About four days later I get a message from the State Department saying, “You may return gold to owner.” So I logged the messages. I logged the time and I did all this and I took all the gold out and I counted it, and that’s when I knew there were 944. I marked down all the different denominations and how many there were in each denomination and what Queen Elizabeth was on them and what King Edward and etc. I marked them all down, had it all there, and put everything back in my safe and the gold was in the safe deposit box in the bank, and I think it was just after New Year’s I get a message from the State Department saying, “My such and such message is cancelled. You may give gold back.” “Okay”, and by God the next day the owner showed up. We went to the bank. He paid for the deposit box that we had there. We broke it out. “Here’s all your coins” I said, “How many were there”, because I thought he was going to say they were 500. He said, “I don’t how many there were”, and he says, “Just that bag full.” I said, “Well there are 944.” “Well that sounds about right.” I said, “Well here”, and I had all this made on up and he signed off everything and cleared us of all responsibility and etc., and he turns around and I wanted a coin, I wanted a coin so bad but I wasn’t about to ask him for one. You know you help somebody out and you don’t say, “Hey, can I have something.” But if he gave me one I would have liked to have had one, but he didn’t. But he did turn around and he went to the bank and he sold some of them through a broker someplace and he got a check back through the bank and cashed that, and he had a bunch of cash and he gave me $200. He said, “Here, this is for you and crew for recovering this.” I said, “Thank you”, and I took the $200 and I went down to the little local tavern; restaurant, down on the bay front and I gave them the $200 and I said, “We’ve got port and starboard. Tomorrow night the port section will come in. Saturday night the starboard section will come and all the hamburger and beers and stuff they want, and pool, here’s the money”, and they said, “Fine.” So that’s how my crew spent it. And the people that didn’t help in it, they had the duty anyway so everybody got to enjoy and that took care of that part. The fellow left the station and was gone. His name was Mr. Brown, so like a Smith, you know, it’s going to be hard to trace.
The next day I get a message from the State Department saying, “My message so and so cancelled. Do not, do not give gold back”, and I sent this big long message saying, “Owner has came. We gave him the gold. Your message said, etc.”, and about an hour later the FBI called me up and I knew them, I had worked with them, and he said, “Mac, what do you got”, and I said, “I’ve got all the receipts and everything.” “I’ll be down in an hour.” He came all the way from Salem down here in just over an hour, picked up all the receipts and all the things I had on that and he said, “Okay, I’m taking these and I’m leaving.” I said, “No you’re not”, and he said, “What?” I said, “Not until you sign this paper. I need a receipt.” [Chuckle] He said, “Very well”, and he took off and I never did hear of it afterwards.
But we took that 15-man rubber raft and we used it for surf drills and then I got together with the FBI and they brought in I don’t know how many FBI agents from Portland, Salem, Medford and all around Oregon, and they brought them down and we gave them a half day of classroom instructions in survival in surf and how to float and how to handle yourself and then we took them out in the boat and we launched - and I’ve got all kinds of pictures of it - we launched the 15-man raft with about 12 FBI agents in it and they went through the surf and ended up on the beach and made their landing, and that’s how we worked together with them. The FBI came out in their FBI publication and did quite an article on the Coast Guard and how they helped them with their troops coming to the surf and etc. So we worked out real well with the other agencies and got them going.
And my time went by here; four years here. It was that call. There was another great call that came in. I was bringing a fish boat up, there were four of them onboard; him and his wife and two other people, they got down off of Yoha [phonetic], it’s 30 some miles down, broke down. Their reduction gear was leaking oil and broke down. He tried to call on all his radios. He couldn’t get out and he had a CB and he started calling on the radio and a truck driver going down I-5 picked up his call and called the State Police in Salem who in turn called us and we got the 52 underway and went down and picked him on up, towed him up here. The bar was too rough. We kept him out all night long, brought him in the next day and he was saved by making a CB call to a truck driver on I-5.
