LT Robert McAllister U.S. Coast Guard (Ret) (1958-1979)
LT Robert McAllister
U.S. Coast Guard (Ret)
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PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE COAST GUARD?
When I was graduating from high school, the commercials that were on TV were all about the ‘active peace-time service.’ My father was in the Navy during WWII and my brother was on active duty with the Navy, serving on a submarine in Hawaii. Most of the military connections that I had were Navy, Marine, and Army. I didn’t see myself as a Marine. I was too skinny, 155 lbs soaking wet, and not a big athlete.
So, I attribute those TV commercials as the major factor in my decision to join the Coast Guard.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
I was not really career minded during my first four years in the Coast Guard. I had a fairly tough time in boot camp. My home was only 15 miles away and I had a girlfriend at home so my mind was probably more on her and my buddies than becoming a Coast Guardsman.
Every time I turned around I was receiving demerits. It seemed every other weekend I was doing extra instruction. I became fairly familiar with Coast Guard cleaning and painting along with many trips to the Grinder for buckets of rocks, etc. My entry test scores were high but because of the demerits from boot camp I received my last choice of duty station in the last district. I was sent to Seattle, Washington as an SA and found myself on the Lighthouse Tender USCGC Fir (WLM-212).
We made many trips, servicing three light ships and various lighthouses and light stations. Good food, hard work, and exercise. I became a solid 175 lbs. I did lose my appetite for sea food for quite a while after cleaning sea life off of the buoys we serviced. The CO of the Fir, after reviewing my service record, noted that I had received a 2.8 conduct out of boot camp. His comment was “They can’t do that to someone!” Several senior personnel on the ship talked with me and thought that I should go to Electronics School. The CO had my conduct marks changed to 3.0 and forwarded a request for me to attend ET School in Groton, Connecticut.
I arrived in Groton as an SA and after 7 months of training graduating as an ET3. I served on USCGC Alert (WSC-127) out of San Diego, went to LORAN-C School in Wildwood, NJ, a short tour at LORAN Station, Kauai, HI, on to LORAN Station Kure Island, HI, and LORAN Station Venice, FL.
During this 4 year period, I remained an ET3. This was at a time when the Coast Guard had slick arm Chiefs (CPO in less than 4 years). After serving my four year hitch, I got out.
During my five month hiatus, I worked three months for Pacific Bell in Oakland, California when I came to the realization it was just a job, not a career. Since I had enjoyed what I had been doing in the Coast Guard, I reenlisted with the intent of making it my career. A decision I have never regretted.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I served twelve months with CG Squadron One, Division XII, in DaNang, Vietnam. I was the Senior Enlisted ET, stationed on the Non self-propelled Floating Workshop YR-71. The crews berthing area left something to be desired, but then I was not sleeping in the open in a jungle. Most of my days were spent in the electronic repair shop on the barge or on one of the 82-foot patrol boats, repairing or adjusting the electronics. I always had the option of going out on any of the 82 footers that we serviced. However, I always put it off and as my time was nearing the end of my tour I though less of going on patrol.
A good share of my off time was spent with my two friends GM1, Maxwell and YN1 Fischer. We would go to the beach to bask in the sun and bathe in the ocean. Sometimes we would visit the club at Camp Tien Sha, down the road from the Vietnamese Navy Base where the YR-71 was tied up. Other times we headed for a small, open air, club at the end of the pier that the barge was attached to. A young Vietnamese man named Phuoc served us our drinks who we found lived behind the bar, actually underneath it. We put our money together for Phuoc to attend training as a typist, hoping that he would be able to get a better job and future. We sent him twice but without success. We heard Phuoc got a job in Hue and died during the Tet Offensive.
