History - Coast Guard

History - Coast Guard

Semper Paratus

No one seems to know exactly how Semper Paratus was chosen as the Coast Guard’s motto. But there is no doubt as to who put the famous motto to words and music.

Captain Francis Saltus Van Boskerck wrote the words in the cabin of the cutter Yamacraw in Savannah, Ga., in 1922. He wrote the music five years later on a beat-up old piano in Unalaska, Alaska. At that time it was probably the only piano in the whole long chain of Aleutian Islands. Van Boskerck received his commission in the Revenue Cutter Service May 20, 1891. Between 1914 and 1915 he superintended the construction of the cutters Tallapoosa and Ossipee at Newport News, Va.

In 1917 he was Captain of the Port in Philadelphia and an aide for the fourth naval district at the American routing office in Philadelphia. He was also censor for the district, and was the first Coast Guard officer to report a German submarine on the Atlantic coast. After the war, Van Boskerck transferred to the Puget Sound Navy Yard to supervise repairs on the famous cutter Bear. He commanded Bear on the 1920 summer cruise to the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean.

In 1922, as commander of Yamacraw, Van Boskerck was stationed at Savannah and chased rum-runners off the coast of the Carolinas and Florida. In 1923 he went to the Naval War College at Newport, R.I., and in 1924 became District Commander of the Great Lakes District. Van Boskerck was commissioned Captain in 1925.

"Captain Van," as he was known to his many friends, was next ordered to Seattle as Assistant Inspector of the Northwest District. In 1925 and 1926 he was Commander of the Bering Sea Forces, headquartered at the remote port of Unalaska. It was here that he found time to fit the words of his song to music with the help of two Public Health dentists, Alf E. Nannestad and Joseph 0. Fournier. Mrs. Albert C. Clara Goss, the wife of a fur trader, let them use the beat-up piano on which the song was written. For probably as long as Captain Van Boskerck could remember, Semper Paratus had been a Revenue Cutter and Coast Guard watchword. The words themselves, always ready or ever ready, date back to ancient times.

No official recognition was given to the Coast Guard motto until it appeared in 1910 on the ensign. Captain Van Boskerck hoped to give it as much recognition as "Semper Fideles" of the Marines and "Anchors Away" of the Navy.

The creation of an official Coast Guard seal confirmed the existence of a symbol that had evolved over the decades. The Revenue Cutter Service, the Life-Saving Service and the Lighthouse Service all had their own unique distinguishing devices. The Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation used drawings of ships and marine equipment on licenses and stationery. But it wasn’t until 1927, after Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon approved a design, that the Coast Guard had its first official seal/emblem. At that time, the seal and emblem were one in the same. Civilian Coast Guard draftsman, Oscar H. Kee, designed this seal/emblem.

Over the years, the seal and emblem became two different devices. The emblem, a simplification of the seal, began to appear throughout the service. Consequently, in 1957, Assistant Treasury Secretary David W. Kendall signed an order prescribing the distinctive emblem of the Coast Guard. This order specified that the emblem be used on the Coast Guard ensign, but did not indicate any additional use.

Apparently the emblem continued in wide use. In 1967, Commandant Instruction 5030.6 defined the use of the Coast Guard seal and the Coast Guard emblem.

The seal is used for official documents and records of the Coast Guard. It may also be used for jewelry, stationery, etc., at the discretion of the Commandant. The official seal is also used on invitations, programs, certificates, diplomas and greetings.

The Coast Guard emblem, a simplified version of the seal, was created as a visual identifier for the Coast Guard. Not only on the Coast Guard ensign, the emblem also appears inside the distinctive slash on the sides of our cutters, craft, aircraft and at our units. It is also used on medals and plaques where space is limited.

Information from Traditions of the United States Coast Guard by Florence Kern; Edited and designed by Barbara Voulgaris