A Big Catch on Rum Row
William G. Shepherd
By 1925 rum-running–importation of foreign-made liquor into the United States–had settled into a systematic, large-scale business. So had the fight against rum-runners. Here is a 1925 article written by reporter William G. Shepherd, a story of one engagement: “the story of the greatest single-handed capture ever made in the sea fight against rum-runners,” as Collier’s (magazine) declared.
June 6, 1925
Pretzels — that’s what we eat in off hours on Coast Guard Rum Chaser 115. By off hours I mean the hours when regular meals were not under way. In the little kitchen-dining room — down at the foot of the steel ladder in the rear of the boat — the cook is always working, washing the dishes of the last meal or peeling potatoes or chopping celery or making other preparations for the next. He has seven men to feed. They are mostly young men under thirty, who have passed stringent physical tests. Their stomachs are as sound as their teeth, and their teeth must be perfect. They live outdoors on the sea. Their appetites seem to give them no peace. One of them, in the midst of a conversation with you will suddenly look worried and distraught — he may, to a stranger, appear seasick; he will excuse himself, climb down the steel ladder to the “galley,” as they say at sea, and climb back to the deck with a handful of something to eat. The he’s ready for more talk. The cook may go to his bunk to sleep, but the kitchen runs along, during the night watches, just the same.
The men are allowed $1 a day, each, for food; they pool their funds, and the cook or the man in charge of the boat does the buying. Therefore eacn of the twenty-four needle boats in the New Jersey sector of the Battle of Jugland has its own culinary individuality. For instance, on Chaser 117, rye bread and ham was the off-hour food. On Chaser 160, when you climbed down the ladder to get something to nibble on, it was crackers and a hearty, biting cheese that made your palate tingle. The coffeepot, tied to the stove, is always hot. Every man in the crew, including the two engineers of the two powerful gasoline engines, knows where the coffee is kept, as well as where the cheese or crackers or ham may be found. It seems to be the duty of the man, who during the cook’s off hours finds the coffee getting weak, to toss into the pot a dozen tablespoonfuls of new coffee. “Wash your cup at the sink and hang it back on its hook,” is the cook’s only order to the crew. On every chaser several men took the greatest pains to tell me where to find off-hour eating material.
The two captains on Chaser 115 ate pretzels together and separately and got along very well with each other. It was Captain John O’Briens’ boat, but I had requested that Captain John (Hubbard) Reeder be allowed to go out “on the Row” with me. His boat was laid up with a twisted propeller shaft and he was pining away on shore.
“Go out with Shepherd and keep him company,” Commander Kinnaly, in charge of operations, had said to Reeder after I made my request.
Reeder, I knew was one of the most daring of the young Coast Guard commanders at Section Base No.2.
That simple and impulsive request of mine for Reeder’s company cost some unknown dealer in “wines, liquors and cigars” — and one-thousand-dollar bills — just about half a million dollars.
It provided one of the most spectacular single-handed captures in Rum Row history.
The lazy spring Saturday afternoon on the lazily pulsing sea, thirty miles out from shore, had been uneventful. Our chaser had ambled around slowly from one rum schooner to another, four and five miles between boats, and had found only one rum runner, which had been shot at, chased and lost.
That afternoon I had my first view of tracer bullets, invented and used during only the latter months of the war (World War 1). Someone took down the 40-pound Lewis machine gun from its shelf in the rear of the pilot house and found that it had jammed; its trigger would not snap. It was an hour’s work to clean and oil it. And then it had to be tried. The tracer bullets were new and the boys used those. In the brilliant sunshine O’Brien fired a “panful” of tracers. The effect was astonishing. Everyone who has ever watered a lawn with a hose knows how easy it is to hit a certain mark with the stream of water. Well, this Lewis machine gun sent out over the sea a thin line of smoke that waved up and down or from side to side as O’Brien pleased; he could direct it where he wanted it to go, and in that two-mile string of smoke there was a core of drilling death. I’d hate to be a rum runner and have that Lewis smoke hose turned on me.
At night the sight of the tracer bullets was even more amazing. I saw it (in operation) at the entrance to the Ambrose Channel in the moonlight of the early evening. The boat had run in toward the New York shore to hunt for rum runners that might be heading out toward the Row. They’re something like hunters, these Coast Guard men; they have their places where they lie in wait.
