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USCG Sentinel-class Patrol Cutter Naming Honors Enlisted Heroes

When the U.S. Coast Guard first planned the Sentinel class of patrol boats, the intent was to name them after concepts identified with the work the service does.

But all that changed with an idea from then-MCPOCG Charles W. “Skip” Bowen, championed the idea of changing the naming concept to honor the service’s enlisted heroes.

“Look at all of what he did,” Leavitt said “That sets a precedent for this crew – in spite of 60-foot seas, 70-knot winds, and crossing a breaking bar in Chatham [Mass.] and then pull 32 souls off that ship – that tells these Coast Guardsmen that regardless of the conditions, we can do it, we can get it done – Webber’s actions and his legacy [put] it all into perspective.

“It’s a legacy, that’s what it means to us; it sets a course to follow and within that course, it provides you with the inspiration and legacy and foundation for going forward today,” said current MCPOCG Michael P. Leavitt, who was on hand in Miami, Fla., as the first of the Sentinels, the Bernard C. Webber, was commissioned on April 14, 2012.

Leavitt pointed to Webber and what he did as a source of inspiration to the enlisted workforce of the cutter named after him.

Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro

The FRCs aren’t the first of the service’s ships to be named after enlisted heroes. The CGC Munro is a 378-foot high endurance cutter named for Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro, the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient. U.S. Coast Guard photo

“Look at all of what he did,” Leavitt said “That sets a precedent for this crew – in spite of 60-foot seas, 70-knot winds, and crossing a breaking bar in Chatham [Mass.] and then pull 32 souls off that ship – that tells these Coast Guardsmen that regardless of the conditions, we can do it, we can get it done – Webber’s actions and his legacy [put] it all into perspective.

“With an expected class of 58 ships, there will be the potential to honor many of the Coast Guard’s heroes who, until now, haven’t gotten the notice that they probably deserved,” Leavitt said, “but going forward, it’s a foundation that can be built on.”

Even though the naming concept changed early on, the decision was made to keep the name “Sentinel” to describe the class, as that’s in honor of all who have stood the watch in the various sea services that now make up the U.S. Coast Guard.

Chris Havern, a staff historian at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said the enlisted hero-naming is not totally foreign to the service and there are a few vessels in commission today honoring enlisted Coast Guard members or their equivalent in the Lighthouse or Life-Saving services that preceded the combined service of today.

Most significant is the current high endurance cutter Munro, which is the namesake of Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro, the Coast Guard’s sole Medal of Honor recipient who gave his life to help evacuate Marines stuck on a beach at Guadalcanal in the South Pacific on Sept. 27, 1942.

Another high endurance cutter was named for Chief Warrant Officer John Allen Midgett Jr., who was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for his heroic rescue of 36 crewmen from the torpedoed British tanker Mirlo in 1918.

New Canal Light

As a member of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Margaret Norvell, namesake of one of the service’s fast response cutters, served as keeper of New Canal Light, above, also known as West End Light, from 1924-1932. In 1926, Norvell received word that a naval airplane had gone down in Lake Pontchartrain. She did not hesitate in getting her rowboat under way. She battled a merciless squall for two hours as she rowed to the survivor of the crash, rescued him, and then rowed the naval aviator back to safety. U.S. Coast Guard photo

In fact, the ship also honors other members of the Midgett family; seven of whom have been awarded the nations highest award for saving a life – the Gold Lifesaving Medal – and more than 150 living members of the Midgett family have made the Coast Guard a career, 30 of whom are still on active duty today.

“There’s also some vessels in the Keeper class of tenders that we consider as having been equivalent to enlisted as well,” Havern said.

Havern was designated by the Coast Guard’s senior historian, Dr. Robert Browning, to collect the initial list of candidates for the ships’ naming committee, composed of representatives from many parts of the Coast Guard.

“It’s very important to our enlisted workforce to recognize their very best,” Leavitt said. “These fast response cutters are a great representation of that – they’re beautiful, they’re sleek, and they have incredible capability just like the enlisted Coast Guardsmen; they truly are a game-changer.”

To date, 14 heroes have already been designated as namesakes for a fast response cutter and four of those ships are already under construction.

“It’s very important to our enlisted workforce to recognize their very best,” Leavitt said. “These fast response cutters are a great representation of that – they’re beautiful, they’re sleek, and they have incredible capability just like the enlisted Coast Guardsmen; they truly are a game-changer.”

Fourteen namesakes for the expected 58 fast response cutters have already been identified and designated. More enlisted heroes are being identified and will be considered for the remaining vessels as naming becomes necessary.

Heriberto Hernandez

Heriberto Hernandez was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Bronze Star Medal with the Combat “€œV”€ device for his bravery under enemy fire in the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Mr. Allen Dillenbeck

The names are initially identified by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office and presented to the naming committee for consideration. It is the committee who makes the final recommendations to the commandant of the Coast Guard for final approval.

The names are initially identified by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office and presented to the naming committee for consideration. It is the committee who makes the final recommendations to the commandant of the Coast Guard for final approval.

The men and women below all served as or started their careers as enlisted Coast Guard crewmembers or their equivalent in one of the services that were combined over the years into what’s known today as the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Bernard C. Webber
  • Richard Etheridge
  • Robert Yered
  • Margaret Norvell
  • Paul Clark
  • Charles David
  • Charles Sexton
  • Kathleen Moore
  • Joseph Napier
  • William Trump
  • Isaac Mayo
  • Richard Dixon
  • Heriberto Hernandez

This article was first published in Coast Guard Outlook: Summer 2012 Edition.