Welcome to the Fort Worden Oral History Program Blog

The Fort Worden Oral History Program began as a part of the Fort’s centennial celebration in 2002 as a project of the Friends of Fort Worden, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the visitors’ experience. It was organized by Laurie Medlicott, former member of the Port Townsend City Council, with help from several volunteers. Fort Worden partnered with the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s Veterans History Project, which is building a nationwide database of information about people who have served in America’s wars. When the centennial ended, the corps of volunteers kept the program alive.

In 2003, Patience Rogge took over running the program. Its objective is to collect oral histories to be taped, transcribed, archived, and made available for students, genealogists, writers, and historians. The entire collection tells of the real life experiences of those who served at Fort Worden during the military era; who worked or lived here during the Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center days; or have visited, participated in activities, or worked at the fort since it became a state park conference center. A volunteer undertook the huge task of archiving the interviews and photos, manuscripts and other memorabilia that people donated using the State Parks’ Past Perfect program. A retired secretary offered to transcribe all the military interviews, which at that time numbered about 80. In 2007, another volunteer offered to transcribe, catalog and index the entire collection. We have mailed out hundreds of information packets, scheduled scores of interviews, and collected more than 300 oral histories. In addition to in-person interviews, we conduct telephone interviews, so people all over the world are within our reach.

In 2007, the program issued its first publication “Conversations With the 369th”, a catalog of interviews with members of the U.S. Army 369th Engineer Amphibious Support Regiment who served at Fort Worden during the Korean War era. Their stories are especially interesting, since many of the soldiers participated in the building of the US airbase at Thule, Greenland while others were sent to Camp Desert Rock, NV to take part in early atomic tests or to Rochefort, France as part of a NATO exercise.

This blog is an on-going, ever growing collection of excerpts from the collection.  We search for interesting, amusing, and informative “snippets” in the interview transcripts to share with the public. Complete transcripts and CDs of the interviews are available at a nominal cost to cover duplicating and mailing.  

Please send your inquiries to:
Fort Worden History Center
200 Battery Way
Port Townsend, WA 98368
Phone: 360.344.4481
Email: infocenter@fwfriends.org

Or select a cataloged list of interviews from the links below (updated 4/2014):
Comprehensive Interview List

Posted in General

Interview With Douglas X. Womer

From the interview with Douglas X. Womer of Cockleysville, MD conducted by phone from Fort Worden by Clare Ledden on October 16,2014. Mr. Womer served in the US Army 14th Coast Artillery A Battery at Fort Flagler and Fort Worden in 1943-44. Here he recounts a memory of Fort Worden:

“On July 4, 1944, we had a group go up to Seattle to watch the 4th of July parade. Maybe not the whole regiment, but I know the Battery went up. We had a boat, and we got on the boat and it took us all the way up to Seattle and brought us back.

We had a colonel. The company had an executive officer who was an old farmer and as a boy he helped his father build Fort Worden, putting in gun emplacements and all that. I talked to him when I saw him in Seattle and he told me that he had an emblem on his right side and I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I said to him, ‘what was that for’? He served on the general’s staff at one time in Washington.

General (James H.) Cunningham had another full colonel there who was more or less his aide and his name was Biehl, I think it was. Every time we had a parade we had to laugh. On one occasion his staff car pulled up and they opened the door for him. He always had his dogs with him. And he says, “Come on dogs and you too, Biehl.” Well, that broke us up. I never forgot that.”

Posted in Military | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Interview With Thomas Watling

From the interview with Thomas Watling of Seattle conducted by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on February 25, 2014 by Clio Ward. Mr. Watling worked at the Fort Worden Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center as a social worker. Here he describes his duties:

“ My duties were to work with a group of boys, primarily in Columbia Cottage, and my duties were to provide therapy for the youth that I was assigned at that time and also to basically have contact with the field staff regarding to prepare for their release from the institution, usually to go back to their own homes. So we would provide the necessary therapeutic efforts the Fort had for our clientele.

I had some very good experiences. Those were optimistic times and we really believed we could provide some models of behavior for the young people and rather than saying ‘you shouldn’t do this’which from time-to-time we had to say that, we would want them to say ‘yes’ to something, something they could involved in, something that you could feel proud of what they were doing and in those instances, I felt that there was a lot of growth and a lot of kids who could basically take a look at their thinking, what has happened in their lives, but not be overcome by it but to utilize a painful childhood to what they could become. So there were a lot of good times there in which the kids could go camping, they participate in football and basketball and a lot of activities that we had. They were involved in schooling. In general,it was just trying to give the youth a new way of looking at life.

