By Russell R. Waesche, jr.

Reprinted from “We’ve Been There” by Esther Stormer ©1992 – Reprinted by permission



No collection of stories about the U.S. Coast Guard would be complete without an article about one of it's most effective and influential leaders.

Admiral R.R. Waesche, USCG (deceased) formerly Commandant of the Coast Guard, was loved and respected by the enlisted men under his command. The Warrant Officers especially held him in high esteem. They felt in years past, and still today , the Admiral Waesche was the first officer of the higher ranks that truly respected them and made it possible for them to become an important part of the Coast Guard.

Admiral Waesche is a legend within the Coast Guard and I thank his son, Rear Admiral R.R. Waesche USCG (retired) for allowing me to print his short biography of his father. – Esther Stormer.


Russell Randolph Waesche, destined to be the Coast Guard’s World War II Commandant, was born in Thurmont, Maryland in 1886, graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1906 and spent 19 years of his first 20 years of commissioned service at sea.

Waesche was a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-many. His sea duty included the Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. He held commands on both oceans. During rum-running days, he commanded a destroyer operating out of New London, Connecticut. During World War I he was navigator on a Navy transport.

At Coast Guard Headquarters he served (at different times) as Chief of Communications, Chief of Finance, Chief of Operations, and in 1932 became Aide to Rear Admiral Harry Hamlet. (In those days there was only one Admiral in this small, 12,000 man service with only 665 commissioned officers.)

Waesche was modest and unassuming, but brilliant in intellect and foresight. His leadership abilities and competency in every assignment came to the attention of Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morganthau, Jr. and in 1936 Commander Russell Waesche was promoted to be the Commandant with the two star rank of Rear Admiral, Upper Half.

The new Commandant had for years been concerned about the Coast Guard’s ability to improve safety at sea through preventive measures rather than only search and rescue. His common sense explanations and successful lobbying resulted in amalgamation with the Lighthouse Service in 1939 and the Bureau of Marine Inspection in 1943.

During World War II, Waesche supervised the expansion of the Coast Guard to 160,000 officers and men. His service manned 30 destroyer escorts, 75 frigates, dozens of attack transports, and scores of LST’s and LCI’s. The Coast Guard fought in every engagement in World War II … Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean.

Commandant Waesche established the Coast Guard Auxiliary in 1939, the Reserve in 1941, and supported the transfer of the Coast Guard (as a specialized service like the Marine Corps) to the Navy for wartime service and assistance. The Coast Guard was transferred back to the Treasury Department on January 1, 1946.

Waesche was promoted to Vice Admiral (three stars) in 1943 and full Admiral (4 stars) in 1944….. The first Coast Guard Officer to ever achieve those ranks.

He was selected by President Roosevelt for a second four year term as Commandant in 1940 and a third four year term in 1944. He retired on January 1, 1946 due to ill health and died October 17, 1946.

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