Three of the newest Lone Sailor Award recipients were honored last week at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The Bridges family, Lloyd, Beau and Jeff, are probably best known for their distinguished careers in Hollywood including their acting, producing and directing credits. But what might not be as well known is all three are Coast Guard veterans. The Bridges family received the award for distinguishing themselves by drawing upon their military experience to become successful in their subsequent careers and lives, while exemplifying the core values of the sea services.
In a recent interview at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Beau Bridges shared with the Coast Guard Compass his experiences while in the Coast Guard and how the Coast Guard’s core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty have reflected in his civilian life.
Coast Guard Compass: You, your brother and father have all served in the Coast Guard and went on to have award-winning careers. Why did your family choose these similar paths?
Beau Bridges: My dad, he was an actor, Lloyd, and he was doing a series called Sea Hunt. And it was all about the sea and the ocean, so he had a lot of Coast Guard personnel coming in and advising him on the show and he got very involved in promoting the Coast Guard.
So I enlisted Coast Guard Reserve and I started my boot camp in Alameda, California, about eighteen years old. An incredible experience. The things that I learned during my eight years of service, qualities that I’ve imparted to my own children – I have five kids – that have served me well in my life. The whole idea of how to prepare for a task to make sure you learn the details, that you prepare yourself mentally, physically for the task at hand. That’s total Coast Guard. Being ‘Always Ready,’ that’s something you can apply to your whole life. And then the word respect is something that I remember learning in the Coast Guard. Respect, number one for yourself, respect for your shipmates; respect for your task at hand. I think I’ve tried to apply that all my life. And then I don’t want to forget my baby brother Jeff. He followed me into the Coast Guard eight years after I did. And he served eight years.
Compass: What do you remember the most about your service in the Coast Guard?
Bridges: I think it prepared me for life, my training in the Coast Guard. It was a peacetime service, so I didn’t see any wartime action; but I learned a lot about life. How to take care of myself. How to be of service to other people. And I’ve tried to carry on that tradition. And I’ve also met a lot of friends. I think what’s great about the military is, you join another family when that happens. But also being a man who served in peacetime, I had many friends who fought in the Vietnam War. My term of service ended right before the war started so I had a lot of friends that fought in Vietnam. Some of them giving their lives. So I have a profound respect and admiration for those people who have seen action in the military – men and women. And I think about them all the time. I feel that one of the reasons I’m here to celebrate the Lone Sailor is to cause attention to the wounded warriors and the military veterans who are returning, that want to come back into civilian life, if that’s what they choose. We don’t support those people enough. We don’t respect them enough – that word respect again – and we need to.
Compass: Can you briefly discuss some high points of your Coast Guard career?
Bridges: I served on a buoy tender. I was a cook’s helper. Sometimes I had to cook the main meals. And this is way back. I was on the USS Dexter. This is in the early 60s. But I mostly remember the beauty of being out at sea. It’s just a wonderful feeling. The ocean is so powerful, but it can be so still and peaceful. Even if you’re on the beach, you can look out at least at a 180 degrees of nothing but horizon. When you’re out at sea, of course you get 360 degrees. If you got that watch and you’re out there by yourself in the morning, it’s beautiful. Nothing matches it. You can’t be fooled by the ocean. You have to always respect it. You have to be ready for it to change. That’s why it’s a wonderful life lesson to be at sea, because in the end that’s what life’s all about, is change. It’s constantly changing. In the ocean, it can be the same piece of sea, and it can be calm like a lake and in an hour, boom, you’re in a major storm. So you always have to keep your eyes open and be fluid.
Compass: After your service you went on to acting and directing. What skills that you learned in the Coast Guard, did you use in your Hollywood career?
Bridges:I spent a lot of time, like all of us did, working on the decks and the ship was our home. My active duty was on that ship [Dexter]. LIMA 28 was my company. We were a team. We did think we were going to war. We were young men; we were training, getting ready. We all had each other’s back. And I think you go into civilian life, whether you’re an actor making a movie or working at an office, you’re usually on a team. And certainly making films is very much a collaborative effort. It gets back to that thing, respect again. My dad told me, “you have to come in, you have to respect your shipmates. Because you’re doing it for all of you.” In the Coast Guard that was a major thing from the get-go, was that we do this together. And I think the most dramatic way that came to me was, the first time someone screwed up in our company, we had to run the grinder of the morning and they made us all run high-port if one guy messed up. So you know, I said, “oh, okay that’s the way it works.” I don’t want to make that mistake, but I also realize that if someone else makes a mistake and I have to run high-port because of his mistake, that I can’t be angry with that guy because that could be me next time making everybody do it. And I probably did a couple times.
Compass: The Lone Sailor is the namesake of the award you are being presented with and is a statue that exists in memorials all around the United States. The original is here outside the Navy Memorial and is a tribute to all personnel of the sea services. What does it mean for you to represent the sea services?
Bridges: I saw it for the first time today, the memorial. I was blown away. What I love about it the most is the humbleness of it. It’s not like some five hundred foot high statue on a big giant pedestal. There he is and he’s right down ground level with everybody else. He’s got his gear and he’s ready to go. I like that about him. Even the memorial itself, it’s a huge circle of cement seats, places to sit. You’ve got the fountains all around it. I think if you were taking a walk and you walked right past it, you wouldn’t think of it as a memorial. It just looks like a great place to hang and have lunch. And I can see people doing that. I said, “yeah that’s what it should be.”