Charles L. Calhoun (1925-2002)
First Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard
The office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) was established by legislative action on Aug. 27, 1969, to provide the Commandant with a personal advisor and assistant in matters affecting the enlisted members of the Coast Guard, both active and reserve, and their families. The MCPOCG is the most senior enlisted member of the Coast Guard. The normal tour of assignment is four years, which runs concurrently with the Commandant of the Coast Guard.
The first person to hold the duties of that post from 1969-1973 was Charles L. Calhoun.
Charles Luther Calhoun was born April 20, 1925, in Ocean City, Maryland. Being the grandson of a commercial fisherman, he learned to fish at an early age and lived near the coast throughout his childhood.
In 1943, Calhoun joined the U.S. Navy, at age 17 and was trained as a torpedoman. He served in the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Lunga Point (CVE 94), in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II, fighting in many of the most harrowing battles of the theater, including the battles of Leyte Gulf, Luzon, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Towards the end of the war in the Pacific, USS Lunga Point was attacked by a squadron of five kamikazes, Japan’s last desperate weapons against the American fleet. Calhoun was manning one of the carrier’s 44-millimeter guns when the attack began.
When the last gun ceased firing, all five of the attackers had been destroyed, but not before the ship suffered two hits from one suicide plane. As the pilot had made his dive through the curtain of machine gun fire, the plane crashed first into the carrier’s island, and then rebounded onto the flight deck.
As a result, the crew of the USS Lunga Point received the Presidential Unit Citation for “extraordinary heroism and action against enemy Japanese forces in the air, ashore and afloat.”
After being honorably discharged from the Navy, Calhoun briefly served in the Ocean City Post Office before enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1946.
He enlisted as a boatswain’s mate second class, assigned to a small station in Ocean City. Calhoun was awarded the Commandant’s Letter of Commendation for saving a man who had fallen from a jetty into the water and broken his hip.
He later served with Coast Guard Squadron One aboard USCGC Point Orient (WPB-82319), an 82-foot Point-class cutter, during the Vietnam War. The cutter sighted and fought the enemy on her first patrol, making the Point Orient the first Coast Guard cutter to fire shots during the Vietnam War.
In 1969 while serving as Senior Career Counselor at the Fifth District Headquarters, Calhoun learned of the creation of the new office, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG).
Calhoun sent in an application for the job, and centered his application essay on his belief that the office should be used to promote communication between enlisted sailors and their command. He was accepted and was made the first MCPOCG by then-Commandant of the Coast Guard Willard J. Smith on August 27, 1969.
Calhoun undertook numerous projects during his tenure in the office, including working on the board that led to the creation of the Cutterman Insignia, implementing a program of local advisors who reported to the MCPOCG office to hear enlisted personnel issues, and beginning the movement towards the Coast Guard wearing their own style of uniform, rather than Navy uniforms with a few defining patches and pins.
Calhoun retired on August 1, 1973. His personal and unit awards include the Legion of Merit, Commandant’s Letter of Commendation Ribbon, Combat Action Ribbon and Navy Presidential Unit Citation.
Calhoun died in Santa Rosa, California, Feb. 24, 2002. His eulogy was delivered by MCPOCG Vincent W. Patton III, the service’s eighth MCPOCG.
“Calhoun was greatly successful in laying a strong keel upon which those who followed him built and continue to build on his legacy,” Patton said. “This exemplar performer made his presence felt. … As the flag officers and their staffs grew accustomed to his presence, they also began to listen to his suggestions and advice. Through Calhoun’s efforts, these people slowly realized that the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard office was not created to ‘steal their thunder,’ but to assist them in their jobs by providing a much-needed perspective and knowledgeable voice.”
Master Chief Charles L. Calhoun > United States Coast Guard > All (uscg.mil)
USCGC Point Orient (WPB-82319) – Wikipedia
- Calhoun’s official Coast Guard bio and eulogy
- Larzelere, Alex (1997). The Coast Guard at War, Vietnam, 1965–1975. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland. ISBN978-1-55750-529-3.