Teach Your Parents Well: What My Coastie Taught Me


There have been many compelling pictures of the Coast Guard at work In Texas following Hurricane Harvey. A C-130J flew from Elizabeth City, North Carolina to Beaumont, Texas to evacuate the residents who had to leave their homes. Beaumont had become not only an island surrounded by flood waters, but an community of people without any fresh water. The C-130J crew assisted the families as they boarded and then flew them to a safe-haven in Dallas, Texas. As a Navy wife, I have the deepest admiration for these Coasties. When all the other ships are heading into a port looking for shelter during a storm, Coast Guard cutters are heading out to sea. Someone, somewhere will need help, and the U.S. Coast Guard will be there.

During the Cuban refugee crisis in 1994, Coast Guard cutters were patrolling the Florida Straits, the waters between Cuba and Florida, as thousands of Cubans attempted to reach the United States in precarious small boats, peiced together from scraps of wood. Families would be huddled in the boat, some with only a child’s inner tube around them in case the boat sank. The Coast Guard would take aboard the Cubans and then proceed to sink the boat so it would not be a hazard to navigation. On one occasion, the Coastie assigned to demolish the boat was not successful. No matter how hard he went at it with an ax, part of the boat would still float. The father of the rescued family watched the Coastie’s attempt with interest, and then finally shouted out “She no sink!”  Eventually, the Coastie had to give up. The man was correct: she would not sink. The Coastie came back aboard the cutter and walked over to the father. He asked the man if he had built the boat, so which he responded yes. Then, the Coastie shook the Cuban refugee’s hand, for a job well done. I first heard their story in 1995, but this image is seared onto this mother’s soul for one reason.

When the Coast Guard cutters were fully loaded with refugees, they would make their way to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the refugees would be held until the U.S. government decided what to do with them. They numbered over thirty thousand, so this was not an easy decision. I was standing in the back yard of our house in Guantanamo Bay with a pair of binoculars watching yet another cutter come into the bay with her full load of refugees huddled on her deck while the crew readied to anchor. Because of this inflow of humanity, I and my two sons  and several thousand other Navy dependents  were being evacuated from our homes on the U.S. Naval Base, as our security could no longer be guaranteed. I was angry: I wanted them to all go back to Cuba and fix their problems themselves. They were making a big problem for my family, as my husband would have to stay in Guantanamo Bayfor a year while the boys and I lived elsewhere. We did not even know where we were going: refugees rarely know where they will end up.

My twelve-year-old son was standing next to me, and he asked for the binoculars. He took a good long look for himself, and I assumed his thoughts resembled mine. But they did not, for he saw something else, and that something else planted a seed in his mind which came to fruition when, nine years later, he graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

When I recently opened my son’s text message -I’m in Beaumont, Mom – and saw this picture of him assisting a family boarding the C 130 J,  I knew that little boy getting on the plane was in the best of hands. The pilot of that C-130, who was leaning over to have a chat with him, knew exactly how that little boy was feeling, for he once boarded a plane to be evacuated, too. And there is no doubt in my mind but that somewhere in this fine, resilient country of ours there is another twelve-year-old watching the pictures of devastation and destruction from Harvey, but he or she sees something else.

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One comment

  1. Susan,

    You must be so proud of this fine child you reared (& your other son as well).

    I read every one of your stories, that I get via email. I want to start a similar site, but I don’t even know how to begin or how to find readers.

    Great writing, as always ~

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