On Memorial Day morning supporters of the Friends of Little River Lighthouse gathered to place, for the first time in history, bronze veteran grave markers at the grave sites of two United States Lighthouse Service keepers who once served at Little River Lighthouse in Cutler, Maine.
Among those present at the ceremony were descendants of Willie W. Corbett and Roscoe G. Johnson, the two lighthouse keepers who were honored. They all told stories and recounted memories that had been passed down to them from past generations. Dave Corbett, who is the grandson of Willie W. Corbett and great grandson of Roscoe G. Johnson, was one of those who gave remarks. He said that he had visited the day before with his uncle, 93-year old Purcell Corbett, the last surviving child of Willie and Velma Corbett, who became quite moved when told of the ceremony they would be holding to place and dedicate the markers.
Tim Harrison, president and founder of the Friends of Little River Lighthouse, which is a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, said that as well as honoring the men, the ceremony was historic because, until recently, grave markers were not available to honor the people who served in the United States Lighthouse Service. He went on to say, “There have been markers to honor the various branches of the military, but because the United States Lighthouse Service, which can trace it roots to 1789 was dissolved in 1939 when its duties were assumed by the United States Coast Guard; but the honoring of the Lighthouse Service keepers with grave markers fell by the wayside.”
Willie W. Corbett, who joined the United States Lighthouse Service in 1908, served at Little River Lighthouse from 1921 to 1945. Prior to that he had served at Saddleback Lighthouse, Monhegan Lighthouse, and Tenant’s Harbor Lighthouse. Corbett’s wife, Velma, was the daughter of Roscoe G. Johnson, who had been the lighthouse keeper at Little River Lighthouse from 1896 to 1898. Prior to Little River Lighthouse, Johnson had been stationed at Libby Island Lighthouse. However, after being stationed at Little River for two years, in a position swap with Frederick Morong, Johnson went back to Libby Island and Morong went to Little River.
Harrison said that although lighthouse keepers and other employees of the Lighthouse Service were civilians, technically they must also be considered veterans. “They wore uniforms that were of similar design to those of the Navy and operated under many of the same guidelines and rules. They were a paramilitary organizational branch of the government and they served our nation with dedication and perseverance while keeping our waterways safe and many times performed acts of bravery and heroism that often went unnoticed.”
The United States Lighthouse Service is the name that is most commonly used when referring to the organization but it had been previously been referred to as the Lighthouse Establishment and official names that it operated under were also the U.S. Light-House Board from 1862 to 1910 and the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses from 1910 to 1939 when it was dissolved and its duties were merged into the U.S. Coast Guard.
To help honor members of the U.S. Lighthouse Service you can make a donation at www.GoFundMe.com/USLHSGraves.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2011 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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