Newest Coast Guard cutter 'brought to life' in Florida
Crew members line the deck of the USCGC Richard Etheridge Coast Guard cutter during the commissioning ceremony at Port Everglades, Fla, on Aug. 3, 2012.
Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Amid a patriotic swelling of military and maritime tradition, the Coast Guard's newest cutter was officially born Friday at Port Everglades.
"Captain and crew of the Richard Etheridge!" intoned Shirley Rochon, the vessel's sponsor and official "midwife." "Lay aboard and bring our cutter to life!"
The 24-member crew — 18 men and six women — roared in response: "Aye aye!"
As the ship's bell tolled they mounted the gangplank to briskly line the rail and bridge. The cutter's 25mm automated machine gun swiveled, the ship's horn sounded dolefully and the Coast Guard Band played "Semper Paratus," or always ready, the Coast Guard's motto.
The story of a 19th century black man who overcame the adversities of his age had culminated in this namesake vessel, gleaming white in the sun, pennants and ensigns snapping proudly, as some 500 friends and family witnessed its commissioning.
Richard Etheridge the man was born a slave, won his freedom by serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, then returned to his native Outer Banks of North Carolina to work as a cook at the Pea Island Life-Saving Station. He was soon named captain of the station, the first such African-American. In 1896 Etheridge commanded a crew of "surfmen" who braved raging breakers to pluck nine souls, including a 3-month child, from a grounded schooner.
"His rich legacy is not only about bravery and skill, but also about service to mankind and country," said Rochon, wife of Coast Guard Rear Adm. Stephen Rochon.
The newly minted cutter's motto, "In Behalf of Humanity," came from the opening line of an 1865 letter Etheridge wrote protesting the mistreatment of freed slaves.
Richard Etheridge the ship — cost: $42 million — is the second of 58 First Response Cutters designed to replace an aging fleet. Eighteen will be based in South Florida. The vessel is 154 feet long, capable of traveling 30 mph and cruising five days at sea. Besides the video-operated 25mm gun, it has four .50-caliber machine guns.
Its skipper, Cmdr. Christian Lee, lives in Pembroke Pines, and many of its crew call Broward County home. The Etheridge will be based in Miami Beach.
Attending its commissioning were a plethora of Coast Guard brass, including its top commandant, Rear Adm. Robert Papp and Rear Adm. William Baumgartner, commandant of the Southeast District. They sported the trappings of military command: gold braid, chests full of ribbons, white gloves, ceremonial sabers and scrambled egg insignia on visors.
They presided over the commissioning traditions: hoisting the pennant, setting the first watch and handing over the "long glass," an old-fashioned spyglass that represents a watchstander's duty. "It symbolizes the soul of the boat," Lt. Patrick Montgomery said. "The boat is just metal. It's the people that bring it alive."
Port Chaplain Ronald Perkins delivered a final blessing: "May she enjoy calm seas and gentle breezes."
©2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services