Do you know the traditions of those who have gone before you?
So was the question posed to cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy by the Coast Guard Commandant himself, Adm. Bob Papp.
In a speech to the Corps of Cadets, Papp shared insight on the Coast Guard’s rich history and how each moment in time becomes part of the fabric of our service, interlaced with ideals, values and character.
“History is more than just our story. It also contains our values. Values you can seek to reflect ‒ of both individual accomplishment and collectively as a service,” Papp told the Corps.
“You need to know that the crew of the Taney not only valiantly fought in Pearl Harbor, but that it served as the inspiration for the pursuit of a rotary wing aircraft that rescued countless mariners from the perils of the sea,” said Papp. “You need to know about the Blackthorn tragedy, why we have a Command and Operations School and why our newest cutter is named Flores.”
The “Flores” Papp spoke about is Seaman Apprentice William Ray Flores who, as others abandoned ship, stayed aboard a sinking Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn. Removing his belt, Flores strapped open the life jacket locker door, ensuring lifejackets would float to the surface when the cutter capsized. He was one of 23 crewmembers who never escaped, but due to his sacrifice, many others did.
“The seaman that the FRC was named after, he’s from a town that is close to my hometown,” recalled Cadet 3rd Class Audra Ward after Papp’s speech. “It really hit me that he sacrificed his life to save so many other people. I want to be able to help others like he did and be able to give them their lives back.”
“He brought in not only current stories and what we have seen and experienced and can relate to, but he also brought in history that has developed so much of what we do today,” added Cadet 4th Class David Endean.
While reflecting on the maritime traditions of the Coast Guard, cadets also looked to when their four years of academy life would end and their careers would begin as commissioned Coast Guard officers.
“I’m just beginning my career,” said Cadet 1st Class Leslie Stenkamp. “I think honestly there are so many adventures and opportunities in the Coast Guard. I’m just proud to be in this service.”
With graduation approaching for the Class of 2012, and the future on their minds, Papp reminded the cadets it was their responsibility to share the 221-year story of the service to future generations of Coast Guard men and women.
“You are part of the long blue line, that continues to march through time ‒ but to understand where this line is going, you need to have an appreciation for where it’s been. Why? Because you are now the custodians of a rich legacy of service to the Nation ‒ a legacy that spans more than 221 years. You are part of a service that performs maritime missions that no one else can do. It is something of which you can truly be proud.”