The Long Blue Line: Rennie Brothers—a Scottish-American Coast Guard story of World War II

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

 By mamanning1in History onAugust 22, 20192 comments

by Dr. Thomas Rennie, U.S. Air Force civilian, retired

Enlistment photograph for George Rennie. (Dr. Thom Rennie)
Enlistment photograph for James Rennie. (Dr. Thom Rennie).

George “Scotty” Rennie and his older brother James were born in Alva, Scotland, across the large waterway, Firth of Forth, from Edinburgh. Their father, George, was a baker and following his death, the boys’ mother decided their future was in America. In 1926, she took the family savings, boarded the S.S. Cameronia, and sailed from Glasgow to New York City.

After a few winter months, they left Brooklyn and moved to warmer Florida. George served as a golf pro at The Biltmore in Miami, and then worked as a lineman in the Safety Division of the Florida Power and Light Company (FP&L).

George became a naturalized citizen on May 12, 1942, and married three days later. Both brothers were in the Florida Home Guard and enlisted together in the U.S. Coast Guard hoping to stay in the Miami area. However, after induction on August 12, 1942, George was transferred to Algiers, Louisiana, for boot camp, becoming an able-bodied seaman, and James remained at the Captain-of-the-Port-Miami (COTP-Miami).

The Hospital Corpsman School located at Columbia University’s School of Pharmacy. (Dr. Thom Rennie)
Group photograph of the medical staff at Salem Air Station in Massachusetts with George Rennie standing in back row. (Dr. Thom Rennie)
Salem Air Station personnel standing at attention in front of a Coast Guard hangar. (Dr. Thom Rennie)

After boot camp, George qualified for the Coast Guard’s Hospital Corps School at Columbia University’s College of Pharmacy. He entered on January 7, 1943, as a Seaman 2nd class (2/c) and pursued a 12-week course, graduating on April 3, as a Pharmacist Mate 3/c. He then moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to serve at Boston Hospital for 12 weeks.

George next joined the medical team at Salem Air Station, Massachusetts, on June 7, 1943. He treated Air Station personnel there through February 4, 1944. While at Salem, he was advanced to 2/c and then 1/c. Later in life, he passed on his love of Boston baked beans and brown bread to his family.

After COTP-Miami duty, James transferred to Base Key West in October 1942 as a Fireman 2/c and maintained the gasoline engine on patrol craft CG-35047(former privately owned fishing boat Wontchabite II). The patrol boat’s main duties were patrolling waters around the base. He then went to COTP-Canaveral, Florida, and served on beach patrol near Melbourne.

A group shot of the medical staff serving on board the troop transport USS Wakefield. (Dr. Thom Rennie)
A group shot of the medical staff serving on board the troop transport USS Wakefield. (Dr. Thom Rennie)

George’s sea duty began when he reported to the fast transport ship USS Wakefieldon February 10, 1944, when he participated in the troop transport’s commissioning ceremony. That day, Coast Guard captain Roy Raney took command. In February, following trial runs off Provincetown, Massachusetts, and a shakedown cruise in March to Norfolk, Virginia, the transport left on its first Boston to Liverpool voyage on April 13, 1944, with 7,033 Army passengers on board. George would cross the Atlantic 14 times on what was called the “B & L Ferry.”

George worked in the Wakefield’s 92-bed sickbay treating GIs going to England in preparation for D-Day. Sickbay was located on the transport’s aft upper deck and its berthing included two high bunks and a washroom.Wakefield’s medical facilities were sufficient for a small city. They included doctor and clerical offices; examination room and treatment room; dispensary and medical stores; sterile room; surgical dressing room; operating room; bacteriological lab; isolation ward; mental ward; “Quiet Room;” dietary kitchen; dental office; and x-ray dark room.

Interestingly, George was a crewmember when the author’s father-in-law, Tech 5 Harold Rummel, of the 101stAirborne Division (“Screaming Eagles”) was deploying from Boston to England on May 12, 1944. Neither man knew the other was on board the ship. Twenty-five years later, George’s son and Harold’s daughter would meet and marry.

After D-Day, George also treated German prisoners-of-war shipped from the European front to U.S. internment camps. One POW he treated, Max Paup of Munich, drew an alpine sketch for Rennie as thanks and signed it July 11, 1944. The author’s family has tried to locate the Paup family in Germany to return the sketch but have had no success.

George was recommended for promotion to Chief Petty Officer by the ship’s surgeon but was rated a Pharmacist’s Mate 1/c for only nine months when recommended and did not qualify. He was sent a “V-mail” from his wife and baby son while deployed. He also sent a letter to FP&L about getting his job back after war.

On November 4, 1943, James was sent to Houston, Texas, to crew the Coast Guard-manned destroyer escort USS Durant. Rated a Motor Machinist’s Mate 2/c, he became a plank owner when the warship was placed in commission on November 16, 1943. The destroyer escort had trial runs off Galveston, and then went to Bermuda for combat shakedown cruises. The Durant performed convoy and anti-submarine duty along the East Coast from Tampa to Norfolk. Between February 1944 and June 1945, Durant did eight voyages as convoy escort to North Africa. During the destroyer escort’s last crossing, German submarine U-873surrendered to Durantand another destroyer escort, USSVance.

Durant next sailed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for refresher training before entering the Pacific via the Panama Canal. Durant had a short stay at San Diego, California, before it made its way to Pearl Harbor at about the time the war ended. James left the Duranton August 23, 1945, and received an honorable discharge at Savannah, Georgia, on October 11, 1945.

George Rennie honored with carrying Old Glory in the Victory Parade in Boston, Massachusetts. (Dr. Thom Rennie)
George Rennie honored with carrying Old Glory in the Victory Parade in Boston, Massachusetts. (Dr. Thom Rennie)

George was transferred to the Coast Guard cutter Modocon December 7, 1944.  He was one of three men assigned to the cutter’s four-bed sickbay. The Modocserved on the Greenland Patrol conducting convoy escort and antisubmarine warfare duty for convoys to Greenland, including a base called “Bluie West.” One of George’s buddies, Radioman 3/c Moe Steinberg, wrote the bookA Sailor at Warabout Modocduty and published it in 2002. George left the Modocon March 25, 1945. He then served at Coast Guard groups Scituate and Woods Hole. In the Boston Victory Day Parade, George was honored to carry the U.S. flag for the Coast Guard unit marching in the event. He received an honorable discharge at Savannah, Georgia, on November 9, 1945.

James returned to work at FP&L in Miami and much later retired from the maintenance department at the University of Miami.  James was a quiet man with a big smile and a Scottish brogue that was thick and hard to understand. His nephew, the author, was a student at Miami and occasionally met James on campus.

After the war, George also returned to work for FP&L in Miami. During the Cuban Crisis, there was concern that Cuban agents might try to sabotage power lines at Homestead and Base Key West, including the single water line from Miami to Key West bases. George was on constant patrol for FP&L around Homestead Air Force Base to ensure that all utility lines to the B-52 air base remained functional.

George loved fishing in Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic waters located around Miami down to Florida Keys almost every weekend for years-the nastier the weather the better. His son, the author, also loved the sea and became a marine biologist. George continued to shoot close to par until his later years. He retired as Distribution Supervisor and lived in Coral Gables, Florida, until his death.

These Scottish-born Coastie brothers served their country proudly and were part of the “Greatest Generation” that helped build this country. Both are now gone, but not forgotten.

 


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