A Visit To The Big East Coast Boot Camp At Cape May, New Jersey (1951)

The Birthplace of The U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Corps
Training Center Cape May is the fifth largest base in the Coast Guard and the sole accession point for the entire enlisted workforce. The base is located in one of the most exceptional areas on the east coast. Cape May is a resort destination location for thousands each year.
The Cape May staff work to transform America’s civilian volunteers into the shipmates of tomorrow serving side by side with us in the Coast Guard. While our primary mission is to develop the enlisted workforce for the U.S. Coast Guard, we really see our mission having four parts:
The men and women of Training Center Cape May will:
Develop America’s Coast Guard Enlisted men and women in a manner that secures the trust and confidence of our Service and the families who entrust us with the care of their loved ones.

Provide the highest level of support to TRACEN Cape May and our tenant commands to ensure they have the proper environment to successfully execute their mission.

Honor our profession as Coast Guard members through ensuring our crew is developed both professionally and personally to assume all duties and responsibilities.

Respect our Shipmates by providing the best possible place to live, work, and visit in the United States Coast Guard.

A Visit To The Big East Coast Boot Camp At Cape May, New Jersey – Alex Haley

REMINISCE if you will, about the good old days. But stop muttering when you see a petty officer who doesn’t shave yet. For at Cape May N. J., and Alameda, Calif., they are turning out a new kind of fledgling Coast Guardsman.
Don’t sneer. Listen. Could you, before you received your first quarterly mark, construct from a blueprint, step competently into a clerical post, arrange and activate a thousand-odd-man physical education program, lead a choir, an orchestra?
At Cape May I saw “seaman apprentices” doing all these things and more. There is no telling what Alameda could add to the list.
To get at the core of what is happening to the weekly average of 125 new Coast Guardsmen arriving at Cape May, I gained audience with the Commanding Officer. This is Captain Miles H. Imlay, a towering man with a firm voice, who is built along the general lines of a Mark IV tank.
“What we’re trying, to do,” he told me, “is develop each recruit into an individual, thinking Coast Guardsman. A man inside one door and you see 35 youngsters carefully following a boatswain’s mate’s slow-motion assembly of an overhand knot. You look in another, and 50 are intently watching a training film. You walk on, past a queue of newcomers awaiting ID photography, go outside, down to the dock, where a Chief is supervising the repeated lowering of a boat. . .
Set your course in any direction. Like as not you’ll pass a squad bound somewhere else, its fresh-faced leader chanting “Hup-twoong, three ennerleftennerright, ennerleftennerright” like he’d been doing it all his life.
There is, indeed, a kind of cadence about the whole place.
Chaplain Thomas J. Richter, Lieut., USN, says it is merely discernible evidence of people with purpose. “Your average recruit today is a pretty high-type fellow,” he told me. “With that to work with, we get right down to bed rock, and from reports that come back, it’s working pretty well on the whole.”
Weren’t there any troubles?
Chaplain Richter laughed. “Wherever there’s a chaplain, there’s troubles. Sure—we have plenty. But we’re working on them. For instance, there used to be a regular run of long hardship stories, with requests for assignment near home. Now, it’s Coast Guard policy to do that whenever practicable, but we started double-checking the stories, and if a man’s woes aren’t actually substantiated, he’d have stood a better chance by saying nothing.
“The thing is,” Chaplain Richter pointed out, “he’s indicated insufficient weaning away from pre-service ties. And sending him right back near them would only make it worse.”
What about disciplinary problems?
“We have them every now and then. The Captain put human nature to work and started handing petty offenders extra duty instead of brig time. You’d be surprised how business fell off.”
“Every man is urged to practice and be proud of his own,” Chaplain Richter said. “It’s working here. We have three services weekly, and attendance is purely voluntary. But right now we’re having to remodel the chapel. 400 seats weren’t enough.”
The Chaplain showed me his lecture schedule. He talks to the recruits six times weekly. No idealistic platitudes. Practical stuff. Subjects like democracy versus communism. And sex, which he compares to a river flowing through a town.
