A story of courage 

The year was 1874 when the United States Lifesaving Service, a forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard came to the Outer Banks. That year they built the first seven of 29 Lifesaving Stations in North Carolina.

Political appointees first ran the stations for the Service, but they were soon replaced with more competent personnel regardless of race. Richard Etheridge, a black Civil War veteran living on the north end of Roanoke Island joined the Service at Oregon Inlet in 1875. 

Just five years later, Etheridge was appointed keeper of the Pea Island Station on what is now the north end of Hatteras Island. First LIeutenant Charles Shoemaker, who recommended Etheridge, stated that he was “one of the best surfmen on this part of the coast of North Carolina.”

When white subordinates quit, Etheridge recruited fellow black watermen from Roanoke Island. Pea Island became the only all-black lifesaving station in the country, a distinction it kept until it was decommissioned in 1947. 

Soon after Etheridge's appointment, the station burned down. Determined to execute his duties with expert commitment, Etheridge supervised the construction of a new station on the original site. He also developed rigorous lifesaving drills that enabled his crew to tackle all lifesaving tasks. His station earned the reputation of "one of the tautest on the Carolina Coast," with its keeper well-known as one of the most courageous and ingenious lifesavers in the Service.

The courage of this man come to the forefront in 1896.

On October 11, 1896, Etheridge's rigorous training drills proved to be invaluable. The three-masted schooner, the E.S. Newman, was caught in a terrifying storm. En route from Stonningham, Connecticut to Norfolk, Virginia, the vessel was blown 100 miles south off course and came ashore on the beach, two miles south of the Pea Island station. The storm was so severe that Etheridge had suspended normal beach patrols that day. But the alert eyes of one of his surfman, Theodore Meekins, saw the first distress flare and he immediately notified Etheridge. Etheridge gathered his crew and launched the surfboat. Battling the strong tide and sweeping currents, the dedicated lifesavers struggled to make their way to a point opposite the schooner, only to find there was no dry land. The daring, quick-witted Etheridge tied two of his strongest surfmen together and connected them to shore by a long line. They fought their way through the roaring waves and finally reached the schooner. The seemingly inexhaustible Pea Island crew members journeyed through the perilous waters ten times and rescued the entire crew of the E.S. Newman

The courage of Etheridge and his crew that day was immeasurable. They stepped up when others that they never knew before needed their help. Etheridge was also courageous by stepping up to take command of the Lifesaving Station during an era dominated by white men. When all of his subordinates quit, he could have given up and moved on, but that was not in his DNA. He had the courage to keep moving forward because he knew the value of his work.

What is the moral of this story? Courage is about stepping up. Stepping up to help others. Stepping up to add value to other people you may not even know. When you have the courage to put the needs of others first, you not only add value to their life, but you also add value to your own. 

Posted by [email protected] On 06 October, 2019 at 8:27 AM  

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