The Morgenthau Experiment: Platform for progress
Posted by PA2 Diana Honings, Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa McKenzie
As the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau (WHEC 722) nears its final days of service, we reflect on the lasting effect it has had on the Coast Guard and the history it leaves behind.
‘Morg City’ as it’s affectionately known, is a white-hulled 378-foot long, 43-foot wide ship, housing 160 crewmembers that diligently carried out the business of the day. Piece by piece plaques, photos and other mementos representing 48 years of service are slowly being dismantled, but its legacy is intact. The crews saw action in the Vietnam War, experienced numerous major drug interdictions and law enforcement cases and served as the platform for a variety of noteworthy rescues.
“The history of Morgenthau’s operations showcases the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out a diverse and important range of missions vital to the security and prosperity of our nation,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, who leads the service’s Pacific fleet as the commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The significant legacy left in the wake of Morgenthau is evidenced not only by cutter’s history, but also by the numerous former crewmembers. At the end of the day, this was simply a ship used by dedicated men and women to protect America, its people and their interests around the world. This cutter may leave our service, but the legacy of the men and women who served on Morgenthau will live on forever.”
The Morgenthau was the eighth of 12 378-foot dual-powered, turbine/diesel Hamilton-class high endurance cutters built by Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans. Commissioned March 10, 1969, Morgenthau’s first homeport was Governor’s Island, New York. The power plant on the Hamilton-class cutters was something new to the fleet, possessing twin turbine engines capable of propelling the cutter to new speeds in 60 seconds. Due to the Cold War, Hamilton-class cutters were configured for anti-submarine warfare with the ability to find, track and damage or destroy enemy submarines. They were also equipped with a flight deck and retractable hangar. The addition of a variable-pitch propeller and bow thruster also made the ship very maneuverable.
Over its long, distinguished 48-year career Morgenthau’s crews received numerous awards, commendations and unit citations, including a Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1971, a Combat Action Ribbon to the 1971 captain and crew, and multiple Battle “E” – or Battle Effectiveness Awards – for the crew’s demonstrated excellence and superior achievement during certification and qualification competitions. The crew was especially active in the Vietnam War, conducting underway replenishment, naval gunfire support, and patrol duties off the coast of Vietnam until Morgenthau was relieved by a 311-foot cutter in 1971.
In 1977, 12 women reported aboard Morgenthau becoming the first women permanently assigned afloat in the service. It began as an experiment, conducted at the request of then-Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams, but the action catalyzed change, serving as a platform for progress in which women were permitted to go to sea.
“When I first walked across the brow that very first day, I felt filled with possibility,” said Mary Cox, a retired Coast Guard officer and one of the first women stationed aboard the cutter. “I knew I would love being underway. I was nervous, of course, at all the unknowns, but excited.”
There was much speculation when the first women reported for duty aboard Morgenthau and its sister ship, the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin (WHEC 721). Many surmised the ships would sink or turn into floating brothels, but those antiquated assumptions were silenced when Morgenthau’s crew continued to successfully carry out Coast Guard missions. Today, 14 women serve as part of Morgenthau’s final crew.
“There were a few ‘old guard’ personalities who did not approve of women in the Coast Guard at the time and made it especially challenging for the women at the forefront of change. These challenges proved to be nothing we couldn’t handle,” said Cox. “I realized we were the first group, but at the time, I didn’t really feel like a trailblazer. I just felt like a young woman who wanted to have the same opportunities and experiences as my male counterparts, and when I had the chance, I grabbed it!” Cox retired from the Coast Guard Reserve as a lieutenant commander in 2001 after 27 years active and reserve duty.
“When I received orders to Morg, I was nervous and also excited to see new things and take on new challenges,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Marylee Florscher, an operations specialist currently stationed aboard Morgenthau. “I never got the feeling that I was unwelcome and I never felt like I was treated any differently than the males. Everyone treats each other with respect. Everyone here works together very well and we have become a big family over time.”
In the fall of 1996, Morgenthau was the first Coast Guard cutter to deploy to the Arabian Gulf. Participating in Operation Vigilant Sentinel, Morgenthau enforced Iraq’s compliance with United Nations sanctions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Morgenthau participated in Operation Noble Eagle to safeguard America’s prominent port cities through closer scrutiny of maritime traffic.
In January 2013 Morgenthau sailed to its new homeport in Honolulu after a December 2012 hull swap with the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis (WHEC 725), which was decommissioned and transferred to excess defense articles for sale to a foreign navy.
When commissioned, Morgenthau had a shield-style crest with the motto “Efficiency and Honor is Our Destiny.” In 1977, when Morgenthau moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and homeported in Alameda, the crest changed to a circular style with the Latin motto Decus Pacifici translated the motto as “Pride of the Pacific”.
“Since my tour and the life of Morgenthau is coming to an end, I have to say that this has been the most challenging, and also the most rewarding, experience of my career,” said Florscher. “The 378-foot Hamilton-class cutter will soon be history and I am so proud to be part of the final crew of the Pride of the Pacific.”