Cape May, New Jersey/ Rockaway, New York
… KP: Serve chow, scour pots, scrub pans, swab the deck. Yeah, peel potatoes… but not mountains of them. Serve chow. Scour pots. Scrub pans. Swab the deck, and then… Dinner. Start over again.
Guard duty: Back and forth. Back and forth in the dead of night with the stock of your rifle growing heavier on your shoulder. Back and forth for four hours in the dead of night with the collar of your pea coat pulled up and your watch cap pulled down with the arctic wind still blowing down your back with that god-damned M1 on your shoulder.
“Up that rope!”
“Gi’me another fifty!”
It’s over! Finished! Boot camp is done!
Permanent duty assignments:
“I got a fuckin’ buoy tender.”
“So what? Least ways you’ll be stationed in port.”
“In fuckin’ Buffalo!”
“Buffalo! It’s colder’n’a witch’s tit in fuckin’ Buffalo!”
“Damn, I’m on the fuckin’ Westwind!”
“The Westwind’s a fuckin’ weather ship.”
“No shit! Six fuckin’ weeks at a time in the fuckin’ Atlantic Ocean!”
“Christ! Better pack the fuckin’ cold weather gear. I got me a fuckin’ ice breaker.”
“So? What’s so fuckin’ bad?”
“Out’a fuckin’ Newfoundland?”
“Fuck, I got a fuckin’ lighthouse in Boston. I’ll be beatin’ my meat watchin’ the fuckin’ seagulls.”
“Hey, Lenfield, where’s Far Rockaway?”
Looking at Mitchell, “Huh?” the New Yorker asked. “Far Rockaway?”
“Yeah, Far Rockaway.”
“Lippy, don’t tell me you’ve got duty at fuckin’ Rockaway!”
“Yeah,” looking at his papers. “C.G. Patrol Station, Far Rockaway, New York.”
“You…” Lenfield said unbelievably, “got duty at fuckin’ Rockaway?”
Becoming concerned, “It’s bad at Rockaway?”
“Bad? Son of a bitch! Outside of, maybe, Hawaii, it’s the best fuckin’ duty in the fuckin’ Coast Guard! There’s more fuckin’ broads in Rockaway then you can shake a stick at! Far Rockaway’s a fuckin’ resort place!”
More broads than you can shake a stick at! Becoming excited at the prospect of duty at C.G. Patrol Station, Far Rockaway, but enjoying Lenfield’s consternation, “It’s got’a be kind’a cold’n’lonely in the winter, then, huh?”
“Asshole! Rockaway’s across the fuckin bay from Coney Island! It’s across from Sheepshead Bay!” Lenfield said excitedly. “It’s an hour to Times Square! Rockaway’s a fuckin’ paradise! Jesus Christ! How the fuck can anyone be lucky enough to pull fuckin’ Rockaway, and not even know what the fuckin’ place is? I’d give one’a my balls for Rockaway!”
…The formal graduation ceremony over, assembling together one last time, their sea bags at their feet, the men of barracks 7 stood at ease.
Chief Petty Officer Slattery, Gunners Mate Second Class Monroy and Boatswains Mate Third Class Gustand standing before the group. “I want to thank you men for your fine effort,” Chief Slattery said. “And I know I speak for Gunny and Boats here when I say that working with you men has been a pleasure. Men such as yourselves make our job easier.” He came to attention.
“Tench hup!” Monroy called.
Coming from this man, swelled with pride, barracks 7 snapped to attention.
Still before them, Slattery, Monroy and Gustand saluted the men.
“Two last orders! If you ever see us again,” cocking his head, Slattery motioned to Conroy and Gustand, “don’t salute us and don’t call us sir. Your bus is waiting. Good luck. Dismissed!”
Each man carried a manila envelope with his orders, military record and a mimeographed copy of how to get to his duty station, along with the proper transportation tickets and, for those traveling longer than eight hours, additional chits for food.
The Coast Guard bus took them to Atlantic City where they boarded a train for New York City.
At Grand Central Station the group splintered into parties of men going in the same general direction, and individuals going in different directions…
But not before sentimentalizing.
“Swartz,” Mitchell smiled. “Mickey, good luck, buddy.”
Bound for Staten Island and the weather ship Westwind, “Look,” Mickey said, “we’re really not all that far from each other. I’m just a ferry ride across the channel to Staten Island, and you’re down at the tip of Brooklyn. There’s no reason why we can’t get together every once in a while; maybe meet at the U.S.O in Manhattan and see if they’ve got tickets for a play, or take in a movie, or maybe just go to chow together.”
“Yeah, Mickey, I’d really like to do that.”
“Okay, then,” clasping each other about the shoulders, “let’s stay in touch.”
“Hey, Lippy. Look, man, I’m sorry, you know… About that time…”
Offering his hand, “It’s okay, Sobileski. No hard feelings.”
“Thanks.” Shaking hands, “So long, Lippy.”
“Yeah, be seeing you.”
Suddenly alone. Feeling lost, Mitchell stood within the hustling crowd in the cavernous edifice of Grand Central Station for a full minute, then, taking the mimeographed directions from the manila envelope, studying them, he caught a south-bound subway, got off at Canal where he transferred to an east-bound subway. At the end of the line he took the Flatbush bus as far as it went, then caught a second bus.
Traveling through the southern end of Brooklyn, the bus passed Floyd Bennett Field, and within a minute crossed the Marine Parkway Bridge and…
There, below, just to the west of this huge, center span lifting bridge is the three-structure compound of U.S.C.G. Rockaway Lifeboat Station.
Making a loop in the wide turnaround, “End’a the line, fella.” the driver said to his lone passenger. Stopping, facing in the direction they had come from, “Rockaway Beach!” the rear door opened.
Standing, “Yeah, thanks.” Glancing at his watch, still thinking in civilian time, 3:43, he buttoned his coat, put his cap on, slipped the web belt of his sea bag over his shoulder and stepped down the two steps to the curb.
The cold wind hitting him, turning his collar up, he jammed the cap further onto his head.
Shutting the door, the driver put the bus into gear and drove away.
(A "Becoming" Excerpt)