Originally called the Revenue Marine Service, the Coast Guard was founded eight years before the U.S. Navy.
“The Coast Guard is both a federal law enforcement agency and a military force, and therefore is a faithful protector of the United States in peacetime and war,” states GoCoastGuard.com, the service’s recruiting arm.
“In times of war, or at the direction of the President, the Coast Guard serves under the Department of the Navy, defending the nation against terrorism and foreign threats.”
The service boasts 43,000 active-duty members, plus another 38,000 reservists and auxiliary members, according to USCGBoating.org.
Coast Guard maritime rescue missions save about 3,500 lives per year.
Hamilton, upon the founding of the service, issued a lengthy set of orders to its commanders in a letter dated June 4, 1791.
Hamilton reminded them that, in the new republic, their federal agency was limited in the execution of its difficult duties by the bounds of law — a largely new concept in human history at the time.
“It will be your duty to seize vessels and goods in the cases in which they are liable to seizure for breaches of the Revenue laws, when they come under your notice,” Hamilton wrote.
“But all the power you can exercise will be found in some provisions of the law and it must be a rule with you to exercise none with which you are not clearly invested.”
The Revenue Marine, later the Revenue Cutter Service, was renamed the Coast Guard after it merged with the U.S. Lifesaving Service in 1915.
The Coast Guard counts among its heroes Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro. He earned the Medal of Honor for his dauntless courage in leading the evacuation of 500 Marines from a beachhead during the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II.
Munro risked and gave his own life in the effort.
He was shot in the back of his skull by a Japanese bullet and died a short time later as the last Marines were pulled from the beach to fight again.