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. All images courtesy Lee Coppo unless otherwise indicated.


Martin Coppo's Story

Martin A. Coppo was born the on the 1st of August in 1915 in the rough and tumble copper mining town of Calument on the Keweenaw Peninsula of North Michigan. The son of Italian immigrants Martin was the 5th of 8 children.  When he was only nine years old his father was killed in a copper mine fire and accident. His mother raised the family on her own amidst the many hardships of the time.  The year Martin graduated from High School, 1933, was one of the worst years of the Great Depression.  So with work scarce and the mines closed, he left his family and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Skandia, Michigan.  Martin was one of 90,000 young men in what was dubbed "Roosevelt’s Tree Army." The 80 CCC camps in the state planted millions of trees, fought forest fires, built roads and bridges and spearheaded early conservation efforts.
 

160. Martin Coppo at Charles River Bridge Cambridge MA 1944

161. Martin & Lee Coppo 1944


During the summer of 1937 Martin, who was responsible for his company’s mail, made daily trips into Skandia where high school student Lee Hanson had taken a job running the post office in her uncle’s grocery store. As Lee remembers, "I would see him almost every day, then in February of 1938 Martin was offered a job in Cleveland with a large wholesale hardware company. He left and we both went our separate ways for a few years.  One day in 1941 I was very surprised and happy to receive a letter from him. It had been mailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia where the Pequot had put in.  We started writing regularly and he came to see me when he was home on leave. On Dec 17, 1943 we were married in Ypsilanti, Michigan where I was working as a civilian for the Army Air Corps at Willow Run, where they made the B-24 aircraft."

In March of 1944 Lee obtained a release from the Army Air Corp and moved to Boston, where she and Martin rented near Harvard University. She was able to see Martin whenever the Pequot was in port. “I know the Pequot spent a lot of time in the North Atlantic and Martin said they were only laying telephone and telegraph cable, but I always worried about those German U-boats!”  As a Boatswains Mate 1st Class aboard the Pequot, Martin supervised the work of other seamen during cable work and the many other duties required to keep the Pequot running in top shape. At one point in January of 1944 a cable got hung up, or there was some other problem, and rather than asking one of the men under him to take care of it, he jumped into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic himself and took care of things. His daughter Carol writes, "I’d love to know what was so important that he had to spend even a minute in that icy water!  Growing up with Lake Superior as his swimming hole might have prepared him a little!"

Lee also vividly remembers a Boston summer day in 1944. "The Pequot was in Port and that night Martin came home in agony.  He had been working near a large, heavy chain aboard ship and it had somehow struck him in the lower back.  That day changed his life forever. He had back trouble for the rest of his life."  

162A. Lee Coppo in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1944 after she moved to the Boston Area to be with Martin when the Pequot was in port. In the background is the home of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Calamaio Family) 162B. Lee and Martin having Christmas dinner in 1945 with their landlords, the Carters, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When the Pequot was out at sea, Lee and Roger Calamaio's wife Catherine spent a lot of time together and both worked as switchboard operators for a candy company in Boston. When the ship was in port the two couples socialized and enjoyed each other's company. The two families kept in touch for more than 50 years. Even with relocating to the Pequot’s home port of Boston it was hard for the wives of crewman to see their husbands and spend time with them. Mary Moore, wife of Pequot Storekeeper Bill Moore, learned that about a hundred miles away the Pequot had just made port. “Mary had a car during the war and one Friday evening she called and asked me to go up to Portland, Maine with her,” Lee recalls. “The Pequot was in port there. We left early Saturday morning. We saw a lot of the East Coast that day. Bill and Martin had to work on the ship and we saw them for only about a half an hour in the evening. But I have Mary Moore to give credit to for seeing a lot of New England. She and Bill were good company.”

After the war Martin stayed in the Coast Guard for a while, then after serving exactly 5 years and 5 days he was discharged in Cleveland, Ohio on June 4th, 1946 and obtained work with a large hardware company. He was transferred to Hornell, New York, then later to Cambridge, Ohio. In 1961 after putting in 23 years with the company he received a phone call on Memorial Day saying that they were closing their doors forever. “Needless to say, we felt like the “sky had fallen” Lee recalls, “but, Martin was offered a job in Lansing so we moved again and settled in Flint, Michigan. After a few years on the job Martin feared that history would repeat itself, so he quit his job in Lansing and enrolled in Barber School.  After two years of school and an apprenticeship, he received his barber’s license and started a whole new profession at 50 years of age. He really enjoyed cutting hair along with the jokes, and stories around the barbershop.”

Lee and Martin made many trips to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They loved the North country and both had many relatives there. The Coppos had one daughter, Carol, who gave them a granddaughter Erica, and grandson Aaron.

163A. Up in the air on the Pequot. (McCormack Family).

When asked about his Pequot days Carol recalls, “I do know he was "up in the air" a lot and didn't mind heights. Once we were painting the house and neither my husband, Jack, nor I could quite bring ourselves to lean over the steep drop off up on top of the roof, but guess who did it for us?...yep, my dear old Dad.  He grabbed a paint brush and was grinning from ear to ear as he told us it was nothing at all compared to what he used to do on the Pequot!”

163B. Lee and Martin Coppo - 1985. (Calamaio Family) Martin and Lee, February 1988.
 (Calamaio family)

Martin worked until 3 months before he passed away on November 29th, 1991. He was laid to rest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the land that he loved. Lee remembers, “We were happily married for 48 years and he was an exceptional man. Martin and I always considered ourselves fortunate to have been part of the Pequot experience. He enjoyed being with the crew, he had good friends, and the sea always held a fascination for him.”


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 or her escort ships, please contact
 Chip Calamaio chipaz@cox.net, 938 E. San Miguel Avenue, Phoenix, 85014, Arizona, USA. (H) 602-279-4505.

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