DUTY IN CHILE DURING WORLD WAR II
by George Hughes
Coasties have been assigned to some strange places but Quintero, Chile?
Very briefly, this is the story of my three plus years in the Coast Guard. I continue to feel obligated not to go into too much detail. I enjoyed my brief service, but after having a family before entering the service, it would have been difficult to make a career of it.
I enlisted at Boston on 12 October 1942. Since I did not want to be drafted into the Army, I took the advice of my brother, who was in the Merchant Marine. I was married at the time and had a daughter, so it was difficult to leave them. Also, the pay was only $21.00 a month. Deductions for insurance and the family allotment did not leave much left over.
After boot camp at Manhattan Beach, I was transferred to radio school at Atlantic City, N.J, class 15, and graduated in June 1943, 10th in a class of 94. Upon graduation, orders were received to report to the District Office in New York; from there I was assigned to Unit #1 in Southampton, NY. We monitored and intercepted traffic, which was then delivered to Washington. The work was usually interesting, but at times it got a little tedious.
In May 1945, four of us, along with four others from Unit 37, New Smyrna, Florida, were transferred to the Naval Office in Santiago, Chile. Our Chief from New York, one member from Florida, and myself were the first to go. The remainder followed in a few days. We flew from Miami to Panama, then left from there on 7 May 1945. During the flight, we heard about VE Day. After a few days in Santiago, we were sent to Quintero, a small coastal town.
We rented a small house and hired a lady and her niece to do our housekeeping. Since we had to wear civilian clothes, nobody really knew our connection with the military. Our house was across the street from the harbor, so we were able to go swimming and boating. A few people from England had summer cottages and they graciously loaned us a small sailboat and a rowboat.
The Chileans had a small naval airbase in Quintero and some of their men worked with us. The radio shack was about two miles out of town. We had six National HRO receivers and a Hallicrafter's transmitter and stood 8-hour watches. Since paperwork had to taken to the Naval Office in Santiago twice a week, each of us had a chance to make the 6-hour train ride once a month.
A jeep was assigned to us for transportation to the shack. About twice a month we took turns going to Valpariso for supplies. Occasionally a U.S. cruiser would put in and we could go aboard for supplies.
Quintero reminded me of a small western town from the 1880s. Most of the people were very poor, the roads were dirt, and the town only had a few stores with a hitching rail in front of them. There was also a small theatre which showed movies from the U.S. and had sub-titles in Spanish.
My wife gave birth to a daughter during this time . . . and I was promoted to RM1c. She was six months old when I first saw her.
Our orders to return to the U.S. came in September 1945; after 28 days of leave, I had accumulated enough points to be discharged.
In April 1946 I received a Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon awarded for service with the U.S. Naval Communications Intelligence Organization. It made me feel proud to think our work had been so valuable in the war effort. The letter that came with the ribbon stated that "due to the nature of the services performed by this unit, no publicity [will] be given about this award."
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From Coast Guard Stories by Don Gardner - Reprinted by Permission
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