The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sherman is the most storied Coast Guard ship in modern history — the last American warship to have sunk an enemy vessel in combat when she engaged a North Vietnamese vessel on Nov. 22, 1970. This spring, the 378-foot high-endurance cutter was decommissioned just five months before marking 50 years of meritorious service. As one of the first officers to serve on board, I spoke at the decommissioning ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii, on behalf of members of the first crew, who were among the audience of 250 people. Vice Admiral Fred M. Midgette, commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area, presided over the event.
Among the accomplishments of the Sherman: She became the first Coast Guard cutter to circumnavigate the globe after conducting U.N. sanctions-enforcement duty in the Persian Gulf and undertaking goodwill projects en route to Madagascar, South Africa and Cape Verde. Among her 34 recorded drug interdictions, she dispatched a boarding team that seized a cargo of cocaine on a Panamanian-flagged freighter valued at $600 million; this was the world's largest drug bust. Her last patrol was in the Bering Sea where, over many years, she conducted search and rescue operations, carried out fisheries boardings, and provided humanitarian services and provisioning to the indigenous population on the far north coast of Alaska.
My history with the Sherman spans a half-century. I was the weapons and helicopter landing officer assigned to the Sherman in summer 1968. As a member of her first crew, I went to the shipyard near New Orleans for the ship's commissioning in September 1968 and to assume my duties, overseeing testing for seaworthiness. I then sailed the new ship to her first home port, Boston. I remained on the Sherman, my third Coast Guard ship, until January 1970, when I completed my tour of active duty.
At the event this spring I recounted how, while on night patrol off the coast of Cuba outside Guantanamo Harbor in January 1969, we turned back a Russian freighter that tried to run our blockade to enter Cuban waters. About 10 days later, we brought a Navy helicopter aboard the Sherman and sailed overnight to Haiti where we launched the helicopter to rescue a missionary doctor who had suffered a heart attack. We then returned to Guantanamo where the doctor was cared for and ultimately survived. Finally, I told of how we were overtaken by a 50-foot rogue wave during a hurricane while on patrol in the Bermuda Triangle. Despite taking on many tons of water, we were able to continue our patrol for two more weeks while the storm continued to rage.
The Sherman has been sold to Sri Lanka where, after post-decommissioning modifications are made, she will become the flagship of the Sri Lankan navy.
I am thankful for my Bucknell experiences, which provided me with the background that enabled me to become an officer and take part in these life-changing events.
Jim Smigie '65, M'66, P'92, P'95 and his wife, Katherine Ward '65, live in Wilmington, Del. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1966 to 1970. Smigie worked for six chemical companies, mainly dealing with electronic products and specialty high-performance fibers and resins. Now retired, he enjoys fishing, playing golf and serving as the photographer for the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, Del.