I can remember some of the kids from Native American heritage in which they believed that they shouldn’t go further than their father in terms of education and had to learn that it was okay to excel. It all came to being a part of something that their family of origin hadn’t been able to do. So there were a lot of situations in which the kids decided that they wanted to make something of their lives. They really didn’t want to live out their lives in institutions. So they utilized the mistakes they had made in terms of making new decisions. There were sometimes when the kids would run away from the fort and those were memorable times because usually the security staff and social workers would go out looking for the child and those could be some hairy times but in general, what we would do as the social work staff,is hand off the child to the juvenile parole counselors who would then work with the child in the community.

From time to time they would go into the pokey, often times when they ran away and they needed a place of isolation until the staff could sort of get to the bottom of why they ran and what we could do to alleviate the context of the runaway. So, the pokey, there the child would be my themselves. They were single person cells. Actually, we did not call them cells, they were single rooms.

As I recall, it would depend on the child. There was at least a mattress there and that was about all I can recall. I only really went there a couple of times with my particular clients because unless one of your persons who had been assigned to you for therapy, there was really no reason to go there.

(The intake staff) would try to group kids with similar needs and diagnostic categories together so if, well for one thing, there were assigned whether they were boys or girls. The girls went to one side and the boys went to another. Also, the age and temperament and particular problems that the kids had were all considered so that you wouldn’t assign some kid that was very shy and very small to a cottage with more aggressive kids. So we tried to eliminate kids getting picked on and kids being placed into a situation they could not handle. “

Posted in Juvenile Diagnostic & Treatment Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Interview With Joseph Harrison

From the interview with Joseph Harrison of Spanaway, WA conducted by Clio Ward by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on October 14, 2014. Mr. Harrison served in the 144th National Guard Battalion out of Tacoma in the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s when the unit held summer camps in the area, and later when they helped Washington State Parks prepare the Fort for the State Park. Here he describes his duties assisting State Parks:

“ As time went on, I was a supervisor for them on a 210 foot floating machine shop and we would tow that machine shop up there and tie it to the dock and do things around the area with the machine shop. There was also a 60 ton floating crane up there. There was an 176 foot inner island freighter that the Army brought around and we commissioned that vessel, FS313 from the Army at the dock there. That particular vessel is the sister ship to the Pueblo and it is an exact replica of the ship that the film Mr. Roberts was filmed on.

…: when they repaired the dock, in maybe, 1982, 1983, the Guard came up there and brought some of the boats again and we took all the cement off of the top of the pier and replaced all of the frame work under the dock and then put the cement back.

State Parks brought a little tug boat up but they didn’t have an operator for it all the time. The supervisor for them was Paul George, and I ended up, I had permission from the National Guard, and I ran their tug boat for them also. I ran a couple of landing crafts that we put stuff in and we moved the cement around and we did some grading on the beach there. At that time you could get behind the dock. There was lots of water. It was a lot deeper than it is now, so you could get a pretty good sized boat in there.

We put the concrete on a barge that they had and also put it in some landing crafts which were 78 feet long. And then ran them around and put them on the ramp and unloaded them and just stored them on the beach for a while.

On the FMS 313 there were 28 different working positions. There was one person from the Parks Department and the rest were all National Guard people. That was the whole idea of the Guard doing it was to save money for State Parks. They didn’t have the money to repair the dock.”

Posted in Washington State Parks | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Interview With Roy Ridderbusch

From the interview with Roy Ridderbusch of Lynnwood, WA conducted by phone by Clare Ledden from the Fort Worden History Center on March 11, 2014. Mr. Ridderbusch served two tours of duty with the US Navy at the Fort Worden Harbor Entrance Control Post,the first from 1951 to 1953 and the second from 1957 to 1959. He was an electrician’s mate first class. Here he describes his duties:

“ I had been trained in San Francisco for what they called the ground control mine and I was trained in the electrical portions of that unit and these were about 5000 pounds of TNT round steel casing, pancake shaped, and they sat on the bottom of the ocean floor and they were connected to the shore station and they could be set to explode as a ship passed over the top of it or it could be exploded from the land station, which was Fort Worden. The Army had these mines, they took care of them up through World War II and at the end of World War II they turned it over to the Navy and the Navy took it up from there. They also had, when I was stationed up there,all the common electrical duties around the buildings, putting in new lights and heaters or whatever the case may be. I was a mine specialist but I retained my regular electrical duties too.

It was a controlled mine. It could be set to explode automatically if anything magnetic went over the top of it or it could be set just to indicate the ship had crossed it or we could explode the mine at will. They were meant to prevent a sneak attack. So we wouldn’t be tracking anything unless it was one of our own ships. And, there were listening devices placed ahead of the row of mines so that hopefully we could hear something coming in the Straits before it got to the mine fields.

