of the breakwater. He found the tugs engaged in rescuing some of the schooner’s crew who had been washed off the breakwater. They picked up one man apiece, but a third was drowned before either boat could reach him. Seeing another man clinging to the ladder on the inner side of the breakwater near the lighthouse, the keeper sheered the lifeboat in alongside and rescued him just as a wave broke over the breakwater and covered the boat and its occupants with a smother of foam.

After a fruitless search for others of the shipwrecked crew, the keeper hailed the tugs to learn how many they had rescued and then pulled to the lighthouse to make inquiries there. The keeper of the light, Frederick T. Hatch, who had formerly seen service as a member of the Cleveland Life-Saving crew, informed Keeper Goodwin that he had under his care four persons including the captain and his wife. Hatch had done heroic work in aiding these people. It seems that when they jumped onto the breakwater he had run out and assisted some to the tower. When the waves prevented

his reaching the rest, he jumped into his boat and rowed along under the lee of the crib-work. Here he picked up the woman and one of the seamen. Turning back toward the lighthouse a huge wave burst over the breakwater and swamped his boat. He and his two passengers were thrown into the water. Fortunately, he had taken the precaution of attaching one end of a small line to the crib-work near the tower and dropped the other end into his boat. When the craft overturned he quickly grasped the line and pulled himself and the woman to the ladder and up to the lighthouse. The sailor who capsized with him was probably the one subsequently rescued from the ladder by the station crew.

Finding no others in the water the lifeboat crew returned to the station with the man they had picked up. The tugs on their way in landed their two rescued men also at the station and all three were furnished with food and dry clothes. Early the next morning (27th) the life-saving crew pulled to the breakwater and brought ashore the people from the lighthouse. It was then learned that Orla W. Smith was the man that had been drowned. The last seen of him was when he was washed from the breakwater the night before with the two sailors that were picked up by the tugs. But for the presence of these tugs it is likely that all three men would have perished. Lightkeeper Hatch deserves praise for his undaunted behavior on this occasion. It is remembered that as one of the station crew, he displayed remarkable gallantry in saving life on the occasion of the sinking of the schooner Sophia Minch in October 1883. The crews of the tugs Maytham and Chamberlin also deserve credit.


January 21, 1892 - Coskata LSS, MA - Awardee(s): Keeper Walter N. Chase

Date of Award: April 2, 1892

On 21 January 1892 the Canadian schooner, H.P. Kirkham, wrecked on Rose and Crown Shoal, fifteen miles from Coskata Life-Saving Station on Nantucket (MA) Island. Keeper Chase and his six- man crew rescued the crew of seven men from the rigging during a heavy gale and sea. The men were saved only by the utmost skill and bravery and were brought to land after being battered by the elements for twenty-three hours. For his leadership Keeper Chase received the Gold Lifesaving Medal while each of his crewmen received the Silver Lifesaving Medal. These included Jesse H. Eldridge, Roland H. Perkins, Charles B. Cathcart, John Nyman, Josiah B. Gould, and George J. Flood.


February 24, 1892 - Hog Island LSS, VA (Station No. 9, Fifth District) - Awardee(s): Keeper John E. Johnson

Date of Award: March 21, 1892

Despite one fatality, one of the most notable rescues of 1892 was that conducted by the crew of the Hog Island (VA) Station (Fifth District) in landing twenty-six persons from the Spanish steamship San Albano on 24 February 1892. Out of Bilboa, Spain she had gone ashore on the outer shoals of Hog Island on the evening of the 22nd and subsequently, became a total wreck. Around 4:30 AM on 23 February, the morning beach patrol discovered a steamer’s light too near the shore and he lit his Coston signal. When the light disappeared shortly afterwards, the surfman concluded that the warning had been effective. He later reported what happened to the keeper at sunrise. The keeper then ascended to the lookout and swept the horizon with the glass. To the north he discerned the masts and smokestack of a vessel which appeared to be close to the land.

The weather was misty and a northeast gale prevailed. This carried the tide over the marshes of the island. The surf, beat heavily upon the shore and swift currents swept along the beach to the southward. The life-saving crew set out at once with the beach apparatus and worked their way up the coast to the ship about five miles distant. After two hours of exertion, they arrived abreast the ship at 9:00. It appeared that the vessel of twelve hundred and ninety-one tons register, bound from New Orleans to Hamburg, Germany. She was to obtain coal in Norfolk. In the thick weather the ship passed the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. In retracing the distance along the coast, the master steered too far to the westward and grounded on the outer shoals of Hog Island. He later worked over the bar and floated in one of the numerous channels. Here the master came to an anchor, but the increasing force of adverse elements proved irresistible and the vessel drifted before the wind. Striking upon the shoals at intervals, she filled with water and finally grounded five hundred yards from the beach.

When the lifesavers arrived, the ship lay broadside and the waves broke over her decks. The ship’s company could be seen gathered around the houses on deck and while the Spanish flag floated from halfway up the main rigging. It appeared impossible to reach the wreck with the gun. The forty-mile gale ensured that the life-car would be needed should communication be established with the beach apparatus. It was also deemed advisable to bring the surfboat to the scene. This necessitated a return to the station for this equipment. The round trip required ten miles’ travel over the flooded country. The station horse was taken back to bring up the surfboat and a team of horses was kindly loaned by Mr. J. L. Ferrell to haul the life-car, a spare shot-line, and shot. The lifesaving crew could not re-assemble opposite the wreck until 2:00 PM.

The gun was placed and a failed shot was fired. The second shot, with a No. 4 line, passed over the ship and the line fell on deck. In their eagerness to haul it aboard, however, the steamer’s crew carelessly permitted it to chafe against the main rigging where the action of the sea caused it to part. The rising tide drove the lifesavers farther back upon the beach, increasing the distance to the wreck. The gale raged with greater fury and caused the five succeeding shots to fall short. Without any additional lines, the keeper decided to resort to the surfboat. He did this, despite the assertions of experienced men that no boat could survive in such surf.

The boat was dragged well up to the window and launched, but the wind, the sea, and the current, were too powerful for the crew. They were carried below the wreck, where they reached the shore with difficulty. They made a second launch from a point much farther to the north, but the heroic struggle to reach the wreck proved futile. Although they approached somewhat nearer the stranded steamer, it was impossible to reach her. The boat was again swept beyond the vessel and nearly overturned. After a desperate struggle, a safe landing was effected about a mile below the wreck.

Though both attempts with the boat had jeopardized the lives of the entire, it had also demonstrated their dauntless courage.

Meanwhile some of the ship’s company, in defiance of the captain, lowered the steamer’s only remaining boat, and seven of them made a successful trip to the shore. This was a circumstance so exceptional under such conditions, that it may be noted to be little less than miraculous. Shortly thereafter, it sunset arrived and it grew dark. The lifesaving crew was prevented from further operations by the night. With his crew exhausted by their efforts and going without food all day, the keeper decided to return to the station for needed food and a brief rest. He made this decision after he learned, from the men who came ashore, that the ship was yet solid and dry in her deckhouses.

A company composed of the Rev. J.R. Sturgis, his son, and Mr. Albert Barrett, with others whose names were unfortunately unknown, volunteered to maintain a watch, keep a fire on the beach, and to notify Keeper Johnson should anything serious occur. The crew reached the station at 9 o’clock, and after a few hours’ rest set out again for the wreck at 4 in the morning. They took the last dry shot line with them.

The wind was due northeast and the surf had not diminished. The ship, however, did not appear to have worked any nearer the shore, and although it was low water, the keeper saw that she was still probably beyond the range of the gun. As such, the crew was forced to resort to an ingenious expedient that proved to be the turning point for a successful operation. The gun was lashed upon the apparatus cart while the shot-line box was secured on the forward axle of the boat carriage. The men waded waist deep into the surf and the cart was pushed into the water as far as possible. Heavily loaded for this final trial, the gun was discharged at the right moment. After a moment of breathless suspense, the shot landed just over the rail, falling on the ship's deck. Remebering the accident of the previous day, the crew of the steamer kept the line clear and hauled it off with care. Aided by the islanders on the beach, the connection with the wreck was finally made and the life car was sent aboard.

Eight trips sufficed to bring the nineteen officers and crew ashore. They landed almost destitute of clothing, but with grateful expressions for their safe deliverance. It was at this juncture that the keeper learned that one man, the chief engineer, had been lost. He had attempted, against the remonstrances of his shipmates, to reach the shore by swimming with the aid of a plank. This rash act cost him his life. Rev. J. R. Sturgis had heard an outcry at about 2 o’clock in the morning but no one was seen. The entire crew of twenty-six persons were properly cared for at the station and their destitution was relieved by supplying them with clothing from the articles furnished by the Women’s National Relief Association. The district inspector, who investigated all the circumstances connected with this remarkable case closed his report in the following words

Great credit is due the keeper and crew of the Hog Island Station for their brave and persistent efforts, and every man did his whole duty. The people of the island were prompt and ready to assist the life-saving crew in every way possible, and especial praise should be given the Rev. J.R. Sturgis for his hearty cooperation and valuable services. This is the first time in the history of this station that the beach apparatus has been used, and demonstrates the great value of the life car as a means of lauding men when the distance is great and the surf heavy.

It should be noted that the superintendent of the district, Captain B.S. Rich, a man of great experience and with an enviable record as a lifesaver, was on site early and rendered valuable aid by his sound judgment and excellent advice. The crew remained at the station seven days, when they were transferred to the mainland. Before their departure the captain addressed a letter to the district superintendent:


February 25, 1892.


I am much obliged to Keeper J.E. Johnson and his crew for the promptness with which they came to the aid of the steamer San Albano and for saving twenty-six men and the cat. One sailor was drowned. He jumped overboard in spite of the warning of all hands. I would, therefore, express great praise to Keeper Johnson and his crew for saving our lives under the most trying circumstances, since there was a heavy surf breaking on the beach, accompanied by a high wind and strong current. The superintendent also proved himself very efficient in giving directions on shore and in pushing forward the task of rescue. I do not know how to express our gratitude for the good which resulted.


April 19, 1893 - Milwaukee LSS, WI - Awardee(s): Surfman Ingar Olsen

Date of Award: May 24, 1893

During night of 19 April 1893, the house on the crib of a new city waterworks tunnel washed away during a prevailing gale.  The 15 workmen took refuge in the air lock and on morning of the 20th, all but one had drowned.  The lifesaving crew of the Milwaukee (WI) Life-Saving Station were towed to the crib by the tug Welcome and rescued the survivor from the crib.  The superior intelligence, remarkable strength, and courageous daring of Surfman Ingar Olsen resulted in the rescue of the lone survivor.  On the following day the crew helped recover the bodies of ten of those drowned in this disaster.

Click here to see original handwritten award.


October 11, 1896 - Pea Island LSS, NC (Station No. 17, Sixth District) - Awardee(s): Keeper Richard Etheridge, Benjamin Bowser, Dorman Pugh, Theodore Meekins, Lewis Wescott, Stanley Wise, William Irving

Date of Award: March 5, 1996

The three-masted schooner E.S. Newman, sailing from Providence, RI to Norfolk, VA ran into a hurricane. Pushed before the storm, the ship lost all sails and drifted almost 100 miles before it ran aground about two miles south of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station (NC) on 11 October 1896. The station keeper, Richard Etheridge, had discontinued the routine patrols due to the high water that had inundated the island. Surfman Theodore Meekins, however, saw what he thought was a distress signal and lit a Coston flare. He then called to Etheridge to look for a return signal. Both strained to look through the storm. Moments later, they saw a faint signal of a vessel in distress.

Etheridge, a veteran of nearly twenty years, readied the crew. They hitched mules to the beach cart and hurried toward the vessel. Arriving on the scene, they found Captain S.A. Gardiner and eight others clinging to the wreckage. Unable to fire a line because the high water prevented the Lyle Gun’s deployment, Etheridge directed two surfmen to bind themselves together with a line. Grasping another line, the pair moved into the breakers while the remaining surfmen secured the shore end. The two surfmen reached the wreck and, using a heaving stick, got a line on board. Once a line was tied around one of the crewmen, all three were then pulled back through the surf by the crew on the beach. The remaining eight persons were carried to shore in similar fashion. After each trip two different surfmen replaced those who had just returned.

For their efforts the crew of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station, Richard Etheridge, Benjamin Bowser, Dorman Pugh, Theodore Meekins, Lewis Wescott, Stanley Wise, and William Irving were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal on 5 March 1996.


November 22, 1896 - Point Arena Light Station, CA - Awardee(s): Jefferson M. Brown, Keeper, U.S. Lighthouse Service

Date of Award: October 17, 1899

On 22 November 1896 Jefferson M. Brown, keeper of the Point Arena (CA) light station, along with Sam Miller and Lazar Poznanovich demonstrated his heroic daring in attempting to rescue the crew of the wrecked steamer San Benito. Three times he went out with Miller and Poznanovich in an unseaworthy boat, only to be hurled back by the force of the seas. For their actions each was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.


August 18, 1899 - Gull Shoal LSS, NC - Awardee(s): Surfman Rasmus S. Midgett

Date of Award: October 18, 1899

At 3:00 AM on 18 August 1899, Surfman Rasmus S. Midgett of the Gull Shoal (NC) Station, set out on horseback to make the regular south patrol. When he reached a point about three-fourths of a mile from the station he discovered buckets, barrels, boxes, and other articles coming ashore. This indicated to him that there was a wreck somewhere in the neighborhood. The surf was sweeping clear across the narrow bank of sand that separated the ocean from Pamlico Sound. At times it reached to the saddle girths of his horse. The night was so intensely dark that he could scarcely tell where he was going, nevertheless, he knew that the patrol must be made at all hazards. The rapidly multiplying evidences of disaster urged him on. When he had traveled a little more than 2 miles farther he thought he detected the sound of voices. He paused to listen and caught the outcries of the shipwrecked men. He could see nothing of them or of the wreck, but dismounting and proceeding toward the edge of the bank he soon made out a part of a vessel, with the forms of several persons crouching upon it, about a hundred yards distant. The vessel was Captain Benjamin E. Springsteen’s barkentine, Priscilla, which had run aground.

Here was a dilemma that called for the exercise of sound judgment and faultless courage. Midgett had consumed an hour and a half on his patrol before reaching the place. To return to the station and bring back the life-saving crew was to sacrifice three hours more when every moment was precious. On the other hand, to undertake to save the lives of the shipwrecked men without aid was perhaps to throw away his own life and leave them utterly helpless until another patrol should be attempted. By then all might perish. Short time was spent in deliberation. He determined to do what he could alone and without delay.

