Captain John Witherspoon, USCG (Ret.)
Captain John Witherspoon enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1963, rose to Quartermaster First Class, was selected for Officer Candidate School and was commissioned an Ensign in 1971. He became the Coast Guard’s first African-American to command a shore unit and in addition, he commanded three Coast Guard cutters during his distinguished career. The Coast Guard named its highest leadership award, the Captain John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award, for Captain Witherspoon.
A recipient of the award, LCDR Karl L. Schultz, USCG, wrote of Captain Witherspoon:
"In January 1994, the Coast Guard lost a fine officer. Many Coast Guard people whose lives were touched by Capt. John Witherspoon knew they had lost someone very special. Witherspoon was a sailor, a mentor and a pioneer. He was also a leader, an honorable man, someone who commanded respect and a "do-as-I-do" kind of leader. After a stint in the Army, Witherspoon joined the Coast Guard in 1963. He advanced to the rate of quartermaster first class and then was selected for Officer Candidate School. Witherspoon graduated with honors and was commissioned as an ensign in June 1971.
Upon taking command of CGC Mallow in 1982, Witherspoon became the second African-American officer to command a Coast Guard cutter. He was the first African-American to command a Coast Guard shore unit when he assumed command of the Houston/Galveston Vessel Traffic Service. Witherspoon later commanded CGCs Valiant and Dependable. Witherspoon was a kind, outgoing, generous, caring, down-to-earth, soft-spoken man who gently touched the lives of many, yet left a strong, lasting impression on everyone who knew him. In his memory, the Commandant established the Capt. John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award."