US Coast Guard Ship Named for World War II Hero Commissioned in New London

USCGC Melvin Bell (WPC 1155) is escorted by U.S. Coast Guard Station Boston to Base Boston
USCGC Melvin Bell (WPC 1155) is escorted by U.S. Coast Guard Station Boston to Base Boston, in Boston, Massachusetts on Jan. 3, 2024. (Diolanda Caballero/U.S. Coast Guard)

NEW LONDON — The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday inaugurated a new multi-mission ship, the Melvin Bell, named for a World War II veteran who radioed the first alarms after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Held at the Coast Guard Academy in a tent sheltered from steady rain, the commissioning included remarks by the commanding officer of the 154-foot-long cutter, Stonington native Lt. Patrick Kelly, and Robert Bell, son of the ship's namesake, who described his father as a proud native Hawaiian and "fierce American patriot."

The $45 million fast-response cutter (FRC) was built by workers at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana. The Bell is designed for drug and migrant interdiction, coastal security, fisheries enforcement, search and rescue, and national defense. She is the 55th of 65 such Sentinel-class ships that the Coast Guard has ordered to replace 1980s-era 110-foot patrol boats.

The Bell is to be moored in Boston, the sixth and final Sentinel-class cutter to be stationed in the city harbor. Kelly said the crew is to sail on its first mission in mid-April. He told the audience packed into the tent that the steeple of the Old North Church is visible from the ship's mooring, reminding him that the Bell is named for a man in the mold of an original American alarm raiser, Paul Revere, who arranged for a signal in the church bell tower and alerted fellow patriots that British soldiers were headed to Lexington and Concord.

Melvin Kealoha Bell also was a barrier breaker, the first Pacific Islander to achieve the rank of chief petty officer, the first master chief electronics technician and the first master chief petty officer of color, according to the Coast Guard. He joined the service in 1938 and was assigned initially to the only position then available to men of color, a steward.

But since childhood, Bell had an intense interest in radio communications and was later advanced to Radioman Third Class. On Dec. 7, 1941, he was on duty at the Coast Guard radio station at Diamond Head Light on Oahu, where he received a teletype dispatch from the 14th Naval District directing him to alert all commercial ships and stations that the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor was under attack.

Bell served through the war and retired from the Coast Guard in 1958, working for the next 45 years in civil service with the Department of the Navy. While serving as an instructor in Groton in 1950, he met and married a New Britain native, Norine Velma Hamlin. The couple, who lived in California, had nine children.

Robert Bell said his father, who died at age 98 in 2018, would be surprised and humbled by the commissioning. But he also said his dad lived a life of dedication to family and country, so the ship's name is fitting. Addressing the Bell's crew who were standing at parade rest, he said, "Now go forth and fulfill your mission and make us proud."

Powered by two marine diesel engines rated at 6,000 horsepower each, the vessel features advanced communications, surveillance, and reconnaissance abilities, along with improved habitability, according to the service. The Bell carries four 50-caliber machine guns and one 25mm automatic cannon.

In fiscal year 2021, FRCs were used for hundreds of domestic fisheries boardings, apprehension of 105 suspected drug smugglers, and seizure of 18,877 kilograms of cocaine, depriving transnational criminal organizations of $787 million in profits, according to the Coast Guard. FRC crews also rescued or intercepted 1,805 migrants at sea.

The crew of four officers and 20 enlisted personnel have spent the last year training and getting acclimated to the ship, the 31-year-old Kelly, a 10-year Coast Guard veteran, said in an interview after the commissioning. This is his third ship command.

With a lei draped over his uniform, Rear Adm. John W. Mauger, commander of Coast Guard missions from the Canadian border to northern New Jersey, made the commissioning official. The crew snapped to attention. The Coast Guard band played the service's marching song, "Semper Paratus" ("Always Ready"), as the crew filed out and walked up the pier to board their ship.

Specifications for the cutter Bell:

— Length: 154 feet

— Beam (width): 25 feet

— Draft: 9 feet, 6 inches

— Displacement: 353 long tons

— Maximum Speed: 28+ knots

— Range: 2,500 nautical miles


(c)2024 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Story Continues