USCGC STORIS Life and Death of a Queen
USCGC STORIS Decommissioning Speech Transcript
Decommissioning CGC STORIS (WMEC 38)
8 FEB 2007
Distinguished guests, Officers and Crew CGC STORIS, Officers and Crew CGC ACUSHNET Family and Friends of the Coast Guard,
Representative Ledoux, Mayor Selby Mayor Floyd, Officers and Crew CGC STORIS, Officers and Crew CGC ACUSHNET Family and Friends of the Coast Guard
On behalf of Vice Admiral Wurster and the men and women of the Pacific Area, including all the members of the Coast Guard Alaska family; whether PacArea, MLC Pacific, or D17, regular and reserve, CG auxiliary, families and friends, Welcome. Today, we celebrate the distinguished service of Coast Guard Cutter STORIS and the crews who served aboard her.
To put today’s tremendous accomplishments into perspective, let me just offer a few statistics of this great ship’s faithful, and unbroken service:
Lives Saved: 250
Vessels Saved: 25
People in Remote Areas Assisted: 100,000
Vessels Boarded: 7,500
Miles traveled: 1.5 million
And the most impressive statistic...
Years of Service: over 64 years, 5 months of commissioned service.
Personally, that last figure is most impressive. I consider myself one of the "old" people in the Coast Guard. But STORIS has served more "commissioned days" in the United States Coast Guard than me and my Chief of Staff – combined. In a world where the average naval vessel is considered "old" at 10-15 years service, STORIS has lived 5 or 6 lifetimes.
As many of us prepared for today’s ceremony, we were flooded with information about the legacy and the legend that is Coast Guard Cutter STORIS. In fact, those doing the most detailed research discovered that the Coast Guard Cutter STORIS historic materials and memorabilia, filed in the Historian’s office at Coast Guard Headquarters, is not contained in a few binders or boxes but, in volumes of document, papers and artifacts. It’s obvious that my brief remarks today will not even scratch the surface of the contributions this "Queen of the Fleet" and her crews have made over their 64 year career. With that humble acknowledgement, I’ll attempt to summarize some important events aboard STORIS. In addition, I’ll provide a couple "sea stories" relayed from some of the more than 3,000 crew members who served aboard her. STORIS, if you don’t know, is a Scandinavian name taken from the Eskimo word meaning "great ice" or "blue ice". Those who have studied ice or served aboard icebreakers know that clear blue ice is made when the purist of water is frozen. Blue ice contains no trapped "impurities" like air, or snow and therefore can be among the toughest ice to break. Therefore, given her namesake, someone might have predicted the destiny of this tough noble legend and STORIS’ long legacy, including the eventual designation as oldest commissioned cutter, or "Queen of the Fleet".
The keel for this one-of-a-kind vessel, an ice patrol tender, was laid in July 1941. The only ship in her class, she resembled the 180-foot sea-going buoy tender class, but was designed to carry cargo as well. Her hull, made of 7/8-inch steel, was especially shaped and design to resist the lateral forces caused when ice is under pressure. Her hull designed reduced the possibilities of getting "beset" in the ice and made her a tough, highly effective ice breaker. Those who shaped her bulkheads and welded her deck were dedicated and hard working Americans living in an uncertain age. History would later recognize them as "the greatest generation".
The average salary in 1941 was $2, 059 dollars per year. The average car cost $925 dollars and gasoline was 0.19 cents per gallon. Milk was 0.34 cents per gallon and bread (pause) 0.08 cents per loaf. This generation ate dinner together and then gathered in their living rooms to listen to Jack Benny, the most popular show on radio. Although TV was invented, most families didn’t own one. At the cinemas "Citizen Kane", "The Maltese Falcon" and "Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde" were playing. A new up-and-coming movie producer named Walt Disney released "Dumbo". Then came December 7th, 1941, the "day that lives in infamy". The attacks on Pearl Harbor assuredly sharpened the focus of those in the shipyard. Every weld, bolt and detail was assembled with renewed American pride and purpose, undoubtedly contributing to longevity of this great ship. Like many persons living in this era, STORIS’s first-days of military service were in this war-torn world. Plank-owners wore heavy wool uniforms. Families were asked by the government to "make do and mend", as food, clothing material and other items were rationed for the war effort – for "the boys over there". First homeported in Boston, one of STORIS’s earliest missions sent her to Greenland, operating in the very waters from which her name was derived. She conducted important Greenland Patrols, commanding a fleet of 125-foot patrol boats, guarding this strategically important portion of the Arctic Circle against the establishment of German weather stations. Greenland held the world’s only known marketable deposit of cryolite, an important ingredient in the production of aluminum, critical in the World War II American aircraft and shipping industry. STORIS also supported the Army in establishing airdrone facilities for use in ferrying aircraft to the British Islands. STORIS served as a supply ship, kept convoy routes open and conducted a multitude of other duties including search and rescue as well as escort and patrol duties. Critical weather and ice reports from STORIS patrols were relayed to Greenland and U.S. military bases and that, undoubtedly, fed directly into the wartime plans and strategies. STORIS was homeported and served missions on the east coast and Great Lakes until 1948 when she was reassigned to Juneau, Alaska, beginning her 59 year service in Alaska.
