'Why not, New London?' Plans for Coast Guard Museum move forward

On a recent trip to Reykjavik, Iceland I attended the Arctic Circle Symposium held at the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. Similar to our plan for the National Coast Guard Museum, it is a modern glass building sitting in the midst of a century's old harbor. It is now the focal point of a vibrant waterfront and an active business center. About 1,400 people from 34 countries attended the conference, and between meetings they filled the restaurants, pubs and shops along the waterfront (in spite of the rain and frigid winds!).

This is exactly how I envision the National Coast Guard Museum situated on the New London waterfront. My vision is clear, a combination of old and new revitalizing the city, while respecting the past, engaging the present and looking to the future. I have visited dozens of revitalized waterfronts in ports around the United States and overseas - they attract not only tourists and local residents - they establish community identities, and attract businesses and prosperity. Each time, I've asked myself, "Why not New London?"

Prior to my retirement as the 24th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, I told people I was only sure of a few things. One was that I would put my full weight behind the National Coast Guard Museum. Although I have the honor of serving as the U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic, the position I value most right now is my seat on the board of directors of the National Coast Guard Museum Association (NCGMA.)

The NCGMA has been hard at work behind the scenes. In fact, since the groundbreaking last May the following has transpired:

• The deed for the land has been transferred from the City of New London to the U.S. Coast Guard and is now officially federal land.

• The association has not only raised the first million dollars, but has surpassed that initial goal.

• New renderings have been released that show exactly how the museum will meld modern and traditional on the waterfront location with Eagle moored nearby at the city pier.

• Payette, a world-renowned architect that recently designed the Connecticut College New London Hall Life Science Building, is engaged in designing the museum.

• The production staff of the Disney feature movie "The Finest Hours" recently attended a NCGMA event and will be helping to promote the museum's efforts.

So yes, the museum is going to happen and why shouldn't it? There are 87 national museums dedicated to the military services and none for our beloved Coast Guard. We have thousands of items in storage, equating to thousands of stories begging to be told. I feel it my personal responsibility to the Coast Guard and future generations to build a museum that is as awe inspiring as the men and women who serve.

I believe that in the not too distant future travelers between New York and Boston will look out their window and say, "We need to visit that museum." With easy access by train, car, bus or ferry, people will visit time and again, and a vibrant and active New London will join the ranks of other famous and historic ports of the world

This vision isn't mine alone. I hope to help more people see it clearly. The heroes of the U.S. Coast Guard deserve to have their stories told and this museum will be a worthy tribute.

Why not New London? Why not?

Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. recently retired as commandant of the Coast Guard and is a member of the board of directors of the National Coast Guard Museum Association.

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