The Long Blue Line: the first historian—a remembrance

Truman R. Strobridge, the first Coast Guard historian, passed away at his home in Jacksonville, Florida, July 21, 2019. Truman Strobridge’s varied career is one that few, if any, in the Federal Government can match. He is one of the reasons the long history of the U.S. Coast Guard has garnered greater attention from historians as well as the American public.

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Dr. Dennis L. Noble, Historian
MSTCS, U.S. Coast Guard Retired

Truman R. Strobridge passed away at his home in Jacksonville, Florida, July 21, 2019. In 1970, Mr. Strobridge became the first person to serve as historian for the United States Coast Guard.

Truman Strobridge was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and served in the Philippines during World War II. After the war, along with many others, he used his GI Bill to get a degree and studied at Michigan State University, University of the Americas (Mexico) and American University (Washington, D.C.). He taught high school English in Wisconsin, but wanted to teach history. His high school administration, however, were pleased with his work and insisted he continue teaching English.

Strobridge decided to quit teaching and entered the U.S. Civil Service, with his first position in the Internal Revenue Service. He then moved to the National Archives and then to positions as a historian for various branches of the U.S. military. Remarkably, he would eventually serve as a historian for the Army in Alaska, Marine Corps, unified Joint Chief Staff Commands in Alaska, Europe and Pacific, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C.

Truman Strobridge receiving the Distinguished Public Service Award from Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen. (Photo: Bruce Guthrie)

In 1970, Strobridge became the first historian of the U.S. Coast Guard. In the 1950s, the Service had decided against a chief historian, sending numerous inquiries on Coast Guard history to the various division offices. Strobridge’s initial duty was to answer these letters from active duty personnel and the public needing information on historical aspects of the Service. He was assigned a tiny room with no staff, not even a secretary. In spite of his substandard office, he undertook his duties with his usual zest and thoroughness.

Strobridge recognized the value of having a central history program instead of having it a collateral duty in each of the Districts. He began by encouraging U.S. Coast Guard members to research and write aspects of the history of the Service. He also was a mentor to anyone who wished to undertake the writing of the Service’ history. Toward this goal he worked to have the Service publish these works with the author’s name on the publication. Previously, if the Service published anything historical it was not allowed to have the author’s name to appear on the work.

Most importantly, Strobridge made his vast knowledge available to anyone in the Service including methods of historical research. He did all of this work with no staff. He believed that if the Service wished to show Americans and the world its history, it had to publish it. Furthermore, the office had to be located in a central location with staff trained in historical methods and the ability to research and write solid history. In short, he began a Coast Guard history program that rivaled any in the Federal Government. It is amazing that for his entire period as Historian of the U.S. Coast Guard, the only staff Strobridge had was an enlisted chief who assisted him when time permitted.

Truman Strobridge at National Archives in Washington, D.C., after receiving the DPSA from the Commandant. (Photo: Bruce Guthrie)

When Mr. Strobridge moved to a history position with the U.S. Army in 1976, he left the Coast Guard with the basis for a world-class history program. Meanwhile, Strobridge continued to write scholarly articles for various service journals.

After retirement, Strobridge co-authored with Dr. Dennis Noble important works on the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. These included Alaska and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, 1867-1915 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999) and Captain “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy: From American Slave to Arctic Hero” (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2009). A Hollywood production company has optioned the latter book for an upcoming feature film.

Strobridge’s book collaborator, Dr. Dennis Noble, MSTCS (USCG ret.), assisted Strobridge while serving on active duty. The training Noble received during this period prepared him for entering graduate work leading to a Ph.D. in history. Noble’s case serves as another example of Strobridge’s support for anyone interested in the history of the Service.

Today, Truman Strobridge’s varied career is one that few, if any, in the Federal Government can match. He is one of the reasons the long history of the U.S. Coast Guard has garnered greater attention from historians as well as the American public.  

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