The lean years of the 1940’s gave way to the "free market" fifties as the World War II scientific and mass production advances began to change the way people lived. By early 1950, 8 in 100 homes had televisions, and people would line-up chairs in their living room and invite neighbors to watch TV. 1950’s, also, became the decade of the teenagers, influenced by Elvis Presley and James Dean. "Greasers" followed the strict black leather and denim jean dress code, while the "Preppy" men donned sport coats and collared shirts and women wore circular skirts with large appliques, dubbed "poodle skirts".
Although those at home in this "rock-around-the-clock" generation had many luxuries, the amenities for the crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter STORIS remained relatively unchanged. These clashes in generations, undoubtedly, led to spirited exchanges between crew members of the hardened World War II era and the newly enlisted James Dean and "Greaser" look alikes. Unfazed by these differences, Coast Guard Cutter STORIS and her crew continued her impressive and historic service.
In 1955, STORIS was assigned and participated in the defense early warning system supply operation and hydrographic survey in the Arctic Ocean.
Commander Wood, the Commanding Officer, stated "...it was imperative [that] an ice-protected, relatively shallow-draft vessel was assigned to precede the supply ships into the central arctic waters, which had never been charted or sounded." This mission served to ensure that the route to be traveled by the supply ships was practical and safe. The first charts, initially used by STORIS, were nothing more than outlines of terrain, made from aerial photos. The STORIS’s depth soundings from these missions were quickly reported back and added to the charts for the supply ships the following year. In addition, during the second year, buoys set by the STORIS significantly improved navigational safety for the supply ships.
Commander Wood wanted to make an effort to transit the Northwest Passage in 1955, but the demands of her primary missions precluded it. In 1957, the crew of STORIS got its chance. They departed Seattle with the Coast Guard cutters BRAMBLE and SPAR to establish a Northwest Passage, by all accounts virgin territory. Commander Wood’s and other crewmember accounts of this transit are as riveting as any pioneer’s story, and impossible to recount every detail. One particular event worth mentioning was the challenges the three ships overcame in the Amundsen Strait.
The three captains of the cutters had carefully planned and calculated their route off-shore, to ensure minimum exposure to the potential large heavy ice floes that trapped vessels between open water and the unforgiving rocky shoreline. A sudden illness of one of BRAMBLE's sailors mandated the ships venture closer inland to facilitate the helicopter transport. After the airlift was completed, the ships made best speed away to open water. However, two miles off shore, the vessels became beset – trapped by a heavily wind-rowed ice flow. Like an object on a conveyor belt, the ships drifted at the mercy of the ice floe propelled by the wind. Initially, there was little concern with greater than 2 miles to shore and more than 90 feet of water under the keel. For three days the crews tried relentlessly to free themselves. They used the ship’s boom to sling large cement weights from side to side, and even attempted blasting the ice with TNT. Nothing worked. As the days wore on, Coast Guard Cutter STORIS, which normally draws 15 feet 6 inches, was being slowly squeezed out of the water. And, Commander Wood stated that, "...ice was completely under our ship, and there was very little water, if any under the keel". Another crew member, Radioman Chief Otis Shipp recalled "...all three vessels were popped to the top of the ice, lying on their sides looking like children’s discarded toys. To make matters worse, the ice had wedged Coast Guard Cutter SPAR against the stern of STORIS…and buckled the plates. We were hoping and praying that we would not be pushed up against the barren shoreline." At about 700 yards from shore, the wind shifted, and STORIS eventually dropped back into the water. They quickly took advantage of the small open leads in the ice zigzagging their way to open water and continuing their historic voyage.
