On Thanksgiving day, while most Islanders settle down for a day of feast and football with friends and family, members of Coast Guard Station Menemsha will be on duty, ready to respond in the event of an emergency. For that, we can all be thankful.
The crewmembers, mostly young and far from home, will not lack for traditional fare. The crew generally prepares their own turkey repast, sometimes with less than perfect results, but on this Thanksgiving new crew member Mark Montgomery will use his cook rating to prepare turkey and all the fixin’s.
The stations’ new golden retriever mascot, Buddy, will paw anxiously in the dining mess door as his late predecessor, Bridger, a yellow lab, did for seven years. Buddy is learning that the mess is off limits to canines. There will be football on a modest HD TV in the dining mess. Life will be good.
On Sunday, the Times visited with nine members of the crew. They talked about their Thanksgivings past, and present.
Fireman Lindsay Edwards, 18, has been in the USCG for eight months. She comes from a Coast Guard family and has lived around Coast Guard duty stations in Michigan, Virginia, Connecticut, and New York. She and her family understand the military life.
“Hmm. I’d probably be going to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, then out to Staten Island for a big Italian dinner with lots of family, watching football,” she said when asked what she’s be doing at home. “A normal Thanksgiving… yeah, I miss it, but I’m happy to be here sharing Thanksgiving with my shipmates. It’s something new and different. I’ll call the family to wish them a happy Thanksgiving.”
Kyle Gomes, 20, is closer to his hometown than any of his shipmates. The boatswain mate third class hails from Bridgewater, where he spent four recent Thanksgiving mornings as an outside linebacker slugging it out with traditional football rivals Silver Lake Regional, and Randolph high schools.
A 2010 graduate of Bridgewater-Raynham High School, Mr. Gomes has spent more than two years in the Coast Guard with stops aboard an icebreaker in Rockland, Me., in New York state and on the Great Lakes.
“Thanksgiving is usually at my house. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins come,” he said. “After dinner, you go and hang out with your friends, replay the game, all that. I missed it last year, but it’s fine now. I’m really close to home.”
Boatswain Mate Third-Class Michael Windham, 23, is a long way from home. The four-year USCG serviceman is from Houston, Texas. “Family’s kind of spread out now, but on Thanksgiving, we’d all go to grandma and grandpa’s for dinner,” he said. “The whole family. Grandma always made pecan pie. I remember when we were little, we’d stand around Grampa and watch him crack the pecans between his bicep and his arm. There was always a poker game, part of the tradition, and we always watched the Texas-Texas A&M game. Always.”
For Seaman Dillon Helms, 20, from Charlotte, N.C., Thanksgiving is an important holiday. With 18 months of service, Mr. Helms is spending his second Thanksgiving away from home. “I miss it,” he said. “We’re a tight family. Every Thanksgiving, my brother, my dad and I would go deer hunting before heading to my grandparents for dinner. Grampa deep-fries a turkey, Grandma always makes pecan pie or peach cobbler. There’d be 15 or 20 aunts, uncles and cousins there.”
Fireman Whitley Brown, 20, is spending her third Thanksgiving at the Menemsha station. Ms. Brown turned 18 while on duty here. “Yeah, I still miss it,” she said. I have a big family. Thanksgiving is a good time for home, family and friends.”
For Boatswain Mate Nick Meegan, 25, from Lake Dallas, Texas, Thanksgiving at home is always a three-day marathon. The six-year servicemen has spent three and one half years in Menemsha.
“At home, we’d have dinner with grandparents, then drive four hours to Austin where we’d have two more dinners with family over the weekend,” he said. “My aunt married a Cajun so that dinner would include oysters and deep-fried turkey. I do miss it, but you know, I’ve been away so long, it’s something I hardly think about.”
Machinery Technician Christopher Shiels, 26, hails from Fresno, Calif. He has spent three and one half of his four years of service at Menemsha. His Thanksgivings at home were also multi-day celebrations. “We went camping as a family, my parents and two sisters,” he recalled. “We’d ride ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) over the sand dunes and cook up a turkey dinner at the campsite. Usually, we’d be out there four or five days.”
At 29, Boatswain Mate Gary Kovack is the station crew’s “elder,” with five years of service and three and one half years in Menemsha. Mr. Kovack grew up near Detroit, and Thanksgiving had two hard and fast rituals.
“We’d always have breakfast at home with friends before heading out for a family Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “But it was always about rooting for the (pro football Detroit) Lions. That was the biggest tradition. The Lions always play on Thanksgiving. The opponents change, but the Lions always play on Thanksgiving. If you were lucky enough to get tickets, you’d go to the game.”
Mr. Kovack noted that his stay in Menemsha is also noteworthy for the community support of the station at the holidays. “People just show up with food, desserts, holiday gifts,” he said. “It’s amazing. We’ve taken to getting their names and sending out thank-you notes. This is a remarkable community.”
Edgartown resident Ron Walsh is a 21-year member of the Coast Guard auxiliary and volunteers each Saturday and Sunday for five hours a day to man the communications center to give crew time for training and projects.
Now 60, Mr. Walsh has two children who are the ages of most of the Menemsha station crew. “This crew is from all over the country,” he said. “I think the younger crew particularly do get some homesickness around Thanksgiving , though they would never admit it.
“It’s easier for the older people who may have family on the Island. But the bond they make here is strong. They are all in the same boat, no pun intended. They will make lifetime friendships here. They’re part of the Coast Guard family. I have the utmost respect for these young people. They are trained and confident. They promise good things for our future.”
Indeed, several crew members commented on the importance of esprit de corps.
“This is a unique station. We are at work as much as we are off-duty and you develop bonds. We hang out with each other off-duty too,” said Mr. Meegan
“We make our own family here,” Seaman Brown said.