The U. S. Coast Guard often is usually linked to dramatic ocean rescues of stranded vessels off the American coasts. But on June 14, 2008, former Coast Guardsman Gordon B. Lease of Rapid City recounted how this military force was active in both the European and Pacific theaters during WW II. Lease grew up in Los Angeles and remembers that he was swimming with friends in the warm waters of the Pacific when news of Pearl Harbor was relayed to the public.
Lease’s LST-381 was on the beach at Plestin Le Greve, Brittany, France, in August, 1944. “Supporting the U.S. Army assaults on Brest and St. Nazaire, France, all we carried was ammunition and gasoline in 5 gal cans," he recalled. Lease remembers well being at Salerno, Italy, in September, 1943. "The first 200 German prisoners evacuated from the Anzio beachhead were put aboard USS LST-381 on January 23, 1944, and transported to the Naples, Italy area. The 381 was Coast Guard-manned with a 30-man Navy Assault Boat Team aboard at that time."This photo [Lease is second from right] was taken abord USS LST-381 on August 4, 1944, the 154th anniversary of the US Guard. The navel enlisted men were part of an assault boat team which was assigned to LST-381 during the invasions of Anzio, Italy,and Normandy, France.
Lease recalled that during World War II, the Coast Guard was involved in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. When the Germans began their Paukenschlag campaign to sink ships off the American coast, Guard units sank 12 German and two Japanese submarines, while capturing surface vessels, resulting in the very first Germans taken in combat by any American force.
Working with the Navy and Marines, Coast Guardsmen saw combat in the 1942 North African invasion (Operation Torch) and the 1943 invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky). In addition, Coast Guard cutters were present off all five landing beaches during the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, along with Lease himself, providing combat search-and-rescue operations under enemy fire. He said that the worst Coast Guard disaster was off Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands) when 193 Coast Guardsmen and 56 Army soldiers on board were killed. After retiring from the Coast Guard, Lease enlisted in the Marines for a while, then became a municipal water tester in California before moving to Rapid City.
More recently, Gordon Lease has been editing the handwritten letters of his uncle Robert Lyon Bennett who served on the USS Sante Fe during WWII. Bennett's naval combat included the Aleutians, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Leyte, Iwo Jima, and other key battle sites in the Pacific theater during 1943-1945. Bennett's letters home to his wife began on June 15, 1944, while Lease himself was busy with the invasion of Normandy.
The almost daily letters, however, were never mailed, since Bennett realised that the level of graphic honesty he hoped to achieve would not pass muster with censor guidelines. Instead, the letters read like a detailed diary of shipboard life and a chronicle of some of the most intense fighting in American naval history. As a keen and thoughtful observer, Bennett attained insights that rival and perhaps surpass the WWII shipboard journals of fellow sailor James Fahey.
Because of a fellow chief petty officer officer stationed in the Combat Information Center, Bennett was daily kept abreast of the big-picture context. He was discharged at the end of 1945 as a chief petty officer, culminating a four year naval service. He died of a heart attack in 1953 at age 49.
As noted, Gordon Lease picked up the following booklet (this is the cover) in January 1944 during the battle at Anzio. The hard-fighting Alpinis were formed in 1872 (the oldest active mountain infantry in the world). Their original assignment was to defend Italy's northern mountain border with France and Austria. More recently, they have fought side-by-side with Americans in Afghanistan.
A 32-page PDF booklet from Glenn Booker in Barry, Wales, has just arrived: Over Here in Barry. The American Presence in our Town, 1942–1945, A Pictorial Record. Our own Coast Guardsman Gordon Lease (pictured here at 18) was in Barry during WWII and was featured in an earlier edition of the booklet. Will email you the current copy (6MB) if you want one (no charge).
Read more from Gordon Lease about Barry (written 2012)
Gordon Lease, 11-14-09, wearing Coast Guard uniform at meeting of Black Hills Veterans Writing Group (photo by Duke Doering)
Glenn Booker of Barry, Wales, holds booklet that he and Gordon Lease collaborated on to highlight the importance of Lease's LST to Barry during WWII.
Gordon Lease was awarded the French Foreign Legion Medal of Honor by the president of France in 2013. He is now a "knight":
(photo of Gordon Lease thanks to Ray and Josephine Cowdery)