The Men The Spirit The Ship The Mission

USCG CABLE SHIP PEQUOT - UNITED STATES HARBOR DEFENCES
 

OUR SAILORS' STORIES

This page tells another one the stories of  the sailors who served aboard  the U.S. Coast Guard Cable ship Pequot during World War II. The Pequot served  as a harbor defense cable-laying and repair ship under direction of the US Navy.  Her full story can be found on the Pequot Home Page.


On the webpage about the United States Coast Guard Cableship Pequot and her role in laying and repairing indicator loop cable for antisubmarine harbor defense in WW2, we used photos taken by Sailor Roger Calamaio. It is only fitting to provide some background to his role in WW2 and I have done this below.  The text and photos have been supplied by his son Chip Calamaio of Phoenix, Arizona: <chipaz@cox.net>. This page is more than just a tribute to one man; it honors not only Roger Calamaio's memory but acknowledges the thousands of other Americans that pulled together during the darkest hours of World War 2. 


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ROGER CALAMAIO - GUNNER'S MATE 2ND CLASS

All images courtesy of the Calamaio family unless otherwise indicated.

© Images Copyright the Roger Calamaio Family

Roger  1944 USCG Pequot 1944 Roger 1992

Dog tag

Roger’s Gunners Mate 2nd Class insignia on his dress blue uniform


Roger Calamaio at Sea - painting by Chip Calamaio 1972

The son of Italian emigrants, Roger Calamaio was born in Pleasant Valley, Oklahoma on November 2nd 1922. He grew up living off the land and as a young boy he and his seven brothers would hunt rabbits, squirrels and pheasants to help feed the family. During his high school years he spent summers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in the Civilian Military Training Corp (CMTC).

1. Roger - 3 years old 2. 1939 - Fort Sill CMTC Camp, OK. 3. Bartender - Chicago 1941

After high school graduation in 1941 he went to Chicago and worked as a bartender at the up-scale restaurants Isabelle's and LePetit Gourmet. There he met the love of his life Catherine Ludwig. Once the war broke out he enlisted as an Apprentice Seaman in the US Coast Guard on November 5th 1942.  Roger and Catherine spent their last Saturday night together with their good friends Dolores and Wayne Messmer at Olson’s Restaurant in Chicago on November 28th 1942 (see photo below). Four days later Roger reported for Coast Guard basic training. Dolores and Catherine went to high school together and Wayne and Roger both worked at Isabelle’s. The Messmer’s arranged for Roger and Catherine to meet on a blind date. Wayne who had already joined up, got Roger interested in the Coast Guard.  Once when Roger’s ship was anchored off Block Island, Rhode Island, where Wayne was stationed as a light keeper, he got in a row boat and fought his way through very choppy seas out to the Pequot to see his best buddy.  When he got alongside and yelled up for “Guns” Calamaio, Wayne was told that Roger was on shore leave!  The two couples remained close friends their entire lives and their children grew up together.  This evening was the last time the four of them were together for a very long time.

4. Roger and Catherine's last night on the town with the Messmers before basic training.


Roger attended basic training at Manhattan Beach, New York. On his first leave after boot camp he went to New York City. On Christmas Day Roger took the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. As he was going up the winding stairs to the viewing windows in the statue’s crown he saw a door ajar.  He stuck his head in and looked up to see a guy up on metal ladder welding. He shouted up to him, “What are you doing up there?”  The welder stopped his work and looked down at this young man in his dress blue uniform and yelled, “Hey sailor, com’on up!”   So Roger scrambled up the ladder to where the fellow was working. “We stood there and shot the breeze for quite a while and I carved my initials into the paint on a metal brace,” Roger remembered. “Then he said to me, “So, do you want to go up on top?” 

“You bet I do,” he answered, as he continued up the ladder and made his way to the statue’s torch, which had been closed to the public long ago.  “I opened a trap door and got up onto the small platform around that glass and metal lamp. I grabbed the railing and looked out. It was breathtaking...just breathtaking. You could see the city and all the ships in the harbor. I was up there about 45 minutes. At one point I sat down and just took it all in. It was absolutely spectacular.”   

Before the country boy from Oklahoma made his way back down, he stood there on top of American’s greatest symbol of freedom, a newly trained soldier, ready to defend his county, and in the sweeping panorama before him he gazed upon the waters where his parents from Italy had passed by in their ships only 40 years before, seeking the promise offered by the flame of Lady Liberty’s lamp.
 

5. Liberty’s beacon of freedom shining across New York Harbor in the 1940s.
(Library of Congress Photo)
6. The pamphlet Roger sent to Catherine after his visit. We can see where he folded it and probably stuck it in his back pocket.

7. The rare view Roger had of Lady Liberty from the balcony of the torch. (Library of Congress Photo) 8. The metal ladder he climbed through the arm to reach the statue’s torch. (Library of Congress Photo)
 
9. The original torch that Roger stood on in 1942. It is now in the visitor center’s museum. (inetours.com).


After basic training, with his childhood and CMTC backgrounds in firearms, Roger became a Gunner's Mate and was stationed at the Tabitha Inn at Fairhaven Massachusetts where he taught small arms gunnery to classes of new Coast Guard officers.

