On January 28, 1915, our nation’s Revenue Cutter Service combined with the U.S. Lifesaving Service to become the United States Coast Guard. Over the past 100 years, the service has protected our shorelines and the men and women who navigate them. This month’s feature story highlights our nation’s most picturesque aid to navigation — the lighthouse — and those who devoted their lives to ensuring the lights were always lit.
In researching this month’s feature, I stumbled across the story of Idawalley Lewis, the daughter of Hosea Lewis, the keeper of Lime Rock Light in Newport, Rhode Island. In the early years, women were prohibited from direct assignment as lighthouse keepers, but like many others, Ida and her mother accepted the responsibilities after Hosea suffered a stroke. Growing up on the tiny island in Newport Harbor, Ida became an accomplished swimmer and, by the age of 15, was well known for her rowing skills, strength and courage. During her lifetime on Lime Rock, she tended the light religiously and is also credited with saving at least 18 lives. (Unofficial reports suggest she may have rescued as many as 36 mariners.) Ida Lewis was called the “Bravest Woman in America” and, after reading her story, I can understand why.
What I didn’t realize is that Ida has been living in my home since I was a young girl. My great-grandmother was an amateur artist and, like many of her contemporaries in the late 1800s, she painted images copied from other artists. Her small painting of this brave young girl, rowing against raging seas, is one of the first things I see every morning and is a constant reminder that, no matter what challenges I face during the coming day, I’ve got to “row hard and strong” to overcome them. Imagine my surprise to discover the illustration of Ida Lewis that no doubt inspired Great-Grandma Lizzie when she herself was only 18 years old.
Writing the feature articles for FRA Today is always an education for me. I always learn something new and interesting, and it’s always my goal to share that new-found knowledge with our readers. This month, I learned how very connected we are to our ancestors … and to one another … even if it isn’t obvious at first blush. Our past is absolutely relevant to our present and our future.
Lauren Armstrong is FRA’s Director of Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at email@example.com. Return to Table of Contents
FROM THE FANTAIL
Keepers of the Light
The story of American lighthouses and their keepers is fascinating. There are many books devoted to the best-known and -loved lighthouses, preserving their stories just as private organizations are working to preserve the lights themselves. These beautiful structures grace postcards and calendars from Maine to Florida and around the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. For over two hundred years, they were operated by individuals and families who called the lighthouse home.
The primary mission of these lighthouse keepers was to keep these coastal structures up and running at all times. In the centuries before radar and GPS, lighthouses (and in many cases, their accompanying fog horns and bells) warned ships of dangers, served as navigational guides to shipping lanes, and ensured that vessels could find themselves safely into port. Keeper duty was a 24/7/365 occupation and all facets of the mission centered on steering mariners away from the rocky shoals.
I’m taking some literary license here, but I like to think of our operations at FRA National Headquarters (NHQ) in a similar fashion. Our team of professional staff members works to guide shipmates through the “rocky shoals” of congressional initiatives that pose a threat to earned military and veterans’ benefits. We work to keep our members apprised of these legislative “hazards” and we sound the alert when the way ahead is obscured.
Like the lighthouse keepers, we have to keep our lenses clear and our light bright in order to be a beacon to all those who will benefit from “clear passages.” The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is where my personal light currently shines. I encourage you to pause in your reading right now and go online to FRA’s Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) and use it to contact your senators and representative about this critical issue. Together, we can light the way for Congress to approve this bill and get thousands of ailing shipmates the medical assistance and disability benefits they’ve earned through their service in Vietnam.
Shipmates, your “lighthouse keepers” here at NHQ are vigilant, and it’s important to remember that you are also keepers of the light in your respective ports. We need you to keep us informed about whatever lurking dangers your lenses expose. We also need your active involvement in order to keep the lights on, shining bright and pristine over the dark waters.
FRA also needs all shipmates to seek out and mentor the next generation of “keepers.” Always keep a sharp lookout for new shipmates, particularly those who are in need and can benefit from FRA’s efforts on their behalf. Tell them of the advantages our bright light has already brought them and keep the focus on our mission. Without your help, our FRA Lighthouse is nothing more than a structure of brick and mortar or a pretty post card.
It is up to today’s FRA family to make our home in this lighthouse so that we can keep our shipmates safe. Let us shine a new light on our own cardinal virtues as well: