By John J. Murray
The following story was compiled from two newsletters
printed in the North Coast New York Coast Guard Assn. and confirmed by a
telephone interview with the author John J. Murray, WO, USCG retired.
Mr. Murray turned 86 on Sept. 30, 2001.
82 I have almost total recall of the year 1937. I was a surfman at Buffalo Lifeboat Station and about a month
at Oswego LBS during the river floods on the big rivers.
enlisted on the 7th of January, 1937. A surfman was paid $60 a month whereas new enlistees in the
Cutter Service started at $21 a month. We
had a great first class cook and we ate very well on $22 a month per man which
meant most months we each got $12 back from the unspent mess money.
Buffalo LBS, serfmen worked 12 hour days with a 4 hour pier or tower watch added
to the workday. During the watches
I had to punch a time clock every 30 minutes. During the winter of ’37 I missed one half hour punch and
got restricted for 30 days. And it
was not unusual to be awakened at any hour of the night to go on a rescue call
or to drag for a body. In 1937 we
picked up 54 bodies or body parts due to suicides, murders, accidental drownings,
etc. The worst was finding a
drowned child, working on the body with the Schaefer prone pressure method or
the Howard-Sylvester method and having the hysterical parents pulling at us to
save the child.
were held almost every day that included beach cart drills, capsize drills,
pulling boat drills, fire drills, etc. Capsize
drill entailed the skipper at the steering oar with an 8 man crew taking the 26
foot lone Monomoy self-bailing surfboat out past the break wall and capsizing
the boat. The crew stowed the oars
beneath the thwarts and stood on the gunwale and pulled the boat over.
We then had to right the boat, climb back in, retrieve the oars and row
on command. Surfmen were allowed
one 24 hour liberty every 8 days. The
LBS regimen at Buffalo was very strict and restrictions to base for minor
infractions were not uncommon.
day in mid summer of ’37, three of us were on the weather side of the boat
house working with picks and shovels when BM1 Windy Brown came over and told us
to go get some buckets and rags and start cleaning the old man’s house.
We started to move but Norman Mantell said “I ain’t going!”
Windy admonished him and said ”Mantell , you’re off your rocker and
you know what the old man will do!” The
other surfmen and I went along with Brownie and did what we were told.
Buffalo LBS didn’t earn the nickname amongst the crew as Alcatraz
camouflaged for nothing.
next morning, a Saturday I believe, the old man and Mantell out in front of the
station breaking up a curb about 50 feet long, 16 inches above and 12 inches
below the ground all day in the sun with the sweat pouring off of him.
He didn’t quit until the job was done.
The next day he was shipped to Galloo Island.
That 12 pound sledge hammer must have gotten pretty heavy and raised a
few blisters on old Mantell. Of
course I new then that the pin stripe warrant Bos’n who ran Buffalo then was
not like skippers at most LBS. I
remember that a warrant named Jackson who ran Charlotte outside of Rochester was
much beloved by his men as was MacCune at Oswego.
our 8 man pulling boat crew I was stuck with the bow oar being the light man at
148 pounds. On the way back to the
station from a time trial run we were all pooped. I caught a crab and hit Joe Takach in the back of the neck
with both hands wrapped around the oar. Brownie
who had the steering oar screamed and swore at me and told all hands to
ship oars. We were about ¾ of a
mile from the station slip. He then
ordered me and Mantell amidship and had the two of us row the crew back to the
station. Mantell was really pissed.
month I spent at Oswego LBS under a CWO by the name of MacCune was literally a
vacation compared to Buffalo. I remember a Saturday when I painting a lifeboat
inside the boathouse when I saw a shadow obstructing by work.
I looked up to see the skipper watching me and he asked “What are you
doing, Murray?” It was obvious
but I answered “Just finishing the job, Captain.”
He then said “We don’t work on Saturday young fellow, clean your gear
and knock off.”
returned to Buffalo and studied Morse Code, passed a radio correspondence course
successfully and when I could confidentially copy and send about 10 words a
minute I applied for CG radio school. The
old man threw me out of his office. Somehow
Division HQ in Cleveland got wind of this and sent my orders for radio school in
New London, CT. 20 years in
communications and operations followed. I retired in 1958 as a Warrant Officer Radio Electrician.
“Family Affair” service members would never understand the hardships, the
disciplines, and the low pay allotted the Coast Guardsmen in the ‘20s, ‘30s
and ‘40s. Today with helicopters,
rescue is almost always a piece of cake and that’s wonderful. But I wonder how today’s kids would handle what we went
This Story was submitted by:
CW0-2 Ed Green
Marine Safety Detachment Massena
"Gatekeeper to the Great Lakes"
P. O. Box 728
180 Andrews Street
Massena, New York 13662-0728
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