And then there is Marine Inspection

By Al Schreiber

One of the little written facts of the Coast Guard, is the people that served in Marine Inspection, their unique contributions to the Vietnam war effort. I was stationed in San Francisco in the years 1967 to 1970.

About 40 marine inspectors worked out of the Appraisor's Building on Sansome Street. I was forced, for lack of affordable housing, like the other inspectors, to live out in the "Boonies" of the Bay area. I drove my decrepit 36 HP Volkswagen Bug to San Francisco daily via the Nitwit, er, Nimitz freeway across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and paying the toll. I Arrived at 0700 hours to secure a parking space on the sidewalk of the Embarcadero. Then I pushed through the anti-war picketers at the Appraisor's Building and then up to the MIO office. 

We early arrivals cooled our heels at our appointed desks, crammed in one large room waiting for 0800 to arrive. The desks were pushed together cheek to jowl. No one did any work at them. All our work and Fed pubs were carried in our "salesman cases" to and from jobs.

This point in time was very hectic for our array of Deck and Boiler inspectors. The government was in need of "bottoms" to haul war supplies to Vietnam and Korea. They activated a number of Victory ships from Suison Bay. They were brought to the San Franciso area to the various ship repair facilities for activation. The Ammunition Victories were quite evident, with their wood lined cargo holds. The boilers were quite nasty, with their asbestos swathed drums and piping, leaking pumps, and rusty auxiliary equipment.

When the magic 0800 on October 7, 1969 arrived, the Officer in charge of the dispatch book would announce job assignments to the various personnel assembled. We noted he took great care in assigning jobs on the way home of the selected inspectors, to avoid paying mileage for the trip. One job announced was a boiler safety valve inspection test and seal at Port Chicago aboard the S.S. Columbia Banker. No one volunteered to go to that ammo loading facility even though it was a good mileage job. I had been there on a last minute boiler hydro aboard the S.S. Boudrin Victory, and reasoned if the Coast Guard Security Loading Detail could do it every day I could to. I agreed to take the job.

I Retrieved my rusty, trusty Volkswagen from the sidewalk, no ticket noticed, and motored back across the Bay bridge. No toll was frequired in this direction. Arriving at Port Chicago was eerie, because all the houses in the town were removed, and all that remained were the house slabs, driveways, and streets. 

The dock was busy, as the longshoremen were loading bombs. The CG Port Security man lounged at the gangway as I boarded and showed my credentials.

The Chief Engineer, Mr. Morgan, and I got down to business. After inspecting the valve it was placed on the starboard boiler. Steam was raised, and steam pressure climbed past the maximum allowed. With a mighty blast the safety blew open at the proscribed pressure spewing steam out the stack with a roar and fallout of soot. The loading detail made a hasty departure from the ship in terror. The Port Engineer had forgotten to warn them. After a tongue lashing from the Officer in Charge of the CG Security detail, work was resumed. I sealed the valve and departed. That was the last time we were required to work at the Port Chicago ammunition docks.

Many ships that were activated in the area were old World War Two types and had many problems. We were kept very busy inspecting the repairs and the additions to these vessels. This was another unsung job the Coast Guard did during the Vietnam period.

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