Photos & Video
Hundreds of photos and over two hours of video were taken during the weekend. It will take me a while to catalog them and create presentation pages. One thing I don't want to do is just throw them onto the wall and let everybody figure out the who and what for themselves. About ten shipmates were interviewed on video tape. They talk about their Coast Guard careers and especially their memories of Sebago. Expect to see them here in about two weeks. If you have photos to share, send them for posting or select your favorites and put them on the forum board.
Shipmates Once - Friends Forever !
New Forum Board Is RunningJan 18, 2009 - The original forum board worked, but there always seemed to be problems. As a result I've installed a new board which may be accessed from the 'Quarterdeck' menu on the navigation bar above. Notice that the new board includes areas for all other USCG units. It is divided by the current CG District structure for shore units and two sections for Cutters. I'm looking for TWO things now; your suggestions on how to better integrate the forums to the static pages and moderators for the forums. The moderators will help build and maintain the membership and atmosphere of the 'Other CG Units' sections. Just send me an email if you are interested.
Mobile Reunion A Hit With SEBAGO CrewFrom the very first moment that shipmates began to gather at Brookley Center there was a spark in the air that was evident for the entire weekend. Frankly, I was worried that it wouldn't turn out so well, but when I saw two shipmates that had not seen each other for 50 years grinning from ear to ear - well, I knew then that it would be a great time for all of us.
The Sea Stories Begin! Lee Wonnacott, Pinky Mee, Tom Kirk, John Powers, Rich London, Ken Savage, Sam Schambeau, and Jim Blair all arrived at the Pine Tree Lodge during early Thursday afternoon. Blair and Powers had spent their first two years in the Coast Guard together, from boot camp through Sebago. John's grandson, Steven, was with him and I think he was impressed that Coasties who served together a half century previous are still friends and eager to meet. That may be why Steven is talking with the Coast Guard recruiters now is expecting his orderss to Cape May next March. An informal get together on the benches outside of the lodge gave us some quick background information; Pinky left the Coast Guard to join the Dallas PD and spent most of his time as a homicide detective. He said it was always interesting work. Tom's career after his time in service took him to IBM and he is now retired but keeping active by teaching college classes in Atlanta. Jim Blair and Rich London continued on to become Warrant Officers. The updates quickly gave way to 'no shit' sea stories and we learned; 1) about Sebago's collision with the USS Antietam (CV-36) at New Orleans, 2) the UFO was really a test of a ship launched cruise missile, 3) the older guys were amazed that the last crews sailed only to Oceans Stations and that brought on their stories about the Gulf of Mexico and Campeche Patrol. The gathering was small and brought strangers together in an intimate setting in which all of us walked to our beds that evening as friends and true shipmates. What a way to start a reunion.
Touring ATC and Sector
The 'Hangar Crew'
One thing that has changed a lot in the last few years is that our Coast Guard no longer operates with hand me downs from the Navy, nor do we employ boats seized from rum runners and smugglers of other sort. The modern Coast Guard is as well equipped and highly trained as we could have ever hoped. Michael Case had arranged a morning tour of the Aviation Training Center followed by lunch on their mess deck and an afternoon tour of Sector Mobile. We assembled at 1000 hours at the ATC and were greeted by Lt Chris Groom, an instructor pilot who happens to be married to a Lieutenant that is assigned to Sector Mobile. We didn't get to meet her that afternoon, but to we old shipmates it was unusual to think what our service time may have been had there been women serving alongside us.
Lt Chris Groom
USCG Aviator #3700 Lt Groom is a mustang, having served on a northeastern lifeboat station, then into public affairs as a pathway to OCS and Naval Aviator training at Pensacola. This officer simply oozes pride. He's one of those broad grinning, happy feet, guys that find joy in what they are doing and are pleased that anyone asks why.
HC-144A 'Ocean Sentry'
Newest CG Aircraft Groom took us through the main hangar and an extensive brief on the French built HH-65 Dolphin helicopter and HU-25 Guardian fixed wing jet. We also got to see the Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk and the Spanish built HC-144A 'Ocean Sentry' fixed wing turbo-prop. The HC-144A is replacing the aging HU-25 Falcon and, of course, ATC Mobile is responsible for getting the flight crews up to speed. The aircraft gives up some dash speed to the Falcon, but it has more than twice the loiter time over the search area than the Falcon and it has the ability to drop more gear through the large rear hatch that can open in flight. I suspect there are some great improvements in avionics and law enforcement interdiction capabilities too, but for many reasons that topic wasn't discussed in depth. Our last stop on the ATC tour was the simulator facility, a state of the art installation that allows our aviators and crews to practice and prepare for those situations that in years past were only seen in the live, real time, environment. The simulators save lives in many ways. It introduces the 'nuggets' to the concepts of aerial search patterns in a way that they can truly appreciate what is happening at the datum point and how the aircrew can best assess and take advantage of sea state, current, wind drift, aircraft capablity, and crew readiness. It also makes the flight crew aware of those mistakes they have made that would be fatal on a real mission. The seasoned flight crews return here on a regular basis in order to confirm they adhere to the stict flight safety standards required by the SAR mission. This dedication to safety through training is the essence of ATC Mobile. LUNCH! A couple of us old geezers were already dragging anchor when it came time to run through the chow line on the ATC mess deck. What a difference from what I remember of Coast Guard meals. With apologies to Dave Williams, Ned Sparks, 'Cookie' Connors, Clarence Pipkin and the other cooks I remember from Sebago... ATC really knows how to keep a crew happy at dinner time. Of course it's because they are served by a civilian contractor, but the variety of dishes offered and the quality of the meals were surprising and the mess deck itself was very inviting and comfortable. This is one of the areas where my visits to Coast Guard units in the last year have shown me there is a vastly improved attitude toward keeping the morale of the crew at the highest possible level. 'Our' Coast Guard worked from platforms created for World War II. It was cramped, utility oriented, and rarely was a thought given to comfort. Today's Coasties get to sleep in quarters that are modern, well planned, and aside from recruit training, it's rare that more than six shipmates will share berthing quarters, most are two or four person compartments. All of the 'living spaces' are intended to be a place of refuge, not just a place to grab an hour or two of sleep before returning to duty. In this regard all of us on the tour were impressed, envious, and willing to state out loud that the new guard might be a little soft.
