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.
Guardsmen on Beach Patrol.
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,
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