The new U.S. Coast Guard cutter that joins the fleet Saturday bears the name of an extraordinary enlistee. From his gunner's post aboard a transport ship in the desperate hours of World War II, Rollin A. Fritch stared death in the face, and spat it its eye.

In the waters off Luzon, in the Phillippine Islands, Fritch was one of three aboard the USS Callaway who rushed to a turret and opened fire on three Japanese kamikaze planes, keeping his defensive assault going until one slammed into the hull and exploded  He was all of 24 years of age.

Fritch, born and raised in a family of eight children on a Kansas farm, left a job in a meat packing plant to enlist in the Coast Guard in 1942, in the thick of US involvement in the global conflict. He was 22, and within three years had risen to Seaman First Class.

Seaman 1C Rollin A. Fritch (U.S. Coast Guard)

His tour of duty led him to the assignment on the Callaway, one of six transports in a lengthy convoy of warships, landing craft and amphibious vehicles plying the Lingayen Gulf on January 8, 1945.

Allies had srengthened in the Southwest Pacific in the nearly three years since Fritch enlisted. The key strategic spot was Luzon, the largest of the Phillippine Islands, upon which the increasingly-desperate Japanese forces relied for access to the South China Sea, and which Allied forces sought for clear passage to Manila Bay.

The Blue Beach Attack Group was 35 miles off Luzon when the pilots launched the assault.

Fritch, on the bridge, and his mates kept up a barrage of 20mm fire, taking out two aircraft. The third aimed straight for his position, crashing into the starboard side and bursting into flames. He and 27 crew mates died in the conflagration.

USS Callaway (U.S. Coast Guard)

Fritch was posthumously awarded a Silver Star. Saturday, one of the Guard's 10 new 154-foot Fast Response Cutters will carry his legend into the future.

The Fritch will be the first FRC to home port in the 5th District, is a Sentinel-class cutter, employed for patrols, search-and-rescue missions, and protection of ports and waterways. The new series gradually replaces the Guard's Island-class patrollers.

New Jersey Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-2), a senior member of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation subcommittee, will be among the dignitaries at the commissioning.

 

More from WPG Talk Radio 104.1

Sign up for the WPG Talk Radio 104.1 Newsletter

Get South Jersey news and information e-mailed to you every week.