Tales of the Past

By Joe Ferguson

From “We’ve Been There” by Esther V. Stormer ©1992 – Reprinted By Permission.

When I shipped in 1937, they took six men from this district per year. There were a lot of applicationsif 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."

That son-of-a-gun 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.

The 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.

I 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 menone 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 on?"

It 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."

They replied, "You can have your choice of ships."

I 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."

He said, "You can go to school on a ship."

"I 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 wellthe 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 chanceand that is how I got into aviation.

The Coast Guard had a training base at Argentia, I've forgotten what the designation was. At any rate, an AP[1] 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.)

The 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."

They 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.

Another 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 that Marine?"

We said, "Yeah, he got transferred."

"Yeah," they said, "we sent him to the States and his luggage to Tokyo."

"Sure, next flight back from Tokyo and he'll get his stuff too."

"No," they said, "It will take about a year. We sent the baggage to a reclamation center."

When 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 around"

I 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 money."

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.

[1] Aviation Pilot (enlisted rate)

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