The bitter reality of the war was always present. When we made a trip to the DaNang Navy Hospital, I saw piles of combat boots, each one representing a loss of a limb. It was a horrible sight. Sometimes at night, we would watch the “fireworks” around DaNang as enemy rockets slammed into military installation throughout the area followed by friendly return fire. The most spectacular were seeing the gunships in action across the bay. The tracers would be a red light from the sky drawing lines on the ground. I’d hear stories on how service members on their way home waiting for their flights at the DaNang AB were killed or injured during the rocket attacks.
One of my nicest memories while in Vietnam was seeing Bob Hope’s 1967 USO Christmas at DaNang AB. As Hope had been doing since his first USO tour, he brought with him a taste of home. This time it was Raquel Welch, Elaine Dunn, Phil Crosby, Barbara McNair, and Miss World, Madeleine Hartog Bell. For those two hours I was lost in the laughter, glamor and music and not once did I think of the many hazards that existed around me.
With my year in country was over (February 6, 1968) I was given a TR [travel request] for a PANAM flight out of Saigon, leaving from DaNang to Saigon to Hawaii. But since January 1968 was the start of the Tet Offensive and the DaNang AB was still an enemy target, my TR became useless. There were no flights from DaNang to Saigon and there were no flights from Saigon to anywhere. I traveled back to my unit where they cut new travel order for any flight leaving from DaNang to anywhere else.
My worst night in country was spending the night at the airfield in DaNang waiting for my flight–the very installation I saw rocketed almost every night I was in DaNang. This anxiety increased when I thought about the stories of people being killed while awaiting their flight. That did not happen and after about 12 hours at the airfield I was finally given a seat on a C-141 leaving for Japan. Goodbye Vietnam!
I still ‘welcome home’ everyone I meet that served in Vietnam.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My most favorite duty station has to be USCGC Burton Island (WAGB-283). I was sent to Ship Salvage Diving Officer School in Washington, DC to become the diving officer for the Burton Island. I was also the Operations Officer. I feel that I learned the most while on this ship.
I started off with a very hard CO, Captain R. G. Moore, who demanded a lot. I became a very competent Senior Watch Officer, feeling comfortable operating in and around foreign ports and in the ice. I became comfortable coordinating the ship and scientific missions and when R.G. Moore was replaced by Captain James Fournier I was actually providing Capt. Fournier with more than he was expecting.
I learned to trust the XO, Commander James Eckman, and began to work well with him. When Commander Eckman was transferred I was fleeted up to fill his spot as XO temporarily. This is where I received the Coast Achievement Medal.
In 2008 my son informed me that he did a Google search on my name and the Burton Island and discovered that, in 1977, I had a mount in Antarctica named after me. That is an achievement!
My second fondest assignment was LORAN Station Kure Island. It was a beautiful place with countless species of exotic birds and surrounded by a reef with a very large lagoon where most of us learned to be competent water skiers.
Our time was spent standing watches, eating, sleeping, playing with the albatross and seals, water skiing, fishing, and walking around the island collecting glass fishing floats. In the evenings we watched movies on the mess deck. On my walks around the island, usually a 45 minute stroll, I watched Hawaiian Monk seals and the various birds that lived on the island. But, since the major event in our lives was the arrival of supplies, I found very few photographs of the island’s wild life.
The island had a short coral base runway which brought in personnel and supplies. When I review the photographs that I took of the different species of bird, I found most of my photos were of the supply plane coming and going with only a few pictures of all of those birds.
It became a state wildlife sanctuary in 1981 and in 2006 most Northwestern Hawaiian Island were proclaimed Papah’ naumoku’ kea Marine National Monument with the island becoming Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge.
My least favorite duty station has to be boot camp. All other stations, even if I did not really like the duty, personality or command, I always got something out of the time I spent there.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
My time as the Operations Officer on the icebreaker USCGC Burton Island (WAGB-283) providing support and logistics for scientific work during U.S. Navy Operation Deep Freeze ’75 and ’76 in the Antarctic—the world’s coldest, driest, and highest continent.
