U-Boats, Bootleggers, and Buoys: The History of the Coast Guard in New York Harbor | Episode 119

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To mark the 230th birthday of the United States Coast Guard, we’re looking back at the history of the “always ready” service. Due to New York’s position as one of the country’s largest ports, the Coast Guard has ensured its safety and security for more than two centuries, and today they have the largest presence of any military service branch in New York City. We will share stories of the Coast Guard fighting U-boats in both World Wars, hunting bootleggers during Prohibition, and ensuring the safe navigation of the harbor for everybody from container ships to kayakers. We will also be joined by Coast Guard veteran Ramon Ortiz, who served aboard the icebreaking tug USCGC Sturgeon Bay and in Coast Guard Sector New York.

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Americal Division: Brooklyn Army Terminal Sends First US Troops to Pacific

Black and white photo of two soldiers walking up a gangplank onto a ship at dusk.

Last week we looked at Operation Magnet, the scramble in the weeks after Pearl Harbor to move American forces into the European battle zone. Just one week after that, it was time to make a move in the Pacific, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal would again be key. 

Unlike Europe, America already had significant forces in the Pacific theater, and they were engaged in battle with the Japanese – but it was going very poorly. The Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and within a month, American forces were penned in on the Bataan Peninsula and the island fortress of Corregidor, and the American Asiatic Fleet, along with Dutch and Commonwealth allies, was being battered across the Southwest Pacific. By May, 87,000 American and Filipino troops would be forced to surrender, and half the Asiatic Fleet was sunk.>> Continue reading

Brooklyn to Belfast: Red Bull Division Were First US Overseas Troops of World War II

Black and white photo of a soldier waving from the gangplank of a ship with soldiers in the background.

On January 15, 1942, ships of convoy AT-10 left the Brooklyn Army Terminal to make the journey across the Atlantic. Aboard the transports USS Chateau Thierry and HMTS Strathaird were mostly soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division, aka “Red Bull,” 4,058 in all. Codenamed Operation Magnet, this was the first deployment of American combat troops to foreign soil after the US officially entered World War II.>> Continue reading

The Easter Bunny Goes to War

While many children will be gorging themselves on chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs this morning, these treats were absent from most baskets during World War II.

On December 5, 1942, the War Production Board, which supervised wartime industry, issued Conservation Order M-145, banning the manufacture of chocolate novelties, including “products manufactured in a special shape commemorating, symbolizing, or representing any holiday, event, person, animal or object.” The board proclaimed that, “American children will contribute to the war program by sacrificing chocolate Santa Clauses, St. Valentine’s hearts, Easter bunnies and eggs and other chocolate novelties.”>> Continue reading

The Photo That Inspired NYC’s Merchant Mariners’ Memorial

On June 9, 2018, Reinhard Hardegen, the last surviving German submarine commander of World War II, died at the age of 105. With his passing, he joins the ghosts of American merchant mariners who still haunt Manhattan’s Battery Park.

Dedicated in 1991, the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial was created by sculptor Marisol Escobar as tribute to the 9,000+ American Merchant Marine sailors killed in the war. The Merchant Marine provided a vital service to the war effort, shipping troops and supplies across some of the deadliest seas in the world. American mariners received fire from the enemy, and they returned fire, as many merchant vessels were armed, while suffering the highest casualty rate of any service branch in World War II.>> Continue reading

Guide to Fleet Week New York 2017 Ships

Flight deck of USS Bataan during Fleet Week

This year during Fleet Week New York, we will be visited by more than a dozen ships and units from the US Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Military Sealift Command, and Royal Canadian Navy that will be berthed at locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Here’s a brief guide to some of the units that will be in town, and be sure to check out the full schedule of events on the official Fleet Week NYC website.

Manhattan Pier 88

  • USS Kearsarge open for visitors May 25, 26, 27, and 29, 8am–5pm

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Immigrants Who Made the Brooklyn Navy Yard Great: Frederick Lois Riefkohl

This post is part of our eight-part series profiling immigrants to the United States who made significant contributions to the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the eighteenth century to the present day.


Frederick Lois Riefkohl (1889–1969)

The histories of Puerto Rico and of the US military are deeply intertwined, and much of that history runs through the career of Frederick Lois Riefkohl, the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the US Naval Academy, to win the Navy Cross, and to achieve the rank of rear admiral. Normally we would not consider someone from Puerto Rico an immigrant – they are US citizens – but Reifkohl lived in a complicated time.>> Continue reading

Fleet Week Ships Carry Strong NYC Connections

USCGC Sturgeon Bay. Credit: US Coast Guard

On Wednesday, May 20, a small flotilla of US Navy and Coast Guard ships will steam under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to mark the beginning of a week-long, city-wide celebration of our country’s Sea Services. The ships will be coming from different commands and homeports, but many of them have strong historic and contemporary connections to New York and the nautical history of this region.

The ships will be berthed along Manhattan’s West Side (at Piers 86 and 92) and at The Sullivans Pier in Stapleton, Staten Island. All will be open for public visiting hours (see here), but if you want to get a waterside view of them, join our Fleet Week Harbor Tours, May 22-25, with Classic Harbor Line>> Continue reading

USS Slater Celebrates History of Destroyer Escorts

USS Slater at Caddell Dry Dock. Credit: Cindy VandenBosch

As I write this, the USS Slater, a World War II-era destroyer escort, is steaming its way (actually, being pushed by a tugboat) up the Hudson River back to its usual home in Albany. For the past 12 weeks, the Slater has been a visitor to New York City, laid up for repairs at Staten Island’s Caddell Dry Dock.

Since 1997, the Slater has been a been a museum ship, showcasing the important history of these humble vessels. More than 500 destroyer escorts were built in World War II, and Slater is one the last still afloat. But in order to continue to share the story of these ships and the men who served aboard them, Slater was in need of some repair work, including repairing the hull, interior spaces, and the anchor chain. The project cost roughly $1.3 million dollars, and probably would have cost a lot more were it not for the countless hours donated by volunteers (read about their work in the latest newsletter).>> Continue reading

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY Exhibit Reveals Brooklyn Navy Yard Stories of WWII

If you have not yet been to the Brooklyn Museum to see their stunning exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY, make no delay – the show closes on Sunday, February 2, when its three-city tour will also come an end.

Rather than arranging the works of journalistic, artistic, and combat photography by conflict or photographer, in this show they are instead arranged into thematic clusters that draw links between war’s common denominators through the ages.  Images range from the Crimean War of the 1850’s to present-day conflicts around the world.  And beside the images of fighting are those of the more mundane daily life in a war zone – “Camp Life,” “Leisure Time” – as well as the human costs beyond the battlefield – “Executions,” “POWs,” “Refugees.”>> Continue reading