The Colonel’s War is Not Over

Having skated by the Marine Colonel on the beach in the morning when I interrupted his amphibious war game, I was a bit concerned about returning to the beach in the afternoon to pick up our M-boat for transfer back to Ikeshima. I had barely turned off the main highway when I discovered “the war was not over, and I was still in the “battle zone.”

Fierce fighting was taking place in the scruffy growth near the roadside as the blue army made progress against the red defensive positions. I could hear gunshots including machine gun fire all around me.
Suddenly a marine jumped from the downhill side of my jeep and began running alongside firing blanks over the hood at an enemy he had apparently seen on the uphill side.

I was startled, but kept going at a slow pace down the curvy dirt road, the shooter running alongside, until the enemy jumped up on the hill, the two of them now firing at each other and hollering, “I got you.”
“No, man, I got you first.”
“The hell you did, you can’t use that jeep for cover; it’s not part of the exercise.”
“Is too. You’re dead, man!” At this point an officer umpire, I presumed because of the green arm band, leaped onto the road in front of me signaling everyone to a stop. I hit the brakes, and I think I may have even put my arms in the air a little, as the marines continued arguing.
The umpire quickly settled the argument.

In his senatorial voice and boring finality he announced, “Although the jeep is not officially part of the exercise, the blue invader showed marine initiative taking advantage of changing situations. The red defender is dead, the blue marine may continue.” Without another word, he waved me to continue.

About a quarter mile further, I came upon a roadblock with an armed sergeant stopping traffic and a machine gun nest set up at the side of the road behind a small sand bag bunker. I went through my story, figuring I had an advantage now. From the top of the hill, we could see our LCM coming back across the bay for the pickup, but the sergeant was not impressed. He knew navy vessels were grey and this black LCM approaching could very well be a third country vessel trying to pick up a spy! At his invitation, I accepted the armed guard who road with me while I followed the sergeant to battalion HQ.

Oh man! The battalion commander was my marine colonel friend from the beach. I felt better when he smiled and said, “So, you’re still around here causing trouble Lieutenant?”
“I hope not sir”
“I’ve heard that your LCM was on the way to pick you up, so I’m giving you a non-combat pass that will keep you out of trouble until you get out of here.” He was laughing.
“I’m really sorry for the trouble sir”, I apologized again, “we normally get message notice for this sort of thing. I don’t know what happened.
“Where you from Lieutenant?”
“Pennsylvania, Sir. Small town in Northwest, called Bradford.”
“You go to the Coast Guard Academy in New London?”
“Yes, Sir, class of ‘57.”
“You know, there was a lad about your vintage from my home town, Upper Sandusky Ohio, who went to the Coast Guard Academy, can’t remember his name.
I smiled and ventured a guess,“Would it be Tom Matteson, sir? How many other CGA grads around my age could there be from Upper Sandusky, Ohio? Tom always reminded us that, strangely, it was below Sandusky.
“By God, that is the name.”
“Yes, Sir, Tom’s a classmate. He’s in flight school now.
“Well, I’ll be damned.”
“Yes Sir.” Was that the correct response?
I never had a chance to tell that story to Tom until our 50th reunion at the Coast Guard Academy. He was pretty sure he knew the Colonel’s family. Tom, retired as a Rear Admiral and Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy. He was later appointed as the Superintendent of the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.

The Colonel’s War

My beautiful picture
Loading the LCM for Kim Bay crossing

The lingering breeze from last night’s storm threatened to spill the fog from Kin Bay onto the station. Petty officer first class Smith rapped once on my office screen door.
“We’re good to go, sir. I just came from the beach. It’s damned foggy and the bay is still moving around a good bit, but I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”
“Thanks, Smith, I’ll be ready to roll in 10.” I had considered canceling the routine supply run, but the weather report called for clearing, and the wind was expected to die down, so getting back from the main Island of Okinawa in the afternoon was not going to be a problem. Smith was an experienced LCM coxswain, and I had great confidence in him.

The M boat was bobbing a bit, even in our protected cove, as I backed the jeep up the ramp and into position in front of our truck. Smith brought the ramp up, backed out expertly, made the pivot and headed out into the bay. The choppy waves pounded the flat ramp like a hammer trying to stop our forward motion. Visibility was less than a two hundred yards.
Half way into the seven mile crossing, an offshore breeze from the main island joined forces with the rising sun to lift the veil of fog. The coxswain called out, “Sir, we’ve got a problem here!”
I got out of the jeep, moved aft to climb the ladder leading to the cockpit. Before I got to the top I could clearly see “the problem.” We had blindly moved into the middle of a joint military exercise. We were surrounded by Amphibious Attack Transports, (APA’s), with their brood of LCVP’s and LCM’s circling them, like ducklings clinging to their mothers, their assault troops at the ready. The assault task force included a few Navy destroyer escorts and minesweepers.

