Coast Guard Heroes: Forrest O. Rednour

The Coast Guard Compass was proud to unveil the first 25 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 Forrest O. Rednour.

Written by Christopher Havern

Painting of the crew from Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba rescuing survivors from the torpedoed USAT Dorchester. U.S. Coast Guard image.

Painting of the crew from Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba rescuing survivors from the torpedoed USAT Dorchester. U.S. Coast Guard image.

Forrest Oren Rednour was born on May 13, 1923, in Cutler, Illinois. He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard on June 19, 1941, in Chicago, Illinois. After completing training at the New Orleans Training Station and at the Chicago Station, he was assigned as a Petty Officer 3rd Class on Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba Nov. 1, 1941. He was subsequently promoted to Petty Officer 2nd Class July 6, 1942.

Early into the next year, Escanaba participated in a remarkable and historic rescue operation.

During the early morning of Feb. 3,, 1943, Escanaba had been one of three escort vessels in Task Unit 24.8.3 which was escorting a convoy of three vessels, composed of the ill-fated SS Dorchester, which carried the convoy commodore, the freighter SS Lutz, and the freighter SS Biscaya, from St. Johns, Newfoundland, to Greenland.

While underway Dorchester was attacked by the German U-boat, U-223. The first indication of trouble came from the convoy at approximately 1:02 a.m., when a white flash was observed to come from the Dorchester, just behind her smokestack.

The flash was followed by a clearly visible cloud of black smoke and the sound of an explosion was heard. There followed immediately two blasts from the whistle of Dorchester and lights were seen to flash on in numerous spots on the ship. At 1:20 a.m., all lights left burning on Dorchester went out and it is believed she sank immediately after this.

Service record photo of Forrest O. Rednour. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Service record photo of Forrest O. Rednour. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

As Escanaba moved in to pick up survivors, the men designated for this operation got the rescue equipment ready. Rednour was one of these men. Lines were cut and made ready for hauling helpless men aboard. Sea ladders were placed so that they would be readily available when needed. Heaving lines were made ready, the cargo net was dropped, ready for use, and Escanaba’s retrievers put on their rubber suits with lines made fast to them.

All these things had to be done beforehand because no illumination could be used on deck and confusion would have resulted if the required equipment could not have been readily found in the dark, once rescue operations had been started. The sea was smooth due to the heavy oil slick and the wind was light. The ability to see objects in the water, however, was very poor due to darkness and overcast clouds.

The ship was stopped and drifted down into a mass of survivors. Some of them were trying to stay on doughnut rafts, while others were staying afloat only with the aid of their life jackets. As was expected from previous experience gained in rescuing survivors from SS Cherokee, the majority of the men were experiencing severe shock and exposure and could not climb up the sea ladders or the cargo net.

In fact, they could not even hang on to the lines with running bowlines on them long enough to secure the lines under their arms so that they could be hauled on board. It was for this reason that the retrievers were put over the side.

These “retrievers” were developed by the Escanaba’s Executive Officer, Lt. Robert H. Prause. The retrievers, clad in special rubber exposure suits and secured to their ship by a line, would climb overboard and get a hold of the men or of the rafts and the men tending the retrievers’ lines could pull the group close to the ship. The retrievers could then quickly put lines around the survivors and they were hauled aboard in short order. This system saved much valuable time and many lives.

The ship did not have to wait until it drifted the last 20 yards to a raft, but the retrievers got the raft to the ship immediately. The ship was able to rescue many more survivors before they became hypothermic.

The retrievers also made it possible to haul unconscious survivors aboard, many of whom later recovered. The crew aboard Escanaba saved 133 men of the 904 aboard Dorchester.

The sinking of Dorchester is commonly considered the single worst loss of American lives of any U.S. convoy during World War II.

For his actions on Rednour was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal during World War II

“For heroic conduct while aboard USCGC Escanaba during the rescue of survivors from the torpedoed USAT Dorchester in North Atlantic waters on 3 February 1943. Despite possible enemy submarine action, Rednour risked his life in the black and icy waters to aid in the rescue of unconscious and helpless survivors. Realizing the danger of being crushed between the rafts and the ship’s side or of being struck by a propeller blade if the engines backed, he swam in under the counter of the constantly maneuvering Escanaba and prevented many floating survivors from being caught in the suction of the screws, in one instance retrieving a loading raft. Rednour’s gallant and voluntary action in subjecting himself to pounding seas and bitter cold for nearly four hours contributed to the rescue of 145 persons and his courageous disregard for his own personal safety in a situation of grave peril was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Rednour died when Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba was lost while on the Greenland Patrol on June 13, 1943. His remains were never recovered.

Following his death, Rednour was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba docked in 1935. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba docked in 1935. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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