Tacoma’s own piece of maritime history has roots in Parkland

-First published on Discover Parkland

Comanche Tugboat in June 2009. Photo Courtesy of Comanche 202 Foundation
Comanche Tugboat in June 2009. Photo Courtesy of Comanche 202 Foundation

Tacoma has its own little piece of history sitting in the Puget Sound. The USCGC Comanche 202 Tugboat is a historic Navy Coast Guard Cutter that was active in World War II.

According to the Coast Guard’s website, the Comanche served a vital role in the invasion of Okinawa, Japan where it towed battle-damaged ships to safety in 1945.

Beyond its historical significance, the tugboat has captured the hearts of several members of the Parkland community. Joe Peterson, Director of Operations of the Save the Comanche Foundation, has made it his mission the past seven years to help restore the Comanche tug boat.

But beyond the restoration of this WWII relic, Peterson had an even bigger vision. In 2007 he formed the non-profit organization based out of Parkland and has turned it into a volunteer organization that has engaged youth in Parkland.

In 2011 the Comanche Youth Volunteers was formed in hopes of helping at-risk young adults in Parkland. Since then, the group of mostly male students from local high schools have logged over 30,000 volunteer hours working on the boat.

But despite the great impact that the foundation has made in the lives of many in the Parkland community, there is a chance this could all be taken away.

On Monday, March 11, an anonymous complaint about the condition of the Comanche tugboat was brought to Mr. Peterson’s attention.

He asserts that it is not grounded in anything other than pure selfishness and lack of understanding about the historical and personal significance of the tugboat to many in the Parkland and Tacoma area.

To address the complaint’s validity, there will be a public hearing concerning the issues raised at the Foss Waterway Development Authority on Wed. April 24th at 4pm which community members are encouraged to attend.

The donation-based non-profit relies on the help of supporters to help it stay afloat. Without their support the foundation would not have nearly as much success as it does today.

“We are just trying to save some history. It’s a darn shame that someone is trying to shut it down,” Peterson states.

Joe Peterson sits at his desk in the Garfield Center Building, est. 1948. Peterson has been a Parkland resident for 21 years. Photo by: Cassady Coulter
Joe Peterson sits at his desk in the Garfield Center Building, est. 1948. Peterson has been a Parkland resident for 21 years. Photo by: Cassady Coulter

The Save the Comanche Foundation is currently in the process of preparing to move the boat to a dry dock this summer in order to do some restoration work on the parts that are submerged by water. But this setback could completely halt the move.

This whole ordeal has caused quite a bit of grief for the community that has a stake in this vital piece of Tacoma’s maritime history. The Comanche is loved not only in Tacoma, but according to Peterson it has over 1,000 supporters around the world.

“You would think that if they had any sense at all they’d be in there supporting us in some sort of way,” he says of the state’s role in the investigation.

If the complaint is followed through, “They will have effectively destroyed a program for veterans and youth who all come out every year,” Peterson says.

Mary Healy is a mother of one of the Comanche Youth Volunteers and can personally attest to how this opportunity has influenced her son Jeff’s life.

Jeff Healy is a recent graduate from the Washington Youth Academy in Bremerton, WA. The Youth Academy is a high school intervention program to get kids back on track who are on the verge dropping out, or who have dropped out of high school.

Now Jeff is a senior at Gates High School and is expected to graduate in 2013. “This is something that’s hands on. They are able to see the changes in the Comanche from when they first started working to present day,” she said.

It’s a frightening thought to many in the Parkland community that this whole operation could be over in the blink of an eye.

“The boys now have a great sense of their community. They work hard, and have a great attitude,” says Peterson of his dedicated volunteers. The dozen or so regulars are made up of mostly 17-20 year olds from Washington, Gates and Franklin Pierce High Schools.

Many of the young volunteers now have aspirations to finish high school so they can become part of the Marines, the Coast Guard, or another maritime profession.

Peterson is quick to attribute the success of the foundation to all of the volunteers and their dedication to the Save the Comanche foundation.

Peterson, like many others with concern for the tugboat, have faith that with community support at the public hearing on April 24, the complaints will be seen as invalid and the highly successful volunteer program can continue as normal.

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