A life at sea, a WWII hero and a ship

William Trump sailed all his life but never on a vessel of his own.
Published March 2 2012
Updated May 9 2012


William Trump loved the sea.

He lied about his age at 17 to join the Coast Guard. Three years later, on D-day, he lugged a landing craft's anchor line to Omaha Beach under fire, earning a Silver Star.

"Only a fool and a dead man wouldn't be afraid," he later told a daughter.

Trump sailed all his life, but never had his own boat.

Not as a kid growing up in the Susquehanna River town of Bloomsburg, Pa. Not as a chief petty officer, stationed in Puerto Rico and then St. Petersburg, where he planted his family in 1955. Not as a civilian, taking tankers across the Gulf of Mexico for Belcher Oil.

He died a widower in July 2009 at age 85.

No boat of his own. Not one.

• • •

Lockport, La., gives birth to boats all the time. Large vessels. It's the home base for Bollinger Shipyards.

In 2008, the company won a contract to build a new class of 154-foot Coast Guard fast response cutters, capable of speeds of 28-plus knots (more than 32 mph), each to be armed with a chase boat, a 25mm chain gun and four .50-caliber machine guns.

So far, 12 vessels have been ordered, at an average cost of $50 million each, with options for 22 more. They'll be homeported in South Florida for drug and border patrol.

The first one, the Bernard C. Webber, arrived in Miami last month and will be commissioned this spring. Three others have been launched and the next three are taking shape in the Bollinger erection hall, says Robert Socha, an executive vice president for the company.

The 10th cutter is just 1 percent complete.

The 11th cutter? Soon.

• • •

The Trump children remember the Coast Guard vessel Nemesis.

They used to skip school to sail into Tampa with their father for Gasparilla invasions.

Trump's oldest, Colette Eddy, now 61, thinks that a governor joined them aboard Nemesis. Her brother Frank, now 58, got to see actor Jay North, who played Dennis the Menace on television.

They were two of eight children born to William and Jeanne Trump, including Melissa, Theresa, John and Jerry. Two little boys, Thomas, 2, and Daniel, 4, died of cystic fibrosis. The Trumps grew up on 45th Avenue near Kenneth City, attended Catholic grammar schools and then went to Dixie Hollins High.

Their father, who rose to chief petty officer, would spend a few weeks at sea, then return for a week. Sometimes, Filipino and Russian sailors came home for supper.

After the service, he tried a landscaping job but soon traded it for oil tankers.

"He couldn't get the sea out of him," said daughter Eddy, a Tampa aerial photographer who inherited his sense of adventure.

Near the end of his life, she asked about his war days. He didn't say much. His Silver Star spoke for him. It was a combat award, seldom earned in the Coast Guard.

The official account: On June 6, 1944, Trump was a motor machinist's mate aboard a landing craft off Normandy. The crew's mission was to get troops safely to shore. The waters were mined and boiling with bullets. Someone would need, under fire, to anchor a line for troops to follow. Trump volunteered.

A round grazed his helmet but he hoisted the anchor to shore and set it. Afterward, his daughter said, he spent 45 days picking up remains of the dead.

He never considered himself a hero, she and her brother Frank said.

Nor did he dwell on sorrow.

"He was a happy man," Eddy said. "He died on a quarter moon. There he is, smiling down on me."

• • •

The email from Bollinger Shipyards came around Christmas, first to Frank Trump, a St. Petersburg insurance agent.

He was initially guarded at the invitation from a stranger. He went online and checked out the company. There it was, in Lockport, La., outside New Orleans.

He called his older sister.

Word spread among the Trump children, who learned of a March dedication ceremony to honor Coast Guard heroes.

Phones had been ringing elsewhere, too, as other families got the same news.

In Fort Worth, Larry Flores thought of the last time he saw his brother, who died in the 1980 collision of the cutter Blackthorn and the oil tanker Capricorn. The Blackthorn capsized in Tampa Bay, and 23 Coast Guardsmen perished. But 27 survived, in part because Seaman Apprentice William Flores stayed behind to throw them life jackets. He was 19.

On Friday, in New Orleans, William Trump's kids and William Flores' siblings rode the same bus, all bound for the Bollinger Shipyards at Lockport.

The night before, at a reception, they heard the Coast Guard's commandant, Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., tell 14 stories of sacrifice on the front lines, scattered over history.

The 14 heroes, chosen by Coast Guard historians and a selection committee, included William Flores and William Trump.

The admiral presented each family a miniature replica of the newest class of cutter.

Friday, they saw one of the real cutters, tied up at Lockport.

It was the third cutter in the fleet, the William Flores, launched in November.

The 11th launch is planned for September 2013.

It will be the William Trump.

News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or [email protected]