Lost, not forgotten

A Coast Guard crew perished 40 years ago, but the memory of the men's service has not faded.

Published May 30, 2007

CLEARWATER - Susan Taylor's eyes still get full when she talks about the day they knocked on her door.

But the words - something like husband, missing, water - are a blur.

Taylor became a widow before the age of 21. Her husband, Coast Guardsman Albert Wilson, became a legend. That was 40 years ago. Taylor has since remarried and gained a deeper meaning of her loss.

But enduring connections last. They last through remarriage, death, 60 feet of water and even 40 years.

"I wanted what most girls wanted at that age - to be married," she said Tuesday. "And he was a wonderful husband."

A day after the nation honored its war dead, a more intimate commemoration of valor took place at the Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater honoring Wilson and five fellow crewmen who lost their life March 5, 1967, in an ill-fated air rescue mission.

Clifford E. Hanna, Eckley M. Powlus Jr., Charles F. Shaw, Ralph Studstill, James Thompson, and Arthur L. Wilson - the men of Crew 1240 - never returned after rescuing a sinking yacht. Only in the past year has the discovery of the wreckage of their ill-fated trip given a hint to their demise.

So at the Clearwater station Tuesday, on the C-130 Hangar, about 70 Coast Guard officers stood in their dress blues with a dozens of other officials to salute the men's sacrifice and bring some closure to their families and former coworkers.

"It's a sobering reason why we're here today, but we never know what will happen and we must never forget," said retired Vice Admiral Howard Thorsen. "Forty years later we're still appreciative of their performance and duty."

It was around 9 o'clock on that March night when the crew boarded an Albatross airplane - a new-style amphibian craft - and flew out from the air station, then in St. Petersburg. A yacht was sinking near Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle.

The plane successfully dropped a dewatering pump to the distressed yacht then disappeared into a thick fog. Thirteen days later, the bodies of Studstill, 38, Hanna, 30 and Shaw, 22 were found.

Up until last summer there wasn't much more known about the wreck.

During a routine dive, Michael C. Barnette of St. Petersburg found the plane wreckage in the Gulf of Mexico about 22 miles east of Apalachicola. His findings were confirmed by Florida State University's Crime Scene Investigation team and the Coast Guard. The remains of Wilson, Powlus and Thompson have never been found.

On Tuesday, representatives for each family received an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol in the men's honor at U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young's request.

And in June, a special plaque honoring the crew will be transported by a buoy tender boat and sunk at the wreckage site. The site will be designated a grave site and restricted from divers.

"He gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Scott Powlus, 44, who was 3 years old when his father died. "So, yes, he's a hero to the Coast Guard, to the United States of America and to me."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727445-4162.