Coast Guard celebrates 225th birthday in New London
New London — What better place, several officials said Tuesday afternoon, to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Coast Guard than in this city, home to several Coast Guard commands, the Coast Guard Academy and the planned National Coast Guard Museum.
At the urging of Alexander Hamilton, considered to be the founder of the service, 225 years ago President George Washington signed into law an act that provided for a fleet of 10 vessels, known as revenue cutters, to serve as an armed customs enforcement service.
At the time, maritime smuggling was rampant and was starving the country of desperately needed tariff revenue. The small fleet eventually came to be known as the Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of today's Coast Guard.
Coast Guard supporters flooded City Pier Tuesday to join in the local celebration, during which the Navy paid special tribute to the Coast Guard with a 13-gun salute.
For that part of the ceremony, the Navy's coastal riverine and base security boats escorted a response boat from Coast Guard Station New London in the Thames River in front of the pier.
Tuesday morning's thunderstorms, which stopped well before the celebration started, were perhaps a fitting way to start to a day honoring the Coast Guard.
"Of course this morning when I woke up it was lightning, and the wind was blowing. It was raining, and I said to myself, 'What a great Coast Guard day,'" Rear Adm. James Rendon, superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, said during his remarks.
In a typical year, Rendon said, the Coast Guard responds to 19,790 search-and-rescue cases and saves 3,560 lives and more than $77 million in property.
It removes 107 metric tons of cocaine bound toward the United States, he continued, and interdicts nearly 3,000 undocumented migrants attempting to illegally enter the U.S.
Those are "just a few of the many multi-mission annual results that we produce," Rendon said. "Meaningful work."
A couple of years ago, academy cadets began taking a Coast Guard History course, Rendon said after the ceremony, "so that they understand what we're all about."
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who emceed the celebration, spoke of the Coast Guard's many ties in New London and the city's recent designation as a Coast Guard City.
"New London's commitment to the Coast Guard has been strong," Finizio said. "When the nascent academy outgrew its facilities at Fort Trumbull in the 1930s, I'm proud to say that the city of New London presented the Coast Guard with the land upon which the academy currently makes its home."
Bill Vogel, a Navy veteran who is running as a Republican candidate for mayor, was one of the attendees Tuesday.
"The Coast Guard is New London in many respects," he said while sitting on the pier, noting its importance to the area and the economy.
Several speakers referenced the Navy and Coast Guard's long history of working together.
"From the quasi-war with France to the World Wars to the operations across the globe today, the Coast Guard has and continues to support our national defense with boldness and courage," Commander Kurt Stronach, executive officer at Naval Submarine Base, said during his remarks. "Here in southeastern Connecticut, it was the Coast Guard that the Navy turned to after 9/11 for the security escort of our submarines in and out of port, a mission that local Coast Guard assets faithfully and admirably performed until relieved by our Navy Coastal Riverine Squadrons in 2013."
Capt. Ed Cubanski, commander of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, echoed his sentiments.
"It's one of those friendships and partnerships that's there for a lifetime. If you need it, just pick up the phone and they're there to answer the call," Cubanski said after the ceremony.
The modern-day Coast Guard has 11 missions that are performed every day throughout the world, Cubanski said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, saw that firsthand several years ago during a trip to Bahrain, where he visited the U.S. 5th Fleet.
While there, Courtney asked, "Who are those guys over there?" to which he was surprised to hear the answer that they were Coast Guardsmen — proof, he said during his remarks, of the service's global presence.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has designated this summer in Connecticut as "Coast Guard Summer" in honor of the Coast Guard's 225th birthday and the 100th year anniversary of the Coast Guard Academy at its current location in New London. The city is serving as the epicenter for the state celebration, which started in June.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman was present and spoke at Tuesday's ceremony.
To celebrate, a large birthday cake in the shape of a Coast Guard cutter with a helicopter perched on top was donated by Foxwoods.
Tom Callinan, the first official state troubadour, performed a song that he wrote about Douglas Munro, the only member of the Coast Guard to have received the Medal of Honor, and afterward attendees sang "Happy Birthday" before Wes Pulver, former commanding officer of the barque Eagle, cut the cake.
The National Coast Guard Museum Association announced this week that Pulver has been appointed as executive director of the association.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a "forever" stamp in honor of the multi-mission military service. Renowned aviation artist William Phillips of Oregon designed the stamp, which depicts a MH-65D helicopter flying over the Eagle.
The back of the stamp displays the Coast Guard's motto "Semper Paratus — Always Ready."