At a certain spot on the sea the captain had shut off the engines and put out all lights; the boat lay rolling gently and drifting. There was distant roar of engines. There was a rum runner about. On the deck there was a scampering for rifles and one-pounder shells for the big gun. The man in charge of the Lewis gun took it out on the deck. The roar grew louder, but the youngest, finest eyes on our boat could see no lights on the water. The rum runner was running without lights, running towards us. He didn’t see us and we couldn’t see him. There was a chance for a smash. Fate had it that, like a flash, he would miss us by about 200 feet. He passed by us, in the path of the moon. Twenty things happened all at once on our boat. Bells rang. The engines started full speed. We jumped forward. Someone pulled the siren as a signal for the runner to stop. He didn’t. Someone pulled the lanyard of the one-pounder gun and sent a shot across his bow as a further signal for him to stop. He didn’t. His boat swerved straight into the moonlight. Someone turned the searchlight on the place where the boat had been a moment before.
“Get him!” Here was human game! Do men feel wicked when they shoot to kill? I’ve never thought so. That part of them with which men feel wicked isn’t working at the time.
Suddenly a stream of fire as thick as my wrist shot out from our deck over the sea–the Lewis gun with its tracer bullets. The daytime thread of smoke had become a hawser of fire. Two rifles sent out the same blazes. An automatic spat four times. That rum runner had only to stop and the shooting would have ended instantly. What could he have been more afraid of than this stream of tracer bullet, these one-pounder shells and the rest of the killing missiles? He chose to run away, and he succeeded — if he didn’t go to the bottom. He knew what he was doing; he dashed back and forth across the path of the moon. His white spray in the moon-light, the dull grayness of his boat, the glitter on the water, made him almost invisible. The searchlight could not find him.
And right here, I may remark, he had something to get away in. I asked a rum-runner prisoner on our boat, later in the evening, what sort of boat this shot-defying runner had and the description he gave me — I’ll repeat it later on — indicated that it was perhaps one of the fastest boats on the coast, amazingly equipped for speed.
I have never, in revolution or war, among machine-gun men in Mexico or among revolutionists in Russia or at various fronts in Europe, seen such desperateness and such willingness to gamble with life as that rum runner; under a tracer-bullet fire from a machine gun, displayed that night. Suddenly there was nothing to shoot at; nothing toward which to steer our boat. We couldn’t hear the thunder of the engines. The rum runner was gone. Flesh and blood had done the almost incredible thing of defying that stream of killing fire.
I have said he might have gone to the bottom. No one on our boat could say that he hadn’t. And I found out from the rum-runner prisoner, later in the evening, that often his associates never come back to shore — they “stay” at sea.
The rum-runner prisoner mentioned above, whom we did succeed in catching that evening, had started out with a companion, and one of their engines had gone wrong. When 115 signaled them they rounded to and started toward us. The Coast Guard boat came to a stop and waited for them. Their boat was a Seabright dory; in form and type a great, glorified rowboat. It was open like a rowboat. There were no seats in it, but running from side to side, in the middle of it, was a box to house the engines.
Two men stood leaning against this box as the dory came up to us; one had a hand on a rudder lever behind him; the familiar shape of their seagoing dory made them appear, in size, like dolls. They were covered from head to foot in black oilskins. Their faces peered out through hoods that ran down over their chests. They might have been dressed for moving pictures; instead they were dressed for a night in a fast open boat on the high seas. A wind had come up with the evening, and the sea was choppy. Their boat came up alongside 115 with a bang. Reeder, with revolver and ammunition strapped to his waist, jumped across into her.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Oh, we’re just hunting for a skiff we lost,” answered the taller of the two.
“Where are your papers?” asked Reeder.
“Papers” are issued by the federal government, and it is against the law to operate without them.
“Papers?” repeated the tall man. “I left ’em ashore. I didn’t expect to come out this far.
“Fellow,” said Reeder quietly, “I’ll have to take you in.”
“Throw out a towrope, please,” he said to Captain O’Brien.
He stood on the engine box, above and behind the two sinister, monkish-looking figures as the dory trailed along behind us. The 115 headed for the port of New York and for the Barge Office at Battery Park, the sea end of Manhattan Island, where the jails and the cells and the patrol wagons are. We had a thirty-mile run ahead of us.
