Full Circle

After graduating from DeVry, I packed up the Toyota and headed to Point Arguello.  As I crossed Vandenberg I was thinking about having spent my first four years of military service in the Air Force and now, here I was,  almost attached too an Air Force Base for my last four years.  Coast Guard Loran Station was not a part of Vandenberg Air Force Base even though some thought it was.  I checked in and would be living in one of the duplexes for a while.  The family was still in Glendale.  Until the kids finished school and we could make arrangements about the house, we were considering moving back after I retired.  In the mean time Joyce and I would commute back and forth periodically.  Every month the District Office held a Commanders meeting, where all the Officers in Charge of stations and boats, would meet and discuss what was happening in the District.  At my first meeting, I was introducing myself to some of the officers and a Lieutenant, aid to one of the Captains in the office, thought he had heard my name before.  Then dawned on him, the Captain he worked for had been the one that had not wanted to give me the loan for a house.  The Lieutenant remembered he had heard my name in what he call vain, not in a good way.  We had a laugh about it.  After these meetings, I usually drove over to Arizona for the weekend.  A couple of times Joyce and the kids came over to Point Arguello in the motorhome.  Later, I picked up a used Plymouth station wagon, much easier to drive around.  Joyce was working in the business office for the Arizona Highway Patrol and had one of their “Bear” t-shirts.  When driving across, she wore the t-shirt and made it across the state in record time.  One time after doing some work on the Toyota, I was driving through Lompoc, like at 5:30 in the morning.  I saw this police car setting in a parking lot so I held it at thirty five MPH, the speed posted the last time I had seen a speed sign.  As I went by he pulled out and stopped me for doing 35 in a 25 zone.  It was my first ticket.  I went down for the Commanders call where we discussing complaints from people being boarded by armed Coasties.  I made the suggestion that we should advertise that the Coast Guard was an armed service.  The Admiral at the meeting said, “Come on Sparks, that won’t work”, he was thinking it was a bad idea.  Before I left I told the District Office that if they wanted me at the meeting for a specific reason, call me, otherwise this was the last I would be coming to.  When I left, I headed to Arizona.  Around Riverside California, I had been cruising with the trucks and hadn’t notice they had back off somewhat.  All of a sudden a California Highway Patrol was behind me with lights flashing.  I pulled off and got out of the car shaking my head.  I was still in uniform and he asked me what was wrong.  I told him I hadn’t had a ticket in twenty years and this was my second stop today.  He asked to see the ticket, looked at it, and said, “Hell, I would fight this.”  He gave me a warning, because of my bad day, and I drove on to Glendale.  When I went to court they told me to go to  the California driving class and if I passed the ticket would be removed from my record.  I later gave Chris the chance of going anywhere she wanted for dinner if she could go twenty years with out a ticket.  I won.  Through an inter service agreement with the Air Force, married couples could get housing on the base.  Being senior enlisted they were opening housing in one of the Officers Housing areas.  We got a field officers house on a corner on Cataldo.  There were still Air Force Officers living around us and they got the option of staying or moving to Officers housing else where on base.  They stayed where they were at.  At first we rented out the house in Glendale but sold it about a year later.  The people had had a baby and didn’t realize when they went in the house, the baby had fallen in the swimming pool and drowned.  We just couldn’t see our selves moving back.

