By Jack A. Eckert

an opinion

Since 1920 there have been five different Coast Guard's. 1924 to 1934 was the era of the Rum War Coast Guard. After the repeal of the Volstead Act a stagnant, demoralized, Coast Guard existed with a small fleet and a large shore establishment. From 1937 until early 1949 there was the prewar, wartime and immediate postwar Coast Guard. From 1949 until 1974 there was the post war "Hot and Cold War" Coast Guard. In 1974 it has become the "Bender Blue" Coast Guard.

The restoration of the demoralized Coast Guard from the 1930's organization began before Pearl Harbor. It went under the Department of the Navy where there was a tremendous build up of men and hardware to fight in World War II. This was the "Citizen Sailor" Coast Guard. Unlike WWI, Coast Guard and Navy crews were usually not mixed together.

After the war there was trauma when it was returned to the Treasury Department and the service was drawn down in men and materials to prewar strength. Thousands of Citizen Coast Guardsmen went home with their ruptured ducks in their lapels. Those that remained faced another period of stagnation and slow promotions. Many career men who held higher ranks and rates during the war were demoted below what they held before. The "Coast Guard Magazine" of the times contained pages of inquiries from career men asking when they would have their rates restored. The shore establishment was particularly hard hit. Surfmen with an "L" designator wore their old single breasted blues in lieu of sailor suits. Recruits of the time assigned to stations were seldom promoted beyond Seaman.

During 1948 and 1949 fourteen Navy AVP's were commissioned for weather patrol service to join the six 327's, and the three former Navy AGP's. Edsall Class DE's came and went during the Korean conflict, and the venerable 255's were cranked up again. During the fifties and sixties 95 footers and 82 footers by the bushel joined the growing fleet. In the sixties new 210 footers and 378 footers were added. The Navy turned over all ice breaking operations to the Coast Guard along with their ice breakers. The sea going arm expanded and took their wartime readiness role seriously. Sea going rates opened and morale improved. Through the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, and as well as through two "wars" the service gradually expanded and became a small "Navy" that was larger than many Navies of the world. New ships were designed and built. Often ships operated with the Navy but as autonomous Coast Guard units. This was the "Golden Age" Coast Guard. Search and rescue improved, ice breaking operations were in full swing, the promotions picture was bright even though the shore establishment was being drawn down with the automation of the lights, the decommissioning of the light ships, and the closing of many of the lifeboat stations. Late in the period the Department of Transportation took over from the Department of the Treasury which influenced some of the thinking.

In 1974 the uniform was changed from the Navy type(s) with Coast Guard insignia to a new type similar in cut to the Air Force's class "A" uniform but of a deeper blue color with Coast Guard insignia. This either precipated the change or it marked the change. Search and Rescue as the main mission was down graded. Weather patrol died and the need for larger ships diminished. Several older "wartime" ships and 82 footers were left in Viet Nam. The Wind class and Glacier Ice Breakers were decommissioned when the two Polar Class breakers were built. The shore establishment shrank drastically and the Coast Guard took on a law enforcement role similar to that of the 1920's. Personnel began to think of themselves more as cops then as sailors. The gap between the Coast Guard and the Navy widened.

And that is where we are today. This may be why we Coasties of our respective eras feel like aliens when exposed to Coasties of other eras. This may be why the "Bender Blue Coast Guard" makes us uncomfortable. This may be why we think we have trouble maintaining the "Tradition." But that doesn't mean we can't give it our best Shot!


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