Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Hobart, IN) John Meehan enlisted in the Coast Guard at the age of 19 after graduating from high school and served from 1942 to 1946. He quickly learned the unusual ways of the military thinking as he was sent to commando training. When he was issued his Springfield rifle he recalls thinking “I’m a sailor, what am I doing here?”
John explains that both the Coast Guard and the Marines were under the Navy during this time and their training was shared. After testing during basic training, it was determined that he would be assigned as a sonar operator. John gladly gave up his Springfield rifle for his assignment to the USS Covington (PF-56). The Covington was a new ship built in Superior Wisconsin and launched in July of 1943 with a crew of nearly 200 men.
John has many stories to share but unfortunately we could not capture them all. We had to laugh when John shared his secret to success in the Coast Guard. He simply stated that you “keep your mouth shut, your bowels open and never volunteer for anything.”
Although the USS Covington was designated as a weather patrol ship in the seas off of Newfoundland, John’s assignment called for him to use his skills as a sonar operator to search the waters for submarines. He laughs that he would have a tough time doing that job today as his hearing is not as good as it once was. As part of this assignment, he was attached to the Naval Air Station Argentia.
When asked about some of his fondest memories of being in the Coast Guard he recalls it helped him lose weight because of the motion and seasickness experienced sailing in the North Atlantic. He remembers losing over 30 pounds. He says in those days the ships were stocked with powdered eggs and milk and K-rations so they could stay out at sea longer. He is sure that helped keep his weight down as well.
The sailors looked forward to ports of call so that they could have a better meal. However, only one third of the ship’s crew was allowed off the ship at one time. The reason for this was that it took the other two thirds to run the ship in the event they were called to action.
John says it was lonely being at sea for so long. He has always been an eager reader but there were very few new books available for him on board. He did read about how the British invented sonar as he shares that Sonar was originally an acronym for SOund Navigation and Ranging.
He continues to explain that sounds were created when they would bounce off of the metal submarines but not the surface of the sea. This allowed him to locate any subs; they were further identified as friend or foe using “IFF.” Identification, friend or foe (IFF) helped the military identify friendly craft and was first developed during WWII.
John describes the scariest time aboard ship as when they hit extreme storms and high seas 200 miles off the shores of Scotland. When this happens he explains, the captain has only two choices. He can either ride it out and hope for the best or turn into the storm to try and minimize the impact of the waves. Unfortunately for John’s crew, the USS Covington was severely damaged during this storm. To make matters worse, the nearest harbors were under attack so they had to be escorted all the way back to Boston for repair. Here they were an escort ship being escorted!
The USS Covington also served as an escort ship. It was armed with eight depth charge projectors in addition to various other gun mounts. John describes the escort role as continuously circling the larger ships and trying to confuse the submarines and other ships that might be preparing to attack our ships. After repairs were completed, they sailed to the Azores which were part of the shortest shipping route to the front in North Africa. They later returned to Newfoundland.
After his service, John returned to Indiana and went to work in the coke plant at US Steel in Gary. During this time, he also married his wife Alice. She worked in ladies clothing sales and John is proud of the success they both had. He retired at the age of 62 and lived in Crown Point for many years.
Thank you, John for your service in the Coast Guard. Enjoy your well-deserved Honor Flight along with your fellow Coasties!