Our uninvited and unexpected black Coast guard utility vessel was the ugly duckling in the middle of a gray Pacific Fleet Task Force! I envisioned Jeff Chandler, in the movie Away All Boats, on the wing of the command ship, all squinty eyed and strong jawed, preparing to give the signal to attack.

I grabbed the binoculars, and scanned the beach. A hazy picture of bleachers filled with military observers emerged in the thinning fog. There was at least one general’s flag flying along with two foreign ensigns. It was too late now.
“Smith, take us in slowly, get us unto the beach so we can get the hell out of the way. Then you go back to the station and I’ll call on land line to set up a pick-up time. Think you can hold it steady in this surf?”
“Yes, sir. It’s not too bad; we can off-load OK.”
The ramp splashed onto the beach, the stern rose and fell with the wavelets, but Smith held us steady with his skillful use of engines and rudder. A two foot wide coil of wire, slapping in the surf about 3 feet in front of our ramp, was not a welcome mat. I moved to the top of the ramp. From the front of the bleachers about 50 yards to the right I saw a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, direct from central casting, a cigar stub in his mouth, sleeves rolled up. He was unperturbed by the sloshing water that soaked his pants half way up his calf. His combat boots cut angry deep divots in the wet sand. He stopped in front of our ramp. “Who the hell are you and where the hell did you come from?” He was steaming.
“Sir, I’m Lieutenant (JG) Marcott, CO of the Coast Guard Loran station on Ikeshima,” I saluted sharply and pointed toward the island. “Sir, I’m sorry to break up the exercises, but we received no message traffic about this. Clearly we would have never made our supply run today had I known.”
“I don’t give a damn about that,” he bellowed, “What I’m pissed about is we’ve held up this exercise for over an hour because the God damned Navy says it’s still too rough in here to land their boats!!” (His language throughout this exchange was a little more Marine-like.)
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have said them. “Well sir, we’re pretty serious about our run—we’re after bread, milk and letters from home!”
I gulped then waited for what seemed an eternity. The colonel’s icy stare burned holes into my head, then suddenly he turned toward the beach and ordered, “Someone—anyone, cut this damned wire and clear a way for this man across the beach—Now! Then tell the Navy to get this damned show on the road!” Did I detect a slight smile?
I wasted no time getting across the beach, and up the road, passing units of the “red army” dug in, and waiting for the amphibious assault of the “blue army.” The Colonel’s war was about to begin.

Recruit Training Reform

I was headed to the CG Training Center, Alameda (TRACEN) for an interview with the commanding officer, Captain Walter Curwen. The breeze felt good with the top down on my new Fiat 850 Spider.  I moved off Treasure Island into the early bridge traffic.

aerial2_coast_guard_island
Government Island: U.S. Coast Guard Training Center, Alameda, California

When I had appealed to my assignment officer a few days ago for a job at the TRACEN, he said. “You’ll have to meet with CAPT Curwen first. I can’t assign anyone as Training Officer without his approval.”

I met the Captain in his office. His natural smile and warm welcome made me feel good about him right away.
“Good morning, Captain, thank you for seeing me about your open training officer position.”
He gestured me to a chair, “Mr. Marcott, you’ll see in a minute why I felt it was important to meet with any officer being considered for this assignment.
“Captain, I think I have a good idea why,” I said. “I was Chief of the Training Branch in PTP before I came to the Resolute two years ago. Rear Admiral Scullion asked me in my exit interview how I felt about Alameda. I told him I was uncomfortable with their some of their methods.  I suspect you’re looking to make changes.”
The captain, relaxed back in his chair, and with a smile on his face he said “Good. Then let’s talk about recruit training.” In a few moments it was clear that we were on the same page.  The middle sixties were a challenge time for anyone, particularly the Armed Forces, trying to integrate young men into their workforce.

The country had grown weary of the Vietnam War. Young men of boot camp age had spent their formative years amidst youth protests movements, and anti-war militant’s open hostilities toward their parent’s middle class values. It was easy to embrace the norms of counterculture groups. They demanded individual freedom in all things, and flaunted their disdain for authority figures.
Of course, the Coast Guard had no magic source of recruits. Those who  reported to Alameda came from: troubled urban centers, pleasant suburbs, and quiet patches of remote countryside. The last sound heard by some was the gavel of a judge who told them their choice was the military or jail. Others heard their fathers telling them to get out and not bother to come back, or the cries of their mother who reluctantly gave up their youngest, but glad they would be saved from the gang warfare that threatened all her children.
On the other hand, many had enlisted to get the GI Bill that would pay for them to go to college later, others didn’t know what they wanted after high school, but thought the service was a good place to learn a trade. Some came because having received their masters degree, their student deferment had run out. They reasoned that joining the Coast Guard would be better than being drafted.
Every week seventy or more of these young men, the good, the bad, and the ugly, were dumped into the caldron of open bay living in double-deck bunks, and gang showers with yelling company commanders who made sure they could do nothing right.

