USCGC Eagle honors fallen Alexander Hamilton crew

The cadets and crew of the Eagle paused in Faxe Bay, off the coast of Iceland, at the final resting place of the Coast Guard Cutter Alexander Hamilton and laid a wreath in honor of the fallen crewmembers. Additionally, seven flowers were cast to sea as a tribute from the still-living crewmembers of the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa and the other 327’ “Secretary Class” cutters who served during World War II. The ceremony took place while the Eagle was en route from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alexander Hamilton was built at the New York Navy Yard as a member of the “Secretary of Treasury Class” of high-endurance cutters. The keel was laid Sept. 11, 1935, and the cutter was launched Jan. 6, 1937. The ship spent several years patrolling the West Coast, spending the majority of that time in the Bering Sea.

Prior to the United States entering World War II, the cutter Alexander Hamilton was ordered to return to the East Coast to participate in neutrality patrols - a set of missions ordered by President Roosevelt to help protect the coast of the United States.

In September 1941, following the sinking of the U.S. naval destroyer Greer off the coast of Iceland by a German U-Boat, President Roosevelt gave the Navy and Coast Guard “shoot on sight” orders for any vessels threatening the safety of American vessels.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alexander Hamilton responded by painting the once white cutter in gray camouflage and doing additional readiness drills.

On Dec. 7, while the crew of the Alexander Hamilton was undergoing repairs in Norfolk, Va., the Japanese attacked the Naval Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war.

On Jan. 29, 1942, the crew of the Alexander Hamilton patrolled the Icelandic coast near Reykjavik when the ship was torpedoed on the starboard side by a German U-Boat. The attack left the cutter powerless and severely damaged. The U.S. naval destroyer Gwinn came alongside and took on the crewmembers. Attempts were made by several British and American vessels to salvage the Alexander Hamilton, but the efforts were later deemed useless as the ship capsized and sank lower into the water.

Rescue efforts were abandoned, and the Alexander Hamilton was sent to the bottom of the sea after being fired on three times by the American destroyer USS Ericsson. The initial torpedo explosion killed 26 Coast Guardsmen, and six later died as a result of their injuries. In all, 32 men would perish while 81 survived.

The exact location of the final resting place of the Coast Guard Cutter Alexander Hamilton remained unknown until Aug. 19, 2009, when the Icelandic Coast Guard found a shipwreck in Faxaflói, or Faxe Bay, 28 miles off the coast of Iceland. The wreck was later positively identified as the Alexander Hamilton.

The Coast Guard Cutter Eagle was the first Coast Guard vessel to visit and pay respects to the final resting place of the cutter and the crew.

"This stop was an important and historical part of the Eagle's summer and perfectly compliments our ship’s training mission," said Lt. Jeff Janaro. "The cadets aboard the ship are familiar with Coast Guard history, and this ceremony shows them the importance of tradition and sacrifice as we reflect on our service’s heroes."