BMCM Tom McAdams, USCG (Ret.) Interview

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The 52-footer had the Mermaid in tow and they’re going into Peacock, and he’s starting to broad side tow out and the 52-footer took a break and went upside down.  One of the young men in the 52-footer, just a young seaman, had a nose bleed on the way out.  He bumped it, something happened, and so the coxswain told him, he said, “Go down below and lay in the bunk.”  So he went down below and he’s in the bunk, rag over his nose, when the boat went over.  Everybody else was out topside.  Well when the 52 came upright everybody’s off of it.  Some of them had their heads bashed in and they’re gone.  The engineer got washed off when the boat was in the breaker and he swam to the fishing boat and gets on the fishing boat, gets on the radio and he’s yelling to Porter, “Come and get us.  Come and get us.  They’re all dead on the 52-footer.  They’re all dead.  I’m the only one left.  Come and get us.  Come and get us.”  Porter came back.  He didn’t have another boat.  He didn’t have anything.  He had another 40-footer there but he couldn’t even begin to get out the dock with it, and you could imagine the frustration.  You’re standing there listening to one of your crewman yelling for help and in the middle of it a big roar and total silence.  The Mermaid went over and the poor engineer got capsized twice in the same night.  It took two capsizings to kill him.  And he was lost and the two fishermen were lost and four more Coast Guard, so they lost five Coast Guardsmen, the Mermaid, a 36-footer, a 40-footer and a 52-footer all in the same night.  Paul Miller took the 30 . . . when he heard this going on he jumped in the 36-footer out of the Cape and went there and he searched in the breakers all night long, picked up a couple of the bodies and searched in those breakers all night long, and one heck of a job.  But that’s one of the tragedies that you run into.

So I took over the station with these crews and I got the story from actually the crew; the new members, and were really good.  This young third class coxswain; Larry Edwards, I put him up for second [class] soon afterwards.  He had a radio at home and many times he picked up distress calls and would be at the station, and he lived the three-miles in Awapal [phonetic] and be at the station or calling me and say, “I’m coming in.  We got a call from so and so”, and I’d have the boat ready and we would go together or whatever, and I had 21 men at the station at that time; a full complement of 21 men.  We ran one summer . . . it got in the paper there.  The reason I remember the numbers, 302 calls through July, August and September that we ran with 21 men and that includes the cook and the ET and the watch standers.  You can imagine the time; we towed boats for over 1,400 miles during that time.  That year we saved 27 lives, actually saved 27 lives in positions of peril and assisted over 1,200 others, and so it was just go, go, go.

And what a crew I had.  I didn’t hear any real complaining.  They were always willing and able to go.  The Group commander out of Westport, Washington, actually out of Oak William there; Aberdeen, would come down to the station on the weekends.  His second weekend down to the station we ran something like 18 calls that day and that night.  When I came into the station at 0600 in the morning he was up having coffee and he said, “I’ve never seen such, not really a mad house but a hustle and a bustle with crews coming and going all night long but the same crews coming in and going out, coming in and going out.”  He said, “And I’m supposed to be down here to assist.”  He said, “I’m going back to the station, Chief”, he says, “You’ve got it.”  He said, “I don’t know just what’s going on but keep up the good work”, and we never saw him again.  He said, “I don’t need to come down on the weekends.”  But that’s the type of station it was.

