There are many attributes that make the Coast Guard the organization that it is today. From its diligent enlisted and officer workforce, to the civilian employees and volunteers, to its veterans, they all work in tandem to create a well-oiled machine. However, every once in a while, someone stands apart from the rest due to their selflessness and dedication to not only the Coast Guard, but the community around them.
On the northern end of Base Seattle sits the Pacific Northwest Museum. Established in 1976, the museum is curated by retired Coast Guard officer Gene Davis, or more commonly referred to as “The Captain”.
“Museum opened Aug. 4, 1976,” said Davis. “I was planning officer in the district at that time so I helped get it started. Then I retired in ’78 and came to work here…well, it’s not work. I don’t use the word job or work. You wouldn’t keep coming back if you didn’t enjoy it right? It’s fun.”
“It’s fun” is the general consensus that comes from Davis and the other volunteers when describing their duties at the museum. And given the history that Davis has with the museum, one would have to believe him. For the past 34 years, he’s served as the museums main curator, given tours to countless numbers of people, volunteered over 40,000 hours, is the volunteer president of the organization operating the museum as a non-profit organization, and has been key to the museums organization and success.
A Kansas/Colorado native, Davis was a former enlisted electrician’s technician and officer candidate school applicant. Davis retired as a captain in the Thirteenth District and was instrumental in setting up Base Seattle when the Coast Guard took it over from the army.
“I was an electronics officer in the district and then for two years I was planning officer,” said Davis. “My job was to work with the army when we took over Base Seattle and write all the specs we had to send to (Coast Guard) headquarters on what we were going to do with the new base.”
Davis helped put together the museum during its early stages. Coordinating with Adm. Chester Richmond, the Thirteenth District’s commander, much of the museum’s foundation was laid by Davis.
“I wrote a letter to all the units in the district and all the retired people, saying we’re going to open up a museum, we want articles for it, and we won’t ask where you got them,” said Davis. “So we got a lot of things returned.”
On the floor of the museum are display cases of antiques, pictures and artifacts that date back to the colonel days of the Coast Guard’s youth. However, below it lies a labyrinth of treasures that would overwhelm the most devout collector. The basement is littered with blueprints of old ships and trinkets dating back to World War 2, to name only a few, and Davis knows the story behind every single one.
To add to his omnipotence, Davis is somewhat of a detective when it comes to seeking out information on Coast Guard history. Often called upon for guidance or reference by outside sources, Davis and the museum have been cited in many books acknowledgements.
“Mostly what I do is research for writers,” said Davis. “I got the name of the museum in over 30 books, in the acknowledgements. I’ve got my name in 27 books now, just for doing the research. And it’s fun. It’s like a detective thing. You know you’ve got the answer someplace, we have over 2,000 books, so you look and you do find the answer eventually.”
Davis has also helped out many of shipmates throughout his time at museum too.
“One day a chief came in and says he wants the names of the cooks on the Constitution, because he needed to pass his initiation,” said Larry Dubia, a 30-year volunteer at the museum. “Captain Davis says, ‘I got it.’ We got the whole history of the war with France. That’s where the Constitution was. Captain Davis found out the names of the two cooks for the chief.”
On December 7, 2012, Davis was awarded the Coast Guard Distinguished Public Service Award for all his time and dedication to the Coast Guard. It is the highest public recognition that the Commandant of the Coast Guard can give. This award represents extraordinary heroism in advancing the Coast Guard's mission, exceptional coordination and cooperation in matters pertaining to the Coast Guard's responsibilities, and personal and direct contribution to the Coast Guard that had a direct bearing on the accomplishment of the Coast Guard's responsibilities to its citizens.
While this is an honor that Davis has earned for everything he has contributed to the Coast Guard, Davis is a man who eats, sleeps and breaths Coast Guard blue and red. From all that he’s accomplished while in service to everything he has contributed in his 34 years of retirement, Davis remains not only the backbone of the Pacific Northwest Museum, but an invaluable member to the Coast Guard family.