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Auxiliary History





Shared by Don and Judy Bell


In January 1939, United States Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas O. Malloy gave a speech in New York City in which he stated that in the last year, the Coast Guard had received 14,000 calls for assistance and had performed 8,600 "in peril" rescues - a record number. An emphasis needed to be placed on educating boaters on basic seamanship and knowledge of federal laws. Furthermore, there were over 300,000 recreational boats operating in federal waters and the Coast Guard needed help to keep up with the search and rescue demands.

The need was recognized for a military reserve as a resource of manpower in case of America's entry into the war. In addition, civilians like Malcolm Stuart Boylan, commodore of the Pacific Writer's Yacht Club in Los Angeles, had been pushing Washington to organize yachtsmen to assist the Coast Guard on a volunteer basis. In response to these pressures, a legislative bill was submitted to Congress on June 23, 1939, establishing the Coast Guard Reserve. Its purpose was to promote recreational boating safety and to support the operation of the Coast Guard.

Groups of boat owners would be organized into fotillas, and these into divisions within the Coast Guard Districts. They would be supervised by regular Coast Guard officers. Then in September, World War II began in Europe.


In February 1941, the U.S. involvement in the European war was looming. Legislation was passed which changed the name of the Reserve to the Auxiliary and formed a regular military Reserve in which men would be subject to military law and Articles of War.

The pre-war buildup of personnel had begun. With Coast Guard officers on board, the Auxiliarists patrolled regattas, guarded harbors, enforced the 1940 Motor Boat Act and the Espionage Act, and delivered supplies to lighthouses. By the summer, the Coast Guard was on near war footing due to the Battle of the Atlantic, which had been raging for two years between the British and the Germans. Following the torpedoing of the U.S. Merchant ship, Robin Moor, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared an Unlimited National Emergency on May 27, 1941 .

To meet the need for warships, the first civilian boats were enrolled by the Auxiliary in June. By November, 275 40-90 foot vessels and most of their crews had been taken into Coast Guard service. By the end of 1941, almost 200 flotillas had been formed around the country. On December 7, following the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor, many Auxiliary units began 24 hour security patrols. Then on December 12th, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler met with Naval Chief Erich Raeder and they decided to send u-boats to raid commerce off the U.S. coast.


The first six German submarines had arrived in January 1942. By the middle of May an estimated l80 vessels had been sunk along the east coast, some in sight of on-lookers on shore. Official records state "Time after time these Auxiliarists took their tiny boats out, a few armed with rifles, to haul drowning, burning merchant seaman from the sea."

To meet the threat, in June 1942 new legislation allowed Auxiliarsts to enter the military Reserves on a part-time basis, with or without pay. Thousands transferred in with their boats. In July the Coastal Picket Force was formed. This largely consisted of 50 to 100 foot sailing vessels and motor cruisers which became the eyes and ears of the Navy. They manned stations on the 50 fathom curve of the Atlantic coast and were to detect, and if necessary, attack German submarines. Auxiliarists enrolled the majority of these vessels and manned them as Reservists, along with the newly recruited civilian yachtsmen. During the war, they also tramped the beaches and stood lookout on the coasts. Thousands guarded docks and ammunition ships.

The Auxiliary's most important role, however, was its inshore work. 50,000 men and a few woman patrolled harbors, rivers, keys, bridges and factories. They guided naval vessels and landing craft and conducted search and rescue. They boarded vessels to check identification papers and to seal radios on merchant ships entering ports. Auxiliarists cleared debris, assisted with drownings, floods, on-the-water plane crashes, boat fires and explosions.


By mid-1943, with the German submarine threat aided and demand for personnel overseas increasing, most water patrols were ended. The temporary Reservists were pulled in to perform training and shore duty for the duration of the war. Following the war, as millions of Americans returned to civilian life, the Auxiliary reestablished itself as a peacetime organization.

