This article is written by and features Tom Kimble
The US Coast Guard Reserve was for 7 years, with 6 months of active duty, monthly reserve meeting and 2 weeks active duty each summer. My active duty was in 1963; 3 months of basic training at Cape May, NJ and 3 months of Radioman’s School at Groton, CN. This was followed by 6.5 years of monthly meetings at the naval yard in Philadelphia, PA.
The 2 week active duty alternated between 3 land and 3 sea orders. The land orders were for the USCG Radio Station in Hampton, NY and 2 orders for Leadership School in Virginia.
At the radio station, I was assigned to the radio room clean-up and errands. All of the radio messages I observed were by voice, although I was told a few code messages were occasionally done. I was not allowed to participate in any messages. The only messages I participated in were a few off-duty flashlight code messages at night to boaters in the bay out off gas (if they knew Morse code). The USCG lifeboat station that I was staying at had a marine band receiver. There was constant chatter from the boaters. Several accidents were reported. One was a boy without a life preserver that hit is head and drowned because he was unconscious. This is a lesson that I tell my children that can swim and feel that they do not need a life preserver; “Can you swim unconscious?”
The Leadership School was military, but I do not know which branch (NAVY?). The main objective was to build team leadership usually by physical interaction like transporting logs and people across a creek without leaving any logs or people behind. Each member would take turn being the leader. Another was rival teams would attempt to place their flag by stealth behind the other teams line. With construction in the area the team I was on “surveyed” their way behind their line. With hard hats and surveying tools we kept measuring transit lines until we were behind their line. Besides the “games” there was classwork on general military topics like the Uniform Code of Military Justice. After all these years the “games” were more memorable than the classwork.
The sea orders were for a USN destroyer cruise to Halifax, a USN destroyer cruise mid-Atlantic and a USCG cutter cruise to Miami. I do not remember the names of the ships. The ships left and returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The USN destroyer on the Halifax cruise was an older ship and was cramped. Moving and living in very confining quarters and sleeping in stacked beds was a big part of the training. We were assigned a “general quarters” station when boarding and there were regular drills. These stations were in passages, stairs or outside. At these stations we could easily abandon ship or fight fires. I received fire fighting in basic training. Although the destroyer was armed, we were not assigned “battle stations”. I was again assigned to the radio room for clean-up and errands. All messages were by voice not code. I was told that the Navy no longer used code. The Navy used encrypted teletype for fleet broadcast. I was assigned the task of removing these TTY broadcast from the teletype for distribution. This was only time I was involved with messages. At Halifax we were given a day shore leave.
The Pan-Canadian Games were being held in Halifax and there were sailors from other ships, some Canadian, in port. I attended the “Games” with some Canadian sailors and fellow navy and coast guard shipmates. Afterwards I discover 10% beer, something I never knew existed.
The USN destroyer on the mid-Atlantic cruise was also older and just as cramped as the first destroyer. We also were assigned “general quarters” stations. The radio room assignment was about the same. The Navy’s no code use message was repeated. I was again allowed to remove TTY fleet broadcast for distribution.
We did stop to resupply but there was no shore leave. The cruise was deep out to sea, we did not see any shore for most of the trip. There was a storm that lasted a day and produced swells higher that the ship. Waves were constantly breaking on the bow and stern washing the deck which drove everybody inside.
Although many people were seasick, for some reason I was not. There was no order to clear the deck. To seasoned Navy destroyer sailors this storm was not that bad. To date this is the worst storm at sea that I have experienced. I was in storms on Cruise Ships, but destroyers are much smaller. At the time I was more fascinated and excited than scared. Looking back I should have been at least very worried.
The USCG cutter was newer and larger than the USN destroyers. There was much more room and fewer stacked beds with more between spacing. Moving about was much easier. We were assigned a “general quarters” station, but I do not remember any drills. Although the cutter was armed, we were not assigned any “battle stations”. I was assigned to the radio room to clean-up and run errands. As in the shore radio station, I only observed voice messages. Again I was told that code messages were occasionally done.
The Coast Guard communicates with a greater variety of ships than the Navy, so still needs code. I did not see any teletype equipment. The Coast Guard does only two way communications, not one way broadcast. In general the Navy primarily communicates with itself. The Coast Guard must communicate with everybody.
While in the Caribbean we picked up a boat load of Haitian refugees. The rubber raft boat was very full. With any sea turbulence, they would have floundered and drowned. Fortunately the sea was very calm. They were not near any shore. About 12 male refugees were taken aboard and put on the bow deck under guard. The cutter then went to Miami where the refugees were turned over to immigration. The crew was given shore leave in Miami.
In 1970 I was promoted to Radioman 3rd Class, soon afterwards I was Honorably Discharged.
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