Recollections of Plum Island Seeing The Light

By David Robb Home Back

Coming winter

With the first light snowfall of the year in late October, we all began to count the days until we closed. The target was December 15th but that would depend on the ice conditions.

Thanksgiving arrived and we treated it as the holiday it should be. Everyone stayed aboard because we all would be leaving soon. Our mission that day was cooking and eating which was an "all hands evolution." Everyone had a specialty they wanted to make. With money in the cookie jar left over from some frugal meals during the year and Teslow mustering out in July with no replacement, we were gluttons.

The atmosphere became typically festive as we ended up with the obligatory twenty-four pound turkey with sage and wild rice dressing, mashed potatoes with real giblet gravy, caramelized sweet potatoes and a pot of scalloped potatoes with real Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, several kinds of biscuits and muffins, a mixed hot vegetable casserole, a plum pudding in honor of the island that was OK not because of the cook but because of the plums, apple and pumpkin pies, two green salads and my contribution, a fresh Waldorf Fruit Salad with crushed (not chopped) walnuts in real Wisconsin whipped cream. A lot of food for eleven people.

Afterward, there were naps were all around with a few hearty souls diving into the few dishes that were left. You see, when you cook aboard ship, the motion of the vessel precludes leaving the dishes until later. One cleans and puts things away as you cook so, at Plum that day, there was very little cleaning up to do. This little feast lasted almost a week with the cook making turkey soups, sandwiches and casseroles from the leftovers.

With the passing of Thanksgiving, the focus became very pointed on closing day. We wouldn't all be leaving at once. As transfer orders were received, we each packed our seabags and said our good byes. As it turned out, I was one of the last to leave. On a cold over cast morning at about 10:00 AM, Palmer who was chosen as winter keeper that year took me to Gill's Rock dock in the forty-one boat. As we parted the station, we locked the front door behind us. Just the two of us walked down the dock that day and unceremoniously departed. As we made a turn to port around the West Side of the island, I watched the station slip from view with surprisingly little emotion. As I look back, my feelings were that I would be back in three months and I was looking forward the break. After Christmas, when I reported back to Group Two Rivers, I was handed my orders for the Coast Guard Cutter Raritan stationed at the foot of Broadway Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I was destined to spend the rest of my duty. Thus ends my saga of life on Plum Island in 1965.

Looking back

Remember that this story is unique to me. The men of the Plum Island Coast Guard Station that year as every year were all individuals. My story is not their story but there will many similarities, of course. Our character and personalities were changed by our experiences that were compressed by time and mission. In effect, Plum Island was our Camelot.

What will become of Plum Island is a chapter that is yet to be written. There are those that wish for the wilderness and the rare wild Michigan Iris flowers that grow there (but should never be picked) should be enhanced with trendy condos and a golf course. It is the devil in mankind that must improve on perfection. Plum Island will exist successfully with or without man's development. Its spirit and moods are in the sky, the earth and the waters that surround it.

If you should ever visit the island and find yourself deep in the woods, breathe the cold fresh air and then, listen. You are in a place that the Pottawatomie Indians considered holy as a land of peace and harmony. You will remember that moment forever because it will not let you forget.

My year of duty on Plum Island was truly introspective. It was a place that touched and altered all our lives as it had mine. When I first arrived as a fresh kid boot, it was just a duty station no different than any other I had passed through on my way from the training center at Cape May, New Jersey. By the time I left, I had born a center and core that would remain uniquely me forever. Indeed, Plum Island has a soul and a spirit. You don't have to try in order to find it. It will find you.

About David Robb

David is now a commercial printing salesman for the Chicago area. He is married with three boys, and lives in Mount Prospect, Illinois. His interests are broad, but focus primarily on his family, occasional writing, sailing and audio sound engineering for the local high school. 

While he plans a visit back to Plum Island at some time in the near future, he has not been back to Plum Island since he left the service in 1968.


This entire story is copyright by David Robb, and appears here with his permission.

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This page last modified 08/23/2003