Heroes: the U. S. Coast Guard


"...It was a converted Luxury Liner- the SS Manhattan but was totally rebuilt as a troop transport after the fire. The ship was 705 feet long with a beam of about 86 feet. 800 Coast Guards and 60 Marines who were ships Police..."



image of american flag

 Walter E. Lafferty

  • Branch of Service: U. S. Coast Guard and Shore Patrol
  • Unit: Troop Transport AP-21, USS Wakefield
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: Atlantic & Pacific Theater
  • Rank: Sea 1C
  • Service Number: #564-991
  • Birth Year: 1923
  • Entered Service: Philadelphia, PA


Walt Lafferty with signal lamp
(Official Coast Guard Photograph)




Dad's War:


     My name is Walter. E. Lafferty. I graduated from Overbrook High School in June of 1941. I joined the U.S.C.G. in 1942 when my parents finally signed to let me enter the service. I became #564-991. I wanted to join the U.S.M.C. but my father would not let me. He said to go on a ship where they have showers! He was gassed in W.W. I Army and they didn't get a shower for months!

     January 7,1943 I left Philadelphia, I was given shots in both arms. When I got to Manhattan Beach, right outside of Brooklyn, I was given shots again in both arms. When we were awakened the next day at 4 A.M. , I was really hurting. They made us march for an hour before we went to the mess hall for breakfast. This training base was run by Commander Jack Dempsey the heavy weight boxing champ abt 1929. He had a lot of professional jocks as his trainers. Fritzy Zivvik, Boxer, Al Etore - Boxer, Al-Bibber McCoy a Heavy weight wrestling champ, to name a few and others whose names I forget. We were awakened every day at 4 A.M. and drilled to 5 KM. Then breakfast. Later in the morning we went to a huge gym for physical defense instructions. One day Al-Bibber McCoy, a giant of a man about 250 lbs. wanted to demonstrate a move. He picked up my 130 lbs and threw me against a wrestling mat hung on the wall. What an experience!

     In the afternoon we would go out in the Ocean and row. Each boat had eight rowing positions 4 to a side and a coxswain. We would have races to see who got to leave Base first when we got Liberty.. We did not get Liberty for the first 30 days. We were called "Apprentice Seamen" until we finished training for 90 days. We were paid $50.00 month. After we graduated we were" Seamen 3rd Class" and paid $54.00 a month.

image of salisbury beach group

image walt at salisbury beach

Above Image:
Salisbury Beach Mass. Top Row left to right: Kellog, Texas; Perline, N.Y.; Sigmore, N.J., Ramos, N.Y.; Ramundo, N.Y.S.; Hank, Wis; Bethel, Ill.; Scuddy, Texas; Whitie, N.Y. Bottom Row left to right: Seres, Mo.; Cody, Conn.; Scale, N.J.; Fergison, Texas; Ross, N.Y.; John Ferriera, Mass.; and Reynen, N.Y.

Image to Left:
Walt Lafferty at Salisbury Beach Mass in 1943

     From that we had to buy our own work clothes and uniforms. Shoes [Black} were $3.00, shirts $1.50 and dungarees $3.25. After 90 days we were sent on our way. I was glad to leave because rowing through the floating ice masses in January "ain't" fun. I was sent to Salisbury Beach, Mass. to do shore patrol to guard our strip of coast against infiltrating spies and saboteurs who might land from boats or subs. We had 40 Guards in a house built for 5 or 6 people. We had to bail out the cesspool, daily, because it could not handle that many people! We got our supplies from a Naval Base right over the border in Maine. Riding in an open Jeep in sub-freezing weather "Ain't" fun either. We patrolled the Northern part of the Beach. The Army patrolled the Southern end. We used dogs on our patrols. One very dark night the dog I was using heard something {or a leaf blew] and pulled me into the ocean. It's nice walking the Beach soaking wet at midnight as I had to hit my check points on time.

     In January of '44 I was sent to the U.S.S. Wakefield AP 21 in Boston newly rebuilt after a disastrous fire. It was a converted Luxury Liner- the SS Manhattan but was totally rebuilt as a troop transport after the fire. The ship was 705 feet long with a beam of about 86 feet. 800 Coast Guards and 60 Marines who were ships Police. We did maintenance, painting and loading of supplies. Our Captain was Roy L. Raney U.S.C.G. By February '44 we were ready for the sea.

image of wakefield

U.S.S.Wakefield (AP-21)

image of NEWNew Addition on 9 December 2002:
A list of the trips made by the U. S. S. Wakefield
Trips of the U.S.S Wakefield (AP-21)


     Our Shake-down cruise was from Boston to New Port News Virginia and Back. I was assigned to the signal gang having had the basics of Morse Code at boot camp for the signal lamp and learned the use of the signal flags. I also learned to fire the 20 MM Antiaircraft Guns.