STORIS completed her transit of the Northwest Passage and returned home via the Panama Canal becoming the first United States vessel to circumnavigate the continent. Commander Wood concluded a letter to a friend saying, "You see, we’re very proud of the fact that in three short summers we were able to gather - for our [military] forces - more hydrographic information about these waters than had been amassed in the last four hundred years. It’s a good feeling to have had a part of something like that."
1957 ended with the ship changing its homeport for the final time, from Juneau to Kodiak. And, by 1959, STORIS completed her final Defense Early Warning System supply mission. Her primary missions shifted to fisheries law enforcement in the Bering Sea.
The 1950s leather jackets and poodle skirts gave way to the 1960s mini-skirts with more conservative individuals emulating the fashions of President and Mrs. Kennedy. The Twist and the Locomotion were the dance craze fueled by American Bandstand. Although 90% of all homes owned television sets, in the earlier years, they were still not very practical aboard ships. Limited broadcast range-coupled with delicate picture tubes made them difficult keep secure and operational aboard a rolling ship that shudders during ice operations.
Nonetheless, the crew kept the mission focused visiting many remote islands and tribal communities providing much needed medical assistance and supplies. The1960’s also brought renewed emphasis on Coast Guard’s Living Marine Resources. Large fleets of Japanese and Soviet vessels moved into harvest the abundant stocks of crab and bottom fish in Alaskan waters. Boarding teams, frequently, visited these vessels to verify their documents, logs, and catches. Although seemingly inconsequential, these vessel boardings and deceptive lighting and fishery surveillance were important to understanding the fishing fleet. Throughout these cat and mouse game, Captain Ratti reported that often, they would track and plot the position of these vessels, and discover them hovering just outside U.S. waters. However, as the 60’s wore on, the foreign fishing fleet became bolder. In 1967, the STORIS crew boarded and seized a Soviet fishing vessel within a mile of the U.S. coast, resulting in a $5,000 dollar fine, the first ever such seizure of a soviet vessel. In 1972, STORIS seized two Soviet vessels, the LAMUT and KOLYVAN. While escorting them to port, the LAMUT kept attempting to escape. Each time, STORIS was there to force them back on course. The chase finally ended when LAMUT was cornered in an ice pack. Thereafter, STORIS was known as the "Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coasts".
The 1970’s, an era of Saturday Night Fever disco trends that brought bell-bottom pants, platform shoes and wide lapels on colorful suits into style, also became the backdrop of one of Cutter STORIS' most significant renovations. STORIS was transformed from an auxiliary icebreaker to a medium endurance cutter without diminishing her versatility. The "Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coast" continued to perform in every mission area. In 1975, STORIS provided ice-breaking assistance to tugs and barges carrying vital supplies and material to Prudhoe Bay for construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Since the 1977 formal establishment of the fisheries management zone, STORIS’s primary mission has been the surveillance and boarding of foreign fishing vessels to ensure compliance with U.S. regulations.
1980s & 1990s:
In the 80’s disco gave way to the country music boom fueled by the sometimes western fashion styles of President and Nancy Reagan. STORIS legendary service and diversity in missions was once again demonstrated during the 1986 EXXON VALDEZ oil spill. As the Command and Control vessel for the operation, STORIS and her crew worked tirelessly to protect the pristine Alaskan wilderness from further devastation. She was awarded the Operations Service medal for this heroic and important mission.
With the decommissioning of Coast Guard Cutter FIR, the "Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coast" received a new designation, "Queen of the Fleet." Since her coronation, on October 1st 1991, STORIS has continued her impressive, diverse service. Anyone who has ever seen the footage of STORIS responding to the grounded F/V ALASKA MONARCH on St. Paul Island, 14 March 1990, will never forget it. In a case typical for Alaska, STORIS struggled to pass a line to the disabled fishing vessel in seas of mountainous ice. From rescuing fisherman in peril, to protecting critical living marine resources, to her legacy mission of ice breaking, STORIS’s service to this nation has been unparalleled. "Wrap-up".