We lost the Sea Trader.  That was a 340-foot ship.  It would come out of Olva Bay, hit bottom, split her bottom open.  We went on up there.  The cutter, I think it was one of the buoy tenders; 180-foot buoy tender, at the time and we went out there.  He got her in tow and he was towing her back to the Columbia River and crossing the bar she started taking on water and sinking.  She had three million board feet of lumber onboard.  I took the crew off.  I took the 12-man, it had a 12-man crew, I took the 12-man crew off.  I had the 52-footer.  I took the 12-man crew off of her with 52-footer.  We were just inside the bar.  It was sloppy but, you know, there were no big breaks or nothing, and I got the crew off and the Captain steps onboard, and I believe the last man off, he stepped onboard and hands me this bag.  He said, “Here you go. You’re in charge?”  I said, “Yes Sir.”  He hands me this bag.  I said, “What’s in there”, and he said, “It’s all the ship’s papers and money.”  I said, “How much?”  He said, “I don’t know, I just cleaned out the safe.”  I looked at my first class engineman and I said . . . I turned to the third class boatswain and I said, “Take the wheel, hold it right off here.”  We were inside the river. I said, “Just hold her off here”, and I told the engineman, I said, “Follow me.  Don’t take your eyes off this bag.”  I went down to the engine room and I said, “Open the toolbox.”  I took out the tray, took out the tools, put it in there, I said, “Lock it”, and he locked it and I put the key in my pocket and I said, “Now you keep your eye on this pocket all the time”, and I went back to the wheel and we did all our things around and pretty soon the buoy tender called - now they’ve got the tugs that pushed the Sea Trader up by 14.  We’re well inside the river and pushed her off in there and she’s well aground - and the buoy tender called and he said, “We’ll take the crew off and we’ll take them up to Tongue Point for you”.  I said, “Okay, fine”, and I pulled over and we waited alongside and the people got off and I took the engineer.  We went down and got the key and unlocked the thing and then grabbed the bag and I took it on up, and this young [lieutenant] "Jay Gee" on deck, I said, “Here you go Sir.”  He said, “What’s that?” I said, “Its all ship’s money and papers.”  He said, “Where’s your receipt?”  I said, “You got the same thing I got Sir.”  [Laughter] He said, “Oh my God.”  You didn’t know if there was one dollar or ten thousand dollars in it.  I said, “Well you got the same thing but it hasn’t been out my sight or my engineer’s.”  He said, “Okay.”  I never heard anything more about it.

After that we lost the George Olson.  That was 340-foot and it had been made into a barge.  Then they took the crew off and took the engine room out and it had three million board feet of lumber on it.  The tug was towing is out of the Columbia River and the bridle broke and it went over in to Clatsop Spit, and we got the call from the tug about one o’clock in the morning or so.  We rushed over there and she’s in the breaks but aground, and I know that most of these barges have emergency cables that run down the side of them and they’re the length of the vessel plus a little bit and they run down from the bow to the stern and there’s a big eye and you hook onto the eye and then the small stuff so as you pull away the small stuff breaks loose and you got it in tow.  So I got down there and got alongside . . . it was pretty bouncy but I was kind in the lee.  My crew did a heck of job, got that line around there and got it through the eye and said, “We’ve got her made”, and I slammed her in gear and I socked it to her and I come to a screeching halt.  I took that, I said, “Put the search light on there.”  The kid puts the search light on there.  Well when the longshoremen put the chains over the vessel to hold the lumber, they put it on the outside of the ridge so I had I don’t know how many chains and cables going across.  There’s no way. I said, “Oh my God.”  

So I go up to the bow and here again my crew up and down and they got the line through one of the links of the bridle chain and I took off with that 52-footer and she’s still bouncing, and she’d bounce and come and bounce and come, and I called Point Adams and I had my station and Point Adams sent their 36-footer and our 36-footer came out.  Point Adams sent a 40-footer.  My 40-footer came on out and I had her in the bow tow with the 52-footer.  I had two 36-footers amidships towing off this way and I had two 40-footers on the stern and everybody’s towing there and I’m honed in the middle of the river and she’s starting to ebb, and slowly but surely we get up the river halfway to 14 and we start down the river just slowly.  And I drop back. I had a Jacobs Ladder overboard and I put my engineer onboard and I said, “Go up and drop the anchors.” He went up onboard and the anchors hadn’t been probably dropped since it was a ship going to sea and all this rusty gear and everything, and he said, “I don’t know what to do and there’s no big pelican hook to undo. Everything is locked up tight.” I said, “Okay”, so I dropped back and I got him off, and I’m towing it and I said, “Okay, I’m going to tow it across the river and we’ll lay it against Jetty “A”. You’ve got the North Jetty and the South Jetty. In the Columbia River they’re two miles apart. Jetty “A” sticks out at a 90-degree angle from them and comes out to almost a mile and so that’s the narrowest part of the channel, but she sticks out, and if I can get her over towards what they call Sand Island, which is right next to Awapal [phonetic] and lay the ship, the ebb tide will carry it up against the inside of Jetty “A”. The ship will be there and they can salvage the lumber and maybe the barge. Well the current’s running too strong and pretty soon I called all of the boats and I said, “If you see the jetty coming or you get in any danger cut your line, go free”, and pretty soon the lifeboat goes by me and then another lifeboat goes by me, and I heard the roar of those 671 Jimmie diesels from the 40-footers and they rolled by me and somebody yelled, “Chief, the jetty, the jetty”, and now the other boats are let loose and I got the 52 and I got her balls to the wall; boy, both handles were right up there and I’m smoking full ahead and I’m going back at five knots, and that current took that ship and as it got to Jetty “A” I said, “We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it”, and just as we got to the jetty that current went right around the jetty and there’s a can buoy off it, wiped the can buoy off and they said, “The rocks!” I said, “Cut her”, and they had the axe ready over the Taft Rail, wham, wham, two whams, we’re free and I didn’t miss that jetty by over probably a couple of fathoms. There were the rocks right there and the 52 moved out. That 340-foot ship wiped out the can buoy, went on the inside of Peacock Spit and the breakers were big enough that it picked that ship up, tore it in two and threw it back on the jetty, and I have the pictures of three million board feet of lumber scattered all over that jetty and all over the water, and completely gone [chuckle]. We lost two barges and the Sea Trader. All I needed was another ship or barge to wreck with hammers and nails and we could have built a brand new station out of all the equipment we had [chuckle].

