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Latest Symposium Highlights the Service of the Coast Guard at War

Molly Hamilton Aug 08, 2018

On Friday, August 3, hundreds attended the latest in a series of educational symposiums aboard the USS Yorktown — “The USCG at War.” The event brought together a panel of experts from various fields who were able to shed light on the wartime service of the United States Coast Guard.

Captain John Reed, Commander, Coast Guard Sector Charleston started off the evening with an introduction about the efforts of the only military branch not under the Department of Defense (except in times of war).

After Captain Reed’s remarks, Patriots Point Director of Education Keith Grybowski began his conversations with the panelists, beginning with Dr. William Thiesen, Atlantic-area historian for the USCG.  In addition to the books he has authored, Thiesen’s Coast Guard history articles appear frequently in naval, maritime and service-related publications.  He shared his wealth of knowledge about the history of this great arm of our nation’s military.

Soon he was joined by Tane Casserley, a research coordinator with the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and the deputy line office diving officer for the National Ocean Service.  He discussed his efforts to write regulations that extend protection against salvage and treasury hunting beyond military vessels to include merchant ships sunk during the war.   Such ships are currently susceptible to souvenir hunters and salvage operators, even though they were technically in some ways “military” ships.  Nearly four out of every 100 U.S. merchant mariners were killed during World War II, a higher rate than any branch of the U.S. military.

The final panelist to join the stage was Chief Petty Officer Joseph T. Ruggiero, who has been serving in the Coast Guard since 2000. Ruggiero became the first Coast Guardsman since the Vietnam War to be awarded the Purple Heart, and he earned the bronze star with combat “V” for valor. The awards were earned from events that occurred while assigned to the USS Firebolt in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in April 2004.

While patrolling the security zone around an oil terminal in the USS Firebolt’s ridged-hull inflatable boat (RHIB), Chief Ruggiero detected a small boat proceeding toward the terminal. When the driver of that boat realized he was being cut off from his target, he chose to prematurely detonate his vessel, which ejected the entire crew of the RHIB in various directions. Despite his own serious injuries, Chief Ruggiero swam to two seriously wounded teammates, inflated their lifejackets and swam them over to the capsized RHIB, where they remained until the rescue team arrived.

The symposium was the latest in the ongoing series, “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things” presented by the Patriots Point Institute of History, Science & Technology.  Check out the gallery of photos from the event below:


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