Selecting the first opportunity when a receding wave permitted, he ran down as close to the wreck as he could and shouted instructions for the men to jump overboard, one at a time, as the surf ran back, and that he would take care of them. Then retreating from the in rushing breakers to the higher part of the bank, he watched his chance to approach the wreck again, calling for one man to jump. Obeying his instructions a sailor would leap overboard. Midgett, in each instance, would seize him and drag him from the pursuing waves safely to the bank. In this manner he rescued seven men.


A painting of Rasmus Midgett rescuing the crew of the vessel Priscilla.

Rasmus Midgett rescues the crew of Priscilla


During all these laborious exertions he incurred much danger from the chance that he and his burden might be swept out to sea. But now came far greater demands upon his courage and physical powers. There still remained upon the vessel three men so bruised and exhausted that they were unable to do as the others had done. Midgett, however, was not dismayed. To save these he must go right down into the sea close to the wreck, take them off, and carry them to the beach. Down the steep bank into the very jaws of death three times he descended. Each time he dragged away a helpless man and bore him out of the angry waters to safety. The ten lives he saved were the priceless trophies of his valor. Seven of the men were still able to walk. These he sent forward toward the station, while the other three he took to a safe place. After giving his own coat to Captain Springsteen, Midgett rode on to summon the aid of his comrades.

Keeper Pugh was on the beach when Midgett came into sight. Upon hearing Midgett’s amazing story, Pugh ordered two of the surfmen to harness horses to their carts and proceed to bring up the disabled men. The other surfmen he directed to set up a stove in the sitting room and prepare for the castaways. It was the end of a splendid day’s work, well worthy of the admiration of the whole people. Midgett, who bore the noblest part, was subsequently awarded a Gold Lifesaving Medal by the Secretary of the Treasury. With the award the Secretary transmitted a highly commendatory letter reciting the story of the brave man’s heroism. 


September 8, 1900 - USRC Galveston - Awardee(s): Seaman James Bierman, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service; Second Assistant Engineer Charles S. Root, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service

Date of Award: September 18, 1902

Charles S. Root, second assistant engineer, United States Revenue Cutter Service, was awarded a gold medal for heroic conduct in saving and assisting in the rescue of 34 persons from drowning during the memorable hurricane of 8 September 1900 at Galveston, TX.

In the morning there were indications of an approaching storm. By 3:00 PM the lower portions of the city were flooded to a depth of 4 or 5 feet. A half-hour later a report regarding scenes of devastation and death reached the cutter Galveston, to which Mr. Root was attached. While the commander considered sending a boat to the relief of the stricken people, Mr. Root applied for the privilege of taking a boat out. The commander granted his request and 8 members of the crew stepped forward to accompany him. Thereafter, they bravely stood by him throughout all the perilous incidents.

Swiftly overhauling the Galveston’s boat, they dragged it over the railroad tracks and launched it into Fourteenth Street. Thence they worked their way among the wreckage picking up persons swimming and afloat on flotsam. Having taken 13 into the boat, they delivered them on board the Galveston. Still resolute to continue the good work, but wanting no unwilling person in the party, Mr. Root called for volunteers. For a second trip the same crew promptly responded.

The storm was now at its height, the velocity of the wind ranged from 84 to more than 100 miles per hour. Buildings toppled over and the destructive force of the winds filled the air with flying debris of all sorts. Night soon made it impossible to handle the boat under oars. Still the men pushed on. They leapt overboard, wading or swimming as the depth allowed, dragging the boat by means of a line from pillar to post until they had rescued another 21 people. These they housed in a two-story building which seemed to be firm. They then took the boat under the lee of another structure and swam inside for temporary shelter from the deadly missiles falling all about. It was 8 PM and very dark, but three hours later the wind moderated and Mr. Root returned to his vessel with every member of his crew safe and uninjured.

In a letter forwarding the medal, the Secretary of the Treasury closed with the following paragraph:

The gold medal of the Life-Saving Service is provided by law for bestowal, in the judgment of the Secretary of the Treasury, upon such persons as perform the most heroic acts in saving life from the perils of the sea, and therefore bears the testimony that your services upon the occasion above named were of the most meritorious character--self-sacrificing, skillful, and courageous--at the jeopardy of your own life.

A gold medal was also awarded to Seaman James Bierman, United States Revenue Cutter Service, in recognition of his gallant conduct during the hurricane at Galveston. Bierman was a member of Root’s boat crew. In addition to sharing in the peril common to all his comrades, Bierman swam from point to point with a line that was used for hauling the boat. Thus, he exposed himself to much additional danger.

In addition the Silver Lifesaving Medal was awarded to the 7 other men in Assistant Engineer Root’s boat crew. Those awarded included George Jeffas, gunner; Jacob Pedersen, carpenter; W. Cormack, master-at-arms; F. Olsen, coxswain; W. Gardiner, third-class oiler; W. Idstrom, third-class oiler; and B. Rafailovich, Fireman.



November 21, 1900 - Buffalo LSS, NY (Station No. 5, Ninth District) - Awardee(s): Keeper W.W. Griesser

Date of Award: February 23, 1901

Perhaps the most remarkable rescue performed during the 1900 was that accomplished by Keeper W. W. Griesser of the Buffalo (NY) Life-Saving Station on 21 November 1900. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the bestowal of a Gold Lifesaving Medal. The circumstances of this rescue were graphically set forth in the following extract from the letter of the Secretary of the Treasury dated 4 June 1901, transmitting the medal:

"About 2:20 o’clock pm of the day above named, while a gale of great velocity, said to have been at times as high as 80 miles an hour, was sweeping across the harbor of Buffalo, two large scows having several men on board broke from their moorings some 3 miles southwest of the life-saving station and drifted swiftly toward the breakers. Surfmen discovered the disaster from the lookout tower, whereupon you promptly launched and manned the lifeboat, which was taken in tow by the tug Mason and by your direction dropped at a point three-fourths of a mile to the windward of the scows. You then allowed her to drive before the wind to a position just outside the outer line of the surf, where you rounded to and let go an anchor, in tending by slacking away the hawser to get sufficiently near the scows to make sure whether the men had escaped or might still need assistance.

The terrible sweep of the wind, from which you were wholly unprotected, and the fact that the bottom of the lake at this point is mostly hardpan caused the anchor to drag so much that in a few moments the lifeboat was in the midst of the heaviest surf, which at times completely buried her. Two great combers broke on board, while a third one caught the bow and threw it high into the air, snapping asunder the hawser and pitching the heavy boat end over end. You and all but one of the crew were thrown out, and only after a hard swim reached the land more than a quarter of a mile away, where you learned that a man who had been on one of the scows was in a very perilous position among some old piles standing nearly a third of a mile from where you then were. A locomotive of the Lehigh Valley Railroad was passing at the time, and the engineer offered to take you and your crew to the place indicated, where you shortly arrived and beheld the half-drowned man clinging for his life to the slippery piles 400 or 500 feet from the shore, the seas constantly breaking over him, so deeply at times that he was entirely lost from sight.

The use of a boat was impracticable, and the situation of the unfortunate man was plainly such that he must perish unless aid should reach him. There was not time for much deliberation, and you quickly resolved to try to swim out with a line, calling upon Surfman Greenland to accompany you. As you two were about to start upon this hazardous enter p rise you were warned by experienced men that you could not live to accomplish it, but, nothing daunted, you simply replied: ‘‘Wait until we try; he can not come to us; we will try to go to him."

Making one end of the line fast about your arm, you dashed into the lake, accompanied by Greenland, but had not proceeded far when you were both thrown back upon the beach. Again both set out, but when about 50 yards on the way a very heavy sea hurled Greenland against an old pile, doing him considerable injury, then swept him to the land.

You were still uninjured and bravely persisted in your purpose, being repeatedly driven shoreward but gradually gaining ground until, in the course of some fifteen minutes, you reached a pile standing some 60 or 70 yards from the beach, where you held on for a few moments of rest. This was the only pause you made during the entire operation of rescue, which consumed three-fourths of an hour. After somewhat recovering your breath you renewed the battle, and although severely buffeted and many times beaten back from 100 to 200 feet, you still kept a stout heart. Sometimes when an ugly comber would have lifted you up and carried you rearward on its crest you dived beneath it and taking advantage of the undertow running in your favor maintained your progress. Physically weaker men could not have endured the strain, while men less brave although of equal strength would long before have given up.

At length getting sufficiently near you threw to the man the end of the line, instructing him to make it fast about his body and then to let go his hold of the piling and drop into the water. He had only sufficient strength, however, to secure the line about his wrist, and before he could leap the waves caught and fouled the bight of the line among the piling. At the same time you were thrown nearly 100 feet away and for once a fear entered your mind that you might fail after all. The imperiled man was begging piteously for you to save him and crying out that he could hold on but a few moments longer. To the people on the shore it seemed as though both of you must certainly perish. Baffled, but neither vanquished nor dismayed, you still persisted, regaining your lost ground, and at the end of fifteen minutes of very dangerous work cleared the snarl. Then upon your signal the man let go of the piles, while scores of persons at the other end of the line pulled him with a rush to the beach, where he was picked up unconscious.

When you were satisfied that no further mishap was likely to befall him you struck out for the land, which you reached without aid but so exhausted that you could not stand. Eager hands lifted your prostrate body from the edge of the water, while long-continued cheers attested the estimation accorded your gallant deed by the hundreds of persons who witnessed it.

It appears that while engaged in effecting this extraordinary rescue, involving very great courage, physical exertion, and mental anxiety, you were considerably injured by coming in contact with a floating telegraph pole, that passed over you two or three times, inflicting heavy blows upon your back. In view of this fact and all the other extremely adverse circumstances, it would seem incredible but for indisputable evidence that you performed the marvelous feat, which was, indeed, effected only at the extreme peril of your life."


December 21, 1900 - Dam Neck Hills LSS, VA - Awardee(s): Keeper Bailey T. Barco

Date of Award: October 7, 1901

For extreme and heroic action on 21 December 1900 while engaged in the rescue of the crew of the schooner Jennie Hall which had run aground in a severe winter storm off the coast of Virginia Beach, VA.  Upon notification of the grounding, Keeper Barco proceeded to the scene and took command as keeper in charge at the wreck.  Realizing that the use of the surfboat was dangerous, if not impossible, Keeper Barco directed the assembling of the beach apparatus and soon a breeches buoy had delivered all but one of the survivors to safety.  The last victim was so numbed by the cold that he could not help himself.  After an unsuccessful effort by one of the members of the Dam Neck Hills Station to ride the breeches buoy out and help the man, Keeper Barco decided to take the surfboat out to the wreck and attempt to put two men aboard Jennie Hall.  Following several ill-fated attempts, Keeper Barco, as boat coxswain, and his volunteer crew launched the surfboat and put two of the crew aboard the rapidly disintegrating ship.  Despite turbulent and freezing seas, Keeper Barco kept the surfboat under oars until one of his own crew was washed overboard.  Quickly recovering the man, Keeper Barco guided the surfboat back to the beach since it was impossible to remain near the wreck in the storm-tossed seas.  The helpless crewman of Jennie Hall and the two volunteers who had been put aboard the wreck were then brought safely to the beach by the breeches buoy.  Keeper Barco's exemplary courage, fortitude, and initiative in this valiant rescue, despite imminent personal danger, reflect the highest honor upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Life-Saving Service.


March 17, 1902 - Monomoy LSS, MA - Awardee(s): Keeper Seth L. Ellis

Date of Award: March 28, 1902

One of the most distressing calamities in the history of the Life-Saving Service occurred on 17 March 1902 near the eastern end of Shovelful Shoal on the Massachusetts coast.  It resulted in the drowning of 12 persons, 5 from the stranded coal barge Wadena and 7 from the crew of the Monomoy Life-Saving Station. The circumstances of this lamentable ship wreck and sacrifice of the life-saving men appears to have been as follows:

During a northeast gale on the night of 11 March, the barges Wadena and John C. Fitzpatrick, bound from Newport News, VA to Boston, MA in tow of the tug, Sweepstakes, struck on Shovelful Shoal, off the southern end of Monomoy Island, Cape Cod while seeking an anchorage. They remained there for several days. A few hours after stranding, the crew of the Monomoy Life-Saving Station boarded the barges and tried to float them. Finding the undertaking impracticable, due to the weather, they took both crews of five men each to the life-saving station, where they arrived at 3 PM.

The Sweepstakes remained by the barges for a couple of days, but she was compelled to make a port for repairs. Wreckers were engaged to lighter the cargoes and float the barges. As conditions permitted, the wreckers continued their labors off and on until the night of March 16. At this time the weather became so threatening that the tug Peter Smith, which had replaced the Sweepstakes, took all the men off the Wadena, except five, and put into the harbor of Hyannis. Those who remained on the barge were the owner, W. S. Mack, of Cleveland, OH, Captain C.D. Olsen of Boston, and three Portuguese wreckers, Manoel Ignacio, Vasco Izevedo, and another whose name could not be ascertained.

About 8:00 on the 17th, the south patrol of the Monomoy Life-Saving Station reported the barges as being in no immediate danger as far as he could make out. In a few minutes, however, Keeper Eldridge received a telephone inquiry from the captain of the tug Peter Smith, then at Hyannis, asking whether everything was all right with the men on board the Wadena. This was the first time the keeper had any idea that anybody had remained on the barge over night. The suggestive message caused him so much uneasiness that he started for the end of the Point, about 3 miles to the southwest, in order to determine the situation for himself. Rain was falling and the weather was thick. Meanwhile, a fresh southeast wind was blowing and across the direction of it, the ebbing tide was setting strongly, making a very ugly sea.

The Wadena lay about half a mile south of the point. Although Keeper Eldridge saw no signs of especial danger, a signal of distress was flying on board and he could not disregard it. He, therefore, telephoned from the south watchhouse to No. 1 Surfman Seth L. Ellis. He informed him of the facts and directed him to launch the surfboat and come down in it with the crew by the inside route. Promptly obeying, the men put on their storm clothes and after a hard pull reached a point on the beach some 2.5 miles from the station. Here they took in the keeper, who had walked up to meet them.

The keeper now assumed control and advising the crew of his intent. He took his course around the point straight for the Wadena. In many places on the shoals, the sea was very heavy, a peculiarly difficult and treacherous sea in which to handle a boat, and perhaps a barrel of water was shipped. It was nearly noon when the boat rounded-to under the lee of the barge, just abaft the forerigging. With her head pointed toward the stern, this was the only place where the waves permitted going alongside with any safety. A line was instantly thrown to the surfmen from the barge. Afterwards, the boat’s painter was also passed on board and used to make fast.

Having ascertained the number of persons on board, the keeper directed them to get into the boat. The main rail of the vessel was 12 or 13 feet above the water, and the men lowered themselves one by one over the side by means of a rope. Most unfortunately, Captain Olsen, a heavy man, lost his grasp on the way down and dropped with such force on the second thwart that he broke it. This put the rowers on that seat to great disadvantage.

