A recent visit to the Van Zandt County Memorial was full of surprises for Coast Guard veteran John Ortega Sr. from San Antonio, Texas.
John was travelling thru Canton when he noticed a Coast Guard Boat in front of the memorial. He told traveling companions Sammye Hynes and Chris Zelinsky that this boat was very similar to the one he was a crew member on while serving in the USCG from 1978 thru 1986. Upon closer inspection, the serial number 41389 was, in fact, the exact boat he spent his military service on.
John started recalling his days on the Coast Guard ship when three crewmembers ran search and rescue missions out of Galveston from 1980-1984. If a boat capsized, was on fire or sailors needed medical attention this boat was usually the one answering the emergency call.
One of his first calls was a tanker that collided with a banana boat and the crew rescued 18 sailors from the choppy waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The vessel would reach 30 knots on a good day,” said John sitting in the captain’s chair looking out over Hwy 243. “On the bow was mounted either a 50 caliber or a 3-inch monitor hose for putting out fires,” John said recalling his days in the Coast Guard.
The history of the boat was preserved because of the efforts from Canton resident, Jeremy Ragle. The local veteran was instrumental in obtaining the boat for the Veterans Memorial in 2012. Jeremy served on the 41-foot vessel while serving in the Coast Guard from 2009-2015. He was stationed in Sabine Pass as a Boatswain’s Mate 2nd class.
Boat serial number 41389 was built and commissioned in 1976. The Coast Guard only gives names to boats over 65 feet and up. USCG Number 41389 was decommissioned in October 2011 when the boat was added to the General Services Administration (GSA) account for sale.
At the time the Coast Guard was upgrading their boats to their 45-foot vessels. The 41389 still had its twin Turbo Diesel 903 cubic inch engines sitting in Sabine Pass Harbor full of diesel fuel and still running.
BM2 Ragle, being from Canton, wanted the boat donated to the Van Zandt County Veterans Memorial. Shipmates within his command told Jeremy, “you are crazy, it will be impossible to buy that boat.” Jeremy, was very persistent. After several phone calls to the Coast Guard property managers and moving up the ladder, Jeremy finally contacted the right person. A 3-star Admiral in the Coast Guard. Jeremy wrote the Admiral ten letters a week. “It will be a great PR move and an amazing opportunity for the Coast Guard,” Jeremy pleaded, and the Admiral finally relented.
However, because 41389 was under the GSA control Jeremy had to contact a State Representative from Texas to procure the ship for the state. She too was convinced of the idea and “was all for it.” Texas finally gained full access to the boat. But Jeremy had to wait another 18 months before it could be donated to the Memorial.
He patiently waited the year and a half and eventually the Coast Guard Vessel was donated to the Veterans Organization. In accordance with the sale the boat was stripped of all its electronics, the twin turbo engines were sold and proceeds helped fund what we see today on the corner of Hwy 19 and 243, the Veterans Memorial Plaza.
In 2012 Boat number 41389 was transported via a flatbed truck to Canton and lowered in the hole and crater for its final resting place.
Without Jeremy’s persistence, neither he nor John Ortega Sr., would ever had seen “their boat” again. Thanks to Jeremy Ragle and his , “I won’t take no for an answer attitude, “ we can all share a part of Coast Guard history for our visitors to the Veterans Memorial in Canton, Texas.