Thomas McAdams and the Defenders of Newport
Retired Master Chief Thomas McAdams’ Service Exemplifies the U.S. Coast Guard’s Determination to Protect and Assist All Citizens in Situations of Peril or Distress.
Newport, Oregon is a picturesque coastal community; it’s a much-loved vacation destination that offers miles of sandy beaches, a variety of inclusive activities and events, exquisite seafood and craft beer, a working Historic Bayfront, and endless sport fishing and shellfish harvesting opportunities. The raw beauty and endless bounty of the ocean draws thousands of travelers to Newport each year, and also enables local fishermen to gather the culinary delicacies that provide and sustain their livelihoods. Unfortunately, the Pacific Ocean can be dangerous and even deadly for both locals and visitors alike. That is why the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard station at Yaquina Bay are always ready to save the lives of those who unexpectedly find themselves in perilous situations; that is why the service of one of Newport’s most famous residents, retired Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas McAdams, personifies the selfless spirit of the U.S. Coast Guard itself.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Yaquina Bay Station has been the essential lifesaving institution in the Newport area since 1896. Charged with safeguarding the twenty-seven miles of coastline from Cape Perpetua to Spencer Creek, the Yaquina Bay Station’s primary mission is Search and Rescue and Maritime Law Enforcement, and responds to more than 500 calls a year. The Yaquina Bay Station has a staff of over forty-five active duty personnel, who are able to conduct motor lifeboat and helicopter search and rescue at a moment’s notice. The brave men and women of the Yaquina Bay Station have saved hundreds of lives and salvaged property valued at millions of dollars over the past one-hundred years, especially during the last half of the century with the exponential increase of commercial and sport fishing in the area. Although search and rescue missions are conducted everywhere from the rugged coastline to miles out into the open ocean, most lifesaving operations happen just outside of Yaquina Bay Jetty in an area known simply as the bar.
The Yaquina Bay bar is an invisible horizontal barrier, where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet with the much shallower waters coming from the mouth of the Yaquina River. Inside of the bar, north and south rock jetties form a channel that protects the entrance of the Bay from waves and wind, and the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and Coast Guard watch tower are perched on a hill overlooking the north jetty. The bar can be extremely dangerous during ebb tides, which are periods between high and low tides when slack water flows out of the bay, and during storms, when the waves are rough and massive. During these conditions, most boating accidents on the bar are caused by capsizing, or when the boat overturns or is flipped over by large waves. Improper loading and overloading of boats are the main causes of capsizing; when waves are then able to break into the boat and make it even less stable.
Thomas McAdams knows how dangerous the bar can be. As a coxswain (the sailor in charge of steering a boat) during a 1957 rescue, McAdams saved four people who had capsized in the surf off Yaquina Bay, even jumping into the ocean as part of the lifesaving mission. He was decorated with the Gold Lifesaving Medal for his selfless service during the operation. This was one of nine “rolls” that McAdams endured and survived off the coasts of Oregon and Washington; a roll is where a Coast Guard motor lifeboat is capsized and is then rolled upright again. Although the motor lifeboats are designed to right themselves after being capsized, the sailors aboard are forced to hold their breaths and endure time underwater until the boat surfaces again. The motor lifeboat used in the 1957 rescue, CG36503, was retired in 1970 and is displayed on the Coast Guard Yaquina Bay Station campus lawn just above the southern edge of Newport’s Historic Bayfront. The iconic lifeboat often appears in photographs of both visitors and locals, and represents the connection between the Coast Guard to the working Yaquina Bayfront.
During his 27 years of service in the Coast Guard, Thomas McAdams is credited with saving hundreds of lives, and received the title “champion lifesaver and lifeboat roller of the Pacific Coast.” McAdams’ unrivaled skills are legendary, and in addition to earning the Gold Lifesaving Medal, he is one of the few people to have also been awarded the Coast Guard Medal when he rescued three people from the ocean during a storm near the Umpqua River in 1968. In 1972, McAdams was presented with the first coxswain’s insignia ever issued, and was later invited to develop curriculum and a textbook for the Coast Guard’s Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment, Washington. Throughout his career, McAdams was also honored with the Legion of Merit, the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, the Coast Guard Achievement Medal, the Coast Guard Unit Commendation Ribbon, an Oregon Governors Award, the City of Newport, Oregon’s Valor Award, and the Newport Chamber of Commerce Award for Civil Action.
Thomas McAdams retired from the Coast Guard in 1977, and although having been stationed up and down the Pacific Coast, he chose to stay in Newport, where he continued to serve the community for the next two decades as a member of the volunteer fire department. McAdams enjoys the friendly sense of community that Newport offers, and often visits the Yaquina Bay Coast Guard Station and fire department. Come experience the heroism of both the fishermen and the Coast Guard, observe the jetties and bar of the Yaquina Bay and see for yourself why Newport truly is “The Edge of a Continent, the Start of an Adventure.”