HAWAIIAN BAPTISM

by Franklin A Warren Sr.

 

This tale is one that traveled through the Coast Guard from West to East thence from South to North. "Mad Mac" referred to in this story was Captain Gordon McLane, a real "Old Seadog," who left his mark wherever he went. I met him when I worked at the Naval Damage Control Training Center in Philadelphia in 1964 when he was attending a school there and I was one of his Instructors. He himself told me this story from his vantage point and I can affirm that it is a true story. In any event he was one of the most interesting characters that I ever met in my Coast Guard career. - Jack

Having completed a tour during the early 1960s at CG Air Station San Diego, I was ordered to the 14th Coast Guard District in Hawaii. In transit from San Francisco via MSTS* transport, I ran into an old friend from CG Radio Station, Miami, days, Jim Patton, RMC, and his family, also traveling to Honolulu.

District Headquarters advised we were ordered to the CGC WINNEBAGO, the third 255-foot Cutter I had gone to sea on. This class was rough riding, but I had enjoyed the previous two cutters--they were good, sound vessels.

Reporting aboard for duty, we found that she was due to sail for a double patrol within two weeks. We also learned that our household goods would not arrive on time due to a port strike that was holding up our possessions in San Francisco. We lived with our families in motel accommodations and were unable to obtain housing--military housing on Oahu was space-available and we were Coast Guard. Knowing our families would have to do all the work to obtain housing because of our pending departure on a double patrol did not make for a happy hello to the Island of Paradise. Jim and I talked about a premonition of things to come, because this tour had started off real bad.

Some people at Coast Guard Base, Sand Island, where the ship was berthed, commented, "poor guys--you'll be sailing with ‘Mad Mac.’" We figured this must be the normal ribbing new people received and passed the comments off.

Like all new billets, the next week and a half was busy and hectic. During the day, Jim and I worked to get communications ready for sea, familiarizing ourselves with new shipmates and the radiomen we would sail with. We had met the captain, who seemed a good seaman and a competent commanding officer.

Prior to sailing, we spent a day off Oahu conducting underway drills to shakedown new personnel in their underway billets prior to going on patrol. The day was a typical Hawaiian day--blue sky, calm seas with a minor swell.

As Radioman 1st class, my billet during drills was in radio central. On a 255-class Cutter, radio central was midway between the main deck and the bridge. The port side had a little catwalk on the ladder going to the wing of the bridge just outside the only hatch to radio central. The WINNEBAGO had one set of earphones that had a tremendously long cord attached so that one radio position operator could travel the whole radio room without taking off the earphones. During all drills except GQ, the hatch to the "patio," as we called it, was open for fresh air. The stack to the boilers was our rear bulkhead and quite a bit of heat came into radio central.

The last scheduled drill of the day was Abandon Ship. All the other drills had gone as well as could be expected with a partially new crew, some of whom were still trying to find their way around, especially those who had never been on a 255 before.

When the Abandon Ship alarm was given, I relieved the watch and slid over to the open hatch to watch the small boats being launched. CDR McLane was observing the drill from the bridge.

Jim was assigned to the port-side motor whale boat and glanced toward me as I stood in the hatch above him. All the boats were in the water, but some of the crew had not found where they should be and were milling around on deck.

The captain called down from the bridge to a boatswains mate, "Get them damn life rafts over the side and cut away the camels." Now this was unusual. I checked to see if we were really sinking and made sure that the 21MC was working to the bridge. As I returned to the portside hatch, I once again heard captain Mac shout down, "Jump, damn you. Grab onto the camels and board the rafts. Move over to the other boats."

Jim had a look of disbelief pasted on his face when he realized this was no joke; with a brand-new set of khakis, shoes and hat that had yet to see salt spray, he stepped over the side and into the blue Pacific Ocean. I was still trying to figure out what was happening when the 21MC squawked, "Radio, Bridge. Contact Sand Island Base and request berthing instructions." At the same time, the ship slowly got underway as the turbines turned over the single screw. I acknowledged the request from the bridge and called for instructions. They asked for our arrival time--the quartermaster said 30-45 minutes. As I passed this to the base, I wondered how we could pick up all the boats, rafts, and personnel in the ocean and arrive in the time specified.

We made a 180 degree turn and were slowly coming up to pass the crew holding onto flotation gear. The C.O. shouted through the bullhorn, "Attention! Attention! Sand Island is [giving bearing and distance]. If you want liberty tonight, I suggest you find your way there." At that we increased speed and headed for Sand Island with only a skeleton crew aboard, while the men in the water watched with a look of disbelief on their faces.

We had traveled a few miles when a naval aircraft flew over this weird sight and saw the abandoned crew members waving shirts, hats, and various articles of clothing; the pilot broke off his approach to the Naval Air Station, circled, and radioed that he could see survivors of a sunken vessel signaling to him. Within minutes I received a message from the District Office Rescue Coordination Center ordering us to investigate. Begrudgingly, the CO had to put about. He was fit to be tied. I amended the arrival at Sand Island, then returned to the hatch and watched as Jacob's ladders were put over the side. One of the first returning on deck was a wet, red-faced, totally angry RMC, who came up the gangway and into the radio room dripping water all the way.

"Well, Warren," he said with a snarl, "now I know what they meant about Mad Mac. When I was in the boat out there the old crew said, `Welcome to Mad Mac's Raiders.' This is going to be one hell of a tour, I'm afraid."

As he sloshed out of the radio room and down to the CPO quarters, I could hear him muttering under his breath, "A damn Hawaiian Baptism."

And Jim was right. I served over a year on the "Winnie" as a member of Mad Mac's Raiders. Duty on the WINNEBAGO was the most unbelievable tour I ever served during my twenty years. I could write a book about some of the happenings during this tour--like Mad Mac's hatred and fear of a motor Monomoy-type boat and his obsession with the pulling boat for every duty that called for a small boat; his disapproval of other CO's who did not keep their vessels war-ready with drills, even to the point of challenging via radio and signal light the vessels we relieved on ocean station and refusing to relieve them if they did not answer the challenge correctly; even one period when the vessel to be relieved failed to answer our challenge and we put a star shell across its bow (I think it was the MATAGORDA); his requirement that all hands be in the uniform of the day at sea when entering a dining area--undress whites for enlisted, clean pressed khakis for CPO's and officers.

Yes, but I learned more from old Mad Mac than at any time in my Coast Guard career. I can still feel, as I write this anecdote, a sense of pride that used to rise from within when the uninitiated, unknowing people we came into contact with called us "Mad Mac's Raiders."

 

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