CoastGuard01

United States Coast Guard Memorial

The United States Coast Guard was created by Congress on this date in 1790 at the request of Alexander Hamilton.  Originally known as the Revenue Marine, it is the oldest continuous seagoing service of the United States.  And for this anniversary of its creation, I visited the Coast Guard Memorial, which sits atop a hill near the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery.

The Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the country’s seven uniformed services. It is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the U.S. military branches for having a maritime law enforcement function as well as a Federal regulatory agency function as part of its mission set.  It operates under the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime, and can be transferred to the Department of the Navy by the President at any time, or by Congress during times of war.

Two tragic episodes in Coast Guard history prompted the construction of this national memorial. On September 16, 1918, 19 members of the crew of the cutter Seneca volunteered for a rescue party to help salvage the British steamer, Wellington, which had been torpedoed by a German submarine. Eleven of those volunteers were lost when the Wellington exploded and sank. Only 10 days later, on Sept. 26, 1918, the cutter Tampa was sunk by an enemy submarine in the British Channel, and all 131 on board that ship were lost.  Both the Tampa and the Seneca had been ordered to operate as part of the Navy when the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1918.

The Coast Guard Memorial was designed by architect George Howe and sculptor Gaston Lachaise, and dedicated on May 23, 1928.  The memorial is set upon a rock foundation and contains a prominent pyramid design, intended to symbolize the spirit of the Coast Guard’s steadfastness.  Above the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus (meaning “Always Ready”), is a bronze seagull with its wings uplifted.  The seagull symbolizes the tireless vigil that the Coast Guard maintains over the nation’s maritime territory.  The names of the vessels Seneca and Tampa and their crewmen, as well as all Coast Guard personnel who lost their lives during the First World War, are also inscribed on the sides of the monument.

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