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U.S. Coast Guard Series Service of the Sauk

April 19, 2017


Each month, an interesting aspect of the world’s oldest continuous maritime service will be highlighted. The men and women of the United States Coast Guard follow in the fine tradition of the brave mariners who have served before them. As sentinels and saviors of the seas, the United States Coast Guard proudly continues its commitment to honor, respect & devotion to duty to maintain their vigil - Semper Paratus.


‘Service of the Sauk

The crowd applauded loudly in praise of the five men. All members of the Maritime Administration, they were being recognized for their efforts to help their fellow mariners who had found themselves in a bit of a predicament the previous New Year’s Eve. As the applause subsided for the mariners who were to be commended for their efforts at the ceremony held at the Maritime Administration Reserve Fleet of the Hudson River at Jones Point in the last week of April 1963, the speaker read from a letter from the Ship Safety Achievement Awards Committee of the National Safety Council and the American Merchant Marine Institute. As the crowd listened intently to the accolades, the five men recalled their actions to save the men of the United States Coast Guard cutter. While the event was of a celebratory nature, it certainly was not the highlight of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sauk’s years of service to her nation. 


The United States Coast Guard Cutter Sauk was a one hundred and ten foot tug based on the design of the previous one hundred and ten foot Calumet-class cutters of the service. Though similar to her elder sister cutters, the new design incorporated aspects to assist the cutters in serving in ice conditions. With a beam of twenty-six feet, five inches and a draft of eleven feet, six inches, the cutter was powered through the water by an eight cylinder diesel engine with a single propeller. The Sauk was launched on September 10th, 1943 and was commissioned the following May. She was stationed in New York Harbor where she was duty bound to provide a variety of services including law enforcement, light ice-breaking, search and rescue and fire-fighting. For the next forty-one years, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sauk would have a rich and storied career of service. 


After the end of the Second World War, the cutter Sauk continued to serve in the waters of New York. After two decades of service, she was transferred briefly to a new home port in Gloucester City, New Jersey in 1965 and maintained her daily vigilance to the waters of the region. After three years, she was transferred to Governor’s Island where she would remain home-ported for the rest of her career. While the bulk of her duties were monotonous and routine, there were a series of interesting episodes peppered throughout her underway years.  


In one of her late Second World War duties, the cutter Sauk would serve as an underway diplomatic escort. On December 6, 1945, the ashes of Marquess of Lothian, the British Ambassador to the United States, were taken aboard by United States State Department Chief of Protocol Stanley Woodward and the naval attaché of the British Embassy, Royal Navy Captain L. E. Rebbick. The cutter escorted the ashes of the ambassador along with his diplomatic docents to the U.S.S. Augusta, a U.S. Navy warship. It was customary that when an ambassador died at his foreign post, the hosting country would ensure the ambassador’s return to their home country aboard a military warship. Lothian had passed away on December 12, 1940 and due to the world war, his ashes had been maintained by the U.S. Government at the vault at Arlington National Cemetery until the cessation of hostilities in Europe. The cutter Sauk transited the bay and then, as she lay alongside the U.S.S. Augusta, the ashes and escort were transferred aboard while a nineteen gun salute was performed.  The Sauk, her duties completed, returned to her normal bevy of operations including serving as a customs vessel.


And it was while serving as a customs vessel that the cutter Sauk bore witness to the return of a famous Cunard liner after her time of military service. On May 2, 1937, the cutter, with a contingent of customs and immigration officials, stood by as the White Star liner Mauretania arrived after her first peace-time crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Aboard were over eleven hundred passengers including a famous Royal Air Force pilot, Group Captain Douglas R.S. Bader. Bader, who had lost both legs prior to the war while flying, had been captured by German forces while flying missions over Europe. Bader, who utilized artificial limbs, was a scourge to his Luftwaffe captors. After three escape attempts, the German’s were forced to take away his prosthetic limbs out of fear that he would try to continue to avoid being a prisoner of war. After the war, Group Captain Bader had joined the Shell Oil Company as its Public Relations Director and was traveling to the United States to meet up with fellow Shell Oil Company colleague and famous United States Army Air Corps and aviation pioneer slash strategist, Captain James H. Doolittle, for a public relations tour.1  Bader, in addition to his tour, was also interested in helping any of his fellow amputees from the war. 


