International affairs forum to pay tribute to former Coast Guard vice admiral

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. John P. Currier poses for a photo with the Harmon International Trophy after his Change of Watch and Retirement ceremony in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2014. Currier died in March 2020.


By ANDREW ROSENTHAL | The Record-Eagle | Published: January 24, 2021

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — You probably recognize the names Charles LindberghAmelia Earhart and Buzz Aldrin.

You may or may not know about John Currier.

Each were the recipients of the Harmon Trophy, a set of international awards to recognize the world's most outstanding aviators.

Currier, the 28th Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, was awarded the trophy in 1988 for piloting a hazardous rescue operation to save 10 people off the coast of Cape Cod.

He retired in Traverse City and died last March.

Northwestern Michigan Colleges' International Affairs Forum will honor Currier's life in a virtual presentation Monday.

The presentation features remarks from USCG Air Station Traverse City Commander Charles "Chuck" Webb and is also part of the launch of a scholarship for NMC aviation students in Currier's memory.

"This is a man that rose to the second highest post in the U.S. Coast Guard but was loved by everybody — from the most junior person on the deck to the other admirals," said Michael Lehnert of Traverse City, a friend of Currier's after both retired from military service.

"People liked this guy because he was unselfish. He was caring. He was an inspiring leader. People wanted to be like him."

Lehnert called Currier a "servant leader" — one who looked out for people that work for him and kept his primary mission in focus. "He was an individual who really took his oath to support defend the constitution seriously," he said.

Lehnert, a retired Major General with the U.S. Marine Corps, befriended John and his wife Mary Jane when they moved to Traverse City after Currier's 38-year military career. He called him a mentor to a great number of young people, not just those in the Coast Guard and other services, and said people didn't see him as a senior military leader when he transitioned to civilian life.

"He genuinely cared about others and worked tirelessly to make the world a better place," Lehnert said.

The Harmon Trophy is typically presented to the recipient by the president of the home country its recipient lives in. At the time in the U.S., that was Ronald Reagan, who was shot around the time when he would have informed Currier of the award.

The ceremony never happened, and Currier had no knowledge of the award for years. It is currently in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum along with other past recipients names' on it.

"The people who are on it are anybody who's been anybody in aviation," Currier said in his exit interview from the USCG.

That same video will be played at the virtual memorial scheduled for Monday, which details what Currier remembers of the day of the rescue and his aviation career before and after that.

Alex Bloye, director of NMC's College of Aviation, will deliver opening remarks and introduce the scholarship fund established by John's widow, Mary Jane. Donations from the event will go toward the scholarship fund.

Bloye said what struck him the most about Currier whenever he encountered him was how humble and approachable he was. One of his retirement activities was as a board member for the IAF.

"He really wanted to learn about our school and help our students," Bloye said.

Bloye said the scholarship will recognize Currier's love of flying and support those who need financial assistance in flight school.

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