What happens if the river gets contaminated is something a recruit learns, too, from lectures in the medical department, where four doctors, 17 corpsmen and four strikers, divided into three sections, handle everything from dreams to athlete’s foot.
Dr. N. V. Scorzelli and HMC Albert Montet, of medical proper, quickly agreed that their busiest time had come early this year on. the heels of a virus wave.
“We sweated,” the doctor said simply. “In no time at all, 200 men were inpatients, and all hands went around the clock administering APSs and penicillin if the patient developed strep throat.
“At least two dozen had temperatures above 104. But every one pulled through, thank God, although one man had to have oxygen and quick hospitalization.”
Chief Montet said sick bay normally handles 150 patients daily, but that the biggest routine job is doublechecking every recruit’s physical condition and administering their first series of shots.
Dr. Edward Driscoll heads the Cape May dental section. For him and his staff, in addition to regular work, there is the extra special dental check required for all men slated for duty in the 10th and 13th Districts, where dental care is not immediately accessible.
Medical’s third and perhaps most intriguing facet is psychiatry, staffed by Dr. E. V. Nininger and his 23-year-old seaman assistant, David G. Reese.
“The others handle the physical end; we handle the emotional,” was the way Doctor Nininger put it.
I said I’d like to start from scratch.
“Well, every recruit takes an early battery of tests, one of which we call a personal inventory. Anybody scoring twenty-one or less on this one is a good bet to adapt himself satisfactorily and complete training with no mishaps. But if he scores higher than that, he gets the Rorschach test from Reese here, and I follow through with interview. Five out of six of these will do all right, too, but what we’re looking for is that sixth one.”
I had some questions. “How many get twenty-one or less, doctor, and what kind of things does that personal inventory ask?”
Reese, who is a Kings College psychology AB answered the first one. “About nine out of ten. Out of 4805 PIs, we’ve given 405 Rorschachs.”
Doctor Nininger handed me a printed form. “Here,” he said. “See for yourself.”
I like to have people do things my way ( ) ;
I like for people to figure things out for me ( ) .
I prefer working my way up in one job ( ) ;
I like to change jobs ( ) .
When I am excited, it is hard to talk straight ( ) ;
When I am excited, I talk better than usual ( ) .
“You’re normal,” the doctor said, comfortingly. “Now if you’d called this part a man jumping off a cliff, I’d begin to wonder if maybe you hadn’t recently been thinking about suicide.”
“We don’t just handle the Rorschach high-scorers,” Doctor Nininger continued. “Sometimes recruits are later referred to us. This usually occurs about their third or fourth week. They’re in a slump. Homesick, basically, and it may evidence itself in any of several ways, including mild physical complaints.
“I talk and try to help. But I know the best cure is making friends. That happens shortly afterward, and we never hear from them again.”
The chances are that when the Coast Guard initially acquired the 300-odd acres just south of the City of Cape May, it little expected such concerted activity as is now the case there. Lieut. Commander Robert McManus, Lieut. J. J. O’Meara and CMACH Joy Weatherford, of the maintenance department, jointly agree that the receiving center is just holding its own in a continuing seeking of space to accommodate personnel and necessary facilities.
Their priority project of the moment was replacement of 3,000 feet of 6-inch steam supply pipe, together with a duplicate footage of condensate return. Costing $109,000 and slated for completion in June, this task is contracted with the Philadelphia firm of Kennan Company.
Similarly, there had been let to the Mack Construction Company, of Cape May, a $50,000 contract for erection of the concrete foundation, heating, plumbing and electrical work of a 424′ x 24′ classroom building. The building itself, of prefabricated steel, has already been purchased and is on the base. It will be erected by the permanent operating force, augmented by a number of seamen apprentice who have had suitable construction experience.
As most of the structures at Cape May are frame, fire is a big worry. But hard by the operations department are five salt water pumps with a total capacity of 4500 gallons. All other water comes from the city.
