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Saluting a Mentor & WWII Hero

Award to Skip Johnson 

Division Commander Sue Redding with Vernon "Skip" Johnson 

 

 “Proud to Serve”

I had the pleasure to get to know an extraordinary person who has given much to his country,
community and continues to do so in the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Marathon, Florida.  His name is
Vernon “Skip” Johnson and I first met Skip when he was an instructor for a safety boat class that I
attended.  From the start I knew he was someone special and soon he became my mentor in the Coast Guard Auxiliary but his story starts back in Cape Cad during World War II where he enlisted in the Coast Guard at the age of 17. His roots link back to the sea where is father and grandfather spent a life time on the ocean.  His grandfather was an old time whaler so when the time arose for Skip to step forward, there was no hesitation as it was part of his proud heritage.  

The year was 1942 the war was in full swing with the country worried about an uncertain future.  
I was sent to boot camp in Manhattan Beach, NY and signed up for a special group to work with a new thing the guard was trying, sonar.  We were the first group to start working with this new technology and I was assigned to the Nourmahal Ship.”  This patrol gunboat was a 300 ton ship 263 feet in length; it belonged to a billionaire in New York who donated it to the Coast Guard.

After tearing it apart, the ship was fully converted to a gun boat which included:

 2 four inch 50 caliber machine guns
 6 additional 50 calibers
 4 depth charge packs
 8 thirty calibers
 2 moose traps (these were the first rockets to be used in the war)
 and 3 twenty calibers.
 

She was commissioned in 1943 and was powered with three 3200 power diesel engines and became known as the Flagship for the Eastern Sea Frontier as a sub chaser.  Her top speed was only 15 knots.  I was the sonar operator and we dropped depth charges on several missions along the eastern coast.  We were never told where we would be going but we were the last line of defense along the North Atlantic.  

They called us “ping jockeys” as we listened for the sound of our sonar bounce back off a large 
medal object.  What we listened for was the echo coming back or the “ping”.  We could calculate the size, location and speed of the sub by taking several sonar reading in 5 degree increments. These projections were the basis for launching the depth charges.

Many people were never aware that the German Submarines were operating just off the US coast.  

I remember one mission when we detected an enemy sub, did our calculations and dropped some depth charges; shortly thereafter, we looked for life jackets and oil coming to the surface. We never saw anything. We also never confirmed sinking that sub as they often played decoys in hopes we would move on.  

Skip would have other assignments during his enlistment with his last being trained on how to run the Higgins Boats in preparation for a major invasion in Europe.  “I was fortunate that at as my final training was completed the war ended in 1945 and I didn’t get deployed to the D-Day invasion.   We lost so many good men.”

For me the war didn’t end in 1945 as I would spend 6 months in a military hospital with severe hearing issues.  I was lucky and lead a wonderful life raising our son and daughter and just celebrated my 72st wedding anniversary with Gloria.  Fourteen years ago, Gloria and I decided it was time to give back and we joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  We have made many friends and still feel that pride of serving our country as a volunteer.  

Today the Coast Guard Auxiliary is lending helping hands as a uniformed volunteer component of the Coast Guard and the largest volunteer organization in the US.  There are many opportunities for service where you can help save lives in the Aviation and Marine Operations.   We conduct safety patrols on local waterways, assist the CG in Homeland Security duties, teach boating safety classes at the elementary, high school and adult level conduct free vessel safety checks for the public, as well as many other activities. 

Other activities include watch standing, (done at the Coast Guard Stations) the Auxiliary chef program (where you can go into the galley and help cook for the Coasties), and marine environmental protection program (marine pollution).  Beach and highway clean ups fall in the marine pollution program as well. 

As an Auxiliarist, you can help the general public become safer on the water and reduce accidents 
and help save lives.  At no cost, you can increase your skills in surface operations, leadership through one of the many coursed offered.  It provides fun and fellowship during training missions, at meetings, or social events. It is a great way to help your country as well as the general public! 
So no matter what your skills are, we can fit you into an area to serve and enrich your life! 

If you are interested in joining our elite organization or learning more about the Auxiliary, contact:

USCGAUXDIVISION13@gmail.com.

 

Vernon "Skip" Johnson, we salute you, and thank you for your service!