[Sometimes during a career one gets a good break; mine was the three years I spent as an Engineman School Instructor at the Groton Training Station.]

 

The Groton Years

By Jack A. Eckert  

Pictures Courtesy of Charlie Lindburgh

Shortly before Christmas 1957, a district notice was received asking for a volunteer from the Ninth District for an Engineman School Instructor’s position at the Groton Training Station. The job carried a thirty-day probationary period with it.

I mulled it over, approached my wife with the idea, and said, “What the heck, I think I’ll write a letter and see what happens.” Reluctantly, Chief Hanks signed off on my request and forwarded it to the Group. For whatever reason the Group Commander gave the letter a flowering endorsement, complimenting me on my “scholarly acumen.”

After the holidays, I was surprised to receive orders for Groton. I packed my seabag and with Joana and our youngster, drove to my parent’s home in Waukesha where they were to stay temporarily. I set out in my 1955 Ford Victoria hardtop for the East Coast with a bag of sandwiches, a couple of soda pops, a full tank of gas, $32.00 in my pocket, and a paper Cities Service gas credit card to conserve the cash for tolls—the credit card worked, and I arrived with $12.00 and change a day and a half later.

It was dark as I drove up to the “Mansion.” The JOOD took my orders, assigned me to Staff A Barracks and gave me the OK to park behind Engineman School until Monday, when I could then get a parking sticker for the base. After unpacking, I crashed, just wrapped in a blanket on an unmade cot. All night long I was driving over hill and dale in my dreams.

There was no money to go on liberty so I stayed aboard and familiarized myself with the place. I was particularly impressed with some of the old buildings like the Mansion, the XO’s house, the Firehouse/Courtyard and Gedunk complex, and so forth. The station lies along the Thames River, which presented interesting scenery.  The beauty of the place overwhelmed me.

The Mansion At Groton

The next day was Saturday. I walked over to the mess hall for breakfast, expecting slop because it was a large base, but was pleasantly surprised with how good the meal was. While I was eating, an EN2 in undress blues brought his tray over and sat down next to me.

“Hi, I am Shibilski, one of the EN School instructors. Are you one of the new instructors reporting in?”

“There are others?” I asked in reply.

“Yah, four of you, all EN2’s.”

We chatted while we ate but he was unable to enlighten me as to why four EN2’s were reporting in at the same time. Later that morning after I got my room squared away, I met him at the school and he gave me the grand tour. Ski taught refrigeration, which was somewhat of a mystery to me at the time. He told me of his need for an assistant and someone to back him up and asked if I would request it from the Officer In Charge, Mr. Hratko.

I slept better on Saturday and Sunday nights and woke early on Monday for my first day on the new job. Incidentally, the chow continued to be excellent.

The Probation Month

I walked to Engineman School after morning chow and went to the Instructor’s office to wait for the Officer in Charge. To my surprise, Chief Erwin Marschal, who I had worked for briefly in B-1 engine room on the McCULLOCH, walked in. He recognized me right away and we had a good talk. It was reassuring to have someone I knew there. Other instructors came in and changed their clothes to get ready for the day. At 0750 the students, who had marched down to the school from the Student Barracks, mustered for colors. After colors the halls were filled with chatter as they proceeded to their classrooms. Three more EN2’s, Huff, Carr, and Yule entered after most of the instructors left for their assignments. They too were reporting in and had arrived late Sunday night, coming from nearby East Coast districts.

Chief Luna, the Administrative Assistant escorted us in to see the Officer in Charge, LT Hratko. He was congenial enough in his own way, but deep down inside I considered him rather an odd duck. He talked to us together for a few minutes, welcoming us aboard and spoke the usual niceties, then dismissed all but one with the remainder to wait in the Administrative Office. He took about fifteen minutes with each of person. When a man came out, he left without saying much. I was the last to be interviewed and didn’t know what to expect. I stood at attention in front of him. He looked me up and down and asked to see my hands. They were calloused but clean with trimmed nails. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Eckert, you don’t even look like an Engineman.”

At the time I weighed 135 lbs, was short, slim and blond. The interview went downhill from there. When he was through, he told me to get my dungarees on and report to Chief Peyton in the engine room. Now I understood why the other guys didn’t say anything as they left his office.

As directed, I reported to Chief Peyton, who told me to clean out a pit next to the Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine. What a mess! It was full of drain oil, sawdust, metal shavings, and dirt. The pit was full of pipes, some cold, a few quite hot. I quickly became so dirty I couldn’t go to noon chow.

