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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 22 of 55

of Baltimore. Handy oversaw the cleanup of the infamous SS MONTANA disaster in June 1943. When the end of the war came in late 1945, almost all the enlisted Coast Guardsmen were released from active duty, and most of the officers were transferred to the Inactive Ready Reserve. The officers met occasionally in informal settings to exchange and compare information about their war-time port security assignments. There was no training program, curriculum or coordination with the active duty, and that didn't sit right with Handy, who'd gone back to his job at the Treasury. "We were just a list of names," he said. "If we were called suddenly, most of us were just rusty on everything that we had done. We didn't know any of the newer developments in the port security area. We'd had no training since 1946." The Coast Guard had requested appropriations of $4.1 million and $3.6 million in the past to start a Reserve training program, but had been shut down by Congress, almost without discussion. There just wasn't enough awareness of the Coast Guard and the Reserve's missions. But the underdog Service was about to discover its own underdog: Lt. Walter Handy. Now, I can't tell who benefitted more from this, but it's a lynch pin in the whole story. One thing the clever young officer had going for him: his office at the Treasury was located about a block and a half down the street from "the old Coast Guard building," in downtown Washington, D.C. Imagine exacting any kind of change amid the technology of the 1940s. You may be putting together the Coast Guard's good fortune of having a Reserve officer with a background in administration and finance located a block and a half away. This meant that Handy was both uniquely qualified AND conveniently positioned to be the squeaky wheel the Coast Guard Reserve so badly needed. He also had a lot of confidence. Around 1948, the 31-year- old lieutenant approached Assistant Commandant Adm. Merlin O'Neill with an idea for a voluntary training program. (Side note: O'Neill would eventually be the man the reservists themselves would occasionally refer to in letters and speeches as, "the father of the Reserve" for all his backing in rehabilitating the Reserve. No slight intended toward Adm. Waesche, of course.) Upon Handy's recommendation, O'Neill authorized the formation of non-paid, voluntary training units, or VTUs. The officers in each VTU would meet for a few hours once or twice a month, in the evenings. The Washington, D.C., VTU was the first, and Handy referred to it as a "composite unit" made up of multiple job specialties. Eventually, the engineering officers broke off and began their own meetings, and soon the pay and supply officers followed suit. (Lt.) Robin Hood to the Rescue Within the binders and binders of historical documents Handy kept over the years, I found several crinkle-edged, original letters detailing his conversations with the Fifth Coast Guard District in 1942. The idea that I was holding 75-year-old letters wasn't lost on me. Shortly after his twenty-fourth birthday in 1942, Handy wrote two letters to the Fifth Coast Guard District in Portsmouth, Va. "Dear sir, …[I]n view of my highly specialized training and experience, I feel certain that I could be of service in the financial aspect of the Coast Guard's work… I thank you for your consideration, and sincerely hope that I will be permitted to serve with the Coast Guard Reserve. Please telegraph me collect if any further information is desired." Telegraph. Me. Collect. Because this is 75 years ago. When we still telegraphed people. A man with the unlikely name of Lt. Robin Hood wrote back and said it was worth a shot to see if Handy could get a waiver. Handy stops us here with a conspiratorial look. "I made an appointment to go down for an appointment [to Norfolk] with Robin Hood, and I attempted a little bit of cheating to get in," said Handy, eyes twinkling as he relayed the memory. "Now, I'm not a regular cheater, but I decided it was worth it to get in… so I memorized the whole chart: E-F-P-T-O-Z-L-P-E-D-P-E-C-F-D! How's that for a 75-year-old memory? Yep, I memorized the whole thing… and then Robin Hood changed the chart on me!" We can't help cracking up. His memory really is sharp as a tack. SS MONTANA The SS MONTANA, a naval tanker loaded with ammunition, had collided with the SS JOHN MORGAN, a cargo ship on its maiden voyage. Along with tanks, jeeps and motorcycles, the civilian ship was carrying airplane parts, which were blown through the side of the MONTANA into the high-octane tanks the Navy was taking overseas. The explosion produced heat so intense that the MONTANA'S anchor was melted onto the deck. The captain of the port authorized several loads of dry ice to be dropped onto the tanker to extinguish the fire. Handy served as the Coast Guard's Officer-in-Charge, providing the security for the Navy while the MONTANA was salvaged. Issue 2 • 2017 � RESERVIST 21

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Reservist - ISS2 2017