Digest>Archives> June 2005

Remembering The Oswego Six

By Bill Edwards

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The headline from the Oswego Palladium-Times, ...

Oswego Palladium-Times

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Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse, Lake Ontario, ...

Oswego, N.Y., Friday, December 4, 1942

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This memorial stone was dedicated at Veteran’s ...

SIX COASTGUARDSMEN PERISH AS

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Veteran’s Memorial Park in Oswego

LAUNCH SINKS IN HARBOR

...Lighthouse Keeper Karl Jackson Among Those Lost...

...Mr. Jackson had been on duty at the main lighthouse since Tuesday. Because of the storm Wednesday and Thursday which, Lieutenant Wilson (Coast Guard Oswego Station Commander, who also perished) told a Palladium-Times reporter a few minutes before his death, was the worst in his 35 years of experience as a Coastguardsman, no relief had been possible before.

Although waves were still high, the wind had dropped from about 65 to 30 miles

an hour, and the sea was calmer. In Lieutenant Wilson’s opinion, it was stated; the transfer could be made successfully and without danger.

There were seven men from the land station in the picket boat, and also Bert E. Egelston and Carl Sprague, lighthouse keepers, when the picket boat started out. Coastguardsman in the boat who survived said the transfer was made successfully, with Mr. Egleston and Mr. Sprague being landed at the lighthouse in the lee of that structure, and Mr. Jackson being put aboard the picket boat.

In the transfer, eight men were left on the boat. Suddenly, the action of the waves smashed the picket boat against the lighthouse foundation, stoving in several planks in her bottom. Her engine stopped and the craft, tossed by giant waves at the harbor mouth, began to settle and was carried by the wind toward the east breakwall.

Attempts were made by the men aboard to put out an anchor but it dragged and the craft was sinking swiftly. It struck at the east light, on the extreme outer end of the east breakwall, spilling its crew into the water [of Lake Ontario]...

(Used with permission of the Oswego (NY) Palladium-Times)

On Wednesday, December 4th 1996, exactly 54 years to the day of the accident described in the preceding newspaper article, the crewmen involved were remembered in a memorial service held by the Oswego Station Coast Guard. Andrew Cisternino, a survivor of the ordeal that fateful day, was joined by relatives of the men who perished in tossing a wreath bearing the names of the four survivors and the six victims into the water near where the accident happened, at the exact time of when the picket boat crashed, 10:25 a.m.

The following is from U.S. Coast Guard Station Oswego:

On December 4 1942, after a brutal winter storm had pounded the area, the relief crew for the lighthouse was underway to Oswego Lighthouse. After swapping out the crews, the 30-foot pickett boat struck the corner of the lighthouse breakwall and stopped the engine. With the wind gusting to 35 knots, the harbor entrance became a violent, confused sea. The disabled boat drifted across the entrance and struck the corner of the east breakwall causing all hands to be thrown into the frigid water. Two of the crewmen managed to swim to the detached breakwall and clung to it. The station sent another boat, which failed in its attempt to evacuate the stranded men and left two more men on the wall. After successful evacuation of the four men, three were hospitalized at Fort Ontario and later released.

Six men died and their names

are as follows:

Alston J. Wilson; 54

LTJG, Commanding Officer of Oswego

Coast Guard Station

Henderson Harbor, NY

Karl A. Jackson; 42

Boatswain Mate, Lighthouse Keeper

Oswego, NY

Leslie J. Holdsworth; 21

Seaman First Class

Lawrence, MA

Ralph J. Sprau; 27

Machinist Mate Second Class

Sandusky, OH

Irving Ginsburg; 21

Seaman Second Class

Syracuse, NY

Eugene C. Sisson; 29

Boatswain Mate

Binghamton, NY

The survivors were:

Sanford Gregory; 21, Coxswain,

Tyler, Texas

Fred L. Ruff; 32, Machinist Mate

(address not available)

John Mixon, 30, Chief Boatswain Mate,

Marsis, Michigan

Andrew W. Cisternino, 29

Seaman Second Class, Syracuse, NY

All six bodies were recovered from the depths of Lake Ontario.

The following summer, on August 24 1997, City of Oswego Director of Tourism Fred Crisafulli organized a ceremony recognizing the heroism of the crew that stormy day in December. Installed in the city’s Veteran’s Memorial Park is a plaque and stone dedicated to the United States Coast Guard, past, present and future, and to the six who lost their lives in the tragedy. The plaque lists their names with the following inscription:

In Memory

Coast Guardsmen who lost their lives during the crew change and resulting rescue attempt at Oswego Lighthouse.

December 1942

"I sell my life dearly to the enemy of my country, but give it freely to those in peril."

The Oswego West Pierhead Light involved in this accident is the same one you see today. It was first lit in 1934 and was automated in 1968. It originally had a fourth order Fresnel lens which is now located at the H. Lee White Maritime Museum in Oswego, NY. The present optic is a VRB-25 that was installed in 1995.

The light is not open to the public but is clearly visible from the end of the pier behind the museum, which is located in the harbor. The Veteran’s Memorial Park is on the way to the museum, along the Oswego River, off West 1st Street, between Bridge Street and Lake Street.

In 1956, the existing Coast Guard building was constructed to house Group Oswego, which encompassed Station Oswego, Stony Point Light, Galloo Island Light and Station Galloo Island. The memory of the 1942 accident lives on in local myth with the reporting of ghost-like happenings at the lighthouse.

This story appeared in the June 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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