Connecting with Families of Hamilton (WPG-34)
By Nicole Scholet de Villavicencio
August 23, 2015
As the United States entered WWII following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the US Coast Guard became a part of the US Navy, as it had throughout its history during wartime. The Cutter Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34), named in honor of the founder of the US Coast Guard, was one of the many cutter ships that transfered over to assist the US Navy.
At the end of January 1942, just over six weeks after the US had entered the war, Cutter Alexander Hamilton was assigned to escort a Navy convoy to Great Britain. Just short of the Icelandic coast, on January 29th, a German U-boat torpedoed the Cutter Alexander Hamilton. Twenty-six of the men aboard died from the attack, and the ship had to be scuttled. It was the first US vessel sunk in the Atlantic following the American declaration of war during WWII. The Families of Hamilton (WPG-34) was formed to always remember the loved ones lost aboard.
Almost 70 years later, in 2009, the wreck of the Cutter Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34) was discovered by the Icelandic Coast Guard twenty-six miles off the Icelandic coast. Two years later the Blue Immersons dive team made an expedition down to the wreck. The Families of Hamilton (WPG-34) then designed a unique plaque in conjunction with Kustom Glass LLC to place at the wreck site. The Blue Immersions dive team returned on August 12, 2013 to affix this memorial plaque (using powerful magnets so as not to disturb or alter the ship itself) that honors the twenty-six men who died from the torpedo attack.
[Learn more about this dive expedition from a previous AHA Society article]
The Families of Cutter Alexander Hamilton
The Families of Hamilton (WPG-34) connected with the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society this year in order to bring awareness not just the founding of the Coast Guard under Alexander Hamilton, but the remarkable service - and sacrifices - the Coast Guard has provided to the country during the last 225 years.
The Families group presented to the AHA Society an exact duplicate of the memorial plaque that was affixed to the dive site. The plaque lists the names of the twenty-six men who died from the torpedo attack, as well as a quote from the letter that President Franklin Roosevelt originally wrote to the families of the victims: "They stand in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die, that freedom might live and grow and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, they live in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men." Alexander Hamilton, one of those original patriots, would certainly agree with that sentiment.
Presentation: Loss and Rediscovery of USCGC Alexander Hamilton
The plaque and other historical momentos from the ship were on display in New York City during the Coast Guard Festival commemorating the 225th anniversary of the US Coast Guard's founding. The festival culminated on August 4, 2015 with a full schedule of events at Federal Hall, the location where the Coast Guard was first founded.
One of the presentations that was given that day inside Federal Hall was "Loss and Recovery of USCGC Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34)." AHA Society President Rand Scholet shared the remarkable story of the cutter and its untimely end. Afterwards, the attendees, which included past and present Coast Guardsmen, were invited to view original letters sent from the ship shortly before the attack by one of the torpedo's victims, Michael Vas, to his cousin Betty Vas. The duplicate of the memorial plaque was also on display, as well as information on the newest Cutter Hamilton launched in 2014.
[Learn more about the Coast Guard Festival and 225th Anniversary]
- Article: Honoring USCGC Alexander Hamilton WPG-34
- Coast Guard Festival
- Article: The 225th Anniversary of the Coast Guard and Its Treasury Origins
- History of the 1937 Cutter Alexander Hamilton
- Coast Guard Video - The Hamilton Letter
- Trivia on Alexander Hamilton and the Military
- Alexander Hamilton quotes on War and Foreign Policy