Icebreakers

Pamela's father in Antarctica
Pamela’s father in Antarctica, McMurdo Sound, with the USCGC Eastwind. (Photo property of Fred C. Walters)

There are few things that fail to capture a writer’s attention. We are giant sponges, constantly looking at the world around us and finding opportunities for research, exploration, and learning everywhere. It’s pretty cool. My dad, who is not a writer, is also a curious person. Growing up in a fairly small, rural area of Pennsylvania, the second of three children of a single mother (a single mother in the 30s and 40s–can you imagine?!?), Dad didn’t have opportunities to see much outside his hometown, but he was curious. As soon as he was able, he joined the U.S. Navy so that he could see the world. Later, after he left the Navy, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Joining the military definitely allowed Dad to see the world! He spent two years stationed in Naples, Italy, visited Istanbul, Libya, New Zealand, Germany, St. Thomas, and many other places. Pretty cool for a small-town kid! I don’t know about you, but I never realized just how far members of the U.S.C.G. traveled! While Dad got to do very cool things, like be stationed in St. Thomas, where he trained as a Navy rescue diver, my favorite story is about his travels aboard the USCGC Eastwind.

The USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) was a Wind-class icebreaker built for the U.S. Coast Guard. The history of ice

The USCGC Eastwind in Antartica as part of Operation Deep Freeze
The USCGC Eastwind in Antartica as part of Operation Deep Freeze (Photo by Fred C. Walters.)

breaking ships in the US originates in the 1830s, in the northeastern part of the states where ships often encountered iced-over harbors that made shipping difficult and very dangerous. Over the course of the next 100 years, ideas for ships designed for ice breaking continued to evolve, and ships continued to be built privately, until finally the government officially decided there was a need for specialized ships, dedicated to ice breaking, particularly to allow fuel oil barges safe passage during the winter.

The USCGC Eastwind was the second of five Wind-class icebreakers built for the U.S. Coast Guard (Northwind, Eastwind, Southwind, Westwind, and the Great Lakes breaker the Mackinaw). She was launched on February 6, 1943 and commissioned on June 3, 1944.

Field of burgie bits (Photo by Fred C. Walters)
Field of burgie bits (Photo by Fred C. Walters)

Icebreakers were instrumental during World War II, particularly after President Roosevelt promised support to Denmark to help protect them from Nazi attempts to take over the island, and later promised to assistance in protecting Greenland, as well. The USCG history site (link at bottom) explains, “The Greenland patrol operations included keeping convoy routes open, breaking leads through ice when necessary, search and rescue, escort and patrol duty, running surveys, maintaining communications among Greenland and U.S. bases on the island, and reporting weather and ice conditions. Above and beyond these, the Coast Guard was to search out and destroy German weather and radio stations and keep supplies coming to isolated Eskimo and Danish communities.”

Interestingly, the first American naval capture of the war was carried out by the Northwind, and the Eastwind and Southwind shelled a German vessel that found itself stuck in ice, capturing the crew and destroying another German radio station. After the war, the icebreakers found themselves assigned to a much more challenging role: ice breaking in Antarctica.

"They said there might be some ice on the ship, but I'm not sure."
“They said there might be some ice on the ship, but I’m not sure.” (Photo by Fred C. Walters)

In October 1960, as part of Operation Deep Freeze, USCGC “Eastwind departed Boston, passed through the Panama Canal, crossed the Pacific, and visited New Zealand and McMurdo sound. Leaving Antarctica, she traveled the Indian Ocean, came through the Suez Canal, crossed the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to return home in May 1961.” (Wikipedia, link below)

The Eastwind was the first cutter ever to circumnavigate the globe, and Dad was part of the crew. As a navy-trained diver, one of his duties was to check the hull for damage by diving under the ice at regular intervals. Seriously. Definitely an adventure he couldn’t have imagined as a kid in rural Pennsylvania!

In September of 1966, the Eastwind left Boston for Operation Deep Freeze ’67, a second trip to Antarctica, and returned in April, 1967. In early June 1968, the Eastwind departed Boston again, and participated in Arctic East 1968, returning home in early November. Sadly, in 1972 the Eastwind was sold for scrap and was last seen at the breaking yards in New Jersey in 1977.

Penguins
Penguins–for the “Awwww” factor. (Photo by Fred C. Walters)

Would you believe, the past crews of the Eastwind still try to get together once a year?  If you’d like to read more about the U.S. Coast Guard, there are many great online resources. I like this one:

http://www.uscg.mil/history/

but Wikipedia does a decent job here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USCGC_Eastwind_%28WAGB-279%29.

The next time I complain about the ice in New England, I’ll need to review these photos! Thanks, Dad, for great stories.

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

10 thoughts on “Icebreakers”

  1. Thanks, Judy! It’s true, Mary. I have noticed, however, that over the last few years when I see commercials or references to the US military, they include the Coast Guard now (finally). We’re trying to get all his slides saved now–he has the most amazing photos!

  2. Thanks, Theresa. I grew up with him telling these stories and encouraging my curiosity–I haven’t traveled quite as much, but I think that background feeds my need to write, instead. There’s always something to learn or see or try, right?

  3. Fascinating, Pamela! Thanks for sharing. Your dad sounds like a very interesting man. I can see why you developed a taste for writing!

  4. Thanks, ladies! I got to give a presentation on Dad’s adventures in Antarctica to munchkin’s class when she was in first grade, and it was so much fun to show them the ship and all the different kinds of ice formations (and, of course, PENGUINS!). I’m not sure how any of this knowledge will every play into a story, but you never know. . .Dan Brown did it pretty well in one of his. 🙂

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