|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Coast Guard Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
CWO3 Joe Loiseau U.S. Coast Guard (Ret) (1969-1990)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
In 1968-69, I was in my senior year of high school when the Vietnam War was still raging. I knew the likelihood of being drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam was pretty good. I neither wanted to go into the Army nor to Vietnam. My best option was to check out the U.S. Coast Guard. That's when I discovered there was a six month waiting list for the Coast Guard. I went down to the Coast Guard recruiting station in January 1969, signed the enlistment papers and continued my high school education.
On a Friday in June 1969, I graduated from high school and on Monday, two days later, I was in boot camp. What I could never have ever dream of at the time was that Vietnam was indeed going to be a part of my future after all.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I made in through boot camp without much of a problem and was assignment as a fireman apprentice aboard the 190-foot buoy tender, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spar (WLB 206), where I spend a lot of time chipping and painting. The Spar got its name in honor of the Coast Guard Women's Reserve or SPAR.
After eight months on the ship, I got order to attend the Engineman School in Great Lakes, Illinois. Upon graduating, I was assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Castle Rock (WAP-383) where I made Engineman Third Class (EN3). I was aboard the Castle Rock for two years. It was on her when we patrolled the South China Sea off Vietnam.
Following the Vietnam deployment, I ended up at small boat Gay Head Station located on the southwest coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Originally built in 1799, the lighthouse guided mariners past Devil's Bridge rocks, a dangerous ledge reaching out from the cliffs along the south shore of the island, and through the entrance to Vineyard Sound. It was later renamed Station Menshas. I was promoted to Engineman Second Class (EN2). This was a great assignment. Quiet, restful and good living.
It was at my next duty station at Base Gloucester City, New Jersey, where I decided to reenlistment. I was then sent to the Coast Guard Training Center (Tracen) at Cape May, New Jersey where I worked in the motor pool. I was also promoted to Engineman First Class (EM1). Shorty thereafter, the Coast Guard decided to combine all Engineman, Boilermakers and Machinist's Mate into Machinery Technicians (MKs). That change made my new rating Machinery Technician First Class (MK1).
My next assignment was isolated duty for one long year at Long Range Navigation (LORAN) Station Angaur, a little 3 square mile island located at the southern and western end of Palau archipelago . When my one year of separation from the rest of the civilized world was up, I went back to sea. This time on a 95 foot patrol boat out of Atlantic City, New Jersey. When I made Machinery Technician Chief (MKC), I transferred Beach Haven Station, New Jersey to take up the post of Enlisted Programs Officer(EPO).
After my promotion to Chief Warrant Officer Two (ENG), I was shipped off to the Marine Safety Office, Lake Charles, Louisiana where I got the job of Marine Inspector and Investigator. Next it was to the Marine Inspection Office in Philadelphia where I rose to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Three (ENG).
Last duty station was at the Marine Safety Offices (MSO), Philadelphia. It was here, on August 1, 1990, that I retired, just 3 days before the 200th Birthday of the Coast Guard.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I was aboard the USCGC Castle Rock when we got orders assigning us to Coast Guard Squadron Three in Vietnam in 1971. On our way to Vietnam, engineering problems sank her at a pier in Singapore. After making repairs, we made it to Vietnam in July 1971. Our mission was to operate in conjunction with U.S. Naval forces interdicting Vietnamese boats suspected of smuggling arms, ammunition and other contraband along the coastline. We also provided fire support for ground force engaged in firefights inland.
Our last day aboard the vessel was on a pier in Saigon where we turning the Castle Rock over to the Vietnamese Navy. That was also the day we came under an enemy rocket attack. Luckily, nobody was injured.
WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
After 21years of military service, I naturally have fond memories of just about all of my duty stations. But narrowing it done to one, I would have to pick the USCGC Castle Rock. During the two years I was aboard, she took me about three-quarters of the way around the world.
We hit ports in Norway, Holland, Cuba, Newfoundland, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Panama Canal, Hawaii, Guam, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. We crossed the Arctic Circle, International Dateline and the Equator.
We crossed the Pacific Ocean from Balboa, Panama to Hawaii with no boilers and no way to make fresh water. Without fresh water, we had to shower using salt water through pipes hooked into the fire main system . On this trip, we often hit rain squalls and I remember this one time some of us were taking salt water showers on deck when a rain squall was spotted. The commanding officer ordered the bridge to turn about and go directly through the rain squall so everyone could rinse off the soap rather covering our bodies. It wasn't pleasant or funny at the time but it sure makes for fun stories and fond memories now.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
So many memories but I'd have to say it was the time I was stationed at the Marine Safety Detachment in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I was the on-duty inspector and investigator when I received a call around 2 a.m. of a collision between two barges on the intracoastal waterway. I called the duty boat crew and told them to launch the outboard and meet me at the dock so they could transport me out to the scene.
