Words by Jay Rowe
Rochester is a city with an immense wealth of talent. Much of this creative energy is tied to names we all know and respect: Chuck Mangione, Danielle Ponder, and Shawn Dunwoody all proudly hail from our corner of the world. For every artist in the spotlight, there are countless others whose talents we discover in the media we consume, the locally-made gifts we ship to out of town friends, or the books we cherish, and each and every byte of video or dollar spent helps advance the careers of brilliant creatives hoping to make a name for themselves.
Teej-Jenkins Routier is one of these creative spirits, born into a family destined to make waves. She has been involved in a multitude of film and television projects including “Assignment: The World,” “What’s Good Rochester,” “Arts In Focus,” “World Hop with Teej,” and the 2022 film “Cultural Expressions: Kwanzaa.” Her next film project aims a bit closer to home: she shares her journey of discovery after her sister’s genealogical breakthrough united Teej and her son with a forgotten moment in history, along with an entire branch of family of whom she was unaware.
Teej reflects on her mother, who passed away a few years ago: “She always knew there were more cousins out there, and she always wanted to know more about her family’s history.” One connection through Ancestry opened the floodgates and revealed the story of a World War II hero. Warren Traveous Deyampert’s bravery was overlooked due to the color of his skin, but with the help of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, his story has finally been acknowledged. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart medal for “heroic and courageous conduct in effecting the rescue of survivors from the torpedoed S.S. Dorchester on 3 February 1943.”
Warren’s story contains the elements of a Summer blockbuster action film: enlisting into the Coast Guard in June 1941, he joined the crew of the cutter Escanaba with the rank of Steward Second Class, working primarily in food service, though he was also trained as a rescue swimmer. On the night of February 3, they responded to an SOS from the Dorchester, an Army transport ship taking on water off the coast of Greenland. Warren’s quick action and bravery resulted in the rescue of over 100 soldiers, many of whom were already succumbing to hypothermia.
Just four months later, Deyampert lost his life when the Escanaba was torpedoed near Newfoundland. Thanks to efforts by Teej and her cousin Pamela Jackson, his legacy will live on in profoundly impactful ways.
Warren had many roles: from a footnote in World War II history to a trailblazing Black officer, he hastened the push for integration within the military and saved many lives in the process. But for Teej, he will always be the man that united a family. The Coast Guard dedication ceremony brought together 40 family members, many of whom had never met, and her film project aims to highlight Deyampert’s impact on the generations of family reunited in his honor.