The Goehring Incident

By Al Phaneuf

Courtesy of Paul Turner and the Duane Newsletter

 

"Miracle At Sea - Commander Robert W. Goehring was swept off the Coast Guard Cutter, U.S.S. Duane by a mountainous wave during a storm. The ship was turned around to rescue him, when suddenly another wave tossed him back on board to safety! " The World of Ripley's Believe It or Not, ęBlack Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York: 1999

I was a MM2c assigned to the Duane from September 1939 to February 1943 and was aboard during the  incident. Two other fellows, Ed Grant and Jim Entwistle served with me at the time. We visit and phone a few times a year. I called them to check my recollection of the event and we generally agreed this is what happened except for a couple of minor points. We believe that it happened in late 1942. 

It was mid afternoon on a clear sunny day. The sea was very rough with large waves. Occasionally one would slap the side of the ship and cover the fantail. Located in that area was a five inch gun which was surrounded by a heavy duty splinter shield . It was about four feet high and had just a narrow opening for gun crew access. When a large wave slapped the side of the ship it would fill that shield  with water making it resemble an above ground backyard swimming pool. 

            

LT Goehring was the ship's gunnery officer and was back within that shield doing an inspection when one of those waves hit the ship, came over the side at the same time that the bow rose on another wave, further depressing the stern. Later LT Goehring described his experience by saying, "one minute I was on a wet pitching deck the next I was under water swimming as hard as I could for the surface ." Thinking  he was still on the ship he was shocked on breaking above the water and seeing the ship about a hundred feet from him and headed away. He yelled but wasn't heard because of the strong wind. 

            

Two things  saved LT Goehring that day. One he was wearing his lifejacket and the second and most important, was that he was spotted in the water by a lookout on the starboard side of the ship's bridge. The lookout quickly notified the OOD, who just as quickly sounded the alarm and brought the ship about in a circle (not an easy task in that rough sea.) Meanwhile, the lookout managed to keep sight of Mr. Goehring. A cargo net was hung over the side in hopes that the LT would be able to grab it and be pulled aboard. At the moment the ship was eased alongside Mr. Goehring, as if on command a large wave lifted him to deck height where he was grabbed by several deckhands that had formed  a human chain and they pulled him aboard wet, cold, and very grateful. 

             

The Ripley (Believe It Or Not) story of his being washed back aboard probably came from a stretch of the fact that that wave lifted him so he could be hauled aboard. 

              

Several months after leaving the Duane, I passed and was accepted to the "Ninety Day Wonder " school  in New London. Alas. I had never had trigonometry in school and that was my downfall. Guess who informed me I was being dropped from the program. Mr. Goehring!

              

In the late seventies, Mr. Goehring had become a Rear Admiral and commanded the Boston district. I knew this and one day while in Boston I dropped in on him and even without an appointment we visited for quite a while.

             

Duane in Convoy - Sketch By George C. Ashley

 

Al Phaneuf's email address is apahneuf@pcplusol.net

 

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