In order to get quickly away from his dangerous proximity to the barge, Keeper Eldridge commanded Surfman Chase to cut the painter. The boat then shoved off. There was little safety room to maneuver and a swift attempt was made to clear the line of breakers. While the surfmen holding the port oars were backing hard and those on the starboard side were pulling, a sea struck the boat and poured a great deal of water into it. The men from the barge instantly flew into a panic that could not be quelled. They stood up, clung to the surfmen, crowded them out of their places on the thwarts, obstructed the use of the oars, and made any effective work impossible. The keeper and his crew were cool and resolute. They strained every muscle to turn the boat.

Doing their utmost to restore reason and order, a heavier wave rose up, fell broadside upon them, and the boat went over. Everyone who could clung to it as it drifted fast into the heaviest of the breakers. Twice the lifesavers righted it, but each time the seas upset it again. There was no longer any opportunity for concerted action. The water was bitter cold and the foam of the breakers nearly suffocating. Only the strongest could survive. As the boat tumbled and rolled about, the waves completely submerged it every few moments. One by one the men lost their hold and disappeared. With seven of them all was soon over.

Keeper Eldridge and Surfmen Ellis, Kendrick, Foye, and Rogers still held on. Kendrick had sufficient strength to climb to the bottom of the boat, but the next sea swept him away and Foye soon followed. The keeper was fast losing his vitality and now asked Ellis, who had succeeded in getting back onto the boat, to help him. Soon a strong wave washed off both of them and Eldridge, after regaining and losing his grasp several times, gave out and was seen no more. Only Rogers and Ellis remained. The former despairingly threw his arms around the latter’s neck. Unless Ellis could release himself, both would drown together. It was a terrible emergency. With the strength of desperation, Ellis broke away and hauled himself once more onto the boat while Rogers was still able to clutch the submerged rail. Ellis could scarcely breathe and was so worn out that all he could do was to keep his place and extend to his comrade a few feeble words of encouragement. Rogers was soon exhausted and after faintly moaning, "I have got to go," he fell away out of sight.

The awful tragedy was almost complete and poor Ellis nearly hopeless, but the boat eventually drifted into less turbulent water. The centerboard slipped part way out of the trunk so that he could clutch it and hold his place far more securely. Nevertheless, he might soon have perished had not assistance soon reached him.

The barge Fitzpatrick, which had stranded at the same time as the Wadena, was still intact on the shoal. On board were Captain Andrew Welsh, master, Captain Benjamin Mallows, marine underwriter, and Captain Elmer F. Mayo of Chatham, in charge of wrecking operations. The Fitzpatrick lay some considerable distance from the Wadena and it would seem that those on board did not see the life-saving boat when it went out. They were busy battening down hatches and had just started their steam pump when Captain Mayo glanced over the port rail and saw a capsized boat with four men clinging to it. At first he thought it was one of his own wrecking boats. He remembered, however, that he had observed a signal of distress flying on the Wadena. He then realized that the capsized boat belonged to the life-saving station. It was drifting toward the Fitzpatrick and Mayo quickly threw a large wooden fender overboard, thinking that it might find its way to the shipwrecked men. It did not do so and in the meantime three of them had dropped off the boat.

 Mayo now astonished his shipmates by declaring that he would go to the rescue with the barge’s dory, a vessel totally unfit for so perilous an enterprise. It lay on deck without thole pins or oars. Two pieces of pine, a serving stick, and an old rasp were quickly driven in for thole pins. Two old sawed-off oars were got together. In such crippled condition as this the little dory was thrust over the rail and fortunately took the water right side up. Mayo threw off his boots and oil jacket, strapped a life preserver about him and leapt into the dory, oars in hand. He then shoved away. Watching his chance with consummate skill and judgment, he swept across the heaviest line of breakers and then located his man and pulled ahead with all his might. Ellis stated that he waved his hand toward the barge after Rogers drowned and saw a dory thrown over the side, but after that, he saw nothing "until all at once the dory hove in sight" near him. Captain Mayo ran close alongside the capsized boat, and as he did so Ellis reached out and dragged himself into the dory.

Mayo’s work was so far well and bravely done, but the most dangerous part of it was still to be accomplished. He could not pull back to the barge, nor to the shore on the inside of the point. Instead, he had to make his landing on the outside where the surf was most dangerous. He knew that the attempt would jeopardize his own life and he carefully picked out his way. He held back a few moments until a person whom he saw coming down the beach could reach the edge of the water and render aid in case of need. This man proved to be Francisco Bloomer, a skillful surfman. As soon as he was abreast of the boat, Mayo drove it forward with great power while Bloomer ran into the surf and assisted both men safely to land.

When Captain Mayo left the Fitzpatrick on this self-imposed perilous mission of humanity he was warned that he would never live to accomplish it. When it was done, however, news of it spread quickly and it was proclaimed a most noble and brilliant achievement. In recognition of his extraordinary merits, the Secretary of the Treasury bestowed upon him the Gold Lifesaving Medal, awarded only to those who display the most extreme and heroic daring in saving life from the perils of the sea. Surfman Ellis, for his devotion to duty, his faultless courage, and his self-sacrificing fidelity to his comrades, was likewise honored. He was also promoted to keeper of his station.

The loss of the 7 life-saving men who perished created a sense of profound sorrow. There was no more skillful or fearless crew on the whole coast. As the Wadena remained safe for days after the disaster, there was a general conviction that the men were a tragic and unnecessary sacrifice. On the one hand, they responded to the needless apprehensions and senseless panic of the men from the barge. On the other hand they fell victim to their own high sense of duty which would not permit them to turn their backs upon a signal of distress. Perhaps the keeper’s order best sums up their ironic legacy. He said, "We must go, there is a distress flag in the rigging."


December 15, 1902 - Charlotte LSS, NY (Station No. 4, Ninth District) - Awardee(s): Keeper George N. Gray, Surfman Frank B. Chapman, Surfman W. Vernon Downing, Surfman Charles Eastwood, Surfman Mial E. Eggleston, Surfman George E. Henderson, Surfman Ira S. Palmer, Surfman Delbert Rose, Surfman Lester D. Seymour

Date of Award: January 3, 1903

In recognition of their gallant conduct in effecting the rescue on 15 December 1902 of four men and one woman from the wreck of the schooner John R. Noyes, the crew of the life-saving station at Charlotte, NY received the Gold Lifesaving Medal. Those awarded included Keeper George N. Gray and Surfmen Frank B. Chapman, W. Vernon Downing, Charles Eastwood, Mial E. Eggleston, George E. Henderson, Ira S. Palmer, Delbert Rose, and Lester D. Seymour.

The circumstances of the case were as follows. About 5:30 PM on 14 December 1902, the train master of the New York Central Railroad at Charlotte, NY received a telegram requesting him to notify Keeper Gray that a vessel showing signals of distress lay at anchor about 3 miles off Lakeside, 23 miles from Charlotte. Upon receipt of the information, the keeper instantly prepared to go to her relief.

The harbor tug was frozen in the ice upriver and could not tow the surfboat to the scene. While trying to pull 23 miles against a head sea on a winter night would have been both useless and foolhardy. The keeper, therefore, resolved to proceed by rail to Lakeside and thence, if possible, to reach the vessel. He promptly secured orders for a special train at Windsor Beach and a gang of shovelers went to work breaking out two flat cars standing on a siding. Due to the deep snow and other obstructions, it was nearly two hours before the life-saving crew could get to the depot with the wagon carrying a surfboat. It would be an hour more before the train was ready.

Before leaving the station the keeper sent a telegram to the keeper of the Oswego Station. He requested him to dispatch a tug in search of the craft in order to save her. He also telegraphed Lakeside for teams to be in readiness for his use at that point. The special train was delayed by a freight train and Lakeside was not reached until 9:35 PM. From there the condition of the roads proved so unfavorable that sleds were necessary to transport the apparatus to the shore.

The journey of 4 miles was extremely difficult. There were great snowdrifts, at least 6 feet deep, obstructing progress. There were also very considerable stretches swept bare, over which it was impossible for four horses to drag the sleds. The crew was frequently compelled to assist in hauling them. At 11:30 PM the shore was gained and while the boat was being removed from the sleds. With the hope that it might encourage the distressed vessel’s crew, the keeper proceeded to a bluff and burned a red Coston signal. Before embarking, he also obtained as good an idea of her position as he could get.

Launching the boat, the crew pulled outside into the heavy sea. The weather, however, was bitter cold. The air was so thick with vapor that the keeper, after going about a mile, found it impossible to see a dozen yards ahead. Nevertheless, he kept on by compass until about 3:00 AM. For three and one-half hours they fruitlessly continued the search, burning several Coston signals. Finally, with the bewilderment so disheartening, he felt compelled to wait for daylight and ordered the boat ashore. At his request the people of the vicinity built a large bonfire, which it was hoped might possibly be seen from the vessel. All hands were permitted to lie down for 90 minutes. After breakfast the keeper sent the entire crew along the cliffs in order to sight the vessel, if possible, after daybreak. No signs of her, however, were discovered. Leaving a man on shore with instructions to ascend to the top of a windmill and signal which way the boat should go, again he launched the surfboat.

As soon as the lookout reached the top of the mill, he discovered the schooner in the distance. Upon his signal the keeper put back into the beach. He then spotted the vessel with the aid of marine glasses. Taking note of her bearings by the compass, he again launched. Having the wind astern, the boat soon made a distance of 10 miles off shore when the wind came brisk from the east. This compelled him to proceed in the dangerous trough of the combing waves. The weather was so cold that the spray rapidly covered the boat and its occupants with ice. The conditions then constantly grew more difficult and when the boat reached the wreck at 11:30 AM, 20 miles off shore, the wind was blowing very hard and the sea was running high.

The vessel and her crew were in a most pitiful condition. She had lost her sails, yawl boat, and both anchors, had her cabin smashed in. She was leaking fast and was heavily encumbered with ice. She was simply a helpless wreck, drifting about at the mercy of the storm. All on board were suffering from exposure for more than fifty hours and from lack of food for upward of thirty-six hours. They had lost hope, bidden one another goodbye, and were lying on the deck benumbed. Some were hysterical. In a little while all would have perished.

Having wrapped the woman in the keeper’s overcoat and provided her with mittens, the lifesavers managed to place all hands safely into the surfboat. As nothing could be done to save the wreck, the keeper pushed off quickly with a view of gaining the land before darkness should shut down. All were worn out and the return trip lay in the trough of the sea. This made it necessary to head the boat up to the breakers, whereby her progress was much impeded. A little assistance was rendered at the oars by some of the shipwrecked men when they were sufficiently recovered. After an extremely trying experience the shore was reached about 4:30 PM a mile and a half from the launching place.

On account of the accumulation of ice, however, the boat could not land. The crew was compelled to carry the rescued persons ashore, through the water and ice, on their shoulders. Then they pulled farther down, where horses dragged the boat ashore. After partaking of a warm supper, the crew proceeded with the boat to Lakeside and thence, by train, to Windsor Beach. They arrived at the starting point about 9:30 PM on 15 December. Having been engaged in this extremely hazardous enterprise more than a day and a night with little sleep, they were under oars from 11:30 PM of the 14th to 4:30 PM. of the 15th with the exception of about two hours. They pulled in a heavy seaway nearly or quite 60 miles and all were more or less frostbitten. Grave apprehensions existed on shore lest they be lost. Preparations were, in fact, made to send out a rescue party if necessary. Throughout all these trying circumstances they nobly bore their part.

In his 12 March 1903 letter transmitting the medals, the Secretary of the Treasury stated:

I find great pleasure in acting under the law as the medium for the bestowal of the accompanying gold medal, which is designed to bear testimony of extreme and heroic daring in saving life from the perils of the sea.


January 21, 1903 - Shipbottom LSS, NJ and Long Beach LSS, NJ - Awardee(s): Keeper Isaac W. Truexand, Keeper George Maths, Surfman J. Horace Cranmer, Surfman James. H. Cranmer, Surfman Walter Pharo, Surfman A.B. Salmons, Surfman C.V. Conklin, Surfman W.E. Pharo, Surfman, M.D. Kelly

Date of Award: October 1903

In recognition of the heroic conduct exhibited on 21 January 1903, in the rescue of 5 men from the wrecked barkentine Abiel Abbott, the following Life-Saving Service members received the Gold Lifesaving Medal: Keeper Isaac W. Truex and Surfmen J. Horace Cranmer, James H. Cranmer, Walter Pharo, Barton P. Pharo, A. B. Salmons, and C. V. Conklin of Shipbottom (NJ) Station and Keeper George Maths, and Surfmen W. E. Pharo and M.D. Kelly of Long Beach (NJ) Station.

The Abiel Abbott, out of Turks Island and headed for New York, stranded on Shipbottom Bar on the New Jersey coast about 500 yards from shore. On 20 January 1903 the night was dark and stormy and the sea was running high. At 8:15 PM a surfman on patrol discovered the wreck. The lifesavers soon assembled upon the beach, but with the intense darkness an attempt to launch a boat, in such a sea, would have been rash.

The surfmen, therefore, directed their efforts to establishing communication with the vessel by use of the Lyle gun. Several shots were fired and one of them carried a line on board the doomed craft. Heavy seas swept her decks and she had begun to break up. Her crew found it impossible to reach the line. During the night, four of the ship’s nine-man company lost their lives. By the morning the vessel had become a shattered hulk. The five remaining crewmen could be seen clinging to the top of the cabin.

At the first signs of dawn the lifesavers launched the surfboat. Though broken and jagged wreckage threatened the boat with every stroke of the oars, the surfmen pulled desperately for the wreck. In spite of this effort, the boat was beaten back upon the shore and the crew was nearly exhausted. When another attempt with the Lyle gun failed, the crew again put out in the surfboat. This time, however, they succeeded in reaching the shipwrecked men and safely brought them to the shore. Captain Abbott testified that he believed it impossible for the lifesavers to get to them. Furthermore, that they succeeded in doing so, he thought it was a miracle.


June 13, 1903 - Squan Beach LLS, NJ (Station No. 9, Fourth District) - Awardee(s): Captain Robert F. Longstreet

Date of Award: January 15, 1904

The Gold Lifesaving Medal was awarded to Captain Robert F. Longstreet, keeper of Squan Beach (NJ) Life-Saving Station, Captain John K. Andersen, and Mr. Charles H. Boker, and a silver medal to Mr. Harry Andersen, for heroic conduct under the following circumstances:

On 13 June 1903, a heavy ground swell and a strong southerly wind caused a high surf which was breaking all the way from the bar to the beach. Only a few of the more daring of the fishing boats in the vicinity had ventured out. Among them was one containing Captain Andersen, Harry Anderson, and 5 others. The boat proceeded to the fish pound and about noon, it started for the beach, heavily loaded. A few minutes later, when just outside the bar, a heavy sea capsized her and threw the occupants into the surf. All, however, succeeded in clinging to the boat.

