The dream of many a person is to retire on Long Beach Island. One grizzled WWII veteran – nay, WWII hero – did exactly that in 1948, moving to Barnegat Light after serving 11 years on the 327-foot U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell.
A World War Two vet being grizzled in 1948, just three years after the war ended? Sure, the U.S. military was drafting and accepting older Americans, the need for manpower being so great. But grizzled?
Well, the hard-fighting, hard-drinking, gregarious salt in question was 77 years old in 1948, at least in dog years.
We’re talking about Sinbad of the Coast Guard, a mixed-breed mutt who had captured America’s heart after participating in a fierce running battle that raged over the course of two days and nights in the cold North Atlantic in February 1943. The Campbell, performing convoy duty, fought off, with the assistance of the Polish destroyer Burza, not one, not two, but five U-boats, eventually sinking U-606, sending 36 German submariners to Davey Jones’ locker and taking aboard five survivors while the Burza accommodated seven.
The Campbell had been badly damaged during the battle, its bow stoved-in after ramming U-606. The ship was towed to Canada for repair, with only an “essential crew” being left aboard the vessel, which was disabled and without power. Sinbad was part of that crew, with his shipmates telling members of the press that Capt. James Hirschfield believed him to be a good luck charm that could save the Campbell from further calamity.
The press, along with the newsreels, couldn’t resist a good story. A 1943 Life magazine article written by Martin Sheridan described Sinbad as a “liberty-rum-chow-hound, with a bit of bulldog, Doberman pinscher, and what-not. Mostly what-not.” America, a nation of mutts if ever there was one, was captivated.
His fame grew after the war when George F. Foley, like Sinbad a Coast Guard chief petty officer, told his story in a slight but popular (the copy held carefully behind the shelves in the Long Beach Island branch of the Ocean County Library in Surf City is a third printing) 1945 book Sinbad of the Coast Guard. Describing Sinbad in anthropomorphized terms, Foley recounted his pre-war and wartime career, helped by the rough but delightful illustrations of George Gray and a foreword by Admiral Russell R. Waesche, then commandant of the Coast Guard.
That’s right, Sinbad was an official Coast Guard CPO, one of only two animals ever classified as non-commissioned officers by an arm of the U.S. military (the other was Sgt. Stubby of the U.S. Army’s 102nd Infantry, another mutt, who was a well-publicized WWI hero). And what a career he had!
Sinbad, 1 foot tall with short black hair, tan paws and white spots above his eyes, stowed away on the Campbell in the winter of 1937, assisted by Boatswain’s Mate A.A. “Blackie” Rother. Rother had gotten the dog as a gift for a New York City girlfriend, but her apartment building didn’t allow pets. So when he returned to his ship after his liberty ended, he brought the pooch with him. The crew, searching for a nautical name, came up with Sinbad, and the rest is literally history.
Sinbad quickly became a sailor, sliding across the ship’s slick decks, learning to drink coffee, often cocking his head when questioning an order. Like most sailors, he wasn’t perfect, one time taking a nap in a shipmate’s bunk and messing up the bedding so that its owner was given five hours extra duty after failing inspection.
Worse, the dog almost created an international incident in the spring of 1940.
The vast island of Greenland was then a Danish colony. When Nazis invaded Denmark on April 9 of that year, the U.S. was worried they might establish themselves on the island, perhaps building submarine bases that would certainly threaten shipping to Great Britain. But the U.S. was at that time a neutral nation, and President Roosevelt didn’t want to send U.S. Navy ships to patrol the waters off Greenland. He sent Campbell and another cutter, the Comanche, instead.
The ship’s crew repeatedly visited the villages of Greenland with Sinbad in tow. He often slipped away from his mates and found chasing sheep and goats a great way to entertain himself while on liberty. Greenland’s shepherds were not amused and had a representative of the Danish government approach the ship’s captain with a complaint. No more liberty for Sinbad in Greenland!
In the fall of 1940, the Campbell sailed to Lisbon. Portugal was a neutral country, making it a good place from which to monitor the situation in war-torn Europe, so the ship was once again pressed into a semi-diplomatic role. It was in the port of Lisbon that Sinbad experienced his first hurricane in February 1941, one that killed three people and wrecked much anchored shipping. Campbell, though, escaped serious damage, imprinting Sinbad’s reputation as a living, breathing lucky charm.
When the United States joined the war after Pearl Harbor, the Coast Guard was attached to the U.S. Navy and many of its ships were pressed into escort duty, protecting convoys of ships carrying arms and men to Great Britain as they passed through German submarine wolf packs. The battle of February 1943 was the highlight of Campbell’s wartime record, but the ship and its crew, including Sinbad, made many a dangerous Atlantic voyage.
A common end point for Campbell’s eastern trips was Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Sinbad continued his unofficial diplomatic duties there, becoming a celebrity.
He’d accompany his crew to the movies and to pubs. Dogs weren’t allowed on Londonderry buses, but drivers never turned away the famous Sinbad, who was often featured in the city’s newspapers. Indeed, Sinbad was the guest of honor when the city feted the Campbell’s crew with a dinner at the historic Guild Hall.
A couple more WWII episodes are recounted in Sinbad of the Coast Guard, including his promotion to chief (the only serious mark against him was “chasing some goats in Greenland”), his kidnapping by another ship’s crew in Guantanamo (yes, that Guantanamo), and his almost starting another diplomatic incident in Casablanca (yes, that Casablanca). Alas, his story in the book ends in 1945, the year it was copyrighted.
But Barnegat Light old-timers are familiar with the post-book Sinbad. When he was placed on inactive status at Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light, he became a familiar figure around town. One of his favorite hangouts was Kubel’s, which was then the only bar at the Light. The owners who gave the name to the still-popular bar/restaurant, Adam and Helen Kubelczicas, had moved to Barnegat Light around the same time Sinbad did, and the dog, who had developed quite the taste for beer while on liberty with his Campbell shipmates, soon became a favorite customer.
So it is only appropriate that the present-day Kubel’s is displaying a Sinbad Wall of Honor in the restaurant featuring many a photo of his glory days as well as two arresting pictures from his retirement. One shows him waiting outside the restaurant waiting for it to open while another shows him at the bar, sipping a beer poured by “Pop Kubel” himself. The photos were loaned by the Barnegat Light Historical Association.
If you visit Kubel’s to soak in a few brews and a whole lot of history, ask for directions to the borough of Barnegat Light’s emergency operations center. Sinbad is buried there in a marked grave at the foot of the center’s and former Coast Guard Station’s flagpole. Finally, while heading back down the Island, stop at the LBI Library in Surf City and ask to see its copy of Sinbad of the Coast Guard. It can’t be removed from the library, but it is a quick read, only about 150 pages and written in language easy enough for a fifth-grader to understand.
A commentator whose name this writer can’t remember once said that John Wayne played heroes during WWII, but it was Jimmy Stewart who was the real hero, flying over 20 missions over Nazi-occupied territory as the pilot of B-24 bombers. The same can be said of Rin Tin Tin vis-à-vis Sinbad. The former only played a hero in the movies; the latter was the Real McCoy.
– RICK MELLERUP
Reposted from The Sandpaper