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Heroic and Notable Coast Guard CPOs
Compiled and Edited by CWO William Preston

Chief Boatswains Mate
John Allen Midgett, USCG

On 18 August 1918 the lookout at Station No. 179, Chicamacomico, North Carolina, was watching a tanker steam northward about 7 miles offshore, when the vessel's after part was suddenly obscured by a mass of water, followed by a cloud of smoke.  Soon she was steering erratically, and as flames appeared above her after deck, the sound of explosions could be heard.  The victim of mine or torpedo, the tanker was clearly in need of assistance, so Keeper (Chief) Midgett called all hands and manned the power surfboat.  A moderately heavy surf hampered the boat's departure, but a half-hour after the tanker's plight was reported, keeper Midgett got the boat clear of the beach.

About 5 miles offshore, the Coast Guardsmen encountered a ship's boat with seventeen men, one of whom identified himself as the master of the British tanker MIRLO.  He reported that two other boats had been lowered, of which one had capsized with the probable loss of all its occupants.   Keeper Midgett directed him to pull inshore but not to attempt a landing through the surf, and then headed his surfboat for the MIRLO, which by this time was a blazing wreck surrounded by a flaming sea.  As the boat approached, the smoke and flames cleared momentarily, revealing the bottom of a capsized boat with six men clinging to it as the heavy swell surged over them.  Running his surfboat "through the smoke, floating wreckage, and burning gas and oil," Midgett rescued these men, all of whom were burned slightly, and then sought others who had been in the boat.  Finding no trace of these, the chief steered downwind in search of the third of MIRLO's boats.   When sighted, this boat was drifting before the wind and sea, so overcrowded with nineteen men that it could not be rowed.  The surfboat took it in tow and headed inshore toward the Chicamacomico station, but the wind had begun to freshen and night had fallen, so Midgett decided to land through the surf 2 miles south of the station.   Anchoring the MIRLO's boats just outside the surf zone, he ferried her men, ten or eleven at a time, through the surf to the beach.  Personnel and horses from his own station and from Station no. 180, Gull Shoal, were waiting to assist the survivors as they were landed, and on the fourth and final trip, Keeper Midgett had his surfmen bring the two ship's boats to the shore as well.  By the time the boats had been hauled up on the beach and the survivors had been fed and had their burns treated, it was 11:00 p.m., just six and a half hours since the first explosion.  Ten of the MIRLO's men had been lost; had it not been for Midgett and his surfmen -- all but one of whom were also Midgetts! -- the toll might well have reached fifty-two.  The members of the boat crew received gold lifesaving medals -- in 1924!

Nine of the twelve Coast Guard High Endurance Cutters are named for Secretaries of the Treasury and the other three for Coast Guard heroes, David H. Jarvis of Point Barrow relief expedition (1897-98) fame, John A. Midgett and Douglas A. Munro (the Coast Guard's only Medal of Honor recipient).

Master Chief Boatswains Mate
Donald H. Horsley, USCG

The 11 service stripes on the left sleeve of his uniform symbolized a Coast Guard career of more than 44 years, practically all of them spent at sea.

And quite appropriately, during Veterans Day ceremonies, the ashes of Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Donald H. "Boats" Horsley were scattered on the Pacific Ocean from the Coast Guard Cutter MORGENTHAU.

Horsley died of Cancer Aug 24th 1987 at the age of 62.  He served on active duty for 44 years, four months, and 27 days.  His career spanned three wars, and saw service on board 34 vessels.

A few weeks before his death, Horsley said, "I regret that I won't be around to help fight the next war."   His Coast Guard career began August 4th, 1942 (Coast Guard Day).  In World War II, he served in the European and Pacific theaters on board CEPHEUS, an assault cargo vessel.

Following the war, Horsley had successive tours on board six cutters.  After a tour of duty ashore at Loran Station ULITHI, he served at sea on board five more cutters, and had a return tour on board the seagoing tender PLANETREE.

In August 1956, Horsley was promoted to Chief Boatswains Mate; in 1962, to Senior Chief; and two years later, to Master Chief. When he retired in January 1987, Horsley had served more than 22 years as a Master Chief.

During the Vietnam War, he was the senior petty officer assigned to Division 13, a Coast Guard squadron of five patrol boats whose main mission was to stop Viet Cong re-supply of troops by sea.  He served on two occasions there for 41 months, while earning himself a Bronze Star Medal with a Combat "V".

Of his Vietnam experience, Horsley once recalled: "We usually worked with the Navy swiftboats, usually in close to the shore; later we started operating mostly in the rivers."

"It seems to me, if they planned an operation in Headquarters, the Viet Cong had either cleared out or they were waiting for us,"  he said.  "I think our codes were compromised the day they were printed.  Either you weren't going to see anything or they were there to greet you with open arms."

