U.S. Coast Guard Awards
Richard C. Gillett
Awarded 3 December 1947
On 11 August 1947, at approximately 1350, F2 E.A. Wilken, USN, was reported overboard from the USS Leyte (CV-32), en route from Gibraltar to Algiers. At the time the USS Henley (DD-762) was on station 1000 yards aft of the Leyte. When Wilken was sighted about 150 yards off the starboard bow of the Henley, he was thrashing aimlessly in the water and screaming for help. A life ring, a life jacket, and a line were thrown to him, but he was too dazed to swim after them. The wind's force was approximately 12-15 knots and there were high swells running.
At this time, S2 Richard C. Gillett, USCG, dived from the forecastle of the Henley, grasped the line that had been thrown to Wilken and began swimming out to the drowning man. This line which Gillett was taking to the drowning man was being tended on the forecastle of the Henley by a man who, when the inboard end was reached, held it back so as to tie on another line. Gillett, feeling the strain on the line and apparently unwilling to wait until the line was lengthened, let it go and hastened to the fast-weakening man. Wilken had collapsed and had been submerged an estimated two to four minutes when Gillett arrived at the spot of submersion. Gillett dived under the surface, grasped the victim by the shirt and attempted to swim back to the ship, but was hampered by the heavy swells and the swinging of the ship, which was opening the distance to the ship. Gillett was beginning to tire and found it necessary to tread water in order to keep afloat but could not keep the drowning man's head above water and each swell kept breaking over his own head.
Because of the heavy swells, difficulty was encountered in launching the motor whaleboat. After Gillett had been in the water approximately 5 minutes, the whaleboat reached the two men in the water and pulled them safely aboard, whereupon Gillett collapsed. Gillett had swallowed an approximate 500 cc of saltwater and was treated for complete exhaustion and shock. Wilken's case was diagnosed as asphyxia from near-drowning and severe shock, and after preliminary treatment was transferred back to the Leyte.