Decision Time at the Yard

By Don Gardner


In 1952 we were at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore where CG-83312 was undergoing an extensive overhaul, which consisted of removing the Sterling Viking gasoline engines and replacing them with diesels.

Duty at the Yard was quite good; there were recreational facilities (pool room) and showers. The 312 was uninhabitable at this time and we slept in barracks at the Yard on comfortable single-bunks. Lockers were provided to keep our clothing in. On the 312 we were piled three-high on a pitching, rolling boat, where we had an AM radio, no showers, and had to hand pump the heads to remove waste material

The Yard chow was outstandingly good; we had frog legs once and I thoroughly enjoyed their chicken-like taste. I never ate a poor meal the whole time I was there. But there was one drawback however—the three of us Seamen had to rotate mess cook duty. But this wasn’t too bad.

On my first assignment to the mess hall, I noticed Baltimore policemen eating in the galley and asked a cook what they were doing there sponging food. ‘We keep a good relationships with the cops. If they pick you up for drinking and find out you are a ‘Coastie’, they will bring you back to the base and let you go,’ he replied with a knowing expression on his face. That sounded like a good deal to me, although I never had to use this service.

The boat went to Curtis Bay while I was a patient at the USPHS hospital in Norfolk recovering from tonsillitis and upon my discharge, I was directed to wait three months, then have them removed. I rejoined the CG-83312 in Curtis Bay and when the three months was up, reported to the USPHS hospital in Baltimore for the operation. I vividly remember the doctor used a three foot needle to inject the pain killing medicine. I lived through the operation and after a brief period of recuperation, was granted ten days sick leave and went home. My throat was sore for another week or so and I had to eat soft food, but Mom took good care of me.

While home, I had to give my future quite a lot of thought. My enlistment was due to expire in May and I tried to make up my mind whether to ship over or come back home. Employment for a high school dropout with no special skills was a chancy proposition—I knew I could find a job in the furniture industry but didn’t look forward to doing this sort of work for the rest of my life. On the other hand, if I remained in the Coast Guard, heaven knows where I would wind up. Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays would probably be spent many miles from home, and numerous weddings and other family celebrations would be missed. I really wanted to go home, but my future there seemed bleak at best.

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When I returned to the boat I discussed shipping over with several shipmates. I had been attached to the boat for almost three years by now and felt at home. If I shipped over, I would soon be transferred because of the length of time on the boat. My only path to promotion was to be a Boatswains Mate, and this did not appeal to me.

Gradually, I began leaning toward shipping over but decided that it would only be for three years in case I decided I didn’t want to make a career of it.

In early May I was sent down to Norfolk to reenlist[1]. I stayed two nights at my Aunt Barbara’s while the papers were being processed, then I went home again on ten days reenlistment leave. It was difficult to explain to Mom that I had decided to stay in the Coast Guard for three more years, for I was afraid that she would feel I was rejecting my family, but I carefully explained to her that High Point didn’t offer a future. Mom tried to understand and never attempted to change my mind.

After returning to duty again, life settled back to normal for a while. A shipmate, SN Vester Barber, mentioned one day that while I was on reenlistment leave, a message to all units had been received that ordered each unit to notify them of which schools their non-rated men would like to attend. Ves explained that the O-in-C, BMC Bill Twiford, put me down for radio school because I liked radio. At first I was upset because I didn’t want to leave the boat.

Sure enough, several weeks later we received a message ordering me to radio school. During the interim period that Ves told me about the message and the receipt of orders, I had been giving radio school a lot of thought and was now anxious and excited about the prospect of becoming a Radioman. Although I did not have a high school education or know Morse code, I did have three years experience in voice communications, which helped once I was in school.

Bidding farewell to shipmates I had served with for quite a long while is a sad time. During the three years on CG-83312 I had enjoyed some wonderful times and companionship. The boat was home to me, like my parent’s home in many ways. At the same time, I was excited about travelling up North, to see new sights, to meet new shipmates, and to learn the exciting profession of a radio operator.

One never forgets their first ship (or boat, in my case). Now almost 50 years later, I can still remember every detail of CG-83312.

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[1] The Yard was a headquarters unit and did not handle 5th District personnel matters.