Charles Talley, veteran operations YNI, checked his records, advised me that the December water bill was for 1½ million gallons at .15 per thousand. “You might like to know, too,” he said, “that every year we use about 8,000 tons of coal for beating, and about 500 gallon weekly for fueling our vehicles.”
Operations workshops and storerooms contain much equipment purchased in the aim of making Cape May Receiving Center as nearly self-supporting as possible. Things like a pipe bending machine that Mr. Weatherford showed me in the machine shop. It had already paid for itself many times over, he said, in the year since he came to Cape May from Alameda.
Every section of the Receiving Center has to run on tight schedule, but nowhere is smooth routine more mandatory than in the commissary department where, under PCLK L. W. Bothwell, CCS’ Robert Morris and Thomas M. Rogers are working side by side for the third time in their careers. With a force of about 25 cooks and 60 recruit messcooks (so assigned for one week of their training), they daily feed an average of 1450 CPOs, operating personnel and recruits.
Recalling a comment by Captain Imlay that the most impressive sight he ever saw was 1500 T-bone steaks, I mentioned a desire for additional similar statistics. The Chiefs led me to the issue room, summoned jack-o-dust William Goggans, butchers Henry Kleen and Roger Allen, and began figuring.
Roast turkey was on the following day’s menu. “That means 60 of them,” Rogers said. He consulted a slip of paper. “Weighing 1357 pounds.”
Then Goggans was talking. “There’s fried eggs for breakfast. I’ll have to break out seven cases.”
There were plenty of staggering figures available. Two 50-pound sacks of coffee beans ground daily; 2120 dozen doughnuts, crullers and rolls consumed weekly, together with 185 cakes, 260 pounds of coffee cake, 645 pies and 6,500 blocks of ice cream.
“Chief, don’t forget the potatoes,” came a weary voice from just around the corner. It was recruit messcook William Rummel, who ran a whirring potato peeling machine, while Harold Niefield and Robert Lundquist removed blemishes and eyes.
“Yes, that’s right. Well, it really figures out to about; a ton a day.”
Butcher Kleen said there would be pork chops the day after tomorrow, so they’d have to cut 3,000. But Allen waggled a bandaged right forefinger in his face and said, no, he’d already cut 720.
The galley is efficiently separated into departments. In Roasting, cooks Allen Guthrie, Jr. and Wesley Musselwhite were methodically basting 24 turkeys in a bank of six ovens. Master-at-Arms Clarence “Sheriff” Rowland passed through, stopped. “Looking good,” he commented. “Looking mighty good.”
In French Fries, CS3’s James Allen and Thomas Remeta were too busy with their baskets and vats to talk. In Steam Kettles, Chief Morris paused to dip a ladle deep into pungent-smelling chili.
“Seventy gallons,” he said. “For tonight. 250 pounds of hamburger, 90 of beans and 50 of onions, tomatoes and stuff.”
I venture to say nobody at Cape May has more problems, all the time, than Lieut. Roger Clark, who is in charge of the ships service store, physical education and recreation, and wears a perpetual worried look.
“It’s the old story,” he said. “Doing more than we’ve got to do it with.”
This notwithstanding, Lieut. Clark went on to say, between Cape May’s $800 recreational allowance, funds from the Exchange and various ingenuity, a great many things had been achieved. The huge Recruit’s Recreation Center, for instance, contained five TV sets, six pool tables, table tennis equipment and other gear.
“And,” he went on, “we’ve got the two old hangers. One is used for a gymnasium and the other for movies. The Navy supplies us with films, incidentally. First-rate ones.
“There are the ball fields, too, and the Captain already told you we’re planning on more. Did he mention that we have a golf course?”
I said he hadn’t.
“Well, we have,” Lieut. Clark said. “Nine holes, and a former Westchester County pro to take care of it. Seaman apprentice by the name of Johnny Palmer.”
Another seaman apprentice, an MIT graduate, was assembling the first of four 19-foot sailboats purchased in a knocked-down condition at $795 each.
