A Coastie homecoming

Gene Griffith, center, with son Michael Griffith and wife Lynne Griffith. Oct. 11, 2013

Gene Griffith, center, with son Michael Griffith and wife Lynne Griffith. Oct. 11, 2013

Story by Andrew Gavelek, edited by PA3 Connie Terrell

 It’s been 40 years since Gene Griffith last stepped aboard the San Diego-based 378-foot Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell.

 “I knew the 378’s were being decommissioned, so when I heard it was stationed less than an hour from my son I really wanted to see it,” said Griffith, who once served aboard the cutter.

 Griffith, who now lives in Troy, N.C., toured the cutter, Oct. 11, 2013, while visiting his son in Southern California.

 “It brought back so many old memories,” said Griffith, “It was a really neat experience to come back.”

 Griffith served nearly his entire Coast Guard career on the Boutwell. He first arrived in 1969 after completing boot camp.

 He fondly remembers the cold nights spent at the helm as a non-rate in the deck department of the Boutwell — then based in Boston – as it patrolled the North Atlantic Ocean.

 “Probably the most memorable moment was when we received a message from the Navy to proceed to assist a Soviet nuclear submarine,” Griffith said. “I felt so bad for them because by the time we got there the weather had turned really rough and they were bobbing around like a cork in the ocean.” 

 The sub had lost power and needed to be towed to safety.

 “Every time we got close to it, ten Soviet fishing boats would close in like a circle of wagons,” he said. “We let them know we were offering assistance, but they said even though they appreciated it, no assistance was necessary.”

 Ocean-going tugs were finally able to tow the vessel to safety.

 Griffith left the cutter in 1970 to attend radarman school in Governors Island, N.Y. After completing school he was sent to the Portland, Maine-based Coast Guard Cutter Castlerock, which deployed to Vietnam. Griffith spent about five months in Vietnam before returning to the Boutwell in 1972 where he finished his enlistment.

 Upon his return to the Boutwell for his second tour he came back as a radarman — a rating which would become operations specialist in 2003.

 During his recent tour of the ship Griffith visited the old radar room, now upgraded to include modern day electronics systems which replaced the Plexiglas boards and radar screens that he became accustomed to during his time aboard Boutwell.  He recalled the times when his shipmates would hang a string on the radar boards to measure the sometimes-severe rolls of the ship during long transits across the Atlantic Ocean.

 The systems weren’t the only thing that had changed since he was last aboard.111214-G-0000-536

 There have been weapons and uniform changes and he was welcomed in the wardroom, a place where only officers are typically permitted. And now women serve aboard his old cutter.

 However, the crew is just like the ones he used to sail with.

 “Everyone was as friendly on our visit as I remember when I was stationed there,” Griffith said.

 At the end of his visit, Griffith was given a unit ball cap and coin, making him feel as if he was still part of the crew.

 “Once a Coastie, always a Coastie,” said Griffith.

 “It was an honor to show Mr. Griffith the different changes the cutter has had in the past 40 years,” said Ens. Andrew Gavelek, the cutter’s communications officer. “Hearing all his stories and memories was a unique experience for the Boutwell crew. It was a great reminder that we are only able to serve thanks to those who have served before us.”