So there are all kinds of different stories and things you can do. But like I say, the four years here I had gone on 27 years, and I guess it was Headquarters; the detailer back in Headquarters called me up and said, “Chief, you’ve been there almost four years now”, and I had the 82-footer so I could run the 82-footers, and he said, “The Master Chief on the Everett boat had a heart attack and I’m going to transfer you there immediately and your family can stay in the quarters for awhile until you get set up. I’ll transfer you out in three days”, and the District called me right up and said, “Do you want this transfer”, and I said, “No Sir, my boy is in high school and I’d like to get through the winter and get him out of high school - it’s his last year - and the 82-footer is a nice job and Everett would be a really nice job but I’m a lifeboat man and I’d rather stay in a station.” So they said, “Just send us a message saying you do not desire to transfer at this time.” So I did and the detailer called me up and he said, “If you don’t take this transfer, come the end of the summer I’m transferring you.” He said, “You don’t have much time onboard ship and I’m transferring you to sea. You’ll be out of Boston on a 378 or out of New York on a 378. You can assure yourself of that.” I said, “I’ve got 10 percent for lifesaving medals. I’ve got 10 percent for good conduct. I realize you can only get one 10 percent but you can’t take the good conduct away . . . you can take that away but you can’t take my medals, so I’ve got 10 percent. So that’s 30 years of service. I’m working for one-quarter of my pay because I can get three-quarters if I retire. I’m going to sea all right. I’m going to go see if I can’t find me a civilian job”, and I wrote my letter for retirement.
So I wrote my letter for retirement and as things worked out I got my property here, which I wouldn’t have gotten because property was low and everything at the time, and this place became available. I wouldn’t have had it. I wouldn’t have had a lot of things, so everything kind of worked out.
And through my career one thing . . . we kind of forget sometimes, but my better half; Joanne, my wife, married now over 51 years, has really been the backbone of my career; helping me all along the way, the encouragement, the time away from home, the isolated duty, never really complaining, all the time behind me 100 percent, and anybody in the service needs that behind them, knowing that they’ve got somebody there that cares and is backing them up a 100 percent, just like a good crew, and she’s more than a good crew. She’s part of my life.
Joanne: Now I came to Newport to visit my brother actually and help him with his wife - she was having some problems - and saw Tom at the station in his cute little uniform, which I really fell for was that cute little uniform, and he asked my brother to ask me if I wanted to date with him and my brother told him, you know, "Do your own asking”, and such, so he did. He called and asked if I wanted to go to a movie and I said, “Oohh, sure”. And he always wore his uniform when he was out. He didn’t have civilian clothes or anything like that. So of course he came and picked me up and we went to see a double feature movie, which they did show in those days, which they don’t do anymore, and we went to the movie and saw, "Wake of the Red Witch" and "The Redball Express." After the movie he took me out to . . . the golf course had kind of a night-clubby type of thing out there and asked me if I wanted a cup of . . . well first of all the lady there asked him if I was of age and he said, “Oh yes, of course, I was older than him”, which of course I was not. I mean I actually was not of age. But anyway, she served us and we had chocolate cake and coffee, and then he was going to take me home and he drove up to the park and parked and told me the ghost story about the Yaquina Bay lighthouse, and I said, “Okay”, you know, and then he sits down, “Will you marry me”, and I thought for about two seconds and said, “Yes.” [Laughter] So then we went together for about 13 days and got married and after 51 years I still like him, and he still wears a cute little uniform once a month when he goes to the fire drill. He influenced me by being such a strong willed person, of knowing what he wanted in life. He said, “This is how much money I’m going to make for the next 20 years and if you want to live on that, fine. If you don’t you’ll have to go out and get a job so you can bring in more money”, and I said, “I’m sure I can live on that fine”, and so it was very secure feeling to be married to him because he is a very strong person but then again he can be soft too.
I remember a couple of times when the children were growing up that they said . . . we were both very strict with the children. We had three; two girls and a boy and they all three very much take after him with the strong will and very successful people in their own right because of the way he showed them that this is the right way and this is the wrong way. Sometimes he couldn’t get a gray area in between there, which didn’t set too well with them. It either right or it’s wrong and you’re going to do it my way and such, so . . .
