An extensive exhibit at Milwaukee Wisconsin’s North Point Lighthouse that officially opened this past August pays tribute to the illustrious career of Capt. Roger F. Erdmann of the United States Coast Guard.
The North Point Lighthouse is a perfect place for the exhibit because Capt. Erdmann and his family lived in the former keeper’s house at the lighthouse from 1957 to 1961 when he was in charge of the Milwaukee Coast Guard Station and the area’s lighthouses.
Roger Erdmann joined the Coast Guard in 1940 and served in Milwaukee where he met his wife-to-be. They married in 1943, and the couple spent their honeymoon on a troop train bound for Maryland. During WWII he served on a Coast Guard LST that, under extremely heavy enemy fire, landed troops at Okinawa and Guam.
Throughout the 1950s he served on search and rescue ships. In 1952 he was on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet when the cutter participated in what is listed as one of the ten most significant Coast Guard rescues in history. Two tankers, SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer, split in two in a fierce storm off Cape Cod, and Acushnet took 18 men off the stern of the Fort Mercer in heavy seas. The ships collided twice and the merchant seamen jumped to the safety of the Acushnet’s fantail. It was a Coast Guard Lifeboat that rescued most of the crew of the SS Pendleton. That event was the basis for the book and recent movie “The Finest Hours.”
During his career he also served as the commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard cutters Hornbeam, Laurel, and Duane. He retired from the Coast Guard in 1973.
In 1956 Roger Erdmann was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for his rescue of the captain and crew from the ocean liner SS Andrea Doria. The Andria Dora with 1700 people on board, was struck by the MS Stockholm and sank in less than 11 hours. Fortunately, 1660 people were rescued before the ship sank.
Although Roger F. Erdmann passed away in 1984, his family did a wonderful job of preserving all of his memorabilia, including his uniform, which is now on display at the lighthouse. Reportedly, he was from the old school of dedicated seamen and patriotic to the core, but with a genial personality. His cigarettes of choice were Pall Mall and his drink of choice was a brandy old-fashioned. On the night that the exhibit at North Point Lighthouse opened to the public, the guests were served brandy old-fashioneds in the captain’s honor.
The exhibit honoring Capt. Roger F. Erdmann is expected to remain on display at the North Point Lighthouse for about a year. However, it would seem to us that it should remain at the lighthouse permanently to honor this true American patriot.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2016 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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