Coast Guard Refuses To Be Overlooked

Robert Siegel and Melissa Block note that we committed a sin of omission on air earlier this week when we stated that the U.S. Marine Corps is the smallest armed service. Many current and past members of the Coast Guard wrote in to remind us that that branch of Homeland Security is the smallest. We share a bit of Coast Guard history and hear from a retired Coast Guard captain.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Listeners have been telling us that we owe the United States Coast Guard an apology.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

That's because earlier this week, we said on the air the Marine Corps is the smallest of the armed services.

Captain DONALD VAUGHN(ph) (Retired, U.S. Coast Guard): I would say no, they're the second smallest. We're number one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Retired Captain Donald Vaughn of Butler, Pennsylvania, was one of the Coast Guard veterans who launched a barrage of email at our inbox.

Capt. VAUGHN: Most folks don't know much about the Coast Guard. A lot of people don't know that we're really a member of the armed forces. Our Coast Guard Aviation Association wanted everybody to send you an email regarding the fact that we were the smallest military service.

Mr. SCOTT PRICE (Deputy Historian, U.S. Coast Guard): It happens quite often that we're forgotten or overlooked because we're not part of DOD during peacetime.

BLOCK: Not part of the Department of Defense and not headquartered at the Pentagon, says Coast Guard Deputy Historian Scott Price.

Mr. PRICE: We're under the Department of Homeland Security, but we're still the fifth armed force of the United States. A little bit bigger now than the New York Police Department if you include civilians, active duty and the reserves and the auxiliary - but still very, very small.

BLOCK: Well, how small, exactly? About 40,000 men and women patrol the coasts, assist the other branches overseas, run the lighthouses.

SIEGEL: They also keep the ports safe, license merchant vessels, and rescue commercial vessels in trouble.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Deadliest Catch")

Unidentified Man: The Coast Guard scrambles to get a Jayhawk helicopter rescue team airborne and on their way to the site of the emergency (unintelligible) beacon ,900 miles away.

SIEGEL: It happens all the time on the Discovery show "Deadliest Catch."

BLOCK: The Coast Guard has a .mil email address. Coast Guard vets are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and the president can place the Coast Guard under the command of the Navy. That happened in both world wars.

SIEGEL: How can we argue with that? They even have an official song.

(Soundbite of song, "Semper Paratus")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) So here's the Coast Guard marching song. We sing on land or sea. Through surf and storm and howling gale, high shall our purpose be. Semper Paratus is our guide, our fame, our glory too. To fight, to save or to fight and die, aye, Coast Guard we are for you. So here's the Coast Guard marching song. We sing...

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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