To tackle the Training Officer job, my first priority was to spend time meeting with the key players: the company commanders, the assigned Navy Chaplains, and Dr. Dennis Short, a Psychiatrist, and a Commander in the Public Health Service Commissioned Officer Corps, and Chief of the TRACEN Medical Division. They did not have a history of always  working well together.
I learned two key things from these meetings: (1) Conditions had been much worse than I had suspected, and (2) With very few exceptions, the people directly on the firing line, the company commanders (CC’S,) were ready and willing to embrace change.
The meetings did wonders to improved relationship. By sharing their perspectives, the “good guys” began to trust each other and often devised a mutually agreed upon course of action. The CC’s were, at times, surprised with the “tough line” of the Chaplains. The Doctors professional observations and advice was welcomed by both.  In separate sessions with the CC’s, he taught them observations techniques, what behaviors to look for, and how to describe them in terms beyond “the kid just doesn’t have his shit together.”
I can’t fault anyone in the sixties who was trying to do right by their recruits and still meet the demands of their service. But, for whatever reason, the Marine Corps boot camp methods, which worked for the Marines, appealed to the Alameda Training Officer. It is my personal opinion, he had carried it well beyond the Marine Corps model, as though he was driven to out-Marine the Marines.
Poorly performing recruits were all dealt with as disciplinary problems. Placed in a separate X-Ray Company, they had undergone demanding physical fitness routines, marching drills, sleep disruptions, inane work details, and constant harassment. When the X-Ray company commander felt they were ready to “square away,” he returned them to regular training. I doubt if any recruit had left X-Ray company feeling better about himself or the Coast Guard.
We adopted a new a philosophy that gave every recruit the benefit of the doubt that he had volunteered, for whatever reason, to join our Coast Guard company and wanted to do well. If he was not performing, we looked for the cause and then dealt with him appropriately.
We retained X-Ray Company, for there were still some with serious discipline problems, but we did away with the insane climate. More importantly we established a Special Company, where a recruit needing  a more targeted remedial program which might include counseling or as we later found out was a major problem—remedial reading, he could get it.
I remember a recruit from a ranch in Montana. He had graduated from a small one-room school and the twenty friends and relatives who had attended his graduation were the most people he had ever seen in one place at one time. The Coast Guard Recruiter had driven him to the airport, and put him on a plane for San Francisco.
I can only imagine what he must have thought coming into SFO. He managed to get a bus to Alameda and worked his way to Government Island, only to be dumped into the mob scene with more weird people than he had ever seen in his life. He was not a discipline problem! He was overwhelmed!

We pulled him out of training for a week, provided a little adjustment counseling, and when he was ready, he performed well, graduated and moved on to the active fleet, a proud Seaman Apprentice.
The flagship of our reforms was a reading program run by a first class petty officer who held a masters degree in remedial reading. Joseph Streuffert developed and ran one of the most successful programs in the country,  and went on to his PhD, teaching in an eastern university.
Boot Camp in the sixties could have been the dream laboratory for sociologists and psychologists. But, I doubt they could have done a better job than the terrific Coast Guard petty officers who successfully turned these recruits around in eight weeks. After one week “down time” they turned around and did it again–year after year.

The Calypso

The Cape Knox, one of three 95 foot patrol boats that shared Harbor Entrance Patrols (HEP) was on station at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. We were anchored in Lynnhaven Inlet. The bay was calm with long easy swells.
The operational rules during the Cold War in the late 1950’s required all commercial vessels bound for the U.S. to provide the Coast Guard Captain-of-the-Port (COTP) at least twenty-four hours advance notice of their arrival. The HEP vessel was one member of the Coast Guard team that conducted this mission in Norfolk. The others were a Coast guardsman at Cape Henry Light with long range binoculars, and a man aboard the pilot station where commercial vessels picked up a licensed pilot to navigate the Baltimore or Hampton Roads channels. For the most part, it was not difficult for the team to identify incoming shipping. Most patrols were routine. A notable exception—the day we “arrested” Jacques Cousteau.

