We have, over the years, talked about some of the history of African Americans in our military. We have covered all of our Armed Services from the beginning of our history as a country to the present, but we have not done much to reveal that history within the United States Coast Guard. This short, informative video will rectify that a bit.
The Coast Guard has been in existence since August 4, 1790. Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling. The Coast Guard has been given many more missions over its history, and, though it does not come under the Department of Defense, it is considered a military service, and its military service has been important in the nation’s defense. Its record of service is full of courage, skill, and a supreme dedication to save lives and property on all of our coasts, rivers, and lakes.
On January 24, 1880, the United States Coast Guard established the first all-African-American Life Station at Pea Island on the outer banks of North Carolina. When it was established, the Coast Guard also made Richard Etheridge the first African American Captain and Commanding Officer of the Pea Island Station.
Capt. Etheridge made training a major element of his time as commanding officer. The Pea Island crew was instrumental in saving lives on many occasions, but one incident stands out.
On October 11, 1896, the schooner E.S. Newman was on its way from Stoningham, Connecticut, to Norfolk, Virginia, when it was caught in a terrifying storm and blown 100 miles south of its destination. It floundered on the outer banks, and the Pea Island Coast Guard crew was called into action.
The sea was so high, and the wind and waves were too much for the crew to get a boat out to the Newman. Etheridge got his two strongest surf swimmers and tied them to a rope. They swam with great effort out to the floundering schooner and started bringing the Newman’s crew ashore. They went out 10 separate times and each time brought more men back, until the entire crew of the broken and battered E.S. Newman were safely ashore. The entire Pea Island crew was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their efforts that day.
Petty Officer 1st Class Charles W. David would distinguish himself serving on the United States Coast Guard Cutter Comanche during WWII. His Coast Guard cutter was part of the escort for ships going back and forth across the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the troops in Europe.
On one occasion, off the coast of Greenland the USS Dorchester, a Navy ship was torpedoed by a German u-boat. David dove overboard several times into that frigid water to rescue sailors from the Dorchester. He saved many lives that day, but the effects of that water would cause him to die a few days later from severe hypothermia. David was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroic and unselfish efforts to save the lives of crew members of the sinking USS Dorchester.
The first African American aviator in the United States Coast Guard was Bobby C. Wilks. He would also become the first African American commander of a USCG air station. In his time in Coast Guard aviation, he would fly over 6,000 hours in 21 different types of aircraft.
Olivia Hooker was the first African American female to be enlisted in the USCG. She was commissioned in 1945 as a SPAR, that is, as part of the Women’s Coast Guard Reserve. She would later earn a doctorate in Psychology and teach at the university level. At 101 years of age, she is still inspiring young Coast Guardsmen and women.
We thank and salute all who have served and those who continue to serve in the United States Coast Guard. We wish all Fair Winds. May you continue to be the best of the best. You honor your motto, Semper Paratus, every day. We can’t thank you enough.