BMCM McAdams: My children; the two daughters and the son . . . and my son helped me along the line. He was training with me. The helicopters were picking him up out of the surf at 14 years old. He was a diver but he went in the Navy because he said I was too well known in the Coast Guard and he wanted to go in the Navy. He wanted to be at that time what they call it a BUD; Underway Demolition, now called the SEAL teams. He went in. Out of 101 men he graduated with seven and he put 20 years in SEAL teams, a hell of a career and he retired from there after they put him back together after he fell out of the choppers in 90 feet in the air and had been all around the world. He retired as a Chief Boatswain’s Mate, United States Navy Seal Team. I’m very proud of him.
My daughter is the same way. A great, great family and it takes that to help you along the line and make things.
Joanne: Bill, through the years they had their trials and tribulations but it was always a fair punishment at the end. So they appreciated that and I think it has shown that in their lives. We didn’t have the problems with drugs and that type of thing, and they’re all successful in their own lives because of how they were raised with him and everything. And like I said, it’s just been . . . I’ve never felt like I was quite as competent as he feels that I am [chuckle], but he’s always left the money in my hands so that’s helpful, and through the years, like I said, it was an experience. I really expected to join the service and get married into it and see the world, and I got to see Washington and Oregon. He got to travel a bit more. But it was a very good life. I enjoyed it and I believe our children enjoyed it also. And each time we moved you had to learn to be in the community and give back to the community that you were living for that while. So I did a lot of volunteer work in that. But when he decided that he was going to retire . . . actually he decided that four years before he actually did it, and I said, “Good, okay, I’m ready”, and then one of our very good friends who was in charge of the Group Office down in Coos Bay called and literally begged me to stay another four years. “Please dear, I’ll do whatever for you. I’ll remodel the house.” We moved into the Coast Guard house here in Newport, which was fine. It gave our son the last four years of high school here in Newport so it was a very stable time. So then when he did sign the papers to retire, he said, “Okay, you have your choice now. I’ll go live anywhere that you want to go live. You’ve followed me around for all these years so it’s your turn now and you can go.” I thought about. I was born and raised in Arizona and I really, really thought about, “Oh, that warm weather”, but really can I take it after living up here for 30 years, and I decided I couldn’t and I decided that I really liked the people of Newport and I still don’t care for the weather but it’s better than some of the other places in the country that I see, and I figured, “Well, he’ll still be near the water so that will help.” So we looked for our house and found it and for the last 26 years I’ve been very happy with it and glad that we made this decision, and I know it’s been a good decision for him. Now that he has his boat and it gets him out of my hair and that type of thing, so it’s been a very, very nice life. I’ve really enjoyed it.
BMCM McAdams: But when I got ready to ready to retire I got thinking. You know your last words, what do you say after 27 years in a service that you love. Oh yes, you had your ups and downs but there were a lot more ups than there ever were downs and you learned to handle the downers. And some of the stories I’ve been telling you, if I went back I could probably tell just as many remembering more along the line, and I got thinking about that and you meet a lot of good men in the service, but you meet a few that you just as soon have not and you have your cry babies along the line and you have your sick, your lame and lazy but the majority are always there. So I sat down - and I like to kind of do a little poetry now and then. In fact I’ve got a whole book full – but I sat down and I took my career and I said, “Here it is”, and this is it. It’s pretty good and I haven’t memorized it. In fact I read it the first time in years, here a year ago, at the chief’s initiation dinner up in Astoria. But these were my closing words on my retirement day.
