This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.
Written by William H. Thiesen
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian
In 1964, the Coast Guard commissioned the 210-foot cutter Diligence (WMEC-616) and the medium-endurance cutter has served this nation for the last 55 years. During those many years, Diligence has performed the missions of search and rescue, national defense and international engagement, migrant interdiction, maritime safety and security, port and coastal security, regulating living marine resources and counterdrug operations.
Diligence is named for an inspirational trait meaning persistent in application to one’s work or assiduous effort. The cutter’s motto is “Courage, Honor, Tenacity” and its nicknames have included “Dillie Devils” (the cutter’s crew); “DAU 3” (this was painted on the hull by crewmen of the Dauntless as a practical joke); “Dilly”; “RONC Not Yet”; “We must eat chicken 616 days a year” (play on the designation WMEC-616); “Dili-O”; “Dogwood”; “Dogfood”; “Divorce Boat”; and “The Dog.”
Diligence has the unique distinction of being the sixth vessel in service history to bear the name. This record of predecessor vessels with the same name is greater than all but a few other cutters.
The first cutter named “Diligence” was one of the service’s original 10 revenue cutters constructed under Alexander Hamilton. Diligence I was built in Washington, North Carolina, and stationed in New Bern, North Carolina, before moving to the permanent homeport of Wilmington beginning in 1792. Diligence’s first master, Thomas Cooke, commanded it when the cutter interdicted notorious French smugglers near Cape Fear in 1793. Cooke and his son disappeared in 1796 without a trace leading some to believe the French smugglers killed the captain and his son for their role in apprehension.
Like Diligence I, the next three cutters to bear the name were stationed at Wilmington and patrolled the coastlines of North Carolina and South Carolina. Diligence II served in the Quasi War with France in U.S. Navy Commodore John Barry’s squadron. A full size replica of this cutter was recently installed inside the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. Diligence III cost $5,000 to build in 1803 and was lost in a hurricane near Ocracoke in 1806. Built and commissioned in Wilmington in 1807, Diligence IV saw action during the War of 1812 and remained in service until 1831. Diligence V was a 125-foot patrol boat built in 1927. This cutter saw service in Prohibition and World War II and was stationed in the Great Lakes, Boston and San Pedro, California. It was decommissioned in 1961, but never saw service out of the port of Wilmington.
Today’s Diligence is the only Coast Guard cutter named after one of the first 10 revenue cutters serving in its namesake’s homeport. Upon commissioning in 1964, Diligence served out of Key West, Florida. Over 20 years later, in 1985, it transferred to Cape Canaveral, Florida. In 1992, the cutter was decommissioned for a two-year $28 million refurbishment program. In 1994, a virtually new and rebuilt Diligence was placed back in commission and re-assigned to the Coast Guard City of Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington has been the homeport for five of the six cutters named “Diligence,” and the cutter’s home state of North Carolina boasts a large commercial ferry system, two major international ports, and a commercial fishing fleet of over 9,000 vessels.
The medium-endurance cutter Diligence remains true to its name, supporting a wide range of Coast Guard missions. Diligence deploys for over half of the year with each of the cutter’s patrols lasting between six and eight weeks. Diligence’s primary patrol areas include the East Coast, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Pacific. During these cruises, the cutter performs counter-drug operations, apprehending numerous vessels smuggling marijuana and cocaine. In a 2011 deployment to the Western Caribbean, Diligence interdicted nearly 3,000 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $34 million. In a 2017 Eastern Pacific deployment, the cutter interdicted three high-speed drug smuggling boats preventing more than $60 million of cocaine from reaching the U.S.
In its 55 years of service to the nation, Diligence has received countless honors. These awards include numerous service commendations, medals, and special operations ribbons. Firmly rooted in its long list of accomplishments and the history of Diligence’s distinguished predecessor vessels, Diligence continues to live up to the cutter’s motto of “Courage, Honor, Tenacity.”
The Coast Guard will soon build the “Heritage”-Class of 360-foot Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs). Diligence (WMSM-922) will be the 10th in the first flight of OPCs and the sixth service vessel to bear this historic name. Diligence VII and its OPC sister cutters will become the mainstay of the Coast Guard’s ocean-going fleet fulfilling the service’s maritime security and safety missions.