Columbia River was an exciting place. We would get 3,000 or more small boats out across the bar on a Saturday or a Sunday during July and August and into September. I usually take the 40-footer if the weather was pretty good. We didn’t have 44s in those days. It was either 36s or the 52. Bad weather I’d take the 52, otherwise I’d take the 40. And we had . . . I’d actually turned my equipment boat into a morgue one Sunday; a little funeral parlor. The fellow was gone Sunday and we were pulling in bodies and put them in the equipment building. One call that I will never forget, it always stuck with me, you talk about human nature in people, we had all these capsizings going on and there was one bad one. I had the 40-footer. It was off the jetty and I watched it capsize, pitch-rolled through the air, three people onboard, two lost their lives, one made it. I worked the 40-footer around Peacock Spit and came up the inside trying to get to the people off the jetty. I was slamming the steel 40-footer up and down so hard that I split the bottom open in seven places. We were leaking like a sprinkler system in there, bilge pumps were working hard. When I got through with that call I ran it right straight up, called the boat yard up there, and what a wonderful person he was. No matter what we called him he was always ready. He had that weighed down in the water. We put her up there. He welded up that bottom that night and said, “That’s the best I can do you for.” I said, “Well that ought to get me through tomorrow until we can get her up Monday and finish the job.” I had that thing out the next day, full again going, all welded up and sealed and going good. But the one particular case we had three bodies left in the equipment building. This voice calls me on the telephone and she said, “My husband was supposed to be back at noon. He’s not back yet. He’s on the such a such boat”, and so on and so on. Well I had three bodies in there and a couple of them didn’t have IDs on them but the vessel she described was one that had capsized off the jetty and I did get the bodies but that was it. And I said, “Well Ma’am, if you care to come out to the Station I would be more than happy to let you try to identify if you’re up to it” - in those days we didn’t call the police. We did everything ourselves that way - and she said, “Yes, I’ll be out”, and this lady comes out and she’s got a 10-year old daughter and a 12-year old daughter with her, and I talked to her in the office to try and get the feeling of her reaction and I explained to her that, “I believe I have your husband. I believe he is deceased if you’d care to identify him.” She said, “Yes”, and she seemed very strong and I said, “Okay.” So I went out and she was sitting at the desk with the two girls and I said, “Ma’am, I’ll be right back”, and I walked out and I told my Boatswain’s Mate, I said, “Go out and clean him on up”, because the bodies after they lay in salt water, the foam and they all foam up at the mouth. I said, “Go up and clean him on up.” I said, “This lady looks about 35 years old.” I said, “There’s one older fellow”, I said, “Put him first and then the other two because I’ll let her see a dead person first and then it won’t be such of a shock.” That was my thinking. Well when we got to the equipment building the two girls were outside. “I said, “Girls, can you wait outside”, and my crew was kind of around. We opened the door and we went in and I had them laying on the deck there in blankets over them, and I take back the blanket and of course the older fellow was her husband, and a couple of tears came to her eyes but she held it very fine. She went down. She said, “Oh my God”, and she put her hand on his chest and she looked at him and she said, “My God, what am I going to do? We have nothing. You were everything I had and it’s all lost. What am I going to do?” And I could see she was handling it very well and I said, “Ma’am, would you like to have a few moments alone and I’ll step outside.” She stood up and she said, “No, I’ll be all right”, and she said, “That’s enough”, and I covered him back up with the blanket. The two little girls heard their mother inside and the two little girls are crying outside and everybody’s got a big lump in their throat. The woman looks me and she said, “I feel so sorry for you”, and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Here she just lost her husband. She had lost everything and she looks at me and she said, “I feel so sorry for you”, and I said, “I don’t understand. What do you mean”, and she said, “I only have to go through this once.” She said, “You must have to go through it every week.” I thought, “Well what a helluva lady.” So those are some of the things that stick with you. You’ll never forget but they’re part of life and they’re part of the search and rescue, and you go on and just hope you can save the next one. You don’t have to have this again.