While her escort of the British Ambassador’s ashes had been a solemn duty, her next famous escort duty was one of pomp and circumstance. On January 17th, 1952, the cutter Sauk was chosen to serve as the temporary flag ship for Captain Henrik Kurt Carlson. Carlson had been thrust onto the world’s stage when he alone stayed aboard his charge, the freighter Flying Enterprise, after the ship had been fatally damaged on her voyage. For thirteen days, Carlson fought to save his ship but was ultimately forced to abandon the sinking vessel near the waters of Falmouth, England. Hailed as a hero for his dedication to duty and his fortitude to try and save his company’s ship, Carlson had returned to his home in the United States to receive several accolades including the City Medal of Honor from the Mayor of New York City and a ticker-tape parade.2 The cutter Sauk and her officers and crew had brought home a national hero.3 

The cutter Sauk continued to bring many home in the years following her flagship duties for Captain Carlson. In September of 1952, the cutter escorted home nineteen survivors who had been cast into the seas off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina when their tanker, Foundation Star, split into two sections and sank into the abyss. Plucked from the storm-tossed sea by Good Samaritans of the Norwegian freighter Emu, the men, most of Greek citizenship, were transferred aboard the cutter Sauk near the Ambrose Lightship where they were then transported to New York and granted “shipwreck sailor” status in light of their situation by immigration officials. 


Three years later, the cutter Sauk also assisted a shipmate of their own service and his family when they escorted Boatswain’s Mate First Class William L. Lett to the side of his critically ill wife who was under the watchful care of medical officials at the United States Public Health Service Hospital in Staten Island. Lett, who had been aboard the United States Coast Guard Cutter Half Moon, was transferred from the cutter on weather patrol off of Halifax, Nova Scotia to the U.S.S. General W.C. Langfitt. With heavy seas limiting the cargo ship’s ability to launch a small boat to ferry the Coastguardsman to port, the cutter Sauk rendezvoused with the ship and quickly assisted in transporting Lett to the hospital facilities. 

And when the Coast Guard couldn’t get a person to medical facilities, the service ensured that the necessary medical facilities got to the situation. On July 2, 1964, the cutter Sauk raced a doctor, two nurses and two incubators from the St. Vincent’s Hospital to the Maasdam, a Holland-America cruise ship that had taken aboard a “new” passenger while completing her trans-Atlantic crossing. Mrs. Ella Lavin, a resident of Massachusetts, had given birth to a premature son, Thomas Francis, while the ship was nearing coastal waters. Born at only three pounds, the ship’s doctor, F.J. M. Pannekoek, had requested specialized equipment to ensure the newborn’s survival. The cutter Sauk, rushing the equipment to sea, ensured the doctor’s request was met in a timely fashion. 


Amidst her various duties of providing assistance to those in need, the cutter Sauk also served to assist a former President of the United States to play a “joke” on two of his “old friends” who were returning to the United States. On September 10, 1957 former President Harry S. Truman, along with a bevy of newspaper reporters, went aboard the cutter Sauk as it steamed to meet the in-bound French liner Ile de France.4 His old friends, Mr. Stanley Woodward, a retired State Department Chief of Protocol and former Ambassador to Canada and his wife, and his other friend, Mr. Joseph M. A. H. Luns, the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands were both surprised and delighted by their friend’s appearance aboard the liner. Truman, having devised the joke with immigration officials, wanted to have a little fun. When questioned by the immigration officials, Mr. and Mrs. Woodward were informed that their United States Passports had been revoked by the State Department. Mr. Woodward pleaded for the former President’s assistance but Truman would not relent. Woodward, who had previously made some less than flattering comments of the actions of the current Secretary of State, Mr. Dulles, believed that the statements had led to the revocation of their passports by the disgruntled and upset Dulles. After making the Woodward couple sweat out the situation a little longer, Truman let out a laugh and informed them of his ruse. Mr. Woodward had been correct about his assumption that Dulles’ dislike of the comments had been the catalyst for the revocation of their passports as it had been the comments about Dulles that had sparked Truman’s plan to have a little fun at the Woodward couple’s expense. 


On December 31st, 1962 the Maritime Administration Fleet Tug TD-14 arrived on the scene of the stricken cutter. The crewmen of the Sauk, having grounded north of the Bear Mountain Bridge, were huddled at the bow of the cutter awaiting assistance. The cutter had quickly taken on water and had sunk onto her portside with her stern completely submerged. The five men of the reserve tug coordinated the safe rescue of the sixteen officers and coastguardsmen from the cutter and took them to safety. The Sauk, beaten by her unintentional grounding and subsequent sinking, was down but certainly not out of the fight. After being refloated, the Sauk returned to active service and continued her various missions in the waters along the Hudson River and in the waters of New York Harbor and quickly returned to her ice breaking missions and those of a humanitarian nature. 


On February 28th, 1962, a month after her partial sinking, the cutter Sauk was working the waters of the Hudson near Newburgh, New York when five deer were spotted on a passing ice floe. The cutter Sauk readied their decks and in short order, the five floundering deer were lassoed by the Coastguardsmen and brought aboard the cutter. The deer were then released at the foot of the shoreline so that they could return to their Bear Mountain residence. The Coastguardsmen, realizing the importance of life of all kinds, had saved the deer from near certain death. 


