U.S. Coast Guard Awards
Cecil M. Thomas
Awarded 30 April 1940
On 3 December 1939, around 10:00 AM, the surfman on lookout duty at the US Coast Guard Station Point Bonita (CA) lookout tower saw a pleasure motor boat, later identified as Pinto, had swamped in a shoal which was 4/5 of a mile from the lookout. The shoal has an average depth of 5.5 fathoms. A strong wind was blowing and there was a rough sea, a heavy ground swell, and a flood tide.
The lookout immediately informed the Officer-in-Charge of the Point Bonita Station by telephone. His next view of the boat showed only pat of the bow and pilothouse above water and the twelve people in the water swimming to these points for support. The position where Pinto swamped is a shoal known as the "Potato Patch Shoals." They had hardly reached the swamped boat when a series of combers swept over them. By the time the waves had passed, the boat had broken up completely. Some who were able to swim were now seen assisting those who were next to the wreckage. Those reaching the wreckage were disrobing heavy clothing and putting on lifejackets. While this was going on more waves broke over them.
The Officer-in-Charge BMC Cecil M. Thomas, BM1 Woodley T. Clark, MM2 Vasil M. Alexandroff, and Surfman Rey H.M. Herling, all attached to the Point Bonita Station, were on the way in the station’s lifeboat within five minutes after they received the call. The boat soon headed into the breakers. Seeing it was impossible to go alongside the raft without endangering the lives of the imperiled persons, she headed to windward and threw a life-ring. One or two persons were pulled aboard before the heavy seas forced the lifeboat into such a position that she had to head offshore, out of the breakers, circle and again press forward into the breakers. On the second attempt a few more people were rescued before the breakers threw the boat so far from the survivors, she had to again head offshore and then into the seas. On the third trip rescues were attempted, but were unsuccessful. Having lost the ring-buoy, the lifeboat now went directly into the floating wreckage and took the remaining survivors on board. During this time seas were continually sweeping the lifeboat.
With great difficulty the lifeboat finally cleared the shoals and made its way to Patrol Boat CG-412 which had arrived nearby. Blankets were thrown into the lifeboat and as soon as possible the occupants were transferred to CG-412 and taken to a hospital.