     The ship had l-5"38 up front and two aft. There were 20 MM Antiaircraft Guns on the Bow which were torn off in a severe N. Atlantic storm along with 2- forty foot Motorized Life Boats that sat on the deck just fore of the bridge. There were Quad 40's on each side & many 20MM Antiaircraft Guns on the top deck One day in 1944 I was passing the Quad 40's on my way to the signal bridge when they opened up, blasting away. I heard nothing for a week, forever after, ear noises, today bells and whistles and some loud talk.

image of walt lafferty

     It would take the best part of a day to load the soldiers and their gear as we usually carried about 7,000 soldiers. The Army Personnel "quarters" were bunks 5 high with a narrow aisle for access. The only one who could sit up-right was the top man. Once, I remember there were more than 9,000 troops and the "Hot Bed" system was used.

     The trains pulled right on to the dock. While we were loading the Ships Canteen would be open and they could buy candy and stuff. Cigarettes were free, Old Golds, Chesterfields, Camels and Lucky Strike in it's new White package."Lucky Strike Green had gone to war." I had to help carry many large boxes of cigarettes from the dock to the Canteen. It was a very steep climb up the gangway to the portal. When we left port and hit the open sea the ship would gently [2-3]roll up & down and side to side It was like ice skating for a few hours with many many soldiers throwing up. The decks had to be hosed down repeatedly. On my first trip I joined them as I was not used to the rolling and pitching either and it never stops. The Latrine arrangement was a series of out-house like holes over a galvanized metal trough that was constantly awash from a large pipe at one end and a slope to the drain at the other. When the ship rolled you could get your fanny washed unless you were quick. With 7000 troops it was always crowded. I could not get used to this...to this day my wife knows I must have a privacy time for the bathroom. I took to sneaking into the Captains' head late at night. I never was caught and as far as I know the Captain was unaware of this.

     The passengers got 2 meals a day which they had to eat standing up. The lines were "from here to Camden". The crew made out a little better having a mess hall for them. Everything was dehydrated. My buddy lived on bread butter and coffee saying "how can you eat that shit!" After the first trip on returning to the states all the crewmen returned to the ship with grocery bags loaded with snack things, like peanut butter and crackers, things that did not have to be refrigerated.

image of davenport & dempsey
Image #1

image of jack dempsey & crewmen
Image #2

image of avalon boys

Image #3: The Avalon Boys

Image #1 (Above): William S. Davenport, Chief P.O., Creswell, N.C. and Commander Jack Dempsey

Image #2 (Above): Crewmen pictured with Jack Dempsey: John C. Bean, Rochester, N.Y.; Nicholas J. Sarli, Chicago, Ill.; Charles L. Gamsey, Brewster N.Y.; William S. Davenport, Cresswell, N.C.; Donald C. Stroud, New York City; Francis G. Caldeirs, Valley Stream; Bert Bowsir, Pawtucket, R.I.; Arnold F. Edwards, Rusk, Texas; Walter E. Lafferty, Philadelphia, PA.

Image #3.(Above-Right) New Jersey. L to R. Walt, Joe Collins and Donald "Dood" Stroud

     That first year we made 13 round trips to Liverpool England. It always rained at some point while we were there. The trip took about 4 1/2 days to cross. Because we were a fast ship we did not travel with a convoy, so we did not do too much signaling until about a day out from England we'd pick up 2 Corvettes to escort us in. We cruised about 18 Knots and subs at that time could not go that fast underwater and usually it was too rough to surface. It usually took about 3 days to unload the Army personnel and gear then load the wounded and supplies, gear etc.for the return trip.

     Usually, some of the signalmen would take the Ferry across the Mersey River to an Amusement Park at either Woodside or Seacombe [I can't remember which] an hours ride across the River.

On one of our early trips to Liverpool and we made 13 of them in one year, we picked up our escorts about a day & a half out. When we entered the North Channel we made an 180 degree turn and headed toward Iceland because German subs were waiting for us. They could not keep up with us in the rough North Atlantic. At that time, I have been told, subs could only go 15 knots under water and we could go 21 knots wide open. Subs could not stay in one place too long for fear of being spotted by one of the planes that searched for them continually. We lost about a day and a half evading them but at least we arrived in one piece. Another time, a German Bomber flew over and all our guns opened up blazing away! I don't think we hit anything but the bomber was driven off.

