Defense Media Network

Remembering the USCGC Acushnet

The astonishing history of the Coast Guard’s last “Queen of the Fleet”

On March 11, 2011, at Coast Guard Base Support Unit Ketchikan, Alaska, the 67-year-old Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet was officially withdrawn from service in a decommissioning ceremony that concluded with a moving rendition of “Taps.”

Sadly, it was time for the Coast Guard’s oldest ship to go – but she leaves behind an unrivaled legacy of service, one that spanned the oceans from Okinawa to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Iwo Jima, the Mariel boatlift, the Coast Guard’s most famous ocean rescue – Acushnet was there, and, it seemed, just about everywhere else.

The ship began service in the U.S. Navy as a 213-foot Diver-class fleet rescue and salvage vessel, USS Shackle, on Feb. 5, 1944. Her first homeport was at Pearl Harbor, where she served as a salvage ship in the West Pacific throughout the remainder of World War II, clearing wreckage and repairing ships. In support of the Okinawa invasion, Shackle completed 55 salvage and rescue operations on naval craft damaged by kamikaze attacks. The ship’s crew received three World War II battle stars, a World War II victory medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal, the American Campaign Service medal, and the Navy Occupation Service medal.

In August of 1946, the ship was commissioned into the Coast Guard as the cutter Acushnet, a search and rescue tug homeported in Portland, Maine. Acushnet also served as part of the International Ice Patrol, hunting icebergs in the north Atlantic shipping lanes. It was during her service in Portland, on Feb. 18, 1952, that Acushnet became involved in one of the Coast Guard’s most celebrated rescues, in a violent blizzard off the coast of Cape Cod that split two tankers, the Fort Mercer and the Pendleton, in two. The role of Acushnet, whose captain, John M. Joseph, maneuvered the ship’s fantail next to the Fort Mercer’s stern in 60-foot waves to provide a place for 18 survivors to jump to safety, is detailed in the books The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue, by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman, and Two Tankers Down: The Greatest Small Boat Rescue in U.S. Coast Guard History by Robert Frump.

Acushnet in earlier days

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet arrives in Kodiak, Alaska, for a short visit in 2005. Crewmembers attended classes at the North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center in Kodiak. The Acushnet was a 213-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Ketchikan, and the last remaining example of the former Navy salvage vessels transferred to the Coast Guard after World War II. USCG photo by PA3 Christopher D. McLaughlin

On July 8, 1968, Acushnet was redesignated an oceanographic vessel, and later underwent hull alterations and other modifications to accommodate scientific equipment and research space.  The ship served the National Data Buoy project at NOAA’s Office of Naval Research and the Scripps Oceanographic Institute in San Diego, Calif. In 1971, Acushnet was reassigned to Gulfport, Miss., where she was redesignated again, this time as a medium endurance cutter for the Coast Guard, charged with law enforcement and search and rescue in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

In 1980, Acushnet was one of more than two dozen large Coast Guard vessels to respond to the chaos of the Mariel boatlift, a mass exodus of nearly 125,000 Cubans who departed for Florida between April and October of that year. The refugees were carried aboard 1,500 boats of varying shape, size, and seaworthiness, and Acushnet assisted more than 35 of these boats, aiding 120 refugees directly.

Acushnet was moved to Eureka, Calif., in 1990, and spent the next eight years patrolling the West Coast as far north as the Bering Sea. In 1998, she reached her final homeport, Ketchikan, where she was charged with law and fisheries enforcement and search and rescue, conducting patrols from the Dixon Entrance to the Bering Sea for months at a time.

On Feb. 23, 2007, after the decommissioning of USCGC Storis, Acushnet was designated “Queen of the Fleet” – the oldest commissioned cutter in Coast Guard service – and given the gold hull numbers to go along with the honor. Acushnet – her ancient hull literally wrinkled with age – and her 80-member crew became a fixture in Ketchikan, which has not yet been assigned another medium endurance cutter.

For now, the “Queen of the Fleet” designation passes on to the CGC Smilax, a 100-foot inland construction tender commissioned in 1944 and based at Coast Guard Station Fort Macon, N.C.

At Acushnet’s decommissioning ceremony, her last skipper, Capt. Mark Frankford, sought to recognize the efforts of his own crew, as well as all those who had come before them: “This cutter’s proud history,” he said, “served as a continuing source of inspiration to the crew and me as we worked to execute our missions to the highest standard, to be worthy successors of the hundreds of Coast Guardsmen and Navy sailors who walked Acushnet’s decks before us.”


Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-2531">
    MaryEllen Joseph

    Thank you for posting this story. Captain John M. Joseph was my grandfather.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-2612">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    I hope you are very proud of him.

    It’s a scandal that the Coast Guard has ships of the Acushnet’s vintage still serving in its fleet, but a credit to the service that it has always revered its history, and a credit to the Coast Guard personnel that they have such an affection for ships like Acushnet that embody that history.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24991">

    I served three great years as ACUSHNET’s Operations Officer (OPS) from 1991-1994/ I took her on her first four Alaska Patrols. Three of them on the fall and winter. she rode like a Cadillac!. best ship to be in when the seas were 40′!

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-30709">

    My grandfather was a radio operator on this ship when it was the Shackle back in WW2, his name was Mario Mancini. I never got to meet him so I’ve always had a interest in this ship.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-42304">

    Richard, you will be very disheartened to hear that despite a no distress call last winter her anchors became fouled in the San Juan Islands & the USCG ordered them cut in 160feet of water. She remains without them to date!

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-48956">

    I served on her in 1989 to 1990 and was part of the crew that took her from Gulfport, MS to Arcata, CA. a very memorable time in my life. I learned alot

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-57877">


    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-57882">


    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-63163">

    SNTC – OS2 from 2002-2004 while in Ketchikan. First operational tour.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-66627">

    was her rmic/tcic in 1990, made chief aboard then had to leave because there was no chief billet. third cutter I served on and one of the best. was truly sorry to leave. Will always remember my time on board.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-80268">

    RIP ACU’

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-101176">

    First assignment after Basic in 1983…Towed to New Orleans for ship work, then cruised the Gulf for drugs..Some great times, loved the Key West stops.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-120427">
    Bruce Weidenhamer

    First ship as a petty officer, ET3. Served her from 88-90, made the trip down and around through the Panama Canal and up to Eureka, Ca. Hard to believe she is gone, lot of good times and still remain friends (family) with a lot of the crew. She will always carry a special place in my past. RIP.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-149203">
    ralph sheffield

    I served on her in1974 when she was stationed in Gulfport,Ms. We road out a hurricane on her, she did great.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-170424">
    Dave Crawford

    I was on her from 74 to 76, we rode out two hurricanes. crused the gulf alot and went to VA
    twice. (we didn’t spend much time in Gulfport.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-180961">
    A. Severson

    Served on her (GM) from 02-05 and it was a great experience.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-187372">
    Mike Martel

    I was there too in 1974, rode out Hurricane Eloise off the Florida panhandle, 74 or 75. I think I shipped with Dave Crawford (above) and must have had Ralph Sheffield as a shipmate but I don’t remember him. ACU was a strong, sturdy, sea-kindly vessel.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-201758">
    Dan Boydston

    the anchors were not lost they were ordered to be cut by the coast guard ! With out anchors the Acushnet can not be moved with out a an escort tug . That is exactly what they wanted.