Two WWII Coast Guard vets reunite with their wartime patrol craft

SEATTLE – Two World War II Coast Guard veterans who were aboard one of 60 rescue boats during the 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe at Normandy, France will be reunited with their actual wartime patrol boat during Armed Forces Day ceremonies at 10 am, Sat., May 19 in Seattle at Lake Union Park.

Former Lieutenant (junior grade) Art Lehne, 86, and Signalman Third Class Wilfred “Bud” Eberhart, 85, both of whom live in Illinois, will see each other for the first time since they served together on the 83-foot patrol boat USCG-11 63 years ago during the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach. Both in their early 20′s during the war, Lehne was the boat’s commander and Eberhart was the crewman who handled radio and signal flag communication duties.

Lehne is a retired deputy superintendent of the Chicago Public School system and lives in Arlington Heights in northern Illinois, and Eberhart is retired also and from Mitchell in the southern part of the state. Eberhart visited his patrol boat last June 6 during D-Day anniversary ceremonies and was thought to be its sole surviving crewman. However by coincidence Lehne, the boat’s commander during the invasion at Normandy, was subsequently located as well. Although living relatively near each other in Illinois during their entire adult lives, Lehne and Eberhart lost track of each other after the WWII.

As part of the 10 am Saturday ceremonies, the two WWII Coast Guard combat veterans will go aboard the wooden patrol boat on which they served as part of Coast Guard Rescue Flotilla 1, a fleet of 60 vessels which saved more than 1450 soldiers, sailors and others from the waters off the invasion beaches on D-Day and during the weeks afterward.

Retired Rear Admiral John Lockwood, former commander of Coast Guard District 13 in Seattle, will be the keynote speaker at the Saturday ceremonies. Early in his career, Admiral Lockwood was the commander of an 82-foot Point Class Coast Guard patrol boat during the Vietnam War and received the Bronze Star medal for his combat service.

Other speakers will be Dan Withers, President, Combatant Craft of America; Gordon Myers; Lt. Commander, U.S.C.G Auxiliary, Coast Guard 83-Foot Sailors Association; Don Lashua, Air Force Crash Rescue Boat Association; Capt. Chris Bernard, U.S. Air Force Reserve, commander, 304th Rescue Squadron; and a representative of the U.S. Coast Guard Harbor Security Team, Seattle Sector.

Following its service at Normandy and in France, the D-Day combat-tested patrol boat was re-designated CG-83366. Built in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, it returned to the Atlantic Coast and was sent through the Panama Canal to Santa Barbara, California for offshore patrol duty during the remainder of the war. It ended 20 years of Coast Guard patrol and rescue service in California in 1962, was purchased as government surplus by Ray Holland of Seattle and relocated to Puget Sound.

Holland converted the former military boat to a family recreational yacht, renamed it Tiburon and cruised the waters of the Sound and in San Juan Islands for more than three decades. Moored unobtrusively at Lake Union Drydock Company, the venerable boat and its famous WWII history were rediscovered in 2006 by Chuck Fowler of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.

During the 10 am Armed Forces Day program, retired Coast Guard Capt. Earl McAuliffe, who also served during the D-Day invasion, will be honored together with Lehne and Eberhart. A career officer, McAuliffe was the commander of an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) during the famous WWII landing, and earlier in North Africa, Sicily, Corsica and elsewhere in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. Lehne and McAuliffe on served separate vessels during the D-Day invasion in France and did not meet until afterward when assigned to additional Coast Guard training back in the United States. Subsequently however they and their wives became lifelong friends.

Lehne and Eberhart’s Coast Guard D-Day patrol boat will be exhibited at Lake Union Park along side a WWII era sister, CG-83527, which was stationed in Tacoma from 1945 until the early 1960′s. Both boats are the last of 230 similar wooden Coast Guard cutters built in the early 1940′s that are in basically original military condition.

The CG-83366 now Tiburon was built in 1942 by Wheeler Shipbuilding Company of Brooklyn, New York, the 67th under the company’s WWII total contract for 230 cutters. Its sister cutter, CG-83527, was built in 1944 and is the third from the last in the total production run.

Following its service in Florida, the CG-83527 was transferred through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Coast, ending up in Puget Sound and its permanent duty station at Tacoma. On active duty from 1945 until 1962, it provided Coast Guard patrol, search and rescue, and marine safety and enforcement services in the south Puget Sound area. It is now owned and under restoration by Combatant Craft of America (CCA), a Puget Sound-based nonprofit military maritime heritage and education organization.

In addition, the Seattle Maritime Academy, part of the Seattle Community College system, will exhibit on Sat., May 19 its 82-foot former Coast Guard patrol boat. Converted and now named Maritime Educator, the vessel is used to train on-board crew members for careers in the maritime industry.

While on active Coast Guard duty from 1963 to 1995 as the Point Divide, it was assigned to Corona del Mar for patrol and rescue service in southern California. A fleet of these 82-foot vessels served as combat patrol, interdiction and rescue craft in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. It is the type of patrol vessel commanded during the Vietnam War by Admiral Lockwood.

Two other modern military fast response boats will exhibited during the Armed Forces Day event. The Coast Guard will display one of its 25-foot harbor security craft at the Historic Ships Wharf. These familiar boats are assigned to Seattle, Tacoma and other key port areas in the Puget Sound region.

In addition the Air Force Reserve 304th Rescue Squadron from Portland will exhibit its 30-foot boat used to retrieve aircraft crew members from river, inland and offshore waters. The unit consists of combat parachuters or “PJ’s” who jump from aircraft and helicopters to recover and give medical treatment to crew members from aircraft downed in water and on land. Crews from both the Coast Guard and Air Force units will be available to explain their patrol and rescue operations and answer questions.

Appropriately the Lake Union Park site, its moorage and Armory building served as the Naval Reserve Center in Seattle from 1941 to 1998, and was used for training hundreds of Navy, Marine and Coast Guard reservists. The formerly federal government-owned property was turned over to the City of Seattle in 2002 for development as a maritime heritage-themed waterfront park.

The two day exhibit of the two 83-foot, World War II era Coast Guard cutters, 82-foot former patrol boat and modern patrol and rescue boats at Lake Union Park is being sponsored by Combatant Craft of America, a nonprofit education organization, in cooperation with the 13th Coast Guard District and Seattle Sector, Coast Guard 83-Foot Sailors Association, Air Force Reserve 304th Rescue Squadron and Army Air Force/ USAF Crash Rescue Boat Association. Other co-sponsoring organizations are the Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, Museum of History and Industry, Seattle Maritime Academy, Virginia V Foundation and Northwest Seaport.

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