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Excerpt "All Present and Accounted For"

March 27, 2019

Several prior Jarvis crewmembers who worked for Captain Hagstrom mentioned that he ‘was the saltiest sailor’ they had ever met.  But what does that mean?  Former Jarvis crewmember Eric Mills tells a great story about ‘Axel Jack:'


“Axel Jack Hagstrom was well respected by the Jarvis crew.  We respected his ability, leadership, accomplishments, wry humor, and the fact that he started out enlisted, just like us.  He proudly wore his Good Conduct ribbon, and we all knew that decoration was only awarded to enlisted personnel.  There were few if any Captain's Masts under Capt. Hagstrom.  He had other ways of enforcing discipline, but that's another story... 


     Capt. Hagstrom wasn't afraid to render a salute whenever it was deserved.  We had a crewmember, a Machinery Technician (MK) who had been in the Navy during the Viet Nam war, who had been decorated for heroism.  When the ship’s crew was mustered for inspection, the Captain made a point of stopping and saluting this crewman each time.


     He had an odd affinity for his "at sea" cover.  His hat, which only came out when we were underway, had taken so much salt spray over the years, that all the gold thread had corroded to a sticky green.  His cap wasn't dirty - it was salty, and so was he.


     As a radioman, I could read Morse code, whether sent by radio, or sent by flashing light.  Capt. Hagstrom wanted a radioman on the signal bridge to translate Morse messages from the naval control towers.  So, whenever Jarvis went to special sea detail, I was on the signal bridge.

     I recall one occasion about 1979, entering Pearl Harbor.  Much of the crew had changed into dress uniform because we would be passing USS Arizona on our way to the Pearl fuel docks, and we would be manning the rail and rendering honors.


     As we entered the waterway a big US Navy vessel was departing.  It was one of those enormous amphibious warfare vessels, nearly twice our length and surely four times our tonnage.  Hundreds of sailors and marines on her decks, attending to their duties, paying no attention to that "little" Coast Guard cutter. 


     We were closing fast and would soon pass port to port.  Now you know that tradition dictates the junior commanding officer initiates rendering honors to the senior[1], and I'm sure the egos on the bridge of the Navy vessel led them to believe they were senior, but as we approached each other the Navy could see our crew on deck making no effort nor preparation to man the rails.


     Suddenly, the sailors aboard the massive Navy warships were urgently, and rather tardily ordered to man the rails and render honors on the double!  Hundreds of them ran to their lifelines, looking down upon our little boat.  Our orders to man the rails came over the 1MC, but about the time we got lined up, our vessels had passed, honors were secured, and we resumed our duties.


     It was a matter of great pride for the crew of the Jarvis to know that our Old Man was that salty, and that he would not bow to the Navy ego, even though we were entering their turf.


     As a footnote, I learned there is a publication that resides on the bridge of American warships containing the date of rank for the CO.  I don't know if our Quartermaster referred to that pub on this occasion, but you can bet your seabag that Captain Hagstrom knew exactly where he was on that list and knew by name which few U.S. warships, he would initiate rendering honors to.”




[1] Rendering honors is a time-honored tradition between vessels of the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard.  Ships typically are prepared by listing in advance which vessels will be in the vicinity and creating a seniority list for use on the bridge.  The junior ship will render honors to the senior ship based on the Captain’s rank.  Not too many Captains were senior to Captain Hagstrom.

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