Coast Guard Recognition in WWII
By Al Schreiber
When I joined the Coast Guard in 1942, we were part of the US Navy. Although we had our own boot camps, ships and shore units, we also manned many Navy ships. The uniforms were identical except for the CG shield on our right forearm, and our U.S. Coast Guard ribbon on our flat hats.
Our crew, the USS Ricketts, DE 254, were the first organized CG men to invade the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk. The DE school was located there. To the Navy's horror, we didn't possess dog tags, and they didn't like the looks of our ID cards. We were furnished with new stamped dog tags, which proclaimed, "USNR", followed by our name, blood type, and religion. After a few days we were told to hand in our tags and ID cards. Now my new tag issued to me had USNR X'd out and USCGR below. Our old CG ID cards were given back to us.
The ladies in town were not familiar with the CG shield, and when we wore white hats thought we were Navy. All sorts of stories were concocted about the shield. We were special undercover sailors, elite fighting unit, etc., anything that would arouse the ladies interest, for this one sailor in the sea of sailors.
On our first convoy trip, to the Med, we moored at Casablanca. Our Captain, LCDR Glenn Rollins, ordered the liberty section to substitute flat hats with our blue dress, instead of white hats that all the Navy sailors were wearing. He, we, were proud to be Coasties in a foreign land. As we roamed the city finding a likely oasis of drink and ladies, we were amazed at the attention we were given. The cognac (local plentiful supply) flowed freely, and the ladies were entertaining even though we could not understand a word they said.
But alas, all good things come to an end and the Navy, in command, ordered us to get into the uniform of the day, i.e., white hats. Rumor had it that the Captain was called down for it. We later found out that the locals thought we were Russian sailors! They were something new to Casablanca and wanted to welcome us. We received a recall, and had to make a hasty departure to track a reported U-Boat off the coast, while the rest of the ships remained moored. Coincidence? I wonder.
It was difficult to convince the home town folks, in Milwaukee, a big Great Lakes boot camp liberty town, that one actually was on a Navy fighting ship, a Destroyer Escort. On one occasion I brought home my foul weather jacket to keep the yard birds from stealing it. I donned the jacket and boldly walked down Wisconsin Avenue with it over my blues. Two Navy boot shore patrols stopped me and demanded to see my ID card. After scanning it the shore patrol told his cohort, "he's Coast Guard", and returned my ID. After my reprieve, I headed for home to lose the jacket. I hated liberty in my hometown while on one of my few leaves home.
We always went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard after a convoy turnaround. At first we couldn't even get a Navy dental appointment. I had to go to a CG directed appointment to USPHS* to get an eye infection treated.
Fortunately as the war progressed, things changed and Navy people especially, accepted us.
*U.S. Public Health Service
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