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My Life In the Coast Guard
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3A
Chapter 3B
Chapter 3C
Chapter 3D
Chapter 4
Chapter 5A
Chapter 5B
Chapter 5C
Chapter 6
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       I was sleeping peacefully one night when the phone rang around 3 AM.  It was my wife Pam claiming that the Circle K she was working at had been robbed, but she was alright. I immediately went to her and arrived as the police were leaving the store. I asked her what happened and from what she said it appeared to be a run of the mill robbery. Two days later I received a phone call from the police asking Pam to appear for questioning so I took her to the police station. When we arrived two detectives greeted us and Pam went into an office with them while I waited in the lobby. About an hour later they all came out of the office together and the detectives said they wanted to talk to me alone. Pam took a seat in the lobby as I went into the office with them. The detectives said that an inventory of the cash register and the store revealed that nothing was stolen. In addition to that Pam had changed her story to the detectives. They asked me if I knew any reason why this might have happened.  I told them I didn't and I was told we could go. About a week and a half later a lady that frequented the store ran into me and told me that there was something wrong with Pam. She said that Pam told her that she was dating some rich guy in town. This was very odd because she was still married to me and there was no possibility of something like this because she spent all her time with me.

        One day when I reported to work on a duty day, I learned from Petty Officer Thiewes who was a machinist technician first-class and my immediate supervisor, that on one of our forty-one foot utility boats we had to replace the injectors on both engines. This meant that one of our main search and rescue boats would be down and unavailable. Doing this procedure to one engine is quite a chore. Doing this procedure to two engines takes a full workday with four people who know what they're doing. Wouldn't you know that we would get a search and rescue call and our other boat would have to go out. About eight hours later they returned with one engine inoperative. Petty Officer Thiewes came down to the boat dock and told me I had to get the other boat operational before I could call it quits for the day. I told him that it wasn't a problem and that I would get the job done as quickly as possible. It took me another eight hours to make that happen.

        I had just completed my work when Deborah Gorczyki came walking down to the boat dock with the M-60 machine gun in her hand. I immediately knew what was coming next. We're going on law-enforcement patrol!  I told Debbie that I had just gotten through 16 hours of work getting both these boats running again and that I was exhausted. I told her that I didn't feel that I was in any condition to get underway for law-enforcement patrol. She replied, "That's OK you can sleep on the main deck." I was perplexed by her statement because it was totally out of character. Here was little Miss A. J. Squared Away telling me I could sleep on the deck. I thought, "Maybe she's trying to make an effort to be cooperative." I decided that it was in my best interests to give her the benefit of the doubt so we got underway. It was dark when we performed our first boarding on a small pleasure craft and after we had completed it we went out into the Gulf of Mexico. We were approximately a mile from the tip of the jetties when she brought the engines to neutral and stretched out on the deck about three feet away from me. I thought this was totally bizarre because it was so out of character for her.

        After about 10 minutes she bolted upright and scanned the horizon as if she heard a vessel approaching. The next thing I knew we had pulled over a charter fishing boat. One things most people are not aware of is that charter fishing boats, because they are commercially operated, fall under the jurisdiction of the Marine Safety Office, which is a branch of the Coast Guard, specifically dedicated for those kinds of vessels. At the time I wasn't even aware of this. Consequently we had no right to pull them over because we had no jurisdiction. The skipper of the charter fishing vessel was a nice man, who cooperated with her anyway, when she ordered him to heave to and prepare for Coast Guard boarding.  We tied up along side a 62 foot charter fishing boat, on the west side, of the west jetty, with the winds coming from the west.  Can you picture this in your mind? Where is the wind blowing us?

        While she was conducting her boarding, the man who had hired the charter fishing vessel asked if he could come aboard. I gave him permission and went inside the cabin thinking that he would follow me.  Instead he came down the starboard side of our boat and stuck his head in the window.  He was amazed at the electronics equipment that we had on board.  In particular, he asked me about the variable range marking device, that was attached to the back of our radar unit.  He asked me what it was, so I gave him a brief demonstration using the jetties, which was the only thing we were painting on the radar screen at the time. I said, "See the jetties are quarter-mile away from us." I decided that it might be a good idea to see what a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) actually looked like, so I flipped on our aft searchlight and the first thing illuminated by it was the beach and we were practically onshore.  I thought it was funny that Gorczyki's focus on the boarding had caused her to lose her situational awareness, so I hollered to Larry Cornett who was my Seaman for the mission.

Larry Cornet
Larry Cornett

He looked in that direction and turned to me saying, "Never mind that, put it on the jetties!"  When I did we were so close to rocks the size of vans and busses I could throw a rock and hit them.  Debbie was in the cabin of our boat by then, filling out her boarding form.  I said, "Debbie - radar indicates we are too close to the jetties."  She IGNORED me!!  And continued filling out her boarding form.  I said, "DEBBIE we are too close to the jetties!!!"  Again she ignored me.  That's when I couldn't take it anymore and said to Larry, loud enough so she could hear, "Larry you talk to the bitch because she isn't listening to me!"  I don't know what he said to her, because he stuck his head in the window to speak to her, but he got her limited attention.  All she did to address the problem was to, robotically, without even looking to verify her situation, click the throttles to idle forward for a 30 second westerly application of thrust, and went back to her boarding form.  Which obviously was more important to her.  I could tell the skipper of the charter fishing boat was getting nervous because he had seen what we had seen. I told the skipper of the vessel that we were going to release him the minute he took the boarding form, so he could get away quickly. He nodded in agreement. A few moments later she handed it to the skipper and we had the lines disconnected from his boat the minute the paper was in his hands. The skipper ran up the ladder to the flying bridge and hauled ass away from us as fast as he could.  Debbie was oblivious!

