The authors personal account of the

 THE DEATH OF THE COOS BAY

By Jack Eckert

 

The CGC Coos Bay(WHEC-376) was one of the AVP's that were leased to the U.S. Coast Guard circa 1948-49. There were 14 of them and three AGP's that were put into service as Ocean Station Vessels. Considering the arduousness of the duty and the fact that they remained in service through the Vietnamese War, none were ever lost. A few men were washed over the side though.

In the Summer of 1966 I was given a choice of duty on the Coos Bay, Barataria, or Cook Inlet, all out of Portland, Maine. Because it was the newest of the old girls I selected the Cook Inlet. The theory being if it was newer I would have less trouble with it. Before I was commissioned in 1961 I was an Engineman The Coast Guard tried to use Engineering Officers on their older ships that were well qualified and experienced.  

 

CGC COO'S BAY Leaving Station (as seen through a porthole)

Photo courtesy of the Skeleton's Closet

 

The Coast Guard in my time was a very frugal organization. We never really had enough money to do everything. Our financial program pitted fuel against engine parts against toilet paper. This was the great discipline. In Portland the three Chief Engineers of the three cutters had a tacit agreement to cover each others overhauls. In other words, if we ran short of parts due to unforeseen circumstances we would "lend" each other the parts if we had them. We could never depend on our supply system to act in a timely manner. Most of the time we were buying parts from junk yards, yes really, junk yards.

The first of the new 378' Hamilton Class cutters was commissioned in late 1965. The first of the old AVP's (the CG called them first WAVP's and the WHEC's) to be replaced was the Coos Bay. The Hamilton was assigned Boston as a home port. The plan was to decommission the Coos Bay, transfer the crew to the Humboldt, reassign the Humboldt to Portland and man the Hamilton with the Humboldt's crew. It was somewhat of a disaster. The last crew of the Coos Bay kept her in immaculate condition. The Humboldt had been known for years in Boston as the Bumboat. It was in atrocious condition, just as dirty as her crew. There were some really mad Portland sailors, giving up a good ship for what they perceived to be a garbage scow.

On the night before the Coos Bay left Portland for good, Arnie Cousins, her Chief Engineer and myself hoisted a few at the American Legion in Portland. He was not going to the Humboldt. He had run afoul of the Coast Guard's officer educational program and had been broken from Lieutenant to W-3. His assistants were jg's, and a W-2, but he still remained in charge.

He related to me which engines he had just overhauled. Mine were running but just barely. My predecessor had played with the engine operating hours so that I was stuck with four overhauls coming due at once and empty parts boxes. Arnie and I edged down to the Coos Bay's log office after midnight where he gave me the machinery history cards and engine overhaul records.

I stood on the dock with a number of others next morning and bid good-bye to the Coos Bay. But that is not the end of my story.

Within a couple of days the Cookie Cutter went on patrol. It was a tough patrol and we came limping back on 2-1/2 engines. One of the GM8-268A diesel generators was crippled with water in the oil and I had serious evaporator and boiler problems. I called the District Engineer and asked him for enough money to buy the necessary parts to get my main engines back in shape. He didn't have the money to give me but offered to let me cannibalize the Coos Bay which was decommissioned and laying dead in the water at the Curtis Bay (MD) Yard. I said not only yes, but hell yes.

I commandeered a stake truck from the South Portland CG Base, gathered up a group of (you, you, and you) volunteers, and drove down to Curtis Bay to get the parts. If I recall correctly it was ENC Jim Diverty, DCC Johnny Johnson, EN2 Palowski, and a fireman who were in on this. When we got to the shipyard we were treated like lepers by the yard birds. It was early February, cold, gray and damp. We were not allowed to energize any systems on the Coos Bay. We had just $1500 from the District for rigging services and temporary lights. Believe me it was cold on that old girl. Everybody worked in foul weather gear.

From the Machinery History information we decided to remove the center section from #3 and #4 mains. That is the fuel equipment, cylinder liners, pistons, and piston rods, main, and crankshaft bearings. We worked 16 hours a day for five or six days and had the engines disassembled, parts labeled, and ready to off-load on to the truck. What a joy that was. The ship had all exterior weather tight doors but the one adjacent to the machine shop welded closed. We mule hauled all of the parts up from B-2 to the main deck. While we were at it we took the fuel pumps and injectors from #1 and #2, as well as 16 GM-268A heads. The yard crane was used to load the truck and we were on our way.

We had so many parts we couldn't get them all on to the Cookie Cutter so we stored them in one of the State Pier Buildings.

I wish I could have given the guys who did the work in Curtis Bay medals. It never happened. What happened initially was the Coos Bay #3 Main parts became the #2 Main on the Cook Inlet. We loaded eight GM heads to be taken along on the next patrol to be overhauled at our leisure.

The Barataria was given quick notice to go to Viet Nam. They got the other parts from the Coos Bay to help them get ready to go. Poetic Justice didn't come into play this time. The Humboldt needed them as badly as I did.

A little later that year the Cook Inlet had a scheduled yard overhaul at Curtis Bay. On the day we got done with our overhaul the Coos Bay was towed out to sea just ahead of us where she was sunk by gunfire and bombs. That was a fitting end to a good ship.

 

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