Coast Guard Headquarters holds Memorial Day ceremony

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell lay a wreath during the Memorial Day ceremony at Coast Guard Headquarters. USCG photo by Telfair H. Brown

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell lay a wreath during the Memorial Day ceremony at Coast Guard Headquarters. USCG photo by Telfair H. Brown

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard held a Memorial Day observance at Coast Guard Headquarters Friday, commemorating the loss of the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa and its crew in World War I.

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell laid a wreath in front of a painting of the Tampa in the courtyard of the Douglas A. Munro U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters building. The event was attended by Headquarters personnel and guests. Members of the Coast Guard band performed throughout the event and a flyover of Coast Guard aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City concluded the event.

The Coast Guard Cutter Tampa was a 190-foot cutter launched in 1912 and was part of Squadron 2 of Division 6 of the Atlantic Fleet Patrol Forces. It was based in Gibraltar with a mission to protect ship convoys from submarine attacks, as the 1917 Espionage Act gave Coast Guard Captains of the Port power to protect domestic ports from sabotage.

The Tampa was escorting a convoy to Wales and parted company with the convoy in the afternoon of September 16, 1918. The Tampa was never seen again, the victim of a torpedo attack that evening. A few pieces of wreckage were found, along with two unidentifiable bodies in naval uniforms. The Tampa carried 111 Coast Guardsmen, four Navy men, a captain and 10 seamen of the Royal British Navy, and five civil employees who were on board the cutter. There were no survivors of the 131 persons on board.

The loss of the Tampa was the greatest single casualty incurred by a naval unit as a result of known enemy action. Its convoy escort duty with the Atlantic Fleet was a forerunner to more escort duties in World War II. In addition to the protection of American ports from sabotage, the Espionage Act also gave the Coast Guard power to supervise domestic vessel movements, establish safe anchorages and restricted areas, and the right to control or remove passengers or crew from ships, all of which are responsibilities for today’s modern Coast Guard.

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