The Liberty Gazette
September 19, 2017Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The United States Coast Guard began as part of the Treasury Department and was tasked with stopping rum runners and moonshiners during the prohibition era of the 1920’s and ‘30’s. I know of a Coast Guard pilot who flew back then. Once while searching for illegal stills in the hills of Kentucky, he let his airplane get too low. The corn whiskey makers shot him down. He climbed out of the wreck and spent two weeks on the run and finally escaped the area. Had he been caught by the mountain dew peddlers, nobody would have known what happened to him.
The Coast Guard was created out of two other entities: The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, and the U.S. Life-Savings Service, which helped shipwrecked sailors. The origins of these groups date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively. In 1878 the U.S. government took over and merged them in 1915 to form the U.S. Coast Guard.
While the USCG focus is on the water, its aviation roots reach back to the beginning of powered flight. Four members of the Life-Saving Service were on the team that helped Orville and Wilbur Wright move their Wright Flyer to the top of Kill Devil Hill during each of their historic flights in 1903. They couldn’t have known the extent to which their group would be involved in important aviation efforts in the future.
Cementing their reputation as training some of the finest pilots and sailors was the famous rescue on New Year’s Day, 1933. Lieutenant Commander Carl Christian von Paulsen, head of the Miami base, received notice that a severe storm near Cape Canaveral had caught a boy in its clutches and swept him and his skiff out to sea. Paulsen gathered his crew and took off in the amphibious aircraft named Arcturus to save the boy.
Even with strong headwinds, heavy rain affecting visibility, and twelve to fifteen-foot swells, Paulsen and his crew found the boy over thirty miles from shore. As they landed on the tumultuous waters the Arcturus’ wings sustained damage, rendering the aircraft un-flyable, but they pulled the boy aboard to safety. Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen taxied through the raging ocean with amazing skill and determination. What was left of the wings ripped away from the aircraft, leaving only the boat-like fuselage when they beached. All survived, and the dramatic heroism set the course for the future of the Coast Guard, and the critical role of aviation in search and rescue missions. Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen received the Gold Life-Saving Medal.
My cousin, retired USN Rear Admiral Jack Trum, graduated from Annapolis in 1940, survived World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, while serving thirty-two years in the Navy. He held people like Lt. Cmdr. von Paulsen in the highest regard, proclaiming, “The Coast Guard, now those are the real sailors. When everyone else is heading to port, they are putting out to sea. They save people’s lives.”