Ninety Days of Hell on CGC SEDGE – 22 November 1964, Kalgin Island, Cook Inlet, Alaska
From the memories of Gerald Stevenson, Floyd Steele and James Frye. Edited by Jon Ottman.
The Great Alaskan Earthquake on the evening of 27 March 1964 – Good Friday – would see several cutters from the U.S. Coast Guard rise to the challenge of providing humanitarian and military support to help a wide area of Alaska stricken by the quake and resulting tsunamis that left 128 people dead. Tsunami action in Alaska and the coast of the Pacific Northwest claimed the majority of casualties at 113. The quake itself was massive, registering 9.2 on the Richter scale. This made it the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded, causing approximately $311 million in damage.
The Coast Guard dispatched the cutter STORIS (WAG-38) to Homer Spit to rendezvous with a convoy of tugs and barges headed to Anchorage with relief supplies. MINNETONKA (WHEC-67) and buoy tender SORREL (WAGL-296) headed to Prince William Sound, while buoy tender BITTERSWEET (WAGL-389) was posted to Seward and buoy tender SEDGE (WAGL-402) to Valdez.
The weeks and months that followed involved hours of backbreaking labor across Alaska, by land and sea, to repair damage in order to return to some semblance of normal life. These efforts were compounded by the often-remote areas in which crews worked, miles from the nearest settlements and in the rugged Alaskan environment.
Fifty-two years ago, on 22 November 1964, a terrible tragedy struck the 180-foot SEDGE as her crews worked to restore the light station at Kalgin Island in Cook Inlet. Lost that day were EN2 Raymond C. Frye, Jr., 25 of Washington, DC, and SNBM Donald P. Law, 24, of North Hollywood, Calif.
Decades have passed and the young men who were there on SEDGE are now seniors. Many of their shipmates have since crossed the bar themselves, leaving but a handful of veterans from that harrowing time aboard “The Mighty SEDGE.” For those who remain, the events of that day, the memories of the lost men and the bravery of others still weigh heavily on their hearts and minds. Recent events, however, have helped bring closure to not only the SEDGE Veterans, but family members of EN2 Frye.
SEDGE, homeported in Cordova with LCDR Richard D. Millette in command, was rebuilding aids to navigation around Kalgin Island in Cook Inlet affected by the earthquake and resulting tidal wave.
SEDGE had already suffered a loss because of the quake. Among the dead in Alaska was EN3 Frank O. Reed, 22, of Olmsted Township, Ohio. Though officially assigned to the buoy tender, on Good Friday he was at the Cape St. Elias Light Station on Kayak Island while serving an unofficial temporary duty assignment. Reed had been off watch, photographing a sea lion colony on nearby Pinnacle Rock when he was caught in a rockslide triggered by the temblor, breaking his leg. Concerned for his whereabouts, Reed’s shipmates from the light station went looking for him and found him alive, but injured. The men from the station were attempting to carry Reed back to the light when a tsunami engulfed them all as it came ashore. While the able-bodied members of the rescue party were able to escape the swirling waters, the wave swept Reed out to sea and he was lost. His body washed ashore several days later. In service nearly four years and scheduled for discharge in April, Reed was the only Coast Guardsman lost in the earthquake.
Gerald Stevenson, 77, of Crossville, Tenn., was an EN2 on SEDGE in 1964. He served 20 years in the Coast Guard, retiring as a Chief Machinist’s Mate (MKC) in 1976.
“We were primarily the main ship above Juneau for that Alaska area and they were running us to death. A lot of it was rebuilding navigation aids in Cook Inlet and surrounding areas, like Prince William Sound, because the tidal wave had washed a lot of them out. Some of them were up on cliffs and had to be rebuilt by hand and legwork,” Stevenson said. “Those kids had to climb up there with water, cement and lumber. It was a pretty trying time. Just prior to the incident where we lost the men, we were up in Anchorage, Cook Inlet, breaking ice. We had a very severe winter and Anchorage was iced in and couldn’t get their supply ships, so we did a lot of icebreaking.”
