WWI sailor awarded Purple Heart 96 years later

Family and members of the New Hampshire American Legion join Rear Adm. Daniel Neptun and Senator Kelly Ayotte after the presentation ceremony of Fred Wesley Wyman's Purple Heart at Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor, N.H. Wyman perished aboard Coast Guard Cutter Tampa during World War I after the ship was struck by a german torpedo. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall.

Family and members of the New Hampshire American Legion join Rear Adm. Daniel Neptun and Senator Kelly Ayotte after the presentation ceremony of Fred Wesley Wyman’s Purple Heart at Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor, N.H. Wyman perished aboard Coast Guard Cutter Tampa during World War I after the ship was struck by a german torpedo. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall.

Written by Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall, 1st Coast Guard District public affairs.

On a grey winter’s day along the coast of New Hampshire, recognition for sacrifice came to a local man nearly 100 years after he perished aboard Coast Guard Cutter Tampa during World War I.

Fred Wesley Wyman was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart medal for giving his life while serving as a water tender aboard Tampa while on escort duty in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Europe, Sept. 26, 1918.

In attendance at the ceremony hosted by the crew of Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor, N.H., were Rear Adm. Daniel Neptun, commander of the 1st Coast Guard District, U.S. Senator Kelley Ayotte of New Hampshire, members of Wyman's family and other guests from the area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall.

In attendance at the ceremony hosted by the crew of Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor, N.H., were Rear Adm. Daniel Neptun, commander of the 1st Coast Guard District, U.S. Senator Kelley Ayotte of New Hampshire, members of Wyman’s family and other guests from the area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall.

As a winter storm passed the region, Rear Adm. Daniel Neptun presented Douglas Wyman Sr. the Purple Heart awarded to his great uncle.

“The Cutter sank with all hands,” Neptun said. “With the sinking of the Tampa, the Coast Guard experienced its greatest loss of the war. His sacrifice, and that of his shipmates, is memorialized on the Coast Guard World War Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery,” Neptun said.

On Nov. 11, 1999, Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater and Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. James M. Loy presented Purple Hearts to the family members of Tampa’s crew who could be present that day in Washington, D.C. However, the Wyman family was unaware their relative was aboard Tampa that fateful day. With the help of Ayotte’s staff and the Coast Guard, the award was able to be presented years later in Wyman’s home state of New Hampshire.

At the time of the tragedy, Commandant of the Coast Guard Ellsworth P. Bertholf wrote in a letter to the families of the Tampa crew:

“In the sinking of the Tampa the naval force suffered its greatest individual loss during the war. The officers and men of the Coast Guard are inured to danger and there is no room for doubt that those on the Tampa met their fate with heroic fortitude.”

“It is a matter of record that the officers and men who went down with the Tampa met their fate in the performance of their duty. No greater tribute could be paid to the memory of any man.”

Tampa entered naval service during WWI in 1917. The primary duty of Tampa’s crew was to provide escort to supplies and troops moving in and around Europe in support of the war effort.

While heading for port in Wales in 1918, Tampa was torpedoed by a German submarine. The explosive force sent great columns of water into the air and claimed the lives of all aboard.

Tampa, photographed in harbor, prior to World War I. All 131 persons aboard Tampa were lost with the ship, the largest loss of life on any U.S. combat vessel during WWI. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photog

Tampa, photographed in harbor, prior to World War I. All 131 persons aboard Tampa were lost with the ship, the largest loss of life on any U.S. combat vessel during WWI. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photog

Ayotte concluded the ceremony in Portsmouth with a message to the family of the recipient and words about the work the Coast Guard continues to do everyday in the State of New Hampshire and around the world.

“It was really an honor to recognize the sacrifice of Fred Wesley Wyman,” Ayotte said, “And the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country so we could all be standing here today.”

Douglas Wyman Sr. was also presented a flag in honor of this great uncle’s sacrifice. The flag was flown prior to the ceremony aboard the Portsmouth, Va.,-based cutter Tampa, the new cutter that holds the name of its famous predecessor.

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  • Dustin

    thank you for serving. If it wasnt for you i may not have been were i am today as a 16 year old teenager almost 100 years later. my goal is to be a search and rescue
    swimmer maybe someday i can be a hero just like you.