        On the way back to the station that night I was again stretched out on the deck dozing.  You couldn't call it sleeping.  I heard the engines come from full power to idle for a moment and then back up to full power again. When I heard this a second time I thought, "Nobody drives a boat like this!  What the hell is she doing?"  So without her knowledge I watched her through the aft cabin window.  We were traveling at top speed for a considerable distance when she flipped on the forward search light and the first thing it hit was a red nun buoy 30 feet off our port bow and we were headed straight for it!  She brought the power to idle, steered around the buoy as we coasted by it and immediately turned to a new heading. Then she brought the power up to full and turned the search light out.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing so I watched her repeat the procedure a second time.  After this I told Larry about it and we both watched her do it a third time.  It was as plain as the nose on my face that she couldn't see the buoy chain and had the whole thing memorized by time and compass heading.  That's why she was always traveling at top speed, so the time would remain constant.

        I now had a clear picture of what was going on and the danger I was in.  Larry and I looked at each other at the same time in total disbelief when she did it a fourth time.  That's when I said, "Larry, she's gonna kill us!  I'm going to the Senior Chief in the morning to request to get out of her duty section whether your with me or not, because you never ignore warnings from your crew."  Larry said, "I'm right behind you." and that's what we both did.  This immediately put us on the Senior Chiefs shit list.  The resulting reign of terror that came down on us, from the Senior Chief after that was unbelievable and unbearable.  It was shortly after this my wife reported to me that I was bolting upright in my sleep on several occasions screaming, "We're going to crash!"  It's not a reassuring feeling you get when your wife tells you something like this!

        My parents called on the telephone one day to tell me that they were going to come down for a visit. When I requested leave my request was denied by the Senior Chief. The reasons for the denial were that the station could not afford to lose one man to go on leave to visit his parents. There was nothing I could do about it so, the entire time that they were visiting me I had to work.

        Two weeks had gone by since the Senior Chief had been notified that one of his crewmen had a vision problem and still she hadn't gone to an eye doctor.  That's when I told her immediate supervisor that if she didn't see an eye doctor in the next two weeks, I would be notifying the corpsman at Group Mobile, Al. about it.  I didn't want him to, but he told the Senior Chief about my statement.  Two weeks later Debbie appeared at work wearing glasses.  Several days after this I got underway with her for a short mission in the daytime.  As we were entering our slip she said, "Boy I can sure see better with these glasses!"  I asked her how long was she aware that she needed them and she said, "Since before boot camp."  I couldn't believe it.  How did she slip through boatswains mate school without an eye exam?  I knew she had an eye exam in boot camp because we all did, yet she was either never given glasses or she refused to wear them.

        After I had requested to get out of Gorczyki's duty section along with my Seaman Larry Cornett, both of us were placed in Petty Officer Mike Landis's duty section and his people were rotated into hers. The crewmen who were rotated into her section knew what they were going to have to deal with and they were not happy about it. Several of them were angry at me for putting them in this position and let me know it. It was obvious that the Gorczyki problem had escalated to a higher level as a result of my actions because now it was affecting everyone.

        The day came for our group inspection retest and if you thought the first one was strange, this one was right out of the Twilight Zone. We performed all our drills correctly and passed but due to the unusual nature of request and complaint mast a Lieutenant gathered the entire station, including Debbie, on the rec. deck. The officer asked us what had improved since he had been here last. Silence. He asked again. Silence. He then grabbed his shoulder boards and ripped them off his uniform and threw them on the floor and said, "OK I am no longer a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard, what's happening?" One of the crew said, "None of us will speak with you while she's sitting here because whatever we say will be repeated to the Senior Chief and then he will take his anger out on us!" The Lieutenant told her to leave and she did. One by one we began to open up. When I sensed that the crew trusted this man I opened up about the time I found the Senior Chief with his arm up Debbie's blouse on the floor of the rec. deck and the night at the jetties where she ignored warnings from her crew of impending danger. After that someone dropped a bombshell and revealed that the Senior Chief and Debbie had been seen walking hand in hand and making kissy face in the Tallahassee mall by a reservist who worked there and that the Senior Chief's car had been seen parked in the parking lot of her apartment complex late at night on numerous occasions. The Lieutenant asked who this reservist was and we gave him her name and the store where she worked. He told us he was going to conclude the meeting and that we would reconvene the meeting when he returned from Tallahassee.

        When he returned he proceeded to tell us that all of the stations problems were our fault and that we were ungrateful for all nice things the Senior Chief had done for us. My thoughts were, "What nice things?" The station was floored and utterly demoralized. Were we all on drugs? Did we hallucinate the events we were reporting? I thought, "So this is how the Coast Guard takes care of it's own. They white wash it and sweep it under the rug." It was because of this event that I decided I would not re-enlist. The following year the Senior Chief was promoted to Master Chief and transferred to command of an 82 foot patrol boat out of San Diego. Two weeks after he left the station Debbie got a mutual transfer to a search and rescue station 35 miles from his unit.

