Returning to Argentia, in words and pictures

The call came about two weeks ago from a man who heard me give a talk before the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council last summer.

As I always do in those appearances, I mentioned that my dad was in the Coast Guard during World War II and had gotten posted to Argentia, thinking he was going to Argentina. But Argentia is a port in Newfoundland, not someplace warm like South America.

Dad had been a radio operator on the patrol frigates Abilene and Sheboygan. He died in 2004.

Dave Binder, a Navy veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and who happens to live in my neighborhood, called to say he had a book for me, Argentia: Sentinel of the North Atlantic, and dropped it off at my house that night.

The oversize, hardcover book had been passed on to Binder by a longtime friend, a Navy veteran who had been Binder’s scoutmaster in Allentown.

In the front, that man, Joseph Smurda Jr., had written: “This book was bought at Argentia, Newfoundland on Dec. 7, 1946, while on a three-day stay for recreation on the base after coming back from the Arctic Circle on the way to the States. We arrived on Dec. 6 at 1300 and left Dec. 9 at 1330, 1946.”

Smurda would have been 17 then. He died in 2006. His obituary said little more than that he had been assistant to the chairman of Mack Trucks, where he had worked for 30 years, and that he had served in the Navy. There was no mention of his work in the Boy Scouts as a leader in sea scouting.

A dedication says the volume is primarily for “those officers and men of the allied countries who gave their lives in the protection and preservation of the shores in and around the Argentia area, and all other personnel who were based on the Avalon Peninsula, who so unstintingly, frequently under most trying conditions, contributed to the safe conduct of ships, supplies and personnel, so necessary to the successful completion of the European war.”

The book has many official Navy photographs showing where my dad had stopped on frequent trips to and from patrol assignments near Greenland – Naval Operating Base 103 at Argentia.

It also has a chronology with entries such as this one for September 1945: “Two German submarines captured in Europe stop at Argentia en route to the States. U-Boats, sailed on the surface by prize crews, put in for fuel, repairs, provisions and stores.”

The book is a treasure, among countless ones published at the end of World War II as a remembrance – a great service for the veterans and a nod to posterity.

I’m grateful to Binder for this gift. It brings me a little closer to my dad.


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