When she was decommissioned on Feb. 8, 2007, the cutter USCGC Storis (WMEC 38), otherwise called the “Queen of the Fleet,” wore on her hull the gold numerals reserved for the oldest serving ship in the Coast Guard.
Storis has special meaning to those who live in Alaska. The ship’s name comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “great ice,” and Storis has spent almost her entire career in the frozen north. Now, however, Storis may be sold to an overseas purchaser or broken up for scrap unless the federal government acts to save the historic ship.
Alaska waters for 60 years monitoring fisheries and saving lives, and, when restored with private funding would make an appropriate venue to memorialize the Coast Guard’s involvement in Alaska history.”
Supporters of a planned Storis museum and educational center, among them Storis veterans, are struggling to raise funds and influence lawmakers.
Storis was in service for 65 years and 4 months, but numbers alone don’t tell the tale of the ship’s remarkable longevity: When the ship’s keel was laid (in July 1941), Hitler was invading Russia, Charles Lindbergh was urging the United States to stay out of the war in Europe, and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” was the most popular song on radio. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 brought the United States into World War II. The Storis was launched soon afterward and commissioned in September 1942.
“It’s a stout ship, for sure,” said Storis‘ penultimate skipper, Cmdr. Michael B. Cerne. He said that up until the end, Storis was “very capable for the harsh environment the Coast Guard operates in.” Her next-to-last executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Frankford, called Storis “a solid and good old ship.”
Storis is a larger (230-foot) version of the Coast Guard’s successful 180-foot buoy tender design and was the only ship of her class. Displacing 2,030 tons, she was powered by an electric motor driven by generators powered by 3 Cooper-Bessemer-type GN-8 8-cylinder diesels.
During World War II, Storis was the “mother ship” for a fleet of patrol boats that prowled the coast of Greenland in search of German trawlers and to prevent the Germans from installing radar and weather stations. After brief duty at Curtis Bay, Md., on Sept. 15, 1948, Storis took up residence at Juneau. Her duties included delivering medical, dental, and judicial services to isolated native villages in far reaches of the territory. Storis also assisted in establishing Alaskan Long Range Aids To Navigation (LORAN) stations, delivered supplies for the defense early warning system (DEW line) and conducted hydrographic surveys in the uncharted central Arctic Sea, along with typical Coast Guard missions including fisheries protection, search and rescue, and law enforcement. The ship had a crew of 146 during World War II, but thanks to changes in technology during her final years a typical crew consisted of just 78.
In 1957, Storis departed Seattle in with the Coast Guard cutters Bramble and Spar to circumnavigate the continent and to collect hydrographic information. Storis thus became the first U.S. flagged vessel to transit the Northwest Passage and circumnavigate the North American continent. Shortly after her return, Storis was reassigned from Juneau to Kodiak, Alaska.
In 1972, Storis underwent a renovation and redesignation from a light icebreaker to a medium endurance cutter (WMEC), reflecting a change in mission to enforcing laws and treaties governing foreign and domestic fishing operations in the abundant fishing grounds of the Bering Sea. Despite the emphasis on law enforcement, Storis continued to use her icebreaking capabilities, such as when she assisted tugs and barges carrying vital supplies to the Prudhoe Bay oilfields in 1975. In 1986, Storis‘s main engines were replaced and her living quarters expanded.
It was a sad day for many Coast Guardsmen when Storis was relegated to mothballs at Suisun Bay, Calif. Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant at the time of the ship’s retirement, said he was” hopeful cutter Storis will become a museum, where a new generation of people from around the world can learn its colorful history, as well as the stories of the courageous Coast Guard men and women who served aboard.” In 2008, the House of Representatives authorized making the ship a museum, but the Senate did not follow. Legislation to authorize the preservation of Storis was dropped from the Coast Guard authorization bill for fiscal year 2011.
Even if a new Congress authorizes the Storis Museum, private donations will be needed to bring Storis back to Alaska. Costs will include towing, insurance, docking fees and initial deposits, among others. The proposed museum has a web site with up to date information on efforts to save the ship.
No one believes it will be easy to save the ship. Papp, who replaced Allen as commandant last May 25, is sympathetic but also faces other, more immediate challenges. Sen. Mark Begich, the ship’s current champion, acknowledges that fund-raising is proceeding slowly and that rescuing the Storis will be difficult. Begich is asking Papp to delay any transfer of the cutter until its future can be determined by new legislation.
For more information, and to see how you might help to save the Storis, visit http://www.storismuseum.org.