Honoring the White Alder

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As the holidays approach and evergreen wreaths adorn doors of houses, a very special wreath adorns the Mississippi River, one that represents not the holidays, but the memory of 17 Coast Guardsmen who perished 47 years ago, 14 of which are entombed in their ship 75 feet below the water and muddy silt of the Mississippi River at mile 195.3.

 

The Coast Guard Cutter White Alder was a 133-foot buoy tender stationed in New Orleans from 1947 until the night of December 7, 1968. The crew, heading down-bound near Bayou Goula Bend, was on their way to New Orleans after retrieving low-water buoys, when a collision took place with a 455-foot Taiwanese freighter.  The White Alder remained above water for just about a minute, before sinking into the 48-degree river, with only three survivors escaping the fate of their 17 shipmates.

 

Recovery efforts were made on the ship, as were investigative actions; however the Mississippi River made it impossible between current and sediment buildup. The bodies of three crewmembers were recovered before the decision was made to leave the remaining 14 crewmembers inside the ship as it was overcome with sediment.

 

On December 7, 2015, Rear Adm. David Callahan, Commander, District Eight; Master Chief Petty Officer Ryan Fahlenkamp, Command Master Chief, District Eight; and members of Marine Safety Unit Baton Rouge, attended two services to pay homage to the fallen shipmates.

 

Members of the 8th District began the day by laying a wreath at mile 195.3, near White Castle Louisiana.xy_LGR0388

 

A reverent crowd made up of both Coast Guardsmen and family members of the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter White Alder assembled on the Mississippi River bank near the light marker that signifies where the White Alder sank. The Coast Guard Cutter Pamlico made its way to the final resting place of the White Alder, where the crew placed a wreath in the river. The crew of the Pamlico and the Coast Guard members on shore rendered a salute in honor of their fallen shipmates as the current took the wreath.

 

“It is important to remember our history and our shipmates who have passed over the bar,” said Fahlenkamp. “We learn from our history and should embrace it. The families that remain are still in our charge and appreciate the manners of our professionalism.”

 

After the wreath laying ceremony, members drove to Baton Rouge, where the official Coast Guard Cutter White Alder memorial resides. The memorial, a two-piece granite monument tells the tale of the fate of the cutter on one side and the names of the crew on the other, stands as a memorial outside the USS Kidd Veterans’ Museum.

 

The ceremony held at the Cutter White Alder memorial was a solemn occasion, with Coast Guardsmen and family members of the fallen alike. As the crowd stood in silence, the Coast Guard song, “Semper Paratus,” was played on the bagpipes, followed by Rear Adm. Callahan speaking.

 

“We’re honoring our fallen shipmates who were serving their country,” said Callahan. “They were performing as Coast Guardsmen doing their patriotic duties and they lost their lives in a tragic accident on the Mississippi River.”

 

The memorial concluded with a bell being rung for the lost crewmembers as each name was read aloud.

 

“It’s very important that we don’t forget what these Coast Guardsmen did for their country and did their service and we honor their memory today,” said Callahan.

 

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