The capsize was observed by Mr. Boker, a fisherman who was on the beach. He immediately ran to a skiff lying near and hauled it to the beach. While making an unsuccessful endeavor to persuade another fisherman to aid him in launching to the rescue, Captain Longstreet arrived on the scene. Having no crew at the station (inactive season), and there being no other available boat, he jumped into the skiff with Boker and pulled away to the imperiled men.

A difficult and dangerous task was now before them as they had to battle wind, sea, and current in this frail craft. She was so flooded by the breaking of the heavy seas that one of the men was compelled to bail while the other rowed. The people on shore doubted whether the imperiled men would be reached in time, if at all. By persistent and skillful effort the skiff was worked to the capsized boat that had now been caught in a "pocket." Here the waves broke over her so furiously that five of the men were washed off-- fortunately in the direction of the shore. This left Captain Andersen and one other man. Captain Andersen might have been able to save himself, but he gallantly refused to abandon the other man, who could not swim. He remained by him, swimming in the lee of the boat ready to sustain him in case he should lose his hold. The skiff was now backed close down so that Captain Andersen could lay hold of the stern. Just as he did so, however, a great wave swept the man from the capsized boat.

This was a critical moment, but Andersen had his wits about him. Just as the man was drifting away, he caught him by the arm, while Longstreet, leaning out of the skiff, also seized the man and held him until the breaker had passed. Both men were then taken into the skiff and carried safely ashore.

In the meantime four of the five who had previously been washed from the capsized boat, among whom was Mr. Harry Andersen, succeeded in safely reaching the beach. The other, being unable to swim, disappeared under the water. He would have drowned had not Andersen, seized the end of a line and heroically plunged into the breakers in search of him. The man was found lying on the bottom about 40 yards from the shore, and Andersen grasped him tightly and struggled to the surface with him. Both were hauled ashore by persons on the beach. The rescued man was insensible and was finally restored only after the Life-Saving Service method of resuscitation had been applied for more than an hour.


July 24, 1903 - Sakonnet Light Station - Awardee(s): Nils Nelson, Keeper, U.S. Lighthouse Service

Date of Award: June 23, 1904

A gold medal was presented to Nils Nelson, assistant keeper of Sakonnet light-house, for rescuing a man from drowning near West Island, Rhode Island, on July 24, 1903.

It appears that on the afternoon of the day above named, George H. Child, an employee of the West Island Club, was sent in a gasoline whaleboat to the Sakonnet Point steamboat landing for the club mail.  Though a heavy sea was running he experienced little difficulty in reaching the landing and obtaining the mail, but on his return, and when near to the Sakonnet light-house, an immense wave boarded the boat, swamped it, and dashed it to pieces against the rocks.  Child swam to a rock and managed, by lying flat ant clinging to the crevices, to prevent himself from being swept away by the angry seas.  Two boats were sent from the clubhouse to his rescue, but, being unable to get anywhere near the rock, because of the heavy sea breaking on the underlying rocks, gave up the attempt.

The man had now been clinging to the rock for more than half an hour, and was in imminent danger of being washed off and drowned, when Nils Nelson, assisted by the light keeper, launched the lighthouse supply boat, and, while the keeper remained at the light-house and directed him by signals, Nelson manned the boat and with great difficulty pulled clear of the jagged rocks to the vicinity of the imperiled man.  He then told Child to throw himself toward the boat when the next wave passed and that he would take him in.  Fortunately this plan succeeded, Child reaching the boat, which was carried by the wave completely over the reef into a sheltered spot of much smoother water, and, a few minutes later, both men landed safely on the island.

The evidence and circumstances show that, beyond all question, Mr. Child would have perished but for the gallant action, at the peril of his life, of Nils Nelson.


October 10, 1903 - Virginia Beach LSS, VA - Awardee(s): Surfman W.N. Capps

Date of Award: January 15, 1904

A Gold Lifesaving Medal was awarded to Surfman W. N. Capps of the Virginia Beach Life-Saving Station in recognition of his heroic conduct in saving two men from drowning off Virginia Beach, VA on the 10 October 1903.

During the afternoon of the 10th, the schooner barge Ocean Belle with a crew of five men wrecked on the Virginia shore about 2 miles north of the Virginia Beach Life-Saving Station. When the disaster occurred the wind was blowing at 50 miles per hour and there was a thick fog. Capps had been sent out from the station on patrol and had proceeded only about a half-mile when he discovered the wreckage from the barge. Shortly afterward, he saw a man struggling in the surf. He immediately rushed in, dragged him ashore, placed him in the lee of a sand hill, and started to the station for aid.

He had gone about a mile when he discovered another man, apparently dead, 100 yards out in the surf. Although the undertaking involved extreme peril, Capps immediately divested himself of his outer clothing and unhesitatingly plunged into the rescue. Just as the man passed into the "inner break," he seized him and turned for the beach. The heavy sea, however, knocked him down. With the man unable to help himself, it was with great difficulty that Capps was able to raise and haul him ashore to a safe place on the beach. He then applied the Service method of resuscitation and in twenty minutes the man had been sufficiently revived to sit up.

Capps then proceeded toward the station for assistance. Along the way he met surfmen coming to his aid. He then assisted them in taking the rescued men to the station. The keeper later testified that when Capps finally reached the station, he "staggered in barefooted, half clad, and scarcely able to keep his feet."


January 22, 1904 - Quogue LSS, NY - Awardee(s): Surfman W.F. Halsey, Jr., Surfman Frank D. Warner

Date of Award: January 22, 1904

During the dark and foggy night of 21 January 1904, the sea was running high. At 11:45 PM the schooner Augustus Hunt struck some 600 yards from shore, midway between the Quogue and Potunk (NY) life-saving stations. About 45 minutes later, a surfman on patrol discovered the casualty and hastened to the Quogue Station. The lifesavers promptly ran to the scene, transporting the surfboat and beach apparatus. After several unsuccessful shots were fired from the Lyle gun, the lifesaving crew then launched the surfboat. They were, however, unable to force it through the drifting wreckage. At 7:00 AM the schooner’s masts fell and several of the crew, who had taken to the rigging, were lost. There were, however, five who still clung to the jib boom. The boom was finally carried away with the loss of three more men. The remaining two men were discovered drifting toward the shore upon some wreckage. A fortunate shot from the Lyle gun carried a line to the hands of one of them. He made it fast and the lifesavers began to haul the wreckage slowly toward the beach.

One of the shipwrecked men, however, took the shot line under his arm and began to pick his way over the rough field of floating debris. He had not proceeded far when a heavy sea knocked him down. He would have perished but for Surfman Halsey. He took a line about his waist and plunged into the breakers. He fought his way to the helpless man and dragged him close to the beach, whereupon other life savers hauled both men to shore. The man remaining upon the wreckage then grasped the shot line and started for shore, but was soon swept beneath the breakers and rendered helpless. Surfman Warner, without even taking a line, rushed into the surf, made his way to the perishing sailor, and brought him to land.

In forwarding these medals the Department, in both cases, made use of the following language:

Your conduct was most highly courageous and commendable. You voluntarily jeopardized your life by assuming an undertaking of extreme peril, where no keeper would have ordered you to go, and in so doing performed an act that could have been dictated only by an extraordinary sense of duty and humanity. The danger of losing your own life would seem to have been as great, if not greater, than the probability of saving the imperiled sailor.

In recognition of their gallant at the wreck of the schooner Augustus Hunt on 22 January 1904, Surfmen W. F. Halsey, Jr. and Frank D. Warner of the Quogue (NY) Life-Saving Station each received the Gold Lifesaving Medal.


February 22, 1904 - Blue Point LSS, NY - Awardee(s): Surfman Albert Latham, Surfman Frank B. Raynor

Date of Award: January 15, 1905

The Gold Lifesaving Medal was conferred upon Surfmen Frank B. Raynor and Albert Latham of the Blue Point (NY) Life-Saving Station for their heroic conduct in the wreck of the schooner Benjamin C. Cromwell, on 22 February 1904.

The Cromwell stranded during foggy weather. When sighted by the lifesavers, the seas were breaking completely over her. This compelled the crew to take to the rigging. The life-saving crews of the three stations in the near vicinity soon appeared upon the scene. Several attempts were made to get a line to the stranded vessel, but she was surrounded with so much wreckage that it was impossible to haul the hawser on board. Failing this, the crews attempted to launch a surfboat, but the sea was so high that every attempt to launch was thrown back upon the beach.

Meanwhile, the masts of the vessel went over the side and the hull quickly began to break up. The lifesavers scattered along the beach ready to assist any of the shipwrecked crew who should come through the surf. They soon observed a man drifting upon the top of the cabin. Raynor and Latham immediately rushed into the surf and after extraordinary efforts battling floating timbers, spars, and lumber, they reached the shipwrecked man and bore him, unconscious, to the beach.

The vessel had now completely broken up and the rest of the crew were observed clinging to a piece of wreckage. Unsuccessful efforts were again made with both the Lyle gun and the surfboat to reach the imperiled men. Soon all save two were washed off and lost. Raynor and Latham again rushed into the surf and pushed out. Often borne beneath the waves, they advanced undaunted until a tremendous breaker dashed the shipwrecked men from the wreckage. One of them disappeared beneath the floating timbers and drowned, while both rescuers grasped the other. In an unconscious condition, he was hurried to the beach.

In transmitting these medals the letter of the Secretary of the Treasury closed with this statement:

I regard your gallant conduct on this occasion as of the highest order, and deem you well worthy the bestowal of the accompanying medals designed to bear testimony of the most heroic deeds in saving life from the perils of the sea.


February 10, 1905 - Cape Lookout LSS, NC - Awardee(s): Keeper William H. Gaskill, Surfman Kilby Guthrie, Surfman Walter M. Yeomans, Surfman Tyre Moore, Surfman John A. Guthrie, Surfman James W. Fulcher, Surfman John E. Kirkman, Surfman Calupt T. Jarvis, Surfman Joseph L. Lewis

Date of Award: April 12, 1905

The 387-ton, three-masted schooner Sarah D. J. Rawson, with a crew of seven, sailed from Georgetown, SC for New York with a full cargo of lumber on 2 February 1905. While standing under short canvas in a SSE gale at 5:30 PM on the 9th, the vessel stranded in the breakers on the south side of Lookout Shoals. She became a total loss. As soon as the schooner struck the master gave orders to take in sail. While the crew reformed this work, a heavy sea swept the decks and carried Jacob Hansen, a Norwegian seaman, into the surf. He soon disappeared.

The same sea struck the master and 3 other seamen. Only by the most desperate efforts, did they cling to the vessel. The schooner gradually worked onto the shoal and lay somewhat easier. The violent onslaughts of the sea, however, broke over her and soon carried away her boat. Then they swept the fore and aft deckhouses, her deck load of lumber and her spars. Powerless to do anything for the vessel, the crew sought refuge in the highest part of the wreck. Their situation appeared to be hopeless.

At Cape Lookout (NC) Life-Saving Station, about 9 miles N by W from the vessel, a vigilant lookout had been maintained during the day. A surfman remained constantly on watch while the keeper himself had twice visited the tower during the morning. A thick mantle of fog, however, covered the ocean and shut the doomed vessel from view. At noon, just as the lookout had been relieved, the keeper again climbed into the tower and at 12:05 PM, while scanning the sea with the glasses, he caught a glimpse of the schooner’s topmost spars. Knowing from her bearings that she probably was upon the shoal, he immediately called away the lifeboat. Every member of the crew promptly responded.

Though nearly all the men were ill, there having been an epidemic of influenza at the station, not one shrank from what all knew would be a long and wearisome pull in wintry weather over 18 miles of rough sea. A light WSW breeze made for a favorable wind and allowed the surfmen to make sail. With 8 men at the oars, they were off to the wreck within twenty-five minutes. At 4:00 PM they reached the scene of the disaster. The schooner lay upon her starboard side in the midst of the breakers. Her bowsprit, foremast, main topmast, and deckhouses were gone and her stern to mizzen rigging carried away. She was surrounded by wreckage and lumber. This pitching and beating flotsam threatened the safety of the lifeboat and the lives of its crew. Rawson’s six remaining crewmen could be seen by the surfmen. Though the latter repeatedly attempted to make their way through the mass of debris, they could get no closer than about 200 yards, when they would be beaten back. The master of the schooner stated that he expected to see the lifeboat pitched end over end in the turbulent sea. This would have occurred, but for the cool and skillful management of the keeper and crew.

Night soon came and the life-saving crew anchored near the edge of the breakers. They hoped, that in case of the schooner’s going to pieces, they still might be able to rescue some or all of the sailors. They maintained a vigilant lookout, frequently fending off fragments of wreckage that menaced their boat. After midnight, the wind increased in force and hauled to NW. With the weather still thick but much colder, the crew shifted the lifeboat to an anchorage about 500 yards to windward. The keeper stated that he did this so that should conditions worsen, they might be able to weather the shoal and put to sea. Throughout the long, tedious night the surfmen suffered greatly in their open boat from exposure, fatigue, and hunger. The keeper, however, maintained his post. He encouraged his crew and urged them not to fall asleep.

At dawn they returned to the wreck and found that, while her remaining masts had been swept away, a portion of the hull remained intact. This enabled the crew to survive the perils of the night. The sea was still running very high and the keeper decided to wait until the tide turned before attempting to rescue the crew. He had rightly judged that conditions would improve. About 1:00 AM the wind and sea moderated and the lifesavers pulled to a position about fifty yards to windward of the wreck. Here they anchored. By veering carefully upon the cable, and steadying the boat with the oars, they dropped in among the breakers and debris, as far as possible, and succeeded in throwing a heaving line on board the schooner. Then one of the seamen bent the line about his waist, jumped into the sea, and was hauled into the lifeboat. His companions followed his example, and, one by one, all hands were rescued--drenched, chilled, and nearly exhausted, but safe.

The surfmen removed their own oil coats and wrapped them about the shipwrecked men. They made the return trip to the station without mishap, arriving about 5:00 PM. The crew of the Rawson had been forty-eight hours without food or water. The lifesaving crew had spent twenty-eight hours in an open boat without food and their limbs cramped with cold. Lacking room to move about, their bodies ached from maintaining a sitting posture for so long. That the wrecked crew had not succumbed was due to the fact that the vessel lay nearly on her beam ends and afforded them something of a lee from the wintry NW wind.

The rescued men were furnished food and shelter at the station. Though there was clothing from the supplies of the Women’s National Relief Association, this stock became exhausted. The surfmen supplemented it from their own stores. The master of the Rawson was cared for part of the time by a personal friend at anchor in Lookout Bight. No member of the crew had suffered serious injury, though one seaman was afflicted by an attack of rheumatism and was transported upon a stretcher. On the 12th the revenue cutter Seminole arrived in Lookout Bight and the following day she took the crew of the Rawson on board and carried them to Wilmington, NC. The loss of one life at this disaster occurred a very short time after the vessel struck. It was impossible for anyone to lend a helping hand to the drowning man as he was carried to his death in the breakers.

