|11/6/2013 2:00:00 PM|
Retired Coast Guard Veteran Reminisces
|Captain Eugene Walsh served in the U.S.Coast Guard from April, 1941 until July, 1973. (Photo courtesy Eugene Walsh)|
By Charlotte BoyntonRetired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Eugene F. Walsh, 96, of Newcastle, served his country for 32 years. During that time he made life-altering sacrifices, but he also left a positive impact on the communities where he was stationed.
Born in 1917, Walsh graduated from high school in 1935, and joined the Coast Guard in April of 1941, just months before World War II began. He started out as a seaman and moved his way up the ranks, becoming a commander, and then a captain.
Having lived for 96 years, he has many interesting stories to tell and has met many interesting people. He has so many stories: of before and after WWII, and even some from after retiring from the Coast Guard. During a recent interview with Walsh he shared some of those stories, with a promise of more to come.
Before joining the Coast GuardDuring his high school years at Ritenour High School in Overland, Mo., he played third base on his high school baseball team. On his team were soon to be professional players: Bob Scheffing, was a catcher for the Cubs, and Billy Schaeffer, played for the Detroit Tigers back in the 1940s.
Walsh even met Harry Truman before he became President of the United States. According to Walsh, it was during his senior year, when his team won an away-game.
He and three teammates were very excited, and apparently were making a lot of noise celebrating the win when a constable cited each of them and ordered them to appear in district court the following Monday morning.
Who was sitting on the bench but Harry Truman! Judge Truman fined them each $10. Walsh said. "That was a lot of money, but we came up with it."
Joining the Coast GuardEarly in 1941, Walsh was eligible for the draft but he and three of his buddies applied to the recruiting station of all service branches.
The Coast Guard was the first to respond to him, so he signed up. One of his friends went into the Marines, one in the Navy, and another with Walsh, entered the Coast Guard.
After boot camp at Algiers, La., he was assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Campbell. In March of 1941, the United States enacted the Lend/Lease Program to supply England, Russia, China, France, and other allied countries with vital supplies.
The supplies were shipped to those countries on merchant marine vessels in convoys escorted by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.
On return trips, after cargo distribution, the convoys would bring enemy prisoners back to the states.
The conveys often came under attack from German submarines and U-boats. Not only did they have to contend with enemy attacks, but the weather was also a big problem, Walsh said.
The merchant marine ships were unarmed, and sometimes took a hit from the enemy. "Those merchant marines put their lives on the line during those convoys because their ships were the targets for the German attacks," Walsh said.
After his fourth escort, Walsh received orders to go to service school in New London Conn., to become a boatswain-mate.
After completing service school, Walsh was assigned to the Elkins Training Station in Pennsylvania where dogs, horses and Coast Guardsmen were trained to patrol the beaches and shorelines on horseback.
Walsh said the horse patrol was an important security force. Riders on horseback were able to cover more territory much faster than on foot.
Walsh said some people who owned luxury boats, allowed the Coast Guard to use them to patrol the shorelines, with the guarantee the boats would be returned in the same condition in which they were loaned.
In 1942, prompted by his commanding officer, Walsh took the two-day examination test for Officer's Candidate School, and passed.
Assigned to the Coast Guard cutter BibbAfter graduation from OCS, Walsh was assigned to the Bibb, one of the Coast Guard cutters that was converted for combat.
Named for the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the Bibb also participated in convoys to the allied countries, along with many other ships.
Walsh said convoys contained anywhere between 80 to 180 ships. He recalled while on one in the Pacific in 1943, the USS Henry Mallory was torpedoed. The Bibb was able to rescue several of the ship's survivors, but unfortunately many of the Mallory crew was lost.
In 1944, Walsh said the Bibb docked at Pearl Harbor, and a Navy Admiral came on board the ship with a full staff. After briefing the crew, the ship headed for Guam to pick up more of the admiral's contingent, then they were off to Okinawa, arriving about one week before April 1.
Their mission became sweeping for mines along the Okinawa shore lines, to make way for the American attack. The attack began April 1, and lasted until the conclusion of the war.
According to Walsh, the Bibb anchored in Buckner Bay, about two miles off shore, surviving numerous kamikaze attacks while the Battle of Okinawa raged on.
Preparations for the invasion of Japan where underway when Truman ordered the atomic bomb dropped, Walsh said.
"They say Truman saved two million lives in using the atomic bomb," Walsh said. "I believe he saved even more lives again that that, and billions of dollars."
The Bibb headed home from Okinawa in December 1945, with 57 passengers. The passengers included servicemen that were due leave. The ship made port in San Diego, Calif., and along with many other servicemen, Walsh had to find his own way home.