Pretty soon we lost the moon behind the clouds, and it was difficult to see the boat behind us. Reeder shouted to stop, and the dory ran alongside us again. “It’s too rough to be towed,” he explained. “I’m going to put one of these prisoners aboard you. Please give me a seaman, a pocket flashlight, and an oilskin coat. You get up there,” Reeder ordered one of the two prisoners.
One of the black, monk-dolls made a grab at the railing of our boat, just as we gave a lurch. He barely grasped the rail, his booted feet slipped and he dangled over the side. Three of us grabbed him and pulled him up.
He stamped on the deck as if his feet were cold; he shook his body in his oilskins. Then I heard a very pleasant voice issue forth in the hood.
“Let him have my oilskins.”
“Fine!” said Reeder, “I’ll take them.”
The rum-runners fingers were cold; he could not unbutton his tightly buttoned cuffs.
“If you’ll help me off with these–” he suggested. I unbuttoned his cuffs and helped him to pull his great rubber hood off over his head. I’d like to read a Conrad or a McFee story or see a good moving picture about the kind of fellow he looked to me as his face came out of that hood. It was not a bad face; it was used to smiling; it had a chin that could set square when necessary; there were sound, white teeth in it and clear whites in the eyes. It was a young face, but it had weather wrinkles about the temples. The hair was short and crisply curly, with a touch of gray. The tan of sunshine, wind and sea was on him. If a moving picture camera had caught us, out in that black night, the unhooding of that curly-headed rum runner would have made a picture that would thrill thousands of audiences and queer prohibition for the evening, in any theatre.
They threw the oilskins to Reeder and someone handed him a pocket flashlight.
“Jacobsen, you go with Captain Reeder,” ordered Captain O’Brien.
Big Jacobsen, a seaman, in a short blue overcoat and a tightly knitted cap of the sailor type, jumped down into the dory. He didn’t stop to get his revolver or ammunition.
“Please watch for my light signals,” said Reeder. “See you at the Barge Office, Mr. Shepherd,” he added. “Cast off.”
The little boat fell behind us in the darkness. Ten minutes later, far behind, we saw a little white light flashing in code. Reeder was telling us that everything was O. K.
But consider what had happened. We had had two captains on 115; now we had only one. Out there, on the black sea, Captain Reeder, at the end of the day, had a boat of his own, even if it was operated by a rubber-hooded prisoner. A crew’s a crew, so long as it obeys. And Reeder had his revolver and the unarmed but huge Jacobsen.
The place to put the prisoner was down in the kitchen. He climbed down the seven-stepped steel ladder into the glare of the kitchen lights. He wore corduroy trousers, stuck into hip-length rubber boots, and a brown shirt. He was a clean man, with the cleanliness that costs money; probably a little vain of his “working clothes”– not a man who wear them after they were much soiled.
It was inordinately hot down there in the kitchen, with the coal stove and the boat’s heating plant going full blast, but, after he had turned down the uppers of his boots, he backed up against the stove and shivered.
The cook was sympathetic. There is something maternal about a good cook.
“He’s shivering,” said the cook. “I know where I can get you a nip,” he said to the man. He had in mind my little flask of seasickness medicine. I suppose. Now in a fiction story, this rum runner would have refused a drink: he would have said, quietly, “Thanks, but I don’t drink.”
The fact is that that’s just about what he did say. Only he put it this way, to the amazement of myself, the cook and the seaman who had brought him down: “No, thanks, but I don’t touch the stuff.”
“All right. Better take a cup of Java, then,” said the cook, raising the coffeepot from the stove.
“Yes, sir, I’ll have coffee,” said the man, his face lighting for the first time. He drank three cups of hot coffee, sitting on a bench beside the white oilcloth-covered table.
I went up on deck. The lights were out on our halyards: we were running dark. O’Brien wanted to make another catch, if he could, on the way in. Those schooners on Rum Row must get food and water from shore or the crews will suffer, and Rum Row be routed. This was the hour when the fast boats that run out to the Row with victuals and supplies might be expected to be abroad. O’Brien had stationed a man on the rear deck to watch for Reeder’s signals, which came in as tiny, pure-white flashes from time to time.
“Meet you at the Barge Office,” he flashed one time. But always he flashed the code message, “O. K.”
