LIFE ON THE CUTTER TANEY
The Coast Guard in the Mid-1950's as seen through the eyes of a young active duty reserve -- Reprinted courtesy of Vern Toler and his TANEY website.
By John A. Stone
A disclaimer -- I find that while I can recall the faces and personalities of the crew members, with only a; few exceptions their names are totally forgotten. Furthermore, I can't place events in chronological order or even say for a sure in which year they occurred. But everything I related did occur in 1956-1957.
Courtesy of Ron West
The Coast Guard in the Mid-1950's - My Road to the TANEY
My time on the CGC TANEY was a 19-month period in 1956 and 1957. It was peacetime, not a period of high drama or national crisis. There was a Cold War going on with the USSR, but this seemed to have little effect on the Coast Guard, which had settled into normal and routine operations following the Korean Conflict. The Coast Guard was part of the U.S. Treasury Department in those days, but we looked a lot like the U. S. Navy.
Our uniforms were Navy uniforms with the addition of a shield worn on the right sleeve to designate us as Coast Guardsmen. Enlisted men, E-6 and below, wore the familiar "sailor suit", and white hat -- while chiefs wore a tunic coat, trousers, and cap, much like the officers' uniforms but without the gold braid. Everybody possessed both a navy-blue and white dress uniform, but the chiefs and officers also had an often-worn khaki version.
Many of the Coast Guard's vessels were converted Navy ships (but not the TANEY). Much of the installed equipment aboard all of our cutters was standard Navy issue. Close cooperation between the Coast Guard and the Navy was a fact of life, particularly in matters of supply.
Another fact of life for young men in those days was the Draft. For most men this meant that the odds were great of being required to spend two years in the military. Most accepted this as their fate and patriotic duty -- but few tried to get out of it altogether -- but there was nothing wrong with being "smart" and trying to arrange the best possible "deal" for oneself. For most there was a desire to influence the timing of the inevitable entry into active duty, and to choose the branch of military service. The Reserves were a popular option for achieving these goals. For me, The Coast Guard Reserve was my way of "beating the Draft" -- that is, of avoiding service in the Army at a possibly inconvenient time, by serving in the Coast Guard at a time of my choosing.
An indication that this was Indeed peacetime occurred in January 1955. The government decreed this as a cutoff date for Veterans Benefits (GI Bill) eligibility. Those on active duty before the cutoff would get full benefits; those enlisting afterwards would not get these benefits.
Needless to say, this led to a stampede of young men attempting to enlist in all branches of the Armed Forces before January 31, 1955. In my own case, Veterans Benefits were less of motivator than finishing school, so I delayed going on active duty until July 1955. Ironically, much, much later, in the 1960's Congress in its infinite wisdom restored Veterans benefits to those of us who had missed out on them, ;but not retroactively. Thus, I never received any education benefits after my service in the Coast Guard. But I did receive one good benefit that didn't cost the government a penny: I bought my first house in 1968 with a VA mortgage loan -- this meant no down payment and a favorable interest rate.
I joined the Coast Guard Reserve at age 17, in February 1953 when the Korean Conflict was still going on although newly-elected President Eisenhower had promised to soon put an end to it. Coast Guard recruiters were still anxious to fill up reserve units with new recruits. My particular "deal" was an 8-year enlistment, to include at least two years of active duty. So I found myself going to weekly reserve meetings in Louisville, Kentucky, where I was living at the time. Meeting attendance and summer training kept up for more that two years until I decided to fulfill my Draft and Reserve obligations by going on active duty in July 1955.
I received orders to report to 12th District in San Francisco for future assignment. After several weeks in California, I got my wish for electronics school and was shipped back across the country to the USCG Training Center, Groton, Connecticut. ET school was six months long, and I came out a newly minted ET3 on my way back to 12th District.
I had to wait a
while, with some anxiety, as a transient at Base Alameda, to learn what my
permanent duty assignment would be. Eventually orders came through to report to
CGC TANEY. I had to wait some more, because TANEY was somewhere at sea.
