The Long Blue Line: Edgar Culbertson

This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.

Written by David Rosen
Coast Guard Pacific Area Historian

Portrait of Petty Officer 1st Class Edgar Culbertson. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Portrait of Petty Officer 1st Class Edgar Culbertson. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard recently released the names of the newest Fast Response Cutters to be commissioned. Each FRC is named after a Coast Guard hero, heroes like Edgar A. “Ed” Culbertson. Culbertson was a boatswain’s mate first class petty officer who died, April 30, 1967, while trying to rescue three teenage brothers during a fierce storm in Duluth, Minnesota.

Nathan Halverson and his twin brothers Eric and Arthur were among several teenagers involved in a dare that day in April. They had left a church youth group meeting at 8:30 earlier in the evening. Two of the brothers made it to the lighthouse at the end of the Duluth ship canal’s north pier during a severe thunderstorm, then turned back to help the third, who was clinging precariously to a light pole. The brothers were swept off by mammoth waves and gale force winds – all drowned.

From left, Nathan Halverson and twins Eric and Arthur Halverson. Courtesy photos.

From left, Nathan Halverson and twins Eric and Arthur Halverson. Courtesy photos.

Local police called the Coast Guard at 10 p.m. to report the boys had been washed off the pier. Three Coast Guardsmen tethered themselves in the attempt to rescue them: Culbertson; Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard R. Callahan, 22, of Chicago; and Fireman Ronald C. Prei, 21, of St. Francis, Wisconsin.

The three heroes left about 25 feet of rope between themselves as a safety measure but the rope snapped Callahan’s wrist and the massive waves prevented the two from pulling Culbertson back out.

The three were awarded the Coast Guard Medal for their bravery and heroism. The Coast Guard dredged the lake for eight days in an attempt to find the bodies of the three brothers and gates were eventually installed on the pier.

Fifty years ago, three brothers went out onto the pier and were swept off the pier by the waves, and one of the three Coast Guard members who attempted to rescue them also drowned. As a result gates were installed to keep people off the piers in stormy weather. Duluth News photo by Clint Austin.

Fifty years ago, three brothers went out onto the pier and were swept off the pier by the waves, and one of the three Coast Guard members who attempted to rescue them also drowned. As a result gates were installed to keep people off the piers in stormy weather. Duluth News photo by Clint Austin.

Culbertson was born in Ferndale, Michigan, Oct. 13, 1935, and was survived by his two children. For his service in the Korean War, he earned the United Nations Korea Medal and Korean Service Medal in addition to his Coast Guard Medal.

Culbertson had been in the Coast Guard for 14 years and stationed in Duluth for four years. The plaque honoring Culbertson notes that his great sacrifice is an enduring example of his devotion to duty and compassion for his fellow man. On April 30, 2017, a marker honoring Culbertson was placed on the pier near the Lake Superior Beach where his body was found; his friend, Tom Mackay, marked the 50th anniversary by placing four flowers on the plaque.

Source: Lisa Kaczke, Forum News Service, 5/2/17 in TwinCities.com
See also: Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial Foundation, Duluth News Tribune 4/30/09, Ferndale Historical Society.people

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