Never forget Coast Guard heroes

Memorial Day provides us the opportunity to reflect upon and honor the service of our shipmates who gave the ultimate sacrifice – to ensure that we do not forget those brave men and women who have gone before us in the glory of a duty well performed.  By taking time today to attend to the “manners of our profession”, we respect our shipmates.  Their service is part of our rich heritage.

The Coast Guard is one of the true veteran services within our Federal government, with an unbroken record of service to the Nation, running back to 1790.  It simultaneously serves as both an armed service and a law enforcement agency.  In time of peace, it serves under the Department of Homeland Security dutifully saving lives and property, protecting the environment and securing our ports and waterways.  From ice-breaking on the Great Lakes to assisting Haitian earthquake victims and patrolling to deter the threat of illegal drugs and migration, the 42,000 active duty, 8,200 Reserve, 8,000 civilian and 31,000 volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliarists keep a tireless vigil over our Nation’s maritime domain. 

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All the while, the Coast Guard maintains constant readiness to operate with its great sister service, the United States Navy.  Indeed, the Coast Guard has fought bravely as part of the Navy in many of our past wars and played an honorable part in every war in which the United States has been engaged. 

Thus, the Coast Guard is twice blessed – it has not only its own rich heritage and history to be proud of – but it can be equally proud of the splendid heritage and history of the Navy.  It follows that it has two standards of the same lofty character to live up to.  These were the sentiments reflected by Admiral Frederick C. Billard, then Commandant of the Coast Guard, at the dedication of the Coast Guard War Memorial in Arlington Cemetery, on May 23, 1928. 

Two tragic episodes prompted the construction of the Coast Guard Memorial.  On September 21, 1918, eleven members of the crew from the Cutter Seneca were lost while attempting to salvage a torpedoed British steamer.  Only five days later, the Cutter Tampa was sunk by an enemy submarine in the Bristol channel – all one-hundred and fifteen crewmembers were lost.  The names of these fallen shipmates, and others who gave the ultimate sacrifice with the same honor and devotion to duty, are inscribed on this monument.  If you have not been to Arlington Cemetery, I would encourage you to visit and pay tribute to these fallen heroes. 

Right now thousands of our shipmates are standing the watch, responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  What you might not know is that hundreds of our shipmates are also standing the watch overseas.  Some are in the Arabian Gulf, supporting Iraqi maritime security operations.  Others are off the coast of Africa, deterring piracy.  All are continuing the Coast Guard’s tradition of assisting the Navy in carrying out vital maritime missions.

Our Coast Guard shipmates are dedicated to mission excellence.  But they need the resources to do their job.  This is why, as Commandant, I remain committed to recapitalizing our aging assets and shore infrastructure.  I will continue to work with the Administration and Congress to ensure our people have the resources – the ships, the aircraft, the boats and the communications systems – to keep up with our increasingly challenging missions in the ever-demanding maritime environment.

Recently, I was privileged to play a small part in a memorial service for one of our legendary Guardians, Lieutenant Herbert M. Collins.  He was the last surviving member of the all-African American Pea Island Life Saving Station.  Lieutenant Collins served as a surfman for the duration of WWII.  He and his fellow Pea Island surfman carried out vital search and rescue responsibilities.  In 1947, Lieutenant Collins handed over the keys at the Pea Island Station’s decommissioning, ending an historic era in Coast Guard history. 

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While Lieutenant Collins’s Pea Island service was significant, his legacy runs even deeper in our collective heritage as he was also the Grand nephew of Dorman Pugh, one of seven Gold Life Saving Medal recipients from the Pea Island rescue crew of the stricken schooner E.S. Newman in 1896.  When Lieutenant Collins retired in 1976, he and his family set the bar for the longest continuous family service in the Coast Guard, a record that began with his Grandfather, Joseph H. Berry, in 1880.

In the Coast Guard, every day we live out our motto “Semper Paratus” – Always Ready.  Like Lieutenant Collins, we are always ready to protect our citizens and our Nation.  On this Memorial Day, let us Respect our Shipmates by reflecting upon our heritage and the legacy bequeathed to us by our fallen shipmates.  Let us never forget these heroes.

Adm. Papp is the Commandment of the U.S. Coast Guard.