Interview With Dick E. Wiltse

From the interview with Dick E. Wiltse of Port Townsend conducted at the Fort Worden History Center by Rick Martinez on February 5, 2004. Mr. Wiltse, a veteran of both the Army and Navy, also worked as a cook at the Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center for six years. Here he discusses his stint as a Navy reservist doing active duty at the Harbor Entrance Control Post atop Artilllery Hill in Fort Worden:

“…It was a harbor defenses unit, now we know it as Inshore Under Sea Warfare. They put out heralds, hydrophones, cable connected in the water to detect shipping. Up on the hill they had a stack that’s electronic, that’d give you two things. It would give you the screw beat and it would also give you an audio or electronics across a screen, little wavy lines, and you could hear. A good operator can tell you what type of propulsion it is and how many tons. We had a Third Class Petty Officer up there and he couldn’t see the ships because he’s sitting inside looking at a little scope, and had earphones on for the audio part. That man could tell you what kind of power it had, whether it was steam or diesel driven, and how many tons that ship was just by listening.”

One day during his time working at the Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center, Mr. Wiltse and his friends had an exciting adventure:
“…It was in March. We were on our way back from lunch at the Mill Restaurant and we were going by the old ferry dock. The ferry was there, it was shut down for lunch. There were about 60-65 mile an hour winds and all of a sudden the line of the ferry snapped and the ferry turned parallel to the beach and all its engines were dead.

Harold Gruver, myself, Oscar Lee, and Stan Robichaux got aboard the boat. Lee and Stan used to be skippers, and Lee was an engineer. Lee took me down to the engine room and Robichaux took Gruver up to the pilot house. Lee fired up the engine. There was a little box down there that had sight glasses right down the middle. He said,”I think if we keep oil about halfway on the sight glasses we’ll be OK.” There were copper lines going to the bearings.

So, we ended up over at the old pier at the Navy base on Indian Island. The base was closed except for the fire department and security. The rest of the crew came around by car and picked up help, then brought us back to Port Townsend. They stayed over there until the weather got better, then they came back. That was a hairy ride.”

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