The biggest surprise for me about that trip was when I found out years later that my service to the scientific community was so highly thought of that the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names named a mountain after me: Mount McAllister, which is located on the west side of Weyerhaeuser Glacier northwest of Mount Blunt in the east of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is 6,480 feet. No photos of it seem to exist.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
Receiving the Coast Guard Achievement Medal is one of the highest honors.
Because of the tutelage of R.G. Moore, James Fournier, and James Eckman, I was able to perform my duties and exceed expectations. I was also able to fleet up to the position of XO for a two month period.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
I have the Ship Salvage Diving Officers Pin. I became interested in diving, or applying for diver training, in 1968. I did not receive permission to attend diver training until 1973, and then I was selected to attend the U.S. Navy School of Diving and Salvage in Washington, DC. I enjoyed the training and am proud of the diving pin that I earned.
I am also proud that I volunteered to serve with Squadron One in Vietnam.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
One individual I always think of is GM2 Heloma Goforth. I met him on the USCGC Alert in San Diego. He was the most squared away individual I had ever met. He went to OCS and became involved with CG Aviation. On one of my assignments to the Air Station Astoria, Oregon area I had the chance to meet up with him again. He was then Commander Goforth. After meeting Heloma he remained in my mind and when I returned to the Coast Guard I did so with the idea of going to OCS.
Another individual was the BMC on the CGC Fir. When I was in need of special attention he took the time to sit me down and gave me the straight scoop. I am sorry that I can’t remember his name right now. On my assignment to Astoria I also had the opportunity to meet up with him again.
I thank R.G. Moore, James Eckman, and James Fournier for fine tuning my abilities as Operations Officer and Senior Deck Watch Officer. I also served with some fine Officers from the Academy and OCS and remember many of the enlisted personnel I served with, both as enlisted and commissioned, that assisted me in my assignments.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
When I arrived at LORAN Station Kure Island I arrived as part of the pre-commissioning detail and first Coast Guard crew to operate the station. We and the construction crew building the permanent facilities and quarters lived in tents that looked like Quonset huts. There was a tent setup for the mess where both crews ate their meals. There was nothing in the way of recreation. That’s when we decided to use the station’s 16 foot boat with 75 hp Johnson engines to go water-skiing. Problem was, we had no water skis. The DC3 decided to make some for us. Good try, but they didn’t last long.
We also fabricated a boat made of canvas and a wooden frame—a good idea whose time had not yet arrived. It was funny watching all our “improvisations” go flat regardless how hard we tried to get them to work.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
When I retired, I tried to go back to sea. I sat for the AB test for the Merchant Marine and obtained that. I found that my time in the Coast Guard had me 60 days short of the required sea time for 3rd Mate. My time during the Vietnam Era counted 75%, when I spent a lot of time in port. My time on the Burton Island only counted for 50%, when I spent most of the time at sea. I also obtained a Radar Endorsement. I wrote to all of the oil companies, the only U.S. Flag ships, but was unable to obtain employment.
I fell back on electronics, attended school to update my skills, and obtained employment with Hewlett-Packard in Santa Rosa, California. The company spun off Agilent Technologies, the test and measurement portion of the company, and I retired from Agilent at the end of 2002.
I have spent a few years as a volunteer fire fighter with Mariposa County and now work [very part time] as a driver/donor evaluator for BloodSource a blood bank.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
So far I have not joined any associations other than CWOA and MOAA.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
The military allowed me to grow up. I have seen some of the world. I have worked with numerous people with different views and it has allowed me to be open in my dealings with everyone. I may not agree with some people but I treat everyone with respect.
My public demeanor has me pegged as military. I am proud of my service and believe everyone should experience the benefits of some military service.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE COAST GUARD?
Treat the service as an adventure. Take the opportunity to learn all that you can and listen to those who are your mentors.
If you have the opportunity to travel or receive additional training take it. If you work hard and study the sky is the limit.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
I like the opportunity to connect with some of those that I have served with. This project has had me doing a lot of thinking about where I have been and what I have done.