......in 1959 the crow was not sewn onto the peacoat sleeve and I was big enough and ugly enough to be mistaken for one .............

THE ERSATZ BOATSWAINS MATE

By Joe Rush

 

I don't think I'll ever forget that night in late 1959 when I reported for duty aboard the USCGC CACTUS. I had just recently returned from isolated duty at a brand new LORAN-C station we had built in Turkey, and I was slated to attend the next Basic class for Electronics Technicians. The class was not scheduled to start until January of the following year, so the Coast Guard had to find a temporary home for me, one that wouldn't be too far from Groton.

Thinking back on it, I suppose it made sense to transfer me from isolated duty to the First District, even though you were supposed to get one of your three choices of Districts from isolated. I had optimistically requested, in order, the Eighth, the Seventh, and the Fourteenth. I wanted some place where it would be warm for a change. I didn't know when making my choices that my request for ET School had been approved, and I didn't find out until I reported for duty in Boston. I just figured that the Coast Guard had added the Eight and the Seven together, subtracted the Fourteen, and sent me to what was left over, the First District.

At any rate, there I was in Boston on TDY for a few days while my orders were being processed, and I had nothing in particular to do except try to catch up on my drinking. After about a week of catching up I was informed that I had been temporarily assigned to the CACTUS which, by the way, was out working buoys and was due in sometime around 2100. I was told where she tied up, given my orders and dispossessed of my sleeping quarters. I was on my own until 2100.

Not being one to waste time when there was beer to be drunk, I repaired to The Blue Front bar just up Hanover Street to await the arrival of the CACTUS. I almost finished catching up on my drinking that evening while I wondered what was in store for me aboard a buoy tender. I felt like a new bride must feel; I knew something was in store for me but I had no idea how hard it would be to take.

At about 2030 I sauntered off toward Constitution Wharf, was allowed to enter through the gate, and was standing near the pier when I saw a black hull making it's way toward the pier. It was cold, as it usually is in Boston in January, as I stood there in my peacoat and flat hat like a bump on a log, watching and listening as the CACTUS achieved her berth and tied up. I had never had any dealings with any seagoing type of apparatus, didn't know the drill for helping the crew tie up, and I wasn't sober enough to help if I had known it was customary.

Just as everything was tied off and before the gangway was run out, I heard this announcement; "Now hear this. There will be no liberty tonight until the person who stole the watch returns it to it's rightful owner". Right then and there I knew I was in the wrong place. To make matters worse, I heard the Chief Bosun tell one of the crew to make headway to the pier and "Help that man with his seabag." This was something new and unexpected. Nobody ever in my entire life had helped me with my seabag.

A burly young man double-timed it over to me, smiled real big, and said, "Welcome aboard, Boats!" and I again felt that I was in the wrong place. We managed to get up the gangway, me just barely, but I did have sense enough to salute the flag and the OOD and request permission to come aboard. I did remember something from boot camp. The Chief Bosun was waiting for me, a great big smile on his face, and announced that they had been waiting for me for a long time, and had wondered why it had taken so long for me to be assigned. Now I knew that I was in the wrong place, no question about it.

The Chief accepted my orders, scanned through the top page, and said to the burly young seaman holding my seabag, "Put that damned seabag down! He can handle his own damned seabag!" Turns out that the CACTUS had requested that a BM1 be assigned, and they just knew in their hearts that I was the one. After all, I was big enough and ugly enough to be mistaken for a Bosun's Mate, but alas, I was only a lowly Seaman. It had been an honest mistake, partly due to the fact that in 1959 the crow was not sewn onto the peacoat sleeve.

Fortunately for me, all was forgiven, the stolen watch was surreptitiously returned, liberty was granted, and I had a pretty good tour aboard the CACTUS until the tenth day of January, 1960, when I was transferred to Groton.

****

Now, I wouldn't want any of you Bosun's Mates to take exception to that statement about you and your kinsmen. It's just that all of the Bosun's Mates I ever knew were either big, ugly, or both, has not one damned thing to do with their capabilities in their rate, nor the finesse with which they drink their tea. Heck, one of my very best friends, bless his heart, turned out to be a Bosun's Mate but I still claim him as a friend and visit him often. He, like all of the others of his kind, looks down his nose at those of us who are, or were, called "Twidgetts". I sort of got used to the term, as most ET's did if they didn't want to spend the rest of their days fighting big ugly Bosun's Mates. But that may be fodder for another story at a later date, and it will be all in good fun if you don't get your panties in a wad. If some big ugly Bosun's Mate should write a story about Twidgetts. I promise not to take offense.

 

CGC CACTUS Mortally Wounded.

Hard Aground on the Jetty at Gray's Harbor.

She was towed to Seattle and Disposed of.

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