Mischief on a West Coast Weather Wagon ...............


by Don Gardner

On the GRESHAM in the early 1960s, weather patrol was about as exciting as watching a snail race. And the weather, well, the only rough weather was going across the "brair patch" en route to and from ocean station. The fairly shallow water just offshore from San Francisco could be choppy at times.

One day on Ocean Station November, I was called up to the Combat Information Center (CIC) by RDC Jim Pegram, who said someone on a Coast Guard aircraft overhead wanted to talk to me. It was an old RMC buddy, Malcolm Simmons, on his way to his next duty assignment at Coast Guard Radio Station Honolulu, NMO. Malcolm asked what the weather was like, and I told him "we are all pretty seasick, with waves occasionally as high as three feet." Malcolm couldn’t think of a quick comeback to that.

The kids, though, they could often think of funny things to do to entertain themselves and their fellow officers. The "kids" were Ensigns McCann (communications officer) and Lightner (gunnery officer), both full of . . . youthful enthusiasm. "The kids" was a term used between the Chiefs as a term of endearment and respect for the two officers, whom we thought were good examples of what the Coast Guard Academy could do with young men. Mr. McCann learned Morse code at about 12 WPM and sent a weather message one evening after we alerted Radio Station San Francisco to what was about to transpire.

One of the newly married officers was anxious to talk with his wife every evening through the Marine Radiotelephone Operator; he was so in love that we all felt sorry for him . . . but not the kids. Mr. McCann had one of my RM's type up a message, supposedly from our relief, the PONTCHARTRAIN, reporting they had lost the propeller on one shaft and were returning to a shipyard in Long Beach. Most everyone thought the subject of the joke would catch on because the 255s had only one shaft.

The first I knew of the phony message was when one of the radiomen asked me to initial it in the distribution section to lend authenticity. The CO, CDR Raymond Parks, was in on the joke, too, so I initialed the message, which was then put on the message board on the bridge to be discovered by the heart-sick officer when he came on watch. After a suitable period to let him bitch and moan and agonize over how much longer we would be on patrol before being relieved by a competent ship, the officer was informed that it was all a joke. Quickly recovering from his anger, he was happy our relief would be conducted on time.



The best joke was one the kids played on the XO. I don’t remember his name, but it was Scandinavian-sounding. He was a big, good-humored guy, coming to the GRESHAM through Merchant Marine Inspection, and was a terrible seaman. CDR Parks was the world’s best seaman and could maneuver the GRESHAM in and out of tight places, but the XO couldn’t back the ship down.

Departing Government Island, Alameda, for weather patrol, the XO was given the opportunity to back us away from dock, where we were tied up starboard side to with the TANEY behind us, stern to stern. I was standing outside the radio room door directly below on the starboard wing of the bridge when he gave the order to stop backing on the starboard engine. The backing port engine walked us into the TANEY and put a nice dent in her starboard quarter.

After a few days on station, boredom quickly set in, especially for the kids. The XO had made loud pronouncements in the wardroom that he was going on a strict diet to lose weight. He did not eat breakfast; lunch was black coffee with ‘rabbit food’ (several leaves of lettuce). A few crackers were added to this less-than-sumptuous meal. At dinner he added a small piece of meat with a green vegetable.

I don’t know how the kids did it, but each day one of them would sneak into his stateroom and trim just a tad off his khaki web belt and readjust the buckle. The XO began to complain that he must be retaining water, so he stopped his liquid intake as much as possible. Still, as more days went by, his belt kept getting tighter and tighter. The XO was almost reduced to tears, complaining that his diet was just killing him, he had no energy, and he was becoming slightly irritable. How could this happen? He asked Jim Meehan, the HMC. Jim made up some cock-and-bull story, which seemed to temporarily satisfy the XO; but when it appeared he had lost about fifteen pounds and was becoming uninterested in living, the kids took pity and let him in on the joke.

The XO went back to his usual cheerful self after a couple of steaks, potatoes with sour cream, and bread with butter lavishly spread. When the GRESHAM returned to Alameda, he weighed five pounds more than when we sailed.

Polish Dance Hall Party

The Entertainment Committee got together while we were at sea and decided to have a party when we returned to Government Island. As a recent graduate of Leadership School, it occurred to me I should put my skills to use by volunteering to help.

A Polish Dance Hall in Oakland was selected as a place cheap enough but big enough for the crew. I was assigned as Chief Shore Patrol; an EM1 and an EM3 also volunteered to assist me. Our duties were simple: we took turns cruising the place to ensure no one got too rowdy.

About an hour into the party, the Navy Shore Patrol (an officer and a few of his enlisted minions) came by to check us out. I explained that our policy was that anyone who became rambunctious would be returned to the ship by our duty driver—our van was parked in front of the building. We passed inspection and the Navy left us alone after this.

My pal was BMC Rosa, whom I had asked to have a rum and coke handy whenever I came by his table. I went by his table often.

Apparently the EM1 had a drinking arrangement, too. While bending elbows with Rosa and our wives, the EM3 came to the table and informed me the EM1 was making passes at all the women. Sure enough, before I got to him, a few of the guys told me they were going to clean his clock if he wasn’t removed.

The EM1 was firmly reminded of our policy about drunkenness and was relieved on the spot. The EM3 and I escorted him to the van, and I told him to get in. When he would not cooperate, I reached down and grabbed him by his collar and the seat of his dress blues and threw him into the back of the van. In mid-air he said, "Chief Gardner, you are under arrest!"

The EM1 weighed a good 50 pounds more than I, but righteous anger (or six rum-and-cokes) gave me the strength to make the throw. Immediately before his uncleared flight, the EM1 reached out to grab me, but got one of my gold jacket buttons instead.

About 1000 the following morning, the EM1 was called to the CPO Mess, which I had cleared out to avoid excessive embarrassment to him. On reporting, I commenced to ream him a good one for a few terribly long minutes, then I ordered him to take my jacket to the tailors on the base and have the button sewn back on.

The EM1 was quite meek for a while and was later transferred off. I think it must have been a great relief for him to go to a new station where no one was angry with him.


From Coast Guard Stories by Don Gardner

Return to the Coast Guard Stories Page