Coast Guard Awards Purple Heart, 101 Years Later

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Coast Guard , Veterans

Admiral Andrew Tiongson, center, presents the Purple Heart certificate to Steven (left) and Brad Finch. Congressman William Keating (behind) was part of Monday's ceremony.  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTOS

CHATHAM One-hundred-and-one years ago, 130 men were lost when the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa was torpedoed by a World War I German U-boat. This week, the family of one of those men finally received his Purple Heart.

Coast Guard personnel are joined by police, firefighters and other supporters before Monday’s ceremony at Station Chatham.

Coast Guard personnel are joined by police, firefighters and other supporters before Monday’s ceremony at Station Chatham.

In the ceremony at Station Chatham Tuesday, State Rep. Timothy Whelan, R–Brewster, said the actions of the men of the Tampa are “no less heroic,” nor are they less deserving of the honor because they died more than a century ago. “Valor, like love, has no expiration date,” he said.

Speaking to members of the Finch family, Congressman Bill Keating, D–9th District, said he imagined that receiving the Purple Heart felt like “a combination of family loss that has gone generations, as well as a source of enormous pride.” Having traveled the world, Keating said there are few nations that would take the effort to honor a single seaman who died 101 years earlier, but doing so is a quintessentially American phenomenon. In that way, by presenting the Purple Heart to the Finch family, “we are honoring the very essence of who we are as a country,” he said.

Norman Finch grew up in Springfield and enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1917, a couple of months after the United States entered World War I. It was a time of upheaval for the world, but also a time of change for the Coast Guard, which had only recently come into existence after the merger of the U.S. Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. And when the U.S. declared war on Germany, the Coast Guard dispatched six cutters to European waters to protect key shipping routes. Finch's ship, the Tampa, was among them. Just weeks before the armistice was signed, the Tampa was sunk by a German torpedo. Based on his letters home, it seemed as though 23-year-old Seaman Finch enjoyed his duty and expected to return home safely soon.  Read more about his story.

Rep. Bill Keating presents an American flag to Steven (center) and Brad Finch.

Rep. Bill Keating presents an American flag to Steven (center) and Brad Finch.

“He feared, I would guess, very little at 23,” said Coast Guard District Commander Admiral Andrew Tiongson. Receiving the Purple Heart on behalf of their great uncle were Steven and Brad Finch of Brewster, who also accepted Keating’s gift of a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol.

Monday’s ceremony capped a memorable day for the Finch family, which first visited the Route 6 overpass at Route 137 and attached a U.S. Coast Guard flag to the bridge as part of the Bridges for the Fallen program. Family members also attended a lunch at the Chatham VFW. The procession was accompanied by a motorcycle escort from members of Big Nick’s Ride, the Patriot Guard and Rolling Thunder, as well as the Cape Cod Regional Law Enforcement Motor Unit. Facilitating the event were the Brewster, Chatham and Harwich police and fire departments and various volunteers.

Station Chatham’s honor guard presents the colors.

Station Chatham’s honor guard presents the colors.

Guests stand at attention during the National Anthem.

Guests stand at attention during the National Anthem.

A Coast Guardsman rings a ship’s bell to announce the arrival and departure of dignitaries.

A Coast Guardsman rings a ship’s bell to announce the arrival and departure of dignitaries.

Members of Big Nick’s Ride, the Patriot Guard and Rolling Thunder escorted the Finch family to the ceremony.

Members of Big Nick’s Ride, the Patriot Guard and Rolling Thunder escorted the Finch family to the ceremony.

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