In December of 1968, the cutter Sauk assisted in the wake of the fire aboard the Manchester Miller in New York Harbor and the following year, in December 1969, she and her crew assisted in the traffic operations during the salvage of the tanker Princess Bay in the demonic waters of Hell’s Gate. While the efforts were routine and sometimes less than optimal, her service to the men and women of Gotham and the Garden State would soon turn down right trashy. When tugboat captains, crews and longshoremen struck in the early months of 1970, the garbage of New York City’s millions of residents was assuredly not a laughing matter. Forced into service, the cutter Sauk, along with other cutters took over the responsibility of moving garbage and sludge barges to and from their various locations. In February of 1970, while pushing a sludge barge on its voyage to an ocean dumping location, the barge stuck a bridge abutment of the railroad lift bridge located at Perth Amboy.


The barge’s striking of the concrete abutment caused damage which in turn left nearly ten-thousand commuters delayed and diverted. Despite her attempts to assist in the strike situation, the cutter Sauk had been left with egg, or in this situation, sludge on its face. Several years later, the cutter Sauk, along with other cutters including the Manitou and Red Beech, would be called upon to once again serve as the conduits for trash removal from the boroughs of New York City. 

With the end of the strike and the return to normal operations the cutter Sauk’s next highlight of her service occurred when she received orders to escort a pair of Soviet fishing trawlers. Still amidst the chilly years of the Cold War, the Coastguardsmen aboard the cutter had to answer a Samaritan call for fellow mariners that also required them to maintain a steely level of military professionalism.


The s’Andreyev, a Soviet trawler, had been damaged when it collided with a fellow Soviet trawler in the waters of the Atlantic in late December 1971. A diplomatically dicey situation, the cutter Sauk was ordered to escort the damaged trawler and her savior trawler through the waters of New York. As the s’Andreyev received required repairs at a facility in Hoboken, New Jersey, the displaced crew was placed aboard the other Soviet trawler which was then escorted, by the Coastguardsmen, back to international waters where she would steam for approximately one week before being escorted back to Hoboken to transfer the crew back to the repaired trawler. The entire operation, despite its political implications, was completed without incident thanks to the diligent efforts of the Coastguardsmen aboard the cutter. 

Working with Soviet counterparts in their efforts to repair their ship was easy compared to the mission tasking under the authority of presidential orders to assist New York City Mayor Ed Koch deal with his growing garbage problem when tugboat captains and crews and longshoremen once again stuck. For two months, the cutter Sauk and her two fellow cutters, moved garbage scows throughout the region’s waters to assist in alleviating the stinky situation. All of the cutters were relieved of their duties upon the arrival of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Snohomish in June of 1979. 


On April 30th, 1985, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sauk was decommissioned after forty-one years of active service to the nation. Over the course of four decades, she had successfully completed myriad operations that ensured vessels clear passage through the Hudson River during times of ice conditions, medical assistance, quarantine duties, firefighting operations, completion of customs inspections, enforcement of maritime traffic patterns, towing evolutions, and even, during the New York City tugboat and longshoremen strikes, assisting with ridding Manhattan of her garbage. 


The United States Coast Guard Cutter Sauk, like many of her sister cutters, was not a glamorous vessel but she was certainly one that despite her age, continued to serve as a platform that allowed her officers and crew the ability to ensure the successful completion of her missions that served the citizens of the United States. She and her fellow cutters, devoid of the limelight for their persistent and devout dedication to service, is no more. Though she no longer is in existence, her storied and interesting history serves as a reminder of the day in and day out dedication of those service members who serve in the United States Coast Guard who ensure that when the call is made, that they are ready to continue to serve as sentinels and saviors of the seas.



1 According to admiralty salvage laws, if he was able to remain aboard and the vessel could be salvaged, his company would not be hindered by exorbitant salvage costs. 

2 The S.S. Flying Enterprise, originally the Cape Kumukaki, was built in 1944 and after the Second World War was purchased by the Isbrandtsen Company. On December 21, 1951, she set out from Hamburg, Germany bound for England. On Christmas night, she encountered a bad storm on the Western approaches to the English Channel. The ship was damaged and rescue and salvage operations commenced on December 28th. After transferring all of the crew and passengers to rescue vessels, with the loss of one male passenger in the transfer, Carlson remained on the stricken and listing cargo ship to try and save her. Despite the efforts of various salvage vessels, the Flying Enterprise succumbed to her injuries and sank on January 10th, 1952. Carlson and his efforts to save the ship was headline news around the globe. Lloyds of London awarded Carlson the Silver Medal for Meritorious Service for his efforts in trying to save the ship from sinking. A Dane by birth, Carlson was made a naturalized citizen of the United States during the Second World War and was a veteran of several convoy operations in the Atlantic Theatre of Operations. 


3 Under the watchful eye of the skipper of the Sauk, F.E. Thrall, former President Truman steered the cutter through New York waters. 

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