The mines operated a lot like automatic telephones. Like you could call a person’s number and we could call a particular mine. If that mine wanted to call us because there was a ship passing over it,it would do that. Then we could have, what you might say, was automatic answering machine and that could be set up so that it would answer to anything crossing over and blow it up. it worked basically the way the automatic telephone worked. And even up there in Port Townsend at that time, we did not have automatic telephones, we had switchboard operators. So it was pretty well advanced.

We did explode one mine while I was there and we did a lot of research of the area and we had the Fish and Game Department. They were interested in what the explosion might bring up and I don’t remember the time of day we did this but I would think it would probably be maybe close to around noon. I don’t remember the tide conditions. I think we waited for kind of a slack tide but we exploded one mine that we selected because everybody was wondering what it would be like, I guess. So we didn’t have any target. I think we just selected a mine at that time and fired it. But the Fish Department was very interested to see what kind of damage we would do. Two sturgeon came up to the surface and they were sturgeons that they had never seen in the Puget Sound area so that was quite interesting to them. They had been killed from the concussion. But otherwise there was no significant kill of wildlife, at least that came to the surface.

We were working right between Point Wilson and Fort Casey. That was the strongest part of the tide. Listening devices, we called them a hydrophone, and they sat on the bottom on an anchor and we could hear water and rocks rolling down between them and there was so much noise at times that you wouldn’t have heard a ship passing over the top. We had a lot of hard work without accomplishing really a lot. We planted a group of mines which was 13 mines in a straight line and I don’t remember the distance apart. They were probably not much over more than a hundred feet apart, so that if a ship would come in it could not sneak in between them. Of course, we were mainly looking for submarine penetration.”

Describing his second tour at the HECP:

“ The second time we were there we were still planting mines but just for training and were mines that were filled with concrete instead of TNT. We had to mix vermiculite with the cement so that we could replicate the true weight of a mine filled with TNT.

After Fort Worden, the first time when I left we were just in the midst of planting these live mines and my duty there was to check the relays that went into the mines and check all the relays into the system so that everything would call up the correct number. I had to check the detonators to make sure that they were live and weren’t a dud. You had to measure the resistance in the detonator itself. What is was was actually an electric blasting cap that you would use. When we were trained to do this we had a little kind of a steel vault that we would put the blasting cap in and then we would use what we called a resistance bridge, was a balanced bridge and when you didn’t have everything balanced, that meant the detonator was good. If it wouldn’t balance, then you would just dispose of it. But if it per chance blew because of some malfunction in the detonator,it was in the steel vault where it couldn’t do any damage. Well, we didn’t have one of those little steel vaults in Port Townsend and we didn’t have the balanced bridge and they wanted the detonators tested and I said I couldn’t do it with the equipment that I had. We had to get different equipment and they felt one meter should be as good as another one, shouldn’t it? And I said, “No it’s not. We want these tested before we have anybody working with them and I want you to test them”. And I refused. I told them that I didn’t have the equipment and said that I would try to test them with the equipment I have. So they said okay.

So I put my detonator in a heavy steel bucket that we had and I put it around the corner. All the building up there was cement. We were in one of the, what we called, the casemate. I went around the corner and took the wires around the corner to where I had my work bench and I just touched my meter to it and “bam”, the thing blew. The bucket was a good sprinkling can after that. It was just punctured with shrapnel from that electric blasting cap. So I got the equipment that I needed.

I also had to pick up these blasting caps in Bremerton and we didn’t have any bridges in those days so I had to go down and pick up a dozen blasting caps and we had a rickety old vehicle, Navy vehicle, so I drove down to Bremerton and picked up the blasting caps and checked with the ferry and they said “No explosives allowed at all on the ferry, you will have to drive around”. So by the time I got that all squared away it was dark. So I drove around the Hood Canal. Every time I met a car and I had my headlights on bright, when I would dim them they would go out. So that was quite an experience driving up with my blasting caps, just like have a dozen pencils, my load, but they were explosives and they wouldn’t let me on the ferry with them, because I declared them, which if I had not done, I could have gotten across all right. But I wanted to play their game the right way. Anyway, I was by myself and I was driving around and every time I had to kick that dimming switch, about six times to get my lights to come back on again. It was fun. It must be about 60 miles, going down to Tacoma almost and then around the end and then come back up.”

Posted in Military | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Interview With Richard Plank

From the interview with Richard Plank of Kaiser, OR conducted by Clio Ward on March 4, 2014 from the Fort Worden History Center. Mr. Plank served in the 532nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, Company B in 1949-51, assigned to the Weapons Platoon as a staff sergeant. Here he discusses a memorable maneuver:

“ Our first maneuvers were in Hawaii and it was a military operation called ‘Operation Mickey’. We made our amphibious landing on the opposite side of Oahu from Honolulu. We were just under that big range of mountains on Oahu, this range of mountains is pretty high, and it comes right down, almost to the shoreline. Anyway, the 532nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment was a combat engineer outfit that specialized in amphibious landings and that is what we did. An APA is about a 550 foot troop transport,the Pickaway. We loaded off the Pickaway into landing boats and made an amphibious landing on the beach and our job was transporting troops and materials across the beach. That is what this outfit specialized in.

