Personal Histories

Bob Wills History

Fortuna at War - Ice Cream and Carrots

When the Fortuna men left for the war, other men came to the area. Most conspicuous were the Coast Guardsmen, of whom most were from Iowa. They were billeted in buildings at the Table Bluff Lighthouse.

Coast Guardsmen on Beach Patrol. Coast Guardsmen on Beach Patrol.
Photographer unknown.
There was a huge barn at the Hansen Ranch, to the south of the base, and the barn was full of horses. Easy to figure, "Country boys from Iowa, plus horses, equals mounted shore patrol." Those men reported for duty really spiffed. They dressed in fancy leggings, boots, and other distinctive garnishments and, except for the steel helmets, would have been the envy of any cowboy. I can't imagine how hairy it would be to ride those beaches at night with the fog so thick that I couldn't see the horse's head. I was a guest at their base one Sunday, and would you believe it, they had real ice cream? Coast Guardsmen also patrolled the Centerville Beach west of Ferndale.

You would have enjoyed growing up in Fortuna during the war years. It was a sleepy community where there was a lack of vehicles, gasoline and, of course, food rationing. All, however, wasn't doom and gloom because some days were exciting. One sunny afternoon several of we kids were released from school, and assigned to a farmer north of town, where we were unceremoniously chopping weeds out of a field of carrots. (Carrots were a main staple in the diet of dairy cattle). A B26 airplane appeared overhead and commenced buzzing the city, and us. A sight to behold! The pilot was Betty Wood's brother, Buster, on his way overseas. The air raid wardens in Fortuna were detailed to report all flying aircraft to officials in the Bay Area. They had a lookout building where the high school gym is now located and there was also a dirt landing strip there. Sure thing, when the plane began buzzing, a warden attempted to phone and report the marauding truant. The local telephone operator was a hep lady and, after determining that the plane was not Japanese, she assumed it was probably a local boy headed for overseas. Therefore, the warden could not telephone. The operator gave out the ol' refrain "the line is busy." Her effort was truly a grand gesture because that was Wood's last symbolic communication with his family. He was subsequently killed in action in the South Pacific.

Another Fortuna war casualty, one belated, who deserves a lot of remembrance, is Wesley Sutton. Wes was one of the gang, and was a few years older. In fact, and unfortunately, old enough for the Selective Service and was drafted into the Army prior to graduation from high school. The Army did not treat him kindly. He was certainly a changed person when he returned home. As I found in later life, with most veterans, they often refuse to talk about their exploits. He did a lot of sidestepping of what he had done. And, of course, we who were still kids asked a lot of questions. I did manage to find that he had been a sniper, which required him being behind enemy lines. I had always been skittish of creepy crawlers and related to Wes about having a phobia when snakes were present. He quickly responded that when people are shooting at you, you can actually get lower on the ground - than a snake. Unfortunately, Wes determined that he could not cope, and he ended his life. I can only speculate that it was the result of his experience soldiering somewhere in the South Pacific.

NEXT: Roses and a Trolley in the Cemetery




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