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2012-11-08

Coast Guard veteran recalls life of service

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Like most young American men in the early 1940s, Carl Scott joined up. "I was attending the University of Tampa when the war broke out," he recalls. "Everybody was rushing in to enlist."
Because he had some college credits, the Navy accepted him for pilot training, which he acknowledges was one of the best things that could have happened in his life. His military career would offer him lots of opportunities to serve his country, take him to a lot of places he never expected to see, and allow him to meet the woman who became his wife for 25 years.
When Scott was a child, he didn't always expect that his life would turn out very well.
"My dad left Armenia during the massacres and went to Russia, behind the Iron Curtain," said Scott. "He was able to get out of Russia and emigrate to the US in 1915." Here, he met and married a Polish girl who unfortunately died when Scott was only two. Sadly, his father, who had been wounded in wartime, passed away when his son was just five.
"Before he died, he made arrangements for me to be placed in the Indiana Sailors and Soldiers Home in Knightstown [central Indiana]," said Scott. "There were 1,000 of us in there." He was to live in the orphanage where he was characterized as "independent and rebellious" until he was 18. Discipline was strict; corporal punishment was the norm "with straps and boards."
But the determined youngster refused to get discouraged. "I made two big decisions during that time," he said. "I made up my mind I wouldn't get married before I was 27, and decided that whatever I ended up doing in my life, I would be in the top 20 percent."
He believes he accomplished both of those early goals. He married, on schedule, and raised a great family, with "not a single one in jail or on drugs." He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the service after a combined 18 years with the Navy and then the Coast Guard. Then he retired again after working 24 years as a successful stockbroker with Prudential, where he earned a vice presidency.
The war from Attu
After earning his "wings" in 1943, Scott, inevitably called "Scotty" by his fellow servicemen, was assigned to a squadron in Washington State. "Our mission was to fly to Attu Island, Alaska, and from there we flew low level bombers."
Attu Island is the westernmost island relative to Alaska and was held by the Japanese prior to a major battle there in 1943. Once American troops drove the Japanese off the island, it became a base for air attacks on the Kurile Islands. The Kuriles stretch from what is now Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula to northern Japan.
"We had 12 brand new planes, the Vega Venturas, to harass and bomb the Kuriles," said Scott. "We destroyed radar sites, canneries...."
It was 700 miles from their base on Attu. "We lost nine of the planes to enemy action or other causes," said Scott. "I was very lucky."
Those early bombers had no navigation gear. "We had to shoot the stars to determine where we were, and if it was cloudy, we just prayed we were in the right place."
In 1962, the remains of one his squadron's planes were discovered on a high, cold mountainside in Siberia by a Russian geologist. It wasn't until 2001 that a US group was able to get to the site. The remains were collected and interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 2003.
After his Alaskan duty, Scott went to the Naval Air Station in San Diego. During the rest of the war he participated in actions across the Pacific. "I also participated in the Bikini Island atomic bomb tests, and the space program in its infancy, working on using radar for missile sighting and ocean recovery operations," said Scott. "I was a volunteer. A guy pointed at me and said, 'you want to be with me.'"
Shortly after the war ended, Scott did a lot of "utility duty," policing, or "cleaning up" a lot of little Pacific islands. Then the Navy began downsizing. "Since I wasn't an Academy graduate, I was on the 'out' list."
On to the Coast Guard
Scott says, "I was not qualified to do anything but fly," so he was delighted when the Coast Guard "solicited me because of my experience with amphibious planes."
The Coast Guard proved to be a good match for Scott's expertise and character. "Flying was my trade and it was a good job," he says. "I was helping people and saving people, instead of killing."
His first Coastie duty was in familiar territory - Alaska! "I liked it so well I volunteered for another year after the first one, but when I volunteered for the third year, they sent me to Seattle for a psych evaluation! They figured I had to be crazy!"
On one call, he had to do an amphibious landing to pick up a woman having problems in labor. "A man paddled the woman out in a canoe and I asked 'Where's Dad? He's coming, too!'"
Enroute to Ketchican, Scott's 19-year-old mechanic came up and says the baby's coming, I don't know what to do and the dad's no help at all! Scott advised the youngster to remove a couple of seats, put down some blankets and "take her panties off."
The blushing teen confessed, "I've never seen a woman!"
"Well," Scott admits, "I didn't know much more, myself!"
Of course, nature took its course, and "the baby was born as we landed."
Later, while serving on Guam, he got a call in the middle of the night to go to Palau Island to pick up a seriously ill baby. He landed at first light, aided by the residents who had lined the field with smudge pots. "I picked up the baby from the father, who had lost a leg to a shark, and flew to the hospital on Guam. I was lucky enough to be able to take the baby back after its surgery. The father had made some carvings for me, gifts from the family. I still have them. They're treasures to me."
Texas duty
Scott ended his tour with the Coast Guard in Corpus Christi. He was one of the pilots who flew out to meet Hurricane Carla, a category 4 storm that struck the Texas coast in 1961. "We had to try to determine when it would come in, check the conditions on the surface," said Scott. As part of his duties, he ordered loads of fresh water and "5,000 snake bite kits."
One of Scott's more entertaining rescues involved an unlucky guy who was out in the Gulf in a rubber raft. "The wind and tides got him and before he knew it, he was five miles off shore," said Scott. When the distressed sailor was finally spotted from the helicopter, Scott used the downdraft from the rotors to push him back to shore!
Today, Carl "Scotty" Scott lives in Bandera with his daughter, Mary Jilek. He looks forward to his next birthday, when he will turn 93.
He will be one of the World War II veterans honored by the Bandera American Legion Post in the parade for the Bandera Honors Veterans event set for Saturday, Nov. 10. "I'm so grateful to them for honoring me," said Scott.
And the rest of us are grateful to this veteran and all others like him, who served faithfully and selflessly on our behalf.