Honoring six sailors lost serving others
The Buffalo (N.Y.) News
The steam-powered Coast Guard ship chugged out of Buffalo to its station on Lake Erie between Sturgeon Point and Point Abino, where it was to anchor as a floating lighthouse for the Great Lakes shipping.
Light Vessel 82’s mission was to warn ships coming and going from the Buffalo Harbor of the treacherous rocky shoals beneath the lake’s northern shore.
But in the fall of 1913, as the six-member crew of the lighthouse vessel sailed out, two fronts collided over the warm lake waters, resulting in hurricane force winds that blasted the region for three days and nights. The crew aboard the lighthouse vessel was battling 35-foot waves, snow and sleet and 80 mph winds.
Hugh M. Williams, the Light Vessel’s captain, made a fateful decision. He lowered anchor so that his vessel would continue to warn other ships during the horrific storm. Although that decision cost him and his crew members’ lives, it also may have saved the lives of other sailors in the vicinity of Buffalo Harbor, one of the busiest ports in the world a century ago.
Exactly when the 100-foot-long Light Vessel sank in 60 feet of water some 2 miles northwest of Crystal Beach, is unknown, but when the “White Hurricane” stopped blowing, the six Coast Guarsdsmen were among some 240 others who died in the storm that raged from Nov. 7 to 10, 1913. Eighteen other ships also sank.
At 3 p.m. today,three descendants of Capt. Williams will visit a memorial plaque at Crystal Beach’s Waterfront Park and participate in a service commemorating the sacrifices Williams and the other crew members made.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, aboard the USS Little Rock at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, they will take turns ringing the ship’s bell in honor of the lost shipmates.
“It will be very emotional. It’s not just about grandpa, but all who lost their lives on that ship,” said Bruce O’Connor, the 72-year-old grandson of Williams. “My grandfather is part of the history of the Williams family on my mother’s side. We heard all about grandpa losing his life in 1913 in that horrible storm.”
For O’Connor’s sister, 71-year-old Patricia Sharp, the two days of events will provide the family, who traveled here from Michigan, with a chance to formally recognize the crew’s heroism a century later.
“My mother would have been very, very pleased that this is happening, and I certainly will be there for her,” Sharp said of Hazel O’Connor, who died in the 1980s. “She was the oldest daughter of Mary and Hugh’s three children. It was horrible for my mother. She was 9. She secretly always suspected he was coming back.”