BMCM Tom McAdams, USCG (Ret.) Interview

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But anyway, when we finished that phase and that was quite . . . we were in Miami for a whole month. I got to learn . . . because I was there every weekend and the Captain - I can’t think of his name now - in charge of the base had asked me if I would train his crews and give them some info in towing and things, which I was more than happy to do because I had nothing else to do but test boats and run and do the classes, and while we were out of there, there was a 255-foot Coast Guard vessel that broke down going out the Miami entrance and I had the 41-footer at the time that the Coast Guard now has and I was out there that evening, and they called and I said, “Give me a line and I’ll tow you”, and they said, “You’re not big enough”, and I virtually said, “I’m all you got right now. Give me your towing hawser”, and finally, “You’re right. We drifting out to the jetties and you’re the only one here”, and so down comes that towing hawser and they gave me a short towing hawser, and I called back and I said, “I’ve got to have another 200, at least, feet of line. If I’m towing you down I can’t tow you. I’ve got to get out in front where I can stretch”, and the boatswain’s mate on deck, they married another hawser on there and in no time at all I was way out in front and I towed that 255-foot ship; my crew and myself, out the Miami entrance out to the sea buoy and they finally got the other engine on the line, or the one engine they had, got it back on the line and we cast them on off.

So there’s a lot of experience in towing. And my crews, I tried to emphasize and teach them everything I did, and people back . . . I talked about Mr. Lawrence at first. He taught me a lot about towing and things and sitting around and telling sea stories that I learned about towing, and a lot of things I would pick on up from doing it. Like you take the case where I’ve got a large fishing vessel in tow and the old 36-footer and the four inch manila hawser, and of course after I fray out all the slack and I got out 5/600 feet of line it had mildewed. It hadn’t been off the reel, and I was new at this station and they hadn’t had that much line out and the line broke. It broke three or four times on me. So I’m marrying the line together and doing different things and I finally figured, “Well I’ve got to have a wake in the middle of the line right where the catentary [phonetic] comes I’ve got to have a lee. So we had big rope finders and they were heavy. So I tie one on and I tie the loop around the line and I let her slide down to about the middle of the line and my expectations were that it would slide down the line and then get about the middle of it and it would hang there because it would go this way and then it would get up and come back down the line. I put the first finder over and I went down the line. It went right to the bow of that fishing boat. I put another finder on there. It went right down the line and right up, right up the line, right to the bow of the fishing boat. So I employed that idea on passing a pump. If I got a boat in tow and he wants needs a pump all of a sudden or we didn’t get him one out there, I’d take the floatable pump, say, “How far is it from your bow to where you can you reach over”, and the guy would say, “Well I’m a 40-foot boat, 35-feet back.” So I’d put 35-feet of line on the pump, tie it to the hawser, throw it overboard and it floats on the hawser. The eye of the line goes above, 35-feet back, the pump comes alongside and they reach over and pull it in. It worked perfect. They’ve even employed that now in some of the passing pumps. So you learn from doing these different things over time.

The same way with . . . we developed a way to right a boat that was capsized. You put the bow end on it and you throw a grappling hook over the side of the boat and you have the bow line with just a few feet of slack made fast, and then you have your grappling hook line made fast; taught. As you take off, the grappling line pulls it. The minute it’s over you slack off the grappling line, this line becomes taught and the boat is upright and you have him back squeeze on your second wake back at a 45-degree angle and all the water pours out and you slow down and then you skip the boat on in. We righted many, many boats like that up to 20 some foot. And its different things you learn so you pass them along to your crews and the crews would do it.