When I went down below to the kitchen half an hour later the prisoner was talking to one of the two engineers. Gasoline engines was their theme. They were both experts. The rum runner made no bones about it; he had run many a high-powered boat that had outsped the Coastal Patrol. The conversation became three-sided, what with the questions that a curious correspondent had to ask; and, finally, when a ringing of bells took the engineer up the ladder and back to his engine, I found myself alone, except for the cook, with the man in the rubber boots.
“I’m not a Coast Patrol man,” I explained to him. “I’m a Collier’s correspondent.
“Yes, I know,” he answered. “The cook told me who you were.”
So we buckled down to an hour’s talk.
“Say,” he said, “have you ever been on one of these patrol boats when they’re shooting?” he asked.
I told him that I had been in at least ten chases.
“Why don’t you fellows stop?” I asked. He didn’t answer my question.
“Does it look to you as if they shooting to hit us?”
“I never saw more careful aiming in the whole war,” I answered.
“That’s it,” he said earnestly. “I’ve been telling the boys back at Atlantic Highlands and Keansburg that those men are really trying to kill us. They wouldn’t believe it. But I know! You’d think we were a lot of birds, a bunch of wild ducks, the way those fellows shoot.
“What do they fire at us?” he asked later. “Ain’t they using some kind of shell that explodes after it hits?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “It’s a one pounder shell that bursts.”
“That’s what we’ve heard,” he answered. “They could bust your boat to pieces. More than one of the Jersey runners has never come to shore again. And the boats come in with bullet holes in them pretty often these days.”
“Have you ever had any tracer bullets fired at you?” I asked.
“What kind are they?” he asked.
I explained the trail of smoke by day and the two-mile long string of fire by night.
“No,” he answered. “I’ve never seen any of them and I don’t want to.”
And then I did the fair thing. I told him what was on my mind about the daring of his kind. I had to tell him that I had never seen greater daring even among the fatalistic Mexicans.
“I don’t see how a man can sit in one of those little boats out on the high seas and let these fellows pop away at him.”
He didn’t take my remarks as a compliment to bravery. Instead he earnestly tried to explain it to me.
“You see,” he said, “a runner has got a faster boat than theirs, he knows that. He knows that he’ll be in range only a minute or two and then he’ll outspeed ’em. All that shooting on the deck makes a lot of noise when you’re near the cannon and the guns, but you must remember that we don’t hear the shooting. Our engines are making so much noise at high speed that we can’t hear ourselves think. All we can see is little spalshes in the water around us. Pretty soon the splashes are behind us, and then we know we’re all right. But lately I’ve been hearing kind of an explosion when the shells hit the water, and I suspected they were explosive.”
“Isn’t it kind of a tough game?” I asked.
“Well, you see for yourself,” he answered. “It’s the toughest game I was ever in. It was pretty soft two years ago, when the Row was only three miles from shore and the only place they chased you was on land. But now we have to go out on the high seas in all kinds of weather with these fellos shooting at you as if you were a flock of wild ducks.
The cook got up from the bench and brought back three cups of coffee. It isn’t often you can hold a kaffee-klatsch with a rum runner.
“It doesn’t even pay the way it used to,” he went on.
At this point I must stop a moment to comment in advance on what this man straight off Rum Row, had to volunteer about the direction that drinking is taking to-day in America. I have said, in previous articles, that white-collar drinking, the drinking of pure unadulterated stuff, is dying out because the pure stuff is disappearing; I have said that most of what we are drinking in America to-day is raw industrial alcohol, jiggered around in different disguises. A tour of the country as shown in a recent article in Collier’s proved this point, but I had not expected to find any connection between raw industrial and this open-sea, widely scattered Rum Row.
“It doesn’t even pay the way it used to,” he continued. “People don’t seem to be willing to pay the prices for real stuff any more. You can buy that stuff they call ‘Scotch mash’ out there on the boats. It’s real name is ‘iolene.’ It comes in barrels, and I think it costs about $10 a gallon, but I’ve never bought any of it. You take that to shore and mix it with industrial alcohol and water and you can make any kind of Scotch you want. Just label your bottles as you please. One fellow I know who didn’t know much about whiskey, got a lot of queer-shaped bottles called ‘pinch bottles’ that only a certain brand of whisky comes in and he filled ’em with iolene whisky. The only labels he could get were ‘Old Smuggler’ labels, so e glued these on to the bottles. It was a great joke — ‘Old Smuggler’ whisky in pinch bottles. But he sold them all right.
