Say, She Looks Familiar

31 03 2014

"Drop, drop, drop."

“Drop, drop, drop.”

One of the many responsibilities of the United States Coast Guard is International Ice Patrol. During the ice season, which runs from February through August, a Coast Guard C-130 crew stationed in Elizabeth City, North Carolina will fly out of St. Johns Newfoundland for two week stretches to track the flow of ice bergs into the shipping channels.


As with anything, there were some guys who just didn’t want to go; and then, there were others who would rather go on ice patrol than eat when they were hungry. Some, particularly some of the young single guys, took full advantage of the night-life, including becoming familiar with some of the local ladies.


One particular young man was one of those who, if allowed, would spend the entire ice season in St Johns. He, apparently, had developed quite a relationship with one of the local gals and during one trip decided it was time to make it permanent. He proposed, she accepted and then he got permission from the aircraft commander to leave the crew at the end of the trip and return to Elizabeth City with his new bride. After the long drive down from Newfoundland, they arrived in Elizabeth City. That night he took his love to the base and the enlisted men’s club. It being a Friday, there were a number of off duty Coasties there with their wives or girlfriends. As the newlyweds made their appearance inside the club, about half the guys there jumped up and ran for the back door. Apparently, she had been quite the popular St Johnian!



Mama Always Said There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

15 01 2014

It was September 14, 1974, and I had just wrapped up my last full work week stationed at Johnston Island before returning home. The next day, I would be taken off rotation-meaning; I would be relieved of any official duties for my final five days on the island. I had been working the mid-watch (midnight to 8 a.m.) and had just gotten to bed. It was now mid-morning and I was sound asleep. My room was at the end of the hall next door to the game room. At the opposite end, but on the same side of the hall, was Johnny Milhonick’s room. Johnny, better known as “Greaser” because of his love for 50’s and 60’s rock and roll, was an olive-skinned, jet black-haired New Yorker who had spent approximately $3,500 on stereo equipment for his room. Imagine, if you will, how much stereo you could get through Navy Exchange (military discount) in 1973. He really had a nice set-up.

Greaser on the left. A really nice guy. RIP

Greaser on the left. A really nice guy. RIP


Anyway, Johnny was one of several sitting around the card table in the game room playing poker. Not only was Greaser a fan of oldies rock and roll, he was also into some pretty hard stuff, such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest-more of a screaming annoyance than music. Heavy metal is more accurately characterized as noise with a guitar accompaniment. On this particular day he was playing something particularly hard and loud-loud enough to wake me up. Now, in 1974, I was a heavy sleeper. Ty Pennington and his crew from Extreme Home Makeover could have built a house around me while I slept and never woke me up. But a screaming Ozzie Osborne did manage to wake me up on that day.


I got up from my bed and went into the hall to see what, if anything, could be done about this screaming, bat-eating mis-creation. When I saw who was at the table, I knew it would be futile to ask them to turn the music down so I didn’t even bother. I returned to my room and sat on the side of the bed wondering what my next step should be. As I sat there, I noticed the table lamp by my bedside and decided I could survive the next few nights without it. So, I cut the plug off and twisted the wires together.


At this point, I feel compelled to point out two things: 1) I no longer do unsafe things like this and, 2) don’t try this at home.


I pushed the plug into the receptacle in my room causing the breaker to trip. This power failure extended all the way down the hall but only on my side. Naturally, that reached down to Greaser’s room and I could hear the music s-l-o-w-l-y d—i—e—i—n—-g. It was great! There in the privacy of my room, I had control.


Greaser jumped up from the table and ran down the hall to his room. Soon, everyone had left the table and joined him in trying to find the problem. I will point out that Greaser was an electronics technician so it didn’t occur to him that loud music would cause the breaker to fail. Finally, someone in the group suggested checking the breaker. They ran to the electrical room and sure enough, the breaker had failed.


