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COAST GUARD BILLS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE
Saturday, January 12, 1929. The subcommittee met at 10 o'clock a. m., Hon. Homer Hoch presiding
Mr. Hoch. The committee will be in order. The first bill we have before us this morning is H. R. 16129, a bill to provide for the acquisition of a site and the construction thereon and equipment of buildings and appurtenances for the Coast Guard Academy.
I have here a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury setting forth the situation, but I believe I will not take the time to read it at present. Senator Bingham is here, and he has another appointment, so I will read that letter to the committee later. Senator, we will be glad to hear you now.
STATEMENT OF HON. HIRAM BINGHAM, A UNITED STATES
SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Senator BINGHAM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate very greatly being permitted to appear at the beginning of the hearing, as I called a meeting of my own committee for half past 10 before I knew of your meeting.
I am very greatly interested in this bill which is now before you, H. R. 16129, for the acquisition of a site and the construction thereon and equipment of buildings and appurtenances for the Coast Guard Academy. The title is hardly accurate-at least, it implies that the Government is to buy a site, whereas, as a matter of fact, the city of New London has arranged to provide a site and practically to give it to the Government.
The buildings of the Coast Guard Academy-I do not know whether you gentlemen have ever visited them or not-are really disgraceful. I am familiar with them because my summer home is only a few miles from New London, and my family have lived in that part of the State of Connecticut for a very long time. We are very glad in New London County to have the Coast Guard Academy there, but it always hurts our feelings when young cadets come to the academy from other parts of the United States and see the two old wooden buildings of war-time construction which the Government has for the school there, and feel that in their wish to enter this branch of the Government service, they have been almost deceived as to its advantages. Many of them get homesick and decide they are not going to spend three years in those old shacks, and they go home at once. And you can hardly blame them.
Gentlemen, I do not believe that there is a respectable city or town in the United States that does not provide better facilities for the schooling of its children than we do for the cadets that we are going to commission in the Coast Guard Service. These two old war-time buildings were only temporary buildings to begin with. It is impossible in the situation existing at the old fort to provide adequate buildings on that little peninsula. The city of New London has hoped that the Government might buy some land in the vicinity of the fort, but it is pretty expensive land and there are not adequate grounds for an academy there, so the citizens of New London interested themselves in purchasing a very fine site, or in arranging for its purchase by them, near the grounds of the Connecticut College for Women on the heights overlooking the Thames River, and overlooking that beautiful body of water over which the famous races between Yale and Harvard have been held for a great many years. It is a beautiful site, adequate for the purpose for which it is offered.
The members of the committee will realize that there are only three services in the Government for which we offer commissions the Army, the Navy, and the Coast Guard. Those of you who have been to West Point have seen the beautiful site that we provide there. Any cadet that goes to West Point to spend four years in getting ready to be a commissioned officer in the Army is delighted with the prospect before him when he arrives. The same thing is true at Annapolis. Those of you who have been there realize the magnificent layout that the Government has provided, the beautiful buildings, the beautiful surroundings there, everything to make a man proud of belonging to that school.
The other extreme is the case at the Coast Guard Academy. Any young man who looks forward to serving his Government as a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard has to be almost a superpatriot to stay for three years in the buildings as they are at present, and he can take no pride in his school or in its surroundings—in fact, the impression he receives when he arrives is that there has been some misunderstanding; that this service really is not held in high esteem by the authorities of the Government, and it is kind of a fourthrate service that he is entering.
It seems to me, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, that that ought not to be. If we are going to continue the Coast Guard as one of the important branches of the Government, if we are going to continue to commission officers in it, if we believe that the Coast Guard has justified its existence by its splendid record in the past, in the saving of lives and the protection of our commerce and the important work that it is doing now in the enforcement of the law, it seems to me that the least we can do is to provide such adequate and beautiful buildings for the academy as will lead the men in it to have a high regard for the service that they are entering.
One could easily talk for a long time on this subject, but I must not trespass on your time. If there are any questions that you gentlemen would like to ask me about the situation, with which I am personally very familiar, I should be delighted to answer them.
