PORTSMOUTH HARBOR LIFEBOAT STATION
October 1949 to June 1950
By Jack Eckert
My misadventures continue. Merrimac River Lifeboat Station was now a bad dream in my past. Little was I to know what was in store for me in my new duty station. I was still just 17 and would turn 18 on this station.
Portsmouth Harbor was a different type of station. The rigidness was gone. It was a looser by far and a very inconsistent operation. Liberty was the same. Most of the work on that station consisted of supporting a number of outlying light stations. There was very little search and rescue and so it was of minor concern.
The station had recently been moved from Wood Island in the middle of the harbor mouth over to Fort Constitution. There was a lighthouse on the station and we lived in the keepers quarters. The Fort was still active and there was a contingent of Army Coast Artillery people on it. The Army gave us an old WWII wooden barracks right behind the watch tower where we had a rec room with a pool table and lockers for our civilian clothes. The two chiefs, BMC(L) Jordan Orr and ENC(L) Cliff (his last name evades me) lived ashore because of our space constraints. Pat P., a ship type BM1 lived aboard along with the cook and an engineman. The rest of us were Seamen.
Pat was a wild man. he would regularly go into Portsmouth and get drunk and often get in fights with Marines. One night he came back and proceeded to break up the station mess deck. We finally hustled him off to bed patched up all of the holes and painted them over with spar paint, the standard wall color at the time, and the Chief didn't even recognize the damage when he got in the next day. On an another occasion Pat got stomped and put into the hospital. His face was hamburger. He never learned.
Another time we took the service boat out to the Isle of Shoals, supplied White Island and went over to one of the other islands allegedly for rifle practice. Pat decided to break into a couple of old houses and then proceeded to smash them up and vandalize them unmercifully. I was horrified. Pat had been nipping away at his bottle most of the day and when he started shooting up the houses I got back to the service boat and laid low. Eventually Pat and the crew came back and we returned to the station. Nobody said anything - They wouldn't dare. The irony of this situation is that while we were all gone the Chief went through our sea bags and lockers. He found a civilian shirt at the bottom of my sea bag and restricted me for two weeks for possession of civilian clothes.
Portsmouth Harbor Crew at the Closed Station That Day
The station routine was easy. I took my correspondence courses up to the watch tower and worked on them. The watch tower was an old Coastal Artillery battery commanders station that we got to by climbing a wooden ladder up the wall. There was very little small boat traffic out of the area at the time and so there was really nothing to watch except to see that Whaleback Light was lit, call them if it went out, make sure our light was lit and start the fog bell when it was needed. The fog bell was powered by a heavy weight that dropped slowly into a pit assigned for it. This weight had to be wound up every two hours when the bell was in operation. This was work!
In general the station was as sloppily managed as Merrimac River had been Spartan and rigid. The house of cards eventually fell about a year after I left when Chief Falkingham was sent up there from Merrimac River to clean up the mess. I visited it once when I was on the CGC Fredrick Lee which was in the Portsmouth Navy Yard for an overhaul. A new watchtower had been erected, the rec room closed and the hammer put down. I went in and said hello to the Chief and a few of the guys that were still there and then got out of there.
Two weeks before Christmas I came down with a horrible flu. The cook drove me to Boston and Brighton Marine Hospital. I was pretty sick. While on the mend the Chief visited me and said "Whitey (my nickname at the time) you really are sick, I doubted you."
I stayed in the hospital for six weeks. I felt better after about ten days but the doctor said I should stay another week just to be sure. On the day before Christmas the Doctor came around and said that everybody that was ambulatory would be given a weeks sick leave. I took it! I met up with a shipmate from boot camp who was also in the hospital and we went to Flushing, New York where he lived. When we got back he went back to his Lightship and I was offered another week of sick leave. Being all of 18 years old, I took it! Hooked up with some girl from Dorchester and stayed with her for a week. She and I celebrated New Years Eve 1950 in downtown Boston. When I returned to the hospital the Doctor wanted me to stay for another few days and that turned out to be a total of six weeks. I was discharged by another Doctor and given a train ticket back to Portsmouth. He made an entry on my health record that said, "suspected common cold." When I arrived back on the station the Chief was livid. I was informed in no uncertain terms that I would never get liberty again.
After about three weeks he relented and put me back on the liberty schedule. I have no idea why the Doctor kept me in the hospital as long as he did. I wasn't trying to stay on, it just happened.
For whatever reason I decided to take the Fireman Course. I did it on watch relieving many of the monotonous hours. At the time it was 23 lessons. I passed the test.
In the late Spring a local Coastie who was a Fireman (FN) came down to the station looking for someone to swap duty stations with. He was on the CGC McCulloch, an AVP weather ship out of Boston. I said why not. So the agreement was that I would go aboard as a Seaman, work in the Engine room and change my rate to Fireman.
Just before the ship sailed on patrol in June, the swap went through, Portsmouth Harbor Lifeboat Station was rid of me and I was on my way to the McCulloch. On the day I left the station, a carpool of Coasties who lived in New Hampshire came and picked me and I was on my way to becoming a sailor. I had no regrets about leaving there.
My first two duty stations were a shaky start to my Coast Guard career - The next one was no better.
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