Chapter 9: The Story – Dead Reckoning

St. Lawrence – Morning, February 19

Shortly after dawn on February 19, the Pollux survivors arrived at Iron Springs Mine, where St. Lawrence residents washed the oil and cold from their bodies and gave them clean clothes and food. Then trucks carried the dazed sailors to private homes in the small mining town. Many of the men collapsed into the softness and warmth of their hosts' beds.

The generosity and caring displayed by the people of St. Lawrence found a permanent home in the memories and hearts of the young sailors. “They gave us whatever food they had – and they didn't have much,” Alfred Dupuy later remembered. (Tape 71, 17:03-17:07) Henry Strauss and Thomas Turner were brought to Laura Rose's home, where they were stunned by her compassion: “She cared for us and showed a gentleness and kindness no angel could have matched,” Strauss later wrote.

Alfred Dupuy [click to play audio]

Many of the Truxtun survivors were by then awakening from a night's sleep at their hosts' homes. The benevolence of the St. Lawrence residents was staggering. All night long, local men and women sat up watching the survivors sleep, placing hot stones in their beds to keep them warm, and administering soup, tea, or medicine as needed. Some of the healthier men had gathered in a large house belonging to the Farrell family, where a small party broke out – Ena Farrell played the piano, while her brother Cecil alternated between the violin and accordion. Some of the survivors sang along when they recognized the tune.

But it wasn't that cheerful in most of the homes, where the sailors lay unconscious and still shivering under piles of blankets and quilts. One of the most desperate cases was Don Fitzgerald – the last man off the Truxtun – who was staying at Clara Tarrant's house, where he remained unconscious and under Tarrant's unwavering vigil for most of the night. He awoke only once, asked Tarrant to send word to his mother that he was ok, and then sank back into unconsciousness until the following day. Had it not been for Tarrant's care that night, it is very unlikely that Fitzgerald would have seen his mother ever again. But he survived, as did 185 other men from the two ships, thanks to the tremendous heroism and compassion displayed by the men and women from St. Lawrence and Lawn.

Later that day, officers with the US Navy arrived at St. Lawrence and brought the survivors to the large American naval base in Argentia. It was a bittersweet parting for many of the townsfolk. They were pleased that the survivors would now receive professional medical treatment in a Navy hospital, but they did not want to say goodbye – they had formed profound bonds with the survivors that night, which made them family. The feeling was mutual. In the coming years, many of the survivors kept in touch with their rescuers and caregivers, sending letters and Christmas cards and occasionally coming back to the island for a visit.