Legislation was passed which added aircraft and marine radios as Auxiliary operational facilities. A March 1946 conference of District Directors and Commodores held in Washington, directed that membership would be restricted to facility owners and urged intensification of activities.

In 1947, the Courtesy Marine Examination program was implemented on a national basis. Under it, qualified Auxiliarists inspect pleasure boats for required equipment and systems. Then in January 1948, the Auxiliary launched its public education program at the National Boat Show in New York City. Visitors were given free lectures on topics ranging from piloting to weather.

By 1949, 13,000 Auxiliary members nation-wide had established the three traditional cornerstone programs of operations, public education and vessel The fourth cornerstone, fellowship, had always cemented Auxiliary friendships and unit cohesion.


The Auxiliary National Board was incorporated and Bert C. Pouncey, Jr. was elected the first National Commodore in 1951. The post-war era was a period of unparalleled economic prosperity in America. Millions of newly affluent families bought houses in the suburbs. They purchased cars and boats. A Westchester County, New York flotilla advertised a boating safety class at their local movie theater. 350 people showed up and the police were called to control the crowd. By 1959, there were 40 million boating enthusiasts in the country.

The Auxiliary also expanded, opening new flotillas across the country, in the Caribbean and re-activating Alaska. Individual members also began to receive recognition for their contributions. In 1953, Miguel Colorado of Puerto Rico, was awarded the Plaque of Merit, the highest life saving award, for saving two survivors of a capsized boat. He also organized flotillas in Puerto Rico, spearheaded safe boating campaigns and was later elected Commodore of the 7th District in 1963.

In 1957, the Auxiliary as a whole was awarded the Evinrude Award for "outstanding contributions to recreational boating afloat." Under the leadership of Steve Sadowski of Massachusetts, the Auxiliary launched Safe Boating Week in the First District. National Safe Boating Week was proclaimed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958. Today, it remains a hallmark of Auxiliary activity.


Auxiliarists inspected over 50,000 vessels for required equipment. Even the "King" Elvis Presley received a safety decal in 1960. By 1961, Auxiliarsts also educated nearly 100,000 fellow citizens on the regulations of the 1958 Federal Boating Act. They also trained state law enforcement officials in seamanship and the law.

By 1965, the federal government had transformed boating in the United States. The Army Corps of Engineers had built 190 inland lakes and reservoirs which added 25,000 miles of shoreline to the waterways. Landlubbers in the plains states and the west were flocking to man-made lakes.

In 1968, the Auxiliary received a citation for Distinguished Service to Safety by the National Safety Council. In 1969, Ed Cook of Pompano Beach, Florida became known as Mr. Search and Rescue, executing over 200 cases.


The added growth in boating pressured the federal government into allowing the Coast Guard Auxiliary to operate on sole-state waters for the first time under the provisions of the 1971 Federal Boating Act. As a result, during the l970's, the search and rescue case load soared and reached a peak of 58,000 persons assisted in 1980.

In 1973, the Coast Guard integrated women into the regular active duty service, ending their reserve status, and began to assign them to ships in 1977. Although women had bear members of the Auxiliary since its earliest years, the feminist movement and the larger number of active duty women in the Coast Guard encouraged more women to join the Auxiliary. The Auxiliary provided the Coast Guard with its first female vessel operators and pilots.

In 1973, Lillian Phillips and Mary Roeder of Flotilla 12-5 in Tacoma, Washington were awarded the Certificate of Administrative Merit by Commandant James S. Gracey, for developing the Water N' Kids boating safety course. With this course, and future ones, youth enrollments would become the largest component of the public education program, averaging 250,000 per year by the early l990's. In 1979, Bolling Douglas, a marine surveyor by trade, became the first female District Commodore.


During the mid-l980's, the country experienced and economic boom. Probably due to this prosperity, the number of Auxiliary pilots increased by 100% to over 400. The Auxiliary also became more professional as the Boat Crew program was instituted in 1984.

