It was 1790, and George Washington was in the second year of his presidency. Congress wrestled over precedent-setting issues such as the location of the new capital city and federal assumption of debts incurred by the states during the war for independence. Almost lost in the history books was another Congressional mandate that would eventually save countless lives in the years to come.
Officially, on August 4th, “Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to create a maritime service to enforce customs laws (USCG Historian).” It wasn’t until 1915, after merging five different agencies into one, that the service was named the U.S. Coast Guard; but its roots can be traced all the way back to August 4, 1790.
Throughout its proud history, the Coast Guard has built its own legacy with deeds instead of words. Name a war or national disaster, look it up on the internet, and somewhere you will find a picture of a Coast Guard vessel or helicopter on the scene rendering assistance.
The Coast Guard was there, at Omaha Beach, landing troops and evacuating the wounded.
It was there on 9/11.
It was there for Hurricane Katrina.
It is there in the Arabian Gulf, and in Iraq.
The Coast Guard is on station now, in some of the most hostile environments in the world.
And it will always be there when a life needs saving.
When a storm threatens, everyone flees but the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard heads toward bad weather. When sailors cling desperately to a crippled vessel trying to stay out of the water, it’s the Coast Guard swimmer who jumps in. When all hope is lost, it’s the Coast Guard that shows up like a guardian angel to restore it.
The Coast Guard plays a vital role in our national security, which is why it has become a part of the Department of Homeland Security. It protects our borders, and is on the front lines in the war on drugs and in the war on terror.
President Clinton once said, “When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: ‘Where’s the nearest carrier?'” (Global Security)
He could have added that whenever a life needs saving, or a ship is floundering, or flood waters rise, or a hurricane threatens, the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: “Where’s the Coast Guard?”
I can answer that. The Coast Guard is there. Right now. “Semper Paratus”, the motto of our fifth military service, is perfect. It means “always ready.” Always ready, and always there.