Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2011

Lighthouse Personnel Commissioned

By Timothy Harrison


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Ralph Tinkham at his desk when he was ...

The men and women who served in the United States Lighthouse Service (U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses) had to contend with extreme changes when the Lighthouse Service was dissolved and its duties were merged into the Coast Guard in 1939. Not only did this dramatic change affect the lighthouse keepers, it also affected hundreds of other people who held numerous other positions in the old U.S. Lighthouse Service. The changes affected everyone from the office personnel who worked in the Washington D.C. headquarters, to those who worked in the various positions around the nation at the lighthouse depots, on lighthouse tenders and even lightships.

Some of the old Lighthouse Service personnel, including keepers were offered military commissions, while others chose to stay on as civilian employees of the Coast Guard.

The January 1940 edition of the Coast Guard Bulletin announced many of those commissions to the public when they reported as follows: In accordance with the provisions of an Act of August 5, 1939, entitled “An Act to perfect the consolidation of the Lighthouse Service with the Coast Guard by authorizing the commissioning, appointment, and enlistment in the Coast Guard certain officers and employees of the Lighthouse Service, and for other purposes,” 42 persons have been commissioned in the Coast Guard with ranks indicated.

The first two names mentioned were Charles A Park and Ralph R. Tinkham, two men who were widely known and respected in government and lighthouse circles. Park, who had been the former Deputy Commissioner of Lighthouses, was commissioned a captain and assigned to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. Tinkham, the former Chief Engineer of the Lighthouse Service, was also appointed a Captain and assigned to the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. The article then went into great detail to describe the past accomplishments of the men, their educational qualifications and the various associations where they held membership.

The story continued by listing a number of men who had been commissioned as Commanders, Lieutenant Commanders, Lieutenants, Junior Grade and Ensigns.

Men who were appointed as Commanders were: Roscoe House, Frederick Paul Dillon, Edward Cressey Merrill, Norman Cyril Manyon, Guy Burdette Skinner, Frederick Charles Hingsburg, William Henry Barton, Gideon Wesley Hitchens, and Ray Lyton Hankinson.

One can only wonder how some of these men felt in their new military positions, especially men such as Roscoe House, who had been Superintendant of the Tenth Lighthouse District in Buffalo that served the lighthouses on the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario. House was transferred to the Cleveland Coast Guard District Headquarters. Then there was Gideon Hitchens, who had been Superintendent of Lighthouses in the Delaware Bay area, who was transferred to the New York district.

It is doubtful that any of these men could have imagined that by the beginning of the 21st Century, the Coast Guard would not want most, if not all, of our nation’s lighthouses and the government would be giving them away or auctioning them off to the highest bidder.

The winds of time have truly blown in a different direction from the days when these men dedicated their lives to working to protect the lives of so many. However, it is now our responsibility to preserve the legacy these people created so that it may be carried forward for future generations.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 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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