The Gremlin to Join the Fleet

Pennsylvania-born Emlen Lewis Tunnell earned a nickname in his football career of “The Gremlin” and was both the first African-American to play for the Giants (14 seasons before going to Green Bay, at the insistence of then-assistant coach Vince Lombardi) and the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

However, before all that, he was 17 years old during the attack on Pearl Harbor and, cutting short a subsequent college football career at the University of Toledo due to a broken neck (!) in a game against Marshall, he tried to enlist in first the Army, then the Navy, during WWII once he recovered.

Rejected by both, he kept trying and was accepted into the Coast Guard as a volunteer enlistee in the USCGR, serving on the Coast Guard-manned Crater-class cargo ship USS Etamin (AK-93) in the Pacific. When Etamin was disabled by a torpedo hit in Milne Bay in April 1944, Tunnell “saved a fellow crew member who was set afire in the blast, beat out the flames with his hands, sustained burns to his own hands, and carried the shipmate to safety.”

Just after the war, while assigned to frigid Naval Station Argentia in Newfoundland, Tunnell again saved a life by leaping into the water to save a man overboard, despite the fact that it was 32 degrees.

Tunnell was active in USCG team sports– playing on the racially integrated All-Pacific Coast service football team and the San Francisco Coast Guard basketball team– as well as served close enough to the fighting to catch a Japanese torpedo.

While the Coast Guard awarded two Lifesaving Medals to Steward’s Mate 1st Class Tunnell (one posthumously) and named an athletic building on the Coast Guard Academy campus in his honor, this week they will welcome a new 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter into the fleet named after the Coastie and NFL great who kept knocking on recruiters’ doors to get in the game.

The USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) will be commissioned in Philadelphia this week.

USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145)

The 45th of her class, like her namesake, however, will soon be headed overseas. The new cutter will join the USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) for transit to homeport later this year in Manama, Bahrain, and serve as one of six Sentinel-class FRCs with the U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) as part of CENTCOM. Very much on the sharp end.

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