So I get through doing these 41-footers and we picked the best one, which ended up to be the 41-footer, and then I go back to Seattle to be in Safe Boating and I get called to the District, and from that, and being gone testing boats and everything, from that suddenly a call from the sailboat, I received the Commendation Medal and I got called to the District office and the Admiral - and that was Admiral McClellan I think at the time - gave me the Commendation Medal and then he said, “I want to talk to you”, and I said, “Yes Sir”, and he says, “The Motor Lifeboat School in Cape Disappointment has kind of went downhill the last year. They haven’t had anybody with surf experience in there and I want you to take over the school this coming winter. You have three months to write up lesson plans, get them approved. The Commander here will be working with you and you have this Yeoman over here full time and you’ll come in this office everyday and you will write full lesson plans and the Commander will fill you in”, and I said, “Yes Sir”, and the Commander said, “This is what we want. We’re going to be running Boatswain’s Mate classes and Engineer classes. Boatswain’s Mate class will be three weeks. Engineer class is two weeks. You will write a lesson plan for them all and you will have help from Engineering on the engineering plant.” So I put it together and I wrote it out in longhand, the Commander shortened it on up and the Yeoman typed it on up, and we had a book that was, oh, a good half to three quarter’s inch thick of all our lesson plans and everything we’d teach for that time and three months later I reported into Cape Disappointment. I had Larry Allen; First Class Engineer, who later went on to OCS and became a lieutenant in the Coast Guard. I had Larry Hicks, who’s now deceased; First Class, made Chief. Larry was one hell of a boat handler. He didn’t have much finesse about different things but when the chips were down Larry was there. And there was the Engineer Kabul and the four of us, and they gave me a Yeoman from the station there to help out. And it was a District school. It wasn’t a National Motor Lifeboat School then, it was a District school, and Admiral Chester took over and Richmond, yeah, and was really pushing the school and we pushed it hard, and we said, “We’re going to be 50 percent underway”; 50 percent of the time underway in three weeks. We put the people through the classrooms and then we took them out in the boats and we did everything we could try to teach them out in the boats, rough water. And we had wet suits at that time, no dry suits or nothing. You had wet suits and you could jump overboard and sometimes you only had the Mustangs and we’d tried them jumping overboard and you can last quite a while in a Mustang, not near as long as you could in a wet suit.

But the crew I had there was really something.  Day in and day out, class after class after class and you were going to get your ass wet 50 percent of the time. Out of an eight hour day four hours are going to be spent getting them so wet, and you know it gets to you after a while. But my crew was there all the time and we had some close calls. We rolled boats. We had people in the water that we resuscitated afterwards. We never lost anybody but came close, but we pulled them through. And at that time when we put the dummy over – we called him Sam or Oscar or whatever you want to call him - we put the dummy over and I put the crews . . . teaching these young men how to pick him up, and we’d give them all the pickup and then they’d do it, but it became a time thing to them. Who can do it the fastest is the best. So we’d throw over Oscar. Now, and they would make their approach, starboard, port, calling out, having their lookout folks for the body reach out with the boat hook and “vroom!” Fifty-three seconds, wow, what a pickup! So I said, “Okay, pair yourselves off”, and they paired themselves off. I said, “Okay, you, jump overboard. You pick him on up.” Five minutes later I said, “How come you can’t get him onboard?” “I don’t want to hit him. I don’t want to chop him up.” I said, “Exactly, you’re not working with Oscar now. You’re working with a real person and I’m glad you’re thinking. Well let’s start picking him up before he dies of hypothermia”, and then they started picking people on up and doing it right, and they weren’t picking up a dummy and reaching out with a boat hook or running up on him. They were picking up a live person in the water and I said, “Not only that, he gets to pick you up just as soon as you’re through”, and pretty soon they started coming around. And my crew, great guys, wonderful Coast Guard people, all dedicated people, but I would pass on to them what I had learned but I was willing to listen to what they had learned so I could get it. And between . . . you take the guys like Larry Hicks picking up people and working . . . I could learn a lot from him and he learned a lot from me, so we just doubled our knowledge right off the bat. So we were both winners and that’s what