After nearly 45 years of service to the nation, Coast Guard Cutter Dallas is being decommissioned. From performing naval gunfire support missions off Vietnam to being the command ship during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, Dallas has truly seen it all. As Dallas is decommissioned, a new fleet of national security cutters are coming on the line to protect and serve our nation. They stand at the ready to perform homeland security missions at sea, just as Dallas did for decades.
This is the the final post in our series honoring Dallas as it sails its final patrol and serves as a tribute to Dallas’ sailors who were “Semper nostra omina,” Always our best
Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
The instant the keel of a new Coast Guard cutter is laid, the ship begins the journey toward its eventual decommissioning. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas began this voyage in the 1960s and approached that inevitable fate today as the ship sailed into homeport after its last patrol as a U.S. warship.
As was the case with the six storied cutters before it bearing the name of Alexander J. Dallas, secretary of the treasury under President James Madison, this one will leave behind a colorful legacy, one shaped by the men and women who have proudly served aboard the 378-foot ship over the last 45 years.
“It’s hard to believe this is the last time I, or any other Coastie for that matter, will go to sea to carry out a mission on the Dallas,” said Chief Petty Officer Brian Driscoll, a boatswain’s mate. “If you look back at all she has been a part of, you can’t help but feel a little sad to know that her time has come and is nearly gone,” he said.
Leaving a legacy
Over the course of seven combat patrols off the coast of Vietnam, Cutter Dallas engaged in 161 naval gunfire support missions, firing nearly 8,000 rounds of 5-inch ammunition. Gunners aboard the ship destroyed 58 sampans and 29 supply routes, bases, camps or rest areas were taken out.
The cutter’s first drug bust came in 1979 when a crew from the ship boarded the fishing vessel Foxy Lady and discovered more than 30,000 pounds of marijuana. Drug interdiction eventually became a central focus of the Dallas’ mission set, and the ship and crew received many awards for successful counter-drug operations over the years.
In 1980 the ship served as on scene command for the historic Mariel Boatlift. During the mass exodus an estimated 125,000 Cuban refugees set sail for the shores of Florida. At the time, it was the largest humanitarian operation ever undertaken by the Coast Guard. On the third day of the operation, one chief wrote in the ship’s chief petty officer logbook, “Well, we’ve been here three days and it’s turning out to be a rather big affair.”
It did, in fact, turn into “a rather big affair,” and all who took part in the event received the Coast Guard Commendation Medal.
In 1986 the ship was involved in the search for survivors of the tragic Shuttle Challenger explosion. None of the astronauts lived, but the Dallas helped prevent similar catastrophes by recovering portions of the wrecked shuttle that were studied by NASA engineers to determine the cause of the incident. Dallas crews also found the Kermit the Frog toy teacher Christa McAuliffe had taken with her to remind her of her daughter.
During the Haitian migrant crisis of 1991 and 1992, Dallas was the flagship of a flotilla of more than 25 Coast Guard cutters whose crews rescued 35,000 migrants from hundreds of overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels. The ship’s crew received the Coast Guard Humanitarian Service Medal and the ship was decorated with a Coast Guard Unit Commendation for the monumental effort in establishing an operation task organization, creating the model for today’s Coast Guard multi-unit operations.
After Russian forces engaged in hostilities against the tiny Republic of Georgia in 2008, Cutter Dallas participated in Operation Assured Delivery and was loaded with 76,000 pounds of humanitarian relief supplies. Soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, baby wipes, toilet paper and other necessities were provided to Georgians.
As the final days are here, the crew grows more sentimental, pointing out more and more acts that will go down as lasts. The last time a Coast Guard helicopter took off from the flight deck, the last round of ammunition fired by a Coast Guardsman, the last visit to certain port calls.
The chief petty officer’s logbook, containing first-person accounts of events the cutter has been involved in as far back as its commissioning, was taken out of a cabinet in the chief’s mess and left on a table on the mess deck for crewmembers who had not ascended to the ranks of chief petty officer to read for the first time. Young sailors who did not know of the book’s existence scoured the pages, taking in the history that they are now a part of.
“The Dallas is only two years older than my brother, and it’s hard to believe almost everything in this book happened during his life,” said Seaman Ana Rand. “I am honored to be a part of all this, especially the two drug busts we made on this patrol,” she said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Daphne Gilles, a yeoman who serves in the ship’s supply office, knew there was going to be something different about this last cruise and she didn’t want to miss out on it. “A YN1 at sector offered to take this trip for me, but I wanted to be a part of this one,” said Gilles. So instead of staying ashore as the mooring lines were cast away, Gilles becomes a part of history by being one of the sailors to be aboard for Dallas’ last three months of fighting the drug trade in the Caribbean.
“We’ve known for a while this was coming, but as the days go by, you really start to realize this is it,” said Driscoll. After the ship is decommissioned in March, it will be transferred to the Philippine navy. “I’m glad that’s where she’s going, so she can keep on making history somewhere,” he said.
Capt. Jim Munro, commanding officer of Dallas, has served more than three decades in the Coast Guard and knows the end of his own career is not too far over the horizon. Munro has orders to take command of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell this summer, but said he is glad he had the opportunity to be the final commanding officer of Dallas.
Munro brushed his ear as he said, “I hear the whispers, and they grow louder each passing day, telling me this will end all too soon. My time aboard this ship, my time serving in the Coast Guard will come to a close, so I focus intently on enjoying the company of my crew and this experience as much as I can for as long as possible,” he said.
There are no more whispers for Dallas. The voices calling to her are now cacophonous. Her time as a Coast Guard cutter has reached an end, thus completing the excursion she began nearly 50 years ago when her keel was laid. But her spirit will live on through the tales of the men and women who have served America upon her decks. The thousands of Coast Guardsmen like Munro, Driscoll and Gilles, who have sailed around the globe aboard Dallas will always have memories of adventures aboard the “Mighty D.”
They will keep her alive.