She returned to Alemeda on April 18, 1956, and that's when I reported aboard to
began a very gratifying experience as a crew member of the TANEY
The TANEY in 1956-1957
In 1956-57 the
TANEY was based at Government Island, Alameda, California. Her primary mission
was Weather Station duty, which was rotated among the major cutters on the West
Coast. I recall about a half-dozen Ocean Station NOVEMBER patrols during my
tour of duty. The TANEY was always on standby for search-and -rescue or law
enforcement missions, but I don't recall any such operations during this
time. Other operations included a month of Refresher Training with the Navy at San
Diego and a two-week Reserve Training Cruise to Mazatlan, Mexico. There were two
periods spent in shipyards around the Bay Area, including one for extensive maintenance in dry-dock. The TANEY had boilers and ran on steam.
For most of this period, the CO was Capt. James A. Alger, Jr., and the XO was Cdr. Morrell. I remember that Capt. Alger was a low-key individual, well-liked by the crew, and a superb leader-of men. He had a younger brother who also was a Coast Guard officer and who commanded a smaller cutter in the Bay Area -- I had the honor of serving under both of them at different times. The TANEY had a change of command in mid-1957, and Capt. Alger was transferred to the Coast Guard Academy. I can't recall the name of his successor.
I perceived morale on the TANEY to be quite high -- the officers treated us well, the chow was decent, and we spent at least two-thirds of our time in port. At sea, the ship rode well, everyone stayed quite busy, and most evenings there were movies on the fantail.
I worked in the electronics department, which consisted of a chief and two junior ET's reporting to the electronics officer, who was Ensign Lynch. ETC Munson reported aboard in mid-1956, and I worked for him for most of my tour. He was tough, but we got along well. I worked with ET3 Jerry Starr until he was transferred and replaced by ET3 Walter Adams.
I remember that Starr helped me buy my first automobile (most of the crew had cars at Base Alameda.) Adams was married and had a family, so when the ship was in port he naturally wanted to spend as much time at home as possible. I often stood by for him when his section had the duty. -- I was single and lived on the ship, so it was no great hardship for me to do that. Walter was extremely talented as an electronics troubleshooter, much better than I was, and he sometimes got me out of jams when I was stumped trying to fix something. On one occasion, Chief Munson asked Adams and me to collaborate on a practical project of considerable difficulty, which we accomplished. This turned out to be a test for advancement and both Adams and I were promoted to ET2 at the same time. In those days ET was an open rate, and promotions were made in the field.
Shop was a cubbyhole located on the second deck (same deck as the crew's mess
and the wardroom), outboard on the port side just aft of the engine room
spaces. We also had a stockroom located on a sub-deck only four feet high -- I
spent a lot of time there, crawling around and sorting out spare parts We had
the responsibility for maintaining most of the electronic equipment on the ship
-- radar's, fathometer, voice radio receivers and transmitters, radio-beacon --
with the notable exception of the high-powered main radio transmitters and
receivers, which the RM,s would not let us touch. One of the most interesting
jobs was climbing the mainmast to work on a radar antenna -- I recall we had to
do this once at sea, in a storm!
In those days before solid state electronics, the equipment was full of vacuum tubes, and maintenance usually consisted of identifying which tube had burned out, and replacing it.
Life on Ocean Station NOVEMBER
NOVEMBER was a point in the Pacific Ocean halfway between San
Francisco and Honolulu, about 1200 miles from either city. The U.S. Coast Guard was
responsible for having a ship on station at all times. The principal mission of cutters assigned to Ocean Station NOVEMBER patrol were to provide weather observations, a checkpoint for airline traffic and if needed, search and rescue capability.
Patrols at Ocean Station NOVEMBER were rotated among the four or five cutters from the 11th, 12th, and 13th Districts -- The West Coast. From Alameda, TANEY and GRESHAM pulled these patrols. Each patrol was about one month long: three weeks on station and about one week for the round-trip two and from mainland.
Arrival of the relief ship was always a; welcome sight for a crew that had kept their own ship running and on station for 21 days. The two ships always had a high-line drill, and mail was passed to the ship being relieved. Ocean Station duty was not highly exciting, and crew members regarded it as a job that must be done. The crew spent long hours working or watch-standing. Morale measures included a ship's newspaper while at sea, movies in the evening ("The Barefoot Contessa" was a favorite)' and on one occasion a swim call. Other off-duty activities included studying for advancement, writing letters, playing card games, or just socializing.
