Sponsor chosen for Cutter Richard Etheridge

Cutter Richard Etheridge at builder's trials in Grand Isle, La., earlier this week. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Ball.

Cutter Richard Etheridge at builder’s trials in Grand Isle, La., earlier this week. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Ball.

Written by Lt. j.g. James Ellsworth, executive officer of Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge.

The notion of a cutter or ship sponsor is deeply rooted in naval tradition, with a woman selected for each new ship based on its namesake or planned mission. Sponsors play an important role in the life of the cutter, maintaining a relationship with the crew and participating in ceremonies such as the ship’s commissioning and decommissioning.

Last week, Shirley Rochon joined the hallowed list of Coast Guard ship’s sponsors and was officially announced as sponsor of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge, the second Sentinel-class fast response cutter.

Cutter Richard Etheridge's command with representatives of the namesake Richard Etheridge at the Sentinel-class fleet dedication ceremony March 2, 2012.  (From left to right) Frank Hester, great-nephew of Pea Island Surfman Dorman Pugh; Lt. j.g. James Ellsworth, executive officer; Lt. Cmdr. Christian Lee, commanding officer; Retired Rear Adm. Stephen Rochon; Joan Collins, great-niece of Dorman Pugh; Shirley Rochon. U. S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Rodriguez.

Cutter Richard Etheridge’s command with representatives of the namesake Richard Etheridge at the Sentinel-class fleet dedication ceremony March 2, 2012. (From left to right) Frank Hester, great-nephew of Pea Island Surfman Dorman Pugh; Lt. j.g. James Ellsworth, executive officer; Lt. Cmdr. Christian Lee, commanding officer; Retired Rear Adm. Stephen Rochon; Joan Collins, great-niece of Dorman Pugh; Shirley Rochon. U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Rodriguez.

Cutter Richard Etheridge is named for Richard Etheridge, keeper of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station from Jan. 24, 1880, until his death on May 8, 1900. Etheridge was born into slavery and served in the enlisted ranks of the Union Army during the Civil War prior to joining the U.S. Life-Saving Service. During a time where the Life-Saving Service was under heavy scrutiny due to a series of widely publicized failures, Etheridge was identified by Revenue Cutter Service 1st Lieutenant Charles Shoemaker as “one of the best surfmen on this part of the coast of North Carolina.” He was appointed keeper of the Pea Island station and, in doing so, became the first African-American to command a life-saving station.

With Etheridge in command, Pea Island gained a reputation for being “one of the tautest on the Carolina Coast,” with its keeper well-known as one of the most courageous and ingenious lifesavers in the service. Their most famous rescue under Etheridge’s leadership was the Oct. 11, 1896, rescue of the entire crew of the schooner E.S. Newman, driven ashore by a terrifying storm.

Rochon is a 42-year verteran of Coast Guard civilian service and wife of retired Rear Adm. Stephen P. Rochon. The Rochons are deeply connected to Etheridge’s story, spearheading the 1996 posthumous awarding of the Gold Lifesaving Medal to Etheridge and his crew for the E. S. Newman rescue, 100 years after it happened.

Ensign Eva Daly, first lieutenant aboard Cutter Richard Etheridge, greets Shirley Rochon and retired Rear Adm. Stephen Rochon.  U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Rodriguez.

Ensign Eva Daly, first lieutenant aboard Cutter Richard Etheridge, greets Shirley Rochon and retired Rear Adm. Stephen Rochon. U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Rodriguez.

Cutter Richard Etheridge’s crew had the opportunity to begin building a relationship with the Rochons during the Sentinel-class fleet dedication ceremony earlier this month. The event brought in representatives of the namesakes of the first 14 fast response cutters, including the Rochons. The crew of Richard Etheridge, who arrived at the shipyard for pre-delivery training in February, was honored to be a part of the event. Crew members had the unique opportunity to meet families and shipmates of the Coast Guard heroes for whom the sentinel class will be named.

Follow the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge on Facebook or on the Web for photos and updates as the cutter continues to move toward a planned August commissioning.

Cutter Richard Etheridge pulls away for builder's trials earlier in the week. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Ball.

Cutter Richard Etheridge pulls away for builder’s trials earlier in the week. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Ball.

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  • Khroberts71

    Great article on Richard Etheridge and the new cutter.

  • EM3

    Dates for Etheridge’s life should be double checked, the civil war was fought from 1861-1865.

  • LT S. M. Young

    EM3,

    Thanks for your comment. I was able to double check the dates through our historian’s office. You can check out more about Richard Etheridge’s life here:  – or - 

    Very Respectfully,
    Lt. Stephanie Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs

  • OGJ

    The dates mentioned are when Etheridge served as keeper of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station, not his life.

  • BlessedUSCGMom

    This FRC is a beautiful site in the gulf waters.  My son is stationed in Grand Isle.  Their base unfortunately cannot dock this bad boy because it’s 140′ in length and their dock can only handle 87′…