THE LEAST OF THE INDIANS

By Jack Eckert

 

In the overall scheme of things one-hitch people come and go from the Coast Guard at the rate of a couple of thousand per year. The young men and women enter, possibly go through a Class A service school, become productive Coasties for two and a half or three years and then leave the service for good.

Their memory of the Coast Guard is better than the memory the Coast Guard has for them. Unless they distinguish themselves by act or deed or are real foul balls, they are even forgotten by their shipmates.

In the Marine Corps personnel are indoctrinated in the tenet that, "Once a Marine, Always a Marine." Such is not our service -- regrettably.

The epitome of a person like that was my friend Donald Schwartz who entered the Coast Guard about 1954, spent some time at Racine Lifeboat Station, transferred to the Cutter Mackinaw for a year or two, finishing up his hitch as a draftsman in the Civil Engineering Branch of the Ninth District.

Don was a rather shy but proud person. He had grown up an orphan living in several different homes from a very young age. Out of High School at 17 he entered the Navy until he was 21. He left the Navy as a MM3 and joined the Coast Guard as an FN. He might have gotten his crow back but for the fact the Coast Guard was operating only a few steam ships. Eventually he made EN3 then EN2.

His only vice was his appreciation for pipes and pipe smoking.

You would never know that Don was around. I knew him on the Mackinaw. We came on together and were casual friends. The only sea story that can be told about him was when he was assigned to two months scullery duty, the bane of all FN's and FA's of the time.

Don didn't like coffee very well but he had to make it as part of his "scullery maid" duties. The coffee urn was located on the mess deck immediately next to the scullery. Don hated cleaning out the coffee urn, the smell bothered him so he hit upon a "better" way of doing things. He would clean out the urn early Monday mornings. A new basket was put in and filled with about five pounds of coffee. He then ran the heated water through it until the urn was nearly full. Oh that mess deck coffee was strong on Mondays. As the pot emptied he would simply add more water to it, filling up the sight glass. The coffee got progressively weaker as the week wore on until by Friday it was hot colored water. For some reason or other even the most ardent "coffeehead" drank very little mess deck coffee preferring instead to get it from one of the engine rooms or any other place where coffee was brewed. Simultaneously sales from the "coke machine" went up. Nobody ever figured out what was wrong with the coffee until Don's scullery tour was up and he returned to engineroom duties. Miraculously the mess deck coffee improved and the Chief Belly Robber was credited for buying better coffee.

Don had received training as a draftsman somewhere along the line, the District Office was in need of one and by whatever means the man and the job were brought together to the satisfaction of both.

He was never very happy as an Engineman. He liked being a draftsman. When re-enlistment time approached he opted out because he could get no assurance that he could remain in his chosen trade.

Don Schwartz came and went from the Coast Guard hardly making a ripple in the water. Many people do that and we forget them even though they did their jobs and caused no problems while they were with us.

He went on in Civilian life to be a draftsman until he retired at 65. He had married a barren woman, adapted a daughter, and was a quiet church going man all of his life. Tragedy struck when his wife passed away suddenly several years ago. Ironically just after he retired, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and soon died of it.

Few of us remember Don. He didn't do anything heroic. He wasn't a bad guy. He just came in, did his job, and quietly left. One of the Least of the Indians.

 

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