Quentin Walsh gets a well-deserved nod
A lot of people forget that the U.S. Coast Guard often carries a serious load in American military history, punching way out of their weight class. This had held true from the War of 1812 to the current standoffs in the East China Sea and the Persian Gulf, with stops at every conflict in between.
During WWII, besides putting some 250,000 men and women in uniform, put the equivalent of four infantry divisions on stateside Beach Patrol, manned squadrons of surface escorts (not only cutters but DDs, DEs, PFs, PCMs, and armed icebreakers), stood up the “Hooligan Navy” to protect the homeland from German and Japanese subs, conned flotillas of other landing craft and support craft, fielded patrol squadrons that included 120 PBY Catalinas, and put a fleet of small craft off the beaches of Normandy that pulled 1,500 men out of the water in June 1944. In all, the Coast Guard manned 802 of their own commissioned ships as well as 351 Navy, and 288 Army vessels during the conflict.
One of these unsung Coasties is Capt. Quentin Walsh.
Born in 1910, he graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1933 and was soon working Rum Row during the final days of Prohibition. He clocked in for peacetime service on the Clemson-class destroyer USS Herndon (DD-198)— which had been chopped to the USCG for the war on booze– as well as the famed cutters Yamacraw and Campbell. When the war began, he shipped out on the Coast Guard-manned troop transport Joseph T. Dickman which served across the globe, ferrying Allied troops across five continents.
Then-CDR Walsh in 1944 found himself on the staff of Commander U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, located in London, and was given command of a special scratch force (Task Unit 127.2.8) of about 50~ Navy Sea Bees that landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, armed with bazookas, hand grenades, rifles and submachine guns. Heading right for Cherbourg to the West, you could say he soon gained the keys to the city in a huge win.
As noted by the Coast Guard:
“Despite heavy casualties, his small force seized the port facilities and took control of the harbor the day after they entered the city.
After he discovered that the remaining German garrison at Fort du Homet held 52 U.S. Army paratroopers as prisoners, Walsh, under a flag of truce, exaggerated the strength of the forces under his command and persuaded the commanding officer of the remnants of the German garrison to surrender. These actions earned him the Navy Cross and, all told, he accepted the surrender of over 700 German soldiers.”
“Heroism as Commanding Officer of a U.S. Naval party reconnoitering the naval facilities and naval arsenal at Cherbourg June 26 and 27, 1944. While in command of a reconnaissance party, Commander Walsh entered the port of Cherbourg and penetrated the eastern half of the city, engaging in street fighting with the enemy. He accepted the surrender and disarmed 400 of the enemy force at the naval arsenal and later received the unconditional surrender of 350 enemy troops and, at the same time, released 52 captured U.S. Army paratroopers. His determination and devotion to duty were instrumental in the surrender of the last inner fortress of the Arsenal.”
Walsh later helped open up the ports of Brest and La Harve, enabling Patton and Monty to get the gas and gear they needed to liberate Northwestern Europe. Leaving the service in poor health in 1946, he returned to active duty for Korea and retired as a captain in 1960.
Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, SECNAV Richard V. Spencer named a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, DDG 132, in honor of Walsh, in a ceremony at Cherbourg aboard the Coast Guard Training Ship Eagle (herself a captured German WWII-era vessel).
“For over two centuries, the Navy and Marine Corps team and the Coast Guard have sailed side by side, in peacetime and war, fair weather or foul,” said Spencer. “I am honored the future USS Quentin Walsh will carry Capt. Walsh’s legacy of strength and service throughout the world, and I am proud that for decades to come, this ship will remind friends and adversaries alike of the proud history of our services and the skill and professionalism of all those who stand the watch today.”