        One day I had to take some turbochargers to Pensacola for overhaul. I had been there once before and as a result of my prior trip I knew there was a good restaurant just off the highway. It had been about a month since I had taken Pam out for dinner so I thought I would pick her up and take her with me. We dropped off the turbochargers and then went to the restaurant. Part of the restaurant was also an Irish bar. The Irish must be well known for their practical jokes because they played one on anyone who needed to use the bathroom. When you got to the door of the bathroom it said men's. After you went through that door there was another door and it said women. Since I had been there before I didn't want Pam to get stuck with the joke so I explained it to her and she started to get crabby with me. Because Pam had a history of creating public scenes in restaurants with me in the past I decided that we would just forget lunch and go back home. I went out to the parking lot and waited for her in the car. As we were crossing the Pensacola Bay Bridge with glee in her voice she said, "I have decided that I'm going on vacation." I replied, "OK when do you want to go? I will request leave." And she said, "Oh no I am going by myself." I asked her why and she said, "You went on vacation by yourself so I'm going on vacation by myself." It was then that I informed Pam that I hadn't taken any leave since I had  reported aboard. She then called me a liar and said, "You went on leave to see your parents and you left me behind." I replied, "Pam, that's when I went to my grandfather's funeral." Funeral or not she classified it as a vacation. At the time I went to the funeral my parents didn't see the need for her to be there and I thought I was sparing her from having to attend a gloomy event.  She finished her conversation with, "When I get back I'm giving you two weeks and then I'm going to decide whether or not to divorce you." I guess it's like they say, "Do something nice for someone and see how bad they talk about you!"

        Pam was nearly legally blind. Consequently she had to be driven everywhere and going to the airport for her vacation was no exception. Needless to say after what I had heard a couple days before I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of taking her to the airport and she knew it. When the day came to take her there I relented and I even carried her bags to the check-in counter for her. She picked up her ticket from the agent and said, "Now I want to be sure I'm getting on the right plane!" The ticket agent said, "Flight 325 bound for Springfield, IL. Is that correct?" And she replied that it was. As we walked away from the ticket counter I said, "Your parents don't live in Springfield they live in Chicago. Why are you going to Springfield?" She replied, "Well since I was headed in that direction anyway I thought I would drop by and see Paul." I just shut my mouth and walked away because I knew what was coming next.

        After she had returned from her vacation I decided that I was going to call my friend Paul in Springfield, IL. and find out exactly what was going on. It was about 10 PM and I was standing the radio watch when I called him up. As soon as he answered the phone I said in an angry tone of voice, "I want to know what's with you and my wife!" He laughed and said, "Yah I can understand why you do." Then he immediately started crying on the phone and proceeded to tell me his sad little story. Paul had been my good friend all through college and he was in fact the person who introduced me to Pam. I believe a marriage can be strong enough  between two people to survive infidelity and get over it. But this wasn't just infidelity, this wasn't a one night stand that happened by accident, this was premeditated and it was someone deliberately trying to hurt me as deeply as they possibly could. I believe the word is - MALICE! Paul had just recently undergone a divorce himself, consequently he was an easy mark for being used and I knew this. He told me the truth when I asked for it, consequently we are still friends, albeit distant friends because we no longer live in the same state.

        Petty Officer Landis and I were underway one day and I happened to ask him what the first thing the Senior Chief did to get on his bad side. He told me about a time when his mother came down to the station with him for a tour. He said that as they were walking down the hallway they ran into the Senior Chief. Landis's mother did what all mothers do when they meet the boss of their son. She asked him how he was doing and the Senior Chief replied, "He would be doing fine if he wasn't such a drunk!" What a thing to tell someone's mother! Landis said that when that happened he lost all respect for the Senior Chief. By this time I knew Petty Officer Landis very well and he didn't have a drinking problem. This entire scenario had been handcrafted by the Senior Chief to make Petty Officer Landis's life a living hell by creating problems for him at home. You see, The Flounder was an expert at psychological torture tactics and to this day I have never met anyone who was so good at it and enjoyed it so much. What The Flounder did from the moment he met you, was to place you under long-term analysis without your awareness of it. The purpose of which, was to identify your weaknesses, your hopes and your fears in order to exploit them for his own gain. This exploitation came in the form of direct attacks at a persons self-esteem, by playing on their hopes and fears, and by using intimidation and threats, with the intent of obtaining complete and total control of a person by demoralizing them, but more on that later.

        One thing I learned shortly after getting out of Gorczyki's duty section was that you can be under tons of stress and not even be aware of it. When this condition exists, because you don't know you're anywhere near your limit, surprisingly enough you can handle even more, because you don't know what your limits are. Sooner or later I had to find out and it happened about two weeks after I got out of her duty section when I was throwing a party. Landis wanted to know what had happened to Larry and I on the mission where we asked to get out of her duty section so I told him the truth just as I have told it here. When I got to the part about her pulling over a charter fishing boat for boarding the informed me that I could have put her on report for that because she was operating outside her jurisdiction. I told him that I was just glad to be out of her duty section and I didn't want to stir up trouble. That I didn't want to incur more wrath from the Senior Chief than I already had. Unfortunately for me it was too late for that and I didn't know it.

        During the party we decided to go swimming in the pool which was adjacent to my apartment so I turned my stereo speakers so they pointed outside. I checked my phonograph and noticed a large chunk of dust stuck to the needle. When I wiped it away the diamond on the end of the needle came off so I went to look for my spare and I couldn't find. I was very drunk at the time and this event induced panic attack. I began searching through all the drawers for the spare needle which was on a card somewhere and I couldn't find it. By the time Petty Officer Landis wondered where I was I had completely destroyed my apartment looking for it. He came up to my apartment and saw what was going on. Instantly he knew he had to do something or big trouble was soon to follow, so he put me in my bed. I didn't want to stay in my bed, I wanted to find the needle and it was at that point Landis slugged me in the jaw and knocked me out. After that he gathered the guys and informed them that I was unconscious in my bed, that the party was over and he locked the door to my apartment behind him as he left. You may think this is kind of cruel but I don't, because that night Landis probably saved me from a visit from the law. A true friend will save you from yourself if he has to and by whatever means necessary to get the job done. Thank you Mike! I woke up the next morning and I had no recollection of what had happened especially the part where Mike had knocked me out. He told me about it several days later and apologized for hitting me. I blew it off because it was nothing and thanked him for looking out for me.

