USCG Veteran Makes “On the Great Lakes” Opening a Night to Remember

This week’s guest blogger is Linda Bolla of the Erie Maritime Museum and Flagship Niagara. Thanks to Peter Repoff, John Baker, and the US Coast Guard Art Program for the images.

As a proud USCG veteran, Pete Repoff remains interested in any news regarding the Coast Guard, so at the opening reception for the Coast Guard Art Program exhibit last month, Pete and his wife, Carol, were among the first guests to arrive. He came hoping that someone in the Erie Maritime Museum could give him information about the current status of a ship he had served on, too.

Pete joined the United States Coast Guard in January, 1956. After graduating from Boot Camp, he was stationed at the USCG Station in Buffalo, NY, then transferred to Old Fort Niagara at Youngstown, NY. He went to school for Damage Control later that year, and in November, was assigned to USCG Cutter Mackinaw (WAGB-83).

USCG Cutter Mackinaw in dry dock (1957) shows
the screw at the bow of the ship (photo by Peter Repoff)

When first commissioned in 1944, the Mackinaw was the most powerful icebreaker in the world. The ship had one screw at the bow, and two screws at the stern. If the cutter had difficulty moving forward through the ice, it could reverse and then thrust forward again, using both rear screws. At the conclusion of her career in 2006, the Mighty Mack was still the largest United States Coast Guard Cutter assigned to the Great Lakes, and set the standards by which other icebreakers are measured. “Old Mack” was succeeded by another Mackinaw (WLBB-30), and is now the centerpiece of the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum in Michigan.

“Mighty Mack” had two screws at the stern (photo by Peter Repoff)

Pete was advanced to Third Class Damage Control Man (Third Class Petty Officer) in 1957. In 1958-59 he was reassigned to the Cutter Kukui (W-186) at the USCG Station on Sand Island, Honolulu, HI. His assignment on this maintenance ship had him touring throughout the Pacific islands, including Okinawa, Saipan, Guam, Manila, and Hong Kong, to name just a few. His service on Sand Island merited another promotion, and found him supervising 6 -8 men as Damage Control Man Second Class. In January 1960, he was honorably discharged from the U. S. Coast Guard in Cleveland, OH.

Pete was looking for information about the Mackinaw Museum in Michigan when he arrived at the Erie Maritime Museum and was absolutely delighted to find that one of the paintings in the current exhibit shows his Cutter Mackinaw in action, cutting a channel through the ice on the Great Lakes as a grain ship follows close behind.

Upward Bound, Whitefish Bay, Michigan by Thomas Muchow
(courtesy of the
U.S. Coast Guard Art Program)

The Museum staff followed up with Pete and Carol Repoff after the exhibit, sharing information about the Mighty Mack’s new role as a museum ship, and collecting information about his USCG service for this article.

Peter P. Repoff in 1958 (courtesy of Peter Repoff)

Pete Repoff at the opening of the Coast Guard Art exhibit (photo by John Baker)

“On the Great Lakes: The Coast Guard in Action” remains on exhibit in the Erie Maritime Museum West Wing Gallery through September 16, 2011.


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