Lawrence Prudhunt at the key

Lawrence A. Prudont in Wireless Room of the Rosecrans

Astoria, Or., Jan. 18. --(special)-- Lawrence A. Prudont was the wireless operator on the Associated Oil Company's tank steamer Rosecrans, which was wrecked on Peacot (sic) Spit on the morning of January 7, and it was he who sent the hurried "S.O.S" call, which brought a quick response from the lifesaving crews and tugboats in an effort to give assistance to the distressed craft. This call, which was never finished on account of the destruction of the operating room by the heave seas, read as follows: "Rosecrans wrecked at bar, send assistance! Can stay no longer! Hel-----". The crash came so suddenly that the last word, evidently "help", was never concluded. Lawrence Prudont, who stood at his post so long as the wireless would work, trying to summon assistance, and who lost his life in the disaster, was 21 years of age and a son of A. Prudont, of Venice, Cal. He had been on the vessel only a few months. His body has not yet been recovered. --Sunday Oregonian, Portland, January 19, 1913

I am really struck by the photo of this earnest young fellow, about to die. Perhaps it has something to do with being the father of a boy not much younger than this. I imagine Lawrence was very excited to be in his new, still cutting-edge profession, only a dozen years after Marconi's first transatlantic wireless transmissions. At 21 he was heading out to sea as chief radio operator on a steamship, with all that bright gleaming new technology. It had been less than two years since the first successful maritime wireless distress call, the sinking of the RMS Republic, with over 1,500 persons saved by the new "miraculous" wireless technology aboard the Republic.

Lawrence was to be a real hero in saving what lives there were to be saved in the wreck of the Rosecrans (only three survived of 36). Apparently Lawrence was offered a chance in the boats which the crew were putting over the side, but went instead to the wireless room and continued directing the rescuers until the ship broke up beneath him. When assistance came it was found that he had been pinned under the wreckage and washed overboard when the wireless house was swept into the hungry waves, but not before issuing his last, tragic, but lifesaving message of SOS, nearly completed except for that last letter.

Lawrence was not alone among the early wireless operators in striving to stay at his station in the face of disaster. Twenty-five other wireless operators who lost their lives at sea were commemorated in the Memorial Fountain to Wireless Operators in New York City dedicated in 1915.

There were other valiant efforts involved in plucking the few survivors from the rigging of the Rosecrans in the thrashing surf. Each member of the two lifesaving crews performing service at the wreck were awarded the prestigious Gold Lifesaving Medal

Related stories about Lawrence Prudhunt and the wreck of the Rosecrans:

  1. Veteran Wireless Operators Association (VWOA) Newsletter 24, with WireLess Operators Memorial Fountain update. -- (cached pdf)
  2. Battery Park Wireless Operators Monument list of names as of 2005 Annual VWOA Banquet. -- (cached pdf)
  3. A Chronology of Wireless and Radio on the West Coast by Bartholomew Lee, -- (cached pdf)
  4. Wireless Heroes Live in Memorial, New York Times, May 13, 1915 -- (cached pdf)
  5. Sparks at Sea, a pdf presentation from the VWOA, by Dr. Miles D. MacMahon (near bottom of page). Note especially slide 6 "Radio Boys Ship Out", and slide 7 "Heroes of the Key", -- (cached)
  6. Account of the wreck of the Rosecrans taken from the 1913 Annual Report of US Life Saving Service -- (cached)
  7. Rosecrans account in the Exploits of the Steam Tug TATOOSH