We had a capsizing off the jetty there, three people in a boat. One of them had a life jacket on. He must have been scared and didn’t like it and the other two didn’t. When the boat went over he went panicky and according to the one fellow he was floating face down in the water for sometime, and he said, “I’m sinking.” He said, “I was holding onto the boat but I was having trouble hanging on.” He said, and a poor buddy of his, whatever his name was, was floating near by him but he was still face down and he said, “He had been face down for quite sometime, so I reached over and I took his lifejacket off and he sank, and I put his lifejacket on and he drifted out past the South Jetty and finally the boat sank.” He said, “I had the lifejacket on and the other fellow didn’t”, and he said, “What do we do?” He said, “Oh God, I can’t last much longer, it’s so cold.” They were out of the breaks and it was just the ebb chop that capsized her. You know when you get pretty good breaks; eight foot or so, capsized the boat, but now they were out of that so they were just floating in the waves, and he said, “I’m going to swim this way and you swim that way. Maybe somebody will see us.” But there was about 10 or 12 . . . and what those fishing boats would do, they’d come up when it was like that; in a bad ebb tide, they would come up and they’d south of the South Jetty and there’s a nice lee in there and they would wait until the tide turned and then come around the jetty and go on in. And they took off, and by God, a fishing boat was coming up and headed for that area and the fisherman on deck, he comes into the skipper and he said, “Hey, look at that crazy seal over there”, and a lot of times the seal would come up with their flippers, and he said, “Look at that one, it keep waving at us”, and the Skipper said, “Yeah, God.” He said, “That’s not a seal.” He got his glasses and he said, “That’s a man”, and he picked him up and the guy said, “My buddy was right over here”, and they went over and they picked up his buddy. So I took the 40-footer and went out and took them off the boat and brought them on in because we hadn’t heard of hypothermia yet, but we knew they were damn cold. We took their clothes off, got blankets around them, took them to the Station, threw their clothes in the dryer and dried them on out. And we got to the Station, so now we got a call and there were two people. There were two people; the fellow that went and he got his lifejacket off and another one, there was four onboard because two of them had drowned or were missing and presumed drowned. So I said, “Okay.” So I get on the phone and I call up Portland and I get one of these ladies on the phone and I said, “Is this Mrs. Smith?” “Yes it is.” I said, “Was your husband down fishing?” “Yes he was.” I explained to her who I was. “This is Chief McAdams. I’m in charge of the Cape Disappointment Point Lifeboat Station. Your husband is missing and presumed drowned”, and of course this lady just busted up on the phone; started just crying and screaming and another lady answered the phone, she said “Yes, Yes”, and I explained who I was. I said, “Who is this?” She said, “Well this is Mrs. Jones.” “Oh my God, that’s the other guy.” So I told her, I said, “Your husband is missing and presumed drowned.” Well there was a big silence and then, “Oh my God”, she said, “We’ll be right down.” I said, “There’s no use trying to get down”, and at that time there was one helicopter at Astoria. It’s already dark. They’re not going to come out to search so we already pretty well knew what the story was, and I still had a boat out searching and she said, “Well, you’ve got planes up, you’ve got divers down, you’ve got . . .”, I said, “We’re doing all we can and I do have a boat underway”, and etc. Within three or four hours they were at the station and I kept sending the boat crew out even though we were tired, knowing we were going to be busy the next day, but more or less comfort for them and we knew the two people were gone, and in the morning they finally realized that and then the chopper came up with negative search and they were gone.