     After our 13 trips to Liverpool we made trips to La Harve, Cherbourg, Marseille in France, delivering troops and returning with wounded and Prisoners of War. We also made a trip to Mers El Kabir (Oran) Africa, Naples & Toranto, Italy. We were told to travel in groups when off the ship in Italy as traveling alone you would be likely to be mugged or worse. In Naples little boys were hawking their sisters; the Italian economy was shot. I remember when the ship passed between the mainland and the Isle of Sicily at the bottom of the "boot" there was a heavy scent of honeysuckle so my impression of Italy wasn't all bad.

image of uss wakefield

     After several trips to France and Italy we returned to Norfolk Virginia. We loaded 5,000 Marines and headed for China via the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor. Going through the Canal there are three locks to raise the ship up to Gatun Lake, which is huge. We went through a terrific rain storm. You could see it coming, the hardest rain I ever saw. It was over in a matter of minutes.

On the Pacific side we went through four locks to lower the ship. We stopped at

U.S.S. Wakefield (AP-21) from Seaweeds Ship's History of Sisterville, W.V.
Click on image for larger view!

Panama City for fuel and some of the crew were given shore leave for a day.

     Then it was on to Pearl Harbor, a trip which took about 4 1/2 days. We had shore leave there also. Took a bus to Wakaki Beach which turned out to be very narrow with coarse sand.and large waves. I think Wakaki can't compete with the South Jersey Beaches which is what I was used to.

     Three more days from Pearl Harbor we reached Tsintao-China. For Liberty, we were taken by train for an overnight stay in Tientsin, a trip of several hours. The train was narrow gauge-converted box cars for the passengers, with wooden seats. Two people could sit on them straight and right angle wooden backs. Very uncomfortable if you did get a seat. But if the people could not get inside the train they climbed to the roof and clung there for the trip. It was covered with Chinese. Inside, there was a partition in the [3-3]corner with no door and straw on the floor. This was the toilet. Beautiful Perfume! The train was packed solid inside and out. The conductor had to step over people to collect tickets. Tientsin is a very large city and it was like N.Y. City on New Years Eve people everywhere. Thousands of bikes and Rickshaws which seated two and were pulled by young men. You could go anywhere for a quarter. I don't remember what I ate or the sleeping facilities but it wasn't the Ritz.! We returned to Tsintao by the same train with far less passengers. We loaded 6,300 Marines and Navy Veterans for our return trip to San Diego. That trip we also carried Cardinal K. Tien and Father John Vos who were heading to Rome Via U.S. in San Diego. Arriving there, we crossed the pier to a ferry which took us to Los Angeles. Those of us who had earned enough points to be discharged made this journey to a military base...only to be stuck there for 30 days due to a Rail Road strike. A great situation to be in L.A. Hollywood and have about fifty dollars for a month. I remember Hollywood and Vine [a famous intersection] and being in the Hollywood Canteen the U.S.O. was as jammed as Tientsin and I saw no movie stars.

     I didn't care about that. . .I just wanted to get home. Mostly, I walked all over. Finally, the strike was over and we boarded the train and got the great American tour as discharging servicemen were going home. First to Texarkana, Texas, then to Kansas City then to Chicago then to Washington D.C. then to my home...Philly. The trip took well over a week, in this time the Wakefield had probably been out in the pacific and returned with more discharging servicemen. AMEN.


...Walter E. Lafferty



Walter E. Lafferty was born May 19,1923 in Philadelphia Pa. His Father Thomas Elzie Lafferty [1892-1978] Mother Helen Elizabeth Peifer [1892-1965]. His father was an Interior Decorator.

After the War Walt attended Drexel University Night School for 6 Yrs on the G. I. Bill for Surveying and Engineering. He was a layout Engineer on many large construction projects in the Philadelphia area, The Vet Stadium and the Walt Whitman Bridge & complex to name a few.

While doing a family search the Lafferty's found out that Walt's family goes back to an Irish immigrant who fought on the King's side in the Revolution and was killed in battle Oct 7,1780.

A very special THANK YOU is extended to Mr. Walter E. Lafferty, of Cape May C. H., NJ., for his kind and generous permission to use the materials contained on this web page. Stories such as this story go a long way in preserving yet another piece of the overall picture that was World War II.


Some web sites that are about the U. S. Coast Guard and the
U.S.S. Wakefield (AP-21) and related material:


Articles on Coast Guard History

Brief History of the U. S. Coast Guard (World War II)

Ships -- U. S. S. Wakefield (AP-21)

Rescue Operation -- U. S. S. Wakefield

Sailing to War

AP-21 -- Wakefield



Original Story submitted 9 September 2002.

Story updated on 19 September 2002