Ghost from the Past
History of The Rockaway
February 1942 — February 1972  
SOME SHIPS serve as targets when their fighting days are over and sink to a watery grave.  Not so ... the Rockaway.  From
the last day of June 1941, when her keel was first laid at Associated Shipbuilding in Seattle, Washington, she was destined to
live several lives.
Conceived five months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and sponsored by Mrs. Z.E. Briggs, the USS Rockaway was
christened and launched as a seaplane tender (AVP-29) on 15 February 1942.
Her first skipper, Navy Commander H.C. Doan, pushed her through her shakedown
cruise, then sailed her through the Panama Canal in April 1943 to her homeport in
Norfolk, Virginia, where she joined the wartime Atlantic Fleet.
Nearly always steaming alone, no convoy for protection, she delivered vital supplies
and personnel to outlying bases in the North Atlantic. Sonar contacts threatened
many times throughout those missions and—though Rockaway attacked each time
with depth charges—no submarine wreckage was ever sighted.
USS Rockaway AVP-29
Firing Rockaway K-gun
USS Rockaway AVP-29
Nor did any submarine stop Rockaway from carrying out her missions. She carried aviation
cargo from Norfolk to the Ranger at Scapa Flow … transported aircraft engines to the Azores
… guarded the port of Casablanca for two months … transferred a complete squadron from
Newfoundland to England, and delivered secret radar equipment to England for the Normandy
During that famous invasion in June 1944, besides serving as a flagship for Admiral Wilkes,
Rockaway carried troops to the beachheads, then guarded them against air attacks.
After repairing battle damage in a Navy shipyard in November, Rockaway was based at the
Panama Canal. From there she delivered personnel and aviation supplies to the Galapagos
Islands. When a PBM crashed off Coco Solo, the Rockaway raced to the scene and rescued all
13 survivors.
While steaming to Recife, Brazil on 21 February 1945, she found a disabled tanker, a
Depth charge fires from
Rockaway K-gun
Atlantic Ocean Stations
In the early 1950s she was also the home of crew
member John Edward Pic, the older brother of Lee
Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John
F Kennedy.
Mystery shrouded the Rockaway in 1950 when its
captain, James Reed Hinnant, disappeared without a
trace. As Captain John M Waters—once head of
Search and Rescue in Washington, DC—wrote in his
book Rescue At Sea the mystery remains unsolved.
Heavy seas on Ocean Station
It began on a balmy night after the Rockaway's port
screw became fouled with lines from a raft 300 miles
off Cape Hatteras near the Sargasso
Heavy seas on
Ocean Station
Floating in Mystery
When they tugged on his retaining line to see if he was okay, they got no
response. They tried to haul the line in but it would not budge. They were able
to pull up the weighted belt, which had evidently been removed, but captain
Hinnant was nowhere in sight.
None of the many men watching from the railings witnessed any blood or
disturbance, and no one saw him surface. "What happened that night," Captain
Waters concluded, "will never be known."   (To read the actual report of the
last person to see him,
click here).
Floating in Mystery
Coast Guard Barque Eagle
No mystery surrounded nine crewmen of the Rockaway, however, when they were
ordered to abandon a British freighter, they had tried to save, south of the island of
Bermuda. They jumped into a churning sea where at least ten sharks were waiting.
[See: Abandon Ship on our home page]
Rockaway escorted America's only active square rigger—the 3-masted Coast Guard
Barque Eagle—in 1954, 1959 and 1965 as Cadets from the Coast Guard Academy
sailed her to Europe and back. [See: Photo Gallery on Muster List]
Rockaway as oceanographer
After several more years on
Atlantic ocean stations,
Rockaway began helping
oceanographers and
meteorologists. She conducted surveys in the Atlantic and then the Pacific
before returning to the east coast to survey the Mid-Atlantic shelf until
January 1969.
She finished her 30-year career by studying currents from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic before being taken out of service. She
was transferred back to the Navy for disposal in February 1972.
Contrary to rumors the Cutter Rockaway does not lie at the bottom of the Atlantic. The Navy did not use her for target practice.
Sold to a company in Holland for $67,500, she was dismantled.
Today she sails where she is forever alive ... in the memory of her men.
News photo from Ed Kane
FINAL FAREWELL:   Stripped of her insignia and number,
escorted in 1972 by the Cutter Tamaroa, the former Cutter
Rockaway leaves New York harbor for the last time.
Ghost from the Past
sitting duck for Nazi guns or torpedoes, and guarded it for three days till a fleet tug arrived to tow it safely to harbor.
Later refitted by the Boston Navy Yard as a press ship to carry 50 correspondents during future invasions, she was reclassified as
AG-123. When Japan surrendered a few months later, however, she was converted back to a seaplane tender.
Her duty done, proudly wearing her well-earned Battle Star, she reported to the Inactive Fleet at Orange, Texas on 12 November
1945 and was decommissioned on 21 March 1946.
Retirement, however, was not for her. The day before Christmas 1948, the USS
Rockaway was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard and commissioned that
same day with a new hull number of WAVP-377.
Now known as the Coast Guard Cutter Rockaway, based out of St. George on
Staten Island, New York, she eagerly sailed into her new duties—enforcing
maritime law ... finding and rescuing the missing at sea ... serving for months
on Ocean Stations Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo at lonely intervals
down the backbone of the Atlantic.
Cutter Rockaway
Cutter Rockaway in 1955
The Eagle
Rockaway as oceanographer
Sea, Captain Hinnant, an experienced diver commended for his diving under fire in the Philippines during WWII, went over the
side and let the weights on his belt sink him to the propeller. The crew lined the railings and waited for news from the eerie glow
of a search light below.