I went outside and smoked a couple of butts in the cold, cursing my luck. I finished the pit about 1530, dirtier and full of more oil and crud than the rags I used to clean up the last of the mess. Chief Peyton looked at the pit, grunted, got down on his hands and knees and took a rag to the underside of a pipe to inspect for oil. He found none. Without another word he called one of the other EN2’s over and had him dump buckets of oil, sawdust, dirt, and filings back into the pit. My morale at that point was “whale shit”at the bottom of the ocean. I found out later that is how students that screwed up were handled. Evidently, he used me to set an example for the other three EN2’s. To this day, I don’t know if the OinC had anything to do with it.

This was going to be a long thirty days, but, fortunately, after the first week I was treated decently.  

For the next few weeks I did general Engineman work in the shops and in the engine room. There was no more harassment. The other instructors treated us OK. I had no contact with the students up to this time, but in the third week I was assigned to Chief John Cryan and rode shotgun in his course, Basic Hydraulics. I thought up to that time I was pretty knowledgeable, but really, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It was mostly a theory class with only a half-day in the shop working on pumps and valves. Chief Cryan asked if I was ready to take over the class. NO! But of the four new EN2’s, I was the only one who saw the inside of a classroom that first month.  

The only money I had was the mileage allowance for driving to Groton. My wife got 100% of my pay. As a consequence, I had barely enough for health and comfort items. I was worried about having enough saved to drive home when the TAD was up. I had barely moved the car from its parking place and didn’t go on liberty because I couldn’t afford it. I took up filling out federal income tax forms for $5.00 each. Most were simple 1040A’s; if they had their state forms, I did them too. It kept me in smokes and movies. The station movies were a quarter or so. When I had the duty I ran the gym with a Seaman assistant from 1700-2130. I seemed to be well into the routine of things.

Chief Luna was a sphinx. My thirty-day TAD probationary period was nearly up and Joana had gone back to the station to wait for my return. I was in a quandary and began to plan for the return trip to Sturgeon Baythere was no clue that I was going to be made permanent. The Mr. Hratko in the initial interview had given no hint as to what he wanted the four of us to do. In the meantime, a fifth and then a sixth, EN2 checked in. In my own brooding way I thought that they were running a number of EN2’s through to see if they could find one or two to fit into the program. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that I didn’t look like an Engineman.

On the 29th day, I was attending a movie when one of the personnel Yeomen tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Jack, I have some news for you. First, you are above the cutoff list for EN1 and should make it in a few months. Second, I typed up the orders to make you permanent at the Training Station this afternoon.” The probationary period was over. After the movie I celebrated with a beer at one of the local watering holes, my first since arriving.  

Settling In

One of the Instructors who lived in Westerly, Rhode Island, invited me home for supper. After dinner he said we should to move up to Rhode Island. Joana was going to be evicted from the quarters at the Canal Station as soon as Chief Hanks found out I wasn’t coming back. I looked through the paper and found an apartment for $65 per month with utilities. It turned out to be a big old barn of a house in the Italian neighborhood of Westerly. I took it.

Chief Hanks had nothing kind to say about the Coast Guard’s way of doing business. I was told he was mad at me, too. A couple of the fellows at the Canal Station helped Joana pack. After the moving van left, one of the guys, who was going home to Chicago on liberty, dropped her off in Waukesha. I met the moving van in Westerly several days later and got everything into the apartment OK then called Joana and said she and Randy could come out on the train. When Randy saw me, he flew into my arms. Finally, a family reunited.

There was a bit of a culture shock when Joana, a mid-western Polish farm girl moved into an Italian neighborhood and Randy was speaking Calabrasian Italian within a week. It was a good neighborhoodI could drive into work without fear for their safety.

Liberty was granted to permanent party personnel, officers included, at 1630. Avery Point was at the end of a street that passed the large Electric Boat Works and Pfizer Chemical Company to get to the New London Bridge. If you could get out of the main gate by 1625, you could shoot down the street past both complexes before they disgorged their people. This meant a difference of 30-45 minutes in getting home at the end of the day to the Coasties that lived in New London and around the Submarine Base.

About 1615, the cars would start edging towards the gate. Sometimes the line would back up almost to the Mansion. Needless to say, it got command attention more than once. Every month there would be a campaign to stop the early exodus. When the pressure was relaxed, most of the gate guards would let traffic leave a little early. I lived four or five miles into Rhode Island. The traffic problem never bothered me. I was out the gate, around the airport, through the reservoir area, up Highway 84, across the state line and home before many of the people I worked with made the New London Bridge. Most of my peers could not understand why I lived 25 miles from the station.  

