John Meehan: A career in the Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard / WWII

(Hobart, IN) John Meehan graduated from high school, enlisted in the Coast Guard at the age of 19 and served from 1942 to 1946.

He quickly learned the unusual ways of 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 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, Wis., that launched in July 1943 with a crew of nearly 200 men.


John has many stories to share, but unfortunately this piece could not capture them all. John’s secret to success in the Coast Guard? “Keep your mouth shut, your bowels open and never volunteer for anything,” he says.

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. 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 says it helped him lose weight because of the motion and seasickness experienced sailing in the North Atlantic. He remembers losing more than 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 keep his weight down as well.

The sailors looked forward to ports of call so 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 was always an eager reader, but there were few new books available for him on board.

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.

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!

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.

Thank you John for your service in the Coast Guard. Enjoy your well-deserved Honor Flight along with your fellow Coasties!