St. Lawrence to mark 70th anniversary of U.S. Navy tragedy Saturday

Paul Herridge
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The Town of St. Lawrence is pulling out all the stops to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the wrecks of U.S. Navy destroyers ‘USS Truxtun' and ‘USS Pollux' this Saturday.

Prior to Saturday’s memorial, a helicopter with the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron out of 9 Wing Gander will fly out to Chambers Cove (pictured) and Lawn Point to lay wreaths commemorating the 1942 U.S. Navy disaster.

The two ships ran aground at Chambers Cove and Lawn Point during a winter storm on Feb. 18, 1942.

Of the 156 men aboard the ‘USS Truxtun', only 46 survived, while a further 93 sailors from the ‘USS Pollux' also perished. A third supply ship, ‘USS Wilkes', escaped the storm unharmed and without any loss of life.

The tragedy could have been much worse if not for the heroics of the area's residents, who coordinated a rescue effort and managed to save the lives of some 182 men.

Mayor Wayde Rowsell indicated a host of military and government dignitaries, representing both Canada and United States, will be on hand for the memorial, as well as church leaders from the various denominations. 

Prior to an afternoon ecumenical service, a helicopter with the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron out of 9 Wing Gander will fly out to wreck sites to lay wreaths. The mayor said a walk out to Chambers Cove to watch has been coordinated for the same time weather permitted.

A Freedom of the City ceremony will then be bestowed upon the Canadian Forces at the town hall, followed by a parade to St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, for the ecumenical service, featuring some hundred members of the Royal Canadian Navy and sea cadets from all around the Burin Peninsula.

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band will also be on hand for the service Saturday and will perform Friday night at St. Thomas Aquinas, as well.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rowsell indicated Memorial University's School of Music has commissioned a special composition in honour of the 70th anniversary. 

"It's going to be quite something."

Following the church service, a social event is planned. Then students at St. Lawrence Academy will present a special dinner theatre on the life of Dr. Lanier Phillips, who plans to be in attendance for the ceremony and also take part in the performance.

Dr. Phillips, 88, was among the ‘USS Truxtun' sailors who survived the tragedy.

An African-American, he was at first greatly concerned about the treatment he would receive upon rescue, given the mindset at the time. However, the kindness and care he received in St. Lawrence had a profound effect on him.

After returning the United States, he overcame racial obstacles to become the first African-American sonar technician and became involved in the civil rights movement, marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King. 

Through it all, he has never forgotten the residents of St. Lawrence and the Burin Peninsula.

Mayor Rowsell said he speaks with Dr. Phillips perhaps a couple times a month.

"That's what he wanted to do when he came up here. Rather than speaking in the church or speaking at a dinner, he wanted to be with the youth and he wanted to participate with them."

The mayor commended the Canadian Forces, who he said visited the community as preparations evolved, for working with the town on all the military aspects of the service. 

"The support is unbelievable."

Organizations: U.S. Navy, Canadian Forces, Dr. Phillips Royal Canadian Navy School of Music Lawrence Academy

Geographic location: United States, Canada

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  • Duffy
    February 18, 2012 - 10:16

    Heros' All !!!! Hope this rememberance goes well as the survivors are now few. God Bless them all and those that risked their lives to save the sailors. PS: I see Search & Rescue will fly over and drop a wreath - unless it is raining or cloudy..or the Minister has to go fishing.

  • Dr Henry Budkataszek
    February 14, 2012 - 13:11

    The planned ceremonies are impressive. However, the spotlight on Lanier Phillips overshadows the many stories of courage and heroism of the victims and rescuers documented in Cassie Brown’s book. It is unfortunate that brave men like Ed Bergeron could not be similarly honoured.