“People think prices of whisky are going down. Good whisky isn’t going down. But there’s so much fake whisky, even out on Rum Row, that it doesn’t pay to try to handle real good whisky unless you have special customers.
“I like real liquor,” he continued, “but I take home beer and wine. I won’t touch the other stuff any more. It’s green. You see, in England they must age whisky for three years before they can sell it. But lately they’ve been exporting green Scotch to France or Belgium or Germany and then reshipping it the Row. That’s what we’re getting mostly now. They’re cheating over at the other end of the line.”
I asked him about how fast the rum runners boats really were and how they were engined.
“I know some boats that have Liberty engines in them,” he said. “The engines cost $5,000 apiece, installed. That’s $15,000 for the three. They are 450 horsepower each. That makes 1,350 horsepower in one small boat.” We figured out on the table, that, it it were possible, the Mauretania (largest ship in the world at that time), powered at the same rate, would have nearly fourteen million horsepower in her engines instead of 70,000.
“Some of the boats are good for forty-five land miles an hour, empty. Put a hundred cases on them and the engines are so powerful that you don’t cut down speed more than five miles per hour. That leaves you forty miles an hour to get away with.
“How did you get caught tonight?” I asked.
“Only one of our engines was working right. We saw you two miles away and tried to quiet our engines, but we couldn’t. We’d have been all right at that, if we hadn’t left our papers home. That means a $350 fine, I hear.
Up on deck they had been receiving Reeder’s flashing O. K.’s from time to time, but when I went up on deck, after the talk, I found Captain O’Brien and the crew worried. We were nearing New York. The lights of Coney Island and Staten Island were visible, and here and there around us were the lights and dark hulls of ships that had passed through the Narrows and were heading out to sea. or were finding their ways toward the Narrows and New York Harbor. The flashing buoy lights of Ambrose Channel added to the liveliness. But among all those lights not tiny white flashes appeared. Reeder had stopped signaling.
O’Brien became worried after a quarter of an hour. He decided to light up his boat so that Reeder could see it. Still no white flashes came. He turned the boat around, facing the sea. He began to signal with his red and green lights, high up on the halyards. No one the sea could miss those signals. But there was no answer.
There was only one thing for O’Brien to do after vainly trying to get news of Reeder, and that was to hurry into base headquarters at Staten Island and report that Reeder was lost.
He put on full speed, and within half an hour we were at the pier–with the prisoner guarded by an armed seaman, down in the kitchen–and O’Brien was telling his story to the base commander.
But Reeder’s little boat wasn’t swamped.
I saw him twelve hours later on the deck of the big ex-cable ship Robert C. Clowry, named for the late president of the Western Union Telegraph Company. The newspaper reporters and photographers had just finished besieging him, over-night he had become a Coast Guard hero. A big ship was moored at the Barge Office pier–his prisoner.
“I stopped signaling you fellows,” he said, “because I was busy.”
“What happened?” I asked. Reeder doesn’t tell a story very well, his kind never does.
“Well, we were running along in the little boat, and I was keeping my eye on 115 for signals when suddenly I smelt booze. We were near a big boat, and I headed over toward her. Of course they never suspected me, because I was in a rum runner’s boat.” He laughed. “As soon as I got near I could hear singing and talking–drunken men. I ran up alongside, and I could see cases of whisky and champagne. Well, all I did was to flash my light to the captain to stop. He was way up in the pilot hours, but he saw my uniform and he stopped. I tied up to the boat and told Jacobsen to take our prisoner aboard. Then I went to the upper decks, climbed up into the pilot house, and told the captain to steer for the Barge Office. Then I signaled shore to be ready to receive prisoners at the pier.
“Most of the crew were drunk. And I told the captain he’d be responsible for any disorder among the men.”
“We’d better let keep on drinking, then,” said the captain. I told him that would be best thing to do.”
So the Robert C. Clowry headed into the harbor, while the crew of twenty-three men, most of them drunk after a sea voyage, with home in sight, made their way toward the patrol wagons that were waiting , surrounded by Saturday night crowds, at the Battery pier.
That’s all there was to the big capture. Just a grim young fellow, singlehanded, with a gun in a pilot-house.
There were 4,000 cases of genuine stuff from Europe on that 8,000 ton ship. The government seized it all and the ship as well. This is written so shortly after the seizure that no trial, as yet, has been held. Someone is “out” over $400,000, but the owner of the stuff has not, up to this writing, yet appeared. It was a record singlehanded seizure. Reeder, between leaving shore and setting foot on it again, had been in three boats.
