By Linda Malaussena Robinson
"I like your web site, and thought you might be interested in adding this to your stories section." - Linda
The years I hug to my heart and treasure the most, as a “Coast Guard brat” were the four years we spent at the-then Coast Guard Training Station at Avery Point, Groton, Connecticut. My father, Robert Malaussena, was a career Coastguardsman, who enlisted in 1939, when he was an 18-year old kid from New York City.
Chief Robert Malaussena
In Connecticut, we lived in a large, old house at 118 Thames Street, directly across the street from the Thames River. The only things down by the river were some docks and a few dilapidated buildings, more like shacks than anything else. The house is still there, painted red instead of the brown color it was. The docks and dilapidated buildings are also still there.
Playing down by the river was an enchanting time. I could be a pirate, or an explorer, or a damsel in distress, abandoned on a deserted island, and awaiting rescue. My friends and I would take turns playing the various characters in the games we invented. Personally, I liked being the swashbuckling pirate best.
My prized possession was my 24” bicycle, which I rode back and forth each day to the Groton Heights Elementary School. I also rode the bicycle everywhere else; it was my main mode of transportation. Groton is a hilly community, and there is nothing more fun than to ride down a hill with “no hands.”
The best hills of all were at the Training Station. It was thrilling to whiz past all the stately stone buildings that dotted the campus. The Chief’s Club at Avery Point had once been a lighthouse and was a center of social activity for adults and children alike. Even as a child, I liked its interesting and unique design. I planned my timing perfectly so I could ride “no hands” down the hill to the Chief's Club and brake smoothly before I crashed into the building or sailed over the nearby sea wall.
Summers were especially fun, because we would dig for clams along the shore area near the Chief’s Club. I would trudge along with my mother and father, as the sun kissed my face and the breeze caressed my hair. The sound and feel of the sand squishing between my bare toes as I walked was delightful. I kept an eagle-eye to the ground, alert to the telltale squirt hole that indicated a clam lurked just beneath the surface. I could not have been more excited and pleased if I had found gold. After all, I contributed toward dinner that night.
Each year, a Christmas party for all us children was held at the base theater. Santa Claus came, and always managed to get me something I liked. He even knew what size clothes I wore! I felt so important when my name was called and I ran up to the stage to claim my present. When I got a little older, I didn’t run -- I sashayed up the steps, onto the stage and didn‘t sit on Santa‘s lap. I just took my present, thanked him, and sashayed back down off the stage.
One event I will never forget is Hurricane Carol. It made a direct hit on Groton, the last week of August 1954. The Red Cross evacuated people to our house, because it was one of the safest places in town. With its foot-thick walls and the fact that it sat on high ground, it was indeed safe and secure. My mother’s birthday is August 30, and we celebrated the event with a bunch of strangers. To me, the entire time the evacuees stayed with us was an ongoing house party. Nice people with whom I could talk were around, and there were plenty of children with whom I could play. Our family car, a big tank of a Buick was at the Training Station when the hurricane hit. It washed away into Long Island Sound.
The other event I will always remember occured January 21, 1954. We were let out of school to see First Lady Mamie Eisenhower break a bottle of champagne over the bow of the USS Nautilus, the world’s first atomic submarine. It had been built at the Electric Boat plant in Groton. Even at age eight, I knew I was witness to an important historical event.
Life before Groton was pretty interesting, although I did not learn until recently just how “interesting” some of the time was for my father. On September 14, 1941 he was 20 years old and stationed aboard the CGC NORTHLAND, when they engaged Germans in Greenland. This was a full three months before the United States officially entered World War II.
The Northland crew had learned from some Danish trappers that the Germans had set up a radio station off the northwest coast of Greenland, so they could send weather data back to Germany. The weather data was important to the Germans, because the weather patterns over Greenland today would be the weather patterns over northern Europe a couple of days hence. If Hitler and his thugs knew the weather patterns, they could figure out where the Allies might strike. They also could better plan their own bombing missions, without uncertainty about the weather.
The men on the NORTHLAND destroyed the radio station and seized a German trawler that day. Their actions live in history as the first United States naval capture and the first action of World War II. Life Magazine told this story in one of their issues of September or October 1941.
Other missions in which my father participated included the rescue of three Canadian airmen whose plane went down on the Polar Ice Cap. The Canadians were stranded for 14 days, and could see the NORTHLAND for most of that time. But, the NORTHLAND crewmembers could not see them. Then the NORTHLAND started to leave the area.
The Canadians knew they were going to die. With nothing to lose, they took off all their clothes, and set them afire. At last! They were seen by the men on the ship, and rescued. Two of the men stayed aboard and survived. The pilot decided to try and take the plane off the ice cap. He took off and was killed when the plane crashed awhile later.
After World War II, my father served on a couple of other Coast Guard cutters, including the TUPELO about 1947 and the SPENCER, for 18 months, beginning in 1956. He was a Machinist Mate until he was promoted to Warrant Officer in 1954. After he became a Warrant Officer, my father taught at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
His promotion did not affect me much. We still lived in the Thames Street house, and I still attended Groton Heights Elementary School. I did, however, brag on occasion “my father runs the Coast Guard.”
After his stint at the Coast Guard Training Station and the Coast Guard Academy, my father got assigned some really rough duty. He was assigned as a recruiter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. People would ask, “What the heck is the Coast Guard doing in Pittsburgh?” He would smile and say, “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.” He retired at Pittsburgh in 1959. Both he and my mother are still alive and well and living at Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Growing up, I never fully appreciated what a full and rich childhood I had. Although it was painful to leave my friends when we moved, the traveling widened my viewpoint well beyond my years. I met people, went places and saw things that most children my age did not. I also did not appreciate until years later, the generous spirit of the Coast Guard people with whom I came in contact. It gave me a sense of adventure and wonderment that has stayed with me to this day.
Scenes From The Groton Training Station
Linda Malaussena Robinson