The keeper discovered the Rawson at the first instant that she became visible at the station. No other eye sighted her, no one but the lifesavers went to the rescue. The shipwrecked men lost their boat soon after the vessel struck. Not many hours elapsed after the rescue before the vessel broke up and disappeared. All hands might have been lost. The fate of the Sarah D. J. Rawson and her crew would never have been known but for the unflinching heroism of the crew of the Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station. Each was subsequently awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for extreme and heroic daring in saving life from the perils of the sea. Those awarded for their rescue of the six crewman on Sarah D. J. Rawson included Keeper William H. Gaskill, Surfmen Kilby Guthrie, Walter M. Yeomans, Tyre Moore, John A. Guthrie, James W. Fulcher, John E. Kirkman, Calupt T. Jarvis, and former Surfman Joseph L. Lewis.


December 1, 1905 - Sand Island Light Station - Awardee(s): Niels Nislen, Keeper, U.S. Lighthouse Service

Date of Award: May 21, 1906

On 1 December 1905, Neils Nilsen, keeper of the Sand Island Light Station, and a man named Harlan Hansen were going in a small sailboat from the light station to Fort Morgan, AL. Hansen fell overboard. Abandoning the boat, Nilsen went to Hansen’s assistance and swam with him to the shore, nearly a mile distant. Hansen died, however, before Nilsen reached land.


November 29, 1909 - Cape Hatteras LSS, NC - Awardee(s): Keeper E.H. Peel, Surfman No. 1 B.B. Miller

Date of Award: December 6, 1911

On 6 December 1911 E. H. Peel, keeper of Creeds Hill (N. C.) Life-Saving Station and B.B. Miller, Surfman No. 1 and acting keeper of the Cape Hatteras (N. C.) Life-Saving Station, each received the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their assistance in rescuing the crew of the German steamer Brewster. The vessel wrecked on Inner Diamond Shoals (NC) on the evening of 28 November 1909. She struck on the southeast point of the shoals 7 miles south-southeast of the Cape Hatteras Life-Saving Station. The vessel, along with its cargo, became a total loss, but the entire crew of 33 persons were saved. Members of the Life-Saving Service took off twenty-eight of the crew. The other five left the steamer in a ship’s boat and were picked up by the crew of a lightship.

A surfman from the Cape Hatteras Station discovered Brewster on the shoals at daybreak of 29 November. Three life-saving crews the Cape Hatteras crew under oars in a lifeboat, the Hatteras Inlet crew in a power lifeboat, and the Creeds Hill crew under oars in a surfboat, put off to her assistance. On the way out the heavy seas seriously damaged the surfboat and her crew was compelled to take to the two other boats. Keeper Peel went aboard the lifeboat. From here he and B. B. Miller, acting keeper of the Cape Hatteras crew, jointly directed the ensuing rescue work.

When the lifesavers arrived at the wreck, the seas were breaking clear over her, at times hiding her from view. As it was impossible to board her, the lifeboat crew ventured in as close as possible under her lee. There, they dropped their anchors, while the powerboat stood by ready to lend any needed assistance. The steamer’s crew tied a line to a buoy and let it drift down to the lifeboat. The seamen were individually hauled into the rescuers’ boat by this line. After a dozen persons had been transferred, they were placed aboard the powerboat. A second boatload of 16 persons, all who remained on the wreck, was likewise taken off. Several of them were also passed to the powerboat.

Before the rescue was completed, however, the gale became so violent that it jeopardized those in the lifeboat. The two boats with their load of 53 persons reached shore, however, without accident. In addition to these Gold Lifesaving Medals, the gallant work of Peel and Miller, along with their respective crews, was rewarded by the German Government.


August 28, 1911 - Unknown Station - Awardee(s): Third Lieutenant S.S. Yeandle, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service

Date of Award: March 28, 1912

For his heroism displayed on 28 August 1911, Third Lieutenant Stephen Safford Yeandle, United States Revenue Cutter Service, earned a Gold Lifesaving Medal. On the date in question, he rescued two men, P. N. Strong and P. F. Gleason, at Venus Point on the Savannah River. The aforementioned men were in a small boat and were caught in a hurricane. They were blown under the skeleton framework of an old dock and the two remained there, in their nearly submerged craft, for six hours. During this time they were often exposed to winds of up to 70 miles per hour.

Coxswain Ericksen of USRC Yamacraw discovered them sometime around dark. The cutter was laid alongside the dock. Lieutenant Yeandle, accompanied by Ericksen and Coxswain Pedersen, crawled to the outer end of the structure where the men were trapped. With the assistance of a line brought by one of the enlisted men, Yeandle slid down the 15 or 20 feet to the water on a barnacle-covered pile. He fastened the line around each of the men in the boat and the two coxswains hauled them to the upper timbers of the dock.

Ericksen carried Strong, who was injured while under the wharf, to the cutter. Pedersen and a seaman named Durst assisted Gleason shoreward. This work of the rescuers was exceptionally hazardous as the wind and debris threatened to tear the wharf asunder.


December 30, 1912 - Tathams LSS, NJ - Awardee(s): Keeper Harry McGinley, Keeper Frank Nichols, William S. Eldridge, John E. Treworgy, William A. Eckersley, Charles Wright, Jr., Earl S. Woolson, Surfman John K. Mathis, Surfman Adelbert Robbins, Richard Creese, Samuel Morton, Ridgeway G. Cobb

Date of Award: April 16, 1913

On the morning of 30 December 1912, the seagoing tug Margaret, enroute from New York to Norfolk with three heavily-laden barges, struck an obstruction off the coast of New Jersey. She was so severely injured that she had to cast off her tow and run for the shore. She grounded in the breakers some 300 yards off the beach and was promptly discovered by the lookout of the Avalon Life-Saving Station.

As a rescue party from the station would have had to put to sea in the teeth of the gale, news of the disaster was telephoned to the Tathams Life-Saving Station, several miles to the south. From that location a boat going to the assistance of the tug would have the wind dead astern. After sending the message, the keeper of the Avalon Station set out on foot with his crew to assist the life-savers at Tathams.

The Tathams crew, under the command of Keeper Harry McGinley, hauled their power surfboat down to the beach upon receiving the information of the stranding. The waters inshore, however, had become a cauldron of raging seas. To launch off an unprotected beach at such a time the boat had to be held squarely head to the seas. With even a slight swerve to either side, a breaking wave could swing the craft around broadside and roll her back onto the beach, possibly with the loss of some of her crew.

As the boat glided from her carriage and struck the water, the engine was set going to give her steerage way. So fierce was the surf, however, that the power of her two propellers had to be augmented by the muscle of seven oarsmen before she finally her nose beyond the first line of breakers. As it was, she filled before reaching the less turbulent area outside the inshore breakers. Fortunately, the boat was a self-bailer and practically non-submergible.

The wind and sea were rapidly increasing, but once beyond the surf, the rescuers had both in their favor and soon arrived in the tug’s vicinity. They found her lying bow to the shore, with only the upper part of her pilothouse and 3 or 4 feet of her bow exposed. Her afterhouse had disappeared and her boats had washed clear of their tackle. What still remained above water was being bombarded by the seas. After a hasty survey of the situation, Keeper McGinley decided to run in under the starboard bow, this being the least exposed place alongside the wreck. He gave each man a few quick-spoken instructions and identified the moment when the actual rescue work should begin.

Awaiting the approach of a favoring sea, the boat was held in check as much as possible. When one came along, the full power of the engine was turned on. A gathering wave swiftly sped the boat toward the vessel. Fifty yards from the goal, however, the sea fell away. At this critical moment, two towering seas raced down upon the boat from over the bow. The propellers were reversed to give the craft sternway and enable her to meet the oncoming waves with as little shock as possible. She, however, failed to take the first one at the right moment and it broke over the heads of the occupants, hiding men and boat entirely from the view of the tug’s anxious crew. The boat freed herself of the deluge of water, only to take a second plunge under when the following sea struck her; but she again came up buoyantly with every crewman in his place.

While the lifesavers were battling, the seas, wind, and tide carried them 250 yards away from the wreck. Efforts to regain the ground lost were continued with renewed vigor. The surfmen now took to their oars and added their strength to the gasoline power. For more than half an hour the unequal fight went on, the boat gaining, then losing, then gaining again. The oarsmen frequently had to stop rowing and hold onto their seats to keep from being washed overboard. Finally the boat got within 25 yards of the tug, almost near enough for a line to be thrown into the hands of her crew.

Keeper McGinley, who held the steering oar, stated in his report that the surf around the wreck was the worst he had ever encountered in 29 years of service on the beach. The master of the tug added that on two occasions, as he watched the efforts of the lifesavers to get alongside, their boat was flung so high above the surface of the water that he could see light underneath her entire length. Weather conditions grew worse, the gale having now attained almost the velocity of a hurricane and the seas became miniature mountains. Moreover, the wave-buffeted surfboat, having gotten near the wreck, found itself in an irresistible current, against which the combined power of men and machinery availed nothing.

The life-saving crew had reached the end of their resources. As they struggled futilely to make headway their boat was caught up without warning on the crest of a suddenly risen comber and they were quickly flung aloft and turned over. Following the boat’s capsize, five of the crew, including the keeper, succeeded in regaining the boat, which now floated bottom up. Three came to the surface so far away from the craft that they could not reach it at all. After struggling vainly against the current two of them gave up and swam for the shore.

While the keeper clung to the propeller blades, the four oarsmen who had managed to get back to the boat, supported themselves by holding on to the bilge strips. Several attempts were made to right the boat, but its weight and bulk blunted the efforts of the four oarsmen. As the five helpless men clung to the craft, they shouted words of encouragement to their comrades, fighting to get a place beside them. Moreover, the men alongside the boat were not unmindful of each other. After each sea had smashed down on their heads and passed on, the first question asked one of the other was: "Is every one safe?"

Two of those who clinging to the boat, Surfmen John Mathis and Adelbert Robbins, were boyhood friends. Mathis was married. When it seemed that all must inevitably perish, Robbins, with as fine a spirit of resignation and self sacrifice as was ever exhibited, remarked: "If one of us has to die, I would rather it would be me instead of John. He has a wife and children."

Shortly after the keeper regained the boat, he tried to push the steering oar within reach of one of the three men carried away some distance. While his attention was engaged by the oar, a sea tore him from the wheel and swept him away. Finding himself unable to get back to the boat and feeling the chill of the water beginning to numb his senses, he too struck out for land. The others who were still by the boat soon followed his example.

All hands miraculously reached shallow water. From here their comrades from Avalon hauled them in, assisted by residents of the neighborhood. They were so chilled and exhausted that they had to be carried bodily to a fire awaiting them in an abandoned barn nearby.

By 2 p. m. the wind had moderated. It had shifted to the westward and cut down the surf considerably. Keeper Frank Nichols of the Avalon Station, in anticipation of the improved conditions, had already dispatched his crew for his surfboat. The boat arrived at 3:30 pm.

While preparations for leaving shore were under way, a new difficulty arose--that of picking a crew. Eight men were needed, but each man in the two crews insisted on being given a place in the boat. The Avalon crewmen were fresh and impatient for the work ahead, but the men from Tathams protested did not want to be left behind. Finally, it was agreed that the rescue would consist of the two keepers and three surfmen from each station. The disappointment of being left behind was so keenly felt by one surfman, that he broke down and wept. This man, however, had passed through the harrowing events of the earlier venture and was in no condition to go to sea again.

Successfully launched, the surfboat made fair headway toward the wreck. The boat being without power, however, the strength of the oarsmen alone was insufficient to offset the combined force of the current. Consequently, the rescuers were swept helplessly past the wreck. There was nothing to do but beat back to windward again for another attempt. This they did. They, in fact, went far enough to give them a 300-yard run to the vessel. They found the tug intact, but with the seas breaking over the pilothouse. The windows framed the haggard faces of 10 despairing men. The wreck afforded practically no lee and there was a considerable the danger of running alongside the wreck. The tug was also in danger of breaking up. There was no time to wait for a lull in the gale or for a chance to maneuver for an advantageous position. The run in alongside had to be made with the utmost expedition.

Once the crew sent it forward, the boat held true. As it shot in under the tug’s bow, a line thrown toward the pilothouse was eagerly seized by the sailors and made fast. When the line tautened, however, the boat swung around to the current and was struck broadside by a succession of seas, which filled her with water and carried away five oars. Fortunately the two keepers, whose united strength was employed at the steering oar, managed to work the craft quickly around again to her former position. While she was held thus, the 10 shipwrecked men left their precarious refuge and tumbled on board.

Just as the last man was taken off, a giant comber lifted the boat high in the air and sent her smashing against the side of the tug, staving in three of her planks. Despite this damage, the surfmen backed away for the shore with with the boat’s three remaining oars. Superb surfmanship had won the day. The battered and disabled boat, weighted down nearly to the gunwales by its load of 18 men, reached the beach without further accident.

It was later learned from the shipwrecked crew that the fireman had perished after the tug had stranded. He had jumped into a boat and started to lower it. A sea came along while he was working at the fall and upended the craft, pitching him into the water. Keeper McGinley’s description of the Margaret’s polyglot crew, and of the manner in which the feelings of some of them found vent after the surfboat reached shore, gives a brightening touch to his somber recital of the thrilling events that preceded and attended the rescue. He said:

It was a motley crew. Only 4 of them were Americans. There were the captain, 2 negroes, 1 Irishman, 1 Scotchman, 2 Scandinavians, 2 Turks, and 1 from North Carolina. Talk about the confusion of tongues! I can imagine why the Tower was not finished. Most of them were hatless and shoeless and clad only in trousers and undershirt. All were overjoyed when we landed. The cook, a huge negro, dropped to his knees on the sand and with arms upraised offered thanks to the Lord for his deliverance. The little mess boy, also colored, was no less demonstrative and sincere than the cook in his manifestations of gratitude. His actions took a livelier turn, however. He did a barefoot shuffle on the ice-cold beach.

McGinley and Nichols, the two station keepers, each received letters from the Secretary of the Treasury praising the conduct of all participants in the day’s hazardous work. The department further recognized the services of the two crews by awarding each man who shared the perils of one or both trips, the Gold Lifesaving Medal.