They reset the music, cranked up the volume and returned to their game. I let them get back into the game and did it again. And then a third time. By then, they had decided that for some unknown reason loud music was causing the breaker to fail. So, they turned the volume down and I was able to get back to sleep. Never had another problem after that. As mama used to say, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Chief Cox

18 08 2013

Not long ago, I got word that a friend of mine had passed away. Chief Ron Cox was not just a friend, he was also, for a while at least, my supervisor while serving in the Coast Guard and stationed at the USCG Air Station in Elizabeth City. Chief Cox was, or at least he cast the appearance of being, a very serious person who defined stoicism, but one who did not take the world too seriously. He was also a very fair-minded boss who was fun to work for. He had the rare ability to give you an unpleasant assignment and make you not mind doing it. I was recently thinking about Chief Cox when I remembered this story which I think is not only an apt description, but, also, one which you might enjoy.


My good friend and fellow former Coastie , Richie Boyd, and I had spent the afternoon flying. In order to maintain your flight status and continue to qualify for monthly flight pay, we were required to fly a minimum number of hours each month. So, one day, realizing we were both in need of a little flight time, we jumped on whatever mission was available. I don’t recall what the trip was-probably some mundane training flight practicing touch-and-goes at some obscure airport in eastern North Carolina. Regardless, together, Richie and I were a recipe for trouble because alone, I submit with at least a modicum of pride, we were each a mere notch below world-class pranksters. The world was our target and like a shark cruising the surf, we were always on the lookout for a next target. It was our way of telling the world to lay back and enjoy the moment.ECity

It was about 5:30 PM by the time we returned to the hangar where we worked when we weren’t flying. Everyone had left for the day so the hangar was ours. We were free to do whatever we could conjure up in our twisted minds.


There was a sink in the office with a can of hand soap on a shelf directly above. The soap had the same consistency and color as the grease we used to grease the flap tracks on the C-130s we maintained.


Now, I’m foggy on the details of who actually did what, but it was a definitely a joint effort. We emptied the soap can and filled it with flap grease. Our thinking was the rest of the crew would come in to work the following day and fall victim to our brainstorm. What we didn’t know was, Chief Cox had also been out flying that afternoon and as we were walking toward the door to go home, he came in. Neither of us said a word as we watched Chief Cox go to the sink in the office and begin to wash up. The last thing I recall seeing was Chief Cox reaching deep into the soap can. It was at that point, Richie and I began to run from the hangar. Neither of us wanted to be left alone with Chief Cox when he realized he was the latest victim of the Boyd-Taylor torture tandem.


Chief Cox was well aware of our reputations and always turned a blind eye with a hidden grin. I believe he enjoyed watching as we pulled one over on the crew nearly each day. But how would he react to being the victim?


Well, the next day when I came in to work, I walked by Chief Cox while sitting at his desk. At first his look was stern but then one corner of his mouth came up into a slight grin with a look as if to say, “Well played.” 

The Fourth Watch

30 09 2012

While stationed at the Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City, I was part of a crew sent into the Caribbean to locate a young man attempting to go around the world in a 21 foot sailboat. He had reached a point 700 miles east of San Juan, Puerto Rico when he found himself surrounded by mountainous waves churned up by a tropical storm. By the time we reached the scene, his mast was broken and his auxiliary engine wasn’t working. He was bobbing around the sea like a feather in the wind.

When we made an initial pass about 200 feet above the boat, we saw only a sailboat with a broken mast. The sailor was below in the warmth of the cabin. He heard our plane and by the time we had come around for a second pass, he had come up on deck and was waiving both hands in excitement. When we got him on the radio he was sea sick and afraid but comforted to know rescue was at hand. He said he was confident that help would come. We coordinated rescue with a nearby freighter that picked him up and carried him to safety.

In the days of Jesus, the Jews divided the night into four distinct periods and posted a sentinel during each period. Beginning at 6 P.M., the watch would change every three hours until the end of the fourth watch, which began at 3 A.M.

Jesus Walks on Water

Mark 6:48

Now the fourth watch, the hours from 3 A.M. until 6 A.M, is the darkest part of the night. That’s also about the time Jesus came walking across the Sea of Galilee out to where His disciples, mostly professional fishermen, struggled against a raging storm to keep their boat afloat. As the churning sea tossed their small boat about, the disciples struggled in fear until they looked across the waves and saw Jesus walking out to them. He was about to walk by them when they saw Him. At first they thought they were seeing a ghost and were terrified. Suddenly, Jesus turned toward them and began to walk toward the boat. Jesus saw their fear and said to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then Jesus climbed into the boat and immediately the wind stopped.