Mr. Hoch. Those buildings are all frame buildings, are they, Senator?
Senator BINGHAM. The two principal buildings connected with the school are the typical war-time emergency buildings of wood, and naturally are not in very good condition after 11 or 12 years of use and exposure to the weather.
Mr. Hoch. Admiral Billard and Captain Hamlet are here, and they are familiar with all of the details and could answer any questions that we might ask the Senator. If any members have any questions to ask he will be glad to answer them, but for the information of the other members of the committee I will state that perhaps we can have the information from others if the Senator is in a hurry to leave to meet another appointment. Are there any questions of Senator Bingham?
Mr. WYANT. I know very little about this matter, Senator. How many cadets have they there at this school now, and how are they selected ?
Senator BINGHAM. They are selected by competitive examination; but these are questions that I shall have to refer to the admiral, as I am not a member of the Commerce Committee of the Senate. I was at one time, but I have not been for several years.
I should like to say that the citizens of New London are trying to do the best they can for the cadets. At my suggestion, some years ago, they went to work and tried to improve the district in which the academy at present is located, so that the cadets would not receive such an unfortunate impression as they drove from the station. It happens to be in a district of the town which is not one of the most desirable residential districts—and is near the quarter where the fishing boats come in. It was just put there because the Government had an old fort there that they could use and it did not cost them anything, but the fort is very small and the area very limited.
Mr. GARBER. In your judgment, is this the best location for an institution of this kind ?
Senator BINGHAM. I know of no better location, because the Coast Guard is bound to have its headquarters in that vicinity. They have leased the State pier there, where they have their boats come in. It is bound to be their base. Students can see exactly what is going on and what is being done. There is plenty of deep water there, and the site on the heights above the Thames River is very salubrious and there is plenty of open space around it. It is a magnificient site, as you can see when you go over the railroad between Boston and New York and across the bridge there and look up at the buildings of the Connecticut College for Women.
Mr. GARBER. As I understand you, the Government already owns the site? Is that correct?
Senator BINGHAM. The site will be presented if the Government agrees to build. Mr. GARBER. What is the area of the site? Senator BINGHAM. About 40 acres. Mr. GARBER. Is that sufficient for training purposes?
Senator BINGHAM, That I will have to leave to the admiral. I do not pretend to be an expert on that. I should think it ought to be sufficient for recreation grounds and all the buildings. And it is right on the Thames River, which is really an estuary of Long Island Sound at that point.
Mr. SHALLENBERGER. Is this school something that has been started since the war? Is it a new school or is it an old school?
Admiral BILLARD. It was started back in 1873. It has not been at New London all of the time. I can give you the history of it later, if you desire.
Mr. GARBER. I assume you have a similar bill pending in the Senate?
Senator BINGHAM. Senator Jones, chairman of the committee in the Senate, has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
Mr. Hoch. Thank you very much, Senator.
Now I think it would be well for me to read this letter from the Secretary of the Treasury:
Washington, January 4, 1929. Hon. JAMES S. PARKER, Chairman Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce,
House of Representatives, Washington, D. O. MY DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: There is transmitted herewith a draft of a bill to provide for the construction of buildings and appurtenances for the Coast Guard Academy.” If you find this bill consistent with your own ideas, I shall be grateful if you will introduce the measure and further its consideration by Congress.
At the Coast Guard Academy cadets are trained to become commissioned officers of the Coast Guard. There are just three schools maintained by the Federal Government for the purpose of qualifying young men to hold commissions in the service of the United States. These three are the United States Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy, and the United States Coast Guard Academy. The course at the Coast Guard Academy is three years and the department would be disposed to make it four years except for the very urgent need for commissioned officers in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard Academy is, of course, of the utmost importance to the service and bears the same relation to it as does the Military Academy to the Army and the Naval Academy to the Navy. The Coast Guard Academy will be of vital necessity as long as the Coast Guard endures.