CMC Spidle Greets Sebago Crew
Warm Welcome For Old Salts Soft or not, the senior staff of Sector Mobile made it clear that our service so many years ago is venerated by the men and women serving today. We were greeted just inside the gate by Command Master Chief Spidle and escorted to the admin training building. Moments later, and to our surprise, two Captains arrived to address the Sebago Sailors. Capt Poulin is the CO of Sector Mobile and Capt Drelling is his XO. This very senior level staffing of what we consider a 'Group Office' is a reflection of the new 'Sector' structure of the Coast Guard in which Group, MIO, MSO, and several other old command environments have been brought together under one commander. Capt. Poulin was very gracious in his welcoming remarks. The three men represent 82 years of Coast Guard experience, but he made it clear that we 'old salts' that stood watch aboard the World War II era cutters had rightfully earned the respect of the new generation of Coasties.
Cutter Cobia Bridge
Tom Kirk and SN Patrick Gibson After the welcome we were allowed aboard the Cutters Stingray, Cobia, and buoy tender Barbara Mabrity. I suspect it may not have been the best idea to let us talk with the young Seaman aboard Cobia. A couple of us planted the idea that the coastal patrol boats were ideal vessels for water skiing, or at the very least a good tug for exciting tubing.
The Annual Picnic Hosted by CPOA MobileThanks again to the chapter officers and all of the Chiefs for allowing us to tag onto their annual event. It was everything we expected, and more. The food was good, the beer cold, and we found old friends at every every bench. I think the biggest surprise for many of us was seeing the old dodger from Cutter SEBAGO affixed to the fence at the park gate.
Ron Dudley Had The Dodger !
A Bit Of Canvas - A Lot Memories Most of us never had the chance to meet Ron Dudley during his tour aboard SEBAGO. That's because he was probably the last man to ever report aboard as a new crewman. He came aboard right out of recruit training just as the ship was being decommissioned. He helped sail the ship from Pensacola to temporary storage at Mobile. The parts and pieces of SEBAGO that could reasonably be used aboard the remaining 255 fleet and other floating units were removed. As each shipmate rotated to other D8 units they were either encouraged to 'preserve the history' of SEBAGO by taking something of intrinsic value... or a blind eye was turned to outright theft. Plaques, portholes, flags, photos, handles, anything that could be pried away from the bulkhead and used for decoration elsewhere was walked ashore in the hands of those few men aboard to the bitter end. Dudley, unaware of the number of men carried back aboard after countless nights of liberty, he cut the canvas from the brow because it looked like a fun souvenir. Years later his wife nearly sold the artifact for fifty cents at a yard sale. According to Ron, when he found out how close he came to losing the dodger he impolitely informed his wife never to attempt that again. The shipmates that made it to the picnic had several hours to renew old friendships and tell new lies, and the time seemed to fly. Most of us were there by 1000 and at 1500, when the place began to clear out and the clean up crew started to hose down the pavillion, we were all sorry the day had come to an end. We had relived our youth and again listed to a George Hooton story. Dean Kratchmer had put the needle to the guys in the Bosun's Locker and the Snipes reminded us just how hard their jobs had been. The non-rated showed us they had been worthy of their shields by showing us all of their unit patches from 20 years of service as they gained their crows and in several cases became mustangs. Many photo albums were passed around and few of us looked the same as those black and white photos portrayed us 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. A squall line came through and forced some away before the group photo was taken. So many people we taking photos that most of us didn't know where to look, or even stand, so that all of our faces would be seen. As a result, every photographer has a different view of the moment. I'm sure that about sums up the entire weekend, each of us has a different view and the picture is slightly different for each. Regardless of your perspective, I think the entire weekend was a success enjoyed for everyone that attended. Saturday evening those of us that were staying at Brookley Center gathered around the small pool for some quiet reflection of the weekend, our Coast Guard careers, and to a certain extent we just explored our new friendships and the old. Each shipmate had a chance to be video taped as he remembered the good and bad of life aboard SEBAGO and a few really surprising stories came out. I had never expected that the DC's aboard ship would ever be coffin makers, but on at least one Campeche patrol they made the effort. The videos will be available on the site soon, just keep checking here.
A Last Meal Together
Then Long Drives Home For Most Sunday started out with a downpour and most of us that gathered at Morrison's for brunch had come to the conclusion that the tour of Station Dauphin Island would be a wash out. The last 90 minutes together, sharing a meal and a few pleasant memories, passed quickly and with a final handshake and hug it was over. The reunion that I thought might never happen had come off very smoothly, without a lot of fanfare and an emphasis on spending time just talking about our experiences aboard SEBAGO. We missed many shipmates and talked about them; those that had not come for whatever reason and those that have crossed over the bar. Without any doubt the next gathering will follow much the same path - excitement upon greeting, fellowship among shipmates and friends, sadness over those not present, and finding the balance between good memories and the moments we have at hand. My only regret is that it had been 21 years since our last opportunity to gather.