Every petal . . . a person

Juniper Titanic ceremony

NORTH ATLANTIC -€“ Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Allen, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Juniper crewmembers, lays dried rose petals over the RMS Titanic'€™s resting site April 14, 2012. 1.5 million rose petals were donated by Titanic Museum Attractions for the Titanic'€™s centennial commemoration. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson.

Written by Petty Officer Rob Simpson

Amid the sounds of metal scraping against metal on a buoy, the briny undersea life on the bottom of a channel marker built up over time spatters off mixing with the sweat and determination of the close-knit, hard-working crew of a buoy tender — this is business as usual on the Coast Guard Cutter Juniper.

For the seemingly small, but unrelenting crew, Juniper’s tough-as-nails Coast Guardsmen set sail for a different reason and in a different location: to lay nearly 1.5 million dried rose petals over the site of the RMS Titanic, exactly 100 years after its tragic voyage was brought to an abrupt end in the North Atlantic.

Since August 2011, visitors to the Titanic Museum Attractions in Missouri and Tennessee were given a single dried rose petal and pamphlet with the identity of a crewmember or guest who was aboard the Titanic. As they made their way through the museum, they came to learn the story of the person whose identity they were holding. At the end of the exhibits, visitors dropped each rose petal into a glass case, which quickly numbered one million.

The petals were then placed into specially prepared wooden crates and the museum’s curators asked the Coast Guard to cast them at sea over the Titanic’s resting site.

“We couldn’t be prouder and felt in safer hands for these to be set to sea than by the capable hands of the men and women of the Coast Guard”, said Rick Laney, a Titanic Museum Attractions representative.

The crew’s hands are tough: calloused from wielding their trade weapons, scraping and servicing buoys to keep commerce alive in the shipping lanes of the 1st Coast Guard District. Their ship was the first of its class, the 225-foot sea-going buoy tenders.

These hands, however, carefully and delicately loaded the crates of dried roses onto the meticulously clean deck, which is normally layered in scatterings of mussels, sea sponges and barnacles from buoys being worked.

After a solemn ceremony at Coast Guard Base Boston April 10, the crew left port, heading a thousand miles east toward the Titanic’s resting site, a journey of four days into the open ocean.

Greeting the Juniper on the North Atlantic were10-foot seas at times and unpredictable weather. Winds came outwardly from all directions and rain came and went.

Battling heavy weather for most of the trip, the morning sun rose from the horizon, the skies cleared, the sun shined down and the seas calmed.

Seaman Garren Keith was on the bridge the April 14 as the Juniper’s crew approached 41.43’N, 49.56’ W, the site of the Titanic.

“I was on watch when we pulled up on-scene to the Titanic,” said Keith. “I got a feeling, I don’t know what it was, almost a connection.”

Set in a small formation of the ship’s crew of 45, they wore orange float coats and swayed in unison with the light rolling of the ocean as Lt. j.g. Torrey Jacobsen, Juniper’s operations officer, read the commemoration over the radio:

“It is with great respect and reverence that we commemorate the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. We remember the over 1,500 souls who perished on that fateful morning. On behalf of the United States Coast Guard, the Titanic Historical Society, the Titanic Museums and the family and friends of those who perished with the sinking of the Titanic, we cast these rose petals. We now pause for a moment of silence to reflect on the events which occurred in the North Atlantic Ocean a century ago.”

Flanking the port side of the buoy deck, both boxes of rose petals were held open and each crewmember, one by one, approached a box, saluted and filled a silver bowl with the petals.

In groups of two, they cast them into the sea until all the roses were floating atop the ocean, forming patterns in the Atlantic’s currents and trailing behind the ship.

“When I went to salute and laid the roses over, I really felt that I was paying my respects to everyone on board; from the captain down to the last passenger,” said Keith. “The floating petals made me really think about the people; the memories left behind. It’s moments like this that make me proud to be in the Coast Guard.”

A Canadian Ice Service aircraft flew near the Juniper’s port side, leaving behind a cloud of additional rose petals fluttering to the surface, cast from the plane.

As soon as the ceremony ended, Juniper’s crew departed the area to continue toward home and conduct a fisheries patrol offshore from the New England coast.

Upon their return home, the crew will once again tie up to their homeport pier at Naval Station Newport, R.I., prepare to load a full compliment of buoys; ready to head out again, but this time with scrapers in hand, sinkers on deck and buoys on the mind.


Juniper Titanic ceremony

NORTH ATLANTIC -€“ U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Juniper crewmembers lay 1.5 million dried rose petals over the RMS Titanic's resting site April 14, 2012. The rose petals were donated by Titanic Museum Attractions for the Titanic's centennial commemoration. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson.