Image credit: SFC C.Brock
Today the U.S. Coast Guard celebrates its 231st birthday.
Originally created as a maritime arm of the Treasury Department, what soon became the Coast Guard first enforced customs and tariffs on the waters of the American coast. On August 4, 1790, Congress authorized funding to build a fleet of 10 “revenue cutters” for this purpose, originally called the Revenue-Marine. The force would later be named the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service.
As the Navy had been disbanded following the Revolutionary War, these early Cutters performed a variety of duties on seas, including fighting pirates and rescuing seamen in distress.
In 1915, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service combined with the U.S. Life-Saving Service, forming the Coast Guard as we know it today.
Comprised of over 40,000 Active Duty Coast Guardsmen and women and some 7,000 Reservists, in addition to auxiliary and other personnel, its fleet includes over 200 coastal and ocean-going vessels, some 1,600 smaller boats, and over 200 aircraft.
Well known for its search and rescue and drug interdiction operations, the Coast Guard provides a wide array of mission capabilities. Its overarching responsibilities include maritime safety, security, and stewardship. In addition to its military duties, the branch is authorized to enforce federal law. It regularly conducts operations in support of homeland security and defense readiness, in addition to maritime law enforcement, ice clearing, and environmental protection.
As a uniformed Armed Service, the U.S. Coast Guard has fought in every American military operation since its formation in 1790. Its wartime operations actively support, and fight side by side, with the Navy. Its largest Active Duty force was formed during World War II, when over 250,000 Coast Guardsmen joined the war effort in Europe and the Pacific. Many of the landing craft operators at Normandy were, in fact, Coast Guardsmen.
Coast Guardsman Douglas Munro, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for "extraordinary heroism" in the Battle of Guadalcanal, September 27, 1943. Serving as a Higgins boat operator, Signalman First Class Munro organized the evacuation of a U.S. Marine battalion that had been cut off and surrounded by Japanese forces. Leading 5 boats to rescue the Marines, he used his own craft to shield and cover friendly forces from enemy fire. As the last Marines were being loaded up, he was hit and killed in his boat.
Again in Vietnam, the Coast Guard was called to service. Coast Guard Squadron One served from 1965 to 1970, patrolling coastlines and rivers, interdicting Viet Cong smugglers, and providing fire support to other troops.
Notable Coast Guard veterans include Jack Dempsey, Arnold Palmer, astronauts Bruce Melnick and Daniel Burbank, Governor Carlton Skinner, and Senator Claiborne Pel.
The Coast Guard continues its watch around the world’s waterways. Always preparing for the changing face of security, it is bolstering its array of capabilities for the future. As the 12th largest naval force globally, it stands ready for service.