10. March 1942 - Visiting Oklahoma and the woods where he grew up. 11. Calamaio Family June 2nd 1940 Pleasant Valley OK

12.  1943 October 15th - Roger (second row, far right) with his Fairhaven MA USCG 18th Officer's Gunnery Class

He also served as a Jeep driver shuttling ship pilots back and forth along the Cape Cod Canal as they guided Liberty ships and other freighters through the canal when the supply convoys formed for the treacherous runs to England and Murmansk, Russia. In 1943 he joined the crew of the USCG cable laying ship The Pequot. The Pequot's top secret mission was the laying of indicator loop cables on the continental shelf on the Northern portion of the Atlantic seaboard as part of the anti U-boat campaign. Often anchors from the Liberty ships would snag the cables and break them. The Pequot would retrieve both ends of the cable and splice it back together. Roger told of how tense it was when they were sitting dead in the water while the crew, often in a small launch, completed the tedious job of splicing and water sealing those cables. A patrol boat was often assigned to circle and protect the Pequot while they were laying and repairing cable. Go to The Pequot web page for more details.

13. Roger Calamaio - wearing his Lord Elgin watch and Knight's Head ring  - studio portrait, NY 1944 14. Roger Calamaio - Gunners Mate 2nd Class - aboard USCG Pequot 15. During the weekend of their wedding in February 1944 Catherine surprised Roger and put on his dress blues.

Like many of his generation, Roger's World War II experiences were the biggest adventure of his life. He told of how the Pequot would fender off the huge cliffs on the coast of Maine and how they would visit those small isolated coastal villages for supplies. For a country boy from Oklahoma he said it was like walking into a whole other world, "like a Christmas card." The Pequot rode out a North Atlantic hurricane, the whole crew got food poisoning from some bad lemon meringue pie, and during the winter they would bring up a steam hose from the boiler room to melt off the huge blocks of ice that would form on the ship's bow. Roger said that at night they would often see ships burning along the horizon that had been torpedoed by the Germans While on liberty in February of 1944 Roger took a train to Chicago and married Catherine. She moved to Massachusetts so she could be with him when the Pequot was in port.
 

16. Roger & Catherine -   Oklahoma 1942
© Image Copyright the Roger Calamaio Family
17. Roger at USCG Buzzard's Bay MA - June 6th 1943

18. Roger & Catherine - Wedding Portrait February 1944 19. Roger at Pentagon Pattern & Engineering 1960s

After the war he went to Detroit, Michigan where he was discharged as a Gunners Mate 2nd Class on October 16th 1945. Once back in Chicago he attended trade school and earned his Journeyman Pattern Makers certification in 1951. His first child, Chip, was born in March of that year. In 1952 he and Catherine moved their young family to the outskirts of Glen Ellyn, Illinois to a little red brick ranch house that he had built on the edge of a corn field. He explained years later that he made that move because of what he perceived as a very real threat of nuclear war. "If they started throwing those A bombs around I wanted my family out of Chicago." A few months after the move Roger suffered a severe attack of multiple sclerosis and was left completely paralyzed and blind. After months of medical treatment, rehabilitation, and sheer stubbornness he was able to put his MS into remission. His eyesight came back as did his fine motor control. He went back to work where he spent the majority of his career with Pentagon Pattern and Engineering Co. in the machine tool industry until he retired in September of 1977. In 1955 his daughter, Kyle, was born. During his working years he collected coins and lived for his yearly family vacations.

20. Roger with his family on Father’s Day - June 18th 2006

21. Roger & Chip Calamaio March 2008 - moving to the nursing home

After he retired he enjoyed fishing and he and Catherine traveled throughout the United States and made several trips to Europe including a trip to Italy where he surprised her by speaking Italian again as he did during his childhood 50 years before. Kyle and Chip gave Roger and Catherine five grandchildren, Taylor, Cody Lee, Carson, Connor and Kendall. In the autumn of his life, beginning around 1999, Alzheimer's began to slowly debilitate Roger. Sometime during that period he destroyed many of his Pequot era photographs. We can only assume he somehow thought it was all still Top Secret. But as his long term memories faded away forever, his Coast Guard stories stayed with him until a few months before he passed away peacefully on December 14th 2008. A US Coast Guard color guard honored him at his funeral. As the sound of taps echoed through the church from the bugle in the choir loft, the American flag from Roger’s casket was presented to Catherine, “On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation”.

Comments from readers:

I have such undying gratitude and respect for all our great America heroes who saved us all from tyranny then and who continue to defend us today. (Gary Sinise)

But today, in the quiet of the morning ... in the comfort of my home and with a lump in my throat, I felt a special appreciation for the men and women of the World War II era, and for the families - many of whom never saw their loved ones again alive. Few people today recognize or understand what it meant to be an American at that time in history. (Dr.Wayne Winterton).

I again, thank God for the written word.  These are our people.  This is where we came from.  Just as you and I will leave our own legacies of life experiences, so did our parents and grandparents. (Christopher "Kit" Causey); author of poem above.

 


Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright. The authors would welcome any information from people who believe their photos have been used without due credit. Some photos have been retouched to remove imperfections but otherwise they are true to the original.


FEEDBACK

If you have comments or queries specifically about the Pequot, please contact
 Chip Calamaio chipaz@cox.net, 938 E. San Miguel Avenue, Phoenix, 85014, Arizona, USA. (H) 602-279-4505.

Click here to go to the Pequot Main Page.

Research and design: Chip Calamaio and Richard Walding