100th Anniversary of the Formation of the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard Compass notes the 100th anniversary of the consolidation of the Revenue Cutter Service (USRCS) and the Life Saving Service (USLS) to form the Coast Guard, noting the roles of Bertholf and his Lifesaving Service compatriot Sumner Kimball. Bertholf, of course, already has a cutter named for him and USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) will be the seventh in the Bertholf class.

3 thoughts on “100th Anniversary of the Formation of the Coast Guard

  1. As I have noted many times at many places, there was no true consolidation in 1915. In the language of the act, the two services remained as they previous to act but only administratively under the new Coast Guard. They remained separate for the next forty years but were never fully merged.

    Most people only think of Sumner I. Kimball as a reformer of the RCS and originator of the LSS. In reality, he was a ambitious lawyer who saw an opportunity for personal growth. After abandoning the RCS he worked for the next 20 years at preventing the RCS from growing and expanding into a viable self-controlled service. He used every political trick in the book to prevent the RCS from obtaining a pension system that Kimball wanted for himself. Kimball was very much angered when in 1895 the RCS as able to get a “Permanent Waiting Orders” bill passed that put aged officers, finally, to pasture. Some like Francis Martin were in their 90s and still listed in the line of officers. These older officers prevented advancement among the younger officers. There will be those who disagree but Kimball was an anchor to the RCS and, therefore, to the later Coast Guard. To put his name on a cutter is, at least, ironic and at the most a corruption of history.

    I have not agreed with putting Bertholf’s name on a cutter. He was not the brightest of bulbs among the officer corps and got his job through the political wranglings of Kimball. Kimball knew he had a fish on the hook. Kimball almost ruined Bertholf’s career by trying to keep Bertholf on LSS Inspector duty. However, after failing the seamanship part of his promotion examination (from a lack of practical application), Worth G. Ross advised Bertholf to get back to sea and learn his job or Bertholf would have been dismissed from the service. The real architect of the Coast Guard were two civilians. Henry S. Merrill, was the Assistant Chief of the Division of the Revenue Cutter service (comparable to the Vice Commandant) and had more than forty years of service, The other, Oliver M. Maxam, who served as the Chief of Operations beginning in the 1915 reorganization. Either man would have been a better namesake for a cutter.

    However, the better namesake for a cutter is Charles F. Shoemaker. In addition to being an insightful, and at times a very tough, commander and man; he was a hero of the Civil War. Why he is being skipped over for Kimball makes no historical or practical sense.

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