“The Challenge. I, Thomas D. McAdams, do solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution no matter where. These words I spoke in the Coast Guard I was in and I worked very hard to live up to them. I arrived at my first station and it was a lonely night and my heart was pounding as I passed the entrance light. My first duty and lookout watch in a tower so high, looking out over the ocean and I wondered why. A lonely watch and a windward shout and the rain blurred the windows as I strained to see out. The entrance to the Bay was between the breakers below with reefs on each side breaking whiter than snow. It didn’t take long in that tower watch to know what it meant when those waves broke row on row, that the ocean was rough and the waves increased in height. Over 30-feet they could be when they broke with their might. A challenge was waiting, the sea to understand. Could I learn and accept she was stronger than man? For if I could, and a boatman to be in the saving life and property, so a coxswain I became with a lifeboat and crew and I’ve worked very hard, there was so much to do. The years started passing and I’ve known many a men and have been proud to have served with most of them. But to the hypochondriacs and the cry babies and to all the lazy, I’ve heard your story until it about drives me crazy but if in hell we should happen to meet, I can hear you all now complaining of the heat. But to the men who have done their jobs true, it’s been more than a pleasure to have served with you. I can remember a call with winds close to 100 and we headed towards the bar and we all kind of wondered. The seas were running as high as I’ve seen and the bar was breaking and it really looked mean. For 23 hours through the furry and might but we found our quarry in the middle of the night. A sailing vessel with masts broken and torn, her sail was dragging in the water from the bulk of the storm. So we towed them in to the Port of Coos Bay, the retired Navy admiral had these words to say. 'I’ve never had much use for the Coast Guard my son, but I have to admit, damn-it, you get your job done.' The sea is a wonder, a beautiful sight, that calmer were swells of a mountainous height. A challenge to man but with respect you must tread, for all too often you could end up dead. There once were two men in a boat so small, only 30-feet it was and waves so tall. They challenged the sea and laughed at our warning and crossed over the reef when the waves were storming. They were down in the trough and their eyes were wide when over the stern they saw the angry sea toppling down, and they beneath its paw. Tried it was but tried in vain to save those two that day, but down to the sea they went and forever they will stay. But there have been many of others who are blessed with good grace, who walked away from our assist with smiles on their face. Then came the night our faith was in motion. We would be capsized by the power of the ocean. A 36-footer; a lifeboat we’re in, when down came that breaker up driven by the wind. My shouts to hang on were lost in the roar as that wave had engulfed us like never before. I held on with stoutness as the water swirled around and my lungs were strained for a breath to be found. And where was my crewman or where would he be? He was torn from his hand grips and thrown into the sea. And oh how I wanted just one breath of air when the boat came upright with me standing there. Then I took that breath and shouted in the night to my crewmen, 'Where are you? Are you all right,' and across the forecastle to the stern I did crawl, when out in the darkness I heard him call, and over the stern I reached in the dark, hand grabbing hands so not to come apart, and once onboard we went down below and we rode her out to the rest of the blow, and the waves, they tossed us about so grand, when finally we felt the keel in the sand. I can remember that night like it was yesterday as we walked up the beach to the ocean spray, and the years did pass and the calls increased, over 5,000 I’ve been involved in and they have not ceased. But with the calls and the passing of time I’ve learned a new word that engulfs my mind; a word whose meaning infuriates me and that word is called, 'Your rocker sea.' If I train a crew and they know what to do, then why must I commit with pen in a hand to fill out the forms that I don’t understand so someone can check them and say with a grin, 'I don’t understand what you mean. Will you do them again?' And the years have passed and here I be, flipping through the pages of memory, and the life has been good and I’ve taken all bets and I leave it now with no regrets. And through the bureaucracy and the call so wild, the isolated duty and the assignments that were mild, there has been someone important no matter the place that has always been there with a smiling face. She’s weathered the storms and the calms of my life. Her name is Joanne and she is my wife. So gather this chapter with a closing we bring and we thank you Lord for everything.”
Those were my last words in the United States Coast Guard.
They told me I had a few more minutes here so I might as well finish off as we talked and I got thinking of different things.
But has the Coast Guard changed much? Of course the Coast Guard has a changed a lot over the last 50 years. But I see . . . I work with . . . in the fire department now we work with the Coast Guard and I was out the other day on a call where they picked a couple a surfers up and I was on the . . . let me talk to the boat and tell them where the man was in the surf and everything, and I see the same dedication. I go down and I talk to them and some of those coxswains and engineers and the seamen onboard, and the women now. I see the same dedication in a lot of those people that I’ve seen in my time. So it’s still there. It’s just different people and different times, and I watch these young men going out there and I’m kind of envious, wow! They’re doing all this, but I got to do it so I look them over and I think of . . . I mentioned earlier about teaching your crew and having respect for that crew but yet for them to have a certain, you could call a fear or a whatever, of when you tell them to do something they do it, and maybe it’s not because of fear. Maybe it’s because they respect you so much that they know you’re not going to put them in harm’s way, or if you do you will take care of them if they get in harm’s way.
