Around 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1943, German submarine U-223 torpedoed the U.S. Army Transport Dorchester, which carried more than 900 troops, civilian contractors and crew, off the coast of Greenland. Coast Guard Cutter Comanche served as one of the escorts for Dorchester and the Coast Guard crew began to search for survivors in the water.
The temperature was below freezing, with sea spray icing Comanche’s decks and superstructure. Many of the survivors who were in the water were already lifeless, but lookouts spotted lifeboats full of survivors. Comanche crewmembers took action and one of the men who volunteered to dive into the treacherous, North Atlantic waters was Stewards-Mate 1st Class Charles David Jr.
David was hypothermic from his heroic efforts to save Dorchester’s survivors. Tragically, he contracted pneumonia and succumbed to his illness.
Storekeeper 1st Class Dick Swanson, a crewmember aboard the Comanche, later described David as a “tower of strength” for his actions that day. It was a natural way to describe David, who was well over six-feet tall and 220 pounds. But it wasn’t David’s height Swanson was alluding to; it was his strength of character.
This force of strength will live on in the Coast Guard’s newest ship, Coast Guard Cutter Charles David Jr. The newly commissioned cutter is the service’s seventh fast response cutter and first to be homeported in Key West, Fla.
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Vincent Patton served as the eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard from May 1998 to October 2002. He attended the ceremony as the invocation chaplain for the commissioning.
Patton described the honor of meeting Sharon David, Charles David Jr.’s granddaughter and ship’s sponsor; former crewmember Swanson; and family members of those David rescued, including the executive officer of Comanche.
“It was spiritually emotional knowing that the descendants of the executive officer were present, as had it not been for David, they themselves would not have been born, not to mention countless others who were rescued by David,” said Patton.
As part of the ceremony, Swanson spoke to the attendees about David and how he seemed to be “something of a superman” as he dove into the Atlantic too many times to count, bringing in survivors.
“It was just emotionally stunning to hear about it, and to glance at the cutter numerous times with pride and honor to Charles David Jr.,” said Patton.
With 1.8 million square nautical miles of ocean in the 7th Coast Guard District, the crew of Cutter Charles David Jr. is ready to save lives and live up to the service’s core values, just as their cutter’s namesake did. They are ready to be that tower of strength.