Articles

7 things you probably didn't know about the U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard gets a bad rap as "those people who bust up boat parties and check for life vests," but they're actually a bunch of terrorism fighting, pirate hunting, lifesaving warfighters.


Check out these 7 surprising facts about America's oldest maritime branch:

1. The Coast Guard is the oldest continuous maritime service, no matter what the Navy claims as their birthday.

Revenue Captain William Cooke seizes contraband gold landed from a French privateer, 1793.

After the American Revolution, the Continental Navy was disbanded, and the nation was without a naval force until the Revenue Cutter Service, the precursor to the Coast Guard, was established on August 5, 1790. This was seven years before the first three Navy ships would sail in 1797.

2. The Coast Guard was the first agency to respond to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Beaty of Long Island, N.Y., looks for survivors in the path of Hurricane Katrina as he flies in an HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter over New Orleans. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class NyxoLyno Cangemi)

As soon as it was safe for the Coast Guard to fly, crews from all over the United States began to save those left behind in murky waters and stranded on rooftops, deploying even before the Louisiana National Guard. The USCG would save more than 33,000 lives in the aftermath.

3. Before there was a government in Alaska, there was the Revenue Cutter Service.

Postcard of the U.S. revenue cutter Perry poses with Perry Island behind them. Perry Island was near Bogoslof Island in the Bering Sea. It arose in a volcanic eruption in 1906, witnessed by the crew of the Perry, and sank back under the sea about 5 years later.

After a failed, ten-year-long attempt for the Army to take charge of the vast coastlines of Alaska, the Revenue Cutter Service was charged with taking care of the Alaska territory and its people. Over the next eight decades, the USRCS, and later the Coast Guard, would watch out for the best interests of natives,

4. The Revenue Cutter Service was the original IRS.

Coast Guardsmen wear traditional U.S. Revenue Cutter Service uniforms at a welcome reception aboard the US Brig Niagra during Detroit Navy Week 2012. The weeklong event commemorates the bicentennial of the War of 1812, hosting service members from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Lawlor)

The US Revenue Cutter Service was established first and foremost to enforce the taxes and tariffs of the newly born country in an effort to recover from the debt that the revolution had caused. This mission would evolve into the Coast Guard's role in maritime law enforcement and drug and interdiction.

5. The Coast Guard has one of America's only active commissioned sailing vessels, and it was originally a Nazi warship.

The Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sails under the Golden Gate Bridge during the Festival of Sail on San Francisco Bay. The Eagle is a three-masted barque that carries square-rigged sails on the fore and main masts. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Sherri Eng)

The SSS Horst Wessel was taken by the U.S. as a war reparation at the end of World War II, and given to the US Coast Guard upon request of the Coast Guard Academy's superintendent. Since 1946, the Cutter Eagle has deployed around the world yearly with cadets and officer candidates to teach them the art and science behind sailing, as well as team work and crew safety. Civilians are occasionally invited aboard, including President John F. Kennedy and Walt Disney, who climbed the riggings of the main mast with cadets.

6. A Coast Guard vessel was once used to broadcast propaganda through the Iron Curtain.

The Courier (Coast Guard)

During the Cold War, the United States developed Voice of America, a program that still today seeks to serve as an accurate news source, and is broadcasted throughout the world. The Cutter Courier was stationed in Rhodes, Greece from 1952 to 1964 and was outfitted as a giant radio transmitter, transmitting news into the Soviet Union.

7. The Coast Guard evacuated Manhattan in the wake of 9/11.

Coast Guard crewmembers patrol the harbor after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Terrorist hijacked four commercial jets and then crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. (USCG photo by PA3 Tom Sperduto)

Before the dust had settled at Ground Zero, the Coast Guard conducted an evacuation of more than 500,000 terrified and confused citizens from Manhattan to mainland New York City with the help of civilian vessels ranging from ferries to small sailboats in the area. After the cleanup began, the Coast Guard Commandant ordered a detail of Coasties to clean the Trinity Churchyard, where Alexander Hamilton, considered Father of the Coast Guard, is buried.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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