made it, and I think of the one time we were off the Columbia River and we were having a man overboard drill, but we were working, we’re right off the North Jetty and I was back a ways and we had the 52-footer and two 44-footers and old Larry Hicks, he had the 44-footer. I had a 44-footer and I had another Boatswain’s Mate there and he had the 52-footer and he was working with Larry, and all of a sudden we had just picked up the dummy - we were still in the dummy stage – and we just picked up the dummy and Larry called me and I could tell from the sound of voice and the way he called on the radio. He said, “Mac, I’ve got a towline in the screw going into Peacock”, right off the North Jetty, and just the way he called me - there were no call letters or nothing – just, “Mac, I need help now”, and I saw the 52-footer right there. I said “Well the 52 will get him. I’ll come up in the backup position”, and I said, “Break out the towing hawser, do this, do that”, and we’re underway. I had a couple of hundred yards to run to get to him and I get there. The 52-footer at this time is still twin screw and twin rudder but it’s still a bear and he was right off the jetty going into the breakers and the 52-footer couldn’t quite get in. I took one look at the situation and I said, “Oh my God, get the hawser”, and I pulled in alongside of him and they threw that and it went right across the . . . and he had two guys up in the bow pulpit and we threw it and the hawser went right across the deck and man they made it fast and I straightened her into Peacock and I saw a series of breaks coming and I said, “Two turns around the towing bit and let her go.” By turning two turns around the towing bit that’s going to keep the line taught but it’s still going to be able to play out. If they made it fast I’d break the line and we’d would be dead and so would Larry. Two turns around the towing bit and I stand clear, and man, I poured the coal to it and we stretched around, and Larry’s lying at about a 45-degree angle and here comes this series of breaks. There’s enough strain on the line that it’s starting to bring him around but the line is burning. It’s just burning out over that towing bit and I’ve got 600 feet, and we’re laying her up and I said, “Hang on”, and that breaker came over the top of us and hit and it tore the towing reel right out of its brackets and the towing reel went up in the air about 10/12 feet right in the air and since the line is around the towing bit, “bang”, it came down and hit the deck and bounced back up in the air and “bang”, hit the deck and it just banged up and down through the water and the surf and the lines went up. When I saw there was only about 50-feet of line left and I had just went through breaker, I said, “Make her fast”, and “boom”, they went around that hitch two or three more times and locked her off, and then I took a slight strain on it and Larry was just coming around with his boat when that breaker hit him and he went over 90 - he probably would have rolled completely over - he went over 90-degrees and I drug him through that breaker and he had seven students and him and his engineer. There was nine people onboard and that boat went through the breaker broadside, tore his radar off, tore his towing reel off. It was gone, everything was gone, and he came right side up and now I’m in the middle of Peacock and it took us a half of mile working out to get back in the channel so I could turn around and tow him back on in. We got back in and he says, “I owe you one.” I said, “Well next time it will probably be me and you can come and get me because I don’t have to worry. I know you’ll be there”, and he said, “I always will be.” Larry was, like I say, he didn’t have much finesse but he was a great coxswain. I left the Motor Lifeboat School to come down here to take over this station here at Newport and Larry remained at the station and that’s when they lost the 41-footer there. And there was a double tragedy. They lost the 41-footer and three people. One person was on the bow and so when it went over in Peacock, and it was a nighttime drill and they were supposed to take the 44-footer. Well they said something happened to the 41-footer and everybody liked the 41-footer because it was fast, and we had planned the nighttime drills and you’d come out the Awapal [phonetic] Channel and you meet the Columbia River, and if there were two boats, and usually there’d be two boats, we’d send one boat to the Washington side into Schnook, which was three or four miles up the river and a real winding channel going in, the other boat would go into Hammond and then the boat from Schnook would go to Hammond and the one from Hammond would go up to the Skipenon [phonetic], which is right to Astoria and down that channel and then he would come back and go to Schnook. That way they would just crisscross and do all their navigation and all these new people from all over the United States and some from foreign countries had the chart and they had already been through navigation and everything