There are many sides to America's military forces. There's the side that most people know: big guns and explosions, stomping soldiers, and screaming jet fighters. But America's military complex is unique in the world, because it also takes a full-spectrum approach to saving lives. Yes, sometimes that does mean using violence; but just as often, it means lending a saving hand to those in need, as these United States Coast Guard stories prove.
What does the Coast Guard do? Technically speaking, they're America's seaward fist line of defense; the hard line between law and lawlessness on the high seas. But a big part of the Coast Guard's job has also been showing up to aid those who have suffered coastal disasters. While most of us think of these services as rendered with ships and helicopters, the Coast Guard has been involved with many humanitarian and search and rescue missions over dry land and far away from any saltwater. Wherever disaster strikes in conjunction with water, you can count on the coast Guard to be there. At that is just one of the many reasons why the Coast Guard is the best.
Let us not forget that the Coast Guard was among those first responders who were pulling people from the wreckage of September 11th. They were the first military branch on-scene for search and rescue, and first for medical care, evacuation, water, communications and even security. The Coast Guard was the first military service to show up on 9/11... and the last one to leave after clean-up. And that deserves a special place on this list.
More than 67,000 Rescued and Relocated After Massive Flood
In 1937, heavy rain combined with unusually rapid snow melt in the north to produce a flood of unbelievable proportions. Estimates say over 165 billion tons of water dropped from the sky over the Ohio and Mississippi River basins. That's roughly enough to fill a swimming pool the size of Texas to about 9 inches deep... and it all came down within two weeks over an area half that size. About 70 percent of Louisville, Kentucky was almost completely destroyed, its 175,000 residents forced to flee.
The Coast Guard mobilized more than 2,000 men, 24 boats, 12 aircraft, and several trains to help rescue people from flooded areas. In all, the Guard saved 67,000 people from slow deaths of drowning, starvation, disease and exposure to the elements.
Eight Alaskan Villages Saved from Flu Epidemic by Coast Guard Surfman with Dog Sled
The worldwide flu pandemic of 1918 infected 500 million total, killing somewhere between 50 and 100 million people. Though it wasn't understood why at the time, this particular strain of flu had proven especially deadly to those in Asian countries, and in isolated areas around the Pacific. We know today that this is because those of European descent have evolved a naturally greater resistance to certain diseases than those in areas that had not had much contact with the outside world.
So, when the flu hit the Inuit natives around Nome, Alaska, it was practically a death sentence. Surfman L. E. Ashton, of Station No. 305 couldn't just sit back and watch his native neighbors die. So, on his own initiative, Ashton set out with little more than a dog sled, medical supplies and some food on a 150-mile journey to Cape Prince of Wales on the Bering Strait. His goal was to distribute supplies and care for people in the eight villages along his way. An ambitious task; especially when you realize he left on December 6th. In Alaska. When he arrived at Cape Prince a week later, he treated the 122 people who were fatally sick, and helped to bury the 150 dead.
But Ashton didn't go straight home to warmth. He dog-sledded through the wilderness for the next three months, risking his life in some of the coldest and most brutal conditions on Earth. Ashton delivered much-needed medication to eight different far-flung settlements in Western Alaska, saving dozens, if not hundreds, of people.
30,000 Rescued During the 1900 Galveston Hurricane
Put aside Katrina, Andrew, and Mitch. The deadliest natural disaster in American history struck Galveston, Texas at the turn of last century. The Category 4 hurricane swept in from the Gulf at the worst imaginable time and place: late August, the height of tourist season, in an enormously popular island vacation location. Out of the estimated 36,000 people in Galveston at the time, an incredible 12,000 were killed by the storm. That's one out of three, equivalent to the effect of the Black Death on Paris in today's numbers. The storm and its incredible 15-foot surge did $500 million in damage in today's dollars, second only to Katrina. Galveston was left in ruins. The above film was shot afterward; it was said that the stench of dead bodies reached over 100 miles away.
Even given this horror, the death toll would have been at least double that had the Coast Guard not already arrived the night before and begun using it's large, fast "tax cutter ships" to assist with the emergency evacuation. The Coast Guard removed the better part of 20,000 people from Galveston via boat in less than 12 hours: That would be an incredible achievement today, even with modern ships, helicopters and roads. The rescue doesn't even include the further 10,000 people the Coast Guard helped to evacuate elsewhere, or helped to rescue afterward.