March 1952 to June 1952

By Jack A. Eckert


My first hitch ends.....

I left the District Personnel Office with my makeshift laundry bag full of "lucky bag" clothes and a GTR (Government Transportation Request) in my hands and walked over to North Station to catch a train to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The ride up was uneventful. Only the fact that I had always hitch hiked to and from Newburyport and Portsmouth made it different.

After I got off of the train I caught a Navy Bus over to the Navy Yard at Kittery. When I found the FREDDY LEE it was sitting in the middle of this huge graving dock, in front of a submarine that had also been hauled. The gangplank stretching from the edge side of the dry dock to the quarterdeck looked longer than the tiny 125 foot ship itself.

When I arrived I was expected. They were somewhat short handed and an EN3 was welcome. My arrival changed the watch structure underway from six and six to four and eight. Being welcome was a plus even though I had no service record (that being up in the North Atlantic on the Evergreen, and no sea bag either.) I was assigned a bunk in the forecastle, changed into dungarees and reported in to the ship's office.

I explained my situation, how I came to be there, and how I had obtained my meager quantity of clothes from an MAA at Constitution Wharf who took mercy on me and let me get an emergency draw of clothes from the "lucky bag." I must have been some spectacle.

USCGC FREDERICK LEE (WSC-139) - circa 1952 - Official U.S. Coast Guard Photo.

When my business was done, I checked into the Engineroom to go to work. There were no overhauls in progress, the ship was in for armament additions as it had just arrived from it's former homeport, Chicago, a few months previous. Just general cleaning and minor maintenance was taking place.

What an eerie feeling to be in that engineroom. It took up the entire mid section of the ship. There were port holes admitting daylight on either side, "day light in an engineroom", I thought, "how will they ever grow mushrooms?" The main engines were General Motors 8-268A's, just like the auxiliary diesels on the McCULLOCH. Nothing new here. The auxiliary's were General Motors 2-71's, basically the same as the auxiliaries on the EVERGREEN except there was much less of them and they generated 32 Volt DC power. It was strange to see open brass knife switches in an engineroom. AC power was made available for ships service functions by MG (motor-generator) sets all over the place. Engine control was by annunciator from the bridge. It was just as much of a problem answering bells on the FREDDY as it was on an AVP, more so in fact because you might get a back bell on one engine and a forward bell on the other. I could see that you had to hustle down there when underway.

The day's work was short and we cleaned up and retired for evening chow. What a tiny mess deck. In order to get there you had to go aft of the engineroom and through a tiny galley which contained a small sink and a huge stove. The heating boiler was in a small compartment off of the galley. Food was great. I was pleasantly surprised and the crew was a real friendly bunch. The senior PO's were all a clean cut group and I couldn't have asked for better.

The captain was LCDR John Dalin who looked like the movie actor Clifton Webb. He seemed to be a very meticulous man and was well respected by the crew. He had that great asset of being a fine seaman and ship handler. Nothing builds crew trust more then that.

Even in the yard the little ship was immaculate. It was jokingly referred to as the "DIRTY FREDDY" but nothing was further from the truth then that. It had teak decks that were routinely holy stoned. The white hull and super structure looked like it had been simonized.

We didn't stand import engineroom watches. Seaman and firemen were rovers, the junior PO's, enginemen included were gangway watchstanders and the senior PO's including enginemen were import OOD's.

The ship was refloated and left the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard a few days later and returned to New Bedford State Pier 3, the home port.

In those days three "Buck and a Quarters" in the First District alternated on SAR patrol. The other two were the LEGARE out of New Bedford and the GENERAL GREENE out of Gloucester. This was one week on patrol, one week on bravo Two, and one week on bravo six. On the patrol week the ship remained at the dock on immediate standby with engines warmed up ready to go. We called it "underway at the dock." There was no liberty and we were confined to the limits of the pier. Bravo two was two hour standby which meant get the ship underway as soon as the crew could be rounded up and bravo six which gave you a little more leeway. If one of the three ships was in charlie or repair status the other two would go week on and week off, underway at the dock. It was a different shipboard life then the larger ships.

During this period we got underway from the dock and went out to the Grand Banks to tow in fishermen a couple of times. When the tow was established, all hands not on watch went out on deck to handle lines, etc. It was a little like a lifeboat station in that everybody did a little bit of everything.

Just as I was getting settled in to finish out the year to the following November when my involuntary extension was up, my hemorrhoids acted up. They had become painful. The Public Health Service contract doctor sent me up to Brighton Marine Hospital again. I had just left there six weeks prior to that. I got a "reboring and rebushing job." Recuperation time was ten days in the hospital afterwards and then ten days sick leave. I swore after the operation which was pretty mean in those days that if I ever got them again I would take them to my grave.

I went through the recuperation and went home to Waukesha on the train on the sick leave. When I returned to Boston and before I went down to New Bedford I checked to see where the FREDDY LEE was. It was again up in the Portsmouth Navy Yard for an overhaul. I got a GTR from the District and rode the train up to Portsmouth to check in.

It was now well into May 1952. I no sooner was welcomed back aboard when the ship got a message stating that all those who were on involuntary extensions and were not re-enlisting were to be discharged. Eureka! my career in the Coast Guard was finally over.

Not so fast! My service record and seabag were on the EVERGREEN and they were on Oceanographic Patrol, not due in until the end of June. They needed my service record to discharge me. It was a good thing my pay record was in Boston or I would have not been paid for several months. Because of a snafu the first three checks I was supposed to get went to the EVERGREEN and they were sent back to Boston when the EVERGREEN got the mail in Argentia between runs. That was nifty but it resolved itself eventually. My morale was a little low but I survived. Just before Memorial Day, the XO, CBOSN Burbine told me that I could live aboard the ship and eat there but didn't have to work if I didn't want to. That gave me free gangway but what was I to do in Portsmouth? So I turned to down in the engineroom as both main engines were being overhauled. My pay had been stopped effective May 20 and I was rapidly running out of cash. The District thought I was discharged. What a mess.

On June 5th the ship was within a couple of days of leaving the yard. The XO called me in and said I could go home the next day and they would send me my papers. What a funny way to end a career.

With $20.00 in my pocket and my laundry bag full of "lucky bag" clothes I got one of the crewman to drive me up to Highway 1 where I stated hitch hiking to Waukesha.

I made it in about five rides. My longest was from Up State, New York to Chicago. That was pure, blind, stupid luck. On the eighth I arrived in Waukesha. I walked the last two miles home and was in the living room when Mom got up. I was ready to start a new life.

I thought at the time my short, one hitch career in the Coast Guard was over. I would have been very surprised looking into the future because it wasn't over yet. - Jack



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