Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Judy L. Silverstein, 7th Coast Guard District.
For years, artificial reefs have been used to encourage algae and invertebrates, such as barnacles, to provide habitat for fish and other marine life.
And for more than a century, scuttled ships have been allowed a second life perched on the sea floor where they function as artificial reefs. In that role, they function as natural habitats and breeding grounds for fish looking for places to lodge in the lacy networks of coral, sponges and algae that will attach themselves to a ship’s structure.
Yesterday, the USS Mohawk entered a second life as an artificial reef when it was sunk nearly 30 miles off the coast of Fort Meyers, Fla. Since a current Coast Guard cutter homeported in Key West, Fla. bears the same name, it seemed somehow fitting that Mohawk would find a new home in sub-tropical waters.
With painstaking precision and the assistance of explosives, the 165-foot World War II vintage cutter was lowered about 90 feet into the sandy bottom. Following the elaborate evolution, Mohawk Veterans Memorial Reef was proudly dedicated to veterans of the United States, only two days before we celebrate our nation’s independence.
And while the diving community was enthusiastic about having a military ship as a reef off Florida’s west coast, the milestone held special meaning for the captain and crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk, currently on patrol. The two ships bear the same name, but held different designations. The crew of the current Mohawk, WMEC 913, looked to naval tradition to honor the occasion.
A ceremony in honor of the USS Mohawk – designation WPG 78 – included a noon formation, as eight bell were rung and a national ensign was lowered and ceremoniously folded. In characteristic military fashion, the crew also paid a somber tribute to those who served aboard the venerable cutter.
“As the commanding officer of the third ship to carry the proud name of Mohawk, it was an honor to recognize our World War II predecessor and all of the cuttermen who sailed on her decks,” said Cmdr. Mark Fedor. “I’m proud to say the current Mohawk is extending our namesake’s legacy of service to our nation.”
His words were echoed by current crewmembers recognizing their inexorable link to both American and Coast Guard military history.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Ricky Myshrall was on hand at the ceremony honoring Mohawk.
“I felt very privileged to be able to see such a piece of history while it was still floating,” he said.
And although Mohawk came to rest in much warmer waters far from the North Atlantic where she once patrolled honorably, Myshrall felt it was a good fit.
Yet it’s difficult to ignore Mohawk’s impressive history. She is the last survivor of the Greenland Patrol fleet and played a significant role in World War II efforts in the North Atlantic. Mohawk was one of six vessels of the Algonquin class of 165-foot cruising cutters built for the Coast Guard in Wilmington, Del. and Bay City, Mich. Commissioned Jan. 19, 1935, the ship was initially built for domestic ice breaking in the Great Lakes and North Atlantic. However, all that changed when war broke out.
Mohawk soon went on to break ice at the Arctic Circle, rescue 300 sailors from icy waters and perform crucial convoy duty protecting merchant and military ships from German U-boats. At the end of the war, Mohawk remained in the North Atlantic as part of the International Ice and Weather Patrol, providing data about ice movement in and around the vital northern shipping lanes. In January 1948, Mohawk was decommissioned from active service, but for nearly 33 additional years, she served as a pilot vessel on the Delaware Bay and Delaware River.
Shortly after her time as a pilot vessel, the non-profit Mohawk Corporation was founded by passionate supporters who dedicated her as a museum and memorial to the soldiers, sailors and merchant seamen who served our nation. In 2006, the USS Mohawk was moved to Truman Annex in Key West, where alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham, it served as a floating museum.
The ship’s last and final move is one that allows those curious about her history – as well as the role of artificial reefs – to undertake a watery exploration of her decks, cannons and propellers. For many, it is the ideal perch for a ship whose crews served honorably at sea.