The Coast Guard decommissioned the USCGC Douglas Munro, its final Hamilton-class high endurance cutter, in a ceremony in Kodiak on Saturday.
Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Karl Schultz presided over the ceremony.
“Today we say thank you and goodbye to the end of an era, an era of nearly 50 years when high endurance cutters took our service’s racing stripe around the globe, modeling the maritime rules-based order,” Schultz said during the ceremony. “Today we say thank you and goodbye to cutter Douglas Munro, the first cutter to be named after Coast Guard hero, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro.”
The cutter was one of 12 cutters in its class, commissioned in 1971 and serving the Coast Guard on the oceans for just shy of 50 years.
“Serving as the final crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, the last 378-foot cutter in the Coast Guard has been an exciting and rewarding experience for myself and my shipmates,” said Capt. Riley Gatewood, commanding officer of the Douglas Munro. “During my time aboard I have witnessed the sacrifices of the crew as they spent time away from their loved ones in service to their country. This dedication echoes the hard work put forth by our predecessors during the cutter’s 49-years of service and embodies the ships motto ‘Honoring the past by serving the present.’”
The cutter has served with distinction across the world’s oceans, from search and rescue to drug interdiction, fisheries enforcement to counterpiracy, disaster relief to oceanographic research support, according to the Coast Guard. Its sister ships, less protected from corrosive salt by the lower-salinity waters of Alaska, have already been decommissioned and in many cases, sold to foreign navies.
“There were 12 of her class,” Gatewood said in a phone interview. “She was the last of them.”
In 1998, the crew of the Douglas Munro seized 11 1/2tons of cocaine from a Mexican-flagged vessel, one of the largest single drug seizures in the Coast Guard’s history.
“There’s just so many over 49 years of service,” Gatewood said in a phone interview. “She’s done a lot, with the crews that have served within her.”
The next year, the crew of the cutter seized the vessel Wing Fung Lung, the crew of which was attempting to traffic more than 250 Chinese immigrants into the United States, according to the Coast Guard. The smugglers operating the vessel attempted to scuttle the vessel and escape, abandoning all aboard to the depths of the ocean, according to a Washington Post story about the seizure.
“There’s just so many (milestones) over 49 years of service,” Gatewood said. “She’s done a lot, with the crews that have served within her.”
Years later, while circumnavigating the planet in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Douglas Munro was diverted to support rescue operations for countries affected by the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people in the Indo-Pacific region.
Three years after that, the cutter and its crew participated in the largest cold-water rescue in the Coast Guard’s history, Gatewood said. The fishing ship Alaska Ranger developed a leak and sank in the Bering Sea amid storms and high seas in the middle of the night; the Douglas Munro and its crew, with help from other fishing vessels in the area and two Coast Guard helicopters, were able to rescue all but five of the ship’s 47 crew.
“I actually brought attention to that at the decommissioning speech, how dynamic that was,” Gatewood said. “Ship drivers and aviators work hand and hand here in Alaska.”
The Douglas Munro has lived up to the legacy of its namesake, Gatewood said. Signalman 1st Class Douglas Albert Munro is the Coast Guard’s lone Medal of Honor recipient, awarded posthumously for protecting Marines with his landing craft and his life during the amphibious assault on Guadalcanal in World War II. He is the sole non-Marine to be recognized for in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Munro’s nephew, retired Cmdr. Douglas Sheehan, was present for the decommissioning.
“He’s our Medal of Honor recipient, our only one. That was a real honor to serve aboard her,” Gatewood said. “You talk to any Marine, he knows who Douglas Munro is.”
Gatewood and the crew will accompany the cutter down to Seattle for decommissioning, removing classified technology and weapons systems and repainting the vessel without the Coast Guard’s distinctive racing stripe.
“The Coast Guard’s presence in the Bering Sea will not be diminished,” Gatewood said. “The new cutters out of Alameda and Honolulu will be taking turns patrolling with the (cutter) Alex Haley in the Bering Sea.”
Munro’s legacy continues in the service as the newer National Security Cutter USCCGC Munro carries on the name, supporting Coast Guard operations in the Pacific and Alaskan waters.Gatewood also mentioned infrastructure improvements to Kodiak that will allow Alaska to homeport the forthcoming Offshore Patrol Cutters in Alaska.
“While Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro is being decommissioned, I know that the legacy and service of Signalman 1st Class Douglas Albert Munro lives on in the Coast Guard men and women serving around the world today, and in the national security cutter Munro that continues to bear his name,” Gatewood said.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com.