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Richard F. Cotter, retired Buffalo Police detective; Dec. 6, 1927 -- Oct. 20, 2011

Richard F. Cotter of South Buffalo, a retired Buffalo Police detective sergeant and former World War II Merchant Marine, died Thursday in Mercy Hospital. He was 83.

When the Buffalo native was 16 years old, he got his father's permission to enlist in the Merchant Marines, in which he served as a 2nd class engineer from 1944 to 1945. He had threatened to run away from home if he was not given permission to join the military.

He was the son of Buffalo firefighter Edward M. Cotter, after whom the Buffalo Fire Department's fire boat was named.

When Richard Cotter boarded his first supply ship, the SS Sparrows Point, he informed the first mate that he lacked the proper gear, a knife, a flashlight and a life preserver.

"The first mate told me 'Don't worry, you won't need a life preserver. You're going to need a parachute because that's where you'll be going,' " Cotter recalled in an interview with a Buffalo News reporter earlier this year.

The Merchant Marines often delivered high-test gasoline for war planes and boats.

"We transported 165,000 barrels of this fuel per boatload," Cotter said.

And during his maiden voyage to England, Cotter found out just how dangerous it was to be a Merchant Marine.

"I happened to be on deck watching as a German submarine came up beside us. An American destroyer came behind the sub and shot its tower off and I watched it sink," Cotter said. "I pray for those German sailors every day. They never had a chance."

The ship sailed through the Caribbean Sea and passed through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Theater, where Mr. Cotter and shipmates built a dock for a gasoline station to fuel PT boats.

After the war, he returned to Buffalo and began serving in the Buffalo Police Department for the next 23 years.

After his retirement, Mr. Cotter worked an additional 20 years in private security.

He was a member of the Blackthorn Club, a charter member of the Police Emerald Society and Post 2721, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cuba, N.Y.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Kathleen O'Donnell; and three daughters, Margaret Mary Hummel, Kathleen Ferrick-Davidson and Colleen Ann.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Monday in St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, 1140 Abbott Road.