and they would have to plot their courses. Well in the 41-footer, when he went back and got the 41 – and Larry was in charge of the school but he didn’t know they changed boats. It was his night off and the First Class had the night drill - and they were heading across and somebody yelled to the First Class, “We need your help down here in the chart room down in the 41-footer - just down one ladder there - and he went down there and he had somebody on the wheel who knew nothing about the Columbia River, who didn’t know anything where he was, and he said, “Put her on course, so and so.” Well the kid cranks that boat on up, you’ve got less than a mile across there and you’re in Clatsop Spit, and he ran right straight across the river right into Clatsop Spit and the kid then took a breaker and dumped over. Well the kid on the bow was lost. The boat was upside down and everybody’s inside down in the mess deck. So now they’re upside down. One fellow says, “I’m a diver. I can swim out”, and the First Class says, “Okay.” He dove . . . and if you picture the 41-footer upside down and there’s a ladder with about five, no more than six, aluminum steps and then you’re in the pilothouse and then you just . . . three to four feet and there’s a hatch and you’re outside, and the hatch was open. So all he had to do was . . . so really you’re not going over 15-feet. The kid dives down and pretty soon bangs on the hull and they tell . . . “I’m out, I’m out, I’m out.” Well the First Class told everybody, “Well it’s every man for himself”, and he said, “I’m going out next”, and one of the young men said, “Well I can’t do it” and he went back in the corner, and his friend said, “Well I stay with him.” He says, “That’s up to you”, and he went down and out. I talked to one of the survivors that was inside there - he’s now out of the Coast Guard and he lives in Coos Bay and has a sailboat – and he said, “I grabbed the flares and I put all these flares into my little jacket” he had on and he talked to the guys, and another guy went out and then he said, “I went out”, and he said, “I got up there”, and they had drifted out of Clatsop at this time and going down the channel now so they were in rough water but they weren’t in any big breakers, and they were all coming on out and the two fellows stayed in the boat. They would not come out, and I said, “My God, why didn’t you take a line and tie it down below? You have this air pocket and then take the line up above.” He says, “We didn’t have it. We looked for it.” I said, “Everybody had their shirt on. It’s only 15-feet. You rip two or three shirts in two.” He said, “Well nobody thought of that.” I said, “Oh my God.” I said, “What I would have done being there, I would have been the last one out but I would have taken that kid that says I’m staying with him and said no, you’re going next.” And I always had it that I would treat you fairly but you better do what I say. You had to have that respect and I would put the fear of hell in that kid that you are going to go out or you’re going to have to deal with me. So you’d be more scared of me then you would be of dying. If you could instill that man and still have the respect, that’s what you needed, and then I would have taken the other fellow and said, “You’re going with me”, and out we would have went. And even if I would have had to drag him out I would have brought him on out and then I could have worked on him on the boat or whatever, but there’s only 12-feet and it’s only going to take you a few seconds. I had that same thing happen to me with a young man and he was more scared of my position, you might say, then he was of dying and he did exactly what I told him although he could not swim a stroke and I didn’t know that, and he jumped over eight-foot breakers. But I’ll tell that story here when I get back to Newport. But here they were and then when they all got outside the fellow with the flares, he said, “Oh, my hands are pretty good”. He said, “Give me flare”, and they shot off a flare and the chopper just on evening patrol was going by and spotted the flare and that’s how they got spotted. Then he came back and he picked them up, and who was first up in the chopper was the First Class and he says, “I’ve got to tell the story” in that he was first up there and then his crew came up and he said, “There are still two men inside”, and they were inside for quite sometime and the boat drifted around outside the South Jetty and to the south there and then it sank and they had divers and everybody come look. It was too late. They recovered the boat a few weeks later and the bodies were still there. But you’ve got to instill in your men a sense of pride, a sense of respect, but also a sense of, I don’t know if you want to call it fear or just devotion. I would say devotion more than anything else. You’re devoted and they know that you are going to do your best to save them because if you save them I’m saving me. If I can do the best and they know that, they’ll do anything for you and you will do anything for them, and