Like (grand)father, like (grand)son

Coast Guard Cutter Rush, a 378-foot Hamilton class cutter homeported in Honolulu, visits Kwajalein Island as a part of their regularly scheduled patrols. Below, we share the story of Cmdr. Mike Gesele, executive officer aboard Coast Guard Cutter Rush, who reminisces on the sea stories his gradfather shared with him regarding his own service in those same waters.

Coast Guard Cutter Rush. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cutter Rush. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Cmdr. Mike Gesele

Navigating into Kwajalein harbor, I could only imagine what it was like in the late 1940s, early 1950s when my grandfather served as a U.S. Navy harbor pilot in these same waters. Kwajalein Atoll is located in the Pacific Ocean, just north of the Equator and west of the International Date Line. Kwajalein was liberated by U.S. Forces during World War II in early 1944. The island then became a staging area for subsequent Pacific Theater campaigns during the rest of the war. Kwajalein Atoll is now part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, but the island is still used by the Department of Defense for missile testing operations, and there is a small U.S. Army contingent stationed there.

I remember a sea story my grandfather told me prior to his passing. He was assigned to pilot a U.S. Navy destroyer into port and made his way up to the bridge to speak with the Commanding Officer. When the CO saw my grandfather was enlisted, the CO stated no enlisted person would tell him how to conn his ship. My grandfather radioed back to the Navy Base and spoke with his CO. A few minutes later, my grandfather politely told the CO the only way for the destroyer to head into port was under the direction of my grandfather. I guess the ship had been at sea for quite some time, as my grandfather said the CO listened to every suggestion my grandfather had.

Cmdr. Mike Gesele (left) discussing strategy and history with the Kwajalein harbor pilot. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Shaffer.

Cmdr. Mike Gesele (left) discussing strategy and history with the Kwajalein harbor pilot. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Shaffer.

As in the days of my grandfather, we embarked a compulsory harbor pilot just prior to entering the atoll lagoon. My CO was not like the CO my grandfather came across, and we were also low on fuel, so we continued with our inbound transit grateful for the local knowledge the harbor pilot provided. The harbor pilot had been working these waters for over eight years, so we discussed the transit and mooring evolution, along with some history of the atoll. We were fortunate this day as the winds were light and variable because normally they blow 20 to 25 knots, making transits and moorings challenging – even for the most seasoned mariners.

Another story my grandfather told, which I am still not sure to this day if it was true or not, was the time my grandfather asked the CO of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to line up the planes on the flight deck and start the propellers in order to provide the ship more maneuverability as the ship navigated the atoll’s narrow passes and channels.

Now some 60 years later, I see why ships need additional maneuverability, whether or not the aircraft propeller story was true. On this day, I decided to rely solely on our cutter’s engines (and a little help from a tug), vice trying to spin up the main rotor blades of our embarked helicopter. As I served as the Conning Officer’s coach pulling into Kwajalein, I thought I may have been giving the same direction and guidance my grandfather once gave so many decades ago. Cutter Rush completed a brief stop for fuel and logistics and departed Kwajalein to continue our District 14 Living Marine Resources deployment. As I continue to sail the same waters around the globe as my grandfather once did, I only wish he were alive today, so I could share my sea stories with him.

Kwajalein Atoll. U.S. Army photo.

Kwajalein Atoll. U.S. Army photo.

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