Digest>Archives> September 2002

Lightship Sailors Memorial – The Final Phase


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The newly rededicated Lightship Sailors Memorial ...
Photo by: Ron Foster

Thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated volunteers and the memorial they rededicated this past August 3rd, the memories of the men who lost their lives in the line of duty while serving on America’s lightships, will never be forgotten.

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Lightship Sailor Harold Flagg poses with the bell ...

It has often been said and agreed by most historians that lightship duty was the most dangerous duty of the U.S. Lighthouse Service and later the U. S. Coast Guard. On the evening of September 14, 1944 the crew of the Vineyard Sound Lightship, realized just how dangerous that duty really was.

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The Honorable Frederick M. Kalisz, Jr., Mayor of ...
Photo by: William Collette

As young Seamond Ponsart watched from her island home at the Cuttyhunk Light Station the lights of the Vineyard Sound Lightship disappeared into the night during the violent hurricane 1944 with the loss of the lives of the entire crew. One man survived, simply because he was on shore at that time. At that time he made a vow, the memories of those sailors would never be forgotten. However, it took many years before he would see that vow fulfilled.

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The Vineyard Sound Lightship. Photograph taken a ...
Photo by: Harold Flagg

It wasn’t until 1963 that divers found the wreck of the Vineyard Lightship. Shortly after that, the enormous fog bell was recovered from the sunken lightship and eventually went on display first at the Nauset Lifesaving Museum.

Many years later while visiting the Vineyard bell, Harold Flagg, that only survivor of Vineyard Sound Lightship saw kids throwing rocks at the bell and decided he would try to get the bell to a new location. During that time the WLV 536, the former Pollock Rip Lightship, was being made ready to given to the City of New Bedford, MA where it would be turned into a museum. Through his efforts Harold was able to get he bell moved to the lightship where the history of the Vineyard would be kept alive.

However, years later the City of New Bedford ran into hard times and the lightship became a home for pigeons and seagulls.

In 1995, Bill Collette met Harold Flagg who told him the story of the Vineyard Sound and the bell. The two then started a campaign to have the bell removed from the ship and placed in a museum. Many letters and meetings later, they still had not accomplished that goal.

Then new leadership took over the City of New Bedford with the election of Frederick Kalisz as the mayor, and things began to change. The new mayor had a firm desire in preserving the City’s maritime heritage and promoting it the world. A plan was soon developed to remove the bell from the lightship and place it on a granite block on the city’s harbor with the names of those who lost their lives in the line of lightship duty to be inscribed on it. This would be a two phase project.

A committee was formed to research the history and begin the fund raising to complete such an expensive project. The committee consisted of Art Motta, Director of Tourism and Marketing for the City of New Bedford, Doug Bingham and Bill Collette, both of who were members of the American Lighthouse Foundation and the Lightship Sailors Association, and of course Harold Flagg.

By Veterans Day 1999, Phase I of the memorial was done and dedicated during one of the most emotional ceremonies most of us ever attended. During this ceremony the names of those who lost their lives on the Vineyard Sound and the Lightship Nantucket LV73 were inscribed on the north and south sides of the memorial.

Phase II of the memorial, which would be the most expensive was then started, but would not be completed for nearly two years. The committee for Phase II, under the direction of Bill Collette, was a little larger with Dennis Cosmo, Jr. and Rick Bennett of the Lightship Sailors coming on board. The second phase took two years because of the difficulty in raising the necessary funds and the additional research that needed to be done to insure accuracy of not just the names but the facts.

That final dream came true on August 3rd when the final phase of the memorial was dedicated. Thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated volunteers, the memories of those brave souls who lost their lives in the line of lightship duty will never be forgotten. However, most people will still never know or understand just how dangerous and difficult that duty was.

This story appeared in the September 2002 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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