Excerpted from U. S. Coast Guard Magazine, printed during WWII.
by Alexander Grigg
The USCGC BRIER doesn’t ply the ocean lanes in quest of pestiferous submarines; she doesn’t accompany convoys and transport enroute to war zones; she doesn’t maintain a security patrol of these American shores, she doesn’t land troops bent on invasion, but nevertheless, she is a vital floating unit of the United States Coast Guard.
Building beacons and lights and tending buoys is the primary purpose for which the vessel was constructed, a relatively insignificant role in the war effort of a fighting service in the eyes of those who are subjected to the “front line” rigors and dangers. Beacons, lights and buoys, however, mark the path by which vital war materials flow to their destination and the eventual hell they shall wreak upon the enemy. These aids to navigation are constantly being destroyed or damaged by the elements of weather and by the ships and barges which travel the lanes they mark off. Neglect of repair of these aids would greatly enhance the danger of travel on such unmarked waters. Vessels carrying material and war supplies would pile up on the bans, supplies and ships would sink and loss of life would be sustained.
The type of work performed by the men attached to such units necessitates that they be drawn from groups assigned to general service, for it is strictly a young man’s game, and all who are acquainted at all with the service and its every phase can vouch that life aboard an aids-to-navigation tender is one of the top notch back-bending and tendon-straining jobs in or out of the service. The coordination of dexterity of mind and body builds more and better beacons, a thing which cannot be accomplished if the personnel is drawn from partially invalided ranks, which would mean less work at a higher cost, a definite increase in accident ratio and the interference of important work by labor disputes in the event the worker were hired through civilian sources.
Under the expert guidance of Ensign H. R. Lindsey, the one-hundred-foot Brier, commissioned in July of ’43, has since August of that year been operating on the Intra-coastal Waterways and channels under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Naval District. Ensign Lindsey is definitely an expert in his field, and has gained a vast amount of experience and knowledge in the performance of this type of work, having initiated his career at the very bottom run of the ladder when he enlisted in the Lighthouse Service on 1 September, 1928. Since that time he has risen to the captaincy of an efficient buoy tender of the Sixth Naval District’s fleet. The crew is unified in agreement that when better skippers are graduated from the Academy or have arisen from the ranks they cannot overshadow the traits of the man who runs the show aboard the Brier. Good skippers and good officers instill the men to do their best, and a ship is only as good as the men who run it, with the provision, however, that there aren’t any holes in the keel!
The ship is a new type tender adaptable to work in shallow waters by reason of its pancake keel. She is highly maneuverable and is a vivid example of what is meant as “being able to turn on a dime.”
Although speed not being an essentiality of a craft of this nature, she can pick up her skirts and high-tail it like the wind. If need be, she can dash from beacon to beacon and compel the exhaustive efforts of the men working on these aids to reach the point of collapse. That is to say, it can be done, but is not necessarily so practiced. Living conditions aboard are ideal, but are in no way to be construed with a pleasure yacht. Her width is ample enough to afford the roominess that is conducive towards comfort. She is practically as clean and beautiful as the day she left the ways. Usually on an aids-to-navigation vessel, when the greater majority of the personnel are occupied in the labors of constructing, the adage: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” has to get off its hind quarters and slink off in a dark corner somewhere and remain there in a coma of oblivion.
The crew, perhaps, is as typical as any other Coast Guard contingent, be it on land or on the sea. Chief “Doc” Douglas is the kingpin of the Engine Room, the members of whom are more often referred to as “The Black Gang,” “Snipes,” and their own version which they had tacked upon themselves. “The Intelligence Department,” which naturally is confirmed by the guffaws and loud uncomplimentary remarks from the hard-working deck gang. To “Doc” and the “Intelligence Department” we would award the “Medal of Efficiency,” if there were such a thing, for the tender affection they have shown the engines, making possible the successful run from point of commission, as well as operating these many months without any major breakdown while being encumbered by priorities and a very negligible amount of spare equipment.
A VARIED GROUP
We have various characters aboard springing from the backwoods, barnyards and such over-populated areas called cities. There are those who are natural born politicians, and whose only regret in the matter is the fact that sometimes they are not sufficiently supplied with soap boxes on which they can clamber and wave their arms in Tammany-Hall fashion and vigorously protest how bad things are in general in the world today,¾naturally amid the merry razzberry from the unappreciative audience. See “Southwest” Grisillo, BM2c, on this. We have some of the best personifications of “wolf” aboard in the meaning which is implied about men who traipse about distributing their personalities at random to the young and suspecting maidens for no other reason than to enjoy their good company. See half the crew on this, especially George Adams, MoMM2c.
The Brier shall continue to operate long after the world’s present hostilities have ceased and many of us now aboard shall have perished from this earth before she comes to her ignoble end on the scrap pile. In the meantime, come hell or high water, war or peace, the beacons have to mark the route for the ships that pass, and the lights must blink their messages and warning in the night, and the Brier has to build them.
The Author was a Yn1 in the Coast Guard during WWII
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