After Vietnam, Horsley served throughout the Pacific, including assignments on board the seagoing tender BASSWOOD and as the Officer in Charge of the Coast Guard Buoy Depot on Guam.

In 1976, he was assigned as the Officer in Charge on board river tender WYACONDA, out of Dubuque, Iowa.  He returned to sea on board the cutter SHERMAN and was transferred to MORGENTHAU when SHERMAN was decommissioned in early 1986.

At his retirement ceremony in January of 1987, Horsley received the Meritorious Service Medal, and recalled: "I look back and I feel that I was about as fortunate as anybody who joined this outfit.   I've seen an era after World War II and Korea that will probably never be seen again."

"I was fortunate because I was able to spend most of my time at sea with most of my time in the Pacific.  I had more fun and raised more hell in a 20 year period than most people do in a lifetime."

Chief Boatswain (commissioned warrant)
Chester L. Jordan, USCG

During World War II the NORTHLAND, MODOC, and GENERAL GREENE found themselves uncomfortably close to one of the major sea battles of 1941.  The three cutters were searching for survivors from merchant ships torpedoed southeast of Cape Farewell when warships and aircraft of the Royal Navy engaged the German battleship BISMARCK nearby on 24 May.  The MODOC was mistaken for their target by a squadron of British Swordfish torpedo bombers, which recognized their error in time, and then German antiaircraft projectiles splashed near her.  Later that evening, HMS PRINCE OF WALES identified the MODOC as the BISMARCK, but again the cutter's luck held -- the damaged battleship's men perceived their mistake and she did not open fire.  Having had her fill of narrow escapes, the GENERAL GREENE's men sighted four British warships heading northward the next day, and later they observed the signs of renewed battle -- dense smoke and the sound of heavy gunfire.  These, however, must have been an illusion, for the BISMARCK had eluded her pursuers, and 25 May passed without any firing by either Germans or Britons.   The latter regained contact on 27 May; when they finally brought the BISMARCK to bay far to the southeastward, no Coast Guard cutters were in the vicinity.

The cutters' mission on this occasion -- rescuing survivors of torpedoed vessels -- was completed by the end of the month, the NORTHLAND having found none while the MODOC removed the crew of a sinking ship and transferred it to a Norwegian freighter. The GENERAL GREENE, whose Chief Boatswain Chester L. Jordan joined the search without orders and rescued thirty-nine men from two boats of the torpedoed SS MARCONI.

Chief Boatswain (Commissioned warrant)
Maurice D. Jester, USCG

While the big cutters were serving in mid-ocean escort groups, some of their smaller fellows were fighting the Battle of the Atlantic in waters closer to the United States.  The 165-foot ICARUS drew first blood for the Coast Guard when she encountered the U-352 off Cape Lookout, North Carolina, on 9 May 1942.  The submarine fired a torpedo and then ran aground while submerged. The cutter's depth charges exploded close enough to bring the U-352 to the surface, whereupon her crew, deterred from manning the submarine's deck gun by the ICARUS' 3-inch and 20-millimeter fire, abandoned ship.   The ICARUS was commanded by Lieutenant Maurice D. Jester, a former Chief Boatswains Mate with more than twenty five years of Coast Guard service.
Chief Aviation Pilot
Henry C. White, USCG

By mid 1943, U.S. warships had sunk only eleven U-boats, and six of those had been destroyed by Coast Guard Cutters.  The smaller service, however, could claim but one of the twenty-four German submarines sunk by American aircraft during the same period.   Chief Aviation Pilot Henry C. White was patrolling an area of the Gulf of Mexico south of Terrebonne Bay, Louisiana, on 1 August 1942 when he sighted a submarine on the surface.  He planned to attack from astern, but the U-boat submerged before his Grumman J4F could attain the necessary position.  Putting the twin-engine amphibian into a shallow dive, Chief White dropped his one depth charge and scored a direct hit, sinking the U-166 with all hands.
Chief Radarman
Benjamin Stelmasczyk, USCG
Chief Yeoman Pastrich, USCG

After an in port period in which the relations between the officers and men further deteriorated, U-606 sailed for her fourth war patrol. The crew was in a tense and hostile mood.

The first five weeks of the patrol passed uneventfully except for the horrible North Atlantic weather.  On February 14, 1943, U-606 was met by a supply U-boat, and took aboard oil, bread, potatoes and other rations.  Admiral Doenitz was not calling a boat off patrol when she still had a full load of torpedoes remaining.  On February 22nd, she at last sighted a convoy, ON-166, and that night closed in on the surface and torpedoed three ships.  The attack was well executed, but her luck was fleeting, and now she was down deep, harassed by a determined and hard hitting Polish Destroyer BURZA.

