During World War II, a black U.S. Coast Guard volunteer named Charles David, Jr. aboard the ship Comanche, braved the bitter February cold to help save hundreds of men. The fallen sailors were aboard the SS Dorchester, which had just been hit by a German torpedo. David was among many men who volunteered to go into the icy waters to rescue any survivors of the 900 man crew. One of the white sailors aboard the ship, Richard Swanson, vividly remembers being saved by Charles David Jr. after he used his last breath to start the climb aboard a cargo safety net.
That night, about 100 miles off the coast of Greenland, Charles David Jr. not only saved Richard Swanson, but he saved the ship’s executive officer and Ensign Robert Anderson, who applauded David’s heroics in a 1944 radio interview. Twenty-six year old Charles David Jr. gave his life for the stranded men, dying of hypothermia on March 29, 1943, 54 days later. His official cause of death was pneumonia, which occurred when he dove into the water to save executive officer, Lt. Langford Anderson.