Stevenson said that STORIS was the only ship in the north that was at sea nearly as much as SEDGE.
“We were underway like 320 or 330 days. The crew was half-crazy, as you didn’t have all this relief that you have now. To think back on it, it’s almost unbelievable,” he said. “By November, when that accident occurred and we lost those two men, we had been looking at is as ‘Ninety Days of Hell.’”
On 22 November 1964, Stevenson had just come off watch in SEDGE’s engine room when the order came for him to man a small boat as an engineer.
“I had just come out of the engine room. I think Floyd Steele had relieved me and I was sweaty and dirty after my shift and I was in the shower when they called me for this boat,” Stevenson said.
“It was like 18 degrees out and Frye poked his head in and said, ‘just finish your shower and I’ve got the boat. He was a good ship mate, absolutely,” he continued. “Frye was very reserved. He was sort of quiet, just kind of laid-back. When he took over the boat for me when I was in the shower, he said ‘Hey, I’ll take this run,’ and that’s just the way he was. He was just a darn good guy and couldn’t have been a better engineer.”
And so, Raymond Frye volunteered to take the small boat run so Gerald Stevenson and Floyd Steele didn’t have to.
“Making the boat go” was the business of “snipes” like Frye, Stevenson and Steele. Donald Law was a “deckie,” responsible for handling mooring lines, working buoys, anchoring the ship, raising and lowering the small boats, steering the cutter, and upkeep of SEDGE’s exterior.
“He was a SNBN striker and they handled the deck, the small boats and stuff like that,” Stevenson said. “I knew him but didn’t know him as well as I did Ray Frye. We’d have coffee and chow together, so we knew each other a little bit. From what I understand, Law was quiet too, a good worker, a good worker on deck.”
According to Stevenson, the plan was to head to the light on Kalgin Island when SEDGE launched the wooden 25-foot boat mid-morning. At the time, seas were running approximately six to eight feet, with the air temperature hovering around 18 degrees Fahrenheit. The 20- to 30-knot winds made it even colder and more miserable.
“There were four men in the boat, an Ensign Babcock, EN2 Frye, SNBM Law and a seaman whose name I can’t recall,” Stevenson explained. “As the small boat approached the island, we were struck by a gale coming up the inlet from the Gulf of Alaska at the same time the 30+ foot tide started to run out of the inlet, resulting in a confused sea. The small boat was overwhelmed by three different sets of seas at one time. One over the stern took her down in less than 30 seconds.”
Four men were now in the frigid water. There were no wet suits and they were clad only in work life jackets and flimsy foul weather gear, with the tide moving them down the inlet at about six to eight knots in a confused seaway.
“At this time, a man overboard alarm was sounded and I was directed to the remaining 25-foot wooden surfboat. We had just picked up this boat from Base Ketchikan and it was supposed to have been overhauled from stem to stern,” Chief Stevenson said. “As they lowered us to the water, we were hit by a sea that opened all of our seams, which we were not aware of at the time. I fired the engine and we cast off.”
As the SEDGE’s second small boat cleared the bow of the cutter, the surfboat’s engine shut down. Upon lifting the engine cover, Stevenson discovered that bilges were full of water up to the engine intakes, leaving the craft dead in the water and sinking.
“At this time, our CO, LCDR Mellett, started handling that ship like a small boat. He brought that cutter in to the four men in the water, he pulled alongside them and, with the rushing tide and wind that had now increased to 50+ knots, the crew on deck pulled ENS Babcock up over the starboard aft quarter and pulled the seaman up onto the buoy deck,” Stevenson said. “At this time, it was determined that both Frye and Law had been overcome by hypothermia and were showing no signs of life, so the deck boatswain advised the CO that they should chase us down as we were approaching the surf line and about to broach.
