By Foster Byrd

These Stories are from “We’ve Been There” by Esther V. Stormer ©1992 – Reprinted By Permission.


I joined the Coast Guard on March 26, 1941 in Fort Worth, Texas and completed radio school at Curtis Bay, Maryland in March, 1942. From there I went directly to Washington Radio, Alexandria, Virginia. All-in-all Washington Radio just about sums up my Coast Guard career. Out of 20 years, I spent close to 12 years at Washington Radio on three different tours.

A brand new RM2 reported aboard with no previous military service, he relieved me (RM3) at 2340. I was sure that he understood the 24-hour clock. When I relieved him the next morning, he was up to 3200 and counting.

Another new RM2 reported and said to the Chief, "I guess you know my wife doesn't think much of the hours I have to stand watch!"

The Chief’s answer was, "Maybe she'd like your hours better if you were on a weather ship."

The RM asked, "What's that?"

Early in 1943, two RM3's came walking in, both about 40.years old. One had a full beard and the other was clean-shaven. The Chief had them sit down and start to work so he could check out their ability to copy. The one with the beard was putting everything down twice and the clean-shaven one was having trouble because he couldn't type that fast. I suggested to the Chief that he speed it up a little. About the time he hit close to the world's record for sending, the one with the beard stopped copying double, just dropped back to normal copy. The Chief said, "When they CAN copy, they CAN COPY!" We hadn't seen too many.

Picture this scene. Albert Allen, RM1, five feet 8 inches and something over 300 pounds. He walked out to get in his car to go relieve the watch when he sees his cocker (dog) chasing a large rat across the yard. The rat ran into a hole in back of country-style outhouse, dog in hot pursuit. Allen ran after dog, but before he can do anything, the rat and dog are both swimming around in a pit six feet deep. (Use your imagination). Rather than rip out the seats and get the dog out that way, Allen fell in. He relieved the watch 2-1/2 hours late. The man he relieved was heard to mention that he'd have stayed on watch another day to hear the story!

There was a very bad storm in the Gulf of Mexico. A small vessel was lost and sinking. The skipper knew little, if any, English. The Coast Guard Cutter said, "Skipper, give us a long count so we can get a bearing on you." No response.

"Skipper, count to a hundred so we can take a bearing." No response.

Finally the skipper sort of got the picture, and he responds with "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, over."

Coast Guard Cutter, "That's real good skipper, real good, now count up to 10 three times."

"Up to 10, up to 10, up to 10, over."

Through no fault of his own he didn't sink. They found him off the mouth of the Mississippi. He thought he was off the mouth of the Mobile.

At the end of World War II someone just happened to be on a platform in a hangar and happened to glance in the bedroom window of the XO. The lower half of the window was covered, the upper half not. It wasn't expected to have viewers from that angle. The scene was definitely X-rated. As time went on, more and more viewers gathered on the platformthe couple evidently liked to leave the lights on. The exact words of a man who was on the platform when it fell were, "There were so many broken arms, legs, and other injuries that there was no way we could have gotten a plane in the air."  

Commander William B. Dawson (now deceased) took over as Commanding Officer at Washington Radio in September, 1936, and served on continuously at that station until his retirement in December, 1963. He was there over 27 years as CO of the same unit without a break. If that isn't a record, it should be. During that time, he advanced from WO1 to CDR and the number of people under his command increased from about 18 to 20 to as many as 80 to 100 during World War II.

About 1953 Commander Dawson came in with an older RM1. "Byrd, this is Busbee. I'm going to put him on your watch to break in." The guy looked a little past the 50 mark so I was sure he was senior to me and I was worried that as soon as I broke him in I'd lose my "supervisor" position. Finally I came right out and asked, "Buz, when did you make first class?"

He said, "In 1918 the first time." I was still senior. The last time he'd made it was quite recent.

I pulled into a Gulf station and asked for $2.00 worth of regular. The attendant turned on his heels and ran to the owner, yelling, "Come here, come here, here's that SOB that keeps saying, BUSHEL QUEEN, BUSHEL QUEEN, on our radio." BUSHEL QUEEN was the voice call of one of our buoy tenders that was breaking ice on the Potomac.

In 1957, the USCGC SEBAGO had been in port in Mobile for about 60 days. I may have spent one night aboard ship but it is unlikely—I always had a standby. The ship was preparing to sail and we'd be gone the better part of three months. Our son, age three, yelled up from the dock. "Hey dad! You got a standby?" His voice carried well. Every one within earshot doubled over. At that instant a man fall overboard. I like to think that he fell over from laughing so hard. Falling in the Mobile River is close to fatal, so he didn't do it on purpose.

True story: Changed name. First time I saw Joe, he came in driving a brand new 1941 Oldsmobile. Everyone gathered around to admire the car. Joe said he bought it from a panicked draftee for maybe $200.00. After looking the car over, someone said, "What is it Joe?"

He said, "It's an Oldsmobile you idiot, can't you read?"

The guy said, "I can see that, but what is it, a 6 or an 8?"

"A 6 or 8 WHAT?

Joe rarely if ever looked at girls. He wasn't a sissy or anything like thathe just didn't pay any attention to females. This is my favorite "Joe" story:

A young lady asked me, "Byrd, did Joe ever mention seeing me at the mailbox?"

I said, "No, Joe hardly ever talked about girls. Why?"

She then asked, "You don't suppose he looked in the rear view mirror?"

"Not likely, Joe just doesn't pay any attention to girls." Then she told me the story.

As she was getting dressed, she saw the mailman go by and threw on a blouse and a full skirt and ran down to the mailbox. As she was taking the mail from the box, Joe went by in his 1941 Olds at perhaps 90 or 100 miles per hour. The draft blew the skirt up over her head and it fell down over the top of the mailbox. So, she wrapped it around her, diaper fashion, to get back to the house. It seems that when she had started to get dressed, she hadn't gotten as far as putting on underwear. For months, she'd felt sure that Joe had seen her and spread the word, so to speak. I assured her that Joe definitely DID NOT LOOK IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR. Now, Joe may have looked back, but he wouldn't have thought it worth mentioning. (The girl mentioned here, died in 1961 of cancer, leaving five children. She probably always felt that Joe HAD looked back.)  

By 1947, Joe was in bad shape. It was decided to send him down to the South Pole with whatever the Coast Guard sent down there. Joe was probably one of the best "CW" men that ever lived. He was at the Poleno liquor, and only one thing to do. He'd get all the messages from the Navy ships during the day and that night he'd shoot them to us. We'd put two men copying and put a recorder on, just in case, then have everything on the Navy Admiral's desk the next morning. Never failed, the Admiral would question the date-time group. It was impossible. "No way that message could be on my desk this early."  

Somewhere Joe got married. He was AWOL for several days. When he returned he told us he was married. I asked, "Are you sure Joe, are you really married?"

He said, "I guess so, she says we are."

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