LOWER TOWNSHIP — It’s easy to do a double-take when seeing a new sandy-colored Humvee at the World War II Naval Air Station Wildwood Museum here at the Cape May Airport. After all, the U.S. military didn’t have the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, also known as Humvees, until 1985.
It gets even odder when the visitor realizes the Humvee is in the U.S. Coast Guard section of the museum and has a Coast Guard emblem on it. Doesn’t the Coast Guard operate on the water?
The Humvee sits next to a 41-foot Coast Guard boat and a Coast Guard Sikorsky helicopter, two things you’d expect to see. The military has built 281,000 Humvees but most people don’t think of them being used by the Coast Guard.
It gets even odder: The Humvee served with the Coast Guard in Afghanistan.
“It’s a landlocked country, but the Coast Guard was there. We were embedded with the Army and the Marines,” said Coast Guard Chief Rodney Colon, who served with the Humvee at Bagram Airfield.
Colon was one of a contingent of 26 Coast Guard personnel who served in Afghanistan and thus drove the only Coast Guard Humvee it has ever had. He helped deliver it to the museum Friday from a Coast Guard base in Portsmouth, Va.
The Army gave the vehicle to the Coast Guard in 2009, when the Coast Guard’s Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment, or RAID, was tasked with inspecting military equipment and hazardous cargo coming back from combat zones in Afghanistan.
So the story makes sense. There is a Coast Guard section in a World War II museum, and the Coast Guard did have a Humvee.
How it got to NASW is another story. It appeared headed to the National Coast Guard Museum in New London, Conn., when NASW Director Joe Salvatore inquired about getting a Coast Guard Falcon jet. Salvatore is trying to acquire decommissioned Coast Guard assets because someday he wants to open a Coast Guard museum here.
“They were decommissioning a Falcon and that’s how the conversation started. They know the relationship with Cape May’s Coast Guard base,” said Bruce Fournier, chief operating officer at NASW.
The museum did not get the jet but was offered the Humvee. A close relationship with the Coast Guard and Cape May County helped. The county is trying to win a declaration of being an official Coast Guard community. There is also a close relationship with NASW and the Coast Guard. Some workers here are linked to Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, the nation’s only boot camp for enlisted personnel. The museum partners with the Coast Guard to put on a summer camp.
Colon said he was happy the only Coast Guard Humvee, a military oddity, ended up here.
“It’s great because every Coast Guardsman comes through Cape May just like every Marine goes through Parris Island,” Colon said.
Nina Ranalli, curator and grants administrator at NASW, said all the Coast Guard assets could help if NASW ever secures the space for a separate Coast Guard museum. The assets now take up about one-quarter of the museum space.
“It’s expanding, and the thought is to build a museum if we ever have the opportunity to do that,” Ranalli said.
The assets include a pictorial display of Sewell’s Point, where the Coast Guard base in Cape May is located, a display on the Coast Guard doing evacuations in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and a Coast Guard airplane, along with the helicopter and utility boat. Now there is also the Coast Guard’s only Humvee.
Ranalli supplied a history of the vehicle. It is named Eleanor II. The original Eleanor was a half-track armored vehicle that participated in the Liberation of Bastogne in World War II. The original crew was killed in action during World War II serving with the Army’s 36th Armored Infantry Regiment. The name was picked to honor the World War II Army soldiers and the Coast Guard crew that served in Afghanistan.
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