Two stalwarts of the Coast Guard’s fleet of cutters, Hamilton and Chase, were decommissioned earlier this week after leaving an indelible mark in our service’s history. The two 378-foot high endurance cutters, with close to 90 years of experience collectively, were decommissioned to make way for the new fleet of 21st century national security cutters.
Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the Revenue Cutter Service, was the namesake of both the cutter Hamilton and the class of cutters. Cutter Hamilton was the first of the Hamilton class cutters and was commissioned in March 1967. The cutter has led the service in many missions, including the 1994 search and rescue mission for which they received the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation for rescuing 135 Haitians after their sailboat capsized and sank. In 1996, Hamilton served as a command and control platform for operation Frontier Shield, intercepting 14 drug-laden vessels carrying more than 115 tons of contraband worth 200 million dollars.
“Indeed there is a special relationship that exists between the sailor and the ship. Especially a ship with as long and distinguished a service record as this cutter, Hamilton,” said Vice Adm. Manson Brown, commander, Pacific Area at Hamilton’s decommissioning. “Hamilton’s sustained performance for over 44 years is a testament to the closeness of that relationship between cutter and crew. And I know that each and every sailor that has served on Hamilton takes great pride in her now legendary accomplishments.”
Salmon Portland Chase served as President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, and is the namesake of Chase, a cutter that bears an equally storied history. Chase was the fourth of Hamilton Class Cutters, and commissioned in March 1968. During the course of it’s service, Chase earned several notable awards including the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Vietnam Service Medal. In 1999 the crew of Chase seized 15,432 pounds of cocaine, the second largest cocaine bust in the service’s history.
“Your 43-year legacy of outstanding service honors our profession by epitomizing the dedication and professionalism that are hallmarks of the Coast Guard,” said Adm. Bob Papp, Coast Guard Commandant, to the Chase’s current and past crew in announcing the cutter’s decommissioning. “Once a Chaser, always a Chaser.”
Both cutters deployed to Vietnam as part of Operation Market Time, and Hamilton, the first 378-foot cutter to arrive off the coast of Vietnam in 1969, fired more than 4,600 rounds of gunfire alone in support of U.S. and Vietnamese troops.
As the new 418-foot national security cutters becomes the flagship of the fleet, their crews must always remember the legacy of those who sailed the high seas aboard Hamilton and Chase, and a small part of this legacy will continue as Hamilton will become the namesake of the fourth national security cutter.
There is no doubt that the cutter’s past is deeply ingrained in the service’s memory, and whether you were aboard Hamilton – “Semper Primus: Always First” – or aboard Chase – “There is no work better than ours” – your memories, and the cutter’s memories, will live on.