50 Anniversary of the White Alder Sinking

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.

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.

NEW ORLEANS – Fifty years ago today, at 6:29 p.m. Dec. 7, 1968, the Coast Guard Cutter WHITE ALDER (WLM 541) collided with Motor Vessel HELENA, a 455-foot Taiwanese Freighter, near a 550 yard-wide bend in the Mississippi River called the Bayou Goula Bend.

The collision occurred at a combined relative speed of 20+ knots with the Commanding Officer and a lookout on the bridge. Within less than a minute, WHITE ALDER sank in 75 feet of water taking the lives of all but three of her 20 person crew. Fourteen members remain entombed in the sunken cutter at the bottom of the Mississippi to this day.

The critical decisions which surrounded this event spanned a mere nine minutes, from when the HELENA made an initial Ch. 13 Securite broadcast as it approached the bend, to WHITE ALDER’s ill-fated change in course.

White Alder was homeported in New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1947 until 1968. The cutter’s primary responsibility was to tend river aids-to-navigation, although it was also called upon to conduct other traditional Coast Guard duties.

A special aid-to-navigation structure and light, erected in memory of the crew, burns brightly and marks the location of the sinking near White Castle, Louisiana. Every year, on December 7th, Coast Guardsmen and surviving family members gather at the site to observe a wreath laying ceremony.

On this 50th anniversary of the cutter’s loss, please pause to remember White Alder and its lost crew members:

Seaman Apprentice Walter P. Abbott, III
Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Michael R. Agnew
Chief Warrant Officer Samuel C. Brown, Jr.
Seaman Frank P. Campisano, III
Fireman Maurice Cason
Quartermaster 2nd 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 2nd Class Joseph A.R. Morin
Commissaryman 2nd Class Charles R. Morrison
Engineman 3rd Class Walton E. O’Quinn, Jr.
Engineman 1st Class John B. Rollinson
Chief Engineman William J. Vitt
Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Guy T. Wood

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