Catching a big ship by using a rum runner’s boat was a new stunt in the Coast Guard.
Within a few days orders were issued in Washington that Coast Guard men would be permitted to use captured rum runners’ boats in the Rum Row war.
There are other Reeders in the Coast Guard. i didn’t pick him out to heroize him, it just happened that I saw him at work. The Coast Guard–older than our navy, devoted to saving lives and property at sea, ready to answer S O S calls anywhere in the wildest storms, guardian against icebergs in the steamer lanes, protector of our coasts against smugglers of all kinds, part of the navy itself during the war–is no part of the Prohibition Unit.
The Anti-Saloon League has nothing to do with its doings. Those who hate the league and prohibition make a mistake when they blame and criticize the Coast Guard for its activities along Rum Row.
“We have been ordered to stop the smuggling of liquor,” says Admiral Billard, commander of the Coast Guard, “and we’re going to do it.”
Of course the drys will cheer the Coast Guard. But I cannot see that the Coast Guard wants any dry cheers. The wets are criticizing the Coast Guard, especially the wet newspapers. Do they expect that a man, serving under the American flag, with the ancient tradition of the Coast Guard behind him, to disobey orders? That’s too much to ask, with the old flag right over your head, all the time. You can’t ask our school children to salute the flag every day and expect a Coast Guard man to turn against it for a few cases of booze.
The Coast Guard is neither wet nor dry; it’s just the Coast Guard.
(End of Colliers article.)
As the son of Captain John Hubbard Reeder, I felt that it was proper to add a little to this story; my additions are my father’s comments regarding some of his activities while in the Coast Guard before and after this 1925 story. My father was not a talkative man and I did not get a lot of history, but I did get some from his comments, from letters that he wrote, from other members of the family and from official records.
On the history side, John H. Reeder was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania December 21, 1900. His parents were John French Reeder and Talullah Williams LeCompte; he had one younger sibling, his sister Ruth Elizabeth Reeder. His father was an engineer and the family moved up and down the East coast during his childhood. The family finally settled in Staten Island, New York where he finished high school. He worked for a few years, tried to enter the military during World War 1 (but was turned down because of age) and at about the age of 19, he entered New York State Nautical School to become a merchant marine officer. While at the school in 1920 the cadets sailed their square-rigged ship, the Newport, to Europe where they toured the World War 1 battlefields (horrible), sailed around the Mediterranean and also visited the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp.
This was the first time that American women were allowed to compete in Olympic events. The American women swept the events with one of the young ladies, Ethelda Bleibtrey, winning three swimming gold medals and setting several world records while she was at it. Interestingly, Ethelda and my father, John Hubbard Reeder, were good friends; as teenagers, living in the New York harbor area; they swam together many times as part of a ‘gang’ of kids who hung out around the piers. Dad said that Ethelda was the leader of the gang, being the best swimmer and they would play follow the leader with Ethelda leading the way. Dad was the second best swimmer in the gang. While in Antwerp, he was introduced to a male gold medalist, the Hawaiian swimmer, Duke Halapu Kahanamoku who would figure later in his life.
Then, in 1921 (dads second year at the academy), the cadets sailed the USS Newport completely around the world mostly in the southern hemisphere; the cadets visited South America, Tahiti, and South Africa during this journey. They crossed the equator two times.
Graduating from the nautical school in October of 1921, dad entered the U. S. Merchant Marine as a ship’s officer. While on board commercial ships he continued his studies and quickly passed the test for a chief mates’ license and then studied and passed the tests required to be a pilot for New York Harbor, Long Island Sound and other nearby water ways.
In August of 1924 dad applied to and was accepted into the U. S. Coast Guard as a Chief Warrant Boatswain (T) and shortly soon thereafter was commanding a needle boat (patrol boat) in the Coast Guard’s ongoing battle with rum runners who were attempting to illegally smuggle boat loads of whisky into the United States thus circumventing the Prohibition amendment to the U. S. Constitution. This amendment forbade any form of alcoholic beverage in the USA. The amendment lasted from 1920 until 1933 when it was done away with. During the existence of this amendment to the U. S. Constitution, the Coast Guard was assigned the task of preventing the smuggling. Dad spent a number of years on this assignment and at one point, was promoted to Ensign, a commissioned rank.