        During my first year at Station Panama City I handled two thirds of the stations life threatening accidents. Two of them resulting in fatalities.  Call me lucky, unlucky or whatever, these horrors just seemed to fall on my duty days.  All of the fatalities involved scuba diving accidents.  The first diving accident occurred when a man who was 37 years old experienced a heart attack at a depth of 35 feet in the Gulf of Mexico near the Navy Platform.  The pain for him must have been excruciating because he immediately inflated his buoyancy compensator vest and rocketed to the surface which resulted in the rupture of one or both lungs.  His wife said that he was there one minute swimming next to him, when she turned to look away and brought her attention back to him he was gone. It took some time to locate him on the surface and when he was found, he was face down in the water, regulator out of mouth.  He must have been in that condition for at least five minutes before the dive boat saw him and got him into the boat. Trying to get an unconscious man into a boat is not an easy thing to do.  A body is as limp as a wet noodle and it seems that no sooner do you get one end of the body under control the other half causes you to lose what little control you had.  After what I am sure was a major operation they managed to get the diver on board the dive boat and began CPR as another man radioed to the dive shop that they had a life-threatening accident.

        We had been out in the Gulf of Mexico in the vicinity of the jetties trying to tow a small sailboat to the city pier in Panama City. We were about halfway through the jetties when we observed a boat traveling towards us at a high rate of speed. We flipped on our blue light and siren to get his attention. The vessel didn't slow down and we were concerned he was going to hit us. The operator of the boat cut his power as he passed us, grabbed his microphone and shouted, "Channel 22" and then shoved his throttles to full power and sped away. I was out on the deck when this happened so I relayed the information to my boat driver. We received a transmission from that boat stating that a dive boat in the vicinity of the Navy Platform had a cardiac arrest victim on board and they were doing CPR. He requested that we follow him to the boat. By the time the man had finished his sentence our boatswains mate who was Gorczyki's immediate supervisor looked over his shoulder at me and he said, "Cast that sailboat off right now!" He steered a course towards the jetties and I immediately picked up on what he wanted to do. He wanted to get the sailboat to the jetties so the man could get on land. This would free us up in the fastest manner possible for where we were located and take care of the sailboat at the same time. I need to tell you that the jetties are not made of dirt, they are made of rocks, some of them as big as a van or a small bus. When the man got close to the jetties he disconnected our towing line from his boat and with a rope of his own and a short hop off the bow of his boat he was safely on rocks. We made an about-face and immediately tore out to the Gulf of Mexico at top speed with blue light and siren running, while the station sent our second boat to pick up the guy we left behind.

        When we arrived on scene we immediately tied up alongside the dive boat which was of wooden construction. During the moment of our arrival the seas appeared to be calm, but no sooner than we tied up to their boat we began to be hit with 8 to 10 foot rolling waves. You could hear the wood in the side of the the dive boat start to crack. It appeared that we were about to rip the whole side of the boat off. The boatswains mate in the cabin at the helm heard this and shouted, "Cut the lines!" One of the hands in the dive boat heard this and made himself ready to release the line from his boat as soon as I had untied it, while a crewman on my boat was grabbing the fire axe to chop the line in half. By the time the guy with the axe had gotten to me the line was already released. Until that day I don't think I ever disconnected a line from another boat so fast. You should have seen the looks on their faces as we pulled away from them. They were horrified, they thought we were going to leave them, so we shouted, "Were not leaving! We're coming right back!

        Now we had a problem. We had 8 to 10 foot rolling seas and we couldn't get close enough to them to render any assistance without the risk of damaging each other. We radioed the station and advised them of the situation. The station ordered us to somehow put a man on their boat along with a stokes litter. The man who went over to the dive boat was ordered not to perform CPR, but to monitor the CPR as it was given by a member of the dive boat's crew. The reason why this was done was for liability reasons and I thought it was nuts.  What an insult! If you're out there to save a life and that's what you intend to do, it makes more sense to have your best most qualified people doing it. The station didn't see it that way.

        Now we had an even bigger problem. Who's going to take a flying leap into the other boat?  A little voice went off inside my head that said, "This is your big rescue. Go for it." So I volunteered. We all gathered in the cabin and formulated a battle plan. We ALL agreed that the best thing to do would be to come together stern to stern. In the first pass we would hand them the stokes litter and send me over on the second pass. We got the stokes litter over to them with no difficulty, but by the time it was my turn, the dive boat had turned bow into the wind and the waves. This caused the stern of the dive boat and ours as well to rise and fall with the waves. Unfortunately we were not rising and falling together which meant that if I didn't time the jump to the other boat properly I could find myself 10 feet over the boat hovering in mid air and then falling that distance as the boat rose up to meet me. Not a very pretty picture and certainly one that I could have gotten killed on because we were doing this while backing up!