“Captain Mellette brought that ship in at full speed and when he stopped, I could reach out and touch the hull,” Stevenson continued. “I have never witnessed that type of superb seamanship before or after. He was an outstanding skipper, I’ll tell you that. They put us on the falls and put us on deck. By this time, all crewmembers were covered in ice.”
Stevenson rushed to the buoy deck to help his shipmates trying to rescue Frye and Law, who were now abreast of the ship’s port side.
“The main thing that I saw, so lasting in my mind, is that I saw more heroics… We had no survival gear at that time and I saw one young seaman go over the side and try to grab Frye, I think it was. He went over on a cargo net into that cold water and we had to wrestle him out. We were trying to grab (Frye’s and Law’s) jackets with boat hooks and pull them in,” Stevenson said. “But after leaning over the side, I had just touched Frye’s jacket and a wave picked him up lifting both his arms and he slid out of his lifejacket and went under. The exact thing happened to SNBM Law.”
There was nothing the helpless men could do as they watched with dismay as their shipmates sank from view in the icy waters.
SEDGE stayed on scene to continue a search pattern but was called off with direction to proceed to AIRSTA Kodiak for a court of inquiry.
‘Like a semi going back and forth on deck’
Proceeding to Kodiak Air Station via the Shelikof Strait, SEDGE was hit head on by what Chief Stevenson describes as a back-to-back gale. He recalls the winds at the time hitting in the 70 to 80 knot range and building. The seas were running 50 feet plus.
“We had a deck load of buoys and sinkers, which broke loose as we were taking green water over the bow. As the ship would climb the next wave, the buoys and sinkers would smash into the crews’ head and mess deck bulkheads, shoving them in. As we would crest the wave, to ride down the other side, the buoys and sinkers would tumble and smash into the foc’sle,” Stevenson said. “Our CO was trying to get the sinkers off of the buoy deck, but since old Murphy (of the adage “what can go wrong, will go wrong,”) was in charge on this trip, we couldn’t dump them.”
After about eight hours, the seas started to lengthen out on the number seven wave count. At this point, LCDR Mellette ordered all hands not on watch to report to the mess deck in their lifejackets.
“The CO then timed the seventh wave and turned that single-screwed ship to go with the seas, which allowed the BM1 Kirkland to get his deck force out on deck and secure the deck load,” Stevenson said. ”Every one of those young men were heroes. When those buoys and sinkers were loose on the deck, that’s like a semi going back and forth on that ship that they were trying to dodge. The deck was a shambles and we were still taking seas on deck. This was winter time in Alaska and with the old, thin, foul weather gear, they were freezing, as well.”
The load secured, SEDGE came about and headed to Kodiak.
Court of inquiry
Stevenson said that the legal proceedings focused blame based on a notation in the small boat operations manual that required wet suits for small boat crews. However, neither of the cutters that Chief Stevenson sailed on in Alaskan waters up to that time had any wet suits on board. There was only a single dry suit for the man-overboard swimmer. The perennial lack of funding for the Coast Guard was more at fault than any conscious effort by the ship’s commanding officer to neglect his men, he said.
“They were unheard of at the time because there was no money,” he said. “I had seen times were we had $25 per quarter to order tools and rags in a 180 WLB engine room.”
Also of concern was the “yes” or “no” style of the interviews conducted by Coast Guard investigators, Stevenson said.
“We were not allowed to elaborate as to the CO and crew while performing the rescue of the crewmembers in the water or the seamanship of our CO LCDR Mellette. This man saved the ship and crew. These were ordinary men doing extraordinary things. Not one medal to the captain, he saved our lives. No medals to anyone, not even letters of appreciation,” he explained.
“I love the Coast Guard, but if there was any fault in any of this, it lies with CG Base Ketchikan for not getting the surfboat in good condition as they were supposed to, the 17th District command for lack of proper equipment and last, but not least, CG Headquarters for not fighting Congress for adequate funds for their people in the field. At that time, CGC SEDGE was underway at least 300+ days a year,” he said.