Petty Officer Barker, my Quartermaster, was on the bridge making chart corrections, when the FM radio crackled alive.
“Coast Guard HEP, this is Cape Henry. We have one unidentified vessel approaching from the east: dark hull, white superstructure, with exposed deck machinery, approximately 150 feet long. She’s crossing just south of Kiptopeke at Cape Charles turning toward the Baltimore channel.” That meant she was about fifteen miles away and well outside the normal approach to Thimble Shoals Channel—too far to make a visual identification.
“Roger that,” Barker answered. “This is CG 95312 responding from Lynnhaven anchorage.” I heard him call away the anchor detail and I left the paperwork on my cabin desk and headed for the bridge. By the time I got there, the anchor was coming up, and the engines were ready to go.
“What do we have, Barker?” I asked.
“Unidentified, heading for Baltimore Channel, Captain. You can barely see her with binoculars because of the haze.”
If a ship did not take a pilot aboard and the weather prevented direct contact, she was classed as “unidentified.” With no ID we had to assume she was also unexpected.
“As soon as the anchor is up, set an intercept at two thirds speed for now.” Visibility was bad, but we had seen much worse. Chasing an unidentified ship in dense fog is not for the fainthearted. To intercept, you intentionally establish what is aptly known as a collision course.
It was a simple stern chase. She was plotting dead ahead making only seven or eight knots. I increased speed to full, and the Cape Knox responded, pitching slightly into the swells.
As we closed to binocular range, I could see that she indeed had a lot of topside deck equipment, several being small cranes. One of the larger cranes took nearly all the space on the open fantail. I finally made out the name, Calypso. A quick call to Group Norfolk confirmed that she was “unexpected.” I could see nobody on deck, and as I moved the binoculars to the yard arm on the single mast, a blue, white, and red vertical flag filled my binocular lens. Then it hit me, could this be? The Calypso? French Flag?
“OK guys, I think we’ve got something here. This might be Jacques Cousteau, the oceanographer,” I announced. We slowed to match the Calypso speed as we came along side, standing off about twenty yards. I grabbed the bullhorn.
“On the Calypso! This is the United States Coast Guard. You must stop your engines, slowly move out of the channel, and come to a complete stop. This is the United States Coast Guard.”
They responded immediately, and I moved out of the channel with them. As we both came to a dead stop and started drifting, a tall gangly man moved from the wheelhouse to the portside deck, which was at about the same level as our ship’s deck. Now only about twenty feet apart, I could see he was about fifty years old, and had a sharp angular face made leathery from years of outdoor exposure, set off by lightly tinted aviator sunglasses that rested atop his dominant nose. He had a generous amount of swept-back graying hair. I had no doubts now. “Captain Cousteau?” I ventured.
“Yes, Captain, I am Jacques-Yves Cousteau.”

“Sir, the Coast Guard did not receive advance notice of your intentions to enter U.S. waters. Our law requires 24 hours’ notice. I am sorry for the delay, but you may go no further until your agent has filed.”
“Thank you, Captain. My navigator suspected that may be the problem. This was a late decision to divert to Washington, DC, for a meeting with the National Geographic people. We neglected to file. I am sorry. We have already made the necessary contacts and the request should be processed soon.”

“Thank you Captain. You may remain adrift if you think it will not take long, or move a little further east of the channel and anchor. Either way, I must stay with you until you are cleared. Your choice, sir.” I had seen him enough on TV, that I was not surprised how easily he used English.
We stood on our main decks, chatting in a most casual way about some of the Calypso’s equipment and its use for oceanographic research. To my surprise, I discovered that she was built in Seattle, Washington, as a British yard minesweeper, decommissioned after the war in 1947, and refit for Cousteau as a research vessel in 1950.

My crew by now had joined me on the main deck and were taking in the conversation and living in the moment of meeting Cousteau in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. Captain Cousteau explained that the Calypso only made 10 knots, and carried a crew of 25.The cranes on the fantail were for moving diving bells, scientific equipment, as well as a small boat.
We received message traffic in less than an hour that cleared them to proceed to Washington, DC. I said goodbye, and my whole crew waved as he pulled back into the Baltimore Channel on his way to the Potomac River. So, maybe I didn’t “arrest” Jacques Causteau, but I “pulled him over.”
“Let’s head back to Lynnhaven Anchorage, Chief,” I ordered.
At the end of the day, back at anchorage, the setting sun was building a golden backdrop silhouetting the Norfolk and Newport News skyline. The diehard fishermen in the crew claimed their favorite spots on the deck and made a distant cast, hoping for the best, as they buzzed about the Calypso and Jacques Cousteau. Chief Miller and I, both with freshly-filled pipes, leaned against the after rail enjoying the evening and watching the crew. “Well, Captain, I think the troops had a good day today.”
“I think we all did, Chief. It’s not every day you get to ‘arrest’ Jacques Cousteau.”