I recall that in some half-dozen NOVEMBER patrols we had swim call only once. I suppose swim call was infrequent because weather, ocean, or operational conditions were seldom right, but also because the command may have been somewhat reluctant to have the crew engaged in an activity perceived as dangerous. On the one opportunity to go swimming, I thoroughly enjoyed bobbing around in the Pacific Ocean for a half hour, but I also recall looking up at the ship and seeing several gunner's mates with rifles standing on the flying bridge on the lookout for sharks.
The weather observation mission was performed by two or three civilian weathermen who accompanied each patrol. They lived with the officers and had their own agenda apart from the rest of the ship. From time to time one would see a weatherman releasing large, helium-filled balloons from their shop on the weather deck" to study winds aloft. Their observations were relayed by radio back to the mainland to become an important part of the Weather Bureau's data for weather prediction in the days before satellites.
In the course of roaming the ship to perform electronics maintenance, I came to realize that the only real excitement of a NOVEMBER patrol took place in CIC. Here, the CIC watchstanders (radiomen and sonarmen) manned the air-search radar, plotting contacts, and had voice radio communication with every passing aircraft. The CIC gang could plot and calculate the course, speed, and position of each plane, and relay the information to the pilot.
In those days, air travel between the West Coast and Hawaii was a long trip in a four-engine propeller plane such as the DC-7. Commercial pilots always had a cheerful greeting for Ocean Station NOVEMBER, and many expressed gratitude that the Coast Guard was down there. I considered it fun to observe all this CIC activity and thus spent many of my off-duty hours huddled in some out-of-the-way corner of CIC. My presence was tolerated by the watch-standers because I might be needed to repair something, but actually I shouldn't have been there -- quarters were tight in CIC, and extraneous personnel were not permitted.
The value of
Ocean Station NOVEMBER was confirmed on October 1956 in a much
publicized incident -- a Pan Am Clipper in trouble had to ditch at NOVEMBER, and the
on-station cutter PONTCHARTRAIN saved all hands. The PONTCHARTRAIN immediately abandoned NOVEMBER to return with the survivors to San Francisco and
well-deserved; glory. In this rare event, NOVEMBER was unattended for several days, until a relief ship could get there. I think I recall that TANEY was that relief ship, but I'm not sure. I am certain that the order of rotation and length of patrols were altered for a while after this event, and of course, nothing like it happened again while I was on the TANEY.
Cruise to Mazatlan, Mexico
One summer, TANEY was assigned to perform a two-week training cruise for about 150 reservists, with a port-of-call at Mazatlan, Mexico. Conditions were tough, because the ship was crowded, the cruise speed was intentionally slow, and the weather around the Baja was hot! We were scheduled for a two-day weekend visit, with liberty, at Mazatlan.
The crew was divided into port and starboard sections with one section to have liberty on Saturday and the other on Sunday. So when we docked at Mazatlan on Saturday, half the crew was turned loose to interact with the unsuspecting citizens of Mazatlan. I was among the Saturday liberty party and can testify that the TANEY's sailors behaved as sailors traditionally do in a foreign port. There was some damage to motel rooms, which was paid when the manager presented a bill to the ship.
Liberty lasted all night, and throughout the night sailors straggled back to the ship -- sick! Virtually the entire liberty party came dawn with "Montezuma's revenge" The Sunday liberty party went ashore, and in spite of precautions, the same thing happened to them! With some 90% of the crew down, the command asked a local M.D. to come aboard to help -- which he did with great amusement -- the doctor provided the right medicines to relieve the symptoms.
I personally did
not come down with the sickness, no doubt because of my terrific
constitution and random chance, for I ate and drank just like my shipmates. After a night of standard debauchery, I came staggering back to the ship around dawn an Sunday, and turned in expecting to sleep all morning. No such luck. About an hour latter, I was rudely awakened by, "Stone!" "Get up! You have to go out on Shore Patrol duty. Everyone else is too sick to go." So I performed this unexpected duty. An officer and I walked the hot, dusty streets of old Mazatlan all day long, while I suffered in silence. Bit I didn't get sick, just a memorable headache.
