GOODBYE TO THE USCGC PLANETREE A Ketchikan fixture, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Planetree (WLB-307), was decommissioned and retired from service on March 19, 1999. The 180-foot bouy tender was commissioned during World War II, served during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and was assigned to Ketchikan in 1985.
The Coast Guard Cutter PLANETREE's keel was laid on December 4, 1942, by the Marine Iron and Shipbuilding Corporation of Duluth, Minnesota. She was launched on March 20, 1943, where she stayed pierside until commissioned on November 4, 1943.
The original cost of the ship was $872,876.00. She was manned by six officers and seventy-four enlisted men. PLANETREE's name is derived from a plant (Plantanus Origentalis), which grows wild throughout the Mediterranean from Italy to the Middle East.
After commissioning, PLANETREE got underway for a long, cold trip through the North Channel, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. It was layed-over for two months in Cleveland due to extensive ice build-up. PLANETREE carried out aids-to-navigation work and icebreaking duties on the Great Lakes until April, 1944.
In April, 1944, PLANETREE transited through Lake Ontario and crossed the seaways through Montreal, Quebec, Point Gaspe, and finally headed for the Atlantic waters of the Maritime Provinces. PLANETREE headed southward through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. George's Bay.
PLANETREE's first stop on their southbound transit was at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. In Baltimore, PLANETREE underwent a quick, dockside renovation. Workers came on board to fix problems that had been detected on the transit from the Great Lakes. In addition, PLANETREE received several new types of armanent and emergency wartime gear. A double rack was mounted on the foredeck to hold rockets. Emergency gear, firefighting monitor, and diving equipment were also installed while in Baltimore. When PLANETREE left Baltimore, it was well-equipped to handle its wartime missions of shipboard firefighting and cargo transfer.
After Baltimore, PLANETREE stopped in Hampton Roads for degaussing against magnetic mines. PLANETREE then began her voyage toward Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Enroute to Pearl Harbor, PLANETREE received a commendation for charging a submarine off Novassa Island in the Caribbean. After transiting through the Panama Canal, PLANETREE headed westward, bound for Pearl Harbor. Upon docking at Pier 10, a dock engineer asked the crew of PLANETREE, "What kind of ship are you?" PLANETREE responded by saying, "An Icebreaker!"
Although it was apparent that the ship was designed as a tender, she never lifted a buoy during the war. PLANETREE was stationed at Pearl Harbor from June 1, 1944, until 1947. During this time, she aided in the construction of LORAN stations on Baker, Gardner, and Atafu Islands. During the war, PLANETREE's crew numbered sixty, but the ship frequently had several Navy or civilian specialists on board. These specialists included General Electric's LORAN specialists and Japanese linguists.
The Japanese linguists were used extensively while PLANETREE was deployed with joint forces in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. While patrolling waters around these islands, the on-board linguists were used to try to convince Japanese natives to surrender to the American forces. A day or so after the war ended, PLANETREE took senior Navy and Coast Guard officers down to Mili, where Japanese natives signed documents and surrendered at that time.
PLANETREE was decommissioned due to a shortage of personnel from 1947 to September 1, 1949.
From September 1, 1949, to October, 1954, PLANETREE was stationed at Guam, Marianas Island, and was used for aids to navigation at Eniwetok, French Frigate Shoal, Guam, Okinawa, Philippines, Saipan, and other islands.
PLANETREE spent eleven days in January, 1954, assisting the motor vessel Metomkin, aground at Ponape Passage. PLANETREE was again stationed at Honolulu, from October , 1954, to August 7, 1974. From Novembr 9-14, 1957, she assisted in the search for the missing Pan American Flight 944. During her search, she was called on to help the disabled cutter IRONWOOD to Honolulu.
PLANETREE arrived in Vietnam in the Spring of 1966, for a short deployment and was first engaged in establishing sixteen petroleum buoys for off-loading in four Vietnamese ports. In 1966, PLANETREE received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation for their work in establishing these mooring buoys.
In December, 1969, she made extensive repairs to French Frigate Shoal's station, which had sustained severe storm damage.
On July 21, 1970, PLANETREE gave medical assistance to personnel aboard the vessel Katrusa Maru No. 28, 930 miles south of Honolulu. Four days later, she was called on to medevac a crew member from the same fishing boat off Hawaii. PLANETREE spent three days in October, 1970, towing the disabled yacht REDWING from 200 miles off Honolulu, back to port.
While in Honolulu, PLANETREE serviced LORAN stations annually in the Philippine Islands, Marianas Islands, the Trust Territory, and Okinawa. These patrols would keep the ship away for up to five months, and in 1964, she traveled 23,000 nautical miles.
PLANETREE was stationed in Juneau, Alaska, from August 7, 1974, until 1985. While in Juneau, PLANETREE serviced minor aids to navigaton and refueled lighthouses in the Southeast. In January, 1983, on her way to Hawaii for a training exercise, she sustained damage in a storm and was escorted to Hawaii by USCGC MUNRO.
PLANETREE has been stationed in Ketchikan from 1985 to the present time. The ship has continued to service aids to navigation in Southeast Alaska. In 1989, PLANETREE responded to the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, and also aided in the Exxon Valdez oil cleanup.
On November 4, 1993, PLANETREE turned 50 years old, making her an "antique." On September 23, 1995, PLANETREE saved two lives from the capsized vessel Spirit Wind. Despite 35 foot seas and 40 knot winds, crewmembers rescued two people who had sustained minor injuries and were suffering from hypothermia. The rescue took place over 800 miles offshore, while PLANETREE was enroute to Honolulu for a training exercise.
Despite her age and having her original engines, PLANETREE continued to serve the Alaskan people, the Coast Guard, and her crew right up to her decommissioning.