USCG Institute and The Mansion at Avery Point, Groton Training Station

My First Year at Engineman School

I continued to ride shotgun with Chief Cryan and Ski. Mr. Hratko told me that after I finished Instructor School I would have the Third Week and also back up Ski, who was nearing the end of his hitch. He told me to begin working on my lesson plans and allowed one week of curriculum development every four weeks. The other week I worked on projects in the various shops.

One day when I was on curriculum, Chief Luna asked me to sit in on his job for a day. He showed me what to do and I did it easily. Mr. Hratko came to find out what was going on when I contacted him on the intercom. He saw me typing away in my own fashion. “Good, from now on you are Chief Luna’s backup. By the way, do you know anything about keys and locks?”

“A little bit,” I replied.

“I want you to set up a simple system and get this mess organized. You should have it done in a month.” He huffed, turned around and went back into his office. I was able to find a few days to dedicate myself to his project. I set up a simple letter-number-color tagging system. I organized the duplicate keys. Tagged all the keys, put them into the key locker along with a menu as to what did what and why. I gave Mr. Hratko a copy of the menu and told him it was now better than I found it. It was the first time I saw him smile and thought his face would break.

Mr. Hratko’s collateral duty was that of Public Information Officer. There wasn’t much to write about except for the hundreds of releases to hometown papers about students graduating from the various schools. Two people worked for hima black Chief Journalist and a Second Class Journalist, both frequent visitors to the EN School office. The Chief was Alex Haley of “Roots” fame. The Second Class’ name has faded into obscurity.

Instructor School

I went to Instructor School at the Navy Submarine Base. It amazed me how well organized it was and how fast they had you on the firing line. There were two instructors, both Chiefs, and both very experienced submarine sailors. That is where the resemblance stopped. One of the Chiefs was an extrovert while the other was an interesting but soft-spoken man who gripped the edge of the podium as he presented his lessons. The extrovert emphasized gestures and body language. He was all over the place. No one could fall asleep on him. This difference came into play on the practice lessons each student had to give. Each Chief evaluated the presenter from his vantage point. As soon as this was recognized, everyone adjusted his presentation accordingly. I don’t know how conscious each one was of the other’s approach. They alternated half days and we wondered if they ever talked to each other. Honestly I felt I accomplished more in that training course than I had accomplished in any equivalent period in my life up to that time. I was motivated!

When I got back to Engineman School, Chief Cryan told me that Week Three was all mine. He would look in on me every once in awhile, but that was it. I took the ball and ran with it, teaching every Hydraulics class for the next 2-1/2 years. For the students, the first two weeks of the school were quite easy. Then they met me and we got serious.

Weeks Four and Five were also quite difficult. Over time I taught both frequently. The general rule was that each student could fail no more than three weeks of the school then he was out. If the student looked like he could benefit, he was re-phased; that is, dropped back a class to repeat the work. If a student was disenrolled, however, he was immediately transferred to the galley as a mess cook until his class graduated, then was sent to a district for further assignment. I would guess about 85% of all Engineman School students got through the course successfully.

After I got into the swing of things, I found out how much I loved my job at Groton and discovered that I seemed to have a natural bent for teaching (and as a result had several teaching/training jobs in future years as an officer.) The entire complex was a comfort to me, and here I further developed and matured.

As my first year came to an end, I was teaching two or three weeks out of each four, filling in at the office as needed. It was a great job, which I was enjoying immensely. The tour of duty was three yearsif you were any good, you could be extended for another year. I had other aspirations. This was the first time I was able to address something other than my job. Liberty was good, not great, and I had a normal life with my family. And having gained confidence in my abilities, I began to think about becoming an officer. The road would be tortuous and required serious application. It was, as we would say today, doable.

A Couple of Unrelated Events Took Place That First Year

In the fall Joana and I moved out to a small house in the Town of Hopkinton, Rhode Island which we got for almost nothing. The house was brand new. It was my duty to attend to the absentee landlord/lady’s estate adjacent to the 95 acres we lived on. I kept the grass mowed, checked the house routinely, opened it up and made it ready for them when they came down for several days at a time. They paid me extra for doing work beyond my agreement to be the caretaker. Looking backwards through over 47 years of marriage, these were our happiest years.