Getting home on leave after the warAfter landing in San Diego the 57 servicemen/passengers on the Bibb took a train to Los Angeles. Upon arrival, they were unable to find rooms until the Belmont Hotel offered to put some 60 cots in a convention room and charge them each $5 a night to stay.
The next day, four servicemen, including Walsh, went to the train station to inquire if they could get tickets to Chicago. The ticket agent said they could get a ticket if they had an extra $100.
Discouraged, they headed back to the hotel. On the way, one serviceman wanted to stop and purchase a silver cup and spoon, since he became a new father while at sea. While waiting for the engraving, the jeweler asked how things were going. The servicemen explained their experience with the train station ticket agent.
The jeweler stepped away for a moment and returned with the name of Mr. Greenfield, an executive of food services for the railroad.
Walsh said they went back to the station, located Mr. Greenfield and told him their story. Greenfield asked them to wait in his office, and upon his return, Greenfield announced the Santa Fe Railroad was putting another car on the train for Chicago for the 57 servicemen.
Walsh said the stewards on the train were very good to them on that trip. He is not sure what happened to the ticket agent.
Walsh had married in 1943, and his wife was waiting for him in Chicago. "We went on the honeymoon we didn't have when we got married." He said.
After World War IIWith the end of World War II, Walsh continued his service in the Coast Guard as a commanding officer.
His commands and service included the St. Louis Depot; becoming the commanding officer of the CG Cutter Ceder; CG Cutter Sedge; the CG Cutter Ivy; and the CG Cutter Kalmath.
Walsh served also as Chief Aid to Navigation Branch District 13.
As Executive/Commanding Officer, Walsh headed up the base in Miami, Fla.; and the base in Buffalo, N.Y.
In 1966 he became the commanding officer of the South Portland Coast Guard Base, and Captain of the Port from Rockland to Kittery. He soon made his presence known with focus on the pollution in the Portland waterfront and worked with the city to clean it up.
Walsh received considerable recognition from city officials; and the state biologists' association presented him with an award for his efforts in advanced harbor improvements and pollution control.
The Coast Guard presented him with a certificate for meritorious achievement in waterfront improvements as well.
After leaving South Portland he was assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Staten Island, later becoming the Chief of Operations for Coast Guard District 9.
In 1972 he became the Chief of Staff of District 9, the district that is responsible for the activities of the five Great Lakes.
While on the assignment in District 9, the Great Lakes shipping industry got a boost. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard did a feasibility study to see if it would be possible to keep the waters open year-round for shipments to come by sea.
Walsh said the shipments by water were discontinued in November. After the study it was determined the Coast Guard could extend the season into the middle of January.
He received the numerous medals, commendations and citations for his service including that National Defense Service Metal with one Bronze Star; Coast Guard Commendation Medal with one Gold Star; Meritorious Service Metal; Coast Guard Unit Commendation; World War II Victory Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; American Defense Service Medal with letter "A"; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Medal with one Bronze Star; and the Navy Occupation Service Medal.
PersonalWalsh and his wife, Helen, had three sons, Mike, Jim, and Dennis. Helen passed away in 1962 when Mike and Jim were in high school and Dennis was in junior high. When Walsh's service required sea duty, he hired a housekeeper to look after the boys.
In 1964, he married Eleanor, and they had 35 years together before her death in 1999. Walsh also has had his share of heartbreak besides losing both Helen and Eleanor. He lost his son Mike in 2002, and lost his right kidney to cancer in 1981.
While stationed in South Portland, Walsh's son Dennis worked in Boothbay Harbor during one summer helping to build a new motel, the Sea Gate. Dennis fell in love with the owner's daughter, Marie, whom he later married. The couple settled in Newcastle.
In 2007, Walsh sold his home in Seattle, and moved to Newcastle, into a house that was built for him by Dennis. He visits his son Jim every June for a month in Washington state.
Walsh has always enjoyed hunting and fishing. Although he no longer hunts, he still enjoys fishing. He also does some painting on canvas. "You have to have something to keep you busy during the cold winter nights," he said with a chuckle.
At 96, he still drives his car, with no restrictions. He does not even need glasses and has no hearing difficulties. However, he has a pair of 99-cent glasses he uses when he does his crossword puzzles.
When asked who cares for his home, cooks his meals, and does his laundry, his answer was very clear, "I have a housekeeper comes in to do the housekeeping, but I cook my own meals, and do my own laundry," he said.
Walsh said he asked his doctor recently why did he think he had lived this long? He said the doctor answered, "I don't know, you tell me - you have lived longer than I have."
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