Honoring Bill Boonstra; A legend memorialized

This post is courtesy of Cmdr. Rob Hemp, Coast Guard Sector Field Office Grand Haven.

On March 5th, we said goodbye to William “Boonie” Boonstra at a funeral service here in Grand Haven. Rear Adm. Michael Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, Master Chief Petty Officer Jeff Patton, command master chief of the Ninth District, Chief Petty Officers Association members, and other Active, Auxiliary, and Retired Coast Guard members participated in the funeral service.

William "Boonie" Boonstra

William "Boonie" Boonstra. Photo courtesy of the Boonstra family.

During the service, Parks read and presented a letter from Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp.  Mr. Boonstra had been named an honorary Chief Petty Officer in 1995 and served the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival for approximately 50 years.  His Navy service included serving with the Marines at the infamous Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.  He was also an honorary member of the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association, which has a prominent marker in Escanaba Memorial Park here in Grand Haven.

Shortly before he crossed the bar at the end of a valiant struggle with cancer, Boonie called me to offer a gift.  He wished the Coast Guard to have a small “Lone Sailor” statue.  We were not able to arrange the transfer before his death, so in April, Chief Petty Officer Tom Hemminger, command chief of SFO Grand Haven, and I humbly received the gift from Boonie’s gracious widow Ann.  Both Bill and Ann wanted the statue to be used as a means to honor deserving enlisted personnel.  We agreed that it would be presented to the unit’s “Outstanding Sailor,” which is the enlisted member, Petty Officer and below, who has stood out the most during the past months.  The unit had an existing Outstanding Sailor program (other units may call it the Sailor of the Quarter) and we happily integrated this symbol into it.

The “Lone Sailor” statue is a replica of the statue in Washington D.C., marking the Navy Memorial Amphitheater created by Stanley Bleifield. The statue is a tribute to all the personnel of America’s military sea services (Navy, Marines, Coast Guard), created using bits of steel from eight historic Naval Ships.  The Navy Memorial states “As part of the casting process, the bronze for The Lone Sailor© was mixed with artifacts from eight U. S. Navy ships, provided by the curator for the Navy in the Naval Historical Center at the Washington Navy Yard. The ships span the Navy’s history, yielding small pieces of copper sheeting, spikes, hammock hooks and other fragments from the post-revolutionary frigates Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) and Constellation; the steamer Hartford, flagship of Admiral David G. Farragut in the Civil War era; the battleship USS Maine; the iron-hulled steamer/sailing ship USS Ranger; the World War II-era cruiser USS Biloxi and aircraft carrier USS Hancock, and the nuclear-powered submarine USS Seawolf.”

Today I have kept the promises I made to the Boonstras by presenting Petty Officer First Class Coley M. Wodke, a marine science technician, with the “Lone Sailor” statue and other items in recognition of his new status as the unit’s Outstanding Sailor. Wodke will be able to display the statue at his desk until the next Outstanding Sailor is named.

Petty Officer 1st Class Coley M. Wodke, Sector Field Office Grand Haven's Outstanding Sailor, stands with the "Lone Sailor" statue donated to SFO Grand Haven by Bill "Boonie" Boonstra. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Wodke exemplifies the Coast Guard’s core values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty, thus bringing credit to himself, the unit, and the Coast Guard. During this period his technical skills as a Marine Inspector and his outstanding leadership were heavily used and relied upon by the SFO command and crew. He expertly inspected 17 passenger vessels, provided oversight for 2 new construction vessels, assisted with the SS ALPENA fit-out, and completed several Uninspected Towing Vessel examinations. Demonstrating meticulous attention to detail and robust knowledge of all applicable regulations, he identified and corrected discrepancies and hazardous conditions by expertly conducting thorough and technically complex examinations, thereby ensuring the safe operation and passenger management of these vessels. Exhibiting strong initiative, he also endeavored to find opportunities to obtain Uninspected Towing Vessel training with marine inspectors outside of the unit’s area of responsibility. His initiative resulted in earning qualifications as Uninspected Towing Vessel Examiner and as Performance Qualification Standards Verifying Officer. In addition, he took the time and initiative to mentor and train local Auxiliarists, including the flotilla commander, Auxiliarist Borowski, in several vital Prevention missions. His efforts, in part, resulted in Auxiliarist Borowski earning the Assistant Small Passenger Vessel Inspector qualification.  Showing true devotion to his unit and shipmates, he selflessly devoted personal time to assist fellow First Class shipmates and the local American Legion Post through volunteer efforts including cooking burgers for Legion patrons. His contribution assisted SFO’s First Class body to purchase two commemorative bricks in support of the American Legion’s Fallen Heroes Fund.

Upon my relief at the SFO Grand Haven Change of Command Ceremony this Friday, I will detach and report for duty at the Coast Guard National Command Center in Washington, DC.  I will look back on my time in Grand Haven with pride, due to the achievements of shipmates like MST1 Wodke.

Semper Paratus!

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