On Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, along with Rear Admiral Daniel Neptun and other officials of the U.S. Coast Guard presented the Purple Heart medal honoring Fred Wesley Wyman of Goffstown to the Wyman family. The ceremony took place at the Portsmouth Harbor Coast Guard station in New Castle.
Coast Guardsman Wyman was one of 131 men who lost their lives in one of the most tragic naval incidents of World War I, the sinking of the USCGC (U.S. Coast Guard Cutter) Tampa on Sept. 26, 1918. Sen. Ayotte was instrumental in assuring that this long-overdue tribute was finally paid.
Fred Wesley Wyman was born on Nov. 13, 1894 in Goffstown, the son of Fred E. Wyman and his wife Nora (Carraway) Wyman. The elder Wyman was a mechanic, and Nora was a homemaker. The couple’s son Otis had been born in 1892, and daughter Bertha would be born in 1897. Young Fred received an excellent education at Kimball Union Academy, a private preparatory school in Meriden, where he excelled in both academics and sports.
The USCGC Tampa started its life in Newport News, Va., in 1912 as the USS Miami. It was attached to the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service until 1915 when this force merged with the U.S. Life Saving Service to become the Coast Guard. The vessel was renamed USCGC Tampa in February 1916 in honor of the city of Tampa, Fla., where it was often stationed.
When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1918, the Tampa was placed under the jurisdiction of the Navy. The 190-foot steamship was refitted for war in the Boston Navy Yard, and reported for duty in New York City in mid-September. At the end of October, the ship arrived in Gibraltar, a British territory on the south coast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea, where it joined the Atlantic Fleet Patrol Forces.
For the next 11 months the Tampa served on convoy duty, accompanying supply ships traveling between Gibraltar and Great Britain. The Tampa would participate in a total of 18 convoys that included 350 ships. Only two of these would be lost to the enemy. The Tampa was known as an efficient ship, with a high-spirited crew. Water Tender Wyman’s job was to work on the coal-fired boilers that powered the engines.
On Sept. 26, 1918, the Tampa was accompanying a convoy in Bristol Channel between England and Wales. As the ship was running low on coal, Capt. Charles Satterlee gained permission for it to break away from the convoy so that it could refuel at the nearby port of Milford Haven, Wales. At 8:45 p.m. sailors on board the convoy’s ships heard an explosion in the distance. The Tampa had been hit by a single torpedo fired from a German U-boat. There were no eyewitnesses, but it is believed that the ship sank rapidly. Everyone on board perished, including 111 Coast Guardsmen; four U.S. Navy sailors; a a captain and 10 seamen of the Royal Navy; and five civilian workers. Only three bodies were ever recovered. Fred Wyman and so many others remained “lost at sea.”
On Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, the Tampa Bay History Center, in Tampa, Fla., unveiled “A Memorial to the USCGC Tampa and her Crew,’’ a colorful 10-foot by 22-foot stained glass mosaic mural installed on the building’s façade. The mural’s images evoke the story of the doomed ship, and this sentence stands out in the center of the artwork: “Few words carry as much weight in the annals of Coast Guard history as the word ‘Tampa.’” The mosaic especially commemorates the ship’s 24 Coast Guard crewmen who had lived in Tampa, including three sets of brothers and a pair of cousins. Descendants of the Tampa crew still live in Tampa today.
On Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, a ceremony was held at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the USCGC Tampa. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz stated, “We will never forget the service and dedication of Tampa’s crew, nor the meaning of their sacrifice.”