The other event took place when I was sent to a Factory Training Aids School in Massachusetts. The Training Officer, LCDR Schultz, attended the school, too. I picked him up in Groton and we drove there together. We didn’t socialize after hours but we had a few good conversations. He expressed an interest in me and asked what my plans were after my tour of duty was over. I confessed that I wanted to become an officer, but a few things stood in my way. I admitted that most of the prerequisites I needed could be obtained by passing the College Level USAFI GED tests[1]. I needed several college credits and thought I could afford them. However, I would have to attend school at night and would miss too many classes on my three out of four liberty schedule.

Mr. Schultz asked how far I had gotten. I said I had visited The University of Rhode Island and the courses were available. After finishing the training course, we returned to Groton. I thought no more of the conversation. Two weeks later Mr. Hratko told me that I had been assigned to the Fire Department in my duty section. That meant that my liberty improved from three out of four to five out of six. My time problem was solved.

I went to the URI admissions office and signed up for the necessary courses. At the time the fees were $35.00 per credit, payable in advance. That wasn’t the problem, although our diet slipped a bit to cover the costs. The real problem was the lack of a high school diploma. I knew the school I had attended would never grant oneI had already tried. I had taken the USAFI high school level GED tests in 1949 and forgotten about them. URI sent me to Providence to an office in the state house where they verified my HS credits and the GED test results. Based on that I was issued a high school diploma, which was accepted by URI. Thus began my night school adventure. The courses were tough but well taught. Over a year and a half I completed what I needed, and found out later the GI Bill would have paid the tuition. By then it was too late to apply.

I had CPO club privileges after I made first class but seldom went there except for lunch once every couple of months or so. There was always a card game going in the Instructor’s room, but cards were not my cup of tea. I used the time for class preparations and school homework.

My first year at Groton came to a successful ending after an inauspcious  start.  

The Second and Third Years

Now well into the routine, I made it my business to sit in on other weeks of instruction more or less to see how I could improve on and what I taught. Refrigeration was almost stand-alone. I started using the Basic Hydraulics course to introduce the concept of fuel injection systems, then went more into combustion processes in the Week Four, Introduction to Engines week. I found that as I got deeper into the subjects, there were inconsistencies in the instruction material, several vacuums, and too many overlaps. I rewrote Weeks Three and Four and submitted them to the OinC for his approval. He called me in and put me through the wringer, then tasked me with rewriting the entire course, except for the two overhaul weeks. There really wasn’t much more than a scratchy outline of instruction on papereach instructor taught what he thought should be taught. The OinC had made several starts on a detailed curriculum but nothing was completed and put together. My work on weeks Three and Four surprised him. Over the next year and a half I collected everything I could and began to write up a curriculum, one week at a time. The other instructors, particularly the Chiefs, were nothing but helpful. In time it was altogether, all typed up, and bound in an inch and a half thick book.

Years later when I was about to be assigned to teaching an engine overhaul course at Milwaukee Area Technical College, I contacted the OinC of the CG MK School at Yorktown asking him for a copy of the curriculum and the worksheets from the overhaul weeks. It turns out I knew the man, and he sent me the whole package. Much to my amazement, the curriculum was pretty close to the one written up years before. Of course it had been re-edited and smoothed out, but it was essentially the same document. That was one of my little victories in life.

Building 5, the first building on the right hand side as you entered the main gate, contained three different schools. Half of the lower floor and all of the second was used by EN School. The other half was split about equally between Aids to Navigation and Gunners Mate Schools on the far end. I normally used Room 219 for my classroom sessions, located directly over the Gunners Mate’s shop area. In the GM shop were several mounts, among them a 5”38. It doesn’t look too big on a ship, but in Building 5 it was a monster. In order to elevate the 5”38 during their training sessions, a trap door running about half of the width of Room 219 in the approximate middle had to be opened. It was unnerving indeed to be in the middle of a class session when suddenly the trap door would open and the 5” gun barrel would stick right up in the middle of the classroom. Sometimes they would fire that damned gun up and use the barrel to raise the trap door. I had more than one student topple over because of it. It has been said that Gunners Mates and Torpedomen are so dumb they have to number their tools. I can’t dispute that.

From my classroom I saw the red and white trimmed New London Harbor entrance lighthouse every day. It was common to see submarines entering and leaving port. Most amazing was the day the third nuclear submarine, I believe it was theTriton, which had just been built up the street at Electric Boat, going out on sea trials. It was huge and resembled some of the old Great Lake’s Whaleback Tankers.

