A Brief History Part 2: Coast Guard During Times of War

In honor of Coast Guard day, I introduced you to a brief history of the Coast Guard. With September 11th just around the corner, I would like to focus on one particular aspect of Coast Guard history that not many know about. I would like to focus on the fact that, “Coast Guardsmen have always been in the forefront of fighting America’s wars” (The Foundation for Coast Guard History 2004).

Since its inception, the Coast Guard has played a part in every war or conflict which America has been a part of. During the War of 1812 Coast Guard cutters dueled British privateers in American coastal waters. In the War with Mexico they supplied shallow draft ships for blockade and river duties. Then during the Civil War the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane shot across the bow of the steamer Nashville as it tried to enter Charleston Harbor without showing its colors in 1861- this was the first naval shot of the war. Later on in the Spanish American War the cutter Hudson rescued the damaged naval torpedo-boat Winslow from the fire of enemy shore-batteries.

Sixteen years later World War I broke out. In June 1917, four months after the U.S. entered the war; four Coast Guard officers were appointed the first Captains of Port. With one of their foremost duties being to prevent sabotage and assure the safety of vessels transporting the huge cargoes of wartime explosives. “If the mention of the Great War evokes images of mustard gas, muddy trenches, and cloth-and-wood biplanes, victory nonetheless was to be decided at sea” (The Foundation for Coast Guard History 2004). During this war, the Coast Guard had the highest percentage of losses of all the American services.

Then in World War II the Coast Guard cutter Alexander Hamilton sank four U-boats. Also, the only two boats captured by the U.S. during the war were taken by the Coast Guard. In June 1944, on D-Day, the Coast Guard helped to get troops ashore in Normandy. Sixty Coast Guard 83-foot cutters patrolled the beaches of Normandy rescuing soldiers and sailors. They saved 1,500 lives that day which added to the other 1,000 men saved throughout the war by the Coast Guard.

During the Korean War they provided port security at home. In the Vietnam War Coast Guard high endurance cutters saw action providing off-shore interdiction and in-shore gunfire support. Then in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment boarding teams arrived in the Persian Gulf to enforce United Nations sanctions. Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm required 550 Coast Guard reservists to be activated in three Port Security units, with another 950 reservists mobilized for vessel inspection and for supervising the loading of hazardous military cargoes.

Since President Bush ordered troops to the Middle East following the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard has patrolled the Persian Gulf. They board suspicious vessels, and provide support for the Naval ships, and the troops on land. The Coast Guard also provides support via land units in Bahrain. They have been in the Middle East for basically as long as any other branch. It began with deployment of reservists, and has become a volunteer mission for active duty members. They Coast Guard’s mission on the home front has changed quite a bit since September 11, 2001 as well. The biggest change being that they were transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security. They also implemented new units in major ports, MSST or Marine Safety and Security Team. These teams are tactically trained and protect the ports from unauthorized vessels.  Since its early years, the Coast Guard has been there to support the troops in times of war. In the future, you can bet they will be there in the forefront as well.

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