Sinbad The Four-Legged Sailor

By Larry Baker

[From the U.S. Coast Guard "Retiree Newsletter", July 1988, Issue 7-88]

 

For those who remember—and there are many—the North Atlantic during those hectic war years of World War II was the last place in the world you would want to be. If you weren’t fighting ice winds and ferocious storms you were fighting German U-boats. Longevity among merchant marine ships in convoys was usually counted from day to day.

However, there was one U.S. combat vessel that served in that theater of operations whose crew would swear that they survived because of one special commodity no other vessel had. That commodity was Sinbad, a 24-pound brown, black and white mongrel dog that served aboard the Coast Guard Cutter CAMPBELL throughout the war and was more a sailor than many.

He came aboard the CAMPBELL in 1937 when the cutter made a port call in Portugal. He became part of the crew and remained a crewmember for the duration of the war. Stories about him have become the stuff of myth and legend. However, most of the stories have been verified and chronicled in such publications as Life magazine and newspapers throughout the world during the war. His story was also published in a book called Sinbad of the Coast Guard and even made into a short-subject Hollywood film named Dog of the Seven Seas that was released by Universal Pictures in 1947. He was for real. And he was unusual to say the least.

Waiting for the Bar to Open

A "salty sea dog" all the way, Sinbad stood watches with the crew, ate and slept with the crew in their mess and their bunks, always choosing a different bunk mate each night so he could spread his friendship among the crew. He deliberately avoided the officer’s wardroom or quarters and only on rare occasions would he associate with officers when on liberty. Yes, Sinbad was a sailor all the way and somewhat of a boozer. Every time the CAMPBELL would make port and liberty was granted, he would be first off and along with his shipmates, hit the bars. A typical Sinbad liberty, wherever it was, would see him march right into a bar, spot an empty bar stool, jump up on it and bark once. The bartenders would automatically pour a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser. Sinbad would lap them up, jump down and leave, heading for the next bar. His tab was always picked up, no questions asked. He would do the same in several bars and would then return to the CAMPBELL with some crewmembers, just as bombed—usually more so—as his buddies and hit the sack to sleep it off. The following morning, the ship’s doctor would prescribe an aspirin, which he would take, to see him through another day.

Richard "Bo" Slater (center,) Other Crewmen & Sinbad

Sinbad was brought up on charges several times and given several Captain’s masts. Once he missed a sailing in Sicily, was picked up by the shore patrol and eventually placed on a destroyer that was coming back to the States, Ironically, the destroyer pulled into a particular East Coast port, and moved into dock. Sinbad began barking his head off, staring at one ship among many in the harbor. It was the Coast Guard Cutter CAMPBELL. He was soon reunited with his shipmates—however, he was declared AWOL and served time in the cutter’s brig for that caper.

Another time, he was late returning to the cutter only to see it pulling away from the dock. He stood on the pier barking furiously at the departing cutter. Finally, in desperation, he leaped into the sea and began swimming after the ship. He was spotted by crewmen who implored the Captain to return and pick him up. The Captain refused and continued on. Sinbad continued to give chase, but it was obviously a losing cause. The cutter was pulling away. The helmsman beseeched the Captain to turn about. Finally, the Captain said, "Damn it, if that dog wants to be aboard that much, swing about and pick him up." That was the last time Sinbad ever missed a sailing.

Sinbad was actually banned from taking liberty in Greenland. Apparently, on one call to a port there, he made his name infamous among sheep farmers by annoying their sheep. Called before the Captain, he was forever banned from setting paw on Greenland soil. And, when the cutter would pull into port there, Sinbad, without being told, would stand on the forepeak of the vessel and watch his buddies go off on liberty. And there he would be when they returned, ready to escort the unsteadiest sailor to his bunk.

The dog’s press clippings became enormous. In Ireland, a notice invariably appeared in the society columns of local papers whenever the cutter arrived and he went ashore. He was known on two continents and in a hundred ports. He was on the finest social terms with high-ranking naval officers of five nations besides thousands of sailors, bartenders and waterfront characters he met at his favorite drinking places.

An anonymous poem was written about the CAMPBELL that included him.

The CAMPBELL’s underway as yet, just made the Iceland run.

Liberty we just don’t get, but hell, we’re having fun.

We skin our shins in the darkness each night as we’re blacked out,

And we’re always whacking bulkheads as we slip by Mister Kraut.

Some of the guys get seasick as we bounce from crest to crest,

And the ship smells like a sh—house from bottom to crow’s nest.

We are looking forward to when we get back to port,

Then there will be a scramble shoreward and each man will buy a quart.

It’s not a pretty picture what these CAMPBELL guys will do;

Even dogs ain’t safe ashore, for Sinbad’s in our crew.

At the end of the war, Sinbad went on a publicity tour around the U.S. for the Coast Guard. Finally, the old sea dog was retired from sea duty but, continued on in the Service, making his home with the Coast Guardsmen at Barnegat Lifeboat Station in northern New Jersey. Sinbad eventually passed away on Dec. 30, 1951, after serving 14 years in the Coast Guard, and according to available records, was buried there on the grounds of the station. Unfortunately, today the exact location of his grave is unknown.

Sinbad, the four-legged sailor—or rather Coast Guardsman—was as much a part of the CAMPBELL as his two-legged shipmates. His contribution to that ship was incalculable in terms of the morale boost he provided. To his shipmates, he was their talisman, their good luck charm that brought them through battles with submarines, storms and the terrible North Atlantic winter ice. When the CAMPBELL became involved in a 12-hour duel with a wolf pack of German submarines, eventually ramming one and sinking it with gunfire, Sinbad remained on deck, observing the action because damage suffered in ramming the sub. Most of the crew of CAMPBELL was transferred to another convoy escort to lighten the vessel and try to keep the gaping hole in the bow above water. Among those chosen to stay aboard was Sinbad, because as the Captain said, "As long as Sinbad is aboard, CAMPBELL will survive." And sure enough, CAMPBELL made it back to port with Sinbad and the skeleton crew safe and sound.

He is missed to this day by the men who survived him, drank with him, ate with him, slept with him and fought with him. This Sinbad was indeed, a sailor.

Finally, Eddie Lloyd, the late editor of the old Coast Guard Magazine said of Sinbad when he was in his prime:

 

"Sinbad was a salty sailor but he’s not a good sailor. He’ll never rate gold hashmarks* nor good conduct medals. He’s been on report several times, and he’s raised hell in a number of ports. On a few occasions, he has embarrassed the United States government by creating disturbances in foreign zones. Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad& as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us."

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  • Amen.

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    Photo's Courtesy of Jerry Lentz