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Experiencing War: They Also Served: Coast Guard and Merchant Marine (Stories from the Veterans History Project, Library of Congress)

Popularly thought of as a domestic rescue and patrol outfit—and not always as a fifth branch of our Armed Forces--the Coast Guard during wartime has played many other roles. Coast Guard duty took these veterans up dangerous rivers above the DMZ in Vietnam, on dangerous convoys across the Atlantic, and to lonely atolls in the South Pacific. Whether dodging kamikaze planes off Okinawa or delivering British troops to Juno Beach as part of the Normandy Invasion, the Coast Guard has been in the thick of the action.

Featured Story: Irwin Robinson
Irwin Robinson - link to story
“But it’s a smaller service, so you got a better chance to advance—and the line is shorter.” (Video Interview, 3:17)

Irwin “Rocky” Robinson was a shipping clerk when he enlisted in the Coast Guard, sweet-talked into that branch by a clever recruiter who saw him standing in a long line to join the Navy. Robinson became a Pharmacist’s Mate aboard the lead ship in a convoy, with the only doctor for miles and miles around. Their patients ranged from a buddy with an inflamed appendix to a German prisoner whom Robinson, a New York Jew, was able to communicate with in Yiddish. He saw action in North Africa, where he attended services in a historic temple during the High Holy Days; Sicily; and in the Pacific, where they dodged kamikaze planes. In his spare time, Robinson did a little boxing, which is how he earned his nickname.

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Irwin Robinson's story
Experience more stories of the Coast Guard more stories
“Here’s this sandwich board…and it says, ‘Join the U.S. Coast Guard Now’…and there was a picture of a seaman… shoving this shell into the breech, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s the branch of service I’m going into.’” -- Vern Peters
Reby Cary - link to story
“...I was a real victim of discrimination here in Texas, and I knew I wasn’t wanted, period.”

Reby Cary's story

Betty Tosti Leiding - link to story
“I never regretted that I didn’t go into the Navy or the Army.”

Betty Tosti Leiding's story

Max Wayne Lilley - link to story
“...and then we ran into these bodies, stacked like cordwood. Germans in one pile, British in another.”

Max Wayne Lilley's story

John Vincent Pletz - link to story
“If that bullet would have been three feet, five feet closer...I wouldn’t be here.”

John Vincent Pletz's story

Vern Peters, Jr. - link to story
“If we were at sea, the radioman, he would find out what ship was carrying the mail...”

Vern Peters, Jr.'s story

Jose Robert Zaragoza - link to story
“When you weren’t at work, you were sleeping.”

Jose Robert Zaragoza's story

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  August 21, 2009
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