Things I Never Knew About the Coast Guard

Walter Winchell

St. Petersburg Times/August 4, 1945

About its History. Alexander Hamilton founded the Coast Guard in 1790 to try to keep smugglers from avoiding customs taxes. We really needed the money in those days, for the nation was just getting on its feet. The cutters of the Revenue Service had a battle with pirates wiping out Bretons Island, a buccaneer stronghold, in 1814. They even fought the Indians in the Seminole War. The Harriet Lane, a cutter, fired the first naval shot in the Civil War at Fort Sumter. A Coast Guard cutter, McCullough, fired the first shot at Manila, too, fighting with Dewey. Coast Guardsmen try to get in the first punch, always. Even in this war, they grabbed the Nazis in Greenland before Pearl Harbor, for the first contact with the enemy.

About Some of Its Ships. Queen of the cutters is the Campbell, which battled six U-boats in 12 hours during the Battle of the Atlantic. The Wakefield, a Coast Guard transport, is the former U. S. liner Manhattan. The Samuel Chase, better known as the “Lucky Chase,” having taken part in all the European invasions, is not named after the famed Secretary of the Treasury but after a man who opposed the United States Navy! The 165-foot cutters are named after Grecian mythological characters, e.g. the Icarus, (which also sank the first U-boat in the Atlantic waters). The Coast Guard manned supply ship Serpens was lost with 200—all but two of its crew—when it blew up when loaded with ammunition in the Pacific. Coast Guard mans those LSTs, LCIs, and other Ugly Ducklings of the fleet which had scored so heavily in the Pacific. One has made TWELVE invasions.

About some of its men. Four-Star Admiral Russell Waesche, the Coast Guard’s fighting Commandant, holds the highest rank ever held by a Coast Guard officer. Commander Jack Dempsey has given out almost a million autographs in the Coast Guard, and most of them were when he toured the Atlantic and Pacific with Coast Guard units. Chief Boatswain’s Mate Vic Mature is transport bound after touring with Tars and Spars. Vic served 22 months in the Atlantic and almost lost his life during a rescue. Caesar Romero, now a chief petty officer. He served as an invader with Coast Guard in Tarawa and Saipan. Sergeant Sikorsky, son of the helicopter inventor, is a machinist mate at a Coast Guard helicopter base. Greatest name in icebergs is Admiral “Iceberg” Smith, who won Legion of Merit for Coast Guard Arctic work. Only one Coast Guardsman, Doug Munro, has received the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he died at Guadalcanal rescuing a trapped Marine detachment.

About some of its operations. The Coast Guard is the most versatile of all the armed forces. It operates about 34,000 of those lighthouses and other marine aids to navigation. Its weather ships, two of which were sunk with all aboard, gave ocean weather conditions which helped the timing of the war in Europe for bombing raids and invasion day. Greatest men in the war are the Coast Guard invaders who run up the enemy beaches through the surf, before the troops go ashore to make sure the water is not too deep. Sometimes they live to tell about it. The Coast Guard saved about 9,000 lives a year in peacetime. The Coast Guard has a commando parachute rescue group in Alaska. Some of the ships transferred to England were Coast Guard cutters. The ship that ran the boom at Oran was a cutter. Merchant marine units of the Coast Guard are everywhere. In fact, so is the Coast Guard!

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