U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program
A Buoy Tender Tows a Battleship
C. William Bailey
A Coast Guard buoy tender was asked to do many different jobs for the Navy in WW Two, and I have a poignant memory of the Spanish-American War battleship Oregon in 1944 when she was serving her country as a dynamite barge in Guam (photo above).
I was the Executive Officer of the buoy tender Tupelo working for Navy Service Squadron Four, known as “The Harbor Stretchers,” when we were ordered to pick up tow of the USS Oregon and put her into an isolated cover inside the reef at the south end of Guam.
We had previously blasted a channel through the reef to accept her draft and had planted a mooring buoy. When the time for us to put her into this lonely area (her cargo was 1500 tons of 40% gelatin dynamite), the admiral decided to come aboard to watch the maneuver.
It was a tight place to put a ship into, so we made up with Tupelo towing on a hawser at short stay with a Navy net tender astern of Oregon to hold her back and help steer. As XO in charge of making sure all went well, I decided to post self on the Oregon. We put a stern line out to the mooring buoy as we passed, and soon the time came for dropping Oregon’s anchor. This was not an ordinary anchoring—there was no machinery left on board to get the anchor back once dropped.
The mooring area did not allow for the ship to swing on a mooring buoy, thus the anchor had to be dropped at just the right time and with the right scope of chain. Who better than the officer-in-charge who designed the operation to do it? thought I.
I swung the maul to trip the pelican hook . . . and missed! I swung mightily again and, yes! . . . missed again! Just then a loud, strident admiral’s voice came over the loudspeaker, “Tell that officer to drop the damned maul and let a Bosun’s Mate do it.”
Suffice to say I did not appear at the mess table where the captain and the admiral later celebrated the accomplishment of the day. Oregon was now resting quietly in her berth with her deadly cargo. We didn’t know then that we were going to be on close speaking terms with that cargo later on.
A few weeks later we got orders to load 250 tons of dynamite to take to the Peleliu Islands to use in the invasion. That was one convoy where we had no problem watching out for other ships—no one would come anywhere near us.
When we arrived in the atoll, there was an old Japanese mooring buoy being used by a lone merchant ship. The water was too deep to conveniently anchor, so I put Tupelo alongside the ship to ask permission to tie up alongside while we offloaded. It was after normal working hours and the Chief Mate apologetically said the men would not take our lines as the ship couldn’t pay overtime. They were waiting for our cargo ashore and these ship people on 100% wartime bonus wages would not help?
Well, I asked the mate to send for the shop steward, who shortly came strolling out on deck. Our bridge wing was just about at the level of their main deck, the sea was calm, and I had us laying right alongside. The shop steward mouthed off about what a lousy ship this was and they paid no overtime, ad nauseum.
Perhaps I looked like a pirate with my beard as I drew my government issue .45 and zeroed in on his ugly face and gave him an ultimatum: “Take my mooring lines or I shall mistake you for a [Japanese]!” There was no further discussion and we soon were off-loaded and on our way back to Guam.
Our next episode with Oregon was months later when our captain decided to have an entire village aboard the now empty barge for a movie. Unfortunately, a boy fell through a hatch and was killed. He was a Boy Scout, so we sent a rifle squad ashore for the military funeral they had requested, and I played Taps from high up on a hill above the cemetery.
I never saw the Oregon again.