Guardian of the Week- Outstanding Auxiliarist with 57 years of service

This week we have the first Auxiliary member to be Guardian of the Week and this Guardian more time with the Coast Guard than even the Commandant combined. As of tomorrow, Joseph “Earl” Markham of Flotilla 76 will have 57 active years in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Remember the Auxiliary is a volunteer organization, so that means for 57 years Earl has been volunteering his time to actively help the Coast Guard in our missions. As anyone in the Coast Guard who has worked with the Auxiliary can tell you, we are really lucky to have volunteers who are willing to do so much to help in our missions. For a history of the Auxiliary take a look at the Coast Guard Historian’s site here.

Earl Markham of the Coast Guard Auxiliary at the SafeKids at Oregon Zoo event in May 2009

Earl Markham of the Coast Guard Auxiliary at the SafeKids at Oregon Zoo event in May 2009

Earl did 44 months in the Navy during World War II then got into the printing business with his father when he got out. Even though he was 19 when the Auxiliary started, he was 31 when he joined on June 13, 1952, in Los Angeles, California.

Printing was actually how Earl was introduced to the Auxiliary. The editor of “The Standby”, the official Auxiliary newsletter for the 11th Naval District (which is now 11th District South) was a man named Robert Boyle. Boyle was looking for a printing company that could produce better printing quality for the Auxiliary publication and it was Earl who helped out. It was then that Earl became interested in the Auxiliary, and the Auxiliary was lucky enough to gain a new and very dedicated member.

Earl became very quickly involved in the Auxiliary, and over the years has held many offices including Flotilla Staff Officer – Operations, Member Training, Public Affairs, Division Staff Officer Elected, Member Training, Public Affairs and District Historian, Vice Captain, Captain, Rear Commodore, and Vice Commodore.

The Auxiliary has changed a lot since Earl joined and he said one of the challenges has been keeping with it through all the shifts. While he is proud of being able to adapt with the times, it should be pointed out that Earl has helped drive some of the changes within the organization as well. For example in 1965 Earl, as the District Staff Officer of Operations, encouraged Auxiliary members to start doing patrols on their own boats, a radical concept at the time. He wrote a paper explaining that with the Coast Guard 82-foot boats suddenly required for the Vietnam War, the Auxiliary needed to turn to and help out. That paper and his efforts helped in the evolution of how the Auxiliary does their job.

With so many years in the Auxiliary he has some pretty amazing stories and I asked him if there were any that specifically stuck out in his mind. He told me a story about the early 1950’s when there were new and faster outboards available, but the vessels were not very big and didn’t have compasses or room for much in the way of navigation or safety gear.

One morning off the coast of the Long Beach, Ca. area, there was a race of around fifty outboards each with 2-3 people on board. The racing of these boats were “fly by the seat of your pants” affairs, Earl told me with a laugh. Well on this fateful morning it was very foggy and without compasses it was fairly easy to lose your sense of direction. The visibility cleared long enough for the boaters to start their race, but soon the fog had closed in again.

The fifty boats went off track that day and by mid-afternoon 10 Auxiliary ocean-going cruisers were searching and bringing back the lost mariners. Some of the racing boats had gone past the island that marked the end of the race, some had turned and gone the wrong direction, they were just all over the place. The Auxiliary searched for more than 20 hours, Earl explained, and brought everyone back safe. Not a single mariner, of the approximately 100 people out there that day, was lost.

When I asked him what his favorite part of his work with the Auxiliary is, his answer was a very energetic “Everything I do!” From someone who has put in well over 10,000 hours in his Auxiliary career, that is saying a lot.

Coast Guard Auxiliarist Earl teaching Auxiliarist Tony Touch who augments at Station Portland.

Coast Guard Auxiliarist Earl teaching Auxiliarist Tony Touch who augments at Station Portland.

Earl really does just about everything you can find to do in the Auxiliary. One thing that he feels very strongly about is teaching others, and Earl has been teaching Auxiliary member classes since he became a Flotilla Training Officer in 1954. He also has been an Auxiliary Boat Show booth participant and leader since 1956.  Just this last week Earl participated in a security patrol for the Rose Festival in Washington state.

When asked what he would tell other people about the Auxiliary, Earl said, “I came into the Auxiliary with a good high-school education but no college education. The Auxiliary took me in as a plain member and helped me to educate myself to be a better person. As the Auxiliary grew, I grew with it, and I am still growing”.

So here is to our Guardian of the Week, Earl Markham, veteran of WWII and outstanding Auxiliarist, for his years of voluntary dedication to helping others and in support of the Coast Guard missions.

-A. Thorsson

Do you know someone in the Coast Guard that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please remember to submit your nominations for Guardian of the Week using the submit button at the top of the page.