Keeper Bio: Torres Jr., Ismael

Date of Coast Guard Service: 1955-1975

BMC Ismael Torres, Jr. USCG (Ret), Chesapeake Bay Lighthouse Keeper


U.S. Army Assignments:

  • Enlisted in the Puerto Rico (PR) National Guard on 11 June 1950 and recalled to Active Duty in September 1950. He was assigned to an Infantry Regiment in the Republic of Korea as a replacement for combat causalities in the all-Puerto Rician unit on 20 December 1951.  In June 1952, Ismael Torres was required to transfer out of the Korean War Zone due to the transfer of his brother into the same unit in Korea.
  • He remained on active duty with the Army until 29 July 1955 and returned to Puerto Rico.

US Coast Guard Assignments and Detailed History:

  • Enlisted in Coast Guard on 30 August 1955. Ismael and his friends had intended to enlist in the US Air Force because they were bored after returning home from leaving the Army.  They decided that they did not want to attend USAF Basic Training in New Mexico, so they went to the Coast Guard recruiter and signed up for Basic Training in Cape May NJ.
  • In October 1955, after completing a shortened “Prior Service” Recruit Training at Cape May

    NJ, he reported to CGC Sagebrush (WLB-399) a 180 ft seagoing buoy tender homeported at San Juan PR.  Coast Guard policy in 1955 was to assign Puerto Rican sailors to Puerto Rico or the Caribbean to better communicate with local sailors.  While assigned to CGC Sagebrush,he completed CG Aids To Navigation (ATON) school.