In order for our students to get to Engineman School they had to march past Radioman School. Huff, our MAA, sat on the students enough to force them to march in proper military manner. In comparison to other schools, the EN School students marched like storm troopers without the goose step. The “Radio Girls” would often taunt our formations. This didn’t go over to well with Huff who proceeded one day to march right over the RM students. He took no prisoners.

Into every Petunia patch an onion takes root and grows. The onion in this case was a very tall and intimidating First Class who, unbeknownst to most of us, was borrowing money from the students while they were going through the training course. He would slip into their barracks at night and single out a few of the men who were in his class and borrow as much as he could and promise repayment in a few days. The few days would stretch into weeks. The students were too cowed to report him for his actions. All classes graduated on Friday of their sixteenth week. It was no coincidence that the First Class always took leave the Thursday and Friday of graduation leave. He stiffed scores of students. Eventually he was transferred and the story came out. There was no follow-up action on the part of the school or the training station to do anything about it. Months later he got into a domestic dispute, broke his house up with an axe, went after his wife and was jailed. After his release he was allowed to retire. Within a month of his retirement he died of cancer. There just may be a God somewhere.

During my third year a new swimming pool was built near the firehouse and dedicated. The permanent daytime fireman, whose name I will not reveal, was quite a wag and loved a good practical joke. On the day of the dedication, he managed to put a skunk into the empty pool before the guests, which included a congressman, arrived. All the high-level station brass and their ladies sat on a temporary small grandstand or folding chairs with everyone in his or her finery.

The skunk emerged as if on cue and dashed into the crowd about the time the dedication speech began. Chaos reigned. Management evidently considered it an act of God because there were no inquiries or investigations. The section on duty in the firehouse that day and the daytime driver had a fabulous laugh.

In general the instructors from the various schools got along quite well together, but there was an exception. Some of the ET School instructors considered themselves above the common clay. Two of these sweethearts were slick arm Chiefs, neither quite old enough to legally have a beer at the CPO Club. Their presence went over big with a lot of the senior first class petty officers who were otherwise qualified but waited for years on promotion lists. I overheard a conversation between the two slick arms bemoaning the fact the Coast Guard was screwing them and they couldn’t wait to get out and away from the clods at Groton. It goes to show that some people can be given the moon and aren’t happy. For those unfamiliar with the term “slick arm,” it refers to a sleeve on a dress or undress uniform without any longevity stripesfour years of service equals one stripe or “hashmark.”

Several months before I came on scene, the courses were taught requiring the students to make hundreds of drawings during the course. There really wasn’t much teaching undertakenit was self-taught drawings graded strictly. This was not a school to train mechanics and operators. The students were exposed to a set of dead engines that could be assembled and disassembled without tools. The hex heads had long since been re-machined with improper tools. Only the emergency generator for the station, a Fairbanks Morse, was operational and they could only watch it run. Every ship and station that received an EN school graduate had to retrain him, actually educate him first. The school was held in low esteem.

LT Joe Hratko was a difficult man to know, very standoffish, and who seldom talked to the instructors as a group, preferring instead an occasional one on one in his office, or sending notes and making up internal regulations and scheduling. But he changed the entire direction of the school after he arrived. Mr. Hratko had been the Engineering Officer of an AVP and knew first hand the product the school put out. When first assigned to the OinC position, he looked around to see what he had and was not pleased. He visited Naval Engineering in Headquarters to ask for help.

Grudgingly, he was given a small pot of money for new tools and equipment, then visited a few Navy EN schools and found they were not much better than ours. He started scanning surplus lists and located a number of GM 6-71 engines at Davisville, R.I. With a lot of negotiating and scrounging of services, he got them to Groton where he cleared out a number of spaces that had nothing but junk in them. With the help available, he built test stands for the engines and piped them up. It was his aim to have a series of “live” engines that would be worked on by the students under the strictest instructor supervision. That is how he got the additional six EN2’s. He had to amass the necessary materials piece by piece. The instructors arrived before the engines.

There were a lot of instructors. The sixteen weeks were broken down into four phases. Each phase had a Chief in charge and two first class assistants. There was a Chief in the office. There was a first class in charge of the tool crib and was also the school’s MAA. The Chief in the engine room, where the training engines were eventually set up and put into use, had a First Class and several Second Class enginemen.

To prevent the engines from becoming “studentized,” one instructor was assigned to each two engines, with each engine worked on by four students. On the first day of the engine overhaul week, each engine was started up and operated, then stopped and cooled down. Careful disassembly was begun and each part labeled, and each measurable part was measured and the readings recorded. The instructor signed off on each major step. When the engine was completely stripped out, it was reassembled under close supervision. Again, every major step recorded and countersigned by the instructor. Upon assembly and manual jacking, the engine was started and operated. With care, gaskets could be reused. Every nut and bolt wherever located was torqued to specification. The fuel system and blower were removed and set to the side as their overhaul was covered in another part of the course. This hands-on training on live engines became a valuable part of the course.

