United States Coast Guard Leaders and Missions, 1790 to the Present Cover

United States Coast Guard Leaders and Missions, 1790 to the Present

Thomas P. Ostrom and John J. Galluzzo

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2015, 224 pages

Book Review published on: December 16, 2022

The United States Coast Guard is unique among the nation’s military services. From rescuing boaters off the coasts of the United States, to securing lines of communication in foreign waters for a combatant command’s campaign, the service performs a wide range of maritime missions. For readers interested in learning more about the Coast Guard, Thomas P. Ostrom and John J. Galluzo present a concise history of the organization in the United States Coast Guard Leaders and Missions, 1790 to the Present. Ostrom, himself a former coast guardsman, has published previous books about the Coast Guard, and coauthor Galluzo has numerous historical publications about maritime events.

The authors cover the Coast Guard’s service from its inception as the U.S. Revenue Marine in 1790 to Adm. Paul Zukunft’s appointment as commandant in 2014. Over the course of 224 years, the organization underwent several significant transitions with thirty-one personnel serving as its chief or commandant. It became the United States Coast Guard in 1915 after combining with the United States Life Saving Service. In 1939, the United States government placed the lighthouse service under the Coast Guard, and then added the navigation and steamboat inspection service in 1942. Originally operating under the United States Treasury Department to enforce customs and smuggling laws, the organization went on to serve under the United States Department of Transportation in 1967 and eventually the United States Department of Homeland Security in 2003. In addition, the Coast Guard participated in joint operations with the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Global War on Terrorism.

Most of the content is focused on the leaders and their contributions to the service’s evolution. Captain-Commandant Ellsworth Bertholf receives extra attention from the authors. Appointed to command the United States Revenue Cutter Service in 1911, he oversaw its transition to the United States Coast Guard in 1915. After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, the Coast Guard was placed under control of the United States Navy and Bertholf was instrumental in the service’s contributions to protecting allied shipping in the Atlantic Ocean. However, after the war was over, he successfully convinced Congress to maintain the Coast Guard as a separate service when many of his peers favored keeping the organization under the Navy. Other notable commandants addressed by the authors include Adm. Russell R. Waesche, who led the service through World War II; Adm. Thomas Collins, who facilitated the organization’s transfer to the Department of Homeland Security; and Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., who advocated for a greater Coast Guard presence in Alaska to protect the United States’ interests in the Arctic.

Overall, the book is a good start for gaining a greater understanding of the United States Coast Guard. Readers will gain a better perspective of the organization’s mission, how it is nested with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, and why coastguardsmen advocate its existence as a distinct maritime service with regards to the United States Navy. However, the book is largely focused on the Coast Guard’s service chiefs and commandants; to learn more about the organization’s history of operations, readers should probably look at Ostrom’s earlier works The United States Coast Guard and National Defense: A History from World War I to Present (2012) and The United States Coast Guard in World War II: A History of Domestic and Overseas Actions (2009).

Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas