Coast Guard's finest enter Hall of Heroes
New London — When members of the Coast Guard Academy Class of 1976 learned that retired Capt. Paul Langlois was going to be inducted into the Hall of Heroes, a "Swabo," an immediate call to action, was initiated.
Lt. Michael Shevock sent the "Swabo" via email to get members of the class to attend the ceremony that honors the accomplishments and heroics of academy graduates.
About 70 members of the Class of 1976 on Friday gathered at the Officers' Club for an afternoon of activities, including a regimental review by the corps of cadets.
"Don't you know, he's 'Paul the hero,'" Shevock said. "He participated in a daring helicopter rescue, plus he's an all-round great guy."
Langlois was overwhelmed with the show of support. He expected only about five or six classmates to attend.
"It's such an honor," he said. "I'm proud to be here. The Coast Guard has taught me so many life lessons."
Langlois received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his daring rescue on the night of Feb. 12, 1997, while serving as aircraft commander of a Coast Guard HH-65A helicopter.
Commander William F. McMeekin, Class of 1982, also was inducted. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for rescuing dozens of people during Hurricane Katrina. McMeekin flew through treacherous weather conditions to hoist people from flood zones, high-rise buildings and roof tops.
"It was a surreal experience," McMeekin said. "Katrina enlightened people to the work that we do."
Langlois was sent to rescue two people from the sailing vessel Gale Runner that was taking on water in a gale south of the Quillayute River, off the Washington Coast.
He flew the helicopter more than 85 miles on instruments alone, aided only by radar and his co-pilot's night vision goggles.
While en route to the distressed vessel, Langlois was diverted to search for a Coast Guard motor lifeboat, which also had been dispatched to assist Gale Runner. Communication with the motor boat had ceased and it was feared that the vessel also was in distress.
After a search for the motor boat, Langlois was again diverted to rescue those aboard Gale Runner, which was in immediate danger of going on the rocks.
Contending with 40- to 50-knot winds, 30-foot seas and the rocks, Langlois twice positioned the helicopter over the heaving and rolling sailboat to hoist the victims safely.
The three people aboard the Coast Guard motor lifeboat, however, perished.
"The Coast Guard's motto is Semper Paratus, Always Ready, and that is what you have to be," Langlois said. "You train and train, but I don't think anything can really prepare you for what we faced that night. The emotions were very high and low at the same time. We saved lives, but lost three of our own."
Two years ago, Langlois underwent a heart transplant after being diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare blood disease that destroyed his heart.
A national championship winning bicyclist, Langlois said he knew something was wrong when he suddenly became fatigued while doing the slightest things.
There is no known cure for the illness.
"I will fight and continue to fight," he said. "I will never give up. That's what the Coast Guard taught me."
The Hall of Fame inductees' plaques will be on display at the academy in the Hall of Heroes in the main lobby of Chase Hall on the Wall of Gallantry.
Hall of Heroes 2013
• Capt. Paul Langlois, Class of 1976
• Commander William F. McMeekin, Class of 1982
• Rear Adm. Stephen H. Evans, Class of 1927
• Capt. William A. Earle, Class of 1940
• Capt. Francis X. Riley, Class of 1943
• Capt. Robert E. Emerson, Class of 1943
• Cmdr. John S. Davis, Class of 1961
• Capt. Kenneth W. Thompson, Class of 1964
• Cmdr. Richard W. Walton, Class of 1965
• Capt. Gerald L. Underwood, Class of 1966
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