The weather was partly dowdy yesterday when a prim 45-year-old lady steamed up the Potomac to pay Washington a call.
"She doesn't look a bit her age," remarked a young dock worker on the Washington Boat Line pier alongside Maine Avenue. He was waiting to help tie up the Coast Guard cutter Taney, the last of the 101 naval vessels at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 to still be in service. It's here to take part in a Pearl Harbor commemoration scheduled for Monday.
She was wearing her neat peace-time white, a thin camouflage for her true reputation -- being where the action was and going to it.
Retired Rear Adm. L.B. Olson, USCG, 86, waited on the pier, coatless against the raw weather, and reminisced about when he was commanding officer directing antiaircraft fire from the bridge of the Taney on that fateful morning.
"My wife, Louise, and I had a leisurely breakfast, and I had planned on going down to the ship when the children returned from Sunday school for a routine look around when the phone rang."
The call was from the deck officer who reported to Olson that the destroyer Ward had sunk a submarine.
"The Taney was attached along with the Ward to Destroyer Division," said Olson. "So I ordered immediate recall of the ships' company, and we took off for the 10-minute drive to the pier with my wife, Louise, behind the wheel."
On the way they saw aircraft fire coming from Pearl Harbor.
When Olson was piped aboard, the well-trained crew was already at battle stations. Steam had been ordered up and the ship was ready to get underway.
"We were in Honolulu Harbor, still a bit away from the attack," said Olson. "We still could see the markings of the rising sun on the planes when they flew overhead.
"Since the primary objective of the enemy planes was the ships at Pearl Harbor, it was near noon when the first enemy planes, five in a formation, passed directly over our position.
"We were tied up in line with the main power plant. Knocking out the plant would have been a terrible blow, almost equal to bombing Pearl Harbor. It generated all the power for the area.
"We threw up a barrage of antiaircraft bursts just in front of their flight. They were afraid to go through, and fortunately we were able to drive them off, and it aborted the enemy attack."
The Taney was built in 1936 at Philadelphia, named after the fifth chief justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Brooke Taney, and her record of service was long and adventurous -- even before her day in Honolulu.
Her peace-time duties found her involved in the Atlantic and Pacific, law enforcement, drug interdiction, fisheries patrols, weather guard, search and rescue missions that included the fruitless Pacific search for Amelia Earhart.
After Honolulu, she went on convoy duty, was at Okinawa during the infamous kamikaze attacks, and during the war in Vietnam spent 10 months in the area.
Olson found his way to the Taney via Colorado and New London, Conn., when he was recruited for the Coast Guard Academy in 1918.
"I was studying chemical engineering at the University of Colorado in 1915, and when the First World War came in 1917, I left for Colorado Springs to join the Navy. We preferred that to the Army.
"Besides," he laughs, "I was allergic to horses, couldn't stand them, and seagoing appealed to me.
"When we arrived, we found the Navy had all the men they needed so we went back to college, and about that time an officer came to the school from the Coast Guard academy looking for men, so I went."
For the next 23 years, Olson served on active duty both at sea and ashore before taking over command of the Taney.
While watching the 327-foot-long Taney being nudged to her berth by tugs yesterday, the 50-piece band and 30-member chorus from the Roger B. Taney Middle School of Camp Springs, Md., entertained with holiday music, "Maryland, My Maryland" and the "Star Spangled Banner" when the flag was hoisted above the Taney.
The gangplank was put across at 1:15, and Olson walked slowly aboard, pausing to salute the bridge and then the colors.
More than 200 additional students from the school clamored behind a wire fence to make sure they did not miss a part of the ceremony. The school principal, Bette Lewis, was in control and assured a reporter that the student body knew the ship's history.
Joey Valdez, a 12-year-old seventh grader, was more excited than his classmates when he yelled with pride, in answer to a question, "Sure, she's named after our school. She's bad, man, real bad," meaning good, in the current vernacular.
"An enemy plane was going to another ship that had plenty of bombs, and Taney blew her away. Yeah, she's real bad."