THE "W" INCIDENT

by J. C. Carney

 

This yarn goes back over thirty years to the days before the racing stripes were painted on cutters. The ship numbers were painted in large letters on the bow and small letters on the stern preceded by a "W" which indicated Coast Guard. "W64" was the number on the Escanaba's bow. Read on……

Let's face it, every seadog knows that Newport, Rhode Island is a Navy town! All you see, from one dock to the next, are Navy-gray forms. Yet in July 1966, a white Coast Guard Cutter---looking much like a dalmation in a group photo of Great Danes---was present amid all that gray. The CGC ESCANABA (WHEC-64), berthed outboard of a state-of-the-art nuclear Navy cruiser, was in town to attend the prestigious Navy Firefighting School.

All was going well until one evening the cruiser's crew decided to do some"exterior decorating" of the Esky's anchor. They, commandeering a floating "camel," slipped in between both ships bows; thereafter painting the Esky's port anchor---a glorious pink!

Later that same evening, after the indignity was discovered, probably by the messenger-of-the-watch looking for Navy infiltrators (there is now, nor ever has been, any form of love between the Navy and Coast Guard.) There was an uproar heard throughout the 255's compartments. There were plans made of how to "get even" from the bridge to the engine room, all conspired, but nothing came of the threats, talk, etc. No one knew how to retaliate. That is, no one except a lowly sailor on the deck force, who, determined to get even, set about his dangerous task.

This sailor, to use his own words, revealed to me that: "In retaliation I slithered aboard the Navy ship, sneaking past an armed, rifle toting sentry, while carrying a bucket of white paint and a brush. The ship's stack was my objective. Luckily the stack was accessible from the cruiser's flying bridge and, as there were no bodies on the bridge it was easily gained. So, while standing on the ship's top rails; leaning out, while trying to avoid looking down as it was a very long drop to the main deck, I proceeded to paint a huge white "W" (the sign of the Coast Guard) on the ship's gray stack." He adds: "When the deed was accomplished, I---being weary of discovery by the not-so-alert sentry---using the same route back, dropped back aboard the Esky, with no one being the wiser."

Nevertheless, when the Navy discovered their new white "designation" proudly displayed for all to see on the ship's stack, there was a howl from the cruiser's captain that could be heard throughout the base. He was livid. Likewise the cutter's CO, Cmdr. Robert E. Foley, who by now had learned of the pink Danforth anchor.

Commander Foley [appeared] to be furious. He immediately demanded to know who was the artist. There was scuttlebutt going around that he [Foley] was considering holding up liberty in New Bedford (as we were leaving that day for there,) until the "culprit" stepped forward. The culprit revealed to me that: [quote], "I was quite nervous and decided not to come forward until we hit port, if I came forward at all. I gambled my stripes on the fact that a lot of wives would be standing on the dock with their kids and the CO, being the great skipper that he was, would not deny liberty as our inport time was short already. Had the CO been either of our former captains, the outcome would have been quite different. . . ."

Upon arrival New Bedford, Captain Foley was asked by our "Exec" what he planned to do about the "artist" in our midst. He answered, while chuckling, "Grant liberty, Mr. Bartlett" adding: "Get the duty deck force to repaint the anchor, that pink [still showing] is atrocious." The old man then walked off laughing to himself. There was no need for the guilty to come forward. . . .

After thirty years, this story---the story of the mysterious "W"---has been revealed to me. The "Culprit?" His picture is shown below. Recognize him? Let's just call him Joe Rembrant.

A further clue: This Coastie on this ship ran the paint locker.

 

 

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