All the Cape May teams carry the name “Coast Guard Bears,” Lieut. Clark told me, and take on local civilian and military opponents. The 1950 football season began with the spending of $3,000 for uniforms and gear for three teams, selected from 45 recruits and operating force personnel. They played eight games, winning five. The most disappointing loss was to the Cape May High School “Rockets,” an arch rival. “We hope to take ’em this year, though,” said Lieut. Clark. “I’ve got some good boys around here, if they don’t get shipped out.”
But Editor F. M. Kent of the Cape May Star & Wave, whom I visited before returning to New York, wasn’t so sure. “The Rockets have sort of ruled the roost around here a long time,” he said, “and they know in advance that your boys are gunning for them.”
In all physical training endeavors, Lieut. Clark is substantially aided by a seaman apprentice with a physical education degree, named Harry Pure. To both of them, for whatever it is worth, I pass on a bit of advice I overheard a recruit “oldtimer” of five or six weeks passing on to a newcomer:
“… and they’re going to have you doing push-ups. What they want to see is you getting better as you go along. Now, the trick is to just do five or six the first time, and then flop. That way you won’t have to knock yourself out showing improvement.”
There are several musical aggregations at the Receiving Center, the largest being its choir of 35 voices. Led by SA John Cosgrove and accompanied by Mr. Karl Dickinson, a civilian, this group has appeared at nearly every church in the area.
There is a small permanent party band and a surprisingly good recruit orchestra led by SA Joe Combine and featuring vocalist George Pontoriero, SR.
The Ships Service Store provides routine wares at usual military reductions, and additionally provides laundry, tailoring and barber shop facilities. The first haircut, incidentally, is on the Coast Guard, and to its specifications.
One night before I left Cape May, I remarked to GMC John Rekuc, who was on duty, that it was certainly quiet, as compared to the bustle-bustle of day. He agreed, and invited me to accompany him on a 2030 tour of the dormitories.
In one after another, I saw hundreds of youngsters laughing, talking, reading, writing letters, and I wished mine could have been the eyes of their parents. In each dormitory, we also met the company commander, who spends duty nights with his charges.
One of these a BM1 named Darrell B. Rose, was deep in the last lesson of the Institute BMC course. “Hope to take the exam before long,” he said.
Later bidding Chief Rekuc goodnight, I started across the street, only to stop short as a jeep came to a quick halt beside me. The door flew open, and there was the familiar face of PH3 Frank Borzage, who had only recently left the 3rd District for Cape May.
“Sentry patrol tonight,” he chirruped. “C’mon, make a round with me.”
If the base area seems big by day, it seems enormous at night, especially if it is raining and you are in a jeep thrashing its way along the seemingly endless, narrow, twisting little roads that are like capillaries over the vast, weed-covered back acreage. Frank chattered as of old, about shipmates back in the 3rd District, Brooklyn, his girl, Cape May, everything, and pretty soon, in the middle of a torturous turn, he said there were plenty of rabbits in the weeds and he’d probably flush me one before he was through.
I thought to myself that considering the general circumstances, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he flushed a bear, and we talked some more until Frank stopped abruptly at a point where I could discern neither a sentry or a place for one’s concealment.
He read my thoughts. “Not down here. Up there.”
Then the jeep’s searchlight pierced the haze, angling upward, until it spotted a high lookout tower. Instantly, there came an answering blink. “Right on the ball, that kid,” Frank said. And then, as an afterthought, “You know, any joker that tried to sneak in here some night would get a hell of a shock.”
We twisted and turned, checked more sentries on the ground and above, and rode by several ammunition dumps. But no rabbits appeared. We emerged from the weeds down near the beach, by the firing range, and stopped for awhile while Frank played the searchlight out over the driving surf. Then, homeward bound, we took off again, and finally hit the old runways. Frank revved her up a bit, past the Officers’ Club near the main gate, then on around past a score of decommissioned 165-, 125- and 83-foot cutters bobbing gently at their moorings.
“Well,” I observed. “Back where we started from.”
“Yeah,” Frank said. “But I sure wish I could’ve flushed you a rabbit.”