Adding insult to injury, with the damage aboard ship and shattered morale and heavy hearts from losing shipmates, SEDGE was ordered to get underway to search for a missing Foss barge with a load of train cars. So the brave buoy tender and crew got underway with her remaining damaged small boat and a couple of life rafts.
“We proceeded out of Kodiak into another massive storm, beat around the Gulf for a day or two and were relieved of the search after the Foss tug retrieved her tow. We then proceeded to our home port of Cordova for a much needed rest and repair of the CGC SEDGE,” Stevenson said.
Floyd Steele, now a resident of Anchorage, remembered the trip back to SEDGE’s home port.
“Upon our return from Kodiak, where an inquiry was conducted, we moored in Cordova, we were met by the district commander. He stated that the ship and the crew deserved a much needed rest. We were also told that all questions regarding the death of Raymond Fry and Don Law, were to be forwarded to the 17th Coast Guard District Public Affairs Office,” he said. “This order set the town and the Coast Guard somewhat apart. The town has always thought to be part of the Coast Guard family. So when asked, all we could do was refer the questions to the District Office. It was hard to do. Don and Raymond were part of our crew, there was an emptiness in all of us, one that has been with most of us all of our lives.”
So the men of SEDGE moved on with the details of what they witnessed that day locked inside them for what would turn out to be decades.
Shortly afterward, the SEDGE received a large supply of wet suits as well as two new surfboats.
No rest for the weary and broken-hearted
Heading into dead of an Alaskan winter, SEDGE and her crew went right back to their duties.
“I think we were even working on overhauling engines while underway,” Stevenson said. “You can imagine doing that in heavy seas.”
It was time for SEDGE’s regular supply run to Cape Hinchinbrook and Cape Elias Light Stations. The resupply operation went smoothly at Cape Hinchinbrook Light on Hinchinbrook Island, with calm weather and smooth seas. It was at Cape Elias Light on Kayak Island that just months before, SEDGE sailor Frank Reed had lost his life in the post-earthquake tsunami. The treacherous Alaskan seas and weather would try once again to claim SEDGE sailors and the ship herself.
Chief Stevenson explained that Murphy’s Law was still in effect:
“We anchored in the bight at Cape St Elias Light Station and BM1 Kirkland and crew took the new 25-foot plastic surfboat in with supplies to the station. Upon approaching the beach – there was no dock, so you had to land directly on the beach – they landed, offloaded the supplies and backed off. The weather was calm, but as the surfboat was backing off, they encountered kelp and rocks, due to a small sea running,” he said. “At this time, unknown to us, the CG Yard that built the boat had neglected to test the vessel for running into obstructions. They had secured the prop shaft to the coupling with a small set screw that worked fine for waters in the Lower 48, but not for Alaskan waters. When they tangled up with the kelp, it backed the shaft right out of the coupling. They were dead in the water!”
The Chief said that, as luck would have it, the disabled boat was 30 or 40 feet off the beach and able to anchor, but inside the surf line. Then the harsh Alaskan weather made its move.
“The tide was building on the flood and out of nowhere, a Prince William Sound-Copper River Alaska Williwaw poured out of the ice field and hit the SEDGE bow-on,” he said. “The wind went from calm to 60 to 80 knots in less than ten minutes. Seas came up in the bight, to 10 to 20 feet. The wind and seas were so strong that it slowed the ship’s anchor windlass to where it was barely able to pick up slack on the ground tackle.”
LCDR Mellette held SEDGE into the wind with ahead power on the screw to take the strain off the anchor rode, Stevenson said.
