ELLIS ISLAND

Robert L. Stambach

 

A ghost of Coast Guard past .......

It's 2305, 14 November 1984. I just saw the conclusion of the CBS movie, Ellis Island, starring Richard Burton.

I had to sit down and write a few hundred words or so about Ellis Island and what an important part it played during the World War II mobilization of the Coast Guard! I wonder how many know that there was a Coast Guard Training Station on Ellis Island?

The part of the TV movie which brought back most memories was the scene of the great hall where all the immigrants assembled on arrival. Early in 1940 that hall was transformed into a galley, mess deck, barracks, classrooms, and a drill deck for recruits. Had I kept a diary, I could be more specific about CG TRAINING STATION, Ellis Island, New York.

The establishment of the Training Station was rather frantic. It was needed to meet the personnel requirements placed on the Coast Guard by the Navy Department to man navel vessels such as the transports HUNTER, LIGGETT, LEONARD WOOD, WAKEFIELD, and other vessels of the fleet. The Coast Guard had no boot training stations right up to the time that the national emergency was declared by President Roosevelt and the Coast Guard was transferred from Treasury to the Navy Department.

I was a yeoman second class and was transferred from ICARUS to Ellis Island early in 1940. Checking my Statement of Creditable Service, it was sometime before 3 May 1940 because I reenlisted on that date at Ellis Island. Enlistment's had not yet been "frozen" and there was an inducement of $50.00 per year for every year that a person shipped over. In my case, it was for 3 years because I was on a special temporary enlistment (green ticket) and had to take a physical examination. In those days, the first 6 years of service were on the green ticket during which time retirement and disability benefits were not applicable to enlisted personnel. Such benefits were given only after a successful physical at the 6 year point when the enlistment was in the regular establishment (white ticket). On the white ticket, one could reenlist within 24 hours without taking a physical.

Anyway, in 1940, immigrants were still being processed through Ellis Island. During this period until Coast Guard facilities could be completed, we were served the same chow as the immigrants. The food was prepared by a contract food concessionaire and it was horrible!!! Not the good food I had enjoyed on the Coast Guard patrol boat, ICARUS!! The recruits complained about the food, so much so that they wrote home to their parents who, in turn, contacted their representatives in Congress. There were so many complaints that Headquarters ordered the Chief Inspector to investigate. Unfortunately for us someone tipped of the food concessionaire about the forthcoming visit of the Chief Inspector. When the inspection team arrived the food we were served was the most delectable we had ever tasted. This was short lived, however and as soon as the Inspector left the chow returned to its former poor quality!!

LCDR A.W. (Iron Duke) Davis was Commanding Officer and Lieutenant J. D. Craik was Executive Officer of the Training Station. If I recall correctly, a young Ensign named James P. Stow, III was assigned to the staff and the remainder of the Officers were Warrant Officers. Perhaps some of the readers can come up with other stories of Coast Guard-Ellis Island History. But this is my story and it's 2356 so I'm hitting the sack for the night.

 

Commander Robert L. Stambach is a retired Commander in the USCGR (Ret)

Extracted from "We've Been There - The Coast Guard by Esther Stormer ©1992 - Reprinted by Permission

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