*  *  *  *  *
This time did make it to the Receiving Center Enlisted Men’s Club, which is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of enlisted enterprise the Coast Guard has to offer.
It seems that back in November, Captain Imlay issued the permanent party enlisted personnel a sort of self-help challenge, in the form of the old Ships Service Store building and $3000 with no strings attached. Right away, there was an organizational meeting. When it was concluded, YNC J. H. Davenport was President, SKC A. J. Anderson (now at Groton) was Treasurer, and CCS Robert Morris, Secretary. There was also a six-man executive committee—one representative of each rating from SA to Chief.
Then all hands went to work, on liberty time only. Nightly and weekends, the place sounded from the outside like a minor upheaval was going on inside. Which there was indeed. Meanwhile, a letter was dispatched via channels to the Commandant, requesting permission to operate in accordance with NAVPERS 15800 (“Articles for Regulation of Enlisted Men’s Clubs Ashore”), which includes the sale, with approval, of beer.
When approval of this came back, together with the Commandant’s best wishes, there was drawn up a simple set of rules that are self-enforced and have yet to see infraction. Among them: none but permanent party enlisted personnel, and their guests, may attend: drinking of beer be in complete moderation, and by no personnel on duty.
The Club opened, a smash success, the evening of Saturday, 13 January. It has a tastefully furnished and decorated Bar, Blue Room and Game Room, two TV sets, amusement devices, juke box. It has, also, the solid approval and support of all concerned.
Wherever you find such a big turnover of personnel, you are more than apt to find a harried personnel officer. At Cape May, this is a very well decorated LTJG by the name of Marvin Twiford. His standard greeting is “Hello. I’ve got a headache. How are you?”
This was not hard to understand. During the fifteen minutes we talked, I counted seven interruptions, and then he had to attend a meeting.
But I did learn that the personnel officer’s biggest job is weekly determination of what recruits shall go to what district.
On one hand he gets a batch of forms on which recruits of a graduating company have stated the district of their preference. On the other he has reports of the company commanders. A fellow with a clean record on the latter has a good chance of getting the former. But the lads who via minor infractions have accumulated demerits are considered last. “Keeps them on their toes,” Lieut. Twiford said. “My own boy is here, you know, and doggoned if he hasn’t got himself ten demerits already.”
The sons of Captain George E. McCabe and CBOSN John Hevey were also recruits at the time.
Before he had to leave, Lieut. Twiford showed me a bulkhead chart on which were listed all the personnel at Cape May. As of that day there were 216 in the permanent party, an additional 13 on temporary basis, and 17 SA’s held over by special permission of Headquarters for construction work. “There’s no telling how much these boys who come here with talents have saved the government,” he said.
Every department head at Cape May knows this. Consequently, they maintain close liason with the classification section. Here, I talked with an amiable, capable YN I named Donald Bradtke.
“We get them right off the bat with the battery of tests,” he told me. “But the special aptitude interviews don’t come until the sixth week, and we refer the names of fellows with something extra on the ball to Lieut. F. X. Riley, who is the training officer, or Chief Gunner Baber, his assistant.
“What do we find? You never know. Musicians, athletes, ex-newspaper men. A guy who tested rocket launchers. Professional salesmen, carpenters, mechanics, and I don’t know how many guys with all kinds of degrees.”
A typical case whom I encountered was SA Hal Steeger, who came to the Coast Guard from Princeton. For many summers, he had worked in a Long Island boatyard, and the boat building and general craftsmanship he learned are now available in the Cape May carpenter shop.
It was Steeger, in fact, who said to me the thing you can see on the average recruit’s face. “There’s no need saying I wasn’t kind of worried at first. But after awhile around here I’m just glad I picked the Coast Guard.”
And that, for a Training Station, is the acid test.
(A Visit To The Big East Coast Boot Camp At Cape May, New Jersey is presented under the Creative Commons License. It first appeared within the June 1951 issue of U.S. Coast Guard Magazine. © 1951 U.S. Coast Guard. All Rights Reserved.)
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