More than 100 years following the first World War, the search for families that have yet to receive a Purple Heart Medal to honor their ancestor's sacrifices continues. An event scheduled this week will honor the lost lives of two individuals that once served aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Tampa during World War I.
Presented by Coast Guard Captain Michael Kahle, commander of Sector St. Petersburg, Purple Hearts will be given to the families of Angus Nelson MacLean and James Frost at the Tampa History Center on Water Street on the Thursday morning of March 16 at 9 am.
Angus MacLean was a fireman and native to the city of Tampa. Frost, a 1st Lieutenant hailing from Texas, also had a nephew later serve for the Coast Guard during the second World War.
According to the United States Coast Guard, the sinking of Cutter Tampa, formerly known as Cutter Miami, was the largest loss of life for the Coast Guard during its tour of duty in World War I.
On September 26 of 1918 under the command of Captain Charles Satterlee, Cutter Tampa had just detached from its 19th run on convoy duty in the European Theater when it was sunk by torpedoes from a German U-Boat that was stationed in the Bristol Channel. Tampa was headed toward the Welsh port to re-up on coal.
The conflict resulted in the loss of all lives aboard, which included 111 Coast Guardsmen, and 4 Navy Sailors.
Between 1917 and 1918, Cutter Tampa served alongside six other Coast Guard Cutters assigned to the Navy, safely escorting more than 350 Merchant Steamers — watercraft made to carry cargo for trade and/or passengers for hire overseas — between allied ports across 18 separate convoys.
During this tour of duty, only two merchant ships were lost, earning Cutter Tampa a special commendation for exemplary service.
Awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving with any U.S. Military Branch, The Purple Heart is the nation's oldest military accolade.
While it was created by General George Washington in 1782, Purple Hearts were not authorized to be awarded to Coast Guard Members for 160 years before getting the green-light in 1942.
As stated by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, it wasn't until 1952 that receipt of a Purple Heart was made retroactive for actions that occurred after the 5th of April, 1917. However, Cutter Tampa went under the radar until 1999 when then-Commandant Admiral, James Loy, authorized the post-humous awarding of the Purple Heart Medal to Coast Guard Cutter Tampa's Crew.
It's been 20 years since the USS Tampa Purple Heart Project awarded its first medal to a member of the lost WWI crewman of Cutter Tampa. Today, 57 Purple Hearts have been either claimed or verified as in the process of being awarded as a part of the project; this leaves only 55 Coast Guardsman and 1 Navy veteran with medals still unclaimed.
The full list of Cutter Tampa's lost WWI Veterans awaiting families to claim Purple Hearts on their behalf is as follows:
See your brave hero on the list? Applications to verify your loved-one's identity are being accepted by email to Coast Guard Archivist, Ms. Nora Chidlow, at email@example.com, or by phone number at 202-559-5142.
Documents showing the descendant's relationship to the Tampa Crew Member are required to apply for a Purple Heart, with applications taking approximately 4 to 6 weeks to be verified and processed. Examples of accepted documentation include Family Trees, Pages from Family Bibles, Birth/Death Certificates, and/or Pages from Ancestry or Other Genealogical Applications.
Media interested in attending the ceremony must RSVP by Wednesday, March 15 by 4 pm to Coast Guard Public Affairs Tampa Bay at 307-965-4672.
For more information about the World War 1 Purple Heart Medal Presentation Ceremony this Thursday, March 16, click here. Interested in reading more about the history of Cutter Tampa? Click here instead.
Article by Rachael Volpe