The Coast Guard We Once Knew

For the 221st Coast Guard Day—-I don’t know who wrote this, but I got it from a friend a few years ago:

by Bill Sheretz on Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 7:51am

The Coast Guard We Once Knew

I liked standing on the bridge wing at sunrise with salt spray in my face and clean ocean winds whipping in from the four quarters of the globe – – the cutter beneath me feeling like a living thing as her engines drove her swiftly through the sea.

I liked the sounds of the Coast Guard – the piercing trill of the boatswains pipe, the syncopated clangor of the ship’s bell on the quarterdeck, the harsh squawk of the PA system, and the strong language and laughter of sailors at work.

I liked CG vessels — nervous darting 255s, plodding buoy tenders, and light ships, sleek 327s and the steady solid hum of the twin engines on the HH16E.

I liked the proud names of Coast Guard ships: USS Bayfield, USS Cavalier, USCGC Taney, USCGC Absecon, the Wind class Icebreakers and the USCGC Bibb just to name a few.

I liked the lean angular names of CG “shallow water cutters” the 82 footers, Pt Divide, Pt lookout, Cape Trinity and the Cape Higgon. Named for locations around the states. I liked liberty call and the spicy scent of a foreign port.

I even liked the never ending paperwork and all hands working parties as my ship filled herself with the multitude of supplies, both mundane and to cut ties to the land and carry out her mission anywhere on the globe where there was water to float her.

I liked sailors, officers and enlisted men from all parts of the land, farms of the Midwest, small towns of New England, from the cities, the mountains and the prairies, from all walks of life. I trusted and depended on them as they trusted and depended on me – for professional competence, for comradeship, for strength and courage. In a word, they were “shipmates”; then and forever.

I liked the surge of adventure in my heart, when the word was passed: “Now set the special sea and anchor detail – all hands to mooring stations for leaving port,” and I liked the infectious thrill of sighting home again, with the waving hands of welcome from family and friends waiting pier side. The work was hard and dangerous; the going rough at times; the parting from loved ones painful, but the companionship of robust CG laughter, the “all for one and one for all” philosophy of the sea was ever present.

I liked the serenity of the sea after a day of hard ship’s work, as flying fish flitted across the wave tops and sunset gave way to night. I liked the feel of the CG Cutter in darkness – the masthead and range lights, the red and green navigation lights and stern light, the pulsating phosphorescence of radar repeaters – they cut through the dusk and joined with the mirror of stars overhead. And I liked drifting off to sleep lulled by the myriad noises large and small that told me that my ship was alive and well, and that my shipmates on watch would keep me safe.

I liked quiet mid-watches with the aroma of strong coffee and PBJ sandwiches– the lifeblood of the CG permeating everywhere.And I liked hectic watches when the exacting minuet of haze-gray shapes racing at flank speed kept all hands on a razor edge of alertness.

I liked the sudden electricity of “General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations,” followed by the hurried clamor of running feet on ladders and the resounding thump of watertight doors as the ship transformed herself in a few brief seconds from a peaceful workplace to a weapon of war — ready for anything. And I liked the sight of space-age equipment manned by youngsters clad in dungarees and sound-powered phones that their grandfathers would still recognize.

I liked the traditions of the CG and the men and women who served so valiantly. These few gave so much in service to their country. A sailor could find much in the CG: comrades-in-arms, pride in self and country, mastery of the seaman’s trade. An adolescent could find adulthood.

In years to come, when sailors are home from the sea, they will still remember with fondness and respect the ocean in all its moods – the impossible shimmering mirror calm and the storm-tossed green water surging over the bow. And then there will come again a faint whiff of stack gas, a faint echo of engine and rudder orders, a vision of the bright bunting of signal flags snapping at the yardarm, a refrain of hearty laughter in the wardroom and chief’s quarters and mess decks. Gone ashore for good they will grow wistful about their CG days, when the seas belonged to them and a new port of call was ever over the horizon. Remembering this, they will stand taller and say, “I WAS A COAST GUARDSMAN ONCE.”

12 thoughts on “The Coast Guard We Once Knew

  1. This is haunting. My Boyfriend, who I have known since I was 15, joined in 1979, the year after we met. He could have written this. He has expressed so many of the same things to me about his time as a Coastie. Some in almost the same words.

  2. I liked the piece. It illustrates the simplicity of life that came from going to sea. A simplicity gone in the currents of instant messaging, cell phones and social media. The bonds that used to tie the ship to shore now go with it.

    I was once asked what was the largest cultural shift in the Service. There has not been one but several. However, technology has produced a few of them. For one hundred and fifteen years the cutters would go on patrol and have little or no contact with the shore. The invention of the wireless radio shifted that autonomous lifestyle at sea to one of a tether. The cutter commanding officers suddenly became accountable to an unseen structure. This is not to say that technology was bad or that it did not save lives and increase efficiency, but it did make the cutter’s officers more aware that someone was looking over their shoulder.

    The simplicity of the sea life became more complicated.

    • “The simplicity of the sea life became more complicated.”

      An understatement, to say the least.

      That said, I really liked Bill’s ode to those that go/went to sea. Makes me want to brew up a pot of midwatch coffee and put on a foul weather jacket……

  3. Having been MAA and CMAA, I was always up with the mess cooks. The first cup of coffee on those excellent mornings was sitting on a bit watching the wonders of nature. It was the quiet I enjoyed the most.

    There is a great scene in a movie about John Paul Jones. Robert Stack played Jones and the scene showed Jones on his porch with a sextant. His remark was about there being no horizon ashore. The horizon is a metaphor for limitless possibilities. I wonder how many today have seen that horizon or be in a part of the world at sea where only a slight turn of the head would allow seeing the North Star and the Southern Cross. Magnificent!

  4. I still can’t sleep in a quiet room i need some sort of background noise to replace the sounds from the machinery spaces. I could always tell when the mains went down, no matter where I was berthed. Get up and head for the engineroom. My first ship was navy and steam, when that plant went down, everything went down. Knew a BT3 who always knew by the sound of the forced draft blowers when things were going to crap.
    Been out since 2000 and miss it every day. Going up on deck on a clear night after the mid, to watch the stars, so many, and an occasional satelite while having a butt before hitting the rack. I live in the boonies and can still see the stars, but it’s just not the same.

  5. Overnight crossing the Gulf of Maine heading down East on a buoy run. Miles out at sea as the sun comes up at 0430, coffee, fresh baked goods, pine scent… one of my favorite watches.
    As for noise, I carry the whine of turbines with me permanently now. Wear those ear muffs folks!

  6. I have over 4 years sea time. I’m not bragging thats for sure. It was a rough 4 years that I could have done fine without. However, not too many people will be able to experience what I have experienced. I’ve visited (portcalls) many different countries while in the Coast Guard including Japan, Hong Kong, Austrialia, Singapore, and India to name a few. (Now I’m bragging a little bit) I have found something very interesting in each country. Japan ended up being my favorite experience with India a close second.

    I have about 15 years of service in the Coast Guard to go so I better “turn to”.
    In the meantime, check out my music website. I go by the pen name Neumatic Impact with Daniel Mer as Mobius The Shepherd.

    Thanks!

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