My Coast Guard
Commentary | Sept. 15, 2021

Legacy Lives On: How and why the Coast Guard Academy is honoring the history of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Abban    

Every organization has traditions on which their services are built upon; the Coast Guard is no different. The service’s traditions commemorate the evolution of the ethos through time. Being cognizant of the contributions of those who have put on the uniform in the past provides inspiration to those who wear it today. This year the Coast Guard Academy football team manifested this inspiration into their new Station 17 uniforms derived from the United States Life-Saving Service Station Pea Island. 

“We want our athletic program to engender pride in the service,” said Dr. Dan Rose, Director of Athletics at the Coast Guard Academy. “It took 100 years for the Pea Island crew to be awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal. We didn’t want to wait that long before we honored their legacy on the field.” 

Located in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Pea Island Life-Saving Station was manned by the only all black crew in the country and led by Richard Etheridge, the first African-American keeper of a U.S. Life-Saving Station. 

The crew performed hundreds of rescues over the course of Etheridge’s 20 years as keeper, and they are most well known for their 1896 rescue of the E.S. Newman, a schooner out of Providence, Rhode Island that grounded during a hurricane. Sparring against howling gale and raging seas, the crew couldn’t launch a lifeboat to reach the vessel. Yet undeterred by the circumstances, they tied line around their two best swimmers before having them trek over to the Newman, with the rest of the crew remaining ashore to tend the line. Although it took multiple trips, the Pea Island crew successfully saved the lives of all nine aboard the schooner. In 1996, the U.S. Coast Guard posthumously awarded Etheridge and the entire crew the Gold Life Saving Medal for their bravery during the rescue.

Twenty-four years later, the Coast Guard is honoring their service once again. 

“We’ve wanted to have a specialty uniform celebrating the service’s history for a while now,” Rose explained. “When I talked to my colleagues at the other service academies for advice they all told me the same thing, you have to start with a story.” 

For months a specific concept eluded the athletic department, until one day Rose came across a movie recounting the history of Pea Island. Feeling as though he had finally found his story, Rose immediately went to Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, who green lighted the idea thus commencing the project. 

“This design process actually started back in 2019, but production was delayed because of the pandemic,” said Rose. 

The entire athletic department worked extensively to ensure the new uniforms would be as emulative to the old crew’s as possible, even reaching out to the Pea Island Preservation Society for their insights. Simultaneously, Art Lamoureux, Director of Athletic Operations, worked with Adidas America to get their support in producing two variations of the Station 17 uniform.

With a reveal date slated for Sept. 14, the Coast Guard Academy’s football team will don the Station 17 uniform four times over the course of their 2021 season, wearing it on Sept. 18, Oct. 2, Oct. 16 and Nov. 13. 

In anticipation for the release, the athletic department collaborated with the Coast Guard Exchange to produce fan merchandise available for purchase online, at the exchange on campus and through a mobile sale unit at the Oct. 16 game against Catholic University in Maryland. 

“We wanted anybody who wanted to buy gear have their merch look as close as possible to the actual uniforms,” Rose explained. “Almost everything matches up, down to the logo placement.” 

All Station 17 merchandise will be available for purchase through the Coast Guard Exchange later this fall.