        My Seaman Larry Cornett grabbed hold of my belt as I stood on the stern of our boat as we backed up towards the dive boat a short distance.  The thought of what might happen at that moment if I fell into the water along with little chopped up bits and pieces of me floating in the water, quickly flashed across my mind.  We started calling out distances at 20 feet and I was trying to sense the rhythm of the waves. I am a lousy dancer so I've got no rhythm, but I tried anyway.  I had to, my life depended on it!  I told Larry that I was going to jump at the count of 3. I counted to three and then I didn't go. I thought we were too far away from the dive boat.  Larry laughed and shouted, "Well, when are you going to go?!"  Finally I thought, "Oh to hell with it!" and jumped.  My timing was all off and I found myself 10 feet in the air over the dive boat as it rose up to meet me.  I slammed onto a large padded ice chest that fortunately was level with the gunnels of the boat and got the wind completely knocked out of me.  As soon as I made contact with the boat one of the diving instructors grabbed my clothes and hauled me onto the floor of the boat like a sack of potatoes.  I landed on the floor next to the injured man who was already in the stokes litter.  It took a moment to come to my senses and when I did I began monitoring the quality of their CPR as I had been ordered to do.  Having worked for three years in an emergency room I know how the doctors and nurses do it.  I also know that the instruction that you get in most CPR classes doesn't prepare you for how hard you have to push on a persons chest to keep them alive and that's what was happening here.  I told the man doing CPR to press harder on his chest and he complied. Once we were inside the jetties we transferred the patient to our boat and blasted off for the city pier at top speed.

        When we arrived at the city pier a full emergency room team including a doctor was assembled and waiting for us when we arrived. They started a line and injected life-saving drugs into him with lightning speed. The physician on scene asked how long he was in transit and we said approximately 30 minutes. He was quickly hooked up to a heart monitor and he was flat line, so they shocked him and they got a heartbeat. The doctor who was operating the paddles dropped his jaw in disbelief, saying, "You guys sure must have had a good rhythm to get a heartbeat this late in the game." My heart soared because it looked like this truly was going to be my big rescue. Unfortunately it was too late in the game and the patient went flat line. We were unable to establish a heartbeat after three attempts at cardiac defibrillation.

        On our way back to the station Larry and I sat on the main deck behind the cabin mulling over what we had just been through, trying to find ways to do things better the next time. Neither of us could come up with any significant improvements in regard to what we had done, but it was evident to me that speed in these situations was crucial and we didn't have it. The fastest we could go was 35 mph and in this rescue mission we were already half way to on scene when we took the call. Had we been at the station when we took the call it would have taken nearly twice as long to get the man to emergency room conditions. I brought this up to Larry and told him that we could be looking at a lot more dead divers as the vacation season progressed and he completely agreed.  I was not happy.

        About two days after this rescue I dropped by the dive shop that owned the boat we performed the rescue on. I introduced myself to the man behind the counter and he shouted to one of his partners in the back of the store, "Hey Jack, guess who's here?  It's The Flying Walenda!"  I said, "The Flying Walenda?" and he replied, "Yeah that's what we're calling you after that rescue.  I've never seen anybody pull off what you did that day."  We had a brief discussion about the event and it was then he displayed some irritation to me about the damage that had been done to his boat. I said, "Damage, what damage?" He then told me about how the swim platform on the stern of his boat was destroyed when our 41 footer crashed into it.  I was totally amazed by what he said because I never felt the bump and I never saw it happen. When I told him this he said I could go out to the boat and check it out for myself, so I did. The aluminum ladder rising up from the swim platform was flattened against the stern of the boat and the swim platform was completely gone. Obviously we had hit them and I was totally amazed that I had no recollection of the event because I should have seen it as I went over or at least felt it.  This just goes to show how focused I was in a crisis.  When I mentioned to the XO of the station BM1 Rutheford that I had paid a visit to the store he was alarmed and suggested that I never go back there. You know, now that I think about it we never had any indications of damage on our boat. Very strange, but then, the whole day was strange.

        The next fatality that I handled was another dead diver. Here's some real intelligence for you. This guy was from out-of-state, he was making his first dive of the season in 135 feet of water, 35 miles offshore, and he was diving on an underwater army munitions dump. I asked my boat driver why anyone would be doing something so stupid. I was a scuba diver myself and I was aware that a tolerance for nitrogen narcosis has to be built up over a season for that kind of depth. You can't make your first dive of the season in that depth of water without expecting to encounter trouble. He told me that it was common knowledge that some very large Florida lobsters could be obtained there and that this was probably the reason why he was diving there.

        It took us nearly an hour to get to him and when we arrived on scene the patient was CBS, which is a code we used a lot on the radio which meant that the patient was cold, blue, and stiff. In other words this guy is dead and rigor mortis has set in. CPR had already been started when we arrived and by law we could not discontinue CPR unless a doctor pronounced him dead. Fortunately for us this happened on a reserve weekend which resulted in extra personnel being available to assist in CPR once we got him into our boat. Having accomplished this the man's wife came on board. When this happened I was thinking, "No! Don't bring her on board!"  The reason why I was thinking this was due to the fact that I knew the station would be calling us numerous times during our journey home, asking for status reports on our patient and I didn't want to have to be so blunt in front of her.  It was already obvious she was a nervous wreck.

