Edgar Culbertson

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Edgar A. Culbertson
BM1 Edgar Culbertson.jpg
Edgar Culbertson, Coast Guard Medal recipient
Nickname(s) Ed
Born (1935-10-13)October 13, 1935
Ferndale, Michigan
Died April 30, 1967(1967-04-30) (aged 31)
Duluth, Minnesota
Place of burial Detroit, Michigan
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Coast Guard
Years of service 1952-1967
Rank Petty Officer First Class
Unit Lifeboat Station Duluth, Lifeboat Station Charlevoix, USS Durant (DER-389)
Battles/wars Korean War
Awards Coast Guard Medal, National Defense Service Medal with 1 bronze service star, United Nations Service Medal, Korea Service Medal, Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal with 2 bronze service stars, Coast Guard Unit Commendation Ribbon

Coast Guardsman - Boatswain Mate First Class (BM1) "Ed" Edgar A. Culbertson, 32, of Ferndale, Michigan, born October 13, 1935 lost his life on April 30, 1967 while trying to rescue three teenagers in Duluth, Minnesota. He was a Korean War Veteran, and had served in the Coast Guard since 1952.

Rescue[edit]

The rescue crew had been stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Duluth, Minnesota. Three teenage brothers were seen on the north pier break wall of the Duluth entry during a horrific storm. Meteorologist and Minnesota residents often refer to this day as "Black Sunday," describing the fierce 1967 Southern Minnesota tornado outbreak, with reports of heavy rain as far north as Duluth that day. The waves on Lake Superior in Duluth were reportedly over 20 feet high at times that night; the lake had 36 degree water with gale force winds gusting up to 45 MPH.[1]

BM1 Edgar Culbertson, along with two other Coast Guardsmen; Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Richard R. Callahan, 21, of Cicero, Illinois; and Fireman Ronald C. Prei, 21, of St. Francis, Wisconsin braved the storm and ventured out along the pier in search of the missing teenagers. A witness reported seeing the teenagers caught in the storm on the pier while one of the boys was swept over the side by a large wave. Local resident and friend of Ed Culbertson, Captain Tom Mackay, recalled the evening of this infamous storm as being so windy and rough it blew the chimney down on the Mackay house which was a few miles from the north pier break wall of the Duluth entry and farther down Park Point (Minnesota).

The three rescuers tethered themselves together with a rope spaced 25’ apart and began searching the pier with a lantern. They struggled through the storm to the end of the pier, but did not find the missing boys who had already been swept over the side themselves before the Coast Guardsmen could save them. As the team of rescuers shuffled back along the pier to safety another large wave crashed into the team, knocking BM1 Edgar Culbertson over the side and away from the others. He was soon found on the beach by his shipmates but it was too late, he had been killed trying to save lives.

A permanent marker, honoring the brave acts of BM1 Edgar Culbertson, was placed on the pier by the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center near the spot where Culbertson perished.[2] Culbertson is one of only two Coast Guardsmen to have died in the line of duty while serving in Minnesota on Lake Superior, the other was EN3 Keith Brubaker who fell overboard and perished on July 11, 1967 while serving the Station North Superior in Grand Marais, Minnesota.[3]

The original bronze plaque was erected later that year after Culbertson gave his life to the vicious storm. However, in the early 1980s the plaque was removed when the pier was widened and reinforced. Captain Tom Mackay, then a Captain for the Vista Fleet and President of the International Shipmasters Association (ISMA) Twin Ports Lodge #12 realized the plaque had not been reinstalled after the improvements.[4] Fearing that his friend, and fellow sailor would be forgotten forever, Mackay rallied those at the ISMA to help him locate the plaque and have it reinstalled. Shortly after, fellow members of the ISMA found the plaque in storage and it was reinstalled on the new pier so BM1 Edgar Culbertson could continue to be memorialized as the only known member of the United States Coast Guard to lose his life in Duluth in service to his country and community of Duluth, Minnesota.

BM1 Edgar Culbertson was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard Medal as well as BM2 Richard R. Callahan, FN Ronald C. Prei who were also awarded the Coast Guard Medal. The Coast Guard Medal is the highest peace time medal awarded in recognition of heroism. At the time, it had only been awarded to 44 people before this event.[5]

Coast Guard Medal citation[edit]

For heroism on the evening of April 30, 1967 while engaged in searching for two teen-age boys reportedly stranded at the Duluth Entry North Breakwater Light, Minnesota. Twin 16-year old boys and a 17-year old brother had been seen running along the jetty challenging the 10 to 15-foot waves when witnesses observed a huge wave sweep one boy into the water. When two boys were reported stranded at the light, Petty Officer CULBERTSON and two comrades volunteered to attempt the rescue. Lashing themselves together, the three men proceeded, with hand lanterns as the only illumination, to the end of the breakwater. Despite the high waves, winds gusting to 40 knots, driving rain and 36 degree water, the rescue party diligently searched the breakwater and light but found no trace of the boys. While returning to the beach a 20-foot wave swept Petty Officer CULBERTSON off his feet and hurled him up to and over the breakwater parapet into the sea. Despite the strenuous efforts of his teammates, Petty Officer CULBERTSON perished in this gallant rescue attempt. His outstanding courage, intrepidity, initiative, and unselfish actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial[edit]

Petty Officer Edgar Culbertson has been selected for inclusion on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC during National Police Week in May 2010. Culbertson will be the 17th member of the United States Coast Guard to receive this honor.[6]

References[edit]

External links[edit]