By RYAN ROBINSON For the Independent
“Are you going to be here a while?” the old man asked.
Port Orchard resident Gregory “Vance” Vaught was still in his U.S. Coast Guard uniform when he was approached by the man in the Bremerton Elks Lodge in 1985.
The man left shortly after asking and said he would be right back. Vaught could not have expected what the man would return with.
“When he returned, he handed me this lanyard and told me that his son forgot it at home and never returned,” said Vaught, who is the USCG Auxiliary flotilla commander. “It was one of the most beautiful lanyards he had ever seen.”
It was made from a series of intricate knots, some flat and others three-dimensional. Vaught said he had never seen anything like it. Attached to it was a boatswain’s pipe with the name “Moore” etched into the side.
The man’s son had died aboard the USCGC Escanaba when it was sunk by a German U-boat in 1943.
The Escanaba and its crew were distinguished in World War II for pioneering the concept of using rescue swimmers to save people stranded at sea.
Today, the idea is considered a fundamental method of saving lives around the world.
The Escanaba’s motto was “The Spirit Lives On.”
The man told Vaught that the pipe and lanyard had been hanging around a picture of his son for 40 years and that something needed to be done about it. In keeping with the Escanaba’s motto, the man wanted Vaught to take it. He told Vaught, “My one request is that you keep it in the Coast Guard.”
“He left right after,” said Vaught, “And I never got the chance to learn his name.”
It turns out Vaught was the right man for the job — he is a lifetime “Coastie.”
“At age five, I was told that I would join the Coast Guard one day,” Vaught remembered. “I thought that meant I would be one of those guys that sit on the beach and watch pretty girls all day.”
He soon found out that was not the case when he enrolled at age 18. After boot camp, he served on the USS Campbell.
“I picked that cutter right out of boot camp because I saw a painting of it ramming a U-boat,” said Vaught, before being assigned to the USCGC Midgett.
He officially received the pipe and lanyard on Aug. 9, 1985, while on the USS Midgett. Since then he has “worn it proudly” and used it to pipe various officials onboard, including President George H. W. Bush.
After 28 years, Vaught decided it was time to pass the pipe and lanyard on to another member of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Vaught traveled to California’s USCG Station Humboldt Bay on June 25 and in honor of the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, presented the pipe and lanyard to Jon Gagnon, the Officer In Charge at the station and a former shipmate of Vaught.
As Gagnon accepted the pipe and lanyard, Vaught told him, “I trust you will keep this lanyard and pipe in the Coast Guard and when the time comes you will find the right coastie to do the same.”
In place of the real thing, Vaught created five duplicates of the original using his talents as a self-proclaimed fancywork expert.
He passed one replica down to Admiral James M. Loy, the top-ranking man in the Coast Guard at the time, as Loy entered retirement.
Wherever he goes, Vaught is sure to tell the story of the Escanaba and the lost crew member’s forgotten pipe and lanyard.
It’s all part of ensuring that “The Spirit Lives On,” no matter how many years go by.