But that’s the thing we used to do. We have to tell the people. We don’t do that anymore. I guess they don’t do it. They leave it to the State Police or the Medical Examiner or what, but we did the whole thing ourselves right down the line and those were the stories that came out of the Cape, and there’s so many of them. I just kind of twist them through my mind; the different ones and what happened and like I say, for every one that was lost we probably saved a hundred or better and so that part is comforting. But still you wish, “Gee, why wasn’t I there with the boat at the time”, and you just can’t save them all. And I was at the Cape until after Kennedy was assassinated. He said, “Well you’ve never had isolated duty and the fellow that was supposed to go to the isolated duty got out on a hardship and you’ve got to go, but since you have a family and we’re supposed to give you 60 days, you’ve only got 20 days to report, so if you turn it down you won’t have to go but you will get the next duty station because you’re on the list.” But he said, “If you take this isolated duty station and get me off the hook, I promise you if you want a lifeboat station you’ve got one when you come back.” I said, “I’d hold you to it. I’ll take it.” So I was packed up and out there within 10/12 days and took my family to Santa Barbara and then I was down there and gone for 13 months from the time I saw my family and I went to Okido, Japan and put a year isolated duty up in Okido, Japan. Thirteen months later I was back and while I was overseas within six months I had orders to take over Officer in Charge, Umpqua River Lifeboat Station, and when I came back from overseas he filled his promise, I filled mine. I was at the Umpqua River Lifeboat station for four years there.

I had some terrific crews throughout my career and that crew at Cape Disappointment, those young guys and the time they put, was just terrific. The crew at Umpqua was just outstanding and the cause that we run . . . the capsizings; we had capsizing after capsizing at Umpqua because it’s a bad bar, and there was one particular one called the Yum Yum. It was about a 20 some foot boat capsized. I got the Coast Guard Medal out of it and my crew all got Coast Guard Medals and Commendation Medals out of it. We had one fellow that we saved and a couple we picked up deceased. The one we saved, actually as we got to him as the 44-footer went underneath the boat and I was dead in the water. I had it in neutral and he went underneath the boat and it was just a matter of waiting and pretty soon his yellow rain gear came up and my Seaman reached over the side and the grabbed the yellow rain gear and they jerked him onboard and put him in the survivor’s compartment and he was still breathing, and went into the surf and picked up his buddy.

At Umpqua we had learned with the 44-footer, if they’re alive we put them in the steering compartment, we had two bunks back there and you could strap them on down and put them in there, and then you have to leave them because you only have one or two people with you and you had to pull people onboard. And the dead ones; the deceased ones, that we pretty well knew were dead, they went down the main hatch to the mess deck and it was rough getting them down there but they didn’t mind the trip down because they had no feelings, and I’d have them lashed to the mess deck table. The one young man, his name was, Friday; old Bob Friday; a big 235 pound young man from Sweeny, Texas. He would lash them to the mess deck table one day we were picking up people and I leaned down to the hatch and just about that time he got sick, and dead bodies and lashed them to the table and he got sick and kind of heaved up a little bit, and I looked down and I said, “Don’t do that on those people.” You know Friday looked on up and he said, “Golly Moe Chief, this is really something.” [Chuckle] I’ll never forget it. He came on out there and I said, “It’s time to get another one”, and he’d pull them onboard, and that’s the type of people you had. They were just with you all the time.

