The Outer Banks has the distinction of being home to one of the most highly awarded rescue crews in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, the all-Black surfmen of Pea Island Lifesaving Station who earned Gold Lifesaving Medals posthumously for valiance protecting mariners in peril along our coast. From 1880 until his death in 1900, former slave and Civil War veteran Richard Etheridge of Buffalo Soldier fame led a segregated team to guard a several-mile stretch of beach near where the new Captain Richard Etheridge Memorial Bridge is today at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The original main station is long lost, but the detached cookhouse was rescued from the ravages of time and rehabilitated into a museum in the heart of Manteo on Roanoke Island where most of the Pea Island lifesavers were from, including Richard Etheridge, whom you’ll also find a larger than life likeness cast in bronze. The cookhouse is where the men would have broken bread, taken their meals and recounted actions of the day. Remember, if you wanted to travel or trade goods back then, you traveled by ship and often passed offshore of the Outer Banks. Wrecks occurred just like they would along an interstate today, usually in foul weather with the high chance of drowning or worse. The men of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, as the U.S. Coast Guard was known prior to 1915, were among the most heroic first responders of their time.