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The Coast Guard I 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 378s and the steady solid hum of the twin engines on the HH16E.
I liked the proud names of Coast Guard ships: CGC Monroe, Boutwell, CGC Taney, USCGC Cosmos, 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 Hudson, 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."