Straight and tall, her bow seemingly in salute, the 213-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Acushnet rested in port at Coast Guard Station Juneau. Morning frost seemed to give her the dignified "white-haired" age of time served in defense of country. Fog rolled across her fantail like a white dress. Flags rippled on her bridge chest like medals of honor.
"There is something special about serving on board," BM2 Joshua Talys, 26, said. "It feels good knowing that so many served and she protected them all. Just walking around her makes you think about the people who had walked there before."
And so many have. Originally commissioned as a diver-class fleet rescue and salvage vessel for the U.S. Navy on Feb. 5, 1944, the Acushnet became the oldest commissioned cutter in the fleet - the "Queen of the Fleet" - after the Coast Guard cutter Storis was decommissioned on Feb. 8, 2007.
"When I told my grandfather I was serving on board, he kind of choked up," Talys said. "He was in the Navy at that time and knew of this boat."
On Aug. 23, 1946, the Acushnet was commissioned as an auxiliary tug in the Coast Guard. In 66 years of service, crewmembers on the vessel have received such distinctions as the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, two Coast Guard Unit Commendations, five Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations, seven Coast Guard "E" Ribbons, the Navy Occupation Service Medal, three National Defense Service Medals, two Humanitarian Service Medals, and two Coast Guard Special Operation Ribbons.
Since leaving Ketchikan on Jan. 11, the Acushnet and 80 crewmembers have been to Homer, Dutch Harbor, the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands. They have conducted 43 boardings of commercial vessels and assisted fishermen on the vessel Butterfly as it was taking on water near Kodiak.
When the Acushnet docked in Juneau on Saturday morning, crewmembers took advantage of the day to go skiing at Eaglecrest Ski Area. Officer-of-the-day BM2 Joshua Talys, a seven-year coastie, welcomed visitors for tours. His footsteps echoed on the metal that veterans of foreign wars had tramped.
"The whole Alaskan experience," Talys said. "That is one of my most favorite parts of this duty ... that and knowing who sailed on this cutter before me."