He explained what happened next:
“In the meantime, I was ordered to the remaining 25-foot cargo boat as engineer. They put us on the falls and lowered us over the side. We then cast off and proceeded to the site of the stranded surfboat. At this time, the wind and seas were building to 70 to 80 knots, with 15- to 20-foot breakers. We approached the surfboat and threw them a tow tine. This line didn't quite make it to the surfboat and a freak sea picked us up and landed us on top of the tow line, which immediately tangled in the prop, stopping us dead in the water. Then another 15- to 20-foot wave hit us port side on and we capsized! We were thrown out and she went down. I thanked God for the new wet suits as they surely saved our lives. Too bad the CG had not supplied them a long time before that! All three of us were in the water, wind shrieking like a Banshee and we drifted in to the breakers. As luck would have it, we drifted into heaving line range of the surfboat. That crew dragged all three of us into their boat. We were in the breaker line and seas were sweeping over the top of us every minute. The temp was in the single digits, winds in the 70-knot range, so we were covered in ice. As a means of getting warm and preventing hypothermia, we opened the engine hatch on the disabled boat just enough to keep most of the seas out while providing heat from the still-running engine to our hands and faces.”
In the face of the increasingly violent weather, Stevenson said that the boat crew tried several times to signal the light station crew to help catch a heaving line to pull them ashore, but they had no luck in getting a response.
“With them receiving their mail and new movies, they were nested down in the station house reading their mail. We in the boat crew then decided to swim for it,” he said.
It was decided by all hands on the plastic boat that they had to swim to the beach roped together so the strong swimmers could help the weaker, if they got in trouble making it to dry land.
“Just as we were about to go over the side, somebody hollered, ‘There’s a light moving out from the ship!’” Stevenson said. “We couldn’t believe it as there were no small boats left on the ship. Well, we watched that little light moving toward us. It would completely disappear for minutes on end and then appear on top of the wave. As he got within hailing distance, we heard a very calm voice shout over the wind and wave noise, ‘Hey! You boys need a ride or what? I can’t figure out why you want to play in the water on such a day as this!’”
Though time has faded Chief Stevenson’s recollection of their savior’s full name, he remembers well the seamanship of SEDGE’s career BM2 known as “Pappy.”
“He never took first class, was a WWII and Korea Vet, could operate any boat, tie any line and run a deck force with great professionalism. This man was a sailor! Pappy was by himself in that ragged old rubber boat with the 18-horsepower Evinrude motor. As he approached the surf line, we noticed that his boat would be on both sides of the breaking waves. His boat was leaking air and was going flat. I think he had a small air pump that he was pumping with his foot and was keeping that boat afloat with his foot and driving that motor by himself. He threw us a line, we made fast, picked up the anchor and Pappy towed us out of that surf, making a quarter knot good. Felt like we were flying! As we approached the ship, you could hear people screaming and jumping up and down, hollering ‘Pappy’s the hero of the mighty SEDGE!’ Pappy towed us under the falls and they got us on deck and helped us out of the boat. Doc Beal, the corpsman, had the steam coming out of the showers. They stripped us, threw us in the showers, and we were out walking to the mess deck in fifteen minutes and got our tot of medicinal brandy. Then we started asking questions about Pappy and how he managed to get that old rubber boat out of #1 hold and launch it.”
The old rubber boat had been in SEDGE’s # 1 hold for years, tied up in a ball, never used and largely forgotten, as it was known that the rocks of the Alaska beaches would rip her open. When his shipmates’ lives were on the line, Pappy remembered the little rubber inflatable.
“Pappy asked the captain if he could volunteer to take her to the beach, but only by himself, as the boat leaked so much that he didn't want to risk anyone else. The CO was beside himself. He had been yelling at the light station crew by radio to help his men in the surf line. He was trying to keep the ship from parting the anchor chain due to wind and green seas over the bow and he again had no boats to rescue his men. This man was also a sailor of the first order! Pappy assured the CO that he was long of tooth and didn’t have any loved ones depending on him, and he would like to make the attempt. So they launched that leaky old boat, and away old Pappy went, pumping air into that boat and running that old motor. But the boat was so slack, that the waves would lift it in the middle like a noodle. He said it was like pushing a wet rope. But Pappy and that old boat saved six men that night,” Stevenson said.
