Death of a Coast Guard Legend – Lieutenant Herbert M. Collins Crosses the Bar

A Coast Guard Legend passed away yesterday. Lieutenant Herbert M. Collins, USCG (RET), the last survivor of the legendary Pea Island Life Saving Station, passed away due to complications from cancer. Here is the message that Admiral Allen sent out to notify the field.

Subj: Death of a distinguished CG Veteran

It is with deep regret that I announce the passing of Lieutenant Herbert M. Collins, USCG (Ret.), a legendary Coast Guardsman and the last surviving crewmember of the all-African American Pea Island Life Saving Station. Lieutenant Collins succumbed to cancer on Sunday evening, March 14th, surrounded by family and friends.

Surfman Herbert M. Collins, a member of the Pea Island Lifesaving crew who served there during World War II.  US Coast Guard Archives, Photo courtesy of his daughter, Ms. Joan Collins.

Surfman Herbert M. Collins, a member of the Pea Island Lifesaving crew who served there during World War II. US Coast Guard Archives, Photo courtesy of his daughter, Ms. Joan Collins.

Lieutenant Collins service to the Coast Guard and our nation alone is significant, especially in light of the challenges that African Americans faced as the service was integrated. Yet his legacy runs even deeper in our collective heritage as he was also the grand nephew of Dorman Pugh, one of seven Gold Life Saving Medal recipients from the Pea Island Rescue of the crew of the stricken schooner E.S. Newman in 1896. When Lieutenant Collins retired in 1976, he and his family set the bar for the longest continuous family service in the Coast Guard, a record that began with his grandfather, Joseph H. Berry, in 1880.

Born in 1921 in Manteo, North Carolina, Lieutenant Collins enlisted in the Coast Guard and attended boot camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. First assigned to the Cutter Tallapoosa in Savannah, Collins served as a Mess Attendant. He then served at stations from Florida to Virginia, including aboard cutter Mendota in Norfolk, Virginia, alongside renowned author and Coast Guardsman, Alex Haley. Lieutenant Collins then transferred to the all-African American Life Saving Station at Pea Island where he served as a Surfman for the duration of World War II. He and his fellow Surfmen carried out vital search and rescue responsibilities and responded to a distressed ship that had been hit by a torpedo between Pea Island and Chicamacomico Coast Guard Stations. In 1947 Lieutenant Collins ended an historic era in Coast Guard history as he handed over the keys when the Pea Island Station was decommissioned. He later received his commission and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant before retiring in 1976.

After serving in the Coast Guard, Lieutenant Collins continued to be an outstanding advocate for our service. He shared his personal experiences and highlighted the proud history of African Americans who have served. Photos of Lieutenant Collins and additional information on Coast Guard African American history are available here. The extraordinary story of the heroes of Pea Island is the subject of a new film title The Rescue Men, to which Lieutenant Collins contributed. More detail is available here or at

A memorial service will be held at 1330 on 26 March 2010 at the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home located at 11800 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20904. In lieu of flowers, the Collins family has requested that donations be made to the Montgomery Hospice Inc, 1355 Piccard Drive, Site 100, Rockville MD, 20850. Details of interment remain to be determined.

Adm. T.W. Allen, Commandant, United States Coast Guard, Sends.

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