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Honor long overdue recalls crewmen's sacrifice during WWI

The Coast Guardsmen who went down with the USS Tampa in World War I are finally recognized.

[Times photo: Chris Schneider]
Jack Edwards waits to accept Purple Hearts for his mother's cousins, who died Sept. 26, 1918.

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2001


TAMPA -- The first time Jack C. Edwards received a Purple Heart, more than 55 years ago, it wasn't much of a ceremony.

"I was at a hospital in Honolulu," said Edwards, a Marine wounded on the beaches of Okinawa during World War II. "They just rolled me out and gave it to me there in the bed, and that was that."

On Wednesday, as the U.S. Coast Guard band played, Edwards accepted Purple Heart medals for two men he never met: his mother's cousins who died when the USS Tampa was sunk by a German U-boat in World War I.

Seaman Homer B. Sumner and Ship's Writer Wamboldt Sumner were among dozens of local boys on the Tampa when it sank. Many of the dead were related to each other or were childhood friends who went down to the Port of Tampa together to join the Coast Guard.

Edwin T. Galvin knows the story of the Tampa well. His father and uncle served on the ship, but his father transferred off a month before it sank.

His father never got over the guilt, Galvin said.

"The ship left port here with his brother and his two best friends," Galvin said. "He never saw them again He talked about it through his tears many times."

During World War I, the Tampa escorted ships in the North Atlantic, protecting them from German U-Boats. It was after one such mission, on Sept. 26, 1918, that they were attacked. In the Bristol Channel of the Irish Sea, the Tampa went down, taking down 111 Coast Guardsmen, four Navy sailors, 10 British sailors and five civilians.

Because so many of the dead were from here, the sinking hit the Tampa Bay area hard. But besides a plaque or two and a stained-glass window at the American Legion post, the men weren't officially honored until recently.

Led by the effort of Coast Guard retiree James C. Bunch of Citrus County, some relatives of the ship's crew were awarded Purple Hearts in Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 1999.

But the Coast Guard had trouble contacting all relatives for that ceremony. After an article was published in the St. Petersburg Times about the ceremony, more relatives came forward.

Galvin, of New Port Richey, broke down in tears when he saw the article.

So in the shadow of the modern-day Coast Guard cutter named Tampa, Galvin accepted the Purple Heart for his uncle, Charles Emmitt Galvin, who died long before Edwin Galvin was born.

"This is a great day for the Coast Guard family," said John Thorne, national community relations chief for the Coast Guard. "We want to remember those who died defending our shores."

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