Stewards-Mate First Class Charles Walter David, Jr., an African American Coast Guardsman who served on board CGC Comanche on North Atlantic convoy duty during World War II, first enlisted in the Coast Guard on 6 March 1941 in his hometown of New York, New York.
On the night of 3 February 1943 the U.S. Army transport USS Dorchester was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Greenland. When the Comanche came to the aid of the survivors of Dorchester in the frigid waters, David was one of the few Comanche crewmen who volunteered to dive overboard to help rescue those in need--practicing the newly devised "rescue retriever" technique whereby the rescuer dived overboard and tied a line around a hypothermic survivor who was then hoisted aboard the cutter. One of the men he saved was a fellow Comanche crewman, the cutter's executive officer, Ensign Robert W. Anderson. Anderson too had volunteered to dive into the water to rescue survivors but had become unable to pull himself out of the water due to the onset of hypothermia and exposure.
David died a few days later from pneumonia contracted during his heroic efforts to save the stricken survivors of the Dorchester and LT Anderson. He was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery. He left behind a widow, Kathleen W. David, and a young son, Neil Adrian David. They received his medal in a ceremony along with then-Lieutenant Anderson (right).
Later in the war Anderson participated in a War Bond drive and described what happened that night to a number of radio talk shows. The transcripts to these interviews are available in the links listed below along with a number of newspaper articles about the Coast Guard giving David's Navy & Marine Corps Medal to his wife and son. The citation read, in part:
For heroic conduct in effecting the rescue of survivors from the torpedoed SS DORCHESTER on 3 February 1943 when the benumbed survivors were unable because of heavy seas and freezing wind to make any effort to climb on board the rescuing ship David volunteered for the dangerous task of going over the side and working in the rough water to assist the exhausted survivors in reaching the safety of the USCGC COMANCHE. Disregarding all discomfort and danger to himself, he worked until he and fellow volunteers had rescued a total of 93 survivors from certain death in the steadily mounting sea.
Adam Artigliere, grandson of Ensign Anderson, described his thoughts of Charles David and his sacrifice: "If it were not for [Charles David], my grandfather would have been left by the Comanche in the confusion and would have surely died. My understanding is that there were only a few volunteers to go into the water to attempt to save the soldiers from the Dorchester. For someone in Mr. David's position to step up and volunteer to go into the water to save those men clearly shows what kind of a person Charles David was. What a selfless act. . .My family and the families of the dozens of men Mr. David helped to save that evening are forever indebted to him."
1944 Newspaper Article Regarding David's Heroic Actions (jpg)
Photo of Then-Lieutenant Robert Anderson Conducting a Radio Interview (jpg)
This material was provided by Robert Anderson's grandson, Adam Artigliere, and we are grateful for his efforts.