At Umpqua we also did the Life Magazine shots there with George Schultz and then we did the "Lassie" film there, and there are probably a hundred stories out of that shooting that Lassie film; are humorous and so funny.  And the one that sticks in my mind, we caught a sea gull that was supposed to be on the stern of the boat and when they were going to . . . the boat was going into the breakers and the fishermen had got hurt and Lassie, he came out on the deck and he looks up in the air and the Ranger’s flying back from being over in Salem in a helicopter and spots Lassie in the boat, and what they’re going to do is, Lassie comes out, looks at the sea gull and barks at the sea gull sitting on the stern of the boat and the seagull flies away and then they pan to the helicopter.  Well we caught the seagull and the director of the thing had worked with animals and birds and things so he knew that.  So he catches the seagull and it took him a long time because he had just snare and he finally snared one leg and got it and then he puts it in box, keeps it in box overnight.  He said, “Tomorrow when I open up the box and we handle the seagull he’ll handle really nicely”, which he did.  He said, “Now we’ll put the seagull on the stern of the boat. We’ll put a little line around his leg with a toggle”, and then he says, “When your men walk up the seagull will try to fly and he’ll bump his butt a couple of times on the stern of the boat”, and then he said, “I can do all my shooting, your man can move around and he won’t do it, and then you’ll undo the toggle and then really like this, the seagull will fly away.”  Well we did this and he made the shots and finally he pulled the toggle line after the seagull had bumped his butt a couple of times going up in the air and the line would come tight, pulled the toggle and the line came through and then the seaman went like this back out of camera range and the seagull would just squat on the deck, and the old guy running the fishing boat - it was his fishing boat - he said, “I’ll get him off there”, and he guns the boat ahead and the seagull falls off the stern of the boat and comes flying out of the wake, and even in the Lassie film all you could see is the seagull in the boat and the next thing he’s coming flying right out of the wake on the stern going in the air [laughter].  But it took us a day and a half catching the seagull, putting him onboard, and they used the shot for probably five seconds.

So we had a lot of fun doing those shots.

While we were doing the Lassie filming and also while we were doing the Life Magazine shooting, when we were doing the Life Magazine, old George Silk – man, what a wonderful man he was - he came from New Zealand.  He had that Australian/British accent with him and he had been with kings and queens; been with Kennedy, been with Queen Elizabeth, what a wonderful person.  He’d been all around the world doing his shots and things and he came there and he wanted to do this one shot with the tripod on the boat, which we did and got, and when he looked at the bar when he came there – he’d been up the Columbia River over a week and a half waiting for rough conditions and he couldn’t get them and when they finally got them the gear went out on the 44-footer.  They said, “We’ll go down to Umpqua.  Mac will get you some breakers.”  So they called down.  I said, “Yeah, the bar is breaking is 15 feet high.”  So they come down one . . . there are 700 yards between the jetties at Umpqua so the main channel was open but the middle ground’s breaking big and he got there that afternoon and he looked at and he said, “The damn thing, I just can’t get it rough enough.”  I said, “Well wait a minute, we’re a mile away”, looking out the mess deck window – we were up on the hill at the time.  I said, “Now you take a six-foot man and you put him on the end of the jetty.  You’ve got him.  Now move along with the breakers, and the breakers were that tall.  That’s 18 feet.”  He said, “By God, I think you’ve got something”, and I had a young boatswain’s mate; Barrier was his name, and he was a cameraman.  He had his only little darkroom up topside for taking pictures . I sent Barrier with George Silk and they had to make a seven-mile run with the jeep to get to the North Jetty, and they got there and he got all the pictures that first day that he put in Life Magazine except one where we had the tripod on the stern taking the breaker doing a 90-degree.  But he got all the pictures that one day but he spent a week with us, and what a neat person to talk to and a lot of experiences from him.  But we rolled the boat over and he was in the 36-footer.  We rolled her upside down and he was shooting it with his camera and just as he was . . . the boat was upside down and ready to come back up, the engineering says, “Look at that”, and stuck his arm right in front of the camera and he lost the shot that was coming back up again.  But I told him, “I’m not going to do it again, not for a while anyway” [Chuckle]

So at Umpqua, four years, I don’t know how many lives we saved out of there, the different tows, the capsizings, the different things. If I can go back through like the stories I’ve been telling you, there’s probably just as many interesting ones out of there. And the real hero is like . . . the young man, he was with him and his younger brother, his mother and his father and the dog and they went out and got lost in the fog, tied to a crab pot buoy and then instead of staying with the crab pot buoy and waiting until morning the dad had a little gas left and started up the motor and started trying to find his way back and capsized in the breakers.  He made it.  The young brother made it.  The mother made it and his father drowned.  He walked across the sand dunes that morning and hailed a boat that was going down the channel and they came to the station and we went back and got the bodies and everything, and came back and I never heard from the mother for awhile and then I got a long letter from her and she said, “I’m very sorry it took so long to write you back and thank you, but on the way to the funeral my son, who had walked the sand dunes and saved us and kept us warm was killed in a car accident.”  And you know, it was those tragedy stories that happened down the line.