My three machine guns, one was on one end of the beach and the other was on the other and the third one was right in the middle of everything and our job was to keep an eye and make sure that the enemy forces didn’t come in by boats and flank us. This maneuver lasted three or four days. From there, we reloaded, After Operation Mickey, we spent about the next seven days in Honolulu at a military base. From there we loaded on an LST and floated back up to Port Townsend.

They were slow moving suckers. They are off speed about nine knots, I think. Anyway, we had on the trip back to Port Townsend, to Fort Worden, about the first three days out of Honolulu, the weather was just absolutely beautiful. The ocean was flat. Then we hit a nasty storm and it was stormy almost all the way to Port Townsend. I was stationed on this ship which was full of heavy earth-moving equipment, caterpillars and graters and all kinds of things like that. I was in a compartment along one side that was initially a Navy chief’s facility and it wasn’t a very big room. My bunk was right under the main deck, the top deck of this ship, and running the length of it, right over my berth, was a steel runner of some sort, like a C-shaped runner or something, right under the main deck. In this compartment, which was only about ten feet long, I could lay in my bunk during this storm and watch this steel runner. It was kind of interesting. I would go up on the deck and stand with my back to the superstructure on an LST which is located on the stern and watch as the LST went over these big waves coming at us. We were heading right into them, and watch the deck plates buckle as the ship went over them.

There is not a big crew on LSTs. In the middle of the mess deck, hung a great big coffee urn. The thing would probably hold 20 gallons of coffee. It was hanging on a chain and you could go in there at any time and get a cup of coffee except when during this storm, this thing was swinging back and forth, and you didn’t dare get close to it, because if it ever hit you, it would knock you clear across the compartment. It was a fun trip, so to speak.”

Posted in Military | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Interview with CMB

From the interview with CMB of Seattle, conducted by phone by Clare Ledden on March 25, 2014, from the Fort Worden History Center. CMB was a resident of the Fort Worden Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center for six months when he was approximately 12 years old. When asked if he had any particular memories, he responded:

“I remember a little– I hesitate to call it a game– but that is what it was characterized at the time, that some of the inmates used to play when the cottage parent was out of the room. Smoking was allowed. What they would do, they had this kind of lounge chair in rows in the day section of the room in front of the television set and they had arms on the chairs and the inmates would put their arms on the arms of the chairs and put them together and drop a lighted cigarette in between their arms and the first one that pulled away was the chicken. There were a couple of people there who had scars, three or four scars up and down their arms from doing that. Now, that was one memorable thing.

Another memorable thing– at one point I had some sort of respiratory infection and my mother had somehow arranged for me to have a bottled cough syrup that I could get nightly before going to bed so I could sleep. It was some kind of prescription stuff, it may well have had codeine in it, I don’t know. At one point one of the fellows who had ingratiated himself with one of the cottage parents– now let me back up and give you a little back story here– this bottle of cough syrup was kept in a locked cabinet in the day room along with a lot of other stuff, any medicines I think the phone was kept in there, I don’t know, a bunch of stuff, but it was a locked cabinet. The cottage parent had the key to it. This fellow had ingratiated himself with the cottage parent to the point where the cottage parent was allowing him to have the key and would tell him to go fetch something out of the cabinet. This fellow opened the cabinet while he was on some other errand and drained that bottle of cough syrup to get high,then I didn’t have any, and that bothered me extensively. I do remember that incident.

I am pretty sure there was probably some sexual predation that went on there and as I recall I was approached once while I was taking a shower and they were pretty public showers and everything, but I was approached and I yelled and made a fuss and the person left and that was that. I was not approached again.”

Posted in Juvenile Diagnostic & Treatment Center | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Interview with Carl R. Wiley

From the interview with Carl R. Wiley of Goodyear, AZ conducted by phone by Clare Ledden from the Fort Worden History Center on January 22, 2009. Mr. Wiley served in the US Army 369th EASR Boat Battalion at Fort Worden from 1951 to 53 as a radio operator. Here he describes an incident involving maneuvers:

“…Well I rode on a landing craft. We went on maneuvers out in the Straits one day. The weather got a little rough, at least rough for an LCM, and the front gate came down. That’s the way they got vehicles in and out. This one came loose, so we started taking on water. They headed for the beach and we got it fixed, but we had about three or four feet of water in the well deck.

When I got back, a warrant officer put me on report because I got the radio wet. It just so happened that the Captain of the group was on my boat, so he took care of the warrant officer. I didn’t have any problems after that.”

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