        Once we had the patient on board I evaluated the patient and began CPR and mouth to mouth myself.  A short time later I got called up to the cabin for a status report and there was the mans wife standing right next to me. The station said they were calling for a Helo, which would come from Group Mobile and take nearly an hour to arrive on scene.  By then we would be passing through the jetties into Panama City Bay anyway, which made the Helo little use to us or the patient by then. Now I'm thinking, "Oh great, they're calling a helicopter for a dead guy! That's a good use of resources." I got on the radio and I told the station to standby. Then I went outside to one of our reservists and said, "I need you to go into the cabin and draw the man's wife outside for a conversation, so I can tell the station on the radio what's really going on out here without upsetting her." The reservist complied with my request and as soon as the patient's wife was outside I informed them that this man was already dead and that sending a helicopter was a waste of time and resources. I pointed out that by the time the Helo arrived we would be in Panama City Bay anyway. I told them that he had ruptured both lungs and had the bends, that his body had no pulse and was CBS. The reservist on the radio was unfamiliar with that term or couldn't hear me so I said, "Charlie Bravo Sierra, cold blue and stiff." I informed the station that CPR had been started before we arrived on scene and that we were continuing CPR until they could get a physician on the radio to order us to stop. Well, that part never happened and we continued to do CPR until we arrived at the city pier. 

        Doing CPR on this man was very difficult. To begin with he had eaten Chef Boyarde ravioli for lunch. How did I know this? Because it was all over his face while I was trying to blow air into his lungs! To this day I cannot eat the stuff without becoming sick. His eyes were wide-open and they looked like peeled tomatoes, because the pressure from the gas escaping from his blood stream, was forcing his blood into every little capillary. The first few times that I blew into his mouth nothing  happened. I couldn't see his chest rise and fall which indicated to me that probably both of his lungs had exploded inside his chest.  I felt the skin on his chest and it made a crinkling sound which was a positive indication of a pneumothorax.  All of this information was relayed to the station via radio, but they just couldn't seem to get a doctor on the phone to pronounce him dead. As a result we performed CPR on this man for over an hour. We had to rotate the people responsible for respirating him because you could only blow into the man's mouth a few times before you threw up. This was the ugliest and most horrific rescue I was ever on.

        It was apparent to me by this time that our forty-one foot utility boat was never going to be fast enough to rescue anyone who is in serious trouble. I never felt so ineffectual in my entire life and to a certain extent I was angry, because all the training I had received was never going to save someone's life because they would always be dead by the time we got there. Panama City Station needed a rescue helicopter of its own. Not some helicopter that had to be flown from Mobile, Alabama and not the EMS helicopter that the city owned because it was not equipped with a wench for basket or horse collar hoists, which is essential for rescuing people at sea, so it was useless to us.

        My next diving accident involved a man who had a nitrogen bubble pass through his brain which resulted in a condition similar to a stroke.  Fortunately for this man the event took place near the Navy Platform so we didn't have far to go to get him. When we got the patient on board in a stokes litter, we put him on the main deck with his feet pointed at the bow and his head at the stern.  This utilized the natural bow up position of the boat as we steamed along at full power to elevate his feet and then we elevated them more with some extra life jackets.  This guy was nearly at a 45 degree angle to the force of gravity.  What this does with an air embolism is allow the gas coming out of his blood to collect in his feet away from the brain and vital organs.  There was an immediate and noticeable improvement in his level of pain and alertness. He reported that he was actually quite comfortable and we didn't have to administer CPR on him at all.  When we got to the city pier EMS took him to a hyperbaric chamber at the hospital.  The next day I dropped by the hospital to see how he was doing and I found he was still in the chamber. I introduced myself to the staff and told them that I was involved in his rescue.  They reported that he was doing fine. I asked them to let him know I dropped by to check on him since he was asleep at the time.  Wouldn't you want to know that somebody thought enough of you to visit  if you were in a similar situation?

        On 08/28/85 we were notified of the formation of what was to become Hurricane Elena and we commenced making preparations at the station for her arrival.  Hurricane Elena was a powerful Category 3 tropical cyclone from August 28 to September 4, 1985. The storm forced almost 1 million people to evacuate coastal areas between Tampa, Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana. The storm pounded the coast causing a storm surge of up to 15 feet. Winds were recorded up to 122 mph and torrential rains flooded Florida. Elena remained off the coast of Florida for 3 days then came ashore at Biloxi, Mississippi on September 2. The storm weakened over land but did not become extratropical until passing over Nova Scotia, Canada. Four deaths were reported as a result of Elena, three in related accidents and one heart attack. Elena is estimated to have caused about $1.25 billion in damage.

        When a Coast Guard station is notified of a hurricane that may make landfall in the area of the station's responsibility it is all hands on deck. Anything that is loose is tied down if it can't be put in a building. In particular the windows are taped up with masking tape to reduce the amount of flying debris and to strengthen the windows against breakage. We actually went a little further than that. The Senior Chief had all kinds of ideas to keep us busy for days. One of the things that he had us do was to lift up our projection TV onto a table in the event the station flooded. In addition to this he got this crazy idea to move the bookshelves that contained an entire library of the United States Code of Federal Regulations. This was no small job and it was one that he selected specifically for me. Everybody in the station that passed by me while I was moving the bookshelves asked me what I was doing and why was I doing it. Obviously they thought it was as insane as I did. When I asked him why we were doing this he said that we were going to use the small office as a shelter and that the bookshelves would provide us protection from flying debris. Yah, right! The only problem with this was that we never used it because all personnel were released from the station when the hurricane came, with the exception of two boat crews who got underway in our forty-one foot utility boats. Now you might be wondering why you would get underway when a hurricane is coming. I did too. When I asked someone about it they said it was the only way that they can ensure the safety of the forty-one foot utility boats because they would ride the storm out in the intracoastal waterway (ICW). Lucky me... I got selected for one of the boat crews.

