Merry Christmas from the Galley! — the Coast Guard’s collection of vintage Christmas Menus
From the Long Blue Line by Nora L. Chidlow, Archivist, United States Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Historian’s Office recently unearthed several shipboard Christmas menus in its Archives and Special Collections. They are few, but rather colorful and provide insight into a bright spot in an otherwise monotonous lifestyle at sea.
Commissioned in January 1929, Champlain served on International Ice Patrol duty for much of its career. In January 1935, Champlain took survivors from a collision off the coast of Sea Girt, New Jersey, and transported them to the nearby Marine Hospital. The vessel was decommissioned and transferred to the Royal Navy in 1941.
During Prohibition, the Shaw was homeported at New London, Connecticut. Shaw was launched in 1916 and served in the Navy until March 1926, when it was transferred to the Coast Guard for Prohibition duty. It was decommissioned in 1933 and scrapped the following year. The roster in the 1929 Christmas menu includes a young Ensign Edwin J. Roland, a gunnery officer who became the Commandant of the Coast Guard in 1962.
Haida was commissioned in October 1921. Homeported at Seattle, Washington, Haida served on the Bering Sea Patrol and, later, on Prohibition duty, but with few operational highlights. In 1924, the cutter assisted with the U.S. Army’s historic Around the World flight. Sold in 1948, it was scrapped in 1951. At the time of the 1932 Christmas dinner, its logbooks only say “observed holiday routine” for the December 25th log entry.
Launched in January 1932, Daphne was a patrol boat assigned to the New York Division as part of the Special Patrol Force. Homeported at Stapleton, Staten Island, New York, the vessel enforced Prohibition laws. In June 1932, it became known for its role in the “North Atlantic Vegetable War.” Daphne tried to apprehend Gonniff, a Canadian vessel, about 81 miles off the coast of New York City, but was unsuccessful, so the two vessels began firing vegetables at each other!
Daphne was transferred to the West Coast in 1933 and stayed there until the end of Prohibition. In 1934, Daphne escorted Al Capone to Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco and also patrolled the port of San Francisco during World War II. The cutter was decommissioned in 1946 and sold in 1954.
In March 1940, Campbell departed on its first weather patrol cruise in the North Atlantic. Its primary mission was to identify foreign flag vessels, report on weather, and furnish Pan Am passenger planes with meteorological data and rescue services. On April 9, 1940, Germany seized Denmark, and Campbell was sent to Greenland at the request of the U.S. State Department in May. At this time, the United States’ primary interest in Greenland was defending a cryolite mine, providing ore used in aircraft production, and dislodging Nazi weather stations along Greenland’s northeast coast.
In December 1940, Campbell was stationed at Lisbon, Portugal. A Christmas menu from that year includes a crew roster on the back page. One crew member is listed only as “Sinbad.” He was a dog living on the streets of Staten Island in 1937 who snuck aboard. Sinbad was fiercely loyal to Campbell and its crew. Once, in Iceland, he overstayed his liberty and Campbell left without him. Sinbad discovered this when Campbell was about 400 yards out and barked ferociously. The crew spotted him and alerted the captain, who initially refused to turn around. When Campbell did not stop, Sinbad jumped into the icy waters and the cutter had no choice but to turn around.
In 1984, Campbell was sunk as a target for a missile test by the Navy in Hawaii after 46 years of service.
In 1940, Taney was stationed at Honolulu, Hawaii, undergoing its first major war rearmament. Its primary mission was to supply isolated Coast Guard stations along transpacific air routes and to relieve inhabitants of Kanton and Enderbury Islands in the South Pacific. On December 7, 1941, the cutter was moored at Honolulu when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. It fired on five enemy planes during the attack, which would draw the United States into World War II. Taney’s Hawaiian themed Christmas menus for 1939 and 1940 are in the Special Collections of the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, and the menu from 1940 is shown here.
Among the names on the crew roster in the Christmas menu is that of Lieutenant Frank A. Erickson. Enlisting in the Coast Guard in 1931, he became Coast Guard Aviator #32 in 1935 and Coast Guard Helicopter Aviator #1 in 1943. Erickson served on cutters before World War II and, on December 7, 1941, witnessed from Navy’s air control tower the attack on Pearl Harbor while he served as Taney’s aviation officer. In January 1944, Erickson flew the world’s first life-saving helicopter mission that delivered blood plasma to a stricken destroyer when fixed-wing aircraft were grounded by weather.
Taney was decommissioned in 1986 and now serves as a museum ship in Baltimore, Maryland.
As a bonus, among the papers of LT Robert Prause in the Coast Guard Historian’s Office Special Collections, is a hand-drawn, pen-and-ink Christmas card. Dated 1941, the card depicts King Neptune sitting on Onondaga. At the time, Onondaga was stationed at Ketchikan, Alaska. A 1939 Coast Guard Academy graduate then Ensign Prause sent this card home to his parents. He had spent the previous year on a cadet recruiting tour and was considering sending this card to the schools he visited. Just three days after Christmas, on December 28, 1941, Prause was married to Phyllis Ash. Captain Hirshfield, previously of Campbell and now captain of Onondaga, was his best man. LCDR Hirshfield later received the Navy Cross Medal for wartime heroism and became Vice Commandant in 1954.
Onondaga was launched in 1934. In November 1941, it was transferred to the Navy and continued general patrol duty, with the base of operations between Seattle, Washington, and Ketchikan, Alaska. The American merchantman Mauna Ala went ground during a blackout test on December 10, 1941, at Clatsop Beach, Oregon, and Onondaga rescued 36 of the vessel’s crew. The cutter was decommissioned in July 1947.
Two and a half years later, on June 6, 1943, the cutter Escanaba, for unknown reasons, exploded and sank during Greenland Patrol duties. One-hundred and one members of its crew, including LT Prause, lost their lives. Only two survived.
Christmas may be celebrated anywhere, even in wartime and in the middle of the ocean. Sailors aboard a cutter essentially comprise a family unit, and as long as one believes in the magic of Christmas, anything is possible. These menus of Christmases past also serve as mementos of Coast Guard Sea duty. More recent menus are not as elaborate or intricately detailed, probably as a cost-saving measure. However, the spirit of Christmas still remains on board for generations of seamen to come. It may be another day at sea, but Christmas will always mean home, wherever one is!