When The Coast Guard Patrolled The Beaches On Horseback

Using horses to assist in the patrol of the United States beaches began as early as 1871. The beach patrols were normally done on foot and at that time were operated by the Life Saving Service, a predecessor of the modern Coast Guard.

The inspections were done with foot patrols who watched the coastlines for ships in distress. Horses were used to haul boats from storage sheds to the launching point to rescue crews from ships run aground.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Coast Guard put into action a wartime beach patrol. In 1942, the Coast Guard officially saddled up.

Horses were now the authorized means of patrolling the U.S. beaches. This allowed far more territory to be covered faster and more easily than men on foot.

The U.S. Army provided the horses and the Army Remount Service supplied the riding gear.  It was the Coast Guard that provided the uniforms for each rider.

The word was quickly sent out that the Coast Guard was looking for men who knew how to ride and handle horses.

Applicants answering the call to duty ran the gamut of experienced equestrians. This included polo players, cowboys, jockeys, rodeo riders, stunt men, horse trainers, Army Reserve cavalrymen and more.

During World War II, there was great concern about enemy vessels nearing U.S. shores, allowing adversarial forces to invade the nation.

The beach patrols gained increased importance as security forces. There were three basic functions: to look for and report on any suspicious vessels operating in the area; to report and prevent attempts of landings by the enemy; and to prevent communication between persons on shore and the enemy at sea.

The mounted units soon became the largest segment of the entire beach patrol.  Within one year after the Coast Guard authorized the use of horses, there were nearly 3,000 horses called to duty.

The use of horses allowed patrolmen to carry radios, rifles and sidearms when astride. Being on horseback further provided an advantage in the event a patrol had to run down a suspect or block an escape.

Mounted patrol teams required at least two riders.  In some cases dogs worked alongside the horses. The use of these animals added to the patrol’s ability to detect persons or situations that might not be observed by the patrolmen.

“While it was not their mission to repel an invasion from the sea, the Coast Guard beach patrols performed a vital function insofar as the morale of the America people was concerned,” said Chris Havern, a Coast Guard historian. “The beach patrols provided a presence that re-assured the American homefront that they were being protected by a vigilant armed force.”

The work of beach patrols – either on foot, in vehicles or on horseback – could be very difficult.  However, these were strong, highly motivated men dedicated to do their part for the war effort. A declassified report about the beach patrol from 1945 provides a glimpse into the morale of these men:

“Despite the many difficulties encountered and overcome, the morale of the men was universally high…Where horses and dogs were used, consideration of the animals was often more important than the comfort of the men. Upon them, as much as upon the welfare of the handlers, depended the sustained vigilance of the patrols…The methodical tramp tramp of weary feet plodding their beats back and forth, amid fair weather and foul, stood as a constant reminder that the military duties on the home front are often as essential to victory as the more exciting activities to the far-flung battle line.”

After World War II, the Coast Guard never again used mounted patrols.  But this unusual part of the service’s history illustrates its unending flexibility and adaptability.

It is a shining example of how the Coast Guard lives up to its motto of Semper Paratus: Always Ready.

~~~

Source: The Coast Guard Compass
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

Fort Sam Houston’s Caisson Section Pays Tribute to Fallen Soldiers & Veterans

fort-sam-houston-national-cemetery.jpg

 A horse-drawn caisson slowly rolls toward a burial site
at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery

It could be an old man who lived a full life. It could be a young man who died too soon.

Better not to know, they say. Do your job, do your best to pay tribute to them.

“This husband, this son has earned the right to have a caisson funeral,” says Sgt. Jason Baldwin.

“We get to take them to their final rest.”

Baldwin was riding Hall, a 22-year-old veteran of these ceremonies, a horse that knew without being told the route through the painful beauty of Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, with its bright white headstones, to the burial site where the soldier’s family waited.

Fort Sam Houston’s is the only full-time caisson section in the country other than the illustrious Old Guard at Ft. Myer at Arlington Cemetery.

It doesn’t share the same high profile, but it has the same charge: to convey departed soldiers to their final resting place in a rite with deep roots in military tradition.

In this age of modern warfare, there is something comforting in the fact that the Army still has a need for horses.

On this day, when the hearse arrived, the men straightened up in their saddles, their backs erect and their faces grave. The horses shifted their feet and arched their necks, sensing their job was about to begin.

Baldwin trotted out on Hall and saluted as he passed the hearse, then turned to face the caisson.

A six-man military honor guard removed the flag-covered casket from the hearse, gently carried it to the caisson and secured it to its bed.

Baldwin swung Hall around and began to walk. The caisson moved forward.

There was a rhythmic clop-clop-clop of horses’ hooves, jangling of the harness chains and creaking of wheels as the caisson section made its steady, solemn progress.

When the group arrived at the burial spot, the honor guard removed the casket and carried it to the bier (elevated platform).

The caisson moved on. There would be taps and gunfire and a eulogy, but the men on the horses wouldn’t be there for it. Their job was done.

If there is one thing the soldiers of the Fort Sam Houston caisson section are sure of, it’s that what they do has a place in today’s world.

“This is not a regular job, this means something to me. I’ve been to Iraq, I know what happens,” Baldwin says. “I love being able to give honor to those who have fallen or have returned and done their part.”

The Army itself even changed the lyrics of its official song from the original “And the caissons go rolling along” to “And the Army goes rolling along.”

But at Fort Sam Houston, nine soldiers, eight horses and a stable master make sure that a caisson does still roll — for those who served their country and those who paid the ultimate price doing so.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 138 other followers