a good crew, you know, its just there. So that’s what happened at the Cape Station right after I left. And Larry was there and when they had the investigating party come down to investigate this, Larry had the duty but he didn’t know this was going on until after the chopper was on-scene and picking people on up. But one of the officers, and it was a tragedy here, but sometimes we say things in the heat of battle or in the heat of rescue or whatever it might be, or your emotions get to a point that you’re not thinking. You’ve got tunnel vision and you’re only thinking down one side, and this officer who was a captain at the time told him, he said, “You’re in charge, it’s your fault.” Well Larry was the type of the person that he was a rugged individual but he took this to heart, and Larry liked to booze; he liked to drink, but he was good. But this was the turning point and he retired from the Coast Guard after 20 some years right after this happened, a Chief Boatswain’s Mate. He was a very smart man. He had got his ticket and he was a skipper for cruise ships and he ran boats out of Louisiana to the oil rigs out there and then he was the skipper and he had all his licenses and everything and he would call me up and it would be like morning there; back there, he would call me up like three or four o’clock in the morning and I could tell he had been drinking. And he would say, “Mac, it wasn’t my fault those guys died. Why did they blame me for it?” I said, “Larry, it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t even have the thing. You taught everything.” I said, “You were a victim of circumstances and you were the last person on the rung and somebody said it was your fault and it’s not”, and time after time I told Larry this but he just kept drinking and drinking and going on. He finally came back to Westport – that’s where he was raised and he had been there at the Lifeboat Station for years and years. He had a tour at Motor Lifeboat School before I got there as an instructor - and he literally drank himself to death. His daughter came over to his house one day because he hadn’t been around for a couple of days and found him in there and he died of alcohol poisoning. He literally drank, and I said what a tragedy to loose such a good man in the Coast Guard and such a rugged, tough individual, but that one thing got him and like I say, I always felt bad about that but it happens and that’s the story of life. But I try to instill in my people the training, the best I could give them, and they would do anything that I asked. When we had surf drills and when we got ready for doing things; picking the people out of water; they don’t let them pick people out of the water now - people that are being trained, you know, they got to do it on the dummy - and like I say, after a while you’re picking up a dummy. You’ve got to get trained to pick the people out of the water. You loose sight of them underneath the sheer of the bow. When do you stop? When do you pull her down? When you give them the ladder? You’ve only got one chance to get them alongside and you’ve got to make it good, and yes there’s a danger. If it was nice it would be simple. It’s not simple. And when I came back down here and took over this Station for my last four years we had all kinds of calls; capsizings again, things going, humorous calls where we picked up a . . . a capsized boat, man and a woman, came around and just so happened the woman was first on-scene and reached down and she was hanging on the boat and the husband, he must have been 50-feet away from the boat, and we picked the woman on up, back to the steering compartment, she’s alive and she’s well, she’s cold and shook up but everything . . . put her in there, strap her on down, rush back, pull up alongside and it’s between breaks and the boat here and the bow of the boat was floating up like this, and we grabbed the guy and we pulled him and we said, “Are you okay?” He said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I said, “Get the hook. Get the line in her”, and we took a boat hook and we carved a notch in the back of the boat hook and then we had the small nylon line and the hook and the line just fit in the notch. It gave you an eight-foot handle was what it did and you could reach out and snap it into the bow eye. I said, “Get the hook. We’ll get the boat. I think we can save it”, and the guy said, “Do you think you can save the boat”, and I said, “Yeah”, and he hooked into that and we were going ahead and he said, “Thank God”, he said, “I’ve got two beautiful salmon right up in the bow. Do you think you can save them?” I said, “Well we’re going to right the boat and if they stay in the bow we’ll get them.” I said, “You were alone on the boat weren’t you?” He said, “Oh God, my wife, my wife!” I said, “That alright, she’s in the steering compartment”, and he said, “Oh God, don’t tell her I thought of the fish first.” [Laughter] But those are the humorous ones and you came out good on them, and we had all kinds of calls like that out of here.

