Our Most Unforgettable Character
By Bob Fletcher
Courtesy of The Ships Bell, CGC Winona's Newsletter.
Every ship in the Coast Guard may claim to have had a person who was a legend. But, we who served in the CGC Winona, know we served with one of the true legends in the Coast Guard, one who we will never forget. Regardless of whether we served directly under him in the Deck Crew or were assigned to another Division of the ship, he had an impact on us.
From him we learned a work ethic, gained skills that remain with us to this day and that a "Coastie" is always squared away when going on liberty. At times we may have cussed him under our breath or tried to evade his wrath when we screwed up on a task. But to a man, we are better for having served with him during our time in the Winona.
This sums up the person we knew as, "Screaming Gene" Davis, BMCS.
I was stationed on the Winona, in Port Angeles, WA in 1964. Screaming Gene Davis was the Chief Boatswain's Mate for the ship at that time. After working with him for awhile, many of his historic stories surfaced through the memories of the crew. He had gotten his name for the obvious, that was he never just gave an order, he loved to scream all orders to the crew.
Many of the guys would mumble about him being crazy, but in truth, Screamin' Gene was in love with his ship, the Coast Guard and all the guys on board with him.
He would walk the decks some times at 0300 with a cup of coffee in his hand and simply wander about, watching the sea roll beneath his trusty steed, (the Winona). He would stare for hours as we slowly ran our search and rescue ocean station, 1800 miles off the coast between Hawaii and the West Coast. He struck me as a modem day Captain Ahab looking for the whale.
Screamin' Gene was likely the best Boatswain's Mate Chief in the Coast Guard, he took his duty very seriously. Sometimes you would get the feeling he felt the ship was his own property.
As a standard practice, the Coast Guard would rotate chiefs and officers after a few years at any given station, but Gene was chief mate on the Winona for years and years. I asked him once what the deal was? He said simply, "I took care of the Yeomen and others." When an order was about to come in or be sent for approval that might ship him out to a new station, (IT) the orders seemed to disappear. The chief was always on the Winona, while new officers and captains would come and go!
He knew where the men hid the Vodka, and all the hiding places where the crew slept during working hours; nobody pulled the wool over his eyes.
With all the stories of radical behavior aside, America got their money's worth with Screamin' Gene Davis.
Once we had a search and rescue for a military aircraft that went down in our area, 1,000 miles off the coast, with nine people on board. We were the key ship in the massive search, but we never found the plane or anyone on it! Gene directed the crew for three days and I do not believe he ever took a rest. When two men saw a flare the first night, we all felt a kinship to that one soul bouncing in the Pacific a few miles from our ship. Gene directed the ship towards the flare. After several more hours of searching, the search had failed. We found no one, and I recall Gene standing with his coffee in hand and a tear in each eye. He threw the balance of his java over the side and mumbled, "where is that son of a bitch?" (Talking to the waves that swallowed the potential survivor). He took one deep breath and turned to three or four seamen standing nearby, searching the darkness. And he screamed an order, 'What the (expletive deleted) do you guys think this is a (expletive deleted)ing holiday, get this shit off' the deck, lets get to work.'
No one saw the salt Water in Gene's eyes, he was just "Screamin' Gene" once again.
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