Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Phillip Smith

In 1973, Master Chief Petty Officer Phillip Smith became only the second Coast Guardsman to hold the position of enlisted advisor to the Commandant. A yeoman who rose to the position of the most senior enlisted member of the service over a 28-year career, Smith, serving under Adm. Chester R. Bender and Adm. Owen W. Siler, helped shape the role currently held by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Stephen Cantrell in support of Adm. Paul F. Zukunft‘s Commandant’s Direction.

As many across the nation unofficially celebrate National Grandparents Day on Sunday, we wanted to share a different side of Smith’s story, the story of Grandpa Smith, a title we know he is equally as proud of as the honorific Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard in the words of his granddaughter, Amber. Amber may not recall his time in uniform but Smith’s love of service shaped his family long after he passed on his master chief anchors.

This entry in our Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty series is dedicated to grandparents everywhere.

Phillip Smith holds his granddaugther Amber in 1977, shortly after he retired as the second Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard

Phillip Smith holds his granddaughter Amber in 1977, shortly after he retired as the second Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard

Official portrait of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Phillip Smith, who served as the second MCPOCG, from 1973 to 1977.

Official portrait of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Phillip Smith, who served as the second MCPOCG, from 1973 to 1977.

Written by Amber Hardwick.

My grandfather has a way with words. He can leave the entire room in stitches with a single witty comment, recall a joke he last told 40+ years ago, and successfully entertain the least interested person with one of his stories. He is a never ending stream of experiences and tales from the past, laughter always bubbling at the surface.

When I think of my grandfather, I hear his laugh and I see his smile. I think of the many taco dinners he’s prepared for our family, the times he picked me up from school and attended my games, how he taught me to make greeting cards for my parents on his computer, and the times he rescued me when my car broke down. I can’t remember a major milestone in my life that he has not been a part of. He has always been present, somewhere in the peripheral of my mind’s eye, quietly waiting for the moment to give me a hug with a pat on the back, leaving me in anticipation of hearing his simple yet precious stamp of approval, “You did good.”

Amber and her husband Edde Kanai look through old photos as they speak with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell in Cantrell’s office at Coast Guard Headquarters.

Amber and her husband Edde Kanai look through old photos as they speak with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell in Cantrell’s office at Coast Guard Headquarters.

I never knew my grandfather as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. I was born the last year of his term and because he is the humble man that he is, his service in its entirety has been the focus in our family. My earliest memories of the Coast Guard involve trips to the commissary, visits to the Seattle base, and the countless photographs and memorabilia throughout my grandparents’ home. I grew up with a strong sense of respect for the Coast Guard through my grandfather’s recollections and my mother and aunts’ stories. I learned about the challenges of raising a young family in faraway places, the adventures at sea involving men with funny nicknames and food with even funnier nicknames, the lifelong friendships and honors that come with the job, and the sacrifices made by father, husband, wife, and child. Even though our family is not actively serving in the Coast Guard at the moment, it continues to play a positive role in our lives because of its ties to our past. It has shaped us.

At times I cannot comprehend the magnitude of my grandfather’s position in the Coast Guard but I recognize the traits in him that were strengthened by his years of service. Loyalty, self-discipline, and patience quickly come to mind. When visiting the base as a child, I sometimes had the impression that he was an important figure yet there was an underlying sense of mutual respect in his interactions with others, regardless of rank. When my grandmother was dying, the strength and perseverance my grandfather showed while caring for her left an indelible impression on me. And his Coast Guard stories have made me appreciate the significance of working together for a purpose greater than ourselves.

My grandfather’s legacy may be his successful Coast Guard career, but to me, he will always be the man who taught me to see beyond myself, to keep moving forward, to remain humble while striving, and to balance strength with compassion.

And for that, Grandpa, you did good.

Retired MCPOCG Phillip Smith and his granddaughter Amber Hardwick visit Seattle's Coast Guard museum in 2012.

Retired MCPOCG Phillip Smith and his granddaughter Amber Hardwick visit Seattle’s Coast Guard museum in 2012.

Do you know someone who embodies the Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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