Month of the Military Child: Memories from two Coast Guard kids

Editor’s Note: Every year in April, we commemorate the Month of the Military Child, recognizing military children whose resilience, commitment and sacrifices help make their parents’ service to our nation possible. Let us not only honor the current generation of military children, let’s honor them all.

What follows is a blog post written by Vickie Bolling with contributions by her brother, Fred Mann, and his wife Virginia Mann.

Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann with his son Fred in Erie, Pa., in 1953. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann with his son Fred in Erie, Pa.., in 1953. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

Our father was retired CWO4 Frederick D. Mann, a Coast Guard WWII veteran and the recipient of a Silver Star Medal for his heroic actions at Guadalcanal. He died in January [2017] and received a full military funeral in San Benito, Texas. Since then, my brother Fred and I have spent considerable time reminiscing about and wading through the ups and downs of being “Coast Guard kids.”

All of my father’s cherished memorabilia was perfect fodder for welling up long forgotten memories. As for the ups, I remember how important I felt when mom or dad would drive on base and the guards saluted us as we passed the gate. So VIP! The commissary was also a fun place to go, except back in the 50s and 60s, there were strict rules about how ladies couldn’t wear pants or curlers in public places. I think that was also the rule when going to the movies.

Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Narcissus, at the cutter's homeport in Portsmouth, Va. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Narcissus, at the cutter’s homeport in Portsmouth, Va. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

I also liked going to eat on base because the officers’ dining room was so fancy. There were white table clothes on the tables, china, and even real silverware. I especially remember they had a milk dispenser with the coldest milk that gave a little froth at the top. Sometimes we would live on Air Force or Navy bases before we got into our own housing, and we’d receive military health care. I liked seeing my dad coming home in his khakis – yes, the uniform was khakis back then – with his hat on. That was him!

Of course, beaches and ships were part of the backdrop of our existence. I loved going onboard ships with daddy and remember noticing how comfortable he was on the ship. He could duck a boom, avoid an open hatch, or step over one of those giant ropes like it was an obstacle course.

My brother Fred spent his 18 years of childhood as a Coast Guard kid and moved all 18 of those years. I’m 9 years younger, so his memories are quite different than mine. He took a broader view of the positives of growing up in the Coast Guard. His favorite memory was the travelling and seeing all the different places.

“We lived in eight states, from Michigan to Louisiana, Massachusetts to Texas, always near water,” Fred said. “I got to do what very few kids ever got to do. I actually got to go on daddy’s ship, a buoy tender, the Narcissus. I sailed with him on some trips to Baltimore and Richmond.

“Since my dad was commander of the ship, I felt like I got to be a part of the crew. I loved it. And oh yeah, he put me to work. I chipped paint and helped clean the bilge,” he said.

“I remember watching his crew work on the buoys, which – by the way – is a much underrated job. I was 12 at the time. And, I know there is no way that could ever happen today, but it was special for me.”

“Once, we sailed into Baltimore, and the crew got some time off,” Fred said. “My dad gave the smithship over to the executive officer under him, and he took me to an Orioles game. I doubt many kids can say they arrived to an Orioles game by way of a buoy tender.”

As for the downs of being a Coast Guard kid? Well, maybe it’s because I was so young, but I didn’t understand why we were always living in places with hurricanes. And to make matters worse, I didn’t understand why every time we were threatened by one, daddy had to leave. It took me years to understand that was his job.

To this day, weather bothers me. I live four hours inland in Auburn, Ala., and over 20 years ago, we had Hurricane Opal come through. I had three small children and one on the way. Daddy, who was living in Texas at the time, was so sweet. Our electricity went off early on, but he stayed with me on the phone, giving us weather updates. I think he was actually calling the Mobile, Ala., Coast Guard station to get the latest information. Those updates were really helpful and comforting.

The author, Vickie Bolling (bottom right), with her brothers Fred (top right) and Eric and mother, Winnie, who was a Coast Guard SPAR during WWII, pose for a picture before the family drove across Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana in 1962. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

The author, Vickie Bolling (bottom right), with her brothers Fred (top right) and Eric and mother, Winnie, who was a Coast Guard SPAR during WWII, pose for a picture before the family drove across Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana in 1962. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

And not to be forgotten, the ever-present moving van looming in the background. That too was part of my childhood, although I only lived in three states and went to four elementary schools. After fifth grade, my dad retired and we settled down in a small town in South Texas, which was really nice.

As for my brother, he had a “Jekyll and Hyde” relationship with all the moving. Fred says, “I was always the new kid, and I was always getting the same questions – ‘Where are you from?’ … ‘What’s the Coast Guard?’ … ‘Is that military?’ The older I got, the harder it was to move.”

“I resented being taken away once more from my school and friends. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I think it gave me skills that I now use in my daily life. I learned to assert myself and my wife calls me ‘Friendly Fred’ because I can walk into a room of strangers and strike up a conversation with someone I’ve never met.”

Being a Coast Guard kid means being part of an extraordinary extended military family and, whether it’s your mom or dad in the Coast Guard today, the whole family is living the Coast Guard experience, and that’s a good thing. After all these years, I think my brother and I both agree that the Coast Guard life is a good life – transfers and all.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann, then 95, and his son Fred Mann visit Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas, in 2013. The young Mann is a Coast Guard Auxiliarist with Flotilla 7-2. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann, then 95, and his son Fred Mann visit Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas, in 2013. The younger Mann is a Coast Guard Auxiliarist with Flotilla 7-2. Photo courtesy of the Mann family.

Vickie Bolling is a former teacher, freelance writer/photographer and, most importantly, mother of five children. She is married to Rick Bolling.

Fred Douglas Mann has been a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 7-2 out of South Padre Island, Texas, since 2005. He is currently a professor in the Communication Department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas, where he teaches radio and television production. Virginia Mann is Fred’s wife.

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