I graduated from High School in Longview, Washington, in 1940 and the following year hostilities broke out. I was engaged to Doreen Kisch, who I had known since we were small kids, and the draft board was breathing down my neck. I wanted no part of the Army so, in 1942, I enlisted in the Coast Guard at Portland, Oregon, about 50 miles away. After basic training at Alameda, California, I was assigned to the beach patrol at Cambria. The Coast Guard first arrived in Cambria in December 1942, and I spent my first Christmas in the military there at the age of 20.
At the time, Cambria was a quiet little town with no jobs. The country was still recovering from the great depression and, thanks to gasoline rationing and blackouts, the tourist trade was quite dead. In addition to the Coast Guard, the Army Signal Corps had taken over the Cambria Pines Lodge and I’m sure the town was glad to see the military set up bases there.
When we first arrived there were three local fellows getting the base ready for us and there was an ensign fresh out of training school — a “ninety day wonder” as we called them. Our base included all the buildings along Highway One in west village including the second story of the building that now houses Caren’s Corner in West Village. Even back then there was a small store on the first floor owned by an older couple who were there before we arrived. They sold candy, cigarettes, and other things to the fellows. I bunked with three other fellows in a room at the corner, right over the store.
I doubt if there were 700 people in Cambria at the time. All the beaches were wide open and none of it was private property except what Hearst had fenced off. Anytime there was a fairly low tide you could get all the abalone you wanted and there were no game wardens.
The Coast Guard was at Cambria and at all points on the U.S. coast after Pearl Harbor. America was not at all ready for what could happen so we were the first line of defense in case of attack on our coasts. When we first arrived we had no firearms of any kind and patrolled the beaches with whatever we could find for a club. After some time, we got WWI rifles and, later on, new up-to-date arms. The Station was a beach patrol station with posts from Cambria north past the lighthouse. At first, two men walked each post with an early and a late watch of four hours each.
Later, the sentry dogs arrived and replaced one man at each post. As I recall, there were 16 dogs in the kennels behind the base and above the kennels, up on the hill, was a motel called The Hillcrest. The dogs were donated by folks all over the country and they had the option of getting them back at the end of the war. There were a lot of different breeds in the programs but all the dogs had to weigh at least 35 pounds and be male. The dogs at Cambria were trained at an Army Remount Base at San Carlos, California. I had a Doberman pinscher and it was a great dog, very smart and hyper.
When we drove at night we had to have what they called “cat’s eye covers” over the car’s head lights that were slotted and directed all the light down towards the road. This made driving to the patrols interesting and we hit several deer. We weren’t allowed to light a match facing the ocean because we were told it could be seen 20 miles out to sea. All the houses had black out covers over the windows and it was very dark around Cambria.
In April 1943, I got some leave and took a train to Longview to see my fiancée. On April 27 on the way back to Cambria we stopped in Vancouver, Washington, and got married. We had to get a minister out of bed in the early morning to perform the ceremony and, since I would not be 21 until July, I had to get my parents’ permission to marry. It was always a sore point with me that I was old enough to be in the armed forces but not old enough to get married.
After we were married, we rented a log cabin on Park Hill with a small house behind it. The county park was down below the houses, and it had a swimming pool and a barbecue. When the station closed, all the local folks threw a big cookout for us at the park and we had the best beef ever. Santa Rosa Creek flowed through there at times if it rained. Most of the time there was a berm built up by wave action at the mouth of the creek and it formed a pool. The steelhead fish would wait off shore for the creek to cut a channel through to the ocean and then they would swim upstream.
There were very few houses on Park Hill but there was a motel there called the Sea View. There was a house or two at San Simeon as well as Sebastian’s Store and the big Hearst warehouse. We went there to check the tuna boats when they came in. San Simeon was always a neat place for us because we had the whole beach to ourselves and, being newlyweds, it was sort of like one big honeymoon. It was super while it lasted even if there was a war going on.