January 7, 1913 - Point Adams LSS, OR - Awardee(s): Oscar S. Wicklund, Bernard C. Anderson, Thomas Anderson, P.A. de Kruis, John Doty, Ole Ericksen, Charles Johnson, Edward Johnson, Robert Nagel, Rudolph A. Pajoman, Charles E. Pearson, Leonard Pearson, Carl W. Petterson, Alfred Rimer, Theodore Roberge, Robert Therand, Charles A. Tucker 

Date of Award: April 14, 1913

Shortly after 5 o’clock on the morning of 7 January 1913, the 2,976-ton Associated Oil Co.’s steamer Rosecrans, stranded on Peacock Spit at the entrance to the Columbia River. With a cargo of 19,000 barrels of crude oil, the vessel bound from Monterey, CA to Portland, OR. The ship and cargo, valued at $260,000, were totally destroyed and 33 of the 36 persons composing her crew perished before assistance could reach them. Two members of the crew, quartermaster John Slinning and carpenter Erick Lundmark were rescued from the steamer’s rigging by the Point Adams Lifesaving crew several hours after she stranded. The other survivor, Quartermaster Fred W. Peters drifted ashore on a plank after he had been in the water for more than five hours.

The Rosecrans left Monterey, CA on the afternoon of 4 January. Her voyage up the coast was uneventful until she neared the mouth of the Columbia River on the night of the 6th. On the evening of the date mentioned the wireless operator at Astoria, OR received a message from her master, stating that she would be off the bar on the following morning. It was the intention of Rosecrans’ captain, L.F. Johnson, to cross over the bar when the tidal conditions would be more favorable at daybreak of the 7th.

Quartermaster Slinning testified that the steamer passed Tillamook Rock Light "a little before 4 am of the 7th." She was then 1 1/2 or 2 miles offshore, steering north 8 degrees west under slow bell. A southerly 60-70 mile gale prevailed and was accompanied by a heavy following sea. The weather was thick and rainy, but light beacons were occasionally visible. Quartermaster Peters testified that when he came on deck about 4 am to relieve Slinning, he saw a white light well off the starboard bow which was taken to be the Cape Disappointment Light. Another light visible one-half point on the starboard bow was thought to be the North Head Light. The Columbia River Lightship was not seen at all. During the latter part of the night, Third Officer C. R. Palmer was on the bridge. The master remained below except for a brief interval shortly after 4 am, when he came on deck to exchange a few words with Palmer. The steamer held to the course set by the captain—north 8 degrees west—until she stranded at 5.15 am.

As to the responsibility for the disaster, the investigating officer reported:

No other conclusion can be reached by me than that the disaster resulted from poor judgment and carelessness on the part of those who were responsible for the navigation and safety of the Rosecrans. The vessel must have passed the Tillamook Rock Light earlier than 3:30 am, as it is unreasonable to think that she could have covered 19 nautical miles in the next hour and 40 minutes under slow bell. If the course steered is correct, unless the compass was greatly in error the light abeam must have been much more than 2 1/2 miles distant, otherwise the vessel would have stranded on Clatsop Beach.

Quartermaster Peters states that when he came on deck at 4 am. two lights were visible—one white light well off to starboard bow, which was taken for the Cape Disappointment Light, and North head Light, visible one-half point on the starboard bow. As the Rosecrans at that time was probably at least 7 miles from Peacock Spit (this being determined by the combined speed of the vessel, which was perhaps 3 or 4 knots, and the current setting to the northward with the same velocity), it seems probable that the white light visible broad off the starboard bow was Desdemona Shoals Light. North Head Light, surrounded by mist, was probably not seen at all.

Had the light last seen been North Head Light, the position of the vessel would have been such that the strong ebb tide at the mouth of the river would doubtless have carried her clear of Peacock Spit. She must have passed within 3 miles inside of Columbia River Lightship, which she should have sighted. Capt. Johnson should have remained on deck on approaching the Columbia River bar at night under suck unfavorable weather conditions, and stood a course sufficiently broad to make the lightship and carry his vessel outside of danger. It is evident that the ship was far ahead of her reckoning, and that not sufficient allowance was made for the northerly set of the current, the velocity of which had been greatly increased by the southerly gale. Had the Rosecrans, after passing Tillamook Rock Light, headed off shore on port tack, with her engines just turning over, she would have drifted to the northward and been in a good position off the bar at daylight.

Peacock Spit takes its name from the US sloop-of-war Peacock, which stranded on the shoal in 1841. The spit has claimed many a good ship. When a vessel grounds there she is either quickly pounded to pieces by the terrific breakers or swallowed up by quicksand. The surf in that locality, always heavy, was extremely so on the morning of 7 January.

The steamer struck at a point 1.5 miles from the shore. The Cape Disappointment Life-Saving Station was about the same distance away. Immediately after the stranding, the master came on deck and ordered his wireless operator to flash an "SOS" call to the effect that the vessel was on the bar and breaking up. The message was repeated three or four times. Shortly afterward the operator was instructed to shut off his current, the master being fearful that the sparks from the apparatus might set the cargo on fire. The call was picked up by the operator at Astoria, OR who replied:

OK. Will send help. About where are you?

To this the Rosecrans sent back the following:

Water has washed in the cabins--I can’t stay much longer--hel…

It was not shown that any signals other than those referred to were made aboard the Rosecrans. The survivors could not say whether the vessel carried any rockets, blue lights, or other means of making known the fact that they were in trouble. The steamer’s whistle was not blown. The reason for this may very well have been that the engine room was flooded by the time the seriousness of the misfortune was realized. There were life preservers on board, but it appears that several of the sailors did not have them on when the need came. The vessel had four lifeboats, but all of them were carried away soon after the stranding. Given the seas breaking around the stricken steamer, it is doubtful whether they would have survived as no small craft could have stood up to the smothering sea.

Immediately after the steamer grounded the signal was given to reverse the engines full speed, and put the helm hard over. Orders were also given to start the pumps. The intent was to empty some of the oil overboard, lightening ship. The vessel answered her helm and started to back, but the heavy seas interrupted her progress. The seas tore away the hatches and initiated a deluge below decks. This extinguished her fires and lights leaving the crew helpless and in the dark.

After the engines stopped running, the crew assembled below amidships. Here they intended to wait for daylight and the help they all felt their wireless call would bring. Just before dawn, the seas carried away the foremast and broke the ship abaft it. Despite the ruin that was taking place above deck, the crew remained under shelter until nearly 9 am. Finally, the vessel had become so full that all hands were driven into the open.

All that was known of the events on board the Rosecrans is contained in the three survivors’ testimony in the official investigation. Referring to his own experiences while engaged in the struggle to save himself, Quartermaster Peters, said:

When I went on deck I tried to make the wheelhouse, where most of the crew were, and when I got forward of the stack I met Capt. Johnson. He was trying to get up to the wheelhouse, too; but his leg was broken, so we got him on the fiddley, under the overhang of the house. The seas were coming so strong that the after end of the house began to sag, so we had to get out of there. When I got out, a sea washed me to the rail. When the sea cleared I tried to make the rigging, but missed it and fell on the main deck. The next sea took me overboard. I noticed a plank a few feet away, and swam to it. I drifted over toward North Head Light, and thought I was safe until I saw the rocks and the breakers. I tried to swim clear of the rocks, and it seems the current started to take me out to sea. I then drifted up to the northward, and the breakers got me and took me ashore. I lost my plank when I got into the breakers. I was obliged to cut adrift my life preserver, as it got over my head. I stayed on top of the breakers as best I could all the way in, and then crawled up on the driftwood away from the sea.

Peters made land, 5 miles up the coast, on Tioga Beach. A gunner found him as he lay helpless on the strand. With the assistance of others, he carried Peters to a nearby house and gave him first aid. Later the keeper of the Klipsan Beach Life-Saving Station, having learned of his coming ashore, arrived, took him in charge, and continued to treat him.

Quartermaster Slinning, another survivor, was also under shelter when the vessel struck. On gaining the deck, he climbed up on the bridge. In describing what had happened to him, Slinning said:

There were a number of men beside myself on the bridge. As the big seas lifted the bridge and pilot house off, I first grabbed the exhaust pipe, held on to that for a while, then got around the after part of the smokestack. A sea struck me from there, and sent me over the rail. I held onto the rail until the sea had passed. Then another sea took me to the after rail, and I got up into the main rigging.

Slinning said he saw "quite a number" washed overboard. Two others beside himself--Carpenter Erick Lundmark and a member of the engine-room force named S. Cagna--succeeded in getting into the main rigging. After remaining aloft for several hours, Slinning and Lundmark were rescued by the Point Adams Life-Saving Station crew. The other man succumbed before the rescuers arrived on the scene. While they were alongside the vessel his body dropped into the sea. It was recovered, but was afterwards lost when the Point Adams Station lifeboat broke adrift from the Columbia River Lightship, aboard which the life-saving crew had sought refuge. Little was known of the experiences of any of the steamer s crew except the survivors. It would seem, however, that most, if not all, of them went overboard with the bridge and the pilothouse.

Upon receipt of the "SOS" message from the Rosecrans, the wireless operator at Astoria sent out a general distress call. Getting no response from any other station or any vessel, he called up the agent of the Puget Sound Tugboat Company in Astoria and asked him to notify the life-saving stations at Cape Disappointment and Point Adams. He also communicated with the wireless operator at North Head and asked him to notify the Cape Disappointment Station. The operator at Point Adams tried repeatedly to communicate with the Cape Disappointment Station, but to no avail. The telephone wires were out of order. The agent of the tugboat company succeeded, however, in getting word to the Point Adams Station.

Until 8:40 am, 3 1/2 hours after the Rosecrans went on the shoals, no one on shore had any information as to the vessel’s location. The surfman keeping the watch from the Cape Disappointment Station lookout tower, telephoned Keeper Alfred Rimer and informed him that a steamer was anchored in the breakers off McKenzie Head. The keeper immediately proceeded to the lookout to observe the vessel for himself. He could barely distinguish her through the thick mist that prevailed. Her bow at that time appeared to be slightly down, but she displayed no distress signals. The keeper promptly called up his station and gave instructions for the power lifeboat Tenacious to be made ready to go to sea. Several minutes later he and his men were on their way to the vessel.

The life-saving crew first tried to go directly around the cape. They, however, found it impossible to stem the furious gale and the strong flood tide. They then turned back and went through the cut-between Sand Island and the eastern end of Peacock Spit. Their attempt to reach the steamer by this route was likewise frustrated. Realizing after an hour’s struggle the futility of their efforts to make headway, Keeper Rimer hailed a tug that had learned of the vessel’s plight and ventured out to investigate. Rimer asked to be towed out over the bar. The master of the tug declined, however, to risk the fury of the waters at the river entrance. Undaunted, the boat crew renewed their apparently forlorn undertaking, and actually succeeded in crossing Republic Spit unassisted. Mechanical power, however, was finally compelled to yield to the overwhelming force of the elements, and they reluctantly turned back to await the slacking of the tide. They reached their station at 11:30 am.

Soon after the return of the Cape Disappointment crew to their station, Keeper Oscar S. Wicklund, of the Point Adams Station (on the south side of the river entrance), arrived with his crew in the power lifeboat Dreadnaught. It appeared that the message from the agent of the Puget Sound Tugboat Company to Keeper Wicklund was received at the Point Adams Station at 5:30 am. The agent had also informed Keeper Wicklund that the tug Tatoosh was making ready to go to the steamer’s assistance. Being told by the wireless operator at Astoria that the Rosecrans was probably in the breakers on Clatsop Spit, Keeper Wicklund sent a patrolman out to the beach to see if such was the case. He also telephoned to the jetty foreman on Point Adams asking him to reconnoiter. This action taken, he ordered his men to get ready for sea.

The life-saving crew first proceeded to the mouth of the river, where the Tatoosh, bound on an errand similar to theirs, overtook them. The tug made a thorough exploration of the bar, but no trace of the vessel was to be seen. The search ended, the life-saving crew returned to their station, where they learned that the quest of the patrol and of the jetty foreman had been equally fruitless.

As telephone communication with Cape Disappointment was temporarily interrupted, Keeper Wicklund decided to run across the river and find out whether that crew had learned anything of the whereabouts of the Rosecrans. As he was about to leave the station, the Fort Stevens operator informed him that the steamer had run onto Peacock Spit, not far from North Head. Deeming it advisable to unite the efforts of the two crews of surfmen, Keeper Wicklund therefore, crossed over the river with all possible speed.

Keeper Wicklund, in his report to the department and in his testimony, described the experiences of the two parties attempting to reach the wreck. It appeared that immediately upon his arrival at the Cape Disappointment Station, Wicklund put off for the Rosecrans unaccompanied by the Cape Disappointment crew. This was necessary as several members were then out on the beach watching for any of the seamen who might come ashore. Concerning this attempt, Wicklund said:

All that could be seen of the wreck was the mast sticking up with 3 men clinging to the rigging. I did not have much hope of reaching the vessel, but I thought it would encourage those men in the rigging if they saw the lifeboat constantly trying to reach them. I made two attempts, but the boat was entirely submerged, and we were forced to return. I got out only a quarter of a mile from the cape.

When I got back to the Cape Disappointment Station, I talked the matter over with Captain Rimer, and we agreed that we must reach the vessel if there was any way for us to do so. We concluded we would make another attempt right away; the tide having slackened. We made up our minds that we would not quit trying as long as there was anyone left in the rigging.

Referring to the trip made by both crews to the wreck during the afternoon, Keeper Wicklund continued:

We left the station together about 12:30 pm. Captain Rimer’s boat was about 200 yards ahead of mine, due to the fact that he was running at full speed. I slowed down a little against every sea to save my boat from destruction. While the wind had hauled a little to the southwest and moderated somewhat, it was still blowing a gale. The seas filled our boat constantly.

I observed the Cape Disappointment boat (the Tenacious) go out between the wreck and the shore, circle around the bow of the ship, and then run to a position to southward of her. They seemed to be in trouble, as they lay in the same position for quite a while.

The wreck was lying headed west. I ran in as close as I dared toward the starboard quarter and signaled to the men in the rigging to jump, that being in my opinion the only way in which they could be rescued. I circled five times, and got as near the vessel as I dared each time, signaling to the sailors to jump, but they would not do it. As we got near the wreck the fifth time, a terrific sea struck our boat, turning it almost end over end and washing five members of the crew overboard, including myself. We all managed to hang onto the life rails and were hauled back into the boat--all except Surfman Pearson. When the boat righted itself he was more than 300 yards away from us. ‘We had no difficulty, however, in picking bun up. At this point we observed the Cape Disappointment crew signaling for assistance. We responded, and found that they also had suffered a capsize, which had damaged their boat and stopped their engine. We towed them to the tug Fearless, which was standing by outside the breakers. We fhen returned to the wreck. Just as soon as we got within about 100 yards of the vessel one of the men jumped and was Quickly rescued. This was Erick Lundmark, the ship’s carpenter. Then another man--John Slinning-- jumped and was rescued in the same manner. There was still another man in the rigging, but he was hanging on the ratlines and appeared to be dead. He fell shortly afterwards, struck an iron stanchion, and dropped into the sea. We picked up the body as it drifted toward us.