And I had one young man - we were having drills - and the chopper came up and all my people had been in the surf; all my people had floated out to sea for 20/30 minutes, go off and leave them off the boat and keep six or seven together all floating out at the whistle buoy in 10/12 foot swells so they’d get use to it. And we’re having a drill where the chopper’s going to come and pick people out of eight to ten foot breakers. I put a man on the chopper. I put a man on the jetty, a man on the boat, all with cameras taking pictures, and two at a time they’re jumping off the stern of the boat, and I take the 44-footer and I had one boat and the other coxswain had another boat and the 52-footer is standing by. But when you go through the surf there’s a place there called “No Man’s Land.” You can’t get out to the shore and you can’t get in from out to sea. There’s “No Man’s Land” in there and that’s the danger point if something happens to somebody because I can’t get in with the boat to pull them on out. So we’re doing this and the people are jumping off the boat and not going to a breaker, take an eight/ten foot breaker, go on through it, blow the whistle, they’d jump off the stern and the breaker carries them away. The chopper comes over and drops the basket down. One man rolls in the basket and goes up. The next man takes a series of breakers. He’s in a wetsuit with a crash helmet. He turns his back to the breaker, doubles on up, tumbles and comes up on the backside of the breaker. We trained with it. We’d do it. My crew even asked me . . . everybody that went through it, my crew says, “When you’re all through Chief can we swim all the way to the beach?” I said, “Yes, but you stay together. Nobody by themselves, everybody with somebody.” They said, “All right.” I had two men left to go. They had sent me some people from other stations because they said, “Gee, this is a great training and they need this.”
So who does the station send you? Do they send you their best men for the training? Not always. Sometimes their best men are doing something so who do they send you? They send their new man because they said, “Well he needs the training”, but he hasn’t had any experience. So they send me a young man who did not know how to swim. He’s standing on the deck. He’s the last man to go and I take the engineer and I said, “Take him, go to the stern and jump”, and the young man looks at me, and I’m on the wheel, and he looked at me and he goes . . . I said, “Have you got something to say?” He goes to the stern . I blow the whistle, they’re in hands, they both jump off the stern. The man didn’t know how to swim a stroke let alone be in ocean breakers. He grabbed my man and went right to the top of him crawling up on him. My man in a wet suit, it’s hard to do, but he dove down, broke himself free, the basket comes down, he rolls in the basket and up in the chopper he goes. The young man turns around, opens his mouth right into the next breaker, takes it full force in his mouth, down, rolls over. For all practical purposes suffocation, drowning. I saw the other 44 come around. I saw two men jump off it. I knew I had problems. I make my circle, go inside the breakers and come back out. We’re in the edge of the breakers now. I have the picture and you see my two men had jumped off the other two boats in the water and you cannot see the third person, and when you look and if I showed you on the film you’d see a little kind of red haze; orangey red haze, about this far underneath the water and all it is is the buttocks; the butt of the guy floating face down in the water. We pull alongside and pull him up onboard. He’s not breathing, I tell my engineer, I said, “Give him mouth to mouth resuscitation.” I start to clear the surf. I said, “Hang on”, the next series of breaks comes through, hits my engineer right in the ass, drives his head into the steel gowns and splits him open from the top of the head to the bridge of the nose, bleeding profusely.
I turned the wheel over to my third class coxswain. I said, “If this man’s going to die he’s going to die in my arms.” I get the engineer, I take one look at him. “You’re bleeding pretty profusely. You’re in pretty good shape. G et into the towing bit”, and he gets into the tripod. I grab the man on deck and I start giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation. I tell my coxswain, I said, “Call the station, get an ambulance, clear the surf and expect hundred mile an hour winds.” Where are hundred miles an hour winds coming from? I knew they were coming. That chopper comes right over the top of us, sits on top and said, “Do you want us to Medevac?” He’s blowing 120-mile-an-hour winds right down on top of us. When we finally got rid of the chopper and we cleared the jetty, we’re coming down the jetty. I worked on that man for 18 minutes; mouth to mouth resuscitation, then the seaman took over doing compressions and I’m doing the mouth to mouth. After 18 minutes the man came out of it screaming and yelling but he came out it. A lot less paperwork when he’s alive and got to go the hospital, and after 18 minutes and I look down at him and I said, “I’d kiss you, you SOB but I’ve already been doing that for 20 minutes" [chuckle].
