In the early morning hours of January 19, 1949, 13 Coast Guardsmen died after the icebreaker Eastwind collided with a tanker in the frigid waters off the Atlantic Coast.
Among the deceased was New Haven native, Engineman 3rd Class Robert Emmett Connors. Connors, who was 19 years old, died while valiantly trying to save a friend.
Records of the incident indicate that Connors himself was safe at one point but went back into the billowing smoke and twisted steel of the cutter’s midsection. Testimony reports that his body was recovered 15 feet from his friend.
Connors’ deed went largely unnoticed. He received no medal or citation until the dedication of the Connors Maintenance Building on September 15, 1972. The building today serves as the maintenance center for Coast Guard Station New Haven and Aids to Navigation Team Long Island Sound. A plaque is posted there in his honor.
Capt. Edward Cubanski, Sector Commander, and Chief Petty Officer Kevin Wyman, Officer in Charge of Station New Haven, gathered at the plaque to celebrate Connors’ life and contribution.
Ms. Angela McKeon, Connor’s high school sweetheart, was also present and commemorates his death annually at the Sector. McKeon, whose maiden name is Tinari, presented a bouquet of flowers to Chief Petty Officer Wyman, whose boat crews set them adrift along Connors’ home shores of New Haven in memory of his life and death.
“The sacrifice and gallantry of our forebears is forward in the public’s mind right now, with the release of the movie ‘The Finest Hours’,” said Cubanski. “There are so many brave men and women in Coast Guard history who deserve equal remembrance. We are honored to celebrate the bravery of Bob Connors and to serve daily in a building that bears his name. His legacy of self-sacrifice for the lives of others will always be remembered here.”
Connors graduated from East Haven High School in 1947 and entered the Coast Guard shortly after. He attended the Coast Guard’s Engineman School in Groton, Connecticut before being assigned to the Eastwind.