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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 13, 2023

Eight bells and all is well!

By AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG staff writer

Before chronometers, satellites and cell phones, time was kept on the ship using a half-hour glass and a bell. One of the ship’s youngest crewmembers would strike a bell every 30 minutes as they turned over the half-hour glass. This practice evolved into the tradition of striking the bell at every half-hour during the watch, increasing from one bell strike for the first 30 minutes, two strikes marking the first hour, and so on. A standard four-hour watch ends at eight bells, hence the phrase “eight bells and all is well” when referring to completing a watch with no incident.  

On Oct. 18, cuttermen throughout the fleet took time to reflect on the traditions and routines that have bound the afloat community together for over 233 years and participate in the Eight Bells Celebration. The Coast Guard’s Cutterman Insignia was created on Oct. 18, 1974, meaning this year’s Eight Bells celebrations fell on the 49th anniversary of the program.  

In Miami, Florida, cuttermen from the Seventh Coast Guard District, Base and Sector Miami and local cutters got together for a cookout for some fellowship.

In Miami, Florida, cuttermen from the Seventh Coast Guard District, Base and Sector Miami and local cutters got together for a cookout for some fellowship.

Coast Guard Cutter William Tate (WLM 560) hosted crews from Coast Guard Cutter Cleat (WYTL 65615), Coast Guard Cutter Capstan (WYTL 61601) and other Philadelphia area units on the buoy deck and shared sea stories.

Rear Adm. Mark Fedor, the Director, Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S) joined the Coast Guard Cutter Thetis (WMEC 910) crew on the flight deck in Key West for their Eight Bells Ceremony.

Rear Adm. Mark Fedor, the Director, Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S) joined the Coast Guard Cutter Thetis (WMEC 910) crew on the flight deck in Key West for their Eight Bells Ceremony.

Both the Silver Ancient Mariner, Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Burch, and Gold Ancient Mariner, Cmdr. Donald (Scott) Stiker, spoke with the Cutterman in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Cutterman from the Polar Security Cutter and National Security Cutter Project Residence Offices (PROs), Maintenance Augmentation Team (MAT) Pascagoula, and Coast Guard Cutters Calhoun (WMSL 759), Benjamin Dailey (WPC 1123), Barbara Mabrity (WLM 559), Patoka (WLR 75408), and Greenbrier (WLR 75501) represented 355 years of combined sea time at their Eight Bells celebration. 

8 Bells Mississippi


At the Coast Guard Headquarters' Coffee with Cuttermen gathering, the Office of Cutter Forces (CG-751) announced the winning essay and poem from the annual Eight Bells Celebration writing competition. 


Cmdr. Nolan Cain, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence (WMEC 616) homeported in Pensacola, Florida, is the 2023 Eight Bells Essay Competition winner! In his essay "Horizons," Cmdr. Cain best captured the spirit of the Cutterman: a deep appreciation for the majesty of the sea, an acknowledgement of the danger and challenges of a life and career spent on the ocean, and a recognition of humanity and our Service being rooted there. 

by Cmdr. Nolan Cain 

The sea is Earth’s most enduring and dominate feature. A living, breathing swirl of molecules teaming with life, which is all at once endless and fleeting. From this abyss sprung every type of living creature — leviathan, kraken, sea turtles — even the human race traces its origins back to the ocean. It is no wonder then that people are continually drawn to it, their terrestrial limbs moving toward the shoreline as they gaze over the roiling surf in wonderment. What mysteries are hidden out there, over the horizon? 

The sea has always been cruel and unforgiving. As humanity stepped off of land and set sail on the open water, they adapted to nature’s harsh demands. While greed and warfare would follow on this journey, so would compassion, courage, and imagination. Eventually nations divided the earth up by lines and claimed parts of the ocean as their own, and though they sought to conquer the sea it yielded to no one. To make sense of their experiences, early sailors embraced myths and songs about Davy Jones, the Flying Dutchman, and the Fiddler’s Green. To prevent bad luck on their voyages, they developed superstitions like aversions for bananas and whistling, but embraced the good omens of cats, seabirds, and dolphins.  

From a nascent nation still reeling from revolution came the Revenue Marine. Ten cutters and courageous crews who plied along the coast of the fledgling nation, extending the ideas of liberty and justice beyond the shores to the unruly seas. Pirates, smugglers, and poachers would all be brought to heel under the cutters’ wind-whipped banners—an enduring symbol of our national sovereignty. Whether in wartime or peace they worked ceaselessly to defend the people, property, and resources of the United States. Each new conflict and continued expansion of territory pulled the cutters and their crews further away from home.  