And then one of the ones that was very interesting and I hadn’t been here too long.  It was the 13th of December 1973 and I got here in ‘73.  I remember the date and the 13th, it happened to be the wife’s birthday so I just kind correlated them and that’s how I remember the date.  But on the 12th of December we got a call, 20 miles out to sea, a fishing boat and it was wintertime . He was going up the coast, had been overhauled by sea break and now was scared to turn around and he had taken on some water.  So we ran 20 and took the 52-footer and I ran 20 miles to sea and we got him.  We escorted him back and now the tide’s ebbing and the bar is breaking so we waited four hours outside the whistle buoy.  The tide changed.  I came in and looked at it and said, “Fine”, and went back and we got the fishing boat and we brought him in.  He was under his own power.  We were just escorting and misery loves company.  So we got him back in and so it’s around two o’clock in the morning and we get him in, and we all had been out there now since ten o’clock in the morning so we’re tired and that, and I go home and just get in bed and it’s just breaking daylight and the phone rings and the Watch Center says, “Chief, we’ve got a sailboat going through the surf at Wallport, which is 15 miles down.  I said, “Get the vehicle.  Get the wet suits, go.”  Four guys jump in the vehicle and that and I said, “I’ll take the 44-footer”, and I lived across the street from the station and I could beat the boat crew to the dock.  I could run down there and over the fence and I was down there at the dock, and the engineer is on the line and we’re gone with the 44-footer because it’s faster than the 52.

The water was rough but we got across the bar all right.  I got about a mile down south and they called me on the radio and said, “We have the people out of the surf and the boat is in the surf.  You can’t to it.  It’s way inside the surf and well aground.”  So, “Fine.”  So I come back to the station with the boat and the crew was down there, and there was a man; he was 56 and the woman was 53 or 54.  She had extreme hypothermia and he had mild hypothermia and they were sailing the boat from San Diego and coming up to spend Christmas with his sister in Port Orford, and one storm after the other hit and they were drifting with the storm and finally the engine went out and then they were sick and then they got hypothermia, and they just literally laid down in the boat and let it go adrift, and if you just put up a jib and cocked her sideway he could have sailed up the coast.  But anyway, they came through the surf there and it was 50-foot sailboat, double mast, and they hit the beach, and when my crew got there they were just launching - he had a 15-man rubber raft onboard - and they pulled the cord and the 15-man rubber raft, “vroom’, well out it went and the wind caught it and “vroom”, up in the air it up and it was gone.  We picked it up about three or four miles down the beach because it went out and after it got in the water and got water in it, it came to the surf and we picked it back up down the beach.  Then the woman jumped over and my crew in their wet suits ran out and grabbed the crew and brought them on in, and the woman spent two days in the hospital with hypothermia and they let him out that night, and my crew was around the boat that day but it was in the breakers.  It then . . . right after they got them off a big surge came in and rolled that boat completely over in the surf and broke off both masts and it ran right side up again.  It was an all-steel sailboat.  

So about eight o’clock that night I get a call from the husband.  He’s now out of the hospital and everything.  He said, “Could you help me”, and I said, “Well what do you need?”  He said, “Well I don’t want to talk over a regular phone.  Could you come to the station?”  I said, “Certainly.”  So I went down to the station.  He said, “My life savings are in that boat.”  He said, “I’ve got a bag of gold and it’s hidden in the air duct vent in the main salon.”  I said, “Okay”, and I had a crew down there at the time and they got a couple of bicycles off of it and they got a coin collection in the cabinet off of it, and I asked them about that coin . . . “No, no, that’s different.  This is a bag of gold and it’s hidden in the air duct vent in the main salon.”  I asked the crew down there, “Can you get in the main salon?”  They said, “Negative, the waves are breaking over and it’s filling up full of sand.”  “Okay” he said, “we can’t get down. You’ve got to go through the cabin and down the hatch.  We can’t get in there.  Its too dangerous.”  “Fine.”  So that’s the 13th . The 14th; another storm.  The 15th; in between storms, and in two or three days the boat, the starboard side is maybe two feet, maybe three in places, out of the sand.  The port side is a couple of feet under the sand.  The boat is totally engulfed in sand and in the surf, and his son came on up from San Diego, he was a diver and tried to get in there and they couldn’t do it.  So we waited and we waited and I didn’t tell anybody, you know, this guy’s got his life savings onboard in gold and a local newspaper had to pick up on the story and things were down; there wasn’t much news going, so they called me up and said, “Well how come your crew is down there almost every night on that boat?  What’s going on?”  I said, “Well the fellow’s got a restaurant in San Diego and a home there and all his papers; his insurance papers and his mortgages are all onboard the boat.  They’re no good to anybody but him but it would speed things up if we could get them for him, and I have a volunteer crew just trying to help out somebody who’s lost everything.”  They said, “Well that’s nice”, because I know they would have people down there with bulldozers and dynamic and everything else and shooting everybody on up, and I didn’t know how much gold was there but he said his life savings.  