As a practical matter, the various weeks of instruction remained autonomous even though, in theory, there were phase Chiefs. The new curriculum helped bring the course together. Most of the instructors thrived in the shop and only a handful of them, including myself, spent a lot of time in the classroom. Instructor turnover was about seven or eight a year. There were enough instructors so that if a man didn’t work out, other work was found for him. The system worked even though the management was stand-offish and distant. A better-trained student was being graduated and feedback from the fleet was much more positive.

As the second and first part of my third year went by, I was busy doing what I liked, had a great home life, and was able to acquire the necessary college credits.  

One of the big events every year on the station was the annual Coast Guard Day Picnic. For some reason or other the days of the picnic were always nice. The little kids really got a charge out of that day. The big event was a ride around the circle in the fire truck. I looked forward to that day every year, as did my youngsters.

One year the EN School Instructors decided to organize an Instructors and their families' picnic. A place was arranged for in one of the Connecticut State Parks.

The day of the picnic was cold and rainy. Fortunately, there was a pavilion and we were able to move inside. There were no windows and doors and the wind howled through the place, but the kids didn’t care, they were raising hell like kids do, and certainly the adults didn’t feel it or any other pain for that matter. Even LT Hratko had a few beers and was sociable to the extent he could be sociable. And that was pretty well the extent of our social life at Groton.

The Final Six Months

I completed the college level GED tests with the necessary college credits and successfully completed the Officer’s Qualification Test. I was a few weeks too late to get into the June 1960 class, so I applied for the January 1961 class. It was about this time that LT Hratko completed his tour of duty and LT Kelly replaced him. Even though he didn’t know me, Mr. Kelly endorsed my application favorably. I took the physical and faced the interview board. The Board gave me a very high recommendation. Now I waited for whatever was to happen, happen. My neighbors in Rhode Island told me there were people asking questions about me. That can always make a guy nervous.

Meanwhile, I was at another juncture. My tour was coming to an end and I was given a choice of extending another year or requesting a district assignment. I felt I was at the top of my game at Groton but didn’t want to listen to the heckling from my peers if the OCS application fell through, so I requested to return to the Ninth District. The word got out that I had applied for OCS. My peers were looking at me with jaundiced eyes. A few of them didn’t know that they would be working for me later on in our careers.

I continued teaching classes and doing stints in the office. By this time the E-8 and E-9 programs kicked in and three of our Chiefs were promoted, one to E-9. Mr. Kelly made the new Master Chief Assistant OinC of the school. I pretty well worked for him when I wasn’t teaching.

Shortly before Christmas of 1960 two sets of orders arrived, one to OCS at Yorktown and the other to the Ninth Coast Guard District. Of course I took the OCS orders.

EPILOGUE

It distresses me to hear other people’s recollections of Groton. I sometimes think I am the only one with pleasant memories of the place. Entering through the main gate, you went down a tree-lined street between mortared stonewalls. The grounds were neat with an abundance of flowers and shrubbery, giving the place a manicured air reminiscent of a college campus.

In the mid 1960’s, a dark political cloud fell over Groton. The Coast Guard took over Governors Island in New York from the Army. The Eastern Area, 3rd District Office, and the White Cutters previously moored at Staten Island, were relocated there. The death knell for Groton tolled when they became a part of the consolidation.

Groton, to the enlisted men, had been their Academy. They didn't receive a commission, but a rating badge or designator was awarded upon graduation from their specialty schools. Groton, with its well-kept grounds, lent itself favorably to a college campus atmosphere. Most students grumbled about “Rotten Groton,” but in their hearts they knew that this marvelous old training station was where their lives were changed forever.

While visiting friends in Westerly several years after the station closing, I took a nostalgic trip down to Avery Point. Duty here had been a wonderful and rewarding assignment for me, one in which I had grown and developed. But during the years following the abandonment of this station, time had destroyed and disfigured its beauty. The grounds were unkempt and the buildings showed the effects of disuse. During this dreadful passage of time, the station had become an ugly vista—a scabrous scar now in my memory. I left quickly with a painful sadness in my heart.

There never will be another Groton.


[1] U.S. Armed Forces Institute, General Educational Development.

The Mansion

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