Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ahoy, Maties! It's Coast Guard Day!

As I write this blog, the night is cool. The air is scented with pine.  The ocean is gently lapping against the shore. Boats rock and creak.

The day was sunny and warm – not hot, not humid – just sunny and warm. It was pretty perfect. But it could have been chilly, or rainy, or foggy. It could, in fact, have been all three at once. This is, of course, the great state of Maine in the summertime. More specifically, I am on a little island outside of Rockland, Maine, one of the nation's few "Coast Guard Cities".

Until recently, I never knew Rockland was a Coast Guard City, an official "second home" to its local Coast Guard members and their families. All I knew was that the Coast Guard licenses all these ferries, their captains and their crew; the Coast Guard is responsible for running emergency medical evacuations off of any one of Maine's hundreds of islands; and all too frequently, the Coast Guard gets those calls about sailors who are in trouble.

If you live on any coastline long enough, the truth is that you eventually will have your own Coast Guard story. If you are lucky, it will only be a tale to "dine out on."

Rockland: A Coast Guard City (Photo: Bob Trapani, Jr.)

To see what the designation "Coast Guard City" can mean to a community, watch this video of Rockland, Maine celebrating its designation as an official Coast Guard City:

Rockland becomes a Coast Guard City! 

The best Coast Guard Day in the country ...

The USCGC Mackinaw, August 2, 2011
There are a total of 12 official Coast Guard Cities (the full list is below) but the most famous of them all is Grand Haven, Michigan.

Grand Haven is the very first Coast Guard City and home to the biggest Coast Guard Day festival in the country. In fact, Coast Guard Day in Grand Haven does not just last one day. It lasts several days!

Invariably, Coast Guard Day begins with a parade of ships. For this year's inside tour, the USCGC icebreaker Mackinaw was docking in Grand Haven.

Check out this video tour. It's hot off the deck!

USRC McClane, c. 1832, by James Guy Evans (USCG images)
A brief history of the Coast Guard ... 
It's August 4, 1790. The Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, orders 10 cutters to be built. Their job will be to patrol and collect the new nation's tariffs or taxes on the high seas.

With that first order of 10 swift cutters, the United States Coast Guard was born!

In 1790, the Coast Guard was called the Revenue Cutter Service. It also was known as the Revenue Marine Service and was the nation's only Navy until 1798. The Coast Guard didn't become the U.S. Coast Guard until 1915.

For over 150 years, it stayed under the direction of the Treasury Department. In 1967, it moved to the Dept. of Transportation. In times of peace, it is part of Homeland Security. In times of war, it serves under the Navy and at the direction of the President.

No matter its name or department, the U.S. Coast Guard is and always has been an official  branch of the U.S. military. According to the U.S. Coast Guard's historian, the Coast Guard holds two simultaneous positions: it is part law enforcement and part of our armed forces. Its job is complex, unusual and probably taken for granted. 

According to the Coast Guard historian (, this is what the Coast Guard does:

The U.S. Coast Guard flag
We save lives. We protect the environment. We defend the homeland. We enforce Federal laws on the high seas, the nation's coastal waters and its inland waterways. We are unique in the Nation and the world. 
We ... served proudly in every one of the nation's conflicts. Our national defense responsibilities remain one of our most important functions ... [We also serve] as the nation's front-line agency for enforcing the nation's laws at sea, protecting the marine environment and the nation's vast coastline and ports, and saving life.
You are so busted!
US Coast Guard and FBI bust a drug sub (Photo: USCG)

The 12 official Coast Guard Cities ...
Grand Haven, MI
Eureka , CA
Mobile , AL
Wilmington , NC
Newport , OR
Alameda, CA
Kodiak, AK
Rockland, ME
Portsmouth, VA
Traverse City, MI
Astoria, OR
Sitka, AK

Happy Coast Guard Day!
Semper paratus – always ready

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