Over the years, the incident in Cook Inlet moved farther into the past, but not in the hearts and minds of the men who were on board SEDGE that day. Gerald Stevenson, Floyd Steele and others hoped that their shipmates would be recognized for their service and sacrifice. It was also hoped that the men who performed above and beyond in preserving the lives of their shipmates while also keeping SEDGE out of harm's way could also be recognized.
In February 2016, the accidents that took the lives of Frank Reed, Donald Law and Raymond Frye came up for discussion on the Coast Guard Channel Community Web site. Gerald Stevenson and others shared some of their experience online with the other members of the site. Ron Wilkins, a MESQUITE Veteran and CGCC administrator, realized that the men were not recognized on the various Coast Guard memorials for having died in the line of duty as enlisted Coast Guard personnel or as cutter crewmen. Wilkins began looking for information to support an appeal to the Coast Guard in order to have the men’s names enshrined on the memorials. The effort would pay off and ultimately be successful.
Within short order, maritime historian and CG Channel Community member Jon Ottman found online a newspaper article from the Fairbanks Daily Miner that discussed the Cook Inlet accident that took the lives of the two SEDGE crewmen. Ottman contacted Damon Stuebner of Juneau, who then visited the newspaper microfilm archives in the State Library of Alaska and forwarded clear, full-sized copies of the Fairbanks article. Denise Krepp, a former CG LT and another of Ottman’s friends, shared a link she found to a news story posted online of a new license plate adopted by the State of Ohio for families that had lost loved ones in the military. One of the major supporters featured in the news story was Jim Frye, son of Raymond Frye. This story served as a link to the SEDGE Veterans and the Frye family, a link that the men from SEDGE had been seeking for decades. It also brought answers to a series of lifelong questions for the Fryes.
“Since the Military Survivor Plate story went public I was contacted by Gerald Stevenson, who stated he had been looking for me for fifty years,” Frye said.
“Gerry was very emotional and to make a long story short he said that he had been looking all over the United States for me and that he was so glad he found me. He told me the whole story about my dad and that my father had saved his life and another member on that very day,” he continued.
After serving on SEDGE, Floyd Steele would later be assigned as an MKC aboard STORIS out of Kodiak. Even after retirement and like Gerald Stevenson, he never forgot his lost shipmates.
“The other person who my dad was credited for saving was Floyd Steele, who lives in Alaska. Gerald gave me Floyd’s number and asked me to call him. I called Floyd and after he answered and I started to speak he said it’s Jim. He said he could tell by my voice because I sounded just like my father. Floyd cried and was more emotional than Gerald was. Floyd also told me about the day my father was killed and he credited my father for saving his life,” Jim Frye said.
The connection has, indeed, been deeply meaningful for Chief Steele.
“To be able to connect with Jim Frye, Raymond’s son, was quite emotional. It brought back very sad memories, but it brought happiness, as Gerald Stevenson and myself were able to tell Jim what happened on that terrible day in Cook Inlet,” Steele said. “As of this date we are seeking information about Dottie Law, Don’s wife, as to her whereabouts, as she need to also be told what happened and to let her know that his name is on the memorial at Cape May, where all others who died in the line of duty are inscribed.”
After the horrific series of events in late 1964, as Chief Steele explained, the SEDGE crew lost contact with Donald Law’s widow, Dottie. It is believed that she continued working in a doctor’s office in Cordova before moving to Anchorage to continue in the employ of the same doctor. The number varies, but the SEDGE men believe that she had two or three children to care for alone after losing her young husband. Then the SEDGE crew lost track of her. It’s unknown whether or not she remarried or what happened to her. Floyd Steele did his best to track her down using a wide network of contacts, but his search came up fruitless. Efforts to find her or other relatives of Donald Law are still ongoing.
After talking to his father’s shipmates on the phone, Jim Frye was able to visit Chief Stevenson and his wife, Liz, in Tennessee in early 2016.