So I put the four years at Umpqua, a wonderful, wonderful, experience, great crew, and after my four years I got orders to . . . while I was there I got orders to go back to Washington, DC and help design the 41-footer, and when I was back in Washington, DC there I was the only enlisted man in the room with all officers. There were two Captains there; Captain Richmond and Captain Haines who later became the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and Chester Richmond who became Admiral of the 13th District here; great, great officers back there. Most of all the officers I ran into the Coast Guard were really, really great. Every once in awhile, just like any enlisted man or anything else, you find somebody who . . . well to say you clash in personalities, but most of the officers and the men I’ve known in the Coast Guard have just been outstanding and here are two Captains that became Admirals that I just admired greatly.

Back there designing that 41-footer I could tell you all kind of stories about going through that and the different things we ran into designing that boat, and then when I left Umpqua I was to be assigned to Seattle to safe boating - and I’d done a lot of public speaking. I had the film, the Lassie films; all the rough water film from that and there were 26 minutes of terrific rough water film in there and I had that, and I’d go around to boating clubs and I spoke to people from San Juan, Puerto to Juneau, Alaska; thousands of people giving talks on safe boating and different aspects. So they were going to put me into the safe boating up in Seattle and while I was there - I hadn’t been there more than a week - I got orders to go up at the testing of the 41-footers and there were three boats; a 36, a 40, a 41 and a 42-foot boat and that was my next phase of seamanship was going back east, picking up them boats and spending seven months and 7,000 miles running from Curtis Bay, Maryland to Canada and down to Miami and back up again. And every Station we went to we took over their total search and rescue and all their calls, and another whole new phase of seamanship.

But the 41-footers, we ran, like I say, 7,000 miles up and down. We went to every lifeboat station we could along the way, took over the total search and rescue. New York; we were there two or three weeks. Some of the Chiefs were from back East. There were four of us, one for each boat. We would change boats every week or two so we could evaluate each boat differently and they would take off on the weekends and I would take their duty. I had no place to go and I would have rather ran search and rescue anyway. So I got the majority of the search and rescue calls that we were on. Out of New York people jumping off of bridges, bodies floating and all the surprising things that go on all along. There was one kind of humorous one out of there when we were going up the East River on patrol one morning and I had a New York crew with me, and we spot this body floating down the river and it was an African American floating down the river and arms out. We could just barely spot it going down and I said, “Oh god”, and the First Class Boatswain’s Mate said, “Oh, what are you going to do?” I said, “We’re going to go around and pick him up. Break out the Stokes Litter.” I said, “Get a plastic”, because I had handled quite a few bodies by this time and after they’ve been in the water for a while the skin and all the flesh turns to jello and it’s just a wire basket, it sticks too it and it really makes a mess, so cover it up with a piece of plastic and lay them in there and you’re better. So I told them what to do and he said, “Well let him go, let him go. He’ll go down in the Battery and they’ll get him down there and the crews will come out”, and I said, “Well we spotted him. That’s our job. We’ll do it”, and he said, “Oh.” I said, “That’s the way it is”, and he said, “Okay.” So I turned the boat around and went downstream and blended around the current and I’m coming back up there and as I get there I started to laugh. It was a great big giant Panda bear floating face down in there [chuckle]. I said, “You can let him go down the Battery now”, and it wasn’t a half hour later they got a call off the Battery that there was a body floating in there. They sent the 40-footer out and picked up the Panda bear [chuckle]. So there were a lot of humorous ones along the line.

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My thanks and appreciation go to the U.S. Coast Guard for allowing me to use this incrediable interview of a great man.

 

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