Today is Pearl Harbor Day. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” True to his word, the attack on Pearl Harbor which caused the loss of 2,403 souls and has not been forgotten by the American people.
For the Coast Guard, there is a more personal reason for remembering December 7th. It’s not the fact that the Coast Guard Cutter Taney was at Pearl Harbor and legend says the crew was the first to return fire at the Japanese attackers. It’s also not the unheralded Coast Guard 125-foot patrol boats Tiger and Reliance were also at Pearl Harbor.
At 6:29 pm CST, on December 7, 1968, as many Americans settled in to watch the hit TV show Adam-12 as a way to take their minds off the latest news from the war in Vietnam, the Coast Guard Cutter White Alder collided with the M/V Helena, a 455-foot Taiwanese freighter in the Mississippi River at mile 195.3 above Head of Passes near White Castle, Louisiana and sank in 75-feet of water. Three of the crew of twenty were rescued, the other seventeen perished.
Divers recovered the bodies of three of the crewmen but river sediment buried the cutter so quickly that continued recovery and salvage operations proved impractical. The Coast Guard decided to leave the remaining 14 crewmen entombed in the sunken cutter which to this day remains buried in the bottom of the Mississippi River.
The Coast Guard dedicated a memorial, at the Coast Guard base in New Orleans, to the White Alder and her crew on 7 December 1969. The memorial was moved to the new Coast Guard Group New Orleans offices in Metairie, Louisiana, and rededicated on 6 December 2002.
USCGC WHITE ALDER CASUALTIES:
Seaman Apprentice Walter P. Abbott, III
Electrician’s Mate, second class Michael R. Agnew
Seaman Frank P. Campisano, III
Fireman Maurice Cason
Quartermaster, second class John R. Cooper, Jr.
Seaman Richard W. Duncan
Seaman Apprentice Larry V. Fregia
Seaman Apprentice Ramon J. Gutierrez
Seaman Roger R. Jacks
Seaman Steven D. Lundquist
Yeoman, second class Joseph A. R. Morin
Commissaryman, second class Charles R. Morrison
Engineman, third class Walton E. O’Quinn, Jr.
Engineman, first class John B. Rollinson
Chief Engineman [ENCP] William J. Vitt
Boatswain’s Mate, third class Guy T. Wood
Chief Warrant Officer [BOSN] Samuel C. Brown, Jr.
USCGC WHITE ALDER SURVIVORS:
Fireman Bruce L. Kopowski
Boatswain’s Mate, second class Richard (n) Kraus
Seaman Apprentice Lawrence E. Miller
Chief Boatswain’s Mate [BMCP] Richard F. Batista was ashore on authorized leave at the time of the collision.
As Admiral Papp said in his Pearl Harbor message to the Coast Guard in 2010, “Pearl Harbor Day serves as a stark reminder of the challenges the men and women of our Armed Services face on a daily basis, as they stand in harms way defending our liberty. It also reminds us of the challenges posed by even routine missions. We must remain ever vigilant to protect our freedom and our shipmates, by taking a moment to remember and reflect upon their service to our nation.”
For more on the White Alder, visit Remember the White Alder
Editors Note: This article first appeared on December 7, 2010 as Remembering Lost Shipmates.