The Coast Guard accepted delivery of the 55th fast response cutter (FRC), Melvin Bell, Nov. 16, in Key West, Florida. Melvin Bell will be the sixth FRC to be homeported in Boston.

The FRC is designed for multiple missions, including drug and migrant interdiction; ports, waterways and coastal security; fishery patrols; search and rescue; and national defense. It features advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment; over-the-horizon cutter boat deployment to reach vessels of interest; and improved habitability and seakeeping.

Melvin Kealoha Bell was born in Hilo, Hawaii, in 1920. Following his graduation from Hilo High School, Bell enlisted in the Coast Guard and was assigned as a mess steward aboard Coast Guard Cutter Taney. Bell later advanced to radioman third class and served assignments aboard Coast Guard Cutter Reliance and at the Coast Guard radio station at Diamond Head Lighthouse. Bell was on duty Dec. 7, 1941, during the attack at Pearl Harbor. That morning he transmitted the message from the 14th Naval District to commercial ships and stations in the area that Pearl Harbor was under attack.

During World War II, Bell served alongside Navy cryptological units in the Pacific region, intercepting and relaying coded adversarial messages to Navy code breakers. Toward the end of the war, Bell also served with intelligence units in Florida and New York.

After the war, Bell was serving as a chief radioman on Coast Guard Cutter Sagebrush when the Coast Guard created the electronics technician (ET) rating. Bell transferred to the new ET rating and reported to the Coast Guard Training Center in Groton, Connecticut, where he served as an instructor at the newly created ET school. Following his tour in Groton, Bell served at Coast Guard LORAN Station Panay Island in the Philippines and then aboard Coast Guard Cutter Casco, homeported in Boston.

In 1958, Bell was advanced to master chief electronics technician, the first person in the rating to achieve the rank. He is also the first Coast Guardsman of color to achieve the rank of master chief petty officer. Bell retired from the Coast Guard on Dec. 31, 1958, and spent the next 45 years in civil service positions with the Department of the Navy until his retirement in 2004, accumulating 66 years of combined federal service.

Lt. Pat Kelly USCG, prospective commanding officer, Cutter Melvin Bell, signs the acceptance documents. Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard.


The Coast Guard has ordered 65 FRCs to date. Fifty-four are in service: 13 in Florida; seven in Puerto Rico; six in Bahrain; five in Massachusetts, four in California; three each in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, Texas and New Jersey; and two each in Mississippi and North Carolina. Future FRC homeports include Astoria, Oregon, and Kodiak and Seward, Alaska.