In March of 1926, dad resigned from the Coast Guard and then re-entered the service in May of that same year. I heard something from the family that he had been warned that he was being “set up” to pin something on him; apparently he was too good at what he was doing and the ‘local mafia’ was nervous. An interesting fact about the Prohibition Act was that even though booze was illegal, everyone drank and actually the imbibing became even more common. Seems like everyone had a bottle of booze as evidenced in the Colliers’ article; Shepherd had a small amount of booze with him. My dad told me that he noticed that his father always seemed to have a bottle of ‘good’ whisky in the house and he wondered where he was getting it; ultimately, he found out that many times when he was at sea, my grandfather would hear a knock at the door and he would be pleasantly surprised to find a case of fine whisky sitting there. Obviously, someone was trying to reach my father.
Dad was commissioned as an Ensign in 1926, a rank which he held until 1930 when he reverted back to Chief Warrant Boatswain (P) by choice. Shortly thereafter, he was reassigned to Astoria, Oregon and the USCG Cutter Redwing.
In 1931, he met my mother, Louise Florence Rhodes, at a dance in Astoria; she and her sister Selma and a cousin, Jeanne, had driven down from Portland to attend the dance. Shortly thereafter, June of 1931, they were married in Portland. In June of 1933 he was reassigned to the USCG Cutter Itasca in Hawaii where he and my mother resided for several years. While in Hawaii, he resumed his friendship with the Olympic swimmer, Duke Halapu Kahanamoku. During this period of time (about four years), the Itasca was tasked with supplying the weather station on Johnson Island to the southwest of Hawaii and spent a lot of time cruising around the South Pacific looking for uncharted islands as my father stated, “large to support landing strips.” He also went on to state that the U. S. A. was getting ready for war with Japan. People called him a “war-monger” for making this statement, but he was right.
In 1938, he was reassigned to the USCG Cutter Shawnee based in Eureka, California. Early in this year, I was born in Eureka. Then he was briefly reassigned to the USCG Cutter Cahoone in San Pedro, California before being returned to Eureka where my sister, Selma, was born in late 1939. Then he was reassigned to the Cahoone in San Pedro where he remained until World War 2 started on December 7, 1941.
On that day, known as Pearl Harbor Day, the Japanese sent a fleet of ships to attack the military installations on Hawaii. The Shawnee was moored at dock in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for minor repairs and dad had decided to have a Reserve Function with all of the Coast Guard reserves attached to the ship present for a luncheon, visitors, families and other interested people. The officers and sailors were all wearing their dress whites with ribbons and the officers with their swords.
After the luncheon was over, everyone was walking around the ship when bedlam began, the shipyard sirens and horns started blaring, the whistles and bells on the Shawnee and other nearby ships joined in. About 15 minutes later we, my mother, my sister in my mother’s arms, and I, holding on to her hand were standing on the dock and the ship was underway, dad took the ship out to sea. I asked my mother, “what happened, mommy,” and she replied, “the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.” My sister has since told me that on that day, she saw tears running down our mom’s face and she kept repeating, “they bombed the Pearl, they bombed the Pearl.” Our mother loved Hawaii and Pearl Harbor.
With that, I will finish the story. My parents sold their house in Long Beach, put the furniture in storage (which was later lost due to a warehouse fire), and then we took a trip to Washington D.C. where dad attended radar gunnery school preparatory to assignment in the South Pacific for the invasion of Saipan. He retired in 1944/1945 and we began a new life in Gresham, Oregon near my mother’s parents.
I am of the opinion that my father was greatly damaged by the carnage, pain and suffering that he had to endure as a U. S. Coast Guard officer assigned to duty with the U. S. Navy. He never talked about his experiences much; I believe that it was difficult for a Coast Guard officer whose primary purpose in his branch of service was to save lives, to witness the carnage and cruelty of war. He did tell me that as the battle for Saipan continued the decks of his ship was covered with the wounded, dying, in pain and some dead U. S. Marines; there was blood everywhere, men were screaming in pain and at the same time he was responsible for supervising the radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns on the ship while it was undergoing a series of attacks by Japanese suicide planes (kamikazes); the ship was credited with shooting down 13 of them if At that point in the Pacific Theater of the war, the troop transports were primary targets for the Japanese aircraft.