The Auxiliary also responded to call-outs for large public events in this decade. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, 1lth District members in 100 boats performed port security, operational support, sailing trials and picket patrols, totaling over 21,000 man-hours. The July 4, 1986 Operations Sail event in New York City celebrated the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty. Auxiliarists assisted during the parade of the Tall Ships and were on duty during the nighttime fireworks. Although safety patrol during space launches from Cape Canaveral had been conducted since the l970's, after the 1987 Challenger Shuttle explosion, crews also began assisting in search and recovery operations.

During the l980's, the Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) program was solidly established and a new computer program to track Auxiliary mission hours was implemented.


As the Auxiliary entered its 6th decade, the Coast Guard, recognizing its value, began to integrate the Auxiliary into the everyday functioning of the service. Legislation passed in 1996 expanded Auxiliary purposes to assist in any Coast Guard mission as authorized by the Commandant. Auxiliarists tended and inspected lighthouses, patrolled federal, state and private aids to navigation, and helped the Coast Guard maintain then. They monitored the operation and off-loading of barges in harbors and marinas. Some small boat stations became manned in part of full by Auxiliarists.

Since the first jet ski was built in 1973, the Auxiliary has bear watching the phenomenal growth in the industry. By 1995, over 760,000 personal watercraft were operating on U.S. waters. Realizing this growth potential, the PWC inspection program was initiated In 1993, the first PWCs were utilized for operations. By 1998, there were a few dozen PWC facilities nation-wide.

The decade of the 1990's witnessed some of the largest call-outs for disasters in Coast Guard Auxiliary history. Following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Auxiliarists cleared roads of debris, manned safety and aids to navigation patrols, provided food service and flew as air observers in Coast Guard C-130 aircraft. During the 1993 great mid-west floods, over 200 Auxiliarsts ferried stranded homeowners, provided logistical support, flew levee patrols, maintained radio communications, and enforced closures on the Mississippi and other rivers. With the Cuban-Haitian boat lift in 1994, regular Coast Guardsmen were called to the Caribbean to rescue over 56,000 immigrants fleeing their homelands. Auxiliary crews and vessels filled in for them at small boat stations in Florida and other states.

On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 on route to Paris exploded in mid-air off Long Island, New York, killing over 200 passengers and all the crew. The case constituted one of the largest search and recovery efforts in Coast Guard history, involving 1,000 Coast Guardsmen and 200 Auxiliarists. Twenty one Awards of Operations Merit and Awards of Merit were given to members of the First District southern Region for their assistance with this recovery operation.

That in the spring of 1997, devastating 15 foot flood waters of the Red River engulfed Grand Forks, North Dakota and the surrounding region. Seventeen downtown building burned and thousands of persons were forced out of their homes. As the Coast Guard Commander described the response: "We had no VHF (communications) until the Auxiliary provided it. We had no means of getting the on-scene commander on-scene until the Auxiliary provided it." The Coast Guard turned over two small boats to the Auxiliary to maintain its own Disaster unit. Nine other relief units were deployed to towns along the Red River. Auxiliarists ferried utility crews and homeowners. They marked obstruction in flooded roads and conducted rescues. The Auxiliary provided a mobile command carter that afforded crews communications, shelter and a work and rest area. Auxiliary aircraft conducted levee surveys and rotated personnel in and out of the region. This allowed Coast Guard pilots to concentrate on search and rescue missions. Sixty Auxiliarsts from seven states participated in the Red River relief effort, constituting 30% of the Coast Guard command. 98 personal and unit awards, including two Awards of Operational Merit and twenty two Awards of Merit were given to members at a ceremony held in Grand forks in August 1997.


These Historical Highlights only touch on the tremendous work done by the Coast Guard Auxiliary in the past 60 years. To preserve our history, the O.W. "Sonny" Martin. Jr. Coast Guard Auxiliary Records Collection at the Joyner Library at East Carolina University houses Auxiliary records, letters, manuals, papers, photos and videos. For more information on sending historical memorabilia or accessing Auxiliary records, contact your local Auxiliary District Historian.