On Memorial Day morning supporters of the Friends of Little River Lighthouse gathered to place, for the first time in history, bronze veteran grave markers at the grave sites of two United States Lighthouse Service keepers who once served at Little River Lighthouse in Cutler, Maine.
Among those present at the ceremony were descendants of Willie W. Corbett and Roscoe G. Johnson, the two lighthouse keepers who were honored. They all told stories and recounted memories that had been passed down to them from past generations. Dave Corbett, who is the grandson of Willie W. Corbett and great grandson of Roscoe G. Johnson, was one of those who gave remarks. He said that he had visited the day before with his uncle, 93-year old Purcell Corbett, the last surviving child of Willie and Velma Corbett, who became quite moved when told of the ceremony they would be holding to place and dedicate the markers.
Tim Harrison, president and founder of the Friends of Little River Lighthouse, which is a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, said that as well as honoring the men, the ceremony was historic because, until recently, grave markers were not available to honor the people who served in the United States Lighthouse Service. He went on to say, “There have been markers to honor the various branches of the military, but because the United States Lighthouse Service, which can trace it roots to 1789 was dissolved in 1939 when its duties were assumed by the United States Coast Guard; but the honoring of the Lighthouse Service keepers with grave markers fell by the wayside.”
Willie W. Corbett, who joined the United States Lighthouse Service in 1908, served at Little River Lighthouse from 1921 to 1945. Prior to that he had served at Saddleback Lighthouse, Monhegan Lighthouse, and Tenant’s Harbor Lighthouse. Corbett’s wife, Velma, was the daughter of Roscoe G. Johnson, who had been the lighthouse keeper at Little River Lighthouse from 1896 to 1898. Prior to Little River Lighthouse, Johnson had been stationed at Libby Island Lighthouse. However, after being stationed at Little River for two years, in a position swap with Frederick Morong, Johnson went back to Libby Island and Morong went to Little River.
Harrison said that although lighthouse keepers and other employees of the Lighthouse Service were civilians, technically they must also be considered veterans. “They wore uniforms that were of similar design to those of the Navy and operated under many of the same guidelines and rules. They were a paramilitary organizational branch of the government and they served our nation with dedication and perseverance while keeping our waterways safe and many times performed acts of bravery and heroism that often went unnoticed.”
The United States Lighthouse Service is the name that is most commonly used when referring to the organization but it had been previously been referred to as the Lighthouse Establishment and official names that it operated under were also the U.S. Light-House Board from 1862 to 1910 and the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses from 1910 to 1939 when it was dissolved and its duties were merged into the U.S. Coast Guard.
Harrison said that as soon as the Friends of Little River Lighthouse can raise the money and locate the gravesites of the other lighthouse keepers who served in the U.S. Lighthouse Service at Little River Lighthouse they will also place markers at those locations. Those lighthouse keepers and their dates of service at Little River Lighthouse are Elijah Shiverick, 1848-1853; John McGuire, 1853-1865; Oliver Ackley, 1865-1866; Edward Noyes, 1866-1870; Lucius Davis, 1870-1896; Frederick W. Morong, Sr., 1898-1912 and Charles A. Kenney who served there from 1912 to 1921.
The Friends of Little River Lighthouse also want to place a U. S. Lighthouse Service marker at the gravesite of Gleason W. Colbeth who served at Little River Lighthouse from 1945-1950. Although Colbeth served as a Coast Guard keeper at Little River Lighthouse, he had joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1930 and previously served at Seguin Island, Goose Rocks, Ram Island, Great Duck Island, Isles of Shoals, and Libby Island lighthouses. Colbeth joined the Coast Guard when they took over the Lighthouse Service in 1939.
To learn more about Little River Lighthouse you can visit their web site at www.LittleRiverLight.org or by mail at P.O. Box 671, East Machias, ME 04630 or call them at 207-259-3833.