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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dichromatic Vision

On this day in 1942, two ships, the USS Truxtun and USS Pollux, were wrecked on our shores. The Truxtun meeting its fate at Chambers Cover, while not far off the Pollux met its fate at Lawn Point.

It was that day, that the residents of St. Lawrence and Lawn ventured out into a blizzard to help as many as these sailors as they could, and opened up their homes for the Americans to stay in until they were well enough to and could go home.

The residents of these two small bay towns had dichromatic vision, or in simpler words, they were colour blind and offered their kindness and compassion to the rescued sailors, no matter what the colour of their skin had been.

Dr Phillip's return to the shipwreck site.
Lanier Phillips in 1942.
One of the most well-known stories that this disaster brought is the story of Lanier Phillips. An 18-year-old African-American who, at the time, was living among racisim in Georgia, USA. He made it to shore, and then was put in the care of a woman named Violet Pike, who nursed him back to health. Dr Phillips has said many times over that he is forever thankful for the kindness and respect he was shown in Newfoundland. He then returned home and became a civil rights activist and the first African-American sonar technician.

You can ask anyone in St. Lawrence and Lawn (and maybe even other surrounding communities) about this shipwreck, and they'll be able to tell you the historic story. I can remember first learning about the disaster in junior high social studies class. Mrs Debbie Etchagary was my teacher, and I can recall her telling my class about how important this event is. When I joined cadets, the story came up again and every year for six years, my corps RCSCC 269 Endeavour participated in February 18th memorial services. (They continue the tradition today.)

The memorial service that was the most memorable for me was the 70th anniversary. Cadets from all over the Burin Peninsula came to the town of blue to aid in marking this significant time. This was one of Dr Phillips' last visits to St. Lawrence before he passed away in 2012.  When the church service was over everyone went to the Rec Centre to hear Lanier Phillips tell his story. Even though I have heard the story many times, there was something about Dr Phillips telling it himself that really opened my eyes, It's amazing what a first-person point of view can do to a historical account. I consider myself very lucky to have had experienced that, and I'm sure the other cadets who were present that day would say the same thing.

The death toll of the Truxton and Pollux disaster would have been much higher if it wasn't for St. Lawrencers and Lawners who risked their own lives going out in a blizzard to help as many American sailors as they could, and the women who took them into their homes and brought them back to a standard of health. As a thank you, the American Government presented the people of these two towns with a hospital that is still running to this day, now named the U.S Memorial Heath Care Centre.

Today, we reflect and remember the disaster that occurred on Februrary 18th, 1942. It is our responsibility to pass this historical story onto future generations, as it is part of who we are as a community, and a very signifigant part of our town's history.

Whenever people in St. John's ask me "where are you from?" I reply "St. Lawrence." with no hesitation. I'm pleased to have grown up in a community with such kindness and compassion in its roots. The USS Truxtun and USS Pollux disaster is one of the many reasons I'm proud to be a Laurentian. I'll do my part in retelling this story to my future kids and relatives, and anybody who asks.