A majestic sight greeted visitors to Portland, Maine’s waterfront the other day: the only active commissioned sailing vessel in American military service. The 295-ft. USCG Eagle, used as a training cutter for future officers of the United States Coast Guard, visited the city as part of the Tall Ships Portland Festival. The ship has a rather interesting history. Built as the German training vessel Horst Wessel in 1936, Adolf Hitler presided at its launch and once used living quarters aboard ship. It served to train German sailors in sail techniques until decommissioned at the start of World War II, then was re-commissioned in 1942 fitted with anti-aircraft guns. At the end of the conflict it was taken by the U.S. as part of war reparations and re-christened Eagle.
In August of 1962 President John F. Kennedy addressed cadets aboard the Eagle at the Navy Yard Annex in Washington, D.C. “The mission of the Coast Guard in your manual is to graduate young men with sound bodies, stout hearts, and alert minds, with a liking for the sea and its lore, and with that high sense of honor, loyalty, and obedience which goes with trained initiative and leadership, well grounded in seamanship, the sciences, and the amenities, and strong in the resolve to be worthy of the traditions of the commissioned officers in the United States Coast Guard,” he reminded them. “The words I like best in this very important mission are ‘to graduate men with a liking for the sea,’ and I know that all of you share the great affection we have for that ever-changing ocean upon which we so much depend.”
Based at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, the ship is the is the seventh Coast Guard cutter to bear the name in a line dating back to 1792, including the Revenue Cutter Eagle which fought the British man-of-war Dispatch during the War of 1812. In 1976 the Coast Guard added their “racing stripe”, officially known as the Service Mark, to the Eagle’s hull – another Kennedy connection. The Service Mark was designed in 1964 by the industrial design office of Raymond Loewy Associates to help modernize the Coast Guard’s image. Loewy had worked with Jackie Kennedy to design colors for the Air Force One fleet, and the story goes JFK was so impressed with his work he suggested the entire Federal Government should have Loewy re-design its vessels and aircraft, starting with the Coast Guard.