Answering the Call

There were numerous things I liked about the Coast Guard. First, I enjoyed boating and I liked the water. And in the back of my mind I had worked up an appetite for flight. I thought flying in the Coast Guard would be the greatest thing that could ever happen, other than playing golf, of course. So I reported to Cape May, New Jersey, for boot camp. Physical fitness was pretty much my bag, and I became an instructor. I was also a lifeguard on the ocean beach while I was there and helped train recruits.

I even managed to get involved in golf at boot camp, but not in the way one might expect. The commanding officer one day commissioned me to build a golf course. But he didn't provide any equipment, which was a major hindrance. We did manage to build a sort of rudimentary, haphazard course, but it was not a pretty sight.

I volunteered at Cape May for something I thought would be interesting but turned out to be an ordeal. I signed up to train for the honor guard at the Washington premiere of the 1951 movie, The Fighting Coast Guard. The training was extensive and it was all on the cold, windy Cape May runways. We were still in boot camp, and it was hard. We had an old Marine drill sergeant as our company commander, and he was one tough character. When I volunteered to do this, I thought it would be a chance for me to get to see some of my friends and my sister, all who lived in Washington. But it almost wasn't worth it. We trained for 60 days, and it was damned cold. They had started with about 400 men and ended up with 60. I made the final 60, and I'm still pretty proud of that. I never did get to visit with my friends or my sister in Washington.

I was transferred after almost a year at Cape May to Cleveland and to a job with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. My commanding officer was the son of former Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Russel Waesche. At that time, and I guess it's still true today, the Auxiliary in Cleveland trained civilians to help police the boats on the Great Lakes, teaching them how to keep a boat fit for sailing. That was part of my job.

After about six months in Cleveland, I went to Groton, Connecticut, where I enrolled in my first Coast Guard school and became a yeoman. I was assigned to the 9th Coast Guard District, and my job was to travel to all the district's stations and take identification photos of everyone. This was how Coast Guard personnel received their security clearances. I was in charge of taking the photos, bringing them back, developing them, and organizing them. After this, I had to distribute both IDs and security clearances to all whose pictures I had taken at each station. It was a long, tedious job.

Even though I've since taken up flying, I never did get to fly in the Coast Guard. What happened was that the admiral who was my boss suggested that I could be a Coast Guard aviator, but I had to sign up for another three years and go to flight school. I could then go into naval or Coast Guard aviation training. I decided then that I really wanted to play on the PGA tour, and that superseded any notion of flying. When I completed my last semester at Wake Forest after leaving the service, I went back to Cleveland and worked as a manufacturer's rep just before winning the national Amateur Championship. Shortly after that, I got married and went on tour.

But I've never forgotten my Coast Guard service and have retained many things from it. It provided good discipline and opportunities for me to mature and grow into a man. The Coast Guard was very important in helping me understand things I didn't quite understand when I went in. It gave me the confidence that I was going to be able to do what I needed to do in my life. And it allowed me the opportunity to take a little time to understand myself and the outside world.

A number of my friends have had Coast Guard connections. I played golf quite a bit with the famous pro football player and coach Otto Graham, and he became a very good friend. Otto was a captain in the Coast Guard and the football coach at the Coast Guard Academy. We communicated regularly up until his death. Another person in my life with a Coast Guard connection is somone who used to caddy for me, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, my friend Tom Ridge. He was the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard. He is one of the great people in this country.

On a final note, I want to say how important I think it is to serve your country. Too many people in leadership positions today do not know what it means to serve. It's actually very sad. Every person in the United States of America, all people who are born here, should at some point in their life serve their country for at least one year in some fashion. That should be compulsory. If they're physically fit, they should serve. Such a requirement would benefit both the nation and the individual.

Answering the Call is a monthly series of short articles by prominent men and women discussing the impact of their time in the military on their later achievements.
 

 
 

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