It was now about 4 o’clock. The sea was still high, and the tide running out strong. We had no chance to return to the harbor, so I shaped our course for the Columbia River Lightship, several miles seaward. We arrived there at 7:15 pm.

On account of the heavy sea, we experienced considerable difficulty in getting aboard the lightship. We let the boat astern on 50 fathoms of 4-inch rope. The following morning the wind had increased instead of moderated, and the sea was mountain high. The lifesaving crew, with the aid of the officers and the men of the lightship, tried three different t times during the day to haul the boat alongside to get the remains of the sailor and free the boat of water, but the gale and sea made it impossible to do so without running the risk of killing some one. At 9 pm it was found that the boat had gone adrift.

The following day (9 January) the weather moderated sufficiently to permit us to be transferred to the tug Oneonta. The tug carried us to our station and took the two survivors to Astoria, where they were cared for by representatives of the wrecked vessel.

Keeper Wicklund expressed the opinion that if the exact location of the vessel could have been ascertained when she struck the spit on the morning of the 7th, the majority, if not all, of her crew might have been saved.

The two tug masters who assisted the life-saving crews during this disaster deserve high praise. The tug Oneonta (Charles E. Anderson, master) went over the bar on the morning of the 7th and made an unsuccessful effort to locate the wreck. She went again in the evening in search for the Point Adams Station crew which had been reported to be disabled at sea. This second trip of the tug took her clear to the lightship and back toward North Head. She burned blue lights and blew her whistle as she proceeded. Near midnight she turned back again toward the lightship and was rewarded by finding the crew safe aboard the vessel. She stood by all night, hoping to be able to take the life-savers off the next morning. When day came, however, it was still too rough to effect a transfer. She, therefore, went back to Astoria. On the afternoon of the 9th she again put to sea and brought the crew in.

The tug Fearless (E. D. Parsons, master) likewise searched for the Rosecrans on the morning of the disaster. She also went out on the afternoon of the same day and reached the area of the wreck just as Keeper Wicklund was towing the Cape Disappointment lifeboat away from the vessel. Her coming was providential.

It appears that while Keeper Rimer was on his way to the scene of the disaster his boat, the Tenacious, sprang a bad leak and the engine became disabled. The engine could be kept running, but it was impossible to regulate its speed. The crew, nevertheless, ran in near the wreck and tried to persuade the sailors in the rigging to jump. As in the case of the Point Adams crew, they were unable to remain in a position suitable for effecting a rescue. While waiting 50 yards away from the wreck for a second favorable chance to swing in near the projecting mast, they got into a run of heavy breakers. Their engine stopped and their boat, swept helplessly along, turned turtle. The keeper and two surfmen were washed out and the boat had its steering gear and rudder disabled. Telling of what now transpired, Keeper Rimer said:

After a few moments we all managed by the greatest effort to get on board again, but found the boat and engine room full of water. We, nevertheless, manned the oars and tried our best to get back to the wreck. But, notwithstanding our utmost efforts, we failed. As we were in a seething cauldron and unable to handle our boat with oars, I wigwagged to the Point Adams boat to tow us into quieter water, and Captain Wicklund came and towed us to the tug Fearless. We tried to pump our boat out, but it was no use. Her bottom was all split up and her air compartments full of water.

When it was found that the Cape Disappointment boat was no longer serviceable, the Fearless started to tow her into the harbor on a 60-fathom 4-inch line. The tug had proceeded only a short distance, when Captain Parsons became apprehensive that the Tenacious, which still contained the life-saving crew, would be unable to survive the passage over the bar. As the crew were all badly used up and unable to manage their practically wrecked craft, Surfman Allen of the Point Adams. Station--who had been left on shore when his comrades put to sea, but had gone to the wreck aboard the Fearless--volunteered to leave the tug, get aboard the trailing power boat, and steer her through the breakers. Captain Parsons declined to permit him to do so, however, and decided to move every man in the boat to his vessel. The wisdom of this was soon demonstrated. While the tug was plowing her way bravely over the surf-swept bar, the towing line snapped. The powerboat was no sooner adrift than the seas caught her up and rolled her over and over. The tug did not dare swing around and attempt to pick her up.

The wreck of the Rosecrans will take its place as one of the most lamentable marine casualties in the history of the service. The work of the life-saving crews in attendance, while so meager in results, will likewise stand out conspicuously among the many fine examples of bravery and devotion to duty recorded in the history of the US Life-Saving Service. Rarely have the Service’s crews worked against more distressing odds or exhibited more indomitable spirit. The situation they faced in their efforts to save the Rosecran’s crew may be imagined by the following answer made by Keeper Rimer to a question from the investigating officer as to the state of the seas around the wreck:

The seas were confused, going in every direction. One time Captain Wicklund's boat was headed into a sea which appeared to be 40 feet high. It struck the Dreadnaught broadside and I thought he was gone. I started to go to his assistance, but when I looked again I found he was all right.

It is gratifying to state that the services of the life-saving crews and of the masters of the tugs Oneonta and Fearless were properly recognized by the department. Keepers Rimer and Wicklund, and Captains Anderson and Parsons each. received a congratulatory letter from the Secretary of the Treasury. Moreover, each member of the two life-saving crews who performed service at the wreck (16 persons in all) was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal. This was bestowed by the department in recognition of heroic daring exhibited in "saving or attempting to save life from the perils of the sea." The Oregon Legislature also adopted a resolution commending each man who took part in the day’s hazardous work by name.

Considering the difficulties and dangers experienced by the lifesavers on this occasion, it seems little short of miraculous that they all escaped with their lives. Both crews were upset in the breaker-swept area, yet no one suffered injury more serious than a few bruises and cuts. Neither of the service power boats, however, was ever recovered.

The Rosecrans carried a large cargo of crude oil confined on board in tanks. One or more of these tanks burst during the terrific bombardment of the waves some hours after the steamer stranded and while the lifesaving crews were alongside. The influence of oil upon turbulent waters--long a moot question-- has been the subject of investigation both in this country and abroad. The results of the tests made do not appear to have been given sufficient publicity, however, to dispel the skepticism still too prevalent as to the efficacy of this means of calming rough seas.

Information regarding this subject can be gleaned from Keeper Wicklund observations at the wreck. The following is taken from his testimony given at the investigation of this wreck:

Q. Was there much oil on the water?

A. At first there was none to speak of, but one of the tanks seemed to have burst while we were near the wreck, leaving a streak of oil about 20 feet wide toward the shore.

Q. Did the oil seem to smooth the sea?

A. Yes, indeed. Had it not been for the oil I do not think the men in the rigging would have jumped, because they followed that streak when they came toward the boat.

A report made by the president of the board of life-saving appliances upon the influence of oil in subduing the waves may be found in the Annual Report of the Life-Saving Service for the year 1883 The action of the oil is explained in the report as follows:

The motion of the air being communicated to water through the medium of friction, it follows that whatever diminishes friction tends to prevent water from taking up motion. Oil, being of less specific gravity than water and possessing properties that admit of a small quantity being rapidly spread over a large surface, is peculiarly adapted to act as a lubricant between the two elements.


November 8, 1913 - Portage LSS, MI and Eagle Harbor LSS, MI - Awardee(s): John C. Alfsen, Paul Liedtke, Oscar Marshall, Thomas H. McCormick, John McDonald, David M. Small, Fred C. Sollman, Collin L. Westrope, Serge Anderson, John Beck, Thomas W. Bennetts, Anthony F. Glaza, George Halpainen, Charles Kumpula, Henry Padberg, Charles A. Tucker, Chester O. Tucker

Date of Award: July 15, 1914

On 8 November 1913 the steamer Waldo, nearly 5,000 tons, was driven onto Gull Rock, off Keweenaw Point, Lake Superior. The wind was about 70 miles an hour and the sea very rough. The vessel broke in two and the imperiled people took shelter in the cabin, where they remained for 90 hours without food. News of the wreck reached the Eagle Harbor Life-Saving Station on 9 November and the crew made a brave effort on that day to reach the vessel in a power surfboat. After having proceeded 8 miles, the great amount of ice on the small boat made it impossible to go farther. The boat, therefore, returned to the station.

The larger and more powerful lifeboat was undergoing repairs when word concerning the wreck was received. When it was found impracticable to effect a rescue with the surfboat, the crew returned to their task and made it ready to go to sea. The power lifeboat was launched at 3 AM on 11 November. After four hours of making way in rough seas and being exposed to the snow and freezing wind, the crew reached the Waldo, 32 miles from the station.

Information concerning the disaster was not received at the Portage Life-Saving Station until noon on 10 November. The shortest distance to the wreck was 60 miles, but the keeper, chose to benefit from the protection afforded by the ship canal to Portage Entry. By taking this latter route, the distance to the Waldo was 80 miles. The keeper, before starting, coordinated for a tug to meet the power lifeboat as it emerged from the canal. The tug towed the lifeboat to the scene of the wreck. They arrived on scene at 3 AM on the 11th.

While the Portage crewmen chopped the thick ice encasing the Waldo’s cabin, the Eagle Harbor crew arrived. Both lifeboats were ice-logged. This made maneuvering the boats more difficult and increased the hazard of the rescue. Despite these difficulties, the lifesavers, in the face of great danger, landed the 22 men and 2 women, all hands, and the ship’s dog safely at Houghton, MI.

In awarding the keepers and surfmen a Gold Lifesaving Medal, the department recognized the good judgment, skill, and undaunted heroism which stands with the most praiseworthy instances of bravery in the annals of the service.


November 23, 1914 - Fort Point LSS, CA and Point Bonita LSS, CA - Awardee(s): Keeper John L. Clark, Surfman Michael Maxwell, Keeper Joseph L. Nutter

Date of Award: April 13, 1915

The 666-ton steamer Hanalei, of Los Angeles, commanded by Capt. J.J. Carey, left Eureka, CA on 22 November bound for San Francisco with a cargo of railroad ties and shingles. The next day, around 12:50 PM, she wrecked on Bolinas Point, about 16 miles from Point Reyes, with a loss of 23 lives.

It appears that when the ship reached the vicinity of Point Reyes the weather was foggy, but the buildings on the point could be seen well enough to enable the captain to recognize the lighthouse. After proceeding southward a sufficient distance to make it safe to haul for Duxbury Reef, he ordered the course to be changed, this being the usual procedure in going from Point Keyes to Duxbury Reef whistling buoy. At 12:30 PM breakers were discovered ahead. Before anything could be done, the vessel ran hard and fast on the reefs off Bolinas Point, 2 7/8 miles to the northward of the end of Duxbury Reef. Wireless calls for assistance were immediately sent out. The first call, however, gave an erroneous position for the vessel. The conditions of the sea and the difficulty of maneuvering boats around the wreck made it impossible to do anything further. Had the real position of the vessel been known in the first instance, the district officer would have initiated a different plan.

As it was, the office having been informed by radio at 1 PM that Hanalei was on shore at Duxbury Reef, steps were immediately taken to render aid. The power lifeboats from the Point Bonita and Fort Point Life-Saving Stations were dispatched and the revenue cutter McCulloch proceeded to the supposed scene of the wreck by sea. This was done because it was impossible to operate the beach apparatus if the stricken vessel was on Duxbury Reef.

The Point Bonita and Fort Point crews were underway with their powerboats Majestic and Defender in less than 30 minutes after the news of the disaster. The revenue cutter McCulloch had received the radio SOS message of the Hanalei independently, at 12:30 PM. At 1:00 she was underway and proceeding to sea. The weather was foggy, with a light westerly wind and a very heavy westerly swell. The lifeboats reached Duxbury Reef at about 3:30 PM and immediately began a search for the wreck. The fog, which earlier in the day had been of medium density, was now almost impenetrable. Several vessels’ steam whistles which were blowing continuously added to the difficulties of the search. Finally, by running close in to the shore--n fact, inside the breakers--the lifeboats reached the point where the Hanalei had grounded and immediately began to maneuver their boats to take off the imperiled people.

This proved to be a most hazardous undertaking. The vessel had pounded over the reef where she first struck. When the lifeboats reached the scene, she lay with her head to the eastward and listed to starboard at an angle of 45 degrees This exposed her deck to the full force of the heavy swells, which were gradually pounding her to pieces. The fore part of the vessel lay in deeper water on the inner side of the reef and was almost submerged. The passengers and crew were gathered on the upper side of the port quarter, being sheltered by the house from the blowing spray.

Both power lifeboats attempted to reach the lee side of the wreck. Defender chose to go around the stern and Majestic around the bow. Every precaution was taken to carry out this project. It would have been successful had it not been for the failure of the motors to work under the conditions. While it is true there was very little wind blowing, the heavy swell was sweeping in from the westward. When it reached the reef it broke into a high, short-footed, and angry surf, in which it was most difficult for any kind of a boat to live. Notwithstanding these conditions, the heavy powerboats were twice headed for the wreck and twice compelled to work their way out into the smooth water because of the failure of the motors to work in the exceedingly heavy surf. The third attempt to reach the vessel ended in disaster to the power lifeboat Defender, which was capsized. All of the crew managed to hang on as she righted, save Keeper Clark and Surfman Stoll. Upon reaching the surface the keeper found himself 40 feet away from the boat.

His presence of mind, however, did not desert him. Seeing the boat in great danger of being swept on to the shore, he called out to the crew to take the lifeboat out into smooth water and then endeavor to start the motor again. He next counseled Surfman Stoll to try to reach the wreck for refuge. Being a very powerful swimmer, he decided his best plan was to reach the beach and send word back to the city regarding the real position of the Hanalei and to explain the necessity for the immediate forwarding of the beach apparatus gear. He started for the shore with full confidence to reach it in a few minutes’ hard swimming. The story of his persistent effort to swim to the beach through the surf and of his battle against the strong adverse currents, is one of heroic struggles in the line of duty. After two hours and a half in the water, he finally reached a point near enough to the beach to be rescued in an unconscious state by people on shore.

After the capsize of Defender, darkness, a dense fog, and the increasing sea on the reef prevented anything more from being accomplished by boats until daylight. Both lifeboats therefore went alongside McCulloch, which had anchored as close as possible to the scene of the wreck. Meanwhile, at headquarters in San Francisco, the life-saving officers were anxiously awaiting news from the wreck. At 8 PM a motor truck was placed at the disposal of Keeper Nelson of the Golden Gate Station, and, having loaded the beach apparatus gear on the truck, he and his crew of seven men crossed the bay to Sausalito and proceeded overland to the scene of the wreck. The approximate distance from the Golden Gate Station to Bolinas Point by the road taken is 60 miles. The night was dark and foggy and in many places the progress of the expedition was slow. In some places it was necessary to reverse and back the motor truck up a hill. On portions of the road where speed was possible the big, lumbering machine was driven at its full capacity, and it was with difficulty that the crew maintained their positions on the truck.