The reason Jesus turned toward them was two-fold. First, He wanted to go in their direction so He could help them. Second, He wanted them to be able to see His face so they could recognize Him.

At a time when they needed Him most, Jesus was there to help the disciples.

Everyone at some time gets caught in storms; they struggle with finances, marital problems, addiction, disease. For some people, every day is a storm. Like the disciples, tossed about by the billows, Jesus is there with us. He is there for us during the fourth watch-our darkest hour- a time when we think things can’t possibly get any worse. All we have to do is look beyond the gunwales and focus, not on the storm, but on the Savior. He told us He will always be there for us. We should believe Him and seek His help when in need. That’s why God invented prayer!

Bomb? What Bomb?

27 02 2012

Coast Guard C-130 crew dropping a dewatering pump

While stationed at the Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City, aircrew members were required to stand duty every fifth day or something like that. This meant that on your duty day when you began your workday at 0800 (that’s military talk for 8 o’clock in the morning), you and others who comprised the duty-crew were going to be at the base, on call for the next 24 hours. If you were also on the ready crew and anything came up, say a ship sinking out in the Atlantic, you would respond in hurry-up fashion by jumping into your aircraft and heading out to the scene to save lives. So instead of going home at the end of the workday, we would sleep in the barracks on base.

There was a lower echelon officer on duty in charge of the barracks, known appropriately as the duty officer. Oh go ahead…let your mind dwell on that for a moment. Think of the possibilities. Duty officer. No, he wasn’t the officer in charge of duty. He wasn’t in charge of the latrine (That’s military talk for bathroom). The duty officer, or OD, was not much more than a baby-sitter in blue.

One Saturday, I had the duty and was also on the ready crew. It was a boring afternoon with very little going on. That evening, just after supper, I was up in the lounge in the barracks when I noticed a commotion outside the door in the hallway. The duty officer that day was a young lieutenant junior grade. Lieutenant j.g. is just one notch above ensign which is at the bottom of the food chain and viewed with the disdain of a Congressman who wins the lottery.

There had been a recent bomb threat called into the Air Station. In fact the bomb was said to be aboard an aircraft I was crewing-more about that in another post. Because of this recent threat some, not many, were more alert. The duty officer was told to be on his toes anyway. Apparently that’s all he was told because while his awareness was high, he turned out to be a little weak on procedure.

Someone coming up the stairs in the barracks had noticed a briefcase in the stairwell on third floor. The suspicious find was reported to the duty officer who fearlessly went to the stairwell to check it out. Then, with the confidence of a 16-year-old boy on his first date, the quick thinking JG instructed one of his underlings to go find some rope. The brave officer, not wanting to order anyone to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself, tied the rope to the briefcase handle and stretched the rope out as far down the stairwell as it would go. The rope was long enough to get the officer down to the second floor. Giving the rope a gentle tug, after all, this briefcase could be stuffed with high explosives; the briefcase began to move toward the stairs. With another tug, the briefcase fell off the first step-BUMP! Another tug and it began to roll-BUMPITY, BUMP, BUMP, BUMPITY, BUMP, BUMP…bump….bump, all the way to the landing between the second and third floors. His plan was working. A couple more tugs and he had the briefcase all the way down to the first floor.

I guess he figured if the case can take a bouncing like that and not blow up then it was probably safe to open it, so once he got it down stairs, he took it outside and opened it to find someone’s dirty skivvies (That’s military talk for underwear!) He must have missed Bomb Response 101 his freshman year at the academy.

Crew and me following a succesful Caribbean rescue.1976

Reporting for Duty!

31 07 2010

Chilula Decomissioning 1991

My first duty station out of Coast Guard basic training was aboard the Chilula-a 205 foot ocean-going tug based at Fort Macon, near Atlantic Beach, North Carolina-about a two and a half hour drive from my hometown, where I had left my wife while I went down to make living arrangements and report for duty. As for living arrangements, pickins’ were slim that time of year so I rented a trailer in a mobile home park until I was able to find something a little more permanent. It really wasn’t all that bad, located right on the beach, down Salterpath Road, about five miles from the ship. The place usually rented by the week to vacationers but the lady managing the park, sympathizing with my circumstances, agreed to rent it to me on a monthly basis until I could find more permanent quarters later. I told her I would be on call and would need to provide the ship with a phone number so they could notify me if the ship was getting under way. She lived there at the trailer park and said I could give them her number until the phone company could come out in a couple of days and get me hooked up. She, like I, was thinking the likelihood of being called out within the next few days was so remote that it wouldn’t be an inconvenience to her.

