Happy birthday to the Coast Guard!

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 4, 2002

Today, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, active, reserve, auxiliary, civilian and retired celebrate the service’s 212th birthday in events throughout the country. Today we celebrate an organization that has been committed to &uot;being there&uot; for the recreational boating public. It is for this reason I highlight my service and its history in this week’s column.

Last year the Coast Guard published a doctrinal document called CG1. The opening paragraph from chapter two of this document provides a nice introduction. &uot;The Coast Guard’s evolution parallels that of the United States, an ‘island nation’ heavily dependent upon the seas surrounding it for commerce, resources, and a buffer against external threats.

&uot;The predecessor agencies of the Coast Guard were created in response to threats to our nation’s vital interests that arose as the nation grew. As those threats evolved, so did the agencies’ duties and their relationships with each other. The eventual result was a consolidated beginning in 1915 with the merging of the Revenue Cutter Service and the Life-Saving Service to form the Coast Guard. By 1946, the Coast Guard had assimilated the remaining agencies as well.&uot;


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Our service’s start came as a matter of necessity. Following the Revolutionary War, the country was desperate for funds that would allow it to build a foundation following independence.

Noting the government’s need for income, then-Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton developed a plan that later became the Tariff Act of 1790. This law directed the purchase of 10 &uot;revenue cutters&uot; which would be used to stop smuggling and piracy and ensure that appropriate taxes were collected. What many people don’t realize is that these ships were the only armed vessels the United States had for over six years until the modern day Navy was created.

Since this early beginning America’s &uot;Fifth&uot; Armed Ser-vice has been involved in every major conflict. For example, during the War of 1812 Revenue cutters served along side their Navy counterparts. They also served with distinction in the Civil War. In fact, many history books have reported that the cutter Harriet Lane was involved in providing support to Fort Sumter and may have fired &uot;the first naval shots&uot; of the Civil War.

Following the war between the states, the Coast Guard continued in its missions of thwarting smugglers and rescuing mariners in distress.

The loss of the luxury liner Titanic added to the Coast Guard’s importance to national commerce as the service commenced &uot;ice patrol duties&uot; a mission originally conducted by the Navy.

As with the previous conflicts the tradition of national service continued as we entered World War I, with the service being transferred to the Navy. In April 1917 the service sailed six cutters to the European theater of operations for convoy escort duty. This was followed by establishment of the &uot;Captain of The Port&uot; functions in many large cities including New York.

This commitment to National Defense continued into World War II with the Coast Guard conducting convoy escort, anti-submarine warfare (sinking the first German U-boat of the war) with the Navy and off-shore patrols. All of these missions and many more were assumed as the service grew 10 times its pre-war size!

Following the war’s conclusion the Coast Guard mission reach continued to increase as the service merged with the Steamboat Inspection Service enhancing the Coast Guard’s on-going involvement with maritime activities throughout the United States.

The Coast Guard’s role continued to grow with service in both the Korean and Vietnam Conflict. Of special note was the efforts of the South Vietnam Navy in areas of responsibility where a shallow water capability was required. The 82-foot patrol boats were ideal for this mission, and assumed it as the Vietnam Conflict progressed.

In 1989 the nation’s eyes were fixed on the Coast Guard as units responded to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The Coast Guard’s unique capability to control a major spill and assume steps to protect Alaska’s pristine maritime environment were noted throughout the country.

Less than two years later the Coast Guard again gained international attention. Coast Guard Port Security Units were deploying to the Arabian Gulf protecting vital harbors as military off-loads were occurring. When Iraq created massive oil spills, the Coast Guard was on-scene to contain the spill.

Last year our service was again placed in the public eye following the cowardly attacks of 9/11. Within 72 hours of the attack local Port Security Unit 305 was in route New York City to secure that harbor, cutters deployed conducting maritime security patrols guarding the entrances to the nation’s largest ports.

Throughout the country, the coast guard partnered with other federal, state and local authorities to formulate the &uot;new&uot; normalcy, all the while maintaining vital mission support such as ‘Search and Rescue.’

Over the course of its long and distinguished history the Coast Guard has continued to develop, evolve and adapt as the nation did all the while maintaining its well-deserved image as the nation’s life savers and much more.

Think about it: How many times have you turned on your morning television and seen pictures of Coast Guard rescuing helicopters pull distressed mariners to safety? How often have you seen the Coast Guard providing harbor security patrols here in Tidewater, or teams working on aides to navigation to ensure our maritime transportation system works? How often have you watched a cable presentation such as those found on the Discovery Channel and witness a Coast Guard icebreaker in action?

How often have you read in this paper or others that the Coast Guard Auxiliary is offering free boating inspections?

In every one of these occasions the Coast Guard is serving the public, doing what they do best.

Happy Birthday Team Coast Guard! You’ve earned and will continue to earn the nation’s respect and gratitude.

Until next time… Boat Safe. and Boat Smart!

LCDR Joe DiRenzo III is a regular columnist for the News-Herald.