Where were you on Dec. 7, 1941?
December 7, 2016
Today's the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1991 Dad and I were discussing the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I asked him, "Pop, where were you when you heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?"
"As you know, I had enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1936. I had been assigned to the USCGC Raritan (WYT-93) for two and a half years. It was about 2:30 p.m., Atlantic Standard Time. We were off the coast of Thule, Greenland. The 'Old Man,' announced on the ship's public address system, 'The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor at Oahu, Hawaii! The sneak attack sunk or seriously damaged every battleship. There are thousands of casualties."
"What was your first thought?"
"We're at War! God, I hope your mother and you are safe. You were more than 2,600 miles away in Massachusetts."
"Pop, what was the Raritan doing off the coast of Thule?"
"Germany had invaded Denmark on April 9, 1940. The Danes surrendered without fighting. The Nazis laid claim to the Danish crown colony of Greenland. Immediately, our State Department began negotiating with the Danish government-in-exile in Washington, D.C. A few days later, Greenland had requested U.S. protection. The Coast Guard had ships equipped to sail in ice conditions and years of experience sailing with the International Ice Patrol. The Coasties were the logical choice to assist and enforce claims. We prevented Germany from taking over the cryolite mines at Ivittuut and vital weather stations on the east coast of Greenland. Similar to a chess game, our government moved the Coast Guard to block Germany."
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"Was the Raritan the only cutter assigned to Greenland?"
"No, the Greenland Patrol was made up of the cutters Duane, Modoc, Northland and Raritan. The Ice Patrol cutters Comanche and Campbell were reassigned making a total of six cutters assigned to the Greenland Patrol."
"Pop, I never heard of cryolite."
"I never heard of cryolite until we arrived in Thule. It's used to dissolve the oxide in aluminum ore. It makes the aluminum refining process less costly."
"Where is Ivittuut, Greenland?"
"Ivittuut is on the southern tip of Greenland."
"The Danes in Greenland certainly have some different sounding names."
"Those names aren't Danish, they're Eskimo. In fact, remember the kayak, whale boat and Eskimo doll I gave you from Greenland?"
"Yes. Years later they were a big hit when I brought them to my high school sociology class."
"We never spent any money in Greenland. We bartered with the Eskimos. They loved to smoke American cigarettes. On the Raritan I could buy a carton, 10 packs of cigarettes, for nickel a pack. I traded two cartons of Camel cigarettes which cost me a buck for the handmade kayak, whale boat and the Eskimo doll! Each took hours to make."
"Ken, about a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order (8929) which transferred the entire Coast Guard from the Treasury Department to the U.S. Navy. Officially, I was in the Navy when the Japanese attacked 75 years ago."
(Pop enlisted in the USCG on Sept. 24, 1936 and retired on Oct. 31, 1956 in Boston, Mass., as a CWO2. I had this conversation with Pop in 1991. He was 82 when he passed away 18 years ago. I used some detailed information from his USCG service records that were photo copied and sent to me).