The TANEY departed Mazatlan with a crew that was sadder but wiser, and greatly weakened. Our return cruise was somewhat faster than the trip south. When we got back the TANEY was immediately placed under medical quarantine at anchor in the middle of San Francisco Bay. After about a half-day, the authorities were satisfied, and TANEY was released to return to Base Alameda and disembark the reservists.
A Memorial Day Embarrassment
On Memorial Day, the TANEY was assigned to proceed to a location just outside the Golden Gate for a ceremony honoring those wartime sailors who died at sea. Two groups of civilian dignitaries and guests came aboard at Alameda and at San Francisco to take part in the ceremony. After a very moving ceremony on the fantail, TANEY retraced the route and disembarked the passengers. It might have been a successful day, except that a not-so-funny thing happened on the way, on the outbound leg.
As the TANEY approached the pier at San Francisco to pick up the second group of passengers a treacherous, unpredictable current caught up the ship and control was lost. As the Alameda passengers strolled around the fantail and the San Francisco passengers watched from the pier, a cry rang out: "Brace yourselves! We're going to hit!" And hit we did -- the ship slammed into the pier hard ! Fortunately, no one got hurt, but the ship was clearly damaged on the starboard side, well above the water line. The decision was made to go ahead with the mission and take care of the damage later.
The damage consisted of hull plates shoved in with a 10-foot-long gash in the vicinity of the wardroom. As soon as it could be arranged, TANEY went into a small local shipyard for repairs. I think we were in that yard for five weeks. We came out as good as new, but more than a little embarrassed.
Refresher Training at San Diego
I was aboard when the TANEY had one month of Refresher Training with the Navy at San Diego -- I think it was February 1957. This was another period of hard work and long days in which TANEY performed various exercises with other vessels. Teams of Navy experts roamed around the ship to test and evaluate all aspects of crew performance. I remember it as a time for the ship to practice gunnery skills, particularly with the 5-inch gun, which otherwise was rarely fired. Also, in those days, TANEY carried depth charges and got to shoot off some of them in anti-submarine exercises -- very spectacular.
In addition to their normal duties, ET's stood general-quarters stations for many hours, and also had surprise test by the evaluators. A favorite evaluator trick was to simulate an equipment failure by removing a fuse, then call in an ET and watch him struggle to identify and fix the problem. In another test, an evaluator in CIC would demand to see some obscure spare part. He would follow the ET from the bridge to the electronics shop while the ship was at GQ, watch as the ET quickly looked up the part in catalogs kept in the shop, then go to the between-decks electronics storeroom and actually lay hands on the desired item among the thousands kept there. We passed this test by having the storeroom well organized and maintained.
Another surprise drill we participated in was called "emergency antenna drill" The idea was to simulate failure of the main radio transmitter antenna, which was a cable strung from mainmast to forecastle. The drill was to rig the emergency antenna, a length of wire rope kept for this purpose, from the radio-room to an upper-deck railing, then mate it electrically to the main transmitter by re-tuning, and finally demonstrated that it worked by sending out a message. This was a drill for the junior RM's and ET's. Before TANEY left for San Diego, we somehow heard that we would be surprised by an emergency antenna drill, so we decided to be exceptionally well prepared for it. We got together with the RM's and choreographed every move, then practiced it. So when one day while training off of San Diego, word was passed "simulate main antenna failure," we were ready. We did the entire drill in record time -- I seem to recall about three minutes -- and left the evaluator speechless. TANEY got high marks for that drill.
One side benefit for the crew's hard work on week days was the opportunity for liberty in San Diego on the weekends. A tradition for liberty in San Diego was to take the short trip across the border to Tijuana, for whatever might await there. Tijuana was a most astounding place for a young sailor who had never been there before. So far as I know, TANEY crew members never got into any serious trouble there, and it was considered good R&R.
Among the milder entertainment's in Tijuana were the jai-alai games and the dog races.
Life Aboard the TANEY -- and Thereafter.
The following are odds and ends recalled from TANEY having a home port in the San Francisco Bay area in 1956-57.