I was asked what drove me to my position or what made me what I am. Well probably the greatest influence of my life was my mother. What a smart lady she was. She could discuss, talk, give me more information. Learning was always there and my dad was good but my mother was really the principal one that really set me going. In school I had a tough time spelling and reading, and I was always kind of feisty, so I could take the guys outside and whip their butt. By the time I was in the 5th grade I could whip everybody in the 6th grade and the only ones I had trouble with was the girls because I couldn’t whip them. I’d never hit a woman. But the guys, you know, they learned respect for you . . . and in football; I played football, the line average over 200 pounds, I weighed a 150 and I was a right guard and those things kind of built you along. When I came in the Coast Guard everybody wants to get a rate and get ahead and I could cook, and our cook left the station here and they had nobody to cook and they said, “Who can cook?. They said, “The cook gets every weekend off.” Well gee, after eight days straight duty and 48 hours, and the cook didn’t have to stand tower watches or switchboard watches, so I said, “I can cook”, and I started cooking and I could bake pies and cakes and cook everything. Finally the other CO; old fancy pants Barnett, he says, “How would you like to go to cook school?” “Oh gee, I’ll be a cook”, you know, “third class, that’s great.” So he puts me up for cook school. In the interim Mr. Lawrence came in and said, “No, no, you’re going up for boatswain’s mate”, and gave me the test for third class boatswain’s mate after I was seaman and both my cook’s orders to go to school and boatswain’s mate third class came in the same day. He walked in he said, “Do you want to be cook or a boatswain’s mate?” I said, “boatswain’s mate, Sir.” He said, “Okay.” It went in the basket and that was it.
Fate: fate has a . . . you know so close sometimes how things come about. I always had a great admiration for our country, history, the Coast Guard itself going back into the times when Hamilton first established the Coast Guard, the ten cutters, and what they have. If you look at what they had to eat on those cutters and they put supplies on for a year and there were so many pounds of rice and so many pounds of bread, and you knew it was going to go bad what they had to eat, so they had eat off the sea and make their own, and the history of the Coast Guard all the way through has such a dramatic and interesting . . . and all those things put together I just loved it, and now I’m a part of it. I was in the Coast Guard and do the best. Don’t be afraid to turn a job down. Do what you can, and I was always quite a patriot of the United States and the United States Coast Guard.
And so I, one time heard Red Skelton on a tape give the meaning of each word of the Pledge of Allegiance and I loved that so much, and I had an old 8-track tape in my truck and I played it over and over and over and this is what I learned and the meaning - and this kind of set it up. “When I was a small boy in school we just finished reciting the Pledge of Allegiance when the teacher called us all together and said, ‘Boys and girls, I have been listening to you recite the Pledge of Allegiance all semester and it seems it has become monotonous to you or could it be you do not understand the meaning of if each word. If I may I would like to recite the Pledge for you and give you a definition for each word.
I/me - an individual; a committee of one.
Pledge - dedicate all my worldly goods to give without self-pity.
Allegiance – my love and my devotion
To the flag - our standard, Old glory; a symbol of courage, and whenever she waves there is respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom, is everybody’s job.
Of the United – that means we have all come together.
States - individual communities united into 48 great states. Forty eight individual communities with pride, dignity and purpose, all divided by an imaginary boundary yet united to a common cause and that’s love the country.
And to the Republic – a republic a sovereign state in which power is invested into the representatives chosen by the people to govern, and it’s from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
For which is stands, One Nation - meaning it’s all blessed by God.
Indivisible – incapable of being divided
With liberty - which is freedom; the right of power for one to live his own life without fears, threats or any sort of retaliation.
- And Justice - the principles and qualities of dealing fairly with others.
For all - For all; that means boys and girls, it is as much your country as it is mine.
Since I was a small boy in school two states have been added to our country and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance - "Under God." Wouldn’t it be a pity if someone said that is a prayer and that be eliminated from our schools too?
END OF INTERVIEW