Coast Guard Heroes: Lawrence O. Lawson

The Coast Guard Compass was proud to unveil the first 14 heroes the service’s new fast response cutters would be named for and we are even prouder to share the next 10 names with you in a continuation of our Coast Guard Heroes series. Over the next two weeks we’ll be sharing profiles of the namesakes of the Coast Guard’s fast response cutters, from legends of the U.S. Life-Saving Service to courageous men who served during the Vietnam War. Today, we share with you the story of Lawrence O. Lawson.

The crewmen from the Evanston station in 1894. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The crewmen from the Evanston station in 1894. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Christopher Havern.

Lawrence O. Lawson was keeper of the Evanston, Il., Lifeboat Station. Nov. 28, 1889, he and his crew, made up entirely of students from nearby Northwestern University, came to the aid of the foundering steam vessel Calumet.

In the course of affecting the rescue, Lawson and his crew traversed 15 miles through a gale by train, by horseback and by foot. After two failed attempts to conduct the rescue by firing a line to the vessel, Lawson decided to launch the surfboat. Under near-impossible icy conditions, the crew was finally able to launch.

In three successive trips through the breakers, the crew brought all 18 members of Calumet’s complement ashore. The rescue was affected only after the display of extraordinary courage and heroism by the boat’s crew.

The station at Evanston, Il. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The station at Evanston, Il. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

For his resolute direction of his crew and dogged conduct of this rescue, Lawson became known throughout the U.S. Life-Saving Service. His leadership and heroic efforts in the rescue of the crew of Calumet did not go unnoticed and Lawson was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal on Oct. 17, 1890.

Of this rescue, the United States Life-Saving Service Annual Report for 1891 noted that:

It was the opinion of all who were present that, but for the heroic conduct of this student crew, every man belonging to the Calumet must have perished. In recognition of their noble devotion to duty, each man was presented with the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the highest token of its appreciation that the Department can bestow. Thanksgiving Day 1889 (28 November) will doubtless ever be remembered by the crew of Calumet, as truly a day for thanksgiving. For on this day the student surfmen of Northwestern and their fearless keeper kept them from a watery grave.

A view from the pier of the Evanston station. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A view from the pier of the Evanston station. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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  • Carolynn Riczkus Lane

    What a special story. I couldn’t afford to go to Northwestern. Alma mater is Northern Illinois University. I was in the first accredited class of nurses to graduate from NIU with my B.S. Since then they have built a stellar College of Nursing.

  • Olivia Lawson

    Dear LT Young … This is the great great great granddaughter of Captain Lawrence O. Lawson. My name is Olivia Lawson. My father found this post and is really interested in where this dedication may be taking place, if it is something that our family would be able to attend? If there a way to contact you or can I leave you my information to contact me? Any information would be great. Thank you. Olivia

  • LT S. M. Young

    Olivia,

    What fantastic news and we are so glad you contacted us here on this article. Please send us an email at and we can connect you with the best point of contact.

    Cheers!

    Very Respectfully,
    Lt. Stephanie Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs

  • elizabeth mcgraw

    Dear LT Young, My great grandfather, Edson B Fowler, was one of the crew of this rescue mission. According to my mother, he is the gentleman seated next to Lawson. He was in medical school at Northwestern at the time. We still have the gold medal and letter that accompanied the ceremony. My mother remembers that there is also a memorial for this event somewhere on the campus of Northwestern or perhaps near the coast guard station? She was asked to unveil the commemorative plaque when she was younger, but she can’t remember exactly where it is. She has pictures her standing at the memorial in the 1940s. If you could give us any information about this that would be much appreciated. Also, is there anyone you could put us in contact with that we could perhaps find out further information about this event and perhaps discuss what to do with this valuable medal. Thank you for your time. Elizabeth McGraw.

  • LT S. M. Young

    Elizabeth,

    Thank you so very much for reaching out to us! I’m happy to connect you and try to find more information about the memorial. If you could, please send us an email at . I’ll then be able to get you in touch with the respective POCs.

    Have a good Memorial Day Weekend and thanks again for writing.

    Very Respectfully,
    Lt. Stephanie Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs