Commandant speaks, honors 2 Coast Guard aviators at ceremony in NC

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft delivers the keynote speech during the ceremony for the 113th Wright Brothers Anniversary of Powered Flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, Dec. 17, 2016. The ceremony also marked the 100th anniversary of Coast Guard aviation. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki/Released)

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft delivers the keynote speech during the ceremony for the 113th Wright Brothers Anniversary of Powered Flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, Dec. 17, 2016. The ceremony also marked the 100th anniversary of Coast Guard aviation. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki/Released)

WILMINGTON, N.C. – U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft served as the keynote speaker for the First Flight Society’s annual celebration at the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, Saturday.

The ceremony marked the 113th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight, commemorated 100 years of Coast Guard aviation and honored the service of two Coast Guard aviators, Capt. Frank Erickson and Cmdr. Stewart Graham.

Portraits of Erickson and Graham were unveiled before the two aviators were officially inducted into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine.

Erickson was the first Coast Guard helicopter pilot and was assigned to the service’s first helicopter detachment. In the early 1940’s, he trained over 100 U.S. and British service members to fly helicopters.

Graham began his Coast Guard career as a surfman, but earned his wings as a naval pilot and underwent training to become the Coast Guard’s second helicopter pilot. Graham completed the first helicopter take-off and landing on a vessel on the high seas.

Erickson and Graham took part in the “Miracle at Gander” rescue in Gander, Newfoundland, 1946, when a passenger plane crashed in a remote location. They successfully rescued 18 passengers from the crash site and demonstrated the ability of helicopters to perform under such circumstances.

“I stand in the shadows of the two true heroes we honor today,” said Adm. Zukunft. “Aviation and helicopters are absolutely integral to our nation’s security. The great things the Coast Guard accomplishes would not be possible without these great pioneers we’re here to recognize today.”

Photos from the event can be viewed on our FLICKR page.

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