Like I mentioned before, some in the Air Force thought that my station was part of Vandenberg.  One day a semi truck and trailer along with a caravan of cars came driving on to the station.  I stopped them and they told me that the Vandenberg Public Relations Office had given them permission to use Point Arguello.  I explained that they couldn’t give permission, that this was a Coast Guard Station separate from Vandenberg.  Talking to them a little more, it turned out that they were with Ford Motor Company and that they wanted to use the Lighthouse for pictures of their new Ford Escort.  The Escort was going to be introduced the next year.  They had three or four proto types here.  I went ahead and let them.  They would unload the proto types, which were on VW frames, take pictures.  Load them up, drive them to Los Angeles, where they would be given a new paint job and brought back.  The film crew was there for about a week.  One day, when they were filming, whales were breeching just off the point.  The professional film crew got so excited, not one of them had thought to take pictures.  I later made sure the Air Force was aware that they had no control or say about my station.  The 1air Police tried once, coming on to the station wanting to see one of the guys who had illegally parked his car on the Air Force Base.  One, I called Wyatt Earp, tried ordering me around with his hand on his gun.  I told him the get his Sargent of The Guard down there.  When the Sargent got to the station, I point to the Air Policeman and told him I want that man off my station and he was never to set foot on it again.  I cleared up the problem of the parked car and they left.  One time Joe Deviend and his wife, Beverly, Joyce and I were driving across Vandenberg.  I got stopped by the Air Police, they said I had made a California Stop.  We all agreed I hadn’t.  But the next day Joe and I were on Base, picking up the mail.  There is or was a law on the books,  that when a horseless carriage came to an intersection, the passenger was to get out and direct traffic.  We came to an intersection, there was an Air Policeman setting near, Joe got out, went to the middle of the intersection and directed me through.  Then got back in the pickup.  The looks we got were priceless.

About two miles south of Point Arguello was the old, abandoned, Point Arguello Lifeboat Station.  Although we had nothing to do with the station, it was an interesting place to visit.  The barracks and office were still there as well as the boathouse docks and breakwater.  Vandenberg did have plans to bring recovered rockets back through the old station.  We did have the responsibility of maintaining Point Conception Lighthouse.  Most of the buildings that had been associated with the station had been torn down.  Remaining were the Lighthouse, with a First Order Frenzel Lens, one hundred and eighty two steps down from the top of the cliff.  One of the crews quarters that the games keeper for Jalama Ranch lived in.  Most of the old garage and an abandoned, concrete house on a bluff east of the light.  We cleaned up the concrete house, boarded up the access to the upstairs portion and used the house as a getaway.  In fact, Joyce and I spent a couple of nights there.  Two other couples had spent a weekend there and swore there was a ghost in the house.  The guys were over at the game keepers house watching TV and the wives decided to try to get up stairs.  As they were trying to pull the plywood down, someone told them they shouldn’t be doing that.  they kept on trying and someone yelled, “Don’t do That”.  They found their husbands and asked why they had yelled and the husbands denied it.  Later, when one of the wives was climbing into her sleeping bag, she thanked her husband for getting it warm, he told her he hadn’t touched it.  And a radio they had on a window sill, started playing.  Nothing like that happened with Joyce and I.  Later a movie company came to Point Conception to make part of the movie, “A Brave New World.”  I had an Indian Blanket that had been in the movie, until it wore out.  We may still have a couple of rags from the blanket.

One thing I did while at Point Arguello was act as a public relations person.  When the guys were on base, even in uniform they were asked for ID at the Commissary and Exchange.  Normally, in uniform, you weren’t asked.  I ordered a bunch of hats with, “USCG PT ARGULLO” on them.  I placed magnetic signs on our vehicles with U.S. Coast Guard Loran Station Point Arguello.  I even tried coveralls with Pt Arguello batches.  The District Office didn’t approve of them.  A lot of the local fishermen, military and civilians from Lompoc knew about the station, but that had been it.  We got invited to a Mason’s dinner one time to give a talk about Point Arguello to the wives while the men had their meeting.  It turned into a question and answer talk.  One of the ladies there had been the Post Master, she emphasized Master not Mistress, of the Post Office at Arlight.  It had been a little community that had grown up around Point Arguello.  I still has a zip code on file.  While we were there Joyce and I went on a Marriage Encounter with a group from Vandenberg and Lompoc.  That got us pretty involved in both of the communities.  We also got very involved with the Catholic Community in the base Chapel, where I was baptized and became Catholic during Easter services.  The party after, they had a big sign with a guy holding a baby over his head like Kunta Kinty.  Between Marriage Encounter and the church community, we like to play jokes on one another.  Joyce and I were down town visiting one time when the kids called.  The Air Police were at our house, someone had Tee Peed the trees in our front yard.  Talking to the Air Policeman he mentioned a lot of that going on around base.  In fact his First Sargent had had it done to his house the week before.  I told him that I knew about it, we had been the one’s to do it and most likely it was his boss that did ours.  Guess they left, shaking their heads.   We had traded in the motorhome and Joyce’s station wagon for a Plymouth Volare, thinking we would reduce our monthly gas bill.  It didn’t work out that way, it was small and very crowded with the whole family. So Joyce and I took the Volare down to Oxnard and found a  large Chevrolet Van.  We were at a fair one time and as we were leaving we noticed a bunch of our friends decorating a Van that looked just like ours.  We honked and waved as we pulled out of the parking lot.  Chris got her drivers license and we found a Vega station wagon for $500.  One day she called the station from Lompoc, she had been the middle car in a rear end fender bender.  When I and my exec got there she was standing around with friends she had in the car with her.  Insured that she and all her friends were ok.  After the police investigated the accident, I made Chris drive everyone home, I sat in the passenger seat.  If I remember right we got $500 from the insurance company for damages and we never got the car repaired.  To me those four years were fun years.

