Interview With John Palmer

From the interview with John Palmer of Moraga, CA conducted by Wendy Los by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on July 12, 2011.  Mr. Palmer is the son of Captain Rodney Isom Palmer, M.D. (1919-2009) who was the post surgeon at Fort Worden in 1952-53.  Here he shares memories of life on Officers Row:

“I was about seven years old.  Because the Army was closing the fort, they didn’t have much Garrison there.  I lived in what they called the Nurses’ Quarters, the brick building on Officers Row, in 16A.  There was another kid who lived on Officers Row in one of the old Victorians.  We used to sneak into this kid’s basement because his father had a whole bunch of K rations stored there.  Inside K rations there were juicy treats wrapped in cellophane. We ate all those things out of the K rations.  I can remember looking out the front and seeing my father walk home from the hospital for lunch and seeing the enlisted people all salute him as he walked across the parade field.  There was a chain link fence around the balloon hangar, and I remember some vehicles parked in front of it.  It was off limits but three of us kids used to sneak under the fence and go play in the hangar.  I remember climbing all over the batteries down on the beach.  The upper batteries were closed, they may have still had munitions in the magazines, but just as we were ready to leave they opened those batteries up and my father and I went up and climbed on them.  We used to play on the beach a lot.  Once my father took me fishing out on the pier.  It was the only time I ever remember seeing MPs, they came and kicked us off the pier and said it was off limits and we couldn’t be there.

I went to school at the old red schoolhouse up on the hill (Lincoln School).  We’d catch the bus on the corner by the tennis courts and that’s where they dropped us off at the end of the day.  It was a good time for our family because the Korean War was winding down and they were closing the fort, so there was not a lot for my father to do.  He’d go over to the hospital and make his rounds and occasionally do things there, but he had a lot of time off.  Quite often, he’d pick me up from school and we’d go fishing out at Lake Leland.

There was an older house on the hill to the south, and there was a story that a witch lived there.  All the kids were sneaking up the hill to see if we could see the witch.  Some other things I remember—they used to have liaison aircraft that would come from over the trees and over the blimp hangar and land in the middle of the parade field.  That was pretty exciting to watch.  I remember going to movies in the theatre.  Something else that was kind of the highlight for the kids was Retreat every day.  There was a little box up on Artillery Hill where the gun used to be, where they’d fire ‘Retreat.’ We’d all go out and listen to the guy playing the trumpet.  He’d play and they would lower the flag  and fire the gun.  It was probably a five inch gun, the fire would charge out across the Sound.  Everybody would stop and salute as they lowered the flag.”

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