February 18, 2018 will live long in the memories of all who gathered on a beautiful warm day at the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana for the grave marker placement ceremony to honor two United States Lighthouse Service and United States Coast Guard veterans: Captain John da Rocha Monteiro and his son, Captain Charles da Rocha Monteiro.
The tremendous support and participation offered by the United States Coast Guard New Orleans Sector was awe-inspiring to the more than 60 family, friends, and lighthouse group representatives who came from over 10 states across the country to attend the event. The 40 Coast Guard personnel not only participated in various functions during the ceremony, but they added a heightened level of honor and solemnity to the occasion by their perfect military decorum and professionalism.
Debra Baldwin of Lighthouse Digest was the master of ceremonies and welcomed all by explaining how the event had resulted from the article written about Captain John R. Monteiro in the November/December issue of Lighthouse Digest. It was coincidental that the National Heritage Maritime Conference, which happens every three or four years, was being held in New Orleans that week, which allowed many lighthouse group presenters an opportunity to attend the ceremony. Among those present were several board members from the United States Lighthouse Society as well as other representatives from local and national lighthouse groups from around the country.
The Coast Guard Sector New Orleans Honor Guard formally opened the ceremony by presenting the colors, which was followed by the National Anthem. Captain Wayne R. Arguin Jr., Captain of the Port and Commander of the United States Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, was the first speaker.
Captain Arguin briefly reviewed the history of the Coast Guard and the many organizations that had become a part of it over the past 100 years. He stated that, “Today’s United States Coast Guard remains a patchwork quilt of several distinct federal agencies and serves as the nation’s oldest continuous seagoing service. Captain John Monteiro and Captain Charles Monteiro did in the Lighthouse Service and the 1939 version of the Coast Guard, much of the same work we still do today to keep the Nation’s waterways safe and secure.”
Captain Arguin then talked about the specific responsibilities of Sector New Orleans in managing southeast Louisiana’s six ports, navigation safety on the Mississippi River and its passes, and 100s of miles of Gulf intercoastal waterways. He mentioned all that is done in restoring these waterways after hurricanes and compared this task with what Captain John Monteiro did as the 9th district superintendent in Puerto Rico in the 1920s during similar situations. “Today, Aids to Navigation Teams in Puerto Rico maintain 13 lighthouses in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And as Captain Monteiro did, they continue to rebuild in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
Captain Arguin continued by saying, “In our area, we have four ANTs, all present at this ceremony today, and despite advances in technology, they still do much of that challenging, labor intensive work in the same way. And like Captain John, they too, are deployed to support waterways restoration activities across the Gulf of Mexico following last year’s devastating hurricane season.”
In closing, Captain Arguin paid tribute to both of the Monteiro’s for their fine service. “Captain John Monteiro and Captain Charles Monteiro’s work and dedication to both the U.S. Lighthouse Service and U.S. Coast Guard were vital to our country and its economic interests. They laid the foundation for one of the Coast Guard’s most critical missions. We honor their service and sacrifice today and appreciate their many contributions to the Coast Guard’s long blue line.”
Debra Baldwin next reviewed the life and accomplishments of Captain John R. Monteiro. His 42 years of exceptional lighthouse service were marked by both personal and official commendations for his notable character and leadership qualities by all who knew him and worked with him throughout his career, both above and below him in rank.
Captain John R. Monteiro served for 39 years on the lighthouse tenders Verbena, Azalea, Mayflower, Ivy, Arbutus, and Orchid before he became the 9th district superintendent in Puerto Rico in 1926. Tragically, only three months prior to his scheduled retirement date, he died of a heart attack while on a strenuous district lighthouse inspection trip of the Caribbean lights in 1929. His great sense of dedication and diligent effort to do his job to the utmost of his abilities eventually cost him his life.
Baldwin concluded by adding, “We honor his great sacrifice today and are truly privileged to be able to place this marker in recognition of his dedication and many years of sterling service. He was an example to us all.”
Anna Monteiro Brans, daughter of Captain Charles R. Monteiro, next spoke and gave details of Charles’ life and service record in addition to the personal memories she had of him as her father. She told of his enlistment in the Navy at age 18 during World War 1 before later joining the United States Lighthouse Service for a 25-year career which continued through the 1939 consolidation when he accepted a commission with the Coast Guard.
Captain Charles R. Monteiro had a degree in civil engineering from Tulane University in New Orleans, but he spent much of his career being stationed in other places: Sault St. Marie and Detroit, MI; Duluth, MN; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Washington D.C., and even in Puerto Rico during World War II. During his final four years of duty, he returned to New Orleans as the Chief Engineer in the 8th District Office and retired from there in 1958.
It was very fitting that the current Sector New Orleans Coast Guard units participated in this ceremony in helping to honor one of their own. Anna finished her remarks by mentioning that she had followed in Charles’ footsteps for eight years in the 8th District as a family program administrator and also was a volunteer docent for a short stint at the New Canal Lighthouse where Charles had made regular inspection trips during his years in New Orleans.
Gloria Monteiro Rall, another daughter of Captain Charles R. Monteiro, then gave additional memories of family life and stories that had been passed down. She recalled that Charles approached a professor in the engineering department at Tulane University and asked what he had to do to be accepted into the program. The professor gave him a math book to study in preparation for an entrance exam, and he spent many hours working through hard problems. When the time came, the professor only asked one question: What color was the book? Charles answered “green” and was thereby admitted into the program.
At the conclusion of Gloria’s remarks, the oldest grandchildren of Captain Charles R. Monteiro, representing four of his children’s lines, then placed floral wreath tributes at the foot of the family monument as the Navy hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” was played.
This was followed by the solemn staking of the grave markers and American flags by representatives of the Coast Guard ANT units present, as other personnel lined either side of the pavilion tent to salute.
The Coast Guard Honor Guard then performed the traditional military rites and folded a flag which was presented to Gloria Rall Monteiro, being the senior family member present. This was a particularly touching moment for all in attendance as the entire Coast Guard assembly stood at attention saluting as the flag ceremony concluded.
“Taps” was then played by the lone bugler, standing somewhere distant among the many vaults of the cemetery. This was also particularly moving because he was out of sight yet the music could be plainly discerned, echoing from afar.
The colors were then retired and the ceremony concluded with the playing of the Coast Guard anthem, “Semper Paratus” during which all remained motionless out of respect, and a last call of “dismissed” brought the ceremony to an official close. After a few family photos, all adjourned to the New Canal Lighthouse for a special reception which included a light lunch, special cake, and tours of the lighthouse.
At the reception, Captain Arguin mentioned how glad he was that the ANT units could be in attendance to better understand the importance and longstanding tradition of the job they do, and that there is honor in the service they give on a daily basis as they protect and tend to our coastlines and waterways.
Monteiro family members remarked how unifying the experience was between the three generations, from ages 16 to 88, who were present, representing all the family descendant lines of Captain John R. Monteiro. Anna Monteiro Brans later commented on how she sees these marker ceremonies as engendering a fierce sense of pride, family history, and family bonding. She intends to create books for family members to keep these memories fresh for future generations.
And for all the rest in attendance who were “honorary” Monteiro family members for the day, there was a renewed motivation to continue in our commitment to support and participate in such events as this, and to take every opportunity we can to show that we care about the great heritage and service that those in the United States Lighthouse Service and the United States Coast Guard have given and continue to give to our great nation and its people.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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