The Battery

Coast Guard Memorial

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The Coast Guard Memorial near the southern entrance path on the south side of Battery Park is by Norman Millet Thomas (born 1915). The sculpture was created in 1947 and dedicated in 1955.

The United States Coast Guard was established in 1915 when the United States Revenue Cutter Service and Life Saving service were combined into one administrative entity. Subsequently, functions formerly conducted by the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, and the Bureau of Navigation were incorporated into the mission of the Coast Guard. This venerable maritime agency is charged with broad seaboard duties such as coastal safety, environmental protection, the enforcement of navigation rules, and the interdiction of illegal freight. Under the United States Department of the Treasury until 1967, the Coast Guard is during peacetime now under the jurisdiction of the federal Department of Transportation; in time of war it is under the control of the United States Navy.

The monument depicts an inter-racial three-figure group in which two soldiers in fatigues and bearing rifles support a wounded soldier, and is intended to honor those from the Coast Guard who served their country during World War II (1941-1945). Thomas, a non-professional sculptor, was a painter and combat veteran, who studied at the American Academy in Rome and with Paul Manship at the National Academy of Design in New York City. He based his composition on a rescue he had witnessed at the Luzon beachhead. Relying on a sketch which Thomas submitted, the United States Coast Guard, which maintains an administrative facility just south of Battery Park, and which until the late 1990s had a base on Governors Island in New York Harbor, commissioned the sculpture.

First proposed in 1945, Thomas’s design, though supported by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (born 1888, died 1981; Parks Commissioner, 1934-1960), was initially declined by the New York City Art Commission, criticizing its conception and modeling as substandard. In 1954 the Commission approved a refined design, and on Memorial Day, May 30, 1955 the inspirational sculpture was unveiled. At the ceremony Secretary of the Treasury George M. Humphrey and Admiral A. C. Richmond delivered remarks, and Commissioner Moses, after bemoaning the "pointless controversies" and "yapping critics" which had almost scuttled the project, praised the artwork for its "manifest identity of sculptor and subject," while noting that, "It was conceived in war and dedicated to actual heroism."

The memorial has been temporarily placed in storage to accommodate the redesign of Battery Park and the construction of the South Ferry subway station, and will be placed on Heroes Walk at State and Pearl Streets near the Coast Guard Building. Please follow this project on our Capital Projects Tracker for the latest information.

Prepared by Jonathan Kuhn, August 22, 2001; updated June 2016.

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