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Coast Guard Day celebrates America’s smallest military branch. Here’s what you should know

From patrolling our waters to protecting the borders, the US Coast Guard has an important job. And on August 4, we celebrate Coast Guard Day, marking the date in 1790 when this branch of the military was founded by the US Congress.

In honor of the holiday, here are 10 things you may not have known about the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is the oldest seagoing branch of the US military

When the Coast Guard was founded in 1790, it was known as the Revenue Marine. Authorized by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, the force was intended to enforce early tariff laws.

The Continental Navy functioned during the Revolutionary War but was disbanded after the war ended. The modern US Navy wasn’t created until 1794, making the Coast Guard America’s longest-serving maritime defenders.

They helped invent airplanes, kind of

The US Life-Saving Service, an early agency that became part of the Coast Guard in 1915, helped Orville and Wilbur Wright that fateful December day in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It was the world’s first heavier-than-air flight.

A.D. Etheridge, a part of the Lifesaving Station near Kitty Hawk, wrote that the team assisted in every way, “hauling timber” and “carrying mail.” On the day of the flight, they “were out there helping to get the machine out of the camp out on the track” and watched the whole thing unfold.

When they weren’t attending to their maritime duties, they once produced a musical

Yes. It was called “Tars and Spars: The Coast Guard Show” and was meant both as entertainment for the general public and as a recruitment tool for the SPARS, the Coast Guard’s Women’s Reserve.

The show was put on by members of the Coast Guard, who were involved in every aspect. It toured for a year and inspired the 1946 romantic-comedy musical film by the same name.

Walt Disney designed logos and characters for Coast Guard units

The most famous one featuring Donald Duck was for the Corsair Fleet, crews of American civilian sailors who helped the US Coast Guard defend the coast from German U-boats during World War II. Disney made several logos for units in the armed forces, not just the Coast Guard.

Another one was from 1942, after the commanding officer of an anti-submarine patrol wrote to Disney asking for a logo featuring a character “clutching in one paw (hand) a can of T.N.T.” and riding a seahorse.

They’re movie stars

The Coast Guard has participated in more than 50 movies, according to its own count, including “License to Kill” (1989), “Bad Boys II” (2003) and “The Guardian” (2006). Clearly, they’re famous both on and off the water.

The Coast Guard used to be two entities

Though the Revenue Marine was founded in 1790, it merged with the US Life-Saving Service, which helped shipwrecked mariners, in 1915 when Congress passed the Coast Guard Act. The bill was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.

During Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard rescued and evacuated 33,000 people

It was one of the largest search and rescue responses in Coast Guard history, with the branch preparing personnel and equipment long before the 2005 hurricane made landfall. At one point, the guard was transporting 750 people per hour by boat and 100 per hour by air.

To this day, the guard’s orange and white helicopters are a memorable symbol of the disaster.

There’s a whole festival dedicated to them

Grand Haven, Michigan, hosts a Coast Guard Festival every year during the week of August 4.

The festival began in 1937, though it unofficially started as a picnic in 1924. Now, more than 350,000 people gather to celebrate the US Coast Guard every year.

They also have entire cities dedicated to them

They’re called Coast Guard Cities, and the designation is meant to recognize municipalities that support local Coast Guard members by “making special efforts to acknowledge the professional work of the Coast Guard men and women assigned to their area,” according to the application.

Twenty-six cities have been designated by Congress as Coast Guard Cities. Grand Haven was the first one in 1998, but the list now includes places like San Diego, New York and Mobile, Alabama.

They’re the smallest branch of the military

While other branches boast well over 100,000 members — with the Army having 450,000 soldiers — the Coast Guard is much smaller.

The Coast Guard has about 40,000 active-duty service members. Despite its size, it’s obviously an important part of the US military.

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