Well on the 23rd of December the weather switched.  They had a low tide.  It was cold, an east wind, and we could work on the boat. I’m now in the fire department – I’d been on the fire department 26 years since I got out of the Coast Guard but then I wasn’t but I still knew the people in the fire department and I went to them and I got their metal cutting saw, and I went to the city and I got their dredging pump that can pump 90 percent soap, 10 percent water.  We went down.  We cut a four-by-four hole in the main deck, right about above the main salon, with the saw and it was plum full of sand.  We built a little bridge across from the boat with some timbers and that to hook the pump up, and I’m thinking, “God, there’s water here now, but just as the tide goes down if we don’t have all this pumped out we’re going to have to dig it out by hand and I might not have time enough until the tide comes in.”  So I got the idea; I used the dredging pump and I built a cofferdam around it. That way the water keeps running back into the boat and we’ll pump the sand out, and it worked.  Finally we got five feet deep into the main salon and it’s getting late now and the tide’s starting to turn but still a little ways from us.  The third class boatswain’s mate jumps down in the hole and takes a little pry bar and rips off the metal to the air duct vent.  He reaches up there.  He says, “Here you go Chief”, and he throws me up this bag and I catch it.  I said, “This is his life savings.  There’s got to be more than this.  Look around”, and he reached up there and he said, “No, that’s it.”  We searched all overboard.  My boy at the time was about 14 years old and he was diver.  He dove out there under sea gardens and . . . so I had him go into the cabin with a little shovel because he was small and he dug out the guy’s silver inlaid sextant and got it out for him. 

So we come back to the station and I open up this bag and everybody’s waiting to see this, and I didn’t know what it was, nobody knew, and I opened it up and we took pictures of it.  We dumped it on the mess deck table; 944 British uncirculated sovereign coins.  If you took the . . . and it weighed 18 pounds.  If you took the 18 pounds of gold at that time and sold it as just gold it was worth almost a million dollars.  I think it was around six/seven hundred thousand dollars if you just melted the gold down.  It was worth well over a million dollars in gold value.  Today’s value, well over three million dollars in value of these coins.  There were four denominations.  There were two kings and two queens in these denominations.  So we all ran our fingers through it and then I collected it all back up and I put it in the bag and I locked it up in my safe.  Well I had to send a message to the District and I told the newspaper and that because now we had the gold and this and that, and then the newspapers started to call me because the owner had since, in this ten days, went to Port Orford with his sisters, and I called him that night and said, “I’ve got your gold.”  Now if somebody told me the gold and I have a million/two million dollars worth gold, man, I would hire somebody.  I’d buy a new car.  I’d come up and get my gold.  He said, “Well I’ll be up in a few days and get it.”  “Okay.”  So I sent the message saying to the District and saying what I had and etc.  The next day I get a message from the State Department. “Do not give gold back.”  At that time it was against the law to have gold at any amount that has a certain value in your possession without a license.  It said, “Do not give gold back until release.”  “Fine.”  Luckily the fellow didn’t come up.  If he came up that night I would have gave it to him.  But anyway, I had the gold and then the District called and said, “Where’s the gold”, because the papers were all coming out with how much I had said it was and the owner now was denying it.  He said, “Oh no, it was just over a thousand dollars worth of coins I had.”  When I talked to him later he told me.  Why I didn’t want everybody to know I had over a million dollars in gold.  They would have been coming after me.  Its better they go after you while you had it.  So the District had me put it in a safe deposit vault and I said, “Well that’s kind of silly because the papers all say I have the gold and if anybody wanted to come and get it would probably come to the Coast Guard station.”  But nobody came around. 

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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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