Norm Nolan
Norm Nolan
Norm Nolan

Norm Nolan

Resident Highlight – Norm Nolan
Coast Guard saved sailor’s life during WWII
By Becki Zschiedrich, AFRH-G Public Affairs

During WWII Norm Nolan, who was an armed guard on board U.S. Armed Merchant Vessel S.S. George Poindexter in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, became extremely sick.  On February 17, 1944, with no medical officers on board, the officer in charge of the gun crew decided Norm’s condition was serious enough to put a call into the United States Coast Guard. The merchant ship Norm was on at the time of his illness was on its way to Bari, Italy with supplies.  The Coast Guard had to send over a whale boat during a very bad storm and then transferred Norm onto the United States Coast Guard Cutter Bibb, where a doctor was on board.

Once on the Bibb, the doctor immediately took Norm into surgery and operated on him and removed his appendix because he was suffering from appendicitis.  It was a rough sea so they had to make sure the ship was pointed towards the wind during the emergency operation.  “The Coast Guard saved my life.  If they were not there in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Africa, I would have died.  I owe so many people so much of my life, even after the end of the war and to this day.  I will never be able to repay all the people but I want to thank all who saved my life.  The Coast Guard risked their lives to save me during stormy, rough seas.  I was nothing but a spec on the water and they stopped a ship in the middle of WWII to transfer me and keep me alive.  I owe the United States Coast Guard so much,” Norm said.

Norm stayed aboard the Bibb for a few weeks after his surgery until they arrived in New York, where he reported back to the Navy.  The Navy sent him to DeLand, Florida to recuperate, where “he lived like a king” for three weeks.   After that he trained under the Marines and went to Okinawa, Japan for the invasion.  He stayed in Japan for a year until the end of WWII.  On June 23, 1945 all major combat operations ended on the island of Okinawa. Over the three month battle more than 8 million artillery and mortar rounds were fired, the equivalent of more than 1 round per second. For many soldiers, the silence after the battle was over was almost deafening. In total, more than 12,000 American servicemembers were killed and more than 38,000 wounded. The Japanese military lost more than 110,000, but the greatest loss of life was by the Okinawan people. 150,000 of the Okinawans are said to have perished during the battle.

As time went on after the war Norm requested shore duty at Cornell University in New York as an instructor for Naval ROTC programs.  He stayed at Cornell for four years.  He said, “I loved it!”  After Norm retired from the Navy, Cornell University invited him back to work for the university in administration in financial aid and admissions.

Norm went on to say, “I loved that life, living in the Navy.  I am somebody because of the Navy.  I had good peers and great support and I owe so many people so much for what they did for me.  I am so glad I made the Navy my career.  They made me who I am.  What I received from the Coast Guard was very precious, and that was my life. I am so grateful to them for what I am today.  To the Navy, Coast Guard, and Cornell University, I owe a debt of gratitude.”