Eagle 75: Honoring fallen heroes

A flag-folding ceremony is held on the deck of the Eagle.

While aboard Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, cadets are taught about the importance of honoring the Coast Guard’s past heroes, military traditions and appreciating the service’s legacy. A flag-folding ceremony is just one of the many military traditions a unit can perform to give tribute to fallen service members. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

While on its 75th anniversary cruise, Coast Guard Cutter Eagle stops at the final resting place of the Coast Guard Cutter Alexander Hamilton after departing Reykjavik, Iceland. The Eagle will continue its cruise with the next port call in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi, public affairs specialist aboard Eagle.

July 1, 2011 was the first time any Coast Guard cutter had visited its final resting of the Coast Guard Cutter Alexander Hamilton place since the ship was torpedoed in 1942 by a German U-boat during WWII. The Coast Guard Cutter Eagle paid their respects to the fallen crew by laying a wreath at the wreckage site off the coast of Reykjavik, Iceland.

The somber, quiet ceremony served as a reflection of the service’s past and as a reminder of the sacrifices made to preserve the American way of life. For the 137 cadets aboard the Eagle, who are training to become the future leaders of the service, it was a moment to reflect on the past while working toward shaping the future of the Coast Guard.

The exact location of the Alexander Hamilton was unknown until Aug. 2009 when the Icelandic Coast Guard found a shipwreck in Faxflói, or Faxe Bay, 28 miles off the coast of Iceland. The wreck was later identified as the Alexander Hamilton.

In all, 32 men aboard the Hamilton were killed and 81 survived. The  Eagle’s 2011 visit marked the first time any Coast Guard cutter had visited the site since its discovery.

Coast Guard Cutter Eagle crew lays wreath for fallen Alexander Hamilton crew

A wreath floats on the water off the coast of Reykjavik, Iceland, July 1 following a ceremony for the fallen crew of the Alexander Hamilton, which was sunk by a German U-boat during WWII. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

Capt. Eric Jones, the commanding officer of the Eagle, said it was an honor to be the first Coast Guard cutter to visit the site and pay homage to the Hamilton crew. After sailing to Iceland, Jones witnessed first hand the hardships the Hamilton crew must have faced when it was torpedoed nearly 70 years ago.

“It’s an exceptional honor,” Jones said. “All our patrols on the Eagle have been in the Caribbean or along the Atlantic seaboard, so I had no appreciation for what the crew of the Alexander Hamilton must have went through until I came to Iceland and experienced the weather.  To think of what those crews must have went through … it was an honor to be able to pay tribute to them. It’s been a very humbling experience.”

First Class Cadet Jamie Wright, who helped organize the event, said the ceremony was an opportunity to learn more of the service’s history while honoring the past.

“I didn’t really know the Coast Guard had any involvement with Iceland during World War II until I started organizing the ceremony, so I learned a lot about our history,” Wright said. “It’s really an important piece of our Coast Guard history, and it was a real honor to be able to be there and to honor the crew in this way. Everyone who played a part in the ceremony was honored to participate.”

Aside from honoring our service’s heroes, the cadets and crew aboard also learned that by honoring our past, we appreciate the service’s legacy and traditions of military ceremony, Jones added.

Cadets prepare to toss flowers into the ocean for the ceremony.

Cadets prepare to toss flowers into the ocean for the ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

“This was a great opportunity to show the cadets and crew aboard that military ceremony has a place in honoring the past and honoring America’s heroes,” Jones said. “Having a ceremony like this helps put our own service’s history into context, it helps the crew understand the rich legacy of the service, and it helps drive home the importance of military ceremony.”

The Eagle’s recent port call in Iceland continued to build on the relationship the U.S. formed with them during the war. During the ceremony, the U.S. ambassador to Iceland and the commander of the Icelandic Coast Guard laid their own wreath while flying in a helicopter over the Hamilton site.

“During WWII, we counted on Iceland as a safe haven,” Jones said. “In return, we kept Iceland from falling into the hands of the German aggression. Their presence during the ceremony was a reaffirmation of the relationship we built together during the war.”

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