Veteran, 90, at Coast Guard celebration


August 05, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

When Theodore R. Brown awoke at 4 a.m. yesterday, he had no idea he would be returning to a home he hadn't seen for 54 years.

But seven hours later the 90-year-old Baltimorean looked around the Coast Guard Cutter Roger B. Taney and said, "She's just as beautiful as I remembered her."

Mr. Brown, who lives in the 1000 block of Ashburton St., served for three years on the Taney, starting when it was commissioned in October 1936.

He returned to the historic cutter, now a museum piece moored at Pier 4 in the Inner Harbor, to take part in ceremonies honoring the 203rd year of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Baltimore is steeped in Coast Guard history. It was one of seven initial home ports for the Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of the Coast Guard. And the Curtis Bay Yard served as the first Coast Guard Academy from 1900 to 1910.

Yesterday, more than 100 former and present Coast Guardsmen and Coast Guardswomen attended the event, including 45 combat veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. The celebration was sponsored by the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association and the Baltimore Maritime Museum.

"I woke up around 4, as I always do, and heard about the ceremony on the early news," said Mr. Brown. He then decided to take the bus to the event.

Mr. Brown's appearance was a pleasant surprise to the others in attendance.

"He was a real treasure to find," said Jennifer Hevell, deputy director of the maritime museum.

Although the Taney has been moored in Baltimore as part of the maritime museum for over a year, this was the first time Mr. Brown could visit the ship.

"I hadn't been able to get around in recent years until I got two new knees," said Mr. Brown. Standing on the aft deck of the Taney in a striped shirt and suspenders and supported by a cane, he reminisced about his three years on the ship.

Mr. Brown was an officer's steward 2nd class and part of the original crew. While he was serving on the Taney, the ship was part of the search mission for aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the South Pacific and shadowed Japanese ships in the late 1930s, before America entered World War II.

During yesterday's ceremony, Ed Burke, national secretary of the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association, presented the maritime museum with a framed photo of the Taney and its crew in Honolulu in early 1937. Near the end of the front row is a tall slim figure -- Mr. Brown.

After 21 years in the Coast Guard, Mr. Brown retired in 1940. He worked as a waiter at various restaurants in Baltimore before opening his own saloon in New York in 1944. He sold the saloon in 1958 and retired.

"This is a great homecoming," he said.

Stanley D. Kendrick has different memories of the Taney -- chasing German submarines in the Atlantic and fighting off Japanese kamikaze planes at Okinawa.

The Taney began World War II anchored in Honolulu just outside of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It was one of the first ships to open fire on the Japanese planes as they attacked the Pacific fleet.

Mr. Kendrick joined the Taney in 1944 as an electrician 3rd class. After escorting convoys to North Africa and hunting German submarines, the Taney was converted to an amphibious command vessel in late 1944 and sent back to the Pacific.

On April 1, 1945, the Taney was the landing force command ship at Okinawa.

Several days later, near the smaller island of Ie Shima, Mr. Kendrick found himself on the deck amidships during a kamikaze attack. Part of a damage control party, he watched a Japanese Zero make a tight circle over the Taney then, at full throttle, skim over the waves heading right for the ship's waterline.

"It looked like the plane was heading right for me. It was something you never forget," he said.

The gray Pacific sky was dotted with black puffs of exploding anti-aircraft shells and lined with tracers from 40-mm guns as more kamikazes darted toward other ships in the fleet.

But Mr. Kendrick's attention was directed on only one -- the plane that threatened his ship and his life. When the kamikaze was only a few seconds from the Taney, a shell from the ship's forward 5-inch gun found the plane. It blew up in a fiery shower of debris.

"Seeing that plane explode was a tremendous relief for me," said Mr. Kendrick. "I felt like I would survive the war now."

The Taney went on to serve in combat in Korea and Vietnam. When it was decommissioned in 1986, it was the only surviving ship still in active duty from all those anchored at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

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