        My wife had been talking with a family that we had helped move from Illinois to Florida and they had agreed to take care of her in my absence. If it hadn't been for them she would've had to go on to Fort Rucker to wait out the storm. Practically at the last minute all station personnel were released to go to their homes to tape up windows and to grab whatever we thought we would need to wait out the hurricane which could be up to three days. We then reported back to the station and got underway. Once we had arrived in the ICW we beached the boat and dropped back to idle neutral about half way to Appalachicola. This put us out of the channel in the event a tug or some other vessel came along.  Nut that never happened because we were the only vessel out there. The whole purpose of putting the boats in the ICW was because it was a protected waterway. This means that it's just far enough inland to knock out some of the wind action and because the boats are manned they are constantly capable of moving out of harm's way should something unforeseen happen. The ICW is really nothing more than a small canal filled with industrial junk along with alligators and poisonous snakes. Because of this if you get outside the channel the possibility of a prop strike on some debris is very good. Fortunately this never happened but it was extremely boring waiting for the weather to pass. After 24 hours it was determined by the station that we were not going to be hit, so they ordered us to return to the station. This was my first hurricane and I wasn't impressed. I have seen far worse storms in the Midwest, but then this hurricane was really nowhere near us. The next day I spent the entire day scraping masking tape off my windows at home.

        Things at home for me begin to deteriorate more and I found myself rapidly looking at a divorce. Pam was not happy and I was not happy. I woke up one morning and got into uniform and as I was leaving the apartment Pam ran up to the door and handed me an envelope. I looked at it and instantly recognize the return address of an attorney. I said, "What's this?" And she said, "These are your divorce papers." When I got to work I had a spare moment to read them. Everything in the papers was fair and reasonable, but what cut me to the core was that the spelling of my middle name was wrong. To have spent almost 3 1/2 years living with someone and for them not to even know how to spell my name was simply unfathomable to me. This sent a clear message to me that all of my efforts and all of my time with her was wasted. I took the paperwork back to her when she was at work and I told her that I wasn't going to sign those papers until she learned to spell my name right. She told me that she would be leaving the apartment in two days.

        The truth is that I didn't want to sign them at all because I felt as if I was killing someone. I kept receiving phone calls from her at work to pick up the new paperwork. Numerous times I told her I would be there even though I never had the intention to see her again. Finally she hired a private investigator to make an appearance at the station to deliver the paperwork to me and I received a tremendous amount of criticism from The Flounder and executive officer BM1 Rutheford. I had to sign the papers just to get the man off the station. Due to the fact that I was so lonely after she left me I took in some people who needed a place to stay so I wouldn't be alone. I was so depressed I was afraid of what I might do.

        On 10/26/85 we were notified of the formation of what was to become Hurricane Juan and we commenced making preparations at the station for his arrival. Juan was a weak hurricane but was the most destructive of the season simply by the erratic track it took at landfall. Juan formed from a tropical wave in the central Gulf of Mexico. The depression quickly strengthened into a tropical storm. This moved erratically for the first day as a storm and then set its sights on Louisiana. Juan became a hurricane as it neared the coast, turning sharply west and making a full, cyclonic (counterclockwise) loop and came back again. The storm made landfall at last near Morgan City, but Juan had one more sinister surprise in store: he made another cyclonic loop, moving off shore and weakening to a tropical storm. The storm then came back a third time, grazing the coast and coming ashore near Gulf Shores, Alabama. Juan dissipated inland. The hurricane caused $1.5 billion dollars in damage and killed 12 people. There has never been a storm since that has had such a strange track at landfall, and only one previously: Hurricane Easy of 1950. Juan was one of Louisiana's worst hurricanes this century.

        Hurricane Juan drove me nuts, because it constantly changed course and I was selected to get underway for this one too. It was thought that the hurricane would strike west of us, so we went east. Then the hurricane did a 180 degree turn and started moving east, so we went west. It seemed as if this hurricane was specifically trying to get us. At least on this leg of the trip we got to spend the night in a nice bed at Coast Guard Station Destin. Then the hurricane made another 180 degree turn after we had been trying to avoid it for three days. Having been underway this long the Senior Chief had to replace us because we were totally physically exhausted, even though we had slept well at Station Destin. A truck with a complete change of both boat crews arrived at Coast Guard Station Destin and then took us back to the station. When we returned to the station the Senior Chief told us to depart immediately for Fort Rucker. I went home and on my way there I filled up my gas tank and spent the rest of the hurricane watching the hurricane on television in my apartment as it made another 180 degree turn. The whole time we never even lost power.

        On 11/15/85  we were notified of the formation of what was to become Hurricane Kate and we commenced making preparations at the station for her arrival.  Kate was a late season major hurricane that made a direct hit on Panama City, Florida.  Kate skipped the depression stage and formed as a tropical storm. This storm quickly strengthened into a hurricane. Kate grazed Cuba as a Category 2 and gently curved north-northeast toward Florida. She became a major hurricane a little less than 200 miles west of Tampa. Kate didn’t stay there long, weakening back to a 2 the next afternoon. The hurricane continued its graceful curve northeast. Kate made landfall just north of Port St. Joe near Mexico Beach. The storm caused $210 million dollars in damage, and killed six people. This does not include deaths and damages in Cuba. The storm destroyed the oyster industry in Apalachicola and the tourist industry in Panama City was deeply affected.

        Hurricane Kate was a whole new ballgame. We had gone through all of the preliminaries which had begun to wear thin on me during hurricane Juan. After Juan I never even took the masking tape off my windows because I knew we still had at least 30 days left in the hurricane season and this season appeared to be an active one. The moment came when the Senior Chief was forced to release the boats and the entire station crew. The boat crews manned their vessels and fortunately this time I wasn't one of them.

