The history of the SPENCER started in 1843 when the original SPENCER was commissioned to serve in the Revenue Cutter Service. An iron hulled steamer, she served as a lightship off Hampton Roads, Virginia until 1848. She was named after the former Secretary of the Treasury John Canfield Spencer, who served in President Tyler’s administration. The second cutter to carry the name SPENCER was hull numbered W-36, commissioned in 1937. At an overall length of 327 feet, she first started service as a search and rescue unit patrolling Alaska’s fishing grounds. After the United States entered World War II, the Coast Guard temporarily became part of the U.S. Navy. SPENCER saw significant combat action in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. In the “Battle of the Atlantic,” she acted as a convoy escort and hunted German submarines, sinking both the U-225 and U-175 in 1944. In late 1944, SPENCER reported to the Navy’s Seventh (Pacific) Fleet as a Communications Command Ship. There she was credited with taking part in a number of amphibious invasions including those on Luzon and Palawan in the Philippines. After the war, SPENCER returned to her Coast Guard duties serving as an Atlantic Ocean Station. Here she provided much needed navigational assistance for the fledgling trans-Atlantic air industry, and more importantly, acted as a search and rescue platform for both airplanes and ships. In January 1969, SPENCER returned for combat duty off the coast of Vietnam. For ten months she provided barrier surveillance to prevent troops and supplies from getting into South Vietnam. In November of 1969, SPENCER returned to the United States to continue her peacetime mission of ocean station keeping.
The second SPENCER served the nation for more than 37 years and when decommissioned in 1974, she was the most decorated cutter in the Coast Guard’s fleet. Among the shipmates that sailed on the second cutter SPENCER was Signalman First Class Douglas Munro. He is the Coast Guard’s sole Medal of Honor recipient, who gave his life at Guadalcanal when he used his Higgens boat to block evacuating Marines from enemy fire.
The SPENCER you are standing on now, had her keel laid on 26 June 1982 in the Rhode Island yards of R.E. Derecktor. She was launched on 17 April 1984 and was commissioned into service on 28 June 1986. She is the fifth of thirteen medium endurance “Famous Class” cutters commissioned by the United States for Coast Guard service and the first cutter of the “B” class built by Derecktor Shipyard. This latest SPENCER may not have been commissioned for long, but her service record to date is quite impressive. During a law enforcement patrol in 1987, SPENCER arrested 23 people and confiscated more than 46,000 pounds of marijuana from four smuggling vessels. While on a South Patrol in 1989, SPENCER rescued and repatriated 538 Haitian migrants bound for the U.S., and later seized a Panamanian freighter laden with 965 Lbs. of cocaine. SPENCER made headlines again in March of 1991 when she towed a disabled U.S. Navy frigate, a ship nearly twice her size, to safety. That same year, SPENCER participated in the search for a missing Air National Guard paratrooper during the famous “Perfect Storm.”
In 1994, SPENCER repatriated over 1700 Haitian and Cuban migrants, and in early 1996, SPENCER responded to the downed Alas Nacionales plane crash off the coast of the Dominican Republic. In 1999, SPENCER was the on-scene commander for the tragic Egypt Air 990 plane crash off Nantucket, controlling both U.S. Navy and Coast Guard assets in search and rescue recovery efforts. In 2000, SPENCER made a 1.2 metric ton drug bust in conjunction with the French frigate VENTOSE. Following the tragic events of September 11th, SPENCER conducted security patrols of New York and Boston. In 2002, SPENCER towed a disabled fishing vessel safely home through twenty foot seas.
SPENCER was deployed in 2003 to the Mediterranean Sea in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. SPENCER visited Spain, Crete, Greece and Ukraine during her patrol in the Mediterranean. Working with four other vessels in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, SPENCER demonstrated the Coast Guard’s role in the war on terror.
In 2004, SPENCER interdicted a migrant sailing vessel and repatriated 104 migrants in the port of Port Au Prince. SPENCER was responsible for the seizure of 765 Lbs of cocaine from a Go-Fast that was stopped using disabling fire from the new MH-68 HITRON helicopter.
In 2005, SPENCER assisted in two cocaine seizures totaling 13,000 lbs before being diverted from a patrol in the Caribbean Sea to serve as a fully operational command and control platform during the rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina. SPENCER was the first large ship to navigate the Mississippi River after Katrina’s landfall, looking for sunken barges, ships run aground, debris and destroyed navigational aids during the ten-hour transit from the Mississippi delta to downtown New Orleans. On scene downtown, SPENCER quickly coordinated Coast Guard units and other agencies in an effort to rescue and evacuate citizens of New Orleans, provide logistical support to smaller Coast Guard units and establish a temporary vessel traffic control station on board. On land and on water, SPENCER crewmembers tirelessly assisted people in need by providing food, water, medical care and transportation out of the devastated city In addition, SPENCER used her fully operational helicopter deck capable of landing rescue helicopters and providing critically needed fuel to assist in the rescue of 33,500 stranded civilians. SPENCER’s crew received the Commandant’s Unit Commendation Award for their support following Hurricane Katrina.
In 2010, SPENCER traveled to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in order to participate in UNITAS, a multinational naval exercise, where she worked with submarines, ships, and aircraft from five different nations. Later that year, she was the on-scene commander when a fishing vessel collided with a freighter off New York Harbor. SPENCER provided medical care and kept the stricken vessel afloat until a salvage tug arrived. Most recently, she has patrolled the Caribbean, interdicting migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. In addition to her law enforcement duties, her embarked helicopter conducted a medical evacuation of a critically ill passenger from a cruise ship.