How I Began And Ended My Coast Guard Career

Harry. T. “Tom” Serres


The reason for this thumbnail account of my life is to show other troubled kids that the military isn't the place for troublemakers. 

Cape May was my home away from home and kept me out of serious trouble with the law in 1949. I joined the Coast Guard because I was nearly sent to reform school because I was involved with some of Brooklyn's toughest gangs, mainly the Flatbush Tigers. A first cousin of mine, enlisted about a year before I did and invited me to have lunch with him on board the CGC Sebago, berthed at Pier 18 in Stapleton, Staten Island. Never have I eaten such delicious food.  I was born and reared in some of South Brooklyn's cold water flats. With no father to guide me, my mother managed to raise me, two brothers and a sister on a meager check from President Roosevelt's home relief and child welfare programs.

In my early years while serving in the Coast Guard I decided to go AOL from the CGC Absecon at Berkely Moorings in Norfolk, Va. Thirty days later I was apprehended by a  Fifth CG District CG intelligence chief. I think his last name was Paul. Chief Paul escorted me to the brig at St. George, Staten Island where I remained until I returned, under guard, to Norfolk, Va. A first class engineman whose name was Arthur Wagner, and who was stationed on the CGC Halfmoon, escorted me. Wagner was very understanding and allowed me to continue our trip without restraints. After returning to the Absecon I awaited a Summary Court Marshal while restricted to the Absecon.

I was sentenced to be discharged with a BCD, but the sentence was mitigated to serve 100 hours extra duty and restricted to the ship until the extra duty was finished. Boy!  Was I given a second chance or not?  It was then I decided to keep my nose clean.

Shortly after that I was reassigned to Holland Island Bar Light Station, Crisfield, MD., where I served for two years. While keeping out of trouble on  the lighthouse, I found another seaman first class who wanted a mutual transfer to the lighthouse because he lived up the road somewhere in Delaware. He was stationed at a port security unit in Baltimore. I agreed to mutual with him and ended up at the port security unit for a few months. Then I heard that an icebreaker, the Westwind, was looking for crewmembers. Quickly I put in a request to transfer to that ship which was berthed at Curtis Bay, MD. I was accepted, helped to recommission her and was eventually transferred to her new homeport at Pier 44 in the Red Hook section of South Brooklyn, NY. After pulling patrol in the Arctic in 1953 I wrote a story about the Westwind for the the Coast Guard Magazine. The article was published while we were patrolling the Arctic. It was titled  "Let's Visit the Westwind."  When the ship made it back to its Brooklyn mooring I was piped to the gangway, because I had a visitor. The visitor was a black chief journalist whose name was Alex Haley. Haley asked me if I would like to attend the Navy Class A Journalist School at Great Lakes, Illinois. Of course I was thrilled and accepted the assignment. I successfully made it through the three months of "A" school, promoted to JO3 and was assigned to the Second Coast Guard District in St. Louis, Mo. After a couple of years there where I met my wife of 48 years, I was assigned to the Coast Guard Institute, Groton, Conn., as a rewrite man and proofreader.

I left the Coast Guard in 1957 and immediately enlisted in the U. S. Air Force. In 1966 I applied for a postion with the USAF Thunderbirds I was assigned to the the team. A month after reporting to the Air Force's crack aerial demontration team I was promoted to master sergeant. I retired from the Thunderbirds in 1969. During my 11 years in the Air Force, I edited three base newspapers, two of which earned me a a first place trophy for editorial excellence. The third won me a second place mention. I am now 71 years of age and living in Las Vegas, Nevada, home of the Thunderbirds. I have been a member of the Thunderbird Alumni Association for nearly 13 years. The reason for this account of my life is to show other troubled kids that the military isn't the place for troublemakers. It took Cape May, my company commander, Gaines B. Chapman, and the second chance the people on the Absecon gave me, to make my life worthwhile.

Jack and Tom in the Thunderbird Hangar - May, 2002

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Harry. T. “Tom” Serres is a retired USAF Master Sergeant