        The rest of us were told to go to Fort Rucker but Gorczyki's immediate supervisor and I decided to wait it out in a hotel with a full tank of gas in both our cars. This gave us the option to get out of town if we thought we needed to. I don't know why we chose the hotel we did, but we stayed in one that was on the western outskirts of Panama City Beach and watched the progress of the storm on television. The hurricane made landfall just to the east of Panama City in the middle of the night. It seems that all hurricanes come onshore in the middle of the night, but I don't know why. I have to confess I was starting to get a little scared listening to the wind outside howling like a banshee and I asked my partner to please let me know when we had reached a point that exceeded his experience with hurricanes. The next morning we made an attempt to return to the station and there was surprisingly little debris on the coastal road that we were traveling. This doesn't mean that there wasn't a lot of destruction. In fact I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We stopped by my apartment complex on the way to take a look at conditions there and by found that the water in the swimming pool was gone and mother nature was using it as a trash can. Then I went to the station and reported for duty.

        Over the next couple of days I got a chance to survey the damage and I was shocked by what I saw. In particular was a very large sign at the Panama City Bay Bridge. This sign was constructed with four steel I beams that served as legs for the sign which was about 60 feet above the ground. These are the same kind of I beams that are used in the construction of bridges and office buildings. That sign was bent over flat against the earth and all four I beams were bent 90 degrees by the wind. Every time I drove by it, all I could do was stare in awe at the amount of force it took to do that. In addition to this there was the standard run-of-the-mill destroyed houses, buildings and storefronts that you always get during a hurricane. Due to the fact that the hurricane had made landfall just east of Panama City I was told that the damage was much more severe in that area, but I never got a chance to go look. In all honesty why would you want to?

        One moonless night a search and rescue call was made to our station that took us out to a magical place known as Apalachicola.  It was way out on the eastern edge of our area of responsibility so it was going to be a long trip. There would be no sleep tonight and I was the engineer onboard.  As it turned out it was a big to do about nothing, so Petty Officer Sandefer, my Coxswain and I and two reservists began heading home.  The weather was fine and we wanted to make a fast trip home via the gulf at top speed rather than take the sewer known as the Intra Coastal Waterway.  The station refused our selection and insisted we go via the ICW which we had just patrolled.

        Let me skip back about three weeks to the time when my boat driver, who had a different crew at the time, ran aground on Sandy Hook Point at an unusually low tide.  This semi-submerged Island sits right in front of the Panama City Bay Bridge. The publicity was terrible.  If Craig ran aground a second time so soon to the first, he would be drummed out of the guard.  Was the Senior Chief setting him up for failure by ordering us to return via the ICW in the dark?  I think so.

        We entered the ICW as ordered tooling along at about 50% of our top speed of 35mph at the straight spots of which there are few.  We came around a turn to the right and immediately hit a thick fog bank caused by the rapidly dropping air temperature and the steam from rotting vegetation in the bottom of the ICW. It was instant white out.  Sandefer grabbed both throttles and slammed both engines into reverse.  Too late, we impacted a mound of muck, which immediately grabbed the left prop and instantly stopped it and the diesel engine.  We never saw it coming and were knocked off our feet.  My friend Sandefer became hysterical, saying, “My career is finished!”  I looked Craig square in the eye and told him that if he would promise me he would calm down, that I would get him out of this.  He thought I was nuts and kept asking me how.  I told him to shut up and I would find a way!

        I didn’t think we hit that hard so I jumped over the left side onto the shore with the poisonous snakes and the alligators and began feeling around the boat with my feet.  Only a small part of the left side of this 41 ft. Utility Boat was touching the shore.  I had no problem starting both engines or turning the props and we had water flow out the exhaust so the sea chest wasn't obstructed.  Full power in reverse wouldn’t break the suction of the muck. My friend Sandefer  was completely convinced his military career was over.  I was getting tense because I realized I needed more power and I didn't have it.

        Craig and I were sitting in the tiny cabin moping when I heard, “This is the Tug Boat Niagara east bound, coming up on the 68 mile post in the ICW on the radio.  A light went on in my head.  I called the Niagara and asked her to come up channel 63 on her radio.  That’s all the station heard.  I hailed the tug and asked him if he could come along side. That’s all I said on the radio on channel 63, an unmonitored frequency.  Once he came around the corner and saw us, no further radio communication was necessary.

        We tossed him our nylon tow line and he couldn’t pull us off because it stretched like a rubber band. Now I’m getting worried, but the tug captain hollered from the pilot house, “Take my HEMP line.”  I’m thinking, “What difference is that gonna make?”  We dropped this old raggedy, bristly piece of rope on the bit and the difference was astounding.  Hemp doesn’t stretch.  We got the boat off without even half the power used the first time and we were on our way back to the station after asking him for his silence.

        On the way back I checked the boat out thoroughly down below. I found no damage or vibration during operation at any speed and the rudders had unrestricted free range of motion at full travel.  There was no reason for Craig to notify the station of what happened, but he got a case of conscience and called the station up on the radio to tell them. I told Craig I never would have done that because there was no damage to report and the Senior Chief didn't need to know. The next morning Senior Chief Fisch ordered divers from the Navy to come and inspect the props and shafts.  There was no damage.  It was fun to watch the Senior Chief's face turn from disappointment to total rage in about 30 seconds.  There was a big investigation afterwards and I stood by my friend and nothing happened to him.

 

 

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