Arms Of The Frozen Cliffs

The following reflection is provided by Fred Crisafulli. He wrote it in 1993 after the (1992) fifty-year reunion of survivors and their relatives from the three US Navy ships that ran aground on the Newfoundland coast. His brother, Charles, died there; making him the first World War II casualty from Oswego.

OSWEGO, NY – February 18, 1942. Forty foot waves of freezing black water crashed against the ice-covered mountains that stand watch over the North Atlantic. Three war ships: the USS Wilkes, the USS Truxtun and the USS Pollux unknowingly sailed into danger on what would be their last run from the East Coast to the North Atlantic near Lawn Point and St. Lawrence, Newfoundland.

The three ships ran aground off the shores of Lawn Point at Chambers Cove, possibly the result of the inclement weather conditions, inadequate radar and inexperienced navigational personnel. Fortunately, the USS Wilkes was able to free herself from the rocks, but was rendered helpless in preventing the fate of the USS Truxtun and the USS Pollux.

Charles C. Crisafulli,
Charles C. Crisafulli

For 48 years, I knew only that my brother, Charles C. Crisafulli, GM 2/c, lost his life while fighting for his country. Many stories were in the papers, telling of a military grave for all who died at St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. Now 50 years later, I finally know the real sea story.

One day, while reading the Readers’ Digest, I learned of some very brave people who fought for their lives in freezing waters covered with crude oil. The oil weighed them down in their struggle for survival like a suit of armor. As I continued to read, I learned that there were indeed survivors. This is something my family never knew.

With my sister, Marge Crisafulli Mercier, we penned a letter to Henry Strouss from the USS Pollux to inquire about the names of the survivors from the USS Truxtun DD229.

Lo and behold, our prayers had been answered. Mr. Edward McInerney was one of the last survivors of the USS Truxtun. Not only did he return our letter, but he came to visit our family, bringing with him documented notes telling how Charles C. Crisafulli GM 2/c died with Bill Kremple GM 2/c.

We learned that in the furious fight to survive, they resorted to making a raft from a gun cover and ammunition boxes in an attempt to save the lives of the last forty men on the USS Truxtun. The forty foot waves proved too much for the manmade raft. She overturned, sending three brave men into the icy brine with high winds and an air temperature of 20 degrees below zero.

Two of the men, my brother and Bill Kremple, were wearing life lines. They withstood the freezing temperatures for five minutes in an attempt to rescue a shipmate, Bill Butterworth, just a kid of 18 years. The freezing, oily lines made the attempt near impossible.

The waves chipped away until only the mid-ship portion of the vessel remained intact. My brother and Kremple were finally pulled aboard. A shipmate, Ens. Taylor, tied a line around himself and was lowered in another attempt to save Butterworth by wrapping his legs around him. Though he was successful in pulling Butterworth aboard; Taylor lost his own life performing his unselfish act of heroism.

Once aboard the ship, the three men, half dead, were put in the radio shack, given whiskey and then forced top-side wearing only undergarments and officers’ dress coats. The cruel winds struck another blow, causing the ship to roll. All but two men were washed to their deaths.

Though he did not live to receive his honors, Ens. Taylor was awarded the Navy Marine Corps Medal for his heroic deed. He certainly deserved this and more.

Charles C. Crisafulli and Bill Kremple never received an award for their brave actions, which were only recorded in the diary of Ed McInerney.

Service officials say that they had only five years from the date of the incident to be officially recognized. A sad affair, indeed.

Though seemingly helpless, the sailors weren’t alone on that horrible day in 1942. Brave townspeople of Lawn Point and St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, quickly organized rescue efforts. Like arms reaching out from the frozen cliffs, they risked their lives to save the sailors in distress.

They lowered themselves with ropes down the icy bluffs and waded into the frozen oil slicks to retrieve the dying sailors. The entire town acted swiftly. Women and children were ready in their homes with warm clothes and food.

They cared for each sailor as if they were their own.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit this place where my brother died, at the fifty-year reunion for the survivors and relatives of these three ships.

This beautiful little village is home to wonderful people with a tragic history. The economic conditions of the area are depressed as many lost their livelihoods over the years as business and industry, mainly mining and fishing, moved elsewhere. Miners’ disease took many lives of young bread winners.

Despite their hardship, the people of Lawn Point and St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, are among the kindest, most generous people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. I was equally impressed at the pride they express for the heroic deeds of their fathers and grandfathers, which ahs passed from generation to generation.

They once again offered the warmth of their homes to the survivors and relatives of those who passed on in their village. The memory of my brother lives on through them.

For fifty years, the resident of St. Lawrence and Lawn Point had wanted a ship’s visit from the United States. A special thank you is extended to Commander Naval Surface Force, US Atlantic Fleet and Commander In Chief, Admiral Paul David Miller, US Atlantic Fleet, Norfolk, Virginia, for sending Commander Timothy Dull, USN, and the USS Samuel Eliot Morison FFG-13 to the fifty-year reunion.

I pray more US naval ships will visit St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, where the arms of the residents who live on these frozen cliffs are always ready to welcome our sailors.