Coast Guard Heroes: Winslow W. Griesser

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 Keeper Winslow W. Griesser.

Buffalo Life-Saving Station in 1918. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Buffalo Life-Saving Station in 1918. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Christopher Havern.

On Nov. 21, 1900, two large scows broke from their moorings some 3 miles southwest of the Buffalo Life-Saving Station in New York; the scows, a type of flat-bottomed boat, drifted toward the breakers. The station’s surfmen saw this from the lookout tower and promptly launched the lifeboat, with Winslow W. Griesser, keeper of the station, aboard.

Winslow W. Griesser with his Gold Lifesaving Medal. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Winslow W. Griesser with his Gold Lifesaving Medal. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A breaker caught the bow of the surfboat and threw it high into the air, pitching the boat end over end. Griesser and all but one of the crew were thrown out and had to swim to shore. Once on the beach Griesser saw that a man from one of the scows was hanging onto a pile. As use of a boat was impracticable, Griesser decided to swim out with a line accompanied by a surfman. Taking the line, the two dashed into the lake, but were thrown back onto the beach. A second attempt saw Griesser’s fellow lifesaver get injured and pushed back landward. Griesser, however, continued.

Nearing the man on the pile, Griesser threw the line to him. He told him to fasten the line around his body and to let go of the piling. The man could only secure the line to his wrist before the waves caught him and fouled the line on the piling.

After 15 minutes Griesser cleared the snarl and the man was pulled to the beach by those ashore. Griesser then swam to the beach. When he finally came ashore, he was so exhausted, he could not stand. For his heroic actions, Griesser was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal on Feb. 23, 1901.

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