More Fun Than McHale’s Navy


Ken Smith’s Coast Guard Follies Recalls 1950s-era Military Service

We look back on the Fifties with nostalgic fondness as the era of Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll, poodle skirts, the postwar boom and a peaceful interlude before the storm of the 1960s in American life.

But it wasn’t always a peaceful decade. The Korean War raged against the backdrop of the potential of a worldwide nuclear exchange, and America still depended on its armed forces to keep the peace.

Thus, when an 18-year-old Ken Smith, a somewhat wet-behind-the-ears backwoods boy from rural western Massachusetts, was called to serve, he stepped forward and joined the U.S. Coast Guard. The next three years of his life as a “Coastie” are described in Smith’s hilarious new memoir, Coast Guard Follies, published by Yeoman House.

Smith’s adventures took him through boot camp in New Jersey, electronics school at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and service on a weather ship patrolling the frigid North Atlantic. Then, he was assigned to man a LORAN station on the isolated South Pacific atoll of Ulithi.

It was there that Smith found military service could be dangerous. Not from enemy forces, but from the combination of the heat and humidity, the bad decisions of a commanding officer named “Lt. Lard-Ass,” the come-ons of the “push-push” girls, and an encounter late one night with an ungrounded gooseneck lamp.

Coast Guard Follies reads like an episode of McHale’s Navy or Mr. Roberts, but it’s all true. And it provides an intimate and heartwarming portrait of an earlier time when life was a bit simpler, and when military service was a required part of a young man’s growing up. The life lessons Ken Smith learned in his time in the Coast Guard are timeless and still important today.

Whether he was assigned to shore patrol in Boston’s infamous Combat Zone or trying to keep from going mad on his desolate island, Ken Smith writes with gentle humor about his experiences. Anyone’s who’s served in the armed forces will get a smile from some of Smith’s anecdotes about commanding officers and old Coasties will roar with laughter at the ingenious way Smith and his fellow servicemen lived back in the day.

Coast Guard Follies is now available a fine bookstores nationwide and via

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Smith was born in Brooklyn, NY, but grew up hunting and fishing in the woods around his boyhood home in western Massachusetts. After his Coast Guard service, Smith became an electronics engineer and general foreman at a plant near Worcester, Mass. Now retired, he lives in Rhode Island with his wife Charlotte.

H/T Peter A Stinson

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