Long Gone but Not Forgotten: USCGC Tampa
The story of USCGC Tampa, leading up to its fateful voyage near the end of World War I that killed 115 sailors, including 24 Tampa men, soon will be told on an exterior wall at the Tampa Bay History Center.
Hillsborough County's Public Art Program is paying $75,000 for the stained-glass mosaic at the downtown Tampa museum. In pictures and words, it will describe the ship and its crew - from the cutter's launch in 1912 as the Miami, to participation in Gasparilla celebrations from 1913 to 1917 and rechristening as USCGC Tampa, to iceberg patrol, to its transfer to the Navy when the United States entered WWI in April 1917.
Refitted with larger weapons and painted Navy gray, the 190-foot Tampa watched for German submarines as it escorted 18 convoys of merchant vessels off the western coast of Europe during the war. On Sept. 26, 1918, while leading a convoy from Gibraltar to Milford Haven, Wales, a torpedo struck the ship. She sank, and all hands on board perished. It was the single greatest combat loss to the Navy in WWI.
Tampa residents were devastated. The ship and its crew had become fixtures at Gasparilla festivities, firing the cutter's cannons at a mock pirate ship during the latter vessel's annual "invasion" of the city. The booming exchange initiated the tradition of gun blasts that continues today. The Tampa's appearance also served as a Coast Guard recruiting tool, which largely is why two dozen local men were crew members.
Now, 100 years after the Tampa sank in Bristol Channel, killing the sailors and 16 passengers, The Tampa Bay History Center is honoring the ship and her crew. On Feb. 4, one week after the annual Gasparilla Invasion & Parade, dignitaries and residents will gather at the History Center to dedicate the mosaic. The 10-by-22-foot display will be on the History Center's west wall, overlooking Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.
"It's our proud heritage," says Nancy Turner, a tireless advocate for keeping the USCGC Tampa's story afloat for modern residents. "How many cities have a ship named for them?"
The History Center is near the site of the Tampa's berth when the vessel was in Tampa. The current USCGC Tampa, based in Portsmouth, Virginia, will be here for Gasparilla festivities and the mosaic's dedication. Launched in 1984, the newer 270-foot ship's motto, "Thy way is the sea, thy path in the great waters," was lifted from an Arlington National Cemetery memorial to the vessel's long-submerged predecessor.
A book, USCGC Tampa, Tampa's Own, available at the Tampa Bay History Center, tells a detailed story of the ill-fated vessel, and is dedicated to the crew of the current USCGC Tampa. Its author, Robin Gonzalez, has distributed the book to high schools throughout Hillsborough County.
Says the U.S. Coast Guard: "Few words carry as much weight in the annals of Coast Guard history as the word 'Tampa.'"