Welcome Aboard!

Temporary living arrangements secured, I went down to the ship to report in. Once aboard, I was escorted to the bridge where I met the captain and then was given the grand tour along with instructions for duty stations and other pertinent information. My tour even included the engine room where I saw a bronze plaque on the wall-excuse me-bulkhead- which indicated her keel was laid in 1945.


Not the Chilula, but similar berthing!

A ship of this vintage had beds-known as racks, to use the vernacular- constructed of one inch pipe bent into a rectangular frame and supported on one side by two stanchions and the other side, from which you would enter, by chains-one near the head and the other near the foot of the bed. A piece of canvas was stretched and lashed, along the edges, to the pipe frame. This is what supported the 2 inch thick mattress. Being the new guy aboard, I got the only rack available, which was on the very bottom, just above the deck. The guy above me was the ship’s corpsman, who was a big guy weighing about 280 pounds. The canvas in his rack was so loose that when he lay in it the canvas sagged to the point where he was about 3 inches above my face while I lay on my back. Being new to this type of sleeping arrangement, I assumed it was normal and didn’t say anything.

Reveille, Reveille!

My first day aboard complete, I returned to my newly acquired home in the trailer park five miles from the ship. Later that evening at around 0300 (that’s sailor-speak for 3:00 AM), I was awakened by a banging sound on the side of the trailer. I ran to the door to find my landlady standing at the foot of the steps with a scarf around her head and a raincoat over her shoulders. It was thundering and lightning, the wind was blowing in off the ocean and rain was coming down in torrents. It was, as they say, a frog strangler. When I opened the door she shouted through the rain, “I’m sorry but this isn’t going to work. Your ship called and you have to go!” I expressed my thanks and apologies to her then quickly dressed and drove to the ship. We were away from the dock and underway by 0400. Once we got underway I had no duties to attend to so I got in the bed. I had noticed earlier, during my tour, some of the more senior crew had newer, modern racks with solid bottoms instead of the roped canvas and slightly raised sides. They were also equipped with what appeared to be seat belts. I thought that was a strange place to have a seatbelt but didn’t give it much thought.

I crawled into my lower rack and it was then, with the doc already in bed, I discovered just how cozy these new digs were. I lay on my back and barely had breathing room. For the first time, I began to think this wasn’t right. I thought doc could probably tighten the roping on his rack and it should give me more room. I decided I would mention that to him later in the day rather than wake him.

Adventure on the High Sea

Chilula Sunset

Chilula at Sunset

It didn’t take long for us to clear the seawall, and the further we sailed, the rougher it got. Eventually, we found ourselves 75 miles off Cape Hatteras in 30 foot seas. I am here to say the Chilula, with her round hull, was not a solid platform in 30 foot seas. We were taking 45 degree rolls as we slid around on the cold, cobalt blue Atlantic surface. As I lay there, engineering a fix for this rack problem, It came to me, as the large steel garbage can came rolling by, why these newer racks had seatbelts. Guys around and above me were literally falling out of their racks onto the deck-but not the doc. He sank down so low into my personal space he would have to roll up and over the rail to fall out of bed. I, too, was having trouble staying in the rack until I came up with a solution. As the huge electric floor buffer slid by across the deck, I rolled onto my side, jamming my shoulder against the doc’s back. After that, I had no trouble staying in bed and decided not to ask doc to tighten his rack, after all.

Then, the rest of the story-we spent the next 4 days circling a barge laden with 210,000 gallons of sulfuric acid, which had broken loose from its tug and was now adrift, presenting a shipping hazard. I was awakened later that morning and told I had the watch. I was sick as a dog and hurled chunks all day. I was sick for the next four days until we returned to the comfort of the calm waters behind the seawall. As I recall, I lost about 10 pounds on that trip-10 pounds I did not have to spare. In fact, the only thing I ate for four days was an orange and a hand full of crackers as we steamed our way back home. Where have all the good times gone?