Reservist

ISS2 2017

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Author/Editor's Note: The opportunity for this story came to us from a family member who wrote to the RESERVIST, telling us their patriarch offhandedly mentioned how he'd joined the Coast Guard 75 years earlier. This man had quietly retired in 1975 after a 33-year career. When we contacted him to discuss his time in, he wrote back with several interesting stories, and he included proof of things we were amazed to see in black and white. During an interview at his home nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, we learned much about the quarter-century long, missing section of our story on the Coast Guard Reserve's 75 year history: 1946-1972. This installment of the story is just the first of two, although we may need more than two to cover all of its aspects, and it will culminate with President Nixon's multiple attempts to disband the Coast Guard Reserve. As we're sure you'll come to see, the timeliness of this story is amazing – something you'll notice especially in the next issue. It serves as a reminder of why we at the RESERVIST continue to document the history of our prestigious Service. The e arly Years As long as I've been writing stories about the Coast Guard, I've never had the honor of documenting something like this. As a rule, journalists don't usually include themselves in their own story, at the cost of objectivity, but no matter how I tried to reword, I couldn't stop the awe from coming through in my voice. I gave up, and reracked the story so you, dear reader, can meet Captain Handy through my eyes. When we received the email from his niece, I wrote to say of course we'd love to hear about what the Reserve experience was like 75 years ago. Capt. Walter K. Handy, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve (ret.), may have turned 99 in March, but his reply might have come from any military officer today. When I tell you this man is sharp as a tack, I have the email with subheads, itemized lists, and bullet points to prove it. I forwarded his response to RESERVIST editor Jeff Smith, letting him know this might be something even more special than we'd expected. We made the two-hour drive out to Handy's century-old, two-story country home. The quaint setting was complete with a large American flag posted outside the front door, and chickens chasing each other around the yard. When we shook hands, I realized how unsettling it was to meet a man who's been a member of the Coast Guard Reserve from the very first year there was a Coast Guard Reserve. The captain walked us to comfortable chairs in the living room, and, after ensuring we had cups of coffee, he launched into topics so detailed I had to pull out my voice recorder. Handy was relaying memories, events, and references right down to the middle initial of each name, seamlessly spelling the last names for me as he went along (obviously from time spent in a career where he was accustomed to someone taking dictation). I couldn't help smiling, and I threw Jeff sideways glances, thinking how Handy irreverently defied his age. It was like he'd stepped back into 1949, and the details of each story were so specific, you'd think they'd happened yesterday at lunch. Born in Virginia in 1918 at a now defunct Alexandria hospital, Handy grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. A bright child from the beginning, he received a scholarship to the American University, but he attended two other colleges at night to finish his bachelor's in three years. His determination and drive were even more evident when he immediately went to work on his master's in Economics and Public Administration, earning the respect of his professors, who saw his potential. Armed with the right background (and quite a few recommendation letters), Handy went to work for the Department of the Treasury around 1940, where he helped isolate the finances of enemy nations – much like the financial sanctions against "bad actors" we hear so much about today. Remember, the Coast Guard was part of Treasury until 1967 before being moved to the newly-created Department of Transportation, but more on that later. When Pearl Harbor was devastated in the attack of December 7, 1941, Handy was selected to be drafted into the Army, but he was deferred for "terrible" eyesight. The bombing of Pearl Harbor deeply affected him, and Handy said he knew that with the pace of the war, it was only a matter of time before he'd "eventually end up holding a pencil or on the battlefield, not able to see what I was shooting at." He was determined to offer his background in administration and finance in the fight against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan), but was turned down by the Navy, again for his extreme nearsightedness. While working at the Treasury, the Coast Guard's name came across his desk, and Handy decided to offer his services one last time. The Coast Guard eventually granted a waiver for his eyesight (ironically signed by the Coast Guard's future commandant, then Cmdr. Merlin O'Neill), and within a month of sending his initial letter, Ens. Handy was the Coast Guard Reserve's newest officer. After a brief school, he went to work for the Captain of the Port of Norfolk, executing the port security program there. The security of America's ports was designated as the Coast Guard's responsibility with the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917. (The Captain of the Port authorities were further defined by the Magnuson Act in 1950.) Handy served on details between Norfolk and Newport News, Va., until the end of World War II. He established and commanded a 300-man barracks for his port security operations at the Army's Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. He and his teams conducted port security patrols and executed security checks aboard foreign vessels in port. They escorted vessels in and out of port, including the Port 20 RESERVIST � Issue 2 • 2017

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