Veterans Day: Self-proclaimed “Coast Guard brat” reflects on servicemembers of yesterday and today

This is a guest blog post written by Vickie Bolling, daughter of Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann, Coast Guard (retired).

Chief Warrant Officer Mann enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939. He would go on to be assigned to the USS George F. Elliott, a Navy transport ship, off the coast of Guadalcanal in 1942. After an enemy plane was shot down and crashed into the ship, Chief Warrant Officer Mann responded heroically to the resulting fire and was awarded the Silver Star for his conspicuous gallantry in the face of great personal danger. For more about Chief Warrant Officer Mann, read his oral history.

Chief Warrant Officer Mann celebrated his 97th birthday on Oct. 14, 2015. After Vickie solicited Coast Guard members and units for birthday cards and letters for her father, she was ecstatic to see the response to her request. She wanted to author a blog post to tell us about it her feelings towards her father’s service as well as the servicemembers who have come after.

Written by Vickie Bolling

Photo courtesy Vickie Bolling

Photo courtesy Vickie Bolling.

This past Halloween night, I had the honor of driving around our city in Alabama with a police officer – our city allows ride-alongs. I rode with him almost his entire shift through the rainy, chilly night. I found out he was a veteran of three tours in Iraq, and he was very proud to be a veteran. I feel comfortable around veterans, since my father was in the U.S. Coast Guard for 31 years. So this police officer’s military-style haircut and uniform made me feel right at home.

The only differences, and I suppose they were kind of big ones, were that the police officer was not assigned to a ship and he wasn’t wearing khakis. Khakis were the office attire of my childhood. My father was always in his heavily pressed khakis. It is a vivid memory and a comforting one.

If my dad received transfer orders, one thing would stay the same – those khakis. A hurricane could be bearing down on us, and I remembered watching my dad in those khakis leaving my mom with all of us as he went off to take care of the coast. I felt like those khakis made my dad stronger. He’d be protected by them.

I told the police officer about my father, Chief Warrant Officer Frederick D. Mann, who just recently turned 97 on Oct. 14. I told him how I had a chance to talk to all kinds of servicemembers all over the country as I tried to organize a surprise of birthday cards and letters for my dad. My police officer, being a veteran, liked that.

I told him about how I started out talking to a lot of Coast Guard men and women but then branched out to the Navy and Marine Corps. I talked to a lot of people on my quest to give my dad a great birthday, which is just what he got.

This is what I noticed throughout my 3-week tour of the military via telephone and email … First of all, they have respect. They have respect for their history, for themselves, for their fellow servicemembers and, most importantly, for their country. They completely understand that they are sacrificing time with their family and friends to look out for our country.

USS George F. Elliott in January 1942

USS George F. Elliott in January 1942. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

I also noticed that everyone seems to be proud of their job and also seems to enjoy it. When I called South Padre Island, Texas – the last place my dad was stationed – the phone was answered with, “U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Amberjack.”

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Amberjack, ma’am.”

“I’m talking to a boat?”

“Roger that ma’am. It happens all the time. The phone numbers get confused.”

“I’m sorry I called you a boat. My father would kill me. You’re a ship, aren’t you?”

“Roger that, ma’am.”

Chief Warrant Officer Mann during his service days

Chief Warrant Officer Mann during his service days. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

South Padre Island, Texas, was the last stop for my dad. When I was young, it was a rare treat when we got to visit Daddy on base. We visited him in Portsmouth, Va., and I remember feeling so special because we had to show ID to get through the gates and then people were saluting my dad! That will make any 8-year-old proud.

I told the young man on the Amberjack what I was doing for my dad’s birthday and he gave me the right number and I said thank you. Then he said, “Roger that, ma’am. And, please thank your father for his service.”

I am not one to be caught speechless, but I was. I am so proud of my dad, but I’m also so proud that the Coast Guard remembers their own.

I was telling my police officer about all this as we drove through the long night in Alabama, and he told me about Iraq. He made me understand my dad a little bit more. He told me that he lived with 30 guys in a tent with 30 cots in it for 15 months. Those guys were his family. They were his brothers. They knew everything about each other. He said it was very hard to be away from his wife and country, but he was proud to do the job. He said it was even hard to talk to family sometimes, because they could go back to family and TV and, well, regular life. “We had so few diversions, and we missed home so badly.”

As the night went on, I said, “You’re kind of like my dad aren’t you? All of you give up a little of yourselves that you never get back. But you give it up for us don’t you.”

He answered, “Yeah, I think I gave up a little of myself, but I would do it all again.”

Those of us who stay home and get to go to bed every night with those we love and get up every morning feeling safe thank you, the men and women of the Coast Guard and all military branches. I know my children grew up safe because of the sacrifices made by servicemembers. We lead these bright shiny lives of freedom, and sometimes we need to take a moment and thank those who make it possible.

I think maybe I was 5 or 6 when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened. Of course, I couldn’t possibly know what was going on, but my mother got hurried phone calls from my dad, and I just knew from the look on her face that something

Coast Guardsmen assigned to units in South Texas threw Chief Warrant Officer Mann a birthday party at Station South Padre Island

Coast Guardsmen assigned to units in South Texas threw Chief Warrant Officer Mann a birthday party at Station South Padre Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

bigger than a hurricane was going on. Military spouses are special, too. My mother knew things were going on, but she didn’t always know what things. Later, my dad said they thought for a few hours the world was going to significantly change. My mother had no idea, but being a wife she had to have sensed something but had to keep calm for us. I wish I would have thanked my mother for her service, too. She was a SPAR in WWII and died 14 years ago.

My father had a fabulous birthday but, I learned that we were the lucky ones in World War II. And, today we have really fine military men and women who jumped at the idea of helping get birthday cards out to my dad. This Coast Guard brat also learned that good men and women are good men and women whether they are 97 or 27.

Thank you for your service and thank for the respect you gave to my dad. I am humbled but most of all grateful for the men and women I met on my tour of duty for a birthday.

Daddy said he didn’t think anyone would care about or remember an old man and his exploits in WWII. Members of today’s military and especially the Coast Guard were happy to prove him wrong.

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