Sails gave way to steam and steel beams took the place of timber. Following in the wake of the intrepid early pioneers of the Revenue Cutter Service came the U.S. Coast Guard cuttermen of the last century. Marked with tattoos and teeth stained by a steady diet of coffee and tobacco, they drew on the legacy of their predecessors. These true heirs of King Neptune stood shoulder to shoulder with great naval powers and fought with great courage and tenacity to protect the free world from tyranny. Some of them would survive only in memory, but their shipmates—those who they fought and died for— returned to tell the sea stories of their fallen crewmembers.  

Tales of breezy exotic islands and daring high-seas exploits inspired the next generation of cuttermen. From the Trusty Shellbacks they learned to play the soft melodies of the bosun’s pipe and how to tie bowlines, sheet bends and clove hitches. The new crews navigated the vast open ocean using the stars, then radio waves, and later by a new constellation of artificial satellites. They endured the noise and heat of mammoth diesel engines to keep the screws turning and the lights burning brightly. They launched boats and aircraft on daring rescue missions and fought wars on drugs and terror. They ate chicken, lots of chicken, tacos, pizza, slanted cake with extra frosting on one side, and, yes, even more chicken.  

While these cuttermen were on patrol, the loved ones at home continued on with their daily lives as holidays, birthdays, weddings, and funerals came and went. Babies took their first steps and children hit homeruns at T-ball games, moments lost in time for those unable to be there. One day, some of these young men and women may choose to adopt the values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty, and leave the comfort of home to take to the seas. These precious few will witness the splendor of moonless nights and star-filled skies, the majesty of the raging sea and the creatures in its depths, and all of the wonders known to those who went before them. The challenges they will face are many and the cuttermen of today, in the twilight of their last watches, will leave to them the ingenuity and resolve that is our enduring sea-going legacy. 


Lt. Cmdr. Kristopher Valdez, from the Office of International Affairs & Foreign Policy, is the 2023 Eight Bells Poetry Competition winner! In his poem "U.S. Coast Guard in Vietnam," Lt. Cmdr. Valdez chronicled the history of Coast Guard operations during the Vietnam War to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the final departure of U.S. troops from Vietnam and to highlight the U.S. Coast Guard’s role during the conflict. 

U.S. Coast Guard in Vietnam  
by Lt. Cmdr. Kristopher M. Valdez

In Vietnam's war-torn land and sea,  
The Coast Guard served with bravery,  
Unknown to most, their role untold,  
Their legacy, a story to be extolled.    

In '65, Johnson's decree was clear,  
Coast Guard's mission, far and near,  
Squadron One, "Point" class they'd steer,  
Over four million miles, without fear.    

In the Mekong Delta's murky domain,  
They'd navigate waters, unknown and arcane,  
Guardians of freedom, with resolve so strong,  
Their anthem of courage, a sea shanty song.  

Squadron Three born in '67's early light,  
BARATARIA's gunfire, a daring fight,  
Largest naval clash, in the war's night.    

With cutters and boats, they'd patrol the coast,  
From dawn's early light to night's eerie ghost,  
Rescuing the wounded, aiding the distressed,  
Their compassion and valor, truly the best.    

Coast Guard cutters on the coastal line,  
Limiting infiltration, the enemy's spine,  
Quarter of a million vessels boarded, you see,  
Naval gunfire support, damage extensive and free.    

Thirty cutters turned over to South's command,  
Trained Vietnamese crews, their guiding hand,  
Nucleus of the South's Navy, strong and bright,  
Their legacy shines, like stars in the night.    

Port Security and ELDs stood tall,  
In Saigon's port, they answered the call,  
Explosives handled, firefighting grace,  
Enforcing regulations in that far-off place.    

Buoy tenders marked the channels with care,  
Lighthouses maintained, a vital affair,  
LORAN stations guided mariners through,  
In uncharted waters, skies often askew.    

Aviators soared, in skies they'd glide,  
Exchange program, their courage wide,  
Four Silver Stars, and Distinguished Crosses too,  
Honors for heroes, their valor true.    

Today, over fifty years have passed,  
Coast Guardsmen's courage, it will last,  
In harm's way, they served, their die cast,  
Their sacrifices, like history, steadfast.    

So let us remember, their sacrifices made,  
In the Vietnam War's tumultuous cascade,  
Their nautical traditions, our proud legacy,  
Inspiring esprit de corps, for all to see.  

Eight thousand strong, in Vietnam's embrace,  
Facing challenges, with hearts in place,  
As long as the sea whispers tales of yore,  
Their legacy lives on, forevermore. 

The winning and honorable mention entries have been posted to the Office of Cutter Forces (CG-751) SharePoint page.  



ALCOAST 484/23: Winners of the 2023 Eight Bells – A Sea Service Celebration Writing Competitions