Former Coast Guardsman and Pro Football Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell to be posthumously honored

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Coast Guard is scheduled to posthumously honor a former Coast Guardsman and a Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Silver Life Saving Medal Wednesday, March 9. This event will be held in conjunction with a gymnasium dedication ceremony in his name.

The Coast Guard Island gymnasium will bear the name of Emlen Tunnell due in part to his heroic actions in saving two people during his Coast Guard career and also in part due to his role as a professional athlete in helping break the color barrier in professional football.

While serving aboard the USS Etamin as a Steward’s Mate, the ship was struck by a Japanese torpedo during the Hollandia Operation in the South Pacific April 27, 1944. During the attack, Tunnell quickly stamped out flames on a burning crewmember which saved his life.

On another occasion in March 17, 1946, Tunnell jumped into the icy waters adjacent to the moorings at Naval Base Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada, and pulled a shipmate to shore. His commanding officer at the time Cmdr. Ralph Jenkins of the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa recommended the Silver Life Saving Medal for Tunnell at that time, however, it was just three weeks before Tunnell ended his enlistment and the award process never evolved until now.

Although Tunnell served a short stint in the Coast Guard from 1943-46, he made his presence felt not only on duty but during sporting events held in the Bay Area and in particular at Coast Guard Island. He was a three-sport star for the 12th District, located in San Francisco. He led the Coast Guard Pilots to the West Coast Basketball Championship.

Post-Coast Guard career, Tunnell went on to fame during his professional football career as a defensive back for the New York Giants. He became the first African-American to play for the Giants when he signed as a free agent in 1948 and was the first African-American to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. Tunnell was named by NFL Films at one of the Top 100 players in NFL history.

These events will be held March 9th at Coast Guard Island in Alameda at 10 a.m. Featured attendees will include Emlen Tunnell’s family members, representatives from the city of Alameda as well as remarks to be delivered by Cmdr. William Makell, Ethnic Policy Advisor from the Coast Guard Office of Diversity in Washington, D.C. Presiding official will be Rear Adm. Joseph “Pepe” Castillo, Commander, 11th Coast Guard District. Select cadets from the Oakland Military Institute will be rendering military ceremonial honors as the color guard.

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