We got word that the Coast Guard was going to decommission Point Arguello and make it an unmanned light.  Figured it was a good time to go ahead and retire.  I still had a year left for having accepted Senior Chief, but when I had called the detailer at Headquarters, he was going to send me to Long Beach, where there was already a Chief.  I had talked to the Captain in charge of overseeing the building of the new 270 foot ships in Seattle and they could use me there but the detailer said no.  I finally offered to let them take me back down to Chief, to retire early.  He recommended I write and ask for a waver and I got it.  Joyce flew up to Spokane to find a house and I started arranging for packers and movers.  When she got back we were ready to leave.  We packed up the Van and hitched up the Toyota and headed to Spokane and Nine Mile Falls.  In Spokane. while we waited for our household goods to arrive, we stayed at a friend of Joe’s house.  Joe was a priest at St. Thomas Moore church in Spokane.  The church had a hilly parking lot and it had snowed.  I took Chris out in the Toyota and we drove around in the snow, climbing the hill, spinning around, everything I could think of to get her use to driving in the snow.  The one piece of advice I gave her was to feel the car through the seat of her pants.  It would tell her what to do.  She later proved it by driving home up Big Sandy, going around a bunch of other cars stuck in the snow.  When our household goods arrived,  we moved into the house on Greenfield in Nine Mile.  I flew back to Point Arguello for the Decommissioning.

I got back to Point Arguello the night before the decommissioning.  Joe Devriend, my Executive Petty Officer, and the crew had everything ready.  We were expecting quite a crowd.  The next morning the Admiral, Commander Eleventh Coast Guard District, and his staff were arriving by helicopter.  Vandenberg Air Force Base, Base Commander was attending as well as a number of friends we had made over the years.  One I was particularly happy to see attend was the former Post Master of Arlight.  The Admiral was impressed with the turn out, he had been to decommissioning of the two other Loran Stations in his District and they hadn’t had the turn out or were they as prepared as Point Arguello.  He gave a speech, covering some of the history.  I also gave a speech, also covering some of the history but also what the station had accomplished over the last four years and the closeness of the crew as well as with the Air Force Base and Lompoc.  Then the crew, as Honor Guard, lowered the American Ensign and Coast Guard Ensign that was flying that day.  They folded and brought the flags to me and I presented them to the Admiral.  He did something he hadn’t done for the other stations, he presented the American Flag to me.  We broke for a reception in what had been my quarters for a long time.  The Admiral and his staff took the guest book and the station copies of our scrapbook and departed.  One of the problems all the crew had orders to be someplace else and departed.  I have to say we left quite a mess and the Air Force didn’t appreciate it when they took over.  I packed all I wanted in the Vega and reported to the Coast Guard station in Oxnard, where I stated until my retirement in April.

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