1946-A DISMAL YEAR FOR THE COAST GUARD
by Jim Gill
The year the Coast Guard almost died .......................................
I enlisted in the regular Coast Guard in late 1941 and served in McLANE, WESTWIND, and GENERAL D. E. AULTMAN during WW II. Aside from the unpleasantness, the war years were in some ways pretty fat for most of us. The pre-war regulars had their foot in the door, so to speak, and formed the backbone on which the organization rapidly expanded. Regulars went up the ladder in a hurry, especially if you were in the right place at the right time.
By mid-1945 the Coast Guard had grown to roughly 282,000 men and women, counting Regulars, Active Reserves, SPARS, Auxiliary, Temporary Reserves, and Port Security.
After the war ended the day of reckoning began. We all knew what was going to happen but wouldnt admit it. So it is with human nature, and when the crash came it was not pleasant. The first departing wave was the Active Reservists, by far the bulk of the wartime Coast Guard, released according to seniority in the sacred "point system." The outflow continued as Port Security groups were disbanded; SPARS were paid off, Auxiliary and Temporary Reserves were reduced drastically.
Cut to the bone also was congressional funding allocations for the Coast Guard. There was hardly enough money to keep us going. Paychecks were frequently late, allotments were held up, and purchasing fuel for ships and aircraft was a problem.
While this was taking place, the regulars suddenly faced the moment of truth: reversion to their "permanent" ranks and rates. Captains reverted to Lieutenants; Chiefs went to first or second class, and so on. I went from QM1 to QM3. There was pain and suffering!
The schemers and dreamers in Washington had the idea that the true-blue regular establishment would endure the pain and stand fast. They made the mistake of creating an easy solution for those who found it unacceptable: If you had been reduced two grades, you could get out. You didnt want to be standing near the door as you may have been crushed in the stampede. In no time at all the mighty Coast Guard of 1945 became the meager few of 1946: just over 18,000.
Among the wave of departing were officers and petty officers that would be sorely needed to rebuild the Coast Guards shattered remains. For those who continued on duty, the impact on morale was devastating.
The worst impact was on manning the Cutters. The Coast Guard had been handed the job of maintaining the Ocean Weather Stations in both the Atlantic and Pacific. The Cutters were struggling to stay operational; with 60% of complement, you were in great shape. Watch routines and ships maintenance was pure agony.
On 21 May I went to the CGC IROQUOIS, but before reporting I unstitched my first class crow, rummaged around and found my old third class bird and sewed it on. There was a lot of sewing going on in those days.
Reduction from 1st class to 3rd was not only a loss of prestige, but there were other, more serious considerations. I was married by then and the loss in pay was significant; furthermore, if I got transferred, I was no longer eligible for transportation of dependents and household effects.
On 29 July I was quickly transferred to CGC Spencer at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Virginia to replace the QM3 who had just committed suicide. Sadly, there was a lot of that going on. This was not a happy situation and I was terribly depressed. Underway watches were 4 on, 4 off.
CG Headquarters was now in a panic trying to stem the outgoing tide of experienced personnel. The "two grades and out" directive was canceled, and it was rumored that those of us who stayed would be considered for advancement. For me it didnt mean muchmy enlistment was about up and if I indicated I was not going to reenlist, they would transfer me back to the West Coast for discharge.
I detached from SPENCER on 24 October and headed west with 90 days terminal leave, which took care of the remainder of what had been a devastating year in the Coast Guard.
1946 was one of the worst periods of my life, and possibly for the Coast Guard as well. Believing in the Coast Guard and its mission, and feeling assured that the future would right itself, I re-enlisted.
I am writing to explain how it was in 1946, not that I would ever want to relive that period, but only to pass a personal memory on to those who served during that dismal year; and for the men who followed us, a small bit of history.
All Lightship Sailors
Coast Guard Sea Veterans of America
.........................and many, many, others
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