The Ultimate Price

by Wayne Arnold

 

 

The story of SN Robert Gullickson, the only man ever lost during the life of the Huron Lightship.

On October 6, 2000 the Lightship Sailors Association, presented to the Huron Lightship Museum a plaque in memory of Seaman Robert Gullickson, age 21, who drowned on May 7, 1958 while serving in the U. S. Coast Guard aboard WLV-526. Forty-two years after his death his sister visited the Lightship to view the memorial to her brother who lost his life while serving his country. She was only sixteen when her brother and two other sailors boarded the ship’s liberty boat for the Ft. Gratiot Lighthouse Coast Guard Station. They were to pick up the groceries, mail and pay chits, however, upon arrival the groceries were not delivered, so according to Fireman (FM) Neil Hamilton he asked   SN  Gullickson and  Chef (CS) Vincent Disch to go ahead and deliver the mail and pay chits to the crew and he would wait for the groceries and bring them out later. They set out for the Lightship at 10:45 a.m.

On their journey back to the Lightship, a large wave swamped the liberty boat, Bob endeavored to bail the water out but the liberty boat sank. They floated for 45 minutes, talking and holding hands, with their life jackets, and whistles blowing try to hail down a tugboat that passed and a freighter, all to no avail. After a wave separated them Bob made the decision to swim to shore to get help, the water temperature was 47 degrees, and hypothermia had already set in, once Bob made the decision to swim, and expend his internal body energy, it was his last decision. His body was never found. He was the only crewman lost during the 35 years the Lightship guided freighters through the lower lake into the river. At noon the lightship radioed the station to find out why the sailors had not returned, the station immediately dispatched another boat which found CS Vincent Disch at 1:07 p.m., in semi-conscious condition with his arms raised about ready to slip from his life jacket into the cold depths of Lake Huron.  Amazingly he survived.

It was October 28, 2000 while guests were eating dinner at the Thomas Edison Inn, located by the Blue Water Bridges in Port Huron; two of the couples overheard a discussion at the adjacent table about their tour to the Huron Lightship Museum.  They interrupted to say that their cousin served aboard that ship but drowned while on duty. The other group asked if his name was Bob, and they turned white, how did you know?  Well they have a memorial to him on his bunk. There is a U.S. Flag, the history and new plaque in his memory.

The next day the cousins and their spouses visited the ship, I had the honor to escort them on a tour of the museum, when we reached the crews quarters, the tour turned into a wake, the volunteer crew and family shed tears as the family reminisced. For years after Bob gave his life in the line of duty, each time a body washed up on shore the family immediately contacted the authorities to find out if it was…They stated that he has a sister who lives in metropolitan Detroit and they were going to let her know about the Lightship and the memorial. The family did not know the ship was still in existence.

Two days before Veterans Day, 2000, Robert Gullickson’s sister, Carol Von Kampen, 63, came aboard the Lightship with his dress uniform and presented it to the Huron Lightship Museum volunteers in memory of her brother. “I was very moved,” she said upon seeing the memorial. “It’s very emotional to see this 42 years later. It’s a beautiful tribute.”  The crew held a small service then Ms. Von Kampen was escorted to the pilothouse where a master salute was given, three longs and two short blasts resounded out from the Lightship’s whistle over the St. Clair River out into Lake Huron. “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky, All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.”

The HURON LIGHTSHIP was launched in 1920 as Lightship 103 of the United States Lighthouse Service and later re-named U.S. Coast Guard WAL-526 then WLV-526. In 1972 she was enshrined on the St. Clair River at Pine Grove Park, Port Huron MI, as a tribute to her vigilance and memory of a by-gone era. In 1989 the HURON LIGHTSHIP was designated a National Historic Landmark. From 1935 until 1970 she served at Corsica Shoals in Lake Huron, located approximately 6 miles north of the Blue Water Bridges and 3 miles east of the Michigan shoreline. She was the last lightship on the Great Lakes.

Length overall 97 ft., Beam 24 ft., Draft 9 ft. 6 in., Displacement 310 tons (fw), Mushroom anchor weight 3 tons, Dilok chain link weight 14 lbs., Maximum ship speed 8 knots,  Mast height above water line (lantern mast)  52 ft. 6 in., Year keel laid 1918, Year withdrawn from service 1970, Built by Consolidated Shipbuilding Company, Morris Heights, New York. Maintained by Volunteers of the HURON LIGHTSHIP Museum, owned by the City of Port Huron, and financial support from the Lake Huron Lore Marine Society.

 

Article by Wayne Arnold, site manager, Huron Lightship Museum, Port Huron MI Website:  http://www.phmuseum.org

 

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