A big package labeled "Alaskan Earthquake" caught my eye, so I took that package back into the Radio Station for further review.

When All Were Heroes

By John R Smith

Those of you stationed at my beloved CG Radio Station Kodiak (NOJ) will certainly remember the drill, days of boredom surrounding hours of absolute pandemonium. I must have enjoyed that routine, because I endured it for nearly 30 months. Actually, it was the best duty station at which I served.

During one of the extended periods where no signals were heard, I ventured out into the message archives in an effort to pass the time. A big package labeled "Alaskan Earthquake" caught my eye, so I took that package back into the Radio Station for further review. The more I read the logs and messages, the more insight I gained into the terror experienced by the victims of that March 28, 1964 event, and especially the ensuing tidal waves. Those Coasties at Cape Hinchinbrook and St. Elias lighthouses, most of them young SAs, SNs or 3rd classes, completely isolated from the rest of the world, watched their little rocks shaking and their buildings breaking up. One message from St. Elias mentions the station was actually hit by three waves, their engineman was drowned and washed out to sea, his body never recovered.

Another message from SEDGE states they were aground in the middle of Kodiak channel, with a minus 30 foot tide. A message from Cape Hinchinbrook is interrupted by, "now leaving station again, will be back when the shaking stops". There is a note at the end of this message stating, "due to weak signal and high nose level, portions and accuracy are doubtful". Eventually, the seismic activity reached a level which required SEDGE to evacuate Hinchinbrook. The Alaska Standard radioed that the city of Valdez was "almost completely flattened" by the tidal wave. Other units reported the little Indian villages around Kodiak were obliterated by the wave. The BITTERSWEET was forced to get underway under the command of the OOD, a BM2. No officers were aboard.

As a former firefighter, I have been frightened many times, but I cannot begin to fathom the sheer terror experienced by those young Coasties. Can you just imagine being in a small, cracking building on top of a rock which never stops shaking, and your only contact with the rest of the world in the form of a little box with a microphone and speaker. I imagine it would be similar to being on Ocean Station aboard one of the old "255s", facing mountainous seas and high winds, right?

Perhaps it is situations such as these which cause me to "see red" when someone mentions the FOUR branches of the military, or when a military monument omits the Coast Guard. I immediately think of the 19 and 20 year old Coasties, serving on the Cutters, Loran stations and lighthouses, perhaps away from home for the first time, suddenly having to become as mature and responsible as an infantryman in the battlefields of Viet Nam. As was the case with the Marines in the rice paddies, their actions directly resulted in the death or saving of themselves or another human being. These same young men suddenly found themselves in command of a Coast Guard Cutter or light station without any prior preparation for that command.

They were all old enough to serve and die for their country, but were too young to legally drink 6% beer or to vote.

 

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