From “We’ve Been There” by Esther V. Stormer ©1992 – Reprinted By Permission.
I shipped in 1937, they took six men from this district per year. There were a
lot of applications—if
you had brains and were healthy, they took you. It took me six months of waiting
and three of us got in and opted for the HAIDA, which was in dry-dock in
Lake Union. I had a choice of the HAIDA or the REDWING, an old
steam tug. I took the HAIDA, because it was going to Alaska and I wanted
to get out of the states. They shipped me in and handed me a car token and said,
"That's it, you're in." That night we anchored in Port Angeles. It was
three or four days later they issued me a seabag. I knew seamanship fairly well
because I'd worked on a fishing boat, but I didn't know the skipper from an
apprentice seaman. On the HAIDA, they said they'd give me a big break and
put me on the boat deck with the leading seaman. It was pretty good duty, but
part of the job was taking care of the mast and stack.
One day this seaman told me, "This is the day we're going to paint the stick." We got the paint and away we go. From the yardarm on up was a cable ladder up to the truck and I was scared to death. He went up first and swung clear out to the end, maybe 12 or 15 feet of three-inch pipe. He straddled it and out he went. I thought, "I got it made. He's up there and he'll paint it."
painted one side, came down, swung around got on the ladder below me, and said,
"Now you do the other half." I'll bet until the day they scrapped that
ship my fingerprints were in the yardarm.
leading seaman, an old timer, knew what he was doing. From then on I wasn't
afraid of any of it. Now and then they'd even call me out to help in the rigging
because most of the seamen wouldn't go up there.
only had three years on a ship and all of that was on the HAIDA. I didn't
know if I wanted to stay in or what, but I had 30 days to think about it. My
home was in the Port Angeles, Washington area, and I went down there but
couldn't find any work. I went over to visit at the air station; at that time
they had two airplanes and 30 men—one
of which was a Warrant. They had a barracks, galley, and a head. I noticed
everybody was fat and happy, and I thought, "What the heck is going
was in the morning and they said, "Stick around and have chow with us. MY
GOD. They ate like a restaurant! They had a Chief Commissary Steward that was a
chef. That was about the time Franklin Roosevelt said, "We have to draft
the men, but we will never draft the ex-serviceman." HA! I wrote to the
District, "I want to ship over."
replied, "You can have your choice of ships."
said, "I don't want a ship. I want the air station." The guy was a
mustang Commander by the name of Jensen. He asked me why I wanted the air
station, and I said, "I want to go to school."
said, "You can go to school on a ship."
tried to go to school on a ship and it didn't work." That was pure baloney.
I just wanted the air station so I can eat well—the
food in Alaska was terrible. I finally talked him into it and he sent me down
there to Port Angeles. There a chance came up to go to Aviation Machinist school
and three of us put in for it. I don't remember what our grades were, but just
for seniority I got the chance—and
that is how I got into aviation.
Coast Guard had a training base at Argentia, I've forgotten what the designation
was. At any rate, an AP
Chief named Robbie, a nice guy, had a problem with a Marine. The Marine had it
in for him for some reason. The Marines used to come over
to the CG
detachment to bum flights and go out on recreation flights. Robbie told
operations, "If that SOB ever shows up, I want him." (The Marines
didn't know that Robbie was a pilot.)
Marine Robbie was laying for sure enough wanted to go for a ride. Operations
told the Marine to get in his parachute and get in the plane sitting out there,
which he did. Robbie came out, got in the front seat, fired it up, and taxied
out to the end of the runway, turned to the Marine and said, "Now you SOB,
I've got control."
took off and he did things with that airplane that no airplane has ever done
before. About an hour later, the plane landed and the pilot got out and the
Marine was still there bent over in the rear seat,
he'd heaved all over the place. He finally got
straightened out enough to get out and Robbie said, "You get back in there
and clean that up." That's a custom. If you throw up or make a mess in a
plane, you clean it up.
incident in Kodiak involved a gate Marine at the base. Cocky little B. Just gave
everyone a bad time. The Coast Guard shared a base with the Navy, we had half
the hangar, they the other. This Marine gave everybody, Navy and Coast Guard, a
bad time, and they were laying for him. He eventually got his orders and left.
The plane hadn't got off the ground before the Navy guys said, "Remember
said, "Yeah, he got transferred."
they said, "we sent him to the States and his luggage to Tokyo."
next flight back from Tokyo and he'll get his stuff too."
they said, "It will take about a year. We sent the baggage to a reclamation
the Engineering Division would fallout for inspection, a Machinist Mate on the HAIDA
could stand at attention and turn his heels backwards. The engineering officer
would blow his stack! All those toes pointing forward and one set of black
heels! "God damnit," he'd say, "God damnit Earl, turn your feet
was in aviation right after the war when they bought the submarine TAMBER
in. The sub sailors were nice guys. They'd come over and we'd take them for a
ride and they'd say, "Boy this is real Navy. You guys really earn your
One time I went out on the TAMBER, just a practice run out by Whidby Island. Those little diesel boats were pretty cramped. You gotta be in your bunk, in the galley, or on your job. So, I'm hanging around watching this and that, until finally a guy says, "You gotta get out of the way, here's my sack." As I'm laying there with the klaxons going off, somebody is yelling, "GAS, GAS, GAS!" And they're running throughout the boat. All I can think of is the one time I go out on a boat and they get into trouble. No one tells me it's a drill. You'd invite those guys over to quarters and they'd ask what YOU wanted to watch on TV, always courteous. Then when they left, they emptied all the ashtrays, put everything away, and you'd never know they were there.
 Aviation Pilot (enlisted rate)