In spite of these difficulties, Keeper Nelson arrived at the scene of the wreck at 2 AM, and immediately began his operations. This ultimately resulted in the saving of 29 human lives. A number of lines were shot at the wreck. Of the six that were fired, however, the people on the Hanalei secured none of them. About 3:30 AM of the 24th, the crashing of timbers indicated that the wreck was breaking up. The keeper immediately shifted his base of operations from the top of the bluff to the beach. As soon as he saw portions of wreckage drifting in, with people from the wreck clinging thereto, he began to fire shots across this wreckage, hoping to furnish the imperiled people a means of escape. From this time on the work of rescue proceeded under difficulties and amid great dangers.

The sea had risen during the night and the heavy surf was beating on the shore. For a distance of 200 yards off the beach, the water was literally covered with grinding, tossing material, consisting of portions of the wrecked vessel and her cargo of railroad ties and shingles. In the midst of this flotsam, the surviving passengers and crew were battling for their lives.

Joining hands and forming a living chain, the rescuers rushed into the water. Wherever a human form was seen struggling, they held valiantly to their work for nearly four hours until every soul had been saved that could be reached. Out of the 30 persons thus hauled up on the beach only one was lost. With the coming of daylight and the cessation of the work of rescue the lifesavers themselves were found to be in a pitiable condition, their clothing stripped to tatters and their bodies covered with bruises and cuts from head to foot.

With this brief description of the work of the crew of the Golden Gate station it is now necessary to return to the revenue cutter McCulloch, where the power lifeboats Majestic and Defender had taken refuge for the night. At dawn Keeper Nutter assembled his men and ascertained that the powerboat Defender was still in no condition for immediate service. He directed two of the crew of that boat to join him in the Majestic and immediately set out for the scene of the wreck, having no information of what had occurred since leaving the scene the night before. In the growing light of the early morning, with a heavy fog made more dense and impenetrable by smoke from the bonfires on shore, the keeper, with great skill and daring, maneuvered Majestic in toward the beach through the dangerous outlying reefs. He succeeded in getting into the comparatively calmer waters between the outer reef and the surf line of the shore. There is no doubt that the presence of the large quantities of oil on the water made this feat possible, which under ordinary conditions would have been beyond the power of man.

The Hanalei, which had been left lying on the reef the night before, had disappeared. The people were nowhere to be seen. In their place objects floated amidst the mass of wreckage of the ship, covered with oil and so completely exhausted from exposure of over two hours in the water that the living among them were in most cases too helpless to even make signals. Bending all their energies to the task, the lifesavers picked up every body, living or dead, from out the mass of wreckage. In one instance Surfman Maxwell leaped overboard and supported two struggling survivors until the boat could be maneuvered into a position to rescue them. Thirteen survivors were thus picked up and conveyed to the McCulloch, where better means of providing for their resuscitation could be had. The lifeboat returned at once and, assisted by two boats manned by the McCulloch’s crew, the debris of the wreck was searched for the living and dead until no further hope remained. Fifteen bodies were thus recovered and taken to the McCulloch. The 13 persons rescued by Keeper Nutter and his men, together with the 29 rescued by keeper Nelson and his crew and 1 person saved by the employees of the shore radio station, made up the 43 persons saved on this occasion.

The condition of the survivors was pitiable. They were coated with fuel oil from head to foot, their clothing was in tatters, and the faces and bodies of some were covered with wounds. First aid was administered on board the cutter. They were carried to the cabin and stripped, their noses and throats were freed of oil, and their limbs chafed. Stimulants were administered also, and those in need of further restorative treatment were given artificial respiration. Each person was fitted with dry underclothing. A radio message was sent to San Francisco asking that physicians and nurses be dispatched to the scene. The McCulloch set out at 9 PM. at full speed for the city. She was boarded in the Golden Gate by several surgeons and nurses of the Public Health Service, who took charge of the patients. Arriving at the dock in San Francisco the survivors were removed to ambulances and taken to hospitals. The coroner took charge of the 15 bodies.

In accordance with the requirements of law the circumstances connected with the loss of life in this shipwreck were thoroughly investigated by an officer of the Revenue Cutter Service, who reported

In conclusion, the wreck of the Hanalei, with the consequent loss of 23 lives, was particularly distressing on account of the fact that it occurred at a point comparatively a short distance from port, and the circumstances were such that it was Impossible to reach the scene with the means of rescue In time to save all on board. Added to this, the arrival of the victims at San Francisco, viewed by the thousands of people who had collected on the wharf to meet the McCulloch, lent additional horror to the tragedy. It Is only natural under the circumstances that public opinion should have been centered in an effort to discover some one responsible for the accident upon whom this resentment could be vented. The first clamor of the public press against the efficiency of the service was, as usual, hysterical in character and unjust. Later, when the first wave of horror had subsided, a clearer view of the situation was obtained and the real cause of the accident became known. After a most thorough Investigation of all the circumstances attending the loss of this vessel nothing but the highest praise Is now heard concerning the conduct of the members of the service on this occasion.


August 16, 1918 - Chicamacomico LBS, NC - Awardee(s): Boatswain (L) John A. Midgett, Zion S. Midgett, Arthur V. Midgett, Leroy S. Midgett, Clarence E. Midgett, Prochorus L. O'Neal

Date of Award: August 20, 1924

On 16 August 1918 the British steamship SS Mirlo, proceeding northward along the Atlantic coast, struck a mine laid by U-117about 1 mile off the Wimble Shoal buoy, abreast of the Chicamacomico Coast Guard Station. Her cargo of gasoline and refined oil spread over the sea and ignited. This converted the surface into a mass of flame and smoke. The matter of rescuing the crew was rendered extremely difficult owing to the heavy sea, quantities of wreckage everywhere, and the intense heat from the burning vessel and fuel. Despite these difficulties, Boatswain (L) John A. Midgett and the Chicamacomico Station crewmen forced their boat into this mass of fire and wreckage. After heroic efforts they rescued six men found clinging to a capsized boat. Midgett and his men then picked up two more boatloads (36 men) of the Mirlo’s crew and landed them through the heavy surf. The total count of those rescued was 42 persons.


September 16, 1918 - USCGC Seneca - Awardee(s): James Osborne

Date of Award: May 16, 1919

James Osborne, Coxswain, attached to USCGC Seneca was a volunteer of the crew assigned to attempt to take the British collier Wellington to port after the vessel had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. After Osborne and the others from Seneca were on board Wellington, the ship suddenly sank, precipitating her crew into the water. Osborne assisted a man in a semi-concious condition to a piece of floating debris. Each time a crewman was washed off, he succeeded in getting him back onto the debris. This continued until all those in the water were picked up by USS Warrington.


April 28, 1919 - USS Marietta - Awardee(s): Captain Harry G. Hamlet

Date of Award: January 5, 1920

While in command of USS Marietta in the Bay of Biscay on 28 April 1919, Captain Hamlet rescued a crew of 47 persons from the USS James which was sinking at sea. This rescue was made extremely difficult and hazardous owing to high seas, which threatened to send the two vessels crashing together. In effecting the rescue, Captain Hamlet displayed admirable seamanship.


November 14, 1919 - Grand Marais LBS, MI - Awardee(s): John O. Anderson, Alfred E. Kristofferson, Leon E. Alford, George Olsen, Glen Wells, Edward J. Spencer, Russell Martin, William Campbell, Joseph G. McShea

Date of Award: June 3, 1920

On 14 November 1919, crewman from the US Coast Guard station at Grand Marais, MI and a group of local civilians (Joseph Graham, Ambrose Graham, Ora Endress, and James MacDonald) rescued the crew of 17 persons from the steamer H. E. Runnels, which stranded. In performing this service some of the rescuers were washed overboard from their boat, but no one was lost. The rescue was made most hazardous by a blinding snowstorm, high seas, and ice which covered the decks of the steamer.


March 14, 1920 - USCGC Acushnet - Awardee(s): LCDR James Pine, Charles Hansen

Date of Award: May 11, 1920

On 14 March 1920 LCDR James Pine and Charles Hansen rescued two men found clinging to the masts of the schooner Isaiah K. Stetson. The vessel sank on Handkerchief Shoal, MA. The men who performed this service were members of the crew of USCGC Acushnet and volunteered to undertake the rescue. Due to high winds and a rough sea, the rescue was both very difficult and extremely dangerous.


February 14, 1923 - USCGC Snohomish - Awardee(s): LCDR Henry G. Hemingway 

Date of Award: September 28, 1928

Around 6:15 PM on 14 February 1923, USCGC Snohomish, under temporary command of LCDR Henry G. Hemingway, was proceeding to the assistance of the motor ship Coolcha. She was reported ashore near Vancouver Island, BC. While en route she received an SOS call from the steamship Nika. The Snohomish changed her course and ran down the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the Canadian side. About 3 AM the following day, two brilliant lights were seen on the starboard bow, closely resembling the lights of Umatilla Reef Lightship, but this proved to be lights from the Nika. Snohomish stood toward Nika and worked from the windward while determining the relative rate of drift of the two vessels. It was found that the Nika was drifting faster. It was also observed that Nika was on fire. A lifeboat was seen to pull off from Nika, and although efforts were made by Snohomish to pick up the occupants, this could not be done until later, after those on hoard Nika had been saved.

LCDR Hemingway placed Snohomish’s bow to a position within 20 feet of the starboard quarter of Nika. A heaving line was tossed to Nika, which was caught, and by this means a 3-inch line with a ring buoy in the bight was passed to the Nika. By hauling the buoy back and forth the Nika’s crew were taken aboard Snohomish. It was impracticable to remove the crew by launching a boat and rowing to the burning vessel because of the heavy sea. After all on hoard Nika had been taken off, Snohomish picked up the men who had previously pulled away in a lifeboat. During the time of this rescue work it was dark, overcast, and raining with a 76-mile gale blowing.


July 7, 1924 - USCGC Mascoutin - Awardee(s): LCDR John Baylis, MMC Thomas W. Coker

Date of Award: October 24, 1924

On 7 July 1924 while the Coast Guard cutter Mascoutin was anchored off Fisherman's Island, VA, E. L. Lizak (Radioman, Second Class) was observed in the water. He was swimming frantically, but drifting rapidly astern. He called for a rope, which was thrown to him, but apparently being only semiconscious, he made no attempt to grasp it. MMC Thomas W. Coker jumped overboard with a ring buoy and swam toward Lizak. LCDR John Baylis also jumped overboard, swam out, and seized Lizak by the hair. Coker was taken with cramps in his arm and leg and, therefore, could not carry the ring buoy. Thereupon, LCDR Baylis, whose strength was fast ebbing, released his hold on Lizak, swam over to Coker, and got the ring buoy. He then swam back after Lizak, but was unable to find him. Though Baylis and Coker ultimately lost Lizak, their efforts to save his life at great personal risk resulted in their being awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.


August 5 and 22, 1924 - Ocean City, MD Station - Awardee(s): Surfman Levin J. Bunting, Jr.

Date of Award: January 16, 1930

On 5 August 1924, a 19-year-old girl was bathing offshore from the Coast Guard station at Ocean City, MD. Around 3:30 PM, Bunting, then on watch duty, heard cries for help and saw the girl struggling in the water about 75 feet from shore. She was near a jetty in a heavy surf. Bunting immediately dived into the water and succeeded in reaching the girl as she was sinking. She was brought ashore in an unconscious condition, but was soon revived. Surfman Bunting performed another gallant rescue not long after the above-mentioned case. On 22 August 1924, he saved the life of a woman bather near the Ocean City station as she was being carried out to sea by the ebbing tide. On this occasion there was a very strong outgoing current and a heavy surf. In view of this, it is considered that Bunting displayed a high degree of courage in plunging into the sea and bringing the woman ashore.


August 26, 1924 - Ocean City LBS, MD - Awardee(s): BMC(L) Thomas L. Moore

Date of Award: June 11, 1925

On 26 August 1924, Phillip Gollob was caught in the heavy surf off Ocean City, MD.  He was drawn toward the jetty, then caught by an undertow, and carried out to sea.  BMC (L) Moore, seeing Gollob’s danger, plunged in to his assistance and he too was thrown into the jetty.  He, however, fought clear of it, reached Gollob, and brought him near the shore.  Other members of the station crew assisted the men in landing.


November 8, 1925 - USLHT Columbine - Awardee(s): Norman C. Manyon, Keeper, U.S. Lighthouse Service

Date of Award: February 16, 1927

On 8 November 1925 while attempting to rescue a man who had been washed overboard during a storm, off the entrance of San Juan (PR) Harbor, the propeller of CG-245 became fouled and the boat was driven onto a reef. Captain Norman C. Manyon, with his lighthouse tender, USLHT Columbine, hastened to render aid. Efforts to shoot a line across the patrol boat being unsuccessful, Captain Manyon maneuvered Columbine alongside the wreckage and picked up the boat’s crew, who had jumped into the sea.


November 16, 1926 - CG-213 - Awardee(s): BM(T) William C. Hart

Date of Award: May 24, 1927

On 16 November 1926, CG-213, in the charge of BM (T) William C. Hart, stood out toward Absecon Bar to assist the stranded tug Thomas Tracy. Owing to the prevailing heavy seas, accompanied by a 70-mile gale, it was found necessary for the crew to abandon ship. To accomplish this, Boatswain Hart skillfully maneuvered his boat near the tug and took off the crew. While this was in progress, one member of the crew of the tug fell overboard and was in imminent danger of drowning. Boatswain Hart jumped overboard and effected the rescue at great personal risk, as the two vessels were not more than 6 or 8 feet apart in the raging seas.


March 5, 1928 - USCGC Raritan - Awardee(s): BMC Paul Kelliher

Date of Award: June 30, 1928

On 5 March 1928, as SN1 George Franklin was assisting USCGC Raritan to make a mooring, at the barge office, New York City, he stumbled over a timber and fell backwards into the water. His head struck on Raritan’s rail as he went down between the vessel and the pier. BMC Paul Kelliher dived overboard, narrowly missing the ship’s propeller. When Kelliher reached the bottom his heavy shoes stuck in the mud, but he succeeded in freeing himself and located Franklin under the ship’s keel. He brought him to the surface and both men were pulled on board the ship.


November 10, 1929 - Coast Guard Seaplane No. 3 - Awardee(s): Machinist William R. Kenly

Date of Award: April 23, 1930

Coast Guard seaplane No. 3, manned by Lieutenant Melka, Machinist Kenly and Radio Electrician Descoteaux, took off from Gloucestter Harbor, MA at 9.54 AM on 10 November 1929. After gaining a height of about 50 feet, the plane lost altitude. Its right wing struck the forestay of the schooner Jackie B., then proceeding out of the harbor. The plane’s right wing was partly torn off