Godfreys: Herbie, Herb, and Townie aka Squidie
Ocean City is inexorably linked to the United States Coast Guard. Few families, if any, in town have stronger links to that branch of the military than the Godfreys.
Currently Herb Godfrey, 21, a 2014 Ocean City High School grad, is serving as a petty officer stationed at the USCG Station in Woods Hole, Mass.
His younger brother Townsend, 17, has enlisted in the Coast Guard and will receive his reporting date and orders upon completion of his physical.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my sons,” said Herb Townsend, Sr., well-known in town as owner of Godfrey Funeral Home. “It’s wonderful they have opted to serve their country, and even more special they have chosen to do so in the Coast Guard.”
Herb and Townsend represent the latest chapter in the Godfrey Coast Guard connection, which can only be described as amazing given the extent of it’s lineage. The family can trace several family members back to an 1897 local roster what was then known as the Life Saving Service at Large, a forerunner to today’s Coast Guard.
The list includes the first Townsend Godfrey of Ocean City and Reuben Godfrey whose city is listed as Corsons Inlet, among the Life Saving Service’s members.
According to Ocean City historian and Life Saving Station expert John Loeper, another family member, Leaming Godfrey was a member of the Life Saving Service even earlier, from 1875 to 1876. Leaming Godfrey was also one of the world’s pre-eminent practitioners of the art of carving wooden ducks, (but that’s another story.)
“Those were some pretty tough guys, and dedicated,” Loeper said. At the time the construction of Ocean City’s Life Saving Station at 4th St. and Atlantic Ave. in 1885, shipwrecks averaged about one per month, Loeper said. Members were volunteers who lived and sometimes died by their official motto “You have to go out but you don’t have to come back so that others may live.”
Only seven of the Life Saving Service stations built in the style of Ocean City’s survive today. Loeper said hundreds (as well as more elaborate ones) were constructed by the federal government in the late 1800s and into the 1910s, when shipwrecks decreased because of improving technology.
The United States Congress merged the Life Saving Service with The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service to form the present day Coast Guard in 1915. According to Loeper, the Revenue Cutter Service was formed by founding Father Alexander Hamilton. They used their speedy cutters to inspect merchant ships and those carrying immigrants as well as other vessels entering U.S. waters to ensure paperwork was in order. That could mean tax enforcement, or deadly force if they were met with resistance.
“They were some tough guys as well,” Loeper said.
Ironically, when Godfrey’s son known as “Herbie” informed his dad he would be enlisting in the Coast Guard, it was for very different reasons.
“He had been considering the Navy and just like most young men at that age, he wanted to try out for the Navy Seals,” Godfrey said. But one night he came up to me and said he had chosen the Coast Guard.” When the elder Godfrey asked why, Herbie’s response was classic: “Because I’d rather save a life than take one.”
Young Herb was stationed for a year on an icebreaker on Lake Michigan, stationed in Sheboygan.
“I visited him up there and never felt cold like that,” said Godfrey, whose father and brother-in-law also served in the Coast Guard. “It was 30 below zero without wind. And the wind did howl.”
Presently his son is a mechanic stationed in relatively balmy Massachusetts.
Townsend was considering the Air Force before he, too came to the conclusion that the Coast Guard was the right service branch.
“He is a dedicated surfer and is in the water more than almost anyone I know,” Herb said. “One day I said to him ‘you might be stationed someplace in the middle of the country, hundreds of miles away from any water.’”
It wasn’t long after, that Townsend decided to add to the family legacy that includes a great grandfather who bears his name. He hopes to be a rescue swimmer, his dad said.