Digest>Archives> November 2007

Collecting Nautical Antiques

What’s in a Name?

By Jim Claflin


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US Lighthouse Service Tender Pansy. U.S. Coast ...

We recently obtained a large lot of the “U.S. Coast Guard Magazine” which was published during World War II and continued into the 1950’s. In reading through them I found an article in the February 1950 issue that I thought might be of interest.

We read often of the views of the lighthouse keepers on their work and on

the Lighthouse Service, but we rarely find the views of the early Coast Guardsmen that took over many of these duties.

I found the below discussion concerning the flower names for the buoy tenders

that had been carried over from the Lighthouse Service days to be quite interesting — I hope that you do too. Written by Irwin M. Urling, the article is entitled “Names of Some Buoy Tenders Need Changing But These Are in Minority”.

“There appears to be a good deal of discussion about the names of the Coast Guard tender class cutters. There even seems to be a few people rash enough to want to change them.

It is understandable enough that no Coast Guardsman would enjoy going on shore with “USCG Pansy” on his cap. It would be simple enough to change the names of a few tenders, but one or two cases would hardly give just cause for abolishing a historical precedent.

When I was a little boy at Baden, Pa., we always looked forward to the visits of the old stern-wheel Goldenrod. She brought lanterns, chimneys, wicks and oil to old Dan Neely who kept the Knox Bar light until his death, when its care was assumed by his daughter, and the care of this light remained in the family until 1939, when an electric signal named by the writer, Lillian Hughes Light, replaced the old Knox Bar beacon. After the Goldenrod came the Greenbrier. Finally the Forsythia was sent up to our end of the river. Each of these boats in their turn became favorites with the people on the bank, and to change their names would, I am sure, disturb a good many people on all waters on which the Coast Guard’s light service is maintained.

The main reason, however, against a change in my opinion is this: Every service, whether military or civil, in time acquires a morale — a sharpness — which makes it worth while for the ones in it. When a service is abolished it is much the same as killing off a useful citizen. For that reason it has always appeared to me that impressions should be maintained that the Coast Guard and the Lighthouse Service merged rather than of the Coast Guard absorbing the Lighthouse Service. In other words the Coast Guard, since 1939, is a new service composed of two of the best of the old ones. It has always seemed peculiar to me to refer to a tender as a cutter. I think the custom does injustice to both classes of vessels. If the Coast Guard should call the cutters cutters and the tenders tenders, it would help maintain the impression that the old Lighthouse Service has not died, but simply been merged with the old Coast Guard.

Since light tenders have always borne botanical names, I think the custom should continue with the choosing of better names for a few vessels such as the Pansy, above referred to, and if you have ever passed a drugstore window you will see immediately why I do not like the name Lantana.”

However, not all Coast Guardsmen agreed with this view, as this reply from MoMM I Harold Winston attests:

“It seems to me that there are enough Coast Guard heroes in the history of our service to be able to supplant such names as Narcissus, Orchid, and others of like nature with the names of men who have helped build the tradition of the Coast Guard. I have nearly seven years’ service in the Coast Guard, but none of it has been spent aboard ships of the “flower” fleet. Who, for instance would not rather serve aboard a ship named for one of our war heroes than aboard the Violet, all things being equal? Or name the buoy tenders after beachheads that the Coast Guard helped to establish —Guadalcanal. Pellelieu. Iwo Jima. Normandy. Salerno — and give a sailor something to be proud of.”

This story appeared in the November 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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