44ft Motor Lifeboats

BMCM Tom McAdams, USCG (Ret.) Interview

Page 1

Date of Interview: 13 February 2004
Place: McAdam's residence, Newport, Oregon

The following oral history was provided to the Coast Guard Historian's Office through the courtesy of the Foundation for Coast Guard History. In this interview, which is more of a memoir than a question-and-answer session, Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Thomas McAdams describes his illustrious career in the Coast Guard, which began in 1950 and lasted into 1977. The highly decorated McAdams is something of a legend in the Coast Guard's small boat community and among the fishermen of the Pacific Northwest, where one newspaper writer wrote that McAdams was "the champion lifesaver and lifeboat roller of the Pacific Coast." BMCM McAdams' memoir is an important addition to the Coast Guard's archives.

In his remarkable career, which spanned 27 years, BMCM McAdams participated in more than 5,000 rescues and was credited with saving more than 100 lives. He survived nine "rolls," where his self-righting 16-ton lifeboat actually capsized due to the large swells that develop outside the river entrances along the coasts of Oregon and Washington, and then rolled upright again, sometimes holding the crew underwater for up to 40 seconds. He wrote about one of those times: "In one operation while in charge of a 44' MLB [Motor Life Boat]. . . my two man crew and myself were pitched-pulled, that is, end-over-end, by a large breaking swell. We were pushed down for approximately 40-some seconds. We are strapped in, but are outside and must hold your breath while the tons of water cascades over you, and you hang precariously upside down till the MLB rights itself again."

During his Coast Guard career, BMCM McAdams was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Coast Guard Medal, the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Achievement Medal, among others, and he was one of the few Coast Guardsmen to be awarded both the Gold Lifesaving Medal and the Coast Guard Medal. Additionally, in 1972, the Commandant of the Coast Guard at that time, Admiral Chester R. Bender, presented him with the first Coxswain's Insignia ever issued, because, as Admiral Bender noted: "[BMCM McAdams] has a tremendous record of rescues . . . and that he truly represents all Coast Guardsmen." BMCM McAdams commanded many of the small boat stations in the Pacific Northwest, including the Coast Guard's Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment, Ilwaco, Washington, where he wrote the textbook used to train future lifesavers. He even appeared on national television, including the programs "To Tell The Truth" and the "Who's Who" feature of Charles Kuralt's "On the Road" program.

The Historian's Office would like to thank BMCM McAdams for taking the time to give future generations a look into what life was like in the Coast Guard during the time he served. Our thanks to the Foundation for Coast Guard History too for providing us with a copy of his manuscript. It is only through efforts such as theirs that Coast Guard history is preserved for future generations.

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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