Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Capt. Joseph Mazzotta

Joseph Mazzotta early in his Coast Guard career. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Joseph Mazzotta early in his Coast Guard career. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Seth Johnson

The Great Depression was a time in America when people, who were jobless and hungry, turned to things like bootlegging, or hopping into a boxcar and riding a train off into the uncertainty of the West in the hopes to get lucky and finding a job. It was during this time that a 17-year-old in New Jersey native turned to the sea for opportunity, not to catch fish, but to save lives.

Joseph Mazzotta enlisted in the Coast Guard as a Second Class Seaman.

What Mazzotta didn’t know at the time of his oath, was that he was signing up for an adventurous career that would carry him through the ranks to become a captain, a football star and weave him through historic events to become part of the fabric of Coast Guard history.

“My father grew up in Cape May Courthouse, New Jersey,” said Shirley Thormann, Mazzotta’s daughter. “He was the first child born in the United States out of six children after [his parents] left Italy.”

Mazzotta’s family had relatives in the Philadelphia area and began a farm in Cape May Courthouse. Thormann says that her father’s family was something of an oddity as they were the only Italian family in town at the time. While Mazzotta was going to high school, he became something of a football star and caught the eye of Ida Margaurite Mason, who would later become his wife. Together they would have three children.

Mazzotta poses with members of Coast Guard Station Atlantic City in the mid-1930's. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Mazzotta poses with members of Coast Guard Station Atlantic City in the mid-1930’s. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“When he joined the Coast Guard it was the height of the Depression and it was evident he didn’t have many options,” said Thormann. “He was 17 at the time and he joined at Stone Harbor, near Cape May.”

Mazzotta carried on his football tradition into his Coast Guard service. After serving in Stone Harbor and Townsend Inlet, Mazzotta ended up on the All Coast Guard Football Team, captained by Lt. j.g. Edwin Roland, which won the President’s Cup in 1931. Roland would go on to become the 12th Commandant of the Coast Guard in 1962.

Mazzotta’s career would see some impressive events between his enlistment and the war, which loomed on the horizon. He would respond to the case of the S.S. Morro Castle, an ocean liner, which caught fire, killing 137 people off the coast of New Jersey in 1930. He and his crews deployed in 1937 to assist with the burning of the Hindenburg airship in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Mazzotta and his crew also responded to the Ohio River Floods in 1937, and again responded to floods in Pennsylvania in 1940, by which time Mazzotta was a commander.

Thormann recalls enjoying her time while her father was in charge of the Atlantic City Coast Guard Station – a time when he became a “mustang,” or an enlisted member who transitioned into becoming a commissioned officer.

“I have to say I grew to respect the men in the Coast Guard,” said Thormann. “That’s because they were the most unselfish people I ever encountered.”

Mazzotta served aboard the LST331 pictured on the left. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Mazzotta served aboard the LST331 pictured on the left. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

She says her father was a dedicated man who would never ask his crewmembers to do anything he wouldn’t do. She recalls when her mother was concerned over a case, her father would say, “This is my job, Ida.”

“Whatever he put his mind to, he would accomplish,” said Thormann. “He was a person of strong moral character. He said when we were little that you come into this world free, clear and honest and if you expect to leave the world the same way, you have to live your life accordingly.”

One outstanding event in Mazzotta’s career was when he was cited in 1936 for responding to flood relief in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. He and his crew worked over a period of 72 hours straight to transport 12,000 people over treacherous river currents without a single loss of life.

When World War II broke out, Mazzotta went on to serve his country. He was the executive officer aboard the USS Wakefield, a luxury ocean liner that was converted into a troop transport, when it caught fire below decks and was quickly engulfed in flames near Halifax. Thormann recalls after her dad came home with bandaged legs, he told her he caught poison ivy. It wasn’t until later she learned that it was because the heat radiating from the decks of the Wakefield was so hot that it melted the soles of his shoes.

Adm. Edwin Roland, 12th Commandant of the Coast Guard gifts his shoulder boards to Mazzotta. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Adm. Edwin Roland, 12th Commandant of the Coast Guard gifts his shoulder boards to Mazzotta. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Following his service aboard the Wakefield, Mazzotta served as the commanding officer aboard U.S. Landing Ship, Tank (LST) 331, a 327 foot ship designed to carry troops and tanks for invasions overseas. His job aboard the LST 331 was to deliver tanks and men to foreign shores. His ship and crew saw action in Tunisia and in Salerno, where the convoy came under fire of Nazi fighter planes. His ship also took part in the assault of Uncle Red Beach during the invasion of Italy at Scoglitti and again in Salerno.

Mazzotta’s time served during World War II was filled with action and adventure, and while it seems he had served through enough events to fill a number of history books – he still wasn’t done.

He went on to serve aboard units such as the Coast Guard cutters Tamaroa, Firebush, Westwind and even captain of the port in Ketchikan, Alaska, where his daughter says he flew with bush pilots into the wilderness while conducting his duties.

Mazzotta retired from the Coast Guard after nearly 42 years of service to his country and the maritime community in 1968. He passed away in 1992, and while he may be gone, his legend will live on at Coast Guard Station Atlantic City.

Coast Guard Station Atlantic City was named the Capt. Joseph Mazzotta Command Building in 2016. Mazzotta conceived and set in motion the plan for this building to be constructed in the 1930's.

Coast Guard Station Atlantic City was named the Capt. Joseph Mazzotta Command Building in 2016. Mazzotta conceived and set in motion the plan for this building to be constructed in the 1930’s.

In 2016, Lt. Cmdr. Noel Johnson, commanding officer of Station Atlantic City, a station that Mazzotta set in motion to be built, ordered the building be named after and dedicated to him. In the near future, there will be a display on the station’s quarterdeck, which will hold a bronze placard and photos of his career and service.

“Mazzotta embodied the spirit of both service to country and dedication to family,” said Johnson. “A career spanning four decades which brought him overseas in World War II to put his skills to test in the Navy was admirable to say the least, but on top of that he was a dedicated husband and father who raised three wonderful people in a country he remained unflinchingly dedicated to. Mazzotta is a hero who could act as a model of service and spirit to anyone in the Coast Guard.”

Do you know someone who embodies the Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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