When the engineering officer burst into the control room, reporting the dire condition of the boat, Oberleutnant Hans Dohler did not hesitate.   All tanks were blown, exhausting all the high-pressure air flasks in the process, and U-606 started up at a steep angle. On the way to the surface, one officer, according to some survivors, attempted to escape through the galley hatch, but was forcibly restrained by the skipper.

After reaching the surface, the diesel engines were still functioning and interior lights were burning.  Being now somewhat calmer, the engineering officer revised his estimate and decided that the boat could live for another two hours.  His optimism was premature; it was soon discovered that the listening hydrophone was no longer working, and that the tremendous water pressure below 600 feet had caused the conning tower hatch to become jammed fast.   U-606 was running on the surface both blind and deaf, with Allied warships all around!

The nearest was CGC CAMPBELL, only two miles away, and when U-606 broke surface, she promptly made radar contact.  The manner in which she did was one more indication of the U-boat's continuing misfortune.   CAMPBELL's radar had been out of commission for the entire day, and Chief Radarman Benjamin Stelmasczyk had been working feverishly to get it back in commission, for the ocean was "alive with U-boats."  At 1955, he hopefully switched the set on, and minutes later picked up the convoy at a range of 13,000 yards.  The Chief continued his final adjustments on the set, and at 2010, only 15 minutes after the gear was turned on, picked up a small target at 4,600 yards.

"It is a small target.   Looks like a sub," he reported to the bridge.

CAMPBELL heeled over under full rudder while the general alarm was sounding, and increased speed to 18 knots, homing on the target.  It was her fifth attack of the day. T he range closed rapidly, and radar contact was lost in the sea return at 800 yards.  The racing cutter started a turn to starboard and at 400 yards Commander Hirshfield saw the U-boat broad on the bow and shouted across the bridge to the conning officer, Lieutenant Commander B. H. Brallier, to come right faster.  No 3 gun opened fire, and on the starboard wing, Chief Yeoman Pastrich opened up with a light .30 caliber machine gun that had been jury-mounted on the bridge wing combing.  The submarine moved rapidly under the bow, and Hirshfield ordered two depth charges dropped from the stern racks.  Before they could be rolled over, the U-boat hit the CAMPBELL a glancing blow under the bridge, then dragged along the side.  Its hydroplanes cutting a 15 foot gash in the cutter's engine room below the waterline. Then the two depth charges went off lifting the U-boat about four feet.

Chief Machinist Mate
Benjamin F. Harrison, USCG

With the 15 foot gash in the cutter's engine room sustained after the collision between the U-606 and the CAMPBELL, potentially fatal damage was done to CAMPBELL.  Chief Petty Officer Harrison and three others were about to be lowered to the ocean to retrieve prisoners when one of the lines holding the lifeboat was accidentally cut, dropping them into the sea.  They drifted several miles from the ship before being retrieved later.   It would seem that experience alone - drifting in that cold water and not knowing if you would be rescued would be enough stress for any man for one night.  But that was only the beginning.  When he was finally back aboard, he had to make repeated dives into the dark Fire Room with an acetylene torch to cut away a loose heavy ladder that was slamming the bulkhead as the ship rolled.  If the bulkhead ruptured, the CAMPBELL would have gone down. His efforts enabled the ship to be towed to port for repairs.  For his actions that day the Commander In Chief United States Atlantic Fleet awarded Chief Petty Officer Harrison the Silver Star for gallantry and intrepidity in action.
Chief Journalist
Alex Haley, USCG

Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939.  He served 10 years as a steward, his interest in writing led to a rating change to journalist.   He retired in 1959 as the first Chief Journalist in the United States Coast Guard.

Alex Haley, author of "ROOTS" and "THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOM X", and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, continued to be an active supporter of the Coast Guard until his death.

Chief Engineman
Morris Sampson Beeson, USCG

Vietnam is usually remembered as a war fought in jungles and rice paddies.  But there was another conflict as well, a sailor's war, much of it fought from the decks of United States Coast Guard cutters.  The Coast Guard played a significant role in securing Vietnam's 1,200 mile coastline.  Some 8,000 Coast Guardsmen and 56 different combatant vessels were assigned to duty there. Coast Guardsmen destroyed enemy supply ships supported ground units, rescued American and other friendly forces, and performed many more duties, including carrying out humanitarian roles which are common to the Coast Guard.  Yet, the Coast Guard's involvement in the Vietnam War is still little known.   During the Vietnam War seven Coast Guardsmen lost their lives in the service of their country.  Among them was ENC Morris Sampson Beeson from Pitkins, LA.  At the time of his death on March 22nd, 1969 Chief Petty Officer Beeson was 37 years old.   Chief Beeson's Panel and Line number position on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. is 28W/008.
Last Modified 1/12/2016