Westport honored as Coast Guard City

A cold, drizzly day that saw people walking in jackets and the many downtown flags whipping in the wind, served as a reminder for why the coastal city of Westport needs the U.S. Coast Guard to be “Always Ready.”

The people who showed up Saturday, May 28, to Westport’s Coast Guard City Designation ceremony at Westport Maritime Museum’s McCausland Hall showed reverence to the men and women who serve and protect their historic fishing community.

Rear Admiral Melvin W. Bouboulis, a legacy guardsman whose father, Mel, also served in the Coast Guard, said he thinks it’s great that Westport received its designation and it’s important to be recognized as such.

“We grew up around many small towns like this,” Bouboulis said. “So I personally know how important it is to have that community support for our Coast Guard members, and how important that is for our Coast Guard members and their families. That’s really why I personally appreciate all the community support from Westport over the years.”

Congressman Derek Kilmer called the ceremony a “momentous occasion.” He also spoke about some of the shared history of the Coast Guard and Westport, such as how the Coast Guard established the Willapa Bay Lighthouse in 1858, and then the Grays Harbor Lighthouse in 1898.

“And since that time, the terrific men and women who serve in the Coast Guard have played an important role in supporting this community, our region, and our local economy,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer said he wanted to thank Westport Mayor Rob Bearden — who couldn’t make it because he tested positive for COVID-19 — and the local residents for welcoming the service members into their community.

Troy Meyers, who is serving as Mayor Pro Tempore while Bearden is out, spoke on behalf of Bearden. He said the Coast Guard serves an “integral” role in Westport.

“Those who live, work, and play near the ocean would not be as productive or safe without the support of the highly trained and brave men and women in the U.S. Coast Guard,” Meyers said.

In addition to Kilmer’s words about the close bond between the lifesaving service and Westport, he also noted how Congress needs to have the Coast Guard’s back.

For Kilmer, his words Saturday were more than words.

On Jan. 23, 2019, he urged Congress to “immediately” pay members of the Coast Guard, according to Kilmer’s official congressional website. Kilmer also noted how he co-sponsored the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act.”

After Kilmer finished his speech, Bouboulis stood up, shook Kilmer’s hand, and walked behind the lectern. Bouboulis commanded the room as if he were giving a briefing to his sailors, because all eyes were on him and the only sound was from the speakers that amplified his voice.

Bouboulis, who said it meant a lot to him how Westport residents have “graciously welcomed the Coast Guard men and women,” described the bonded history between the service and the city.

“It was about 125 years ago when the U.S. Lifesaving Station was erected right here in Peters Point (in Westport,)” said Bouboulis in his tailored dress whites to the large crowd inside McCausland Hall. “In those days, Westport wasn’t quite the bustling town that it is now.”

Bouboulis pointed out how the U.S. Lifesaving Service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the “modern-day Coast Guard,” which was one year after Westport was incorporated. Bouboulis then described how the bond between his beloved Coast Guard and the city has grown stronger.

“The community has included the Coast Guard in nearly every holiday celebration and aspect of life here in Westport,” Bouboulis said. “Santa doesn’t come into town on a sleigh here, right? He comes proudly on a Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat.”

Then Bouboulis thanked his fellow Coast Guard members for doing what they do at work, including the Station Grays Harbor Color Guard, who provided the “Presentation of Colors,” and the “Retiring of Colors.”

“We in the Coast Guard promise to always be ready and to answer the call when those (who) are in distress on the waters need us,” he said. “It’s our job and it’s our duty.”

The Coast Guard’s motto is “Semper Paratus,” which means “Always Ready.”

The designation ceremony was supposed to be held in early 2020. The U.S. Coast Guard website shows Westport was designated on Sept. 30, 2019. It’s the 28th of 29 U.S. cities — and Washington State’s only city — to receive the Coast Guard City designation. Grand Haven, Michigan — designated on Nov. 13, 1998, was the first city to be recognized as a Coast Guard City.

According to the Coast Guard website, a Coast Guard City is one that has extended so many considerations to the Coast Guard family and their dependents.

After the ceremony, many of the attendees toured the white and red painted Westport Maritime Museum, which used to house Coast Guard members.

Ken Ames, who served in the Coast Guard from November 1966 to November 1970 as an Electronics Technician Second Class Petty Officer, said the ceremony was “way overdue,” and that he was a fan of Bouboulis’ speech.

“It was great,” said Ames, who shared a story about his enlisted days. “I thought he did a good job. I did correct him on one thing, though. In 1969, when I was in Base Seattle, we got our paychecks, and we were told ‘Don’t cash them until we tell you, you can.’ We were all going ‘Vietnam’s going, and they don’t have any money to pay the services?’ It took us five days before we were allowed to cash our paychecks.”

Steve Craig, who has served in the Coast Guard, and written about it, liked how Bouboulis made some great comments about Westport.

“He gave a lot of credit to the city,” Craig said. “That was pretty nice of him to do that, to give the credit to the city.”

Marianne Pence said she thought Bouboulis’ speech was “outstanding,” and that she liked how so many people attended the event.

“I thought they were fantastic,” she said. “I thought they were right down to the point. For me, he left a wonderful impression as being a caring person, and (that how) what he’s doing is in the best interest for this community.”

She said Bouboulis sounded “caring, earnest, (and) sincere.”

“I think no matter where the public was from, everybody would understand,” she said. “It felt like he spoke to me, he spoke to you. It was almost like a personal thing. He wasn’t just standing there in front of a group of people and saying something. It was like he spoke with each and every person in there. We will not forget it.”