Thursday, September 18, 2008


Yesterday I led a group of NCCAT teachers on a walking history tour of Ocracoke village. Their theme was "Living on the Edge," perfect for Ocracoke! I was especially interested in sharing some of the history of the US Life Saving Service. It is a fascinating story of courage and bravery that has been virtually ignored by most historians.

Taking my cue from the folks who offer historic presentations at Chicamacomico Life Saving Station on Hatteras Island, I asked the teachers how many of them had studied the Pony Express in school. Of course, all twenty had. Then I asked how many had studied the USLSS. Only two or three had even heard of this important service!

Here are a few facts:
  • The Pony Express employed 183 young men (most of them teenagers), and lasted for just over 18 months.
  • The US Life Saving Service employed thousands of men in 279 stations (on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and on the Great Lakes).
  • The USLSS continued for forty-four years (1871-1915)
  • The life savers responded to 28,121 shipwrecks, offering rescue to 178,741 men, women, and children.
  • The life savers risked their lives in the most severe conditions (hurricanes, raging seas, and frigid temperatures) and spent many trying times (pulling a 1000 pound beach cart many miles through soft sand and rising sea water) to rescue 177,286 people (over 99% success rate), without regard to victims' nationality, language, color, or politics.
The US life savers are truly unsung heroes of the coast.

If you are a teacher, or simply an interested citizen, please take some time to do some research on the Life Saving Service. It is time to remember again the amazing dedication of these brave men, and the valiant service they performed during harsh and unforgiving weather to save the lives of thousands of mariners on ships that wrecked along our coasts.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the wreck of the Victoria S, and Ocracoke's first automobile accident. You can read it here.


  1. Anonymous8:19 AM

    What has happened to Lou-Ann ????

  2. Lou Ann lives in Indiana, and spends summers (and assorted other times) on Ocracoke. She is alive and well, adding excitement and creativity to her mid-west community.This is her web site:

  3. Anonymous3:32 PM

    Only two or three have heard of this service well hmm it does not exist any longer by that name (USLSS). It is now known as the United State coast guard right??

    The United States Coast Guard performs life saving duties remember the roof top rescue efforts to save the people that chose to remain in New orleans when a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir Simpson scale was headed straight for them!!!!

  4. That's right. The USLSS merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the US Coast Guard. Of course, nearly everyone has heard of the Coast Guard and their valiant rescues, but few know about the Life Saving Service. On the other hand, nearly everyone has heard of the US Postal Service, and most also know about the Pony Express.

    There were important differences between the Life Saving Service and the modern Coast Guard. The former were civilians, serving without disability or retirement benefits at lonely outposts, generally working in adverse conditions without the aid of internal combustion engines and other advanced technologies.

    Modern advances and improved training have helped the brave and dedicated members of the Coast Guard serve this country in spectacular ways that are appreciated especially in coastal communities such as Ocracoke.

  5. Anonymous6:01 AM

    If we step back the volunteers were out saving fellow mariners perhaps they fellow a strong conviction to help their fellow man. These folks in trouble were perhaps eeking out an existence on the sea . Nowadays but maybe not so much any more recreational boaters that find themselves in trouble could they be untrained perhaps a vast majority are doing something they should have thought twice about.

  6. Mr. Howard, I LOVED your stories and both of your walking tours. You were one of the highlights of our seminar. Thank you so much!
    Sarah Peterson

  7. Sarah, Thank you for the kind words. Your group was lots of fun to be with.