When the USAT Dorchester was torpeoded early in the morning on February 3, 1943, two of the three escorting Coast Guard Cutters, the USCG Escabana and the USCG Comanche undertook rescue operations and each Coast Guard cutter saved approximately 100 survivors.
In their own separate way, the way the officers and crew of these two ships saved lives in heavy seas and in frigid temperatures reflected on the great courage and skill of their men.
Aboard the USCG Escabana, Lt. Robert H. Prause helped develop a new technique to quickly save the merchant crews suffering in the cold waters of the arctic seas was put to use that morning. Volunteers from the ship put on rubber suits, tied a rope around their waist and jumped into the water. Called “retreivers”, these men were essentially the first “rescue swimmers” and they saved many men that morning.
Aboard the USCG Comanche, a cargo net, found adrift in the ocean a few weeks before, was put over the side of the ship. Twelve volunteers went over the side, climbed down on the net and grabbed survivors of the USAT Dorchester from the water and passed them on to the ship.
One of the rescuers from the Comanche, Stewards-Mate First Class Charles W. David Jr, not only saved the lives of many of the USAT Dorchester passengers, he also saved the lives of some members of his fellow volunteers who developed hypothermia working on the cargo net. Unfortunately, Stewards-Mate First Class Charles W. David soon developed pneumonia and died.
The story of the rescuers was preserved through the efforts of Judge Barry Sax, a Chapel of the Four Chaplains Board Member, who before his death in 2014 devoted years in finding eyewitnesses and participants of these acts of courage. In February 2013, Judge Barry Sax presented a lecture at the World War II Museum in New Orleans that featured Dick Swanson, one of the twelve volunteers from the USCG Comanche who went down on the cargo net. Dick Swanson told the audience that his life was saved by Charles W. David Jr.
The Chapel of the Four Chaplains is proud to also tell the story of the imagination and courage of these rescuers.
In recognition for his efforts, in November 2013 the United States Coast Guard commissioned in Key West, Florida a Fast Response Cutter (FRC) in the Sentinel Class as the Charles W. David Jr. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was pleased to attend the commissioning of the vessel and see Sharon David, Granddaughter of Charles W. David Jr participate in the ceremony.
On behalf of the the Chapel of the Four Chaplains, Barry Sax presented a plaque to the Coast Guard that honors Charles W. David Jr. that is hangs in that cutter. A picture of Charles W. David Jr. also hangs on the wall of the Chapel of Four Chaplains in Philadelphia.