”When (Gerald) answered the door he grabbed me and hugged me for a long time and just cried. It was like finding a father I never knew, he called me son and since we met we call each other at least once a week,” Frye said.
Raymond Collins Frye, Jr. joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1956 and had served almost nine years at the time of his death. He was home in Washington, DC, on assignment in the Coast Guard when he met his wife.
“Mom worked for the FBI when she met my father. I was born in Washington and my sister was born in Baltimore. I know we lived in a lighthouse in Maryland and I believe it was Drum Point. We then went to Portsmouth, VA, and lived there, then moved to Alabama,” Jim Frye said.
Frye said that his mother often spoke of his father’s hesitance to take the tour of duty in Alaska and he was thinking about getting out at the end of his enlistment.
The Coast Guard notified Raymond Frye’s family of his death when a letter was delivered to Mrs. Myrtle Frye at her Cullman, Alabama, home. Dated 27 November and over the signature of CAPT G.R. Boyce, Jr, chief of staff for the 17th CG District, the letter laid out the most basic of details surrounding the men’s deaths. It explained that they had been servicing aids to navigation when the small boat they were in was overcome by heavy seas.
“Despite the fact that my words of sympathy can not bring your husband back to you, I hope you will find comfort in knowing that your husband served in the highest tradition of the Coast Guard and gave his life while serving his country honorably. The men of the Seventeenth Coast Guard District join me in offering our sincere condolences to you in this hour of bereavement for the loss of your husband,” the letter closed.
The loss of Raymond Frye without any recovery for closure was difficult, particularly since there were so many unanswered questions. It would have been especially difficult for a young child to comprehend.
“I only remember a few things about my father, I remember when he left for Alaska and I remember when the Deputy Sheriff and Military Serviceman came to make notification about my dad’s death… we were living at my Grandparents’ house when dad died. We were there when notification was made,” Frye said. “I remember my Grandfather taking me to the kitchen and I remember my mother breaking down. There was never a memorial service. I would have been 4 years old in two months after his death and my sister Susan was 2 ½ at that time.”
It would be through family members that Jim Frye would keep the memories of his father alive.
“After my dad died, my Grandfather was more like a father to me than a grandparent. He would tell me about my dad and he would always tell me that he was a very good man and that he could do or fix anything. I have older cousins who spent time around my father and they all had nothing but great stories about him,” Frye said. “They told me one of their cars broke down and they asked dad to look at it. Soon the engine was out of the car and he was working on it and then put it back together. They also talked about how he could drive and they said they never saw anyone use a suicide knob on a steering wheel the way he could. I know those are not much but that something that sticks in my mind.”
Several years ago, Frye posted an inquiry on the now-defunct Fred’s Place Coast Guard social network site. He asked if anyone knew anything about his father and the accident that claimed his life.
“I asked if anyone may have been posted on SAGE during this time, and six months later, someone responded saying that I was probably referring to SEDGE,” Frye said.
“I believe it was Pete Peterson, a LT who had transferred to ship days before the incident,” he continued. “I’ve checked with historians, I have pictures, copies from the ship’s log from that day but had nothing on how it happened or why. I could never understand, my dad was an exceptional swimmer and he saved people in the water numerous times. I could never understand why that happened. Gerry explained how it happened and I have a clear understanding now.”
Sadly, Raymond Frye’s widow would never know the circumstances of her husband’s death and the high regard in which he was held by his shipmates who fought valiantly to rescue him from those frigid Alaskan waters in 1964.
“My mother passed away in 1992 at the age of 53 from cancer,” Jim Frye said. “She got remarried when I was 7 and remained married until her death. My stepfather passed away this past February.”
But just as Frye’s stepfather was preparing to cross the bar and pass out of his life, Chiefs Stevenson and Steele entered, bringing in a wave of positive emotion.
