The Long Blue Line: Buoy Tender White Alder—lost 50 years ago, but not forgotten

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Writen by William Thiesen
Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian

Black and white photo of Buoy Tender White Alder during her time stationed at New Orleans, Louisiana. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Black and white photo of Buoy Tender White Alder during her time stationed at New Orleans, Louisiana. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Coast Guard buoy tender White Alder was the former U.S. Navy lighter YF-417, one of eight YF-257-class Navy lighters acquired by the Coast Guard and converted to buoy tenders. With generous cargo space, an open deck, a large power plant, and a boom for lifting large objects, White Alder proved a capable short-range aids-to-navigation (ATON) buoy tender. From 1947 until 1968, the buoy tender was stationed in New Orleans. During the buoy tender’s more than 20-year career, it’s primary mission was tending river aids-to-navigation, but also performed traditional Coast Guard missions, such as search and rescue, and law enforcement.

On Saturday, December 7, 1968, White Alder was steaming down-bound on the Mississippi River. At approximately 6:30 p.m., it collided with the up-bound motor vessel Helena, a 455-foot Taiwanese freighter. The accident occurred above Head of Passes near White Castle, Louisiana, causing the 133-foot buoy tender to sink in 75 feet of water with three of its crew surviving.

Stone marker at the White Alder Memorial on the Mississippi waterfront at Metairie, Louisiana. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Stone marker at the White Alder Memorial on the Mississippi waterfront at Metairie, Louisiana. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Immediately after the accident, divers located the buoy tender and recovered the bodies of three White Alder crew members. However, sediment from the swift current of the Mississippi River buried the wreck site so quickly that continued recovery and salvage operations proved impossible. 14 White Alder crew members were entombed in the sunken cutter, which to this day remains sealed in the river bottom.

After the White Alder accident, the Coast Guard suffered the loss of Cutter Cuyahoga in 1978, and buoy tender Blackthorn in 1980. Soon after the loss of Blackthorn, the service made sweeping improvements to cutter policy, doctrine, training and standardization. It created the prospective commanding officer (CO)/executive officer (XO) afloat course, mandated that all COs, XOs and officers of the day (OOD) pass the deck watch officer examination, required prospective COs and officers in charge (OINC) to conduct underway familiarization rides, and promulgated commandant cutter navigation standards. All of these steps improved the proficiency and safety of afloat operations and resulted in higher levels of cutter and crew readiness.

Memorial service for White Alder held on December 7, 2012, at the White Alder Memorial in Metairie. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Memorial service for White Alder held on December 7, 2012, at the White Alder Memorial in Metairie. (U.S. Coast Guard)

A special aid-to-navigation structure and light near White Castle, erected in memory of White Alder’s lost crew members, burns brightly marking the location of the buoy tender. Every year, on December 7, Coast Guard men and women, and surviving family members gather at the site to observe a wreath-laying ceremony.

This year, Marine Safety Unit-Baton Rouge will hold a formal observance ceremony at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, December 7. The ceremony will take place at The Estuary at the Water Campus, 1110 River Road S, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On December 7, the 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

 


Leave a Comment




We welcome your comments on postings at all Coast Guard sites/journals. These are sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard to provide a forum to talk about our work providing maritime safety, security and stewardship for the American people to secure the homeland, save lives and property, protect the environment, and promote economic prosperity.

The information provided is for public information only and is not a distress communication channel. People in an emergency and in need of Coast Guard assistance should use VHF-FM Channel 16 (156.8 MHz), dial 911, or call their nearest Coast Guard unit.

All comments submitted are moderated. The Coast Guard retains the discretion to determine which comments it will post and which it will not. We expect all contributors to be respectful. We will not post comments that contain personal attacks of any kind; refer to Coast Guard or other employees by name; contain offensive terms that target specific ethnic or racial groups, or contain vulgar language. We will also not post comments that are spam, are clearly off topic, or that promote services or products.

The U.S. Coast Guard disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from any comments posted on this page. This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

If you have specific questions regarding a U.S. Coast Guard program that involves details you do not wish to share publicly please contact the program point of contact listed at http://www.uscg.mil/global/mail/

The U.S. Coast Guard will not collect or retain Personally Identifiable Information unless you voluntarily provide it to us. To view the U.S. Coast Guards Privacy Policy, please visit: http://www.uscg.mil/global/disclaim.asp

Please note: Anonymous comments have been disabled for this journal. It is preferred that you use your real name when posting a comment. WE WILL POST THE NAME YOU ENTER WHEN YOU SUBMIT YOUR COMMENT. Also, you are welcome to use Open ID or other user technologies that may be available.