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U.S. Coast Guard Awards

William A. Clark
Charles A. Rosman
W.C. Ray
John Tobin
John Blanchfield

Awarded on 8 April 1880

On 20 November 1879 two forlorn survivors of a crew of seven were rescued from the wreck of the schooner W. B. Phelps. This was done under circumstances in which ingenuity, persistence, endurance of extreme hardship, and the most perilous daring mingled to form a striking instance of heroic enterprise. The evening previous, at about 7 o’clock, during a heavy northwest gale and a very severe snowstorm, the vessel drove ashore about a mile east of the dock of Glen Arbor, MI. She came on stern foremost and her center board broke up her decks so completely that only a small fragment of them remained. On this fragment her mate and one of the sailors remained all night. The vessel was covered with ice, heeled over with her lee rail under water, the rail upon her weather side all gone, and the sea pouring across her. Five of her crew had perished and it was only at daybreak that a citizen of Glen Arbor discovered the two miserable survivors clinging to the bows. The alarm he gave brought to the scene a number of the townspeople. They sledded an old leaky flat-bottomed fish-boat to the scene. This was launched at once by William A. Clark, Charles A. Rosman, John Tobin, Welby C. Ray, and Willard W. Tucker.

The effort these brave men made to reach the wreck was soon baffled. The terrible sea and wind drove back the boat, half-filled with water and with her crew drenched. Amid the cries of the two men on the wreck, the boat was dragged about twenty rods to windward to get the advantage of a strong current. The same crew, with the exception of Willard W. Tucker, whose place was supplied by Howard Daniels, made another attempt and succeeded in reaching the stern of the vessel. They tied a line to the wreck and surveyed the situation. The two sailors were away from them in the bows. They were unapproachable on the windward side of the hull due to the terrible sea and inaccessible on the leeward side due to the great mass of debris in the water. The prospect of rescue was therefore gloomy and the boat was fast filling. It was concluded that what could possibly be done must be decided on shore. The crew then returned with their boat stern foremost, not daring to turn it for fear of the heavy seas.

When they gained the land they were so drenched and covered with ice that they left a man on the beach so that the poor sailors would not think they were deserted and ran to their homes for dry clothing. Returning as soon as possible, they resolved to wedge the boat into the mass of wreckage and endeavor to get the sailors across it. With this purpose they again started for the wreck, the place of Howard Daniels being this time filled by John Blanchfield.

Despite their efforts to make headway, the boat at times fell astern. Meanwhile, the unhappy sailors shouted, "Pull hard, boys; pull hard!" The hard pulling enabled them to drive the boat into a small opening in the floating debris about sixty feet from where the two men were standing. Here their position was one of extreme danger, all their strength and skill being brought into constant play to prevent the boat from being crushed. Still more hazardous was the task of getting the two nearly helpless sailors for a distance of sixty feet over this mass. A line was thrown to the mate, John Hourigan. He fastened the end around his body and, steadied by it, he began his desperate journey over the pitching and tossing tangle, pausing frequently and clinging as the seas flew over him. By these efforts, he contrived to crawl to within about fifteen feet of the boat.

The crew then worked the boat over an intervening piece of deck, letting it remain partially resting thereon. Getting within reach of Hourigan, they took him on board. The other man, Edward J. Igoe, who had followed in the same way, being weaker than his companion and nearly helpless through exposure, came very near being lost. As he crept along over the constantly mixing spars and timbers, some of them caught his leg and held him so fast that he had not strength enough to get it free. He was feebly struggling in this terrible strait. Then two of the gallant rescuers sprang out, leaping from point to point over the tumbling debris and reached and extricated him. One of them, gripped him by the collar and dragged him on the run along a spar about twenty feet. The piece of deck was finally reached on which the mate had been. Here, he was seized by the others and got into the boat. The boat was now shoved off the slab of deck on which it partly lay and cautiously maneuvered toward land. It was filled with water by the time the shore was reached and a score of men rushed into the surf and hauled it up on the beach. The terrible work, triumphantly ended, had lasted about eight hours.

When the mate stepped from the boat, he threw up his arms and cried: "Thank God! I shall see my children again!" To men capable of the noble rescue achieved by these five heroes of Glen Arbor, it is certain that no tribute from admiring fellow-townsmen could equal the sweet honors of these words. The Gold Lifesaving Medal was awarded to the five rescuers, William A. Clark, Charles A. Rosman, Welby C. Ray, John Tobin, and John Blanchfield. No men ever better deserved the token by which the nation commemorates such deeds of valor and charity.

Last Modified 1/12/2016