The Coast Guard Academy is now located on the Fort Trumbull Reservation at New London, Conn. The cadets are messed and quartered and receive instruction in two wooden buildings that were hastily erected during the World War for temporary occupancy by enlisted men of the Navy. These buildings are utterly out of keeping with the requirements of the school, are not worth continuing in existence, and are veritable fire traps involving serious danger to human life.
The utter unsuitability of the physical plant at the Coast Guard Academy is immediately apparent to the most casual observer and is a profound discouragement to the school. Young men entering the academy as cadets and looking forward to a life career as officers of the Coast Guard form their first impressions of the service by what they see at the academy, and, with respect to adequate buildings and other physical evidences, their first impressions must be most discouraging. As a matter of fact, a number of them first arriving at the academy and seeing the physical conditions there have promptly resigned and gone home. It is believed that there is not throughout the length and breadth of the United States a town of 3,000 inhabitants that has not one or more school buildings of a more dignified and substantial character than any building at the Coast Guard Academy, which trains young men to be worthy to receive the President's commission as officers of one of the oldest services under the Federal Government.
It is understood that a beautiful and suitable site on the Thames River at New London, Conn., can be obtained by the Government for the use of the academy for a purely nominal consideration. An appropriation of $1,750,000 will afford a modest and reasonable plant for this Coast Guard school.
I have for a number of years called attention in my annual reports to the very unsatisfactory conditions existing at this school. In my judgment the time has now arrived when it is imperative that something be done to remedy these conditions. If the Coast Guard is to continue, it must have commissioned officers, and, to obtain commissioned officers, this school must be maintained. I, therefore, very earnestly recommend approval of this proposed legislation.
The Director, Bureau of the Budget, advises that this proposed legislation is not in conflict with the financial program of the President. Respectfully,
A. W. MELLON,
Secretary of the Treasury. Admiral Billard, we will be glad to hear from you and have you present this matter in any way you see fit.
STATEMENT OF REAR ADMIRAL FREDERICK C. BILLARD, COM
MANDANT UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
Admiral BILLARD. Mr. Chairman, I think the general situation has been very clearly described in the Secretary's letter and in what Senator Bingham has said to you this morning.
I am entirely certain that any intelligent man who visits the present Coast Guard Academy will frankly state that its physical characteristics are a disgrace to the United States and a disgrace to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard goes back to 1790. It can not possibly carry on without trained commissioned officers. It can not get trained commissioned officers unless it trains them at its school. The young men who are being prepared in a course that we regard with great pride, for commissions in the Coast Guard, are being domiciled, messed, instructed, in two wooden frame buildings that were erected during the World War, purely as temporary structures and to accommodate enlisted men of the Navy. They are utterly unsuitable. The statement can not be questioned, that there is not in this entire nation a town of 3,000 people that does not have a better school building than any one building at the Coast Guard Academy.
The general picture having been laid before you by the Secretary's letter and by the Senator, possibly I would save your time by now endeavoring to answer any specific questions you have in mind.
Mr. CROSSER. I would like to ask the admiral where these boys were trained before these structures were built at the time of the World War?
Admiral BILLARD. Possibly a brief history would be helpful. The system of appointing cadets to be trained as officers in the service originated back in 1876 or 1877—I can give it exactly for the record.
Mr. CROSSER. That is near enough. Admiral BILLARD. And we had a practice ship at New Bedford, Mass. It stayed there for quite a number of years, and then the school was moved to Curtis Bay, near Baltimore, Md. That situation soon became impracticable, whereupon, in 1910, the school was moved to New London, to this Fort Trumbull Reservation, which belonged to the Army and which was turned over to the Coast Guard.
When the school was at New London just prior to the war they had a very few cadets, and they managed to get along after a fashion in what was there. Now, with 107 cadets the situation is intolerable.
Mr. SHALLENBERGER. They have 107 today?
Mr. CROSSER. Admiral, I want to say that this is a service, in which the men wear uniforms, and for which I have a high regard. I would like to know what course of instruction is given these boys in this school?