I was standing on the small pier, which was about 3 feet above the water, shining my flashlight into the murky water when suddenly, I saw two beady eyes staring at me. Yes, it was an alligator. That pier felt like it just shrunk to about a foot wide. When the boat got there I made extra sure that I didn't fall in the water. Later that day we spotted a 6 to 8 foot gator sunning itself on the bank.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
Coast Guard Commendation Medal with the Operational device for the rescue of a captain of a sinking tugboat about 25 miles off the Atlantic City coast.
It was in cold November night with a heavy wind blowing off the ocean, churning up wave to 10 to 12 foot high. When we put in our Zodiac rescue boat it the water, it blew sideways against the hull of the USCGC Cape Starr. Me and my 3rd Class Petty Officer, along with the seaman coxswain driving the boat, managed to kick it down into the water, climb aboard and motor out to the tugboat in trouble. Getting out to the tugboat trough the rolling waves was a little difficult but manageable. When we arrive and climbed aboard the tugboat, I noticed it was taking on lots of water. As the Cape Starr was preparing to get a tow line that would allow us to turn the tugboat toward the sea, we noticed more and more water was coming up over the sides. I informed the tugboat captain to come down from the bridge as we needed to get off his boat. Our portable radio didn't work so I grabbed my flashlight and sent an SOS to get the Zodiac back to us ASAP.
As it arrived a wave hit the tugboat, sending the PO3 into the volatile water. Within seconds, the tugboat captain slipped and also fell into the icy waters. I was stepping through the tires on its starboard bow when the tugboat began rolling in such a way I knew in a matter of a few minutes it would capsize. I jumped into the cold water, grabbed the tugboat captain and with the help of the coxswain loaded him into the Zodiac.
When I looked back at the tugboat, its bow was the only thing sticking out of the water. Ten seconds later, it was gone. We got the PO3 into the Zodiac and to protect our soaking wet bodies from the freezing wind and possible hypothermia, we all laid down on the floor of the Zodiac on our way back to the Cape Starr. As we got closer, I stuck my head up and I heard everyone cheering. When we got back I asked what they were cheering about and they said that they were cheering that we made it. They didn't see anybody on the Zodiac at first and they thought we went down with the tugboat.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The Coast Guard Commendation Medal. We may not have saved the tugboat but we did save it's captain.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
I met a lot of great people in the Coast Guard and everyone of them impacted me in some way or another. But the one that I believe had the biggest impact on me was CWO4 Mike Sowden at Station Beach Haven.
He was just a super commanding officer who was not only widely respected by all under his command but his superiors as well. He constantly set a good example in getting the job done. My career was more productive because I always tried to set as good example as he did.
As for all of my other shipmates out there that I was stationed with, you were all in the running.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
It was aboard the USCGC Castle Rock during a cadet cruise that involved a certain cadet standing watch in the engine room. The throttle man at the time was EN3 Tim Green. He told the cadet to take the two trash cans up on deck to empty them over the side. One was brand new and other was old and rusty with ragged holes punched in its sides. He carefully instructed the cadet to empty the new one over the side, bring it back to the engine room but to throw the old one over the side with the trash. Somehow the cadet got confused. He did the opposite.
He "float tested" the new trash can by tossing it over the side and brought back the old trash can to the engine room. Tim started yelling at him, picked up a chair and threw it between the main engines. The cadet took off running out of the engine room and we never saw him for the rest of the cruise.
Just think, he was one of our future officers. Who knows he may have made it to commandant of the Coast Guard. To this day, I still chuckle about it.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
After I retired I worked for about a year doing emissions monitoring in the oil refineries in the area. After that I had a job as a nondestructive tester at a chlorine plant followed by an assistant regulatory compliance manager in a fruit juice plant. After being let go from there I started my own marine cargo surveying business which I have been doing for the past 15 years.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I am a life member of both the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association and the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association. I am also a member of both the Coast Guard Chief Warrant and Warrant Officers Association and the Military Officers Association of America.
I receive literature from all of these associations which helps keep me up to date on things still going on in the military and changes in any retired benefits.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
After almost being blown up in Vietnam and almost going down with a sinking tugboat, I like to take one day at a time and try not to worry about tomorrow. Some day tomorrow will not get here so you just have to live life to the fullest every day.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Take a close look at what you're currently doing in the Coast Guard. If you like what you are doing, then stay in and maybe even make a career out of it. If you are considering staying in but are not completely certain, look at those above you in rank from petty officer to chiefs to officers to see what they are doing and remember that you could be in their position some day if you stay in the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard transfer its people every three or four years. So if there is someone that you don't get along, remember either you or he/she will end up ultimately get transferred. On the other hand, if you're the type that can get a good job and go to that job everyday for the rest of your life, then a career in the Coast Guard may not be right for you.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Though I have not used the site as often as I could, I love the fact that I have a place to catch up with old friends and see how life has been treating them. It's a place do share my story and career with my family. Long after I'm gone, it will still be here for future generations.
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