“It was like finding my dad. I can’t describe in words what it meant to me to talk to Gerry and Floyd. I had not been in my office for a few days due to my stepfather being very ill. I hadn’t checked my voice mail in a few days and I had the message from Gerry. I immediately had my wife Lori come down to my office and listen to it, as we work together. Anyway I called him and explained the situation and asked if I could call him back when I had time. That was a Thursday, February 27h,” Frye said. “I spent most of the day at the nursing home and my stepfather passed away the 28th. It was like two worlds coming together. I did call Gerry a few days later and we spoke in depth about dad.”
Jim Frye himself dedicated his career to public service, first joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1980 where he served as an MP, dog handler and instructor. After eight years in the Marines, he has also worked at several law enforcement agencies and today, he is the Chief Deputy of the Shelby County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Office.
Decommissioned 15 November 2002, SEDGE serves today in Nigeria as NNS Kyanwa A-501, though her advancing age and lack of adequate maintenance likely means her years of service are drawing to a close.
Efforts by Chiefs Stevenson and Steele to have the SEDGE crew recognized and remembered for their efforts by the current Coast Guard administration were set back by a recent letter from CAPT M.W. Sibley of the Coast Guard. The letter was in response to an inquiry initiated by Stevenson through Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office:
“…This is a follow-up response to your inquiry dated May 5, 2016, on behalf of your constituent, Mr. Gerald Stevenson. He is requesting your assistance regarding an incident, involving crewmembers of the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter Sedge, which occurred in 1964.
Unfortunately, all avenues to obtain documentation to verify the actions of the members involved have been exhausted. Coast Guard personnel have reviewed internal files held by the offices of Medals and Awards, Legal, Boat Forces, Historian, and Casualty Affairs. Information obtained from the Coast Guard Casualty Officer and the service records of EN2 Frye and SNBM Law verified the date and active duty deaths, but provided insufficient details regarding this request. The National Archives and Records Administration reviewed the logbooks of the Coast Guard Cutter Sedge and informed us the entry did not provide details of the incident or the names of those involved. They also researched Coast Guard investigation files held at the Archives and found no investigation related to the incident.
Without supporting documentation, we are unable to make a determination as to level of award or if any recommendation should be submitted. It is unfortunate that such a lapse in time has made it impossible to obtain statements from crewmembers with a firsthand account of the incident, such as LCDR Mellette, and without additional documentation; we regret we are unable to proceed.
This decision is in no part meant to distract from the honorable and faithful service of the Coast Guard Cutter Sedge crewmembers…”
Despite the apparent dead-end with the Coast Guard Administration, after 52 years of being largely forgotten by those outside of their immediate families and Coast Guard brothers, Raymond C. Frye, Jr, and Donald Law are still remembered by their shipmates. The men who served with them on SEDGE are also remembered for their Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty, as well as their devotion to their shipmates and to SEDGE, herself, during those 90 days of Hell in 1964. Chief Stevenson calls the rolls of the SEDGE heroes:
“I want to thank the following shipmates for my life: BM2 Pappy, the CO, LCDR Mellette for his outstanding seamanship, Lt Pete Peterson, the XO assisting the CO with maintaining station, also my gang, the snipes in the engine room keeping power up and the pointed end going forward. EN2 Floyd Steele was the second person besides myself that EN2 Frye gave his life for. The bridge crew, who stood at the anchor windlass, with the damage control operator pulling and easing the strain to keep the chain from parting in hour after hour of ripping winds and green seas over the bow,” Chief Stevenson explained. “The cooks trying to keep us a hot meal after being in that freezing cold, the gunner’s mate and electricians manning the 36-inch searchlights on the flying bridge, lighting up the surf line, letting us know that someone cared about our plight. The office crew standing watch on the fantail, the stewards running gallon pitchers of hot coffee and sandwiches to the bridge and stations, the radio men and ETs who were trying to make contact with the light station to assist the boat crew, and last but not least, to thank my ship mates in the surfboat. We passed the freezing hours in that sea by keeping our spirits up and blood pumping by cussing everything on Earth.”
Note: Gerald Stevenson crossed the bar on 30 November 2016.