Coast Guard Heroes: Charles Walter David Jr.

This Compass series chronicles the first 14 heroes the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters have been named for. These men and women, who stood the watch before us, lived extraordinary lives as they lit the way for sailors in times past, braved gunfire in times of war and rescued those in peril at sea. As Coast Guard heroes, their stories are a constant reminder of our service’s legacy. As the namesake of the Coast Guard’s newest patrol boats, they will inspire the next generation of Coast Guard heroes.

With contributions from LTJG Ryan White

The David Family

Kathleen, David’s wife and Neil, David’s son received David’s Navy and Marine Corps Medal at a ceremony in 1944. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Stewards-Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. served aboard CGC Comanche on North Atlantic convoy duty during World War II. His dauntless character was put into action on the night of February 3, 1943 as the U.S. Army transport USS Dorchester was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Greenland.

The Comanche was on scene with the Dorchester and its crew desperately searched for survivors in the frigid North Atlantic waters. David fearlessly volunteered to leave the safe haven of Comanche to dive overboard, with air temperatures below freezing, to help rescue the Dorchester’s crew.

As other Comanche crewmembers volunteered to dive in, 93 survivors from the Dorchester were rescued and plucked out of cold riotous waters.

One of the men David saved was a fellow Comanche crewman, the cutter’s executive officer, Lieutenant Robert Anderson who had fallen overboard and after exhaustion set in he was unable to pull himself out of the water. David was able to tie a line around Anderson and the crew aboard Comanche hoisted him to safety.

After the last of the survivors were safely aboard Comanche, David began to climb the cargo net to the ship’s deck. One of David’s shipmates, Storekeeper Richard Swanson had volunteered to dive overboard to assist with the rescue but was having trouble climbing the net due to his freezing limbs. David encouraged his friend to continue but Swanson was fatigued and frozen. David descended the net and with the help of another crewmember, pulled Swanson to Comanche’s deck out of harm’s way.

Tragically, David died a few days later from pneumonia that he contracted during his heroic efforts to save the Dorchester’s survivors and members from his own crew. He was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery, which was received by his wife and son, Kathleen and Neil David.

A special place in the Coast Guard’s history

Stewards-Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr.

Stewards-Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. served aboard CGC Comanche during World War II and was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery during the sinking of the USS Dorchester. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Two hundred and thirty one thousand men and 10,000 women served in the Coast Guard during World War II. Of these, 1,918 gave their lives in service.

In the spring of 1941, Coast Guard cutters were assigned to the Navy and operated in anti-submarine warfare escorts, amphibious landings, search and rescue, beach patrol, port security and LORAN duty.

Coast Guard-manned ships sank at least 11 enemy submarines and its cutters and aircraft rescued more than 1,500 survivors of torpedo attacks in areas adjacent to the United States. Cutters on escort duty saved another 1,000.

David served his country at a time when the service was segregated and was aboard a cutter where he was barred from the officer ranks and limited in his enlisted specialty. Despite this, David exercised the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty to the highest measure.

Swanson, recalling his friend in an interview, described David as a “tower of strength” on that tragic day, and his heart and commitment to his shipmates is something to be revered.

“Charles Walter David Jr. is a selfless American hero,” said Petty Officer Third Class Forest C. Reimann, a cutter surface swimmer on Coast Guard Cutter Waesche. “The sacrifice he made for his shipmates is a perfect example of why the Coast Guard Cutter Rescue Swimmer Program is indispensable. As one of the first three cutter swimmers onboard Coast Guard Cutter Waesche I am honored to fulfill this duty.”

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  • James Bordell

    I remember reading this story a while back, totally forgot about it. This is the the exact reason why these class of cutters should be named after CG enlisted heros, to remember the contribution of our enlisted personnel to the service.

  • Gary Cunningham

    The greatest privilige of my life has been to wear the same uniform as men like Petty Officer David. It is absolutely correct to name our new class of cutters after Coast Guard, especially to those who were honored posthumously. God bless the U.S. Coast Guard!

  • LCDR Jahnke Ret-2

    Our heroes will not be forgotten!! I am so proud of our service for naming our newest class of cutters for our enlisted heroes among heroes!!

  • doug harrington

    praise God for heros come in every race and creed and May God bless his family forever.

  • LCDR Manuel Lomba

    PO David’s risking and ultimately giving his life to save others from the perils of the sea, makes it most fitting to name our new generation of cutters to honor past sacrifices and keep us mindful of our tradition and responsibilities to our duties. My father was a Merchant Mariner in World War II on convoys from New York and Baltimore to England and Murmansk. He always considered himself fortunate for never having lost a ship from under him, but he was even more grateful for those less fortunate whom he was able to see again because they were saved by the Coast Guard and no doubt by men like PO David.
    With the passing of time and their crossing of the bar, we pray for their earned eternal rest, the wisdom and courage to perform our duties, and honorably pass it on to the next generation.

    SEMPER PARATUS!!!

  • Richard Adorador

    I served 5years in the Navy,and I know there are a lot of serice members who’s sacrafices go relativly unheroled.I recently had the opportunity to drive up the pacific coast to canada; stopping at every light house tower and coast guard station I could.I saw a lot of coast guard history and many hard working,dedicated people; many of them staitioned out in the middle of nowhere,yet always ready to Go! Iam glad someone has taken the time and effort to chronical the deeds of these Hero’s; So poeple like myself can read about them.
    Thank You, Rick Adorador
    Semper Paratus

  • Adam Artigliere

    As an edit to the excellent article above, Lt. Robert Anderson did not fall overboard. He was a part of the rescue effort and had voluntarily gone overboard (along with Charles David and several other brave men) in order to rescue men in the water from the Dorchester. Lt. Anderson was in the process of rescuing a soldier when the soldier gripped onto him and was dragging him under. Charles David, who had been in the water and was on the verge of exhaustion jumped in the water and saved Lt. Anderson’s life.