Wayde Rowsell, former mayor of St. Lawrence and passionate historian, pens a powerful tale, one that left an imprint on his region of the Burin Peninsula during WW2
Wayde Rowsell has long been the go-to guy when it comes to wanting to know about the USS Truxton & USS Pollux, ships involved in a weather-related sea disaster that occurred in the early morning hours of February 18, 1942 off the rocky cliffs near St. Lawrence. In the frigid temperatures, hundreds of men were struggling in the oil-doused water and were sure to perish without help. The destroyer USS Truxtun was escorting supply ship USS Pollux from Maine to Argentia when both ships were caught in a gale and ran ashore in Chambers Cove, located between the communities of Lawn and St. Lawrence. The Truxtun broke up almost immediately with 110 lives lost. Ninety-three more were lost from the Pollux.
Heroically, despite the treacherous sea conditions, savage winds and facing unforgiving cliffs, rescuers from the towns saved 186 as locals dropped everything to give aid. History was made for more reasons than one.
For many in this then isolated rural community who had never seen a person of colour, they were in for a shock. As the yarn goes, some locals, in an attempt to scrub oil off the men’s skin, also tried to wash away god-given pigmentation, until told otherwise. Help and aid, as it often is throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, was beautifully colourblind. In his book, Waves of Courage: A WW2 True Story of Valor, Compassion & Sacrifice, Rowsell finally captures the tale and its aftermath for the world to absorb.
Rowsell says his book is ‘‘dedicated to the young recruits and seasoned sailors in need on broken ships and the women and men who came to their rescue that day.’’
The narrative chronicles the heroic efforts and valor of sailors in their struggle to man their ships and survive the icy waters, perilous currents and windswept land assisted by the men and women of Newfoundland, he shared.
“This collection of stories documents the humanity and spirit of kindred people and shows the gratitude of the U.S government who bestowed a gift to the residents of St. Lawrence and Lawn in thanking them for saving U.S citizens. It is a story of inclusion, raw spirit and tenacity and these stories should never be forgotten.’’
Rowsell was familiar with the story as a lad, growing up near the U.S. Memorial Hospital which was gifted to the area from the American government for their assistance during the sea disaster.
‘‘When you entered the hospital, there were the big photos of the ships and other glorious things to see, and over the years, certainly every February, there was a commemorative service. And in later years I got involved in the council and so I always had a very keen interest in the story and it just grew.’’
Dr. Lanier Phillips was a survivor who stayed in touch with Rowsell. Their friendship grew. The two often spoke about how the stories were being lost.
‘‘As generation after generation passed, the tales were growing more faint in history. This disaster and the help from the towns, this was almost the infancy of the people of Newfoundland being known on a national stage as different and as unique and special for embracing other cultures,’’ he shares.
Lending a helping hand
There was a tragedy and local people did all they could with what they had, he adds.
‘‘Back then there were very few material things other than, say, the kindness and love and respect for your fellow man,’’ he says eloquently.
Rowsell said it was his goal to make sure everyone felt that this story mattered.
‘These Americans, the survivors, I want them to feel that they were never forgotten and of course, Lanier Phillips was an inspiration to all of us. He was the first African-American sonar technician in the United States Navy.’’
Rowsell says his goal is to just have the book available to the masses so that in his heart he knows the true tales and the stories of those involved, who lived and breathed at that time in our history, are there for anyone who wishes to have access. ‘‘It’s certainly a story that all of us should pride ourselves on and it’s a chance to remind us to reach out to someone in times of need.’’
Waves of Courage: A WW2 True Story of Valor, Compassion & Sacrifice is available via Amazon