World War II Veteran to receive Coast Guard Commendation Medal

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area will present the Coast Guard Commendation Medal to a World War II veteran in a ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday on Coast Guard Island here.

Vice Adm. David Pekoske will recognize Walter G. Firestone, 88, for his role in fighting an out-of-control fire aboard the munitions ship S.S. El Estero, a Panamanian-registered freighter docked at a New Jersey pier April 24, 1943.

Then-Fireman 3rd Class Firestone and his fellow crewmembers of Coast Guard vessel 39004 were preparing to depart on holiday liberty when word came that the El Estero was on fire. They rushed to the scene and began dousing the fire with water as railroad cars were removed from the pier. After several hours, the order came to scuttle the vessel. The freighter sank into the bay. No one died.

Roughly 5,000 tons of bombs, depth charges and ammunition were stored on El Estero and other nearby ships and railroad cars. It has been argued that, had the explosives ignited, the ensuing chain reaction would have devastated downtown New York and parts of North Jersey, with a death toll in the thousands.

The award ceremony will be held in the Point Welcome Room here.

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2 Comments

  1. Mark D. Firestone says:

    I would like to thank Vice Admiral Pekoske and Lieutenant John Oney in particular, and everyone who attended my father’s ceremony and acknowledged his contribution for making it a very special and memorable day, and a fitting tribute to all the heroes among us in the military – active, reserve and retired as well as those no longer with us.

  2. Catherine says:

    Congratulations and thank you to Mr. Firestone.