  • Near the end of his tour of duty on CGC Sagebrush SN Torres was being told by the CG HQ personnel office that he would not be able to stay in PR, but that he would be assigned to a shore station on the east coast of the US. One weekend shortly after this, the CG Station San Juan Executive Officer (XO) contacted SN Torres at home and stated that he needed an ATON-trained sailor to repair an offshore lighthouse that was not functioning.  The XO picked him up by car and they went to the CG air station where they boarded a CG helicopter.  They flew to the lighthouse out on a small island near Vieques and SN Torres repaired it to operational status.  On the flight back, the XO expressed his appreciation and asked if there was anything he could do for SN Torres.  SN Torres told the XO about not being able to remain in PR after his tour on the Sagebrush and asked if he could get him assigned to a shore station in PR.  The XO indicated that he would see what he could do.  Later, SN Torres was told by the Coast Guard HQ personnel office that he would be receiving orders to a local CG lighthouse in PR as his shore duty assignment.
  • After SN Torres had detached from the CGC Sagebrush, and on the day that he was to start at the CG Lighthouse (LH) Pt Borinquen, the local CG personnel office in PR told him that the CG HQ had made a mistake and that the LH Pt Borinquen was for married CG personnel only, therefore he could not be assigned there. SN Torres, in an effort to remedy the situation, discussed the problem with his girlfriend and future wife.  They agreed to get married that day in secret, without telling their parents.  They were married that day.  SN Torres presented the local CG personnel office with the marriage certificate and they processed his orders to LH Pt Borinquen.  They also informed CG HQ that he was married.  SN Torres and his new bride spent their honeymoon night at the lighthouse.  They were still married after 60+ happy years.
  • In August 1959 he reported to CG LH Pt Borinquen PR, a two-sailor duty station, as Asst. Officer In Charge (OIC). The OIC was an EN1 (E-6).  Under the Coast Guard, lighthouse personnel was not designated as “Keepers”.  The senior person was the Officer-In-Charge.  The rest were Assistants to the OIC. 
  • The Pt Borinquen LH was a cylindrical tower with a Fourth Order lens that was separate from the Keeper’s residence.
  • While assigned to Pt Borinquen lighthouse, SN Torres personally painted the entire lighthouse. The EN1 assisted by tending the line SN Torres was suspended from while he painted.  He used a standard 4” paint brush to paint the entire exterior of the lighthouse.
  • At the Pt Borinquen LH, each of the two CG sailors alternated duty at night, one on duty every other night maintaining the light beacon and radio watch. While assigned to this LH he was promoted to BM3 (E-4), then promoted again to BM2 (E-5) on 1 April 1962, and detached from the CG LH Pt Borinquen in July 1962.
  • In August 1962 he reported to CG 64302, a 64 ft wooden harbor tug, at New Bern NC as the Asst. OIC. The ship’s normal duties included SAR, lighthouse re-supply and light icebreaking, and had a crew of 5 sailors.   He detached in January 1964.
  • He reported to the CGC Chilula (WMEC-153) a 205 ft Medium Endurance Cutter at Fort Macon, NC in January 1964 and was promoted to BM1 (E-6) on 16 October 1964.
  • He completed two months of temporary duty on Lightship Frying Pan LS-115/WAL-537, a 133 ft LS-100 class Lightship, from mid-November 1964 to mid-January 1965 as the Executive Petty Officer/second in command assigned to the Frying Pan Light station.
  • He detached from the CGC Chilula in April 1965 and reported to 110 ft CG Tug Hudson (WYLT-87) at Norfolk VA where he served from April 1965 to November 1965.
  • In November 1965 he then reported to CG 52308D, a 52 ft Coast Guard Aid to Navigation craft (aka a Buoy Boat) at Norfolk VA as the OIC. The primary duty of CG 52302D was servicing all of the Aids To Navigation on the James River all the way up to Richmond, VA, and the Hampton Roads area.  Primarily they maintained the buoys and day markers.
  • On the trips up the Potomac River to Richmond, the boat would stay overnight at the city pier in Richmond. They would work with a CG civilian who was responsible for the everyday maintenance of two LHs and the minor aids ashore on the river.  He would allow the 52302D to tie up to the dock at his house and he would feed the crew.
  • In October 1968 he detached from the CG 52302D and reported to the CG LH Cape Henry as the OIC. CG LH Cape Henry was a four-sailor duty station and as the OIC BM1 Torres did not stand duty. 
  • He detached from CG LH Cape Henry on 2 January 1971 and reported to CG LH Wolf Trap on 3 January 1971 as the OIC.
  • The Wolf Trap LH had a generator for the beacon, radios, electronics, and services. The backup for the electric light beacon was a kerosene lamp assembly.  The electric light beacon mechanism at Wolf Trap was similar to the Pt Borinquen LH with 4 bulbs on a rotating mechanism.  There was no TV out at Wolf Trap LH.
  • He was one of three coast guard sailors assigned to Wolf Trap LH and no family were allowed out at the light. The duty rotation was 2 weeks out at the light and one week ashore.   Every week, the sailor who was ashore would go grocery shopping for himself and one other sailor for the next week’s meals and return to the LH with the groceries via a Coast Guard Search and Rescue craft from the Coast Guard Station Milford Haven in Mathews County VA.  Then one of the other two sailors would return to shore for the next week via the same CG craft. 
  • He detached from CG LH Wolf Trap on 3 September 1971. On that day the lighthouse automation equipment was turned on.  He was the last assigned Coast Guardsman OIC for Wolf Trap LH.  BM1 Torres lowered the US flag there for the last time.
  • He was promoted to BMC (E-7) on the 3rd of September 1971, retroactive to the 1st as Chief Petty Officers were not normally assigned to Lighthouse Duty.
  • He reported to CG Station Annapolis MD on the 1st of October 1971 as the Executive Petty Officer/second in command.
  • He retired from the Coast Guard on the 1st of September 1975.


List of Abbreviations used:

USAF – United States Air Force

CGC – Coast Guard Cutter

ATON – Aids TO Navigation

XO – Executive Officer (Warrant or Commissioned Officer)

CG – Coast Guard

WLB – Navy/CG ship hull designation for a Coast Guard Light and Buoy Tender

HQ Headquarters

SN – Seaman (E-3)

LH – Lighthouse

EN1 – Engineman 1st Class Petty Officer (E-6)

BM3 – Boatswains Mate 3rd Class Petty Officer (E-4)

BM2 – Boatswains Mate 2nd Class Petty Officer (E-5)

WMEC – Navy/CG ship Hull Designation for a Coast Guard Medium Endurance Cutter

BM1 Boatswains Mate 1st Class Petty Officer (E-6)

LSNavy/CG ship hull designation for a Coast Guard Lightship (used prior to 1956)

WAL – Navy/CG ship hull designation for a Coast Guard Auxiliary Light (Lightship, used after 1956)

aka – also known as

WYLT – Navy/CG ship hull designation for a Coast Guard Yard/Light Tugboat

TV – Television

BMC – Boatswains Mate Chief Petty Officer (E-7)

 Sources: Personal Interview with Ismael Torres, Jr. conducted by Greg Krawczyk



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