So, today, we bid farewell to a beloved cutter that has served her nation with legendary distinction. This "Queen" has literally carved a path, blazed the trail and marked the waterways that ensured the safe transit of every ship that followed. It’s obvious; this tough old ship has the tenacity and determination - - the very heart and soul - - of those who built her, those members of the greatest generation. Throughout the years, the crew members at her helm have demonstrated extraordinary courage and fortitude saving lives, protecting living marine resources and protecting shipping from the hazards of the icy Arctic. For you see, while STORIS is this hearty ship, the real STORIS is every Coast Guard crewmember, every crew, that ever sweated—and toiled—and laughed— and dreamed—aboard her. These are the lives. These are the Coast Guard heroes, who breathed life—and passion—and purpose—into STORIS.
Today a Queen embraces eternity, confident in her legacy through the long echoes of history. Today the scepter passes. Today a new Queen is crowned. The Coast Guard Cutter ACUSHNET has served in the Navy and Coast Guard since 1944. Originally commissioned as the Diver Class Fleet Rescue and Salvage vessel, USS SHACKLE (ARS 9) on February 5th, 1944, ACUSHNET conducted salvage operations in Pearl Harbor, Midway Island, Eniwetok, Guam, Saipan, and Japan. She was actively engaged in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. ACUSHNET was commissioned as an Auxiliary Tug (WAT) in the Coast Guard on August 23rd, 1946. She joined two other U.S. Navy Diver Class vessels, the ESCAPE and the YOCONA. ACUSHNET has served the Coast Guard proudly ever since, in homeports like Portland, Maine; San Diego, California; Gulfport, Mississippi; Eureka, California; and Ketchikan, Alaska. To the crew of ACUSHNET, I charge you to continue to live the legacy of your fine cutter. Keep her safe as you travel the same harsh waters as the "former Queen." Be ever vigilant, and Always Ready; these waters demand it.
64 years and 5 months of dedicated, continuous service cannot be recounted in a single day, or contained within a single speech. For those with the privilege of personally knowing this "former Queen of the Fleet", serving on her decks and working in her engine spaces, we know that she will always carry special significance and memories for you. "Today we take time to honor YOUR dedicated service to our nation."
The Commandant, ADM Allen has sent a "Bravo Zulu USCGC STORIS" ALCOAST. After reviewing the long and illustrious history of STORIS he says "To all current and past members of the STORIS crews I offer a resounding well done! Your outstanding enthusiasm and professionalism displayed during six decades of service has left a great impression on the Alaskan, United States, and International Communities. Your unique contributions to this great nation will live on in her hull and the hearts and minds of us all.
Senator Ted Stevens has entered the following statement into the Congressional Record—
Mr. President, on the 8th day of February, 2007 this nation will retire another distinguished member of our greatest generation, the United States Coast Guard Cutter STORIS.
When the Coast Guard Cutter STORIS is decommissioned in Kodiak, Alaska she will have served this nation with distinction for more than 64 years. After reviewing the history of the STORIS, (the senator goes on to say)— From supplying medical treatment to native villages along our Northwest coast to rescuing mariners from the treacherous waters of the North Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska, the STORIS has been an integral part of Alaskan history. The Coast Guard Cutter STORIS has helped ensure the safety of the Alaska people, conducted law enforcement operations in support of Alaska’s fishing industry, and protected Alaska’s pristine environment.
Mr. President, the venerable STORIS holds the distinction of being the oldest commissioned cutter in the Coast Guard fleet and bears the appropriate title of "Queen of the Fleet." I ask all members of the U. S. Senate join me in recognizing the Coast Guard Cutter STORIS for nearly seven decades of proud service to our nation.
Will the former crew members of Coast Guard Cutter STORIS please stand to be recognized... (pause and wait for applause). As you stand I see every Navy and Coast Guard person who ever served on STORIS, in their generations stretching back. Your dedicated service to this great lady is the reason we are here, today. You protected her, maintained her, and watched over her, 24 by 7, through the decades.
I do not know if there will ever be another STORIS. If there is, if I could stand before those sailors of the future STORIS—on the day that new ship is commissioned—in a Coast Guard fleet that is yet to be. I would tell them, thinking of all of you "You stand on the shoulders of Titans. You join a legacy of greatness. And, one day, like them, your deeds will be legend."
On behalf of the entire Coast Guard, of Alaska, and our nation, thank you. You have embodied the Coast Guard core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty and have made it possible for this legendary Queen to remain, Semper Paratus, Always Ready. Bravo Zulu.