At Government Island, TANEY always docked in the last berth, just behind the GRESHAM. USCGC GRESHAM was a converted Navy ship, about the same size as TANEY and with the same mission.
TANEY kept a storeroom in a warehouse building on Government Island. However, a later CO got rid of this storeroom, on the principle that anything worth keeping should be on the ship at all times.
The only bridge off Government Island led not to Alameda, but to Oakland. In fact, except for a mailing address, TANEY and crew had virtually no interest in Alameda. Oakland was the most popular local area for liberty.
In those days, civilian clothes were absolutely forbidden on the ship and on the base, for sailors E-6 and below. Sailors going on liberty had to wear dress blues, year around, and had to undergo a rigorous personnel inspection before going ashore. However, the uniform was not popular ashore, and downtown businesses called "locker clubs" catered to the desire of sailors to have a place to keep "civvies" and change into them. Thus was liberty in Oakland.
Once an all-hands picnic was organized by the TANEY crew. It was held in a park in the hills east of Oakland. There were kegs of beer, picnic-style food, and family members in attendance. This was a real moral booster, and everyone enjoyed it.
In these same
Oakland hills was a rifle range, where from time to time groups of crew
members were required to practice their marksmanship. This firing range was also used by the FBI, who apparently wanted to remain anonymous, because we were cautioned not to look at them.
In the latter part of 1957, a professional pohotographer came aboard TANEY to make a group picture of the crew. I'm in that picture, but have never seen it, because I left the TANEY shortly thereafter.
For a short while, TANEY had a mascot named "Sinbad" a beautiful young dog of the boxer breed. Someone had given Sinbad to the CO, who made him ship's mascot. Sinbad was well behaved and liked by all the crew. He went on at least one patrol with the ship.
I experienced an
earthquake while on the TANEY. Fortunately, it was a minor one -- it
shook buildings in San Francisco and Oakland, but no one got hurt. The ship was docked at Government Island, and I was working on the bridge of the ship when I felt strong vibrations for about a minute. It felt exactly as if the engines were starting up. I was puzzled, because I knew we weren't scheduled to get underway. When the vibrations ceased I thought no more about it. Only later did I learn that it was an earthquake and that I should have been scared.
TANEY interacted with various naval and military installations around the Bay Area. Treasure Island had a movie locker from which we borrowed all the movies for patrols. It also had a fire-fighting school that most of the crew had attended. The Oakland Naval Supply Depot was frequently visited to walk through high-priority orders. TANEY would take on fuel at the naval facility at Richmond, which is on the Bay north of Oakland. Also near Richmond was an army magazine called Port Chicago that we used from time to time to off-load and on-load ammunition. I had a wisdom tooth extracted at the dental clinic of the Presidio in San Francisco.
Although I was
scheduled to be released from active duty in November of 1957, by
September I had accumulated 60 days leave, which I decided to take in the Bay Area. So effectively my job on the TANEY ended in September 1957, even though I did return for a few days in November to be processed out.
I remained in the Bay Area for several years after that, going to school in Berkley at the University of California. During this period I encountered an ex-shipmate, QM2 Krell, who talked me into joining his CG Reserve unit, which met one weekend a month at Stockton, California. In February 1961 my eight-year enlistment was up, and I received an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard Reserve.
After 1957. Life moved on, and I had little reason to think much about the TANEY. I got married, had a son, and by the strangest of coincidences, that son decided to join the Coast Guard in 1981 and made a career of it. In 1982, my son SK3 Philip Stone was serving on the USCGC CHASE when he first encountered USCGC TANEY. It seems that both CHASE and TANEY were assigned to participate for a few days in the 1982 summer festival at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Each ship held open house for the public, and Philip made a point of taking the TANEY tour. He has continued from time to time to provide me with information about the TANEY.
Last summer, I visited Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum near Charleston, South Carolina, whose largest attraction is the decommissioned carrier YORKTOWN. To my surprise, also there was the decommissioned USCGC INGHAM, the only remaining sister ship of the TANEY, the ships being so nearly identical. I'm now looking forward to visiting the decommissioned TANEY, maybe this year.
John A. Stone, Former ET2 wrote this article on April 13 1993 and it first appeared on the TANEY website.