On the Edge
Clarence F. Edge was a unique blend of professionalism and individualism; An extrovert, amiable but strong willed, imaginative, bold and spontaneous. Edge was a major contributor to the growth and accomplishments of Coast Guard Aviation.
Edge was born November 15, 1901 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended Southwest Normal School at Weatherford. Oklahoma 1915-1916 and Central Normal School at Redmond Oklahoma 1916-1917. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 31st Infantry Regiment in the Philippine Islands.
During the Russian Revolution the 31st moved from the Philippine tropics to the bitter cold of Siberia as part of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. The mission was to prevent allied war material from being looted and to guard the Trans-Siberian Railway. Edge was in OMSK, Siberia when he was designated as an aerial observer. Edge said later; “I was flying with a Frenchman in an ancient nondescript airplane who was flying for Kolchak, a White Russian Army leader. I have always marveled that I am still alive.”
Edge was Honorably Discharged, Termination of terms of Service, on 19 January 1920.
Edge requested and received an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1924. He graduated on 8 March, 1927. Upon graduation he was assigned to the mobile floating headquarters unit Argus. These units supported the increasing patrol boat fleets coming into service for the enforcement of Prohibition. The Argus was based in New London, Connecticut.
Duty on the Coast Guard Destroyers Ericson, Wainwright and Paulding followed. While stationed aboard the Wainwright Edge invited a few ladies aboard for a tour. Alcoholic beverages were consumed during the visit. Edge received a General Court Martial and was reduce in precedence. During this period Edge made repeated request for aviation training.
On 14 June 1930 Edge reported to the Naval Air Station Hampton Roads for initial Flight Evaluation. Satisfactorily completing evaluation, he proceeded to NAS Pensacola for Flight Training. He completed the course and was designated a Coast Guard Aviator on April 7,1931.
On 30 April, 1931 Edge received Order to report to Cape May New Jersey to report to Section Base 9 for flying duties. He was ordered to Coast Guard Air Station Miami October 25 1933.
* note: CDR Lloyd Chalker, was Chief of the Personnel Section at Coast Guard Headquarters in 1934. He then reported to the U.S. Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for aircraft observer training and upon his completion of that training he was issued Coast Guard Observers’ Certificate No. 1 on 14 March 1935. His next assignment was as the Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Air Station Miami, Florida. He was promoted to the rank of Captain on 1 June 1935 and on 11 July 1935 he became the head of the Aviation Division at Coast Guard Headquarters. Chalker. an aviation advocate, made himself available to the aviators. Positive relationships, often informal, evolved during the ensuing six years and were of benefit to Coast Guard Aviation. The relationship between Chalker and Edge illustrates this.
Edge was instrumental in the establishment of a Coast Guard Air Station at St. Petersburg Florida. Edge was scheduled to be the first Commanding Officer. Prior to completion Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, who was favorably disposed toward aviation directed on March 9,1934, that all flying activities of the Treasury Department would be consolidated under the cognizance of one organization and he determined that to be the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard had a cadre of trained pilots and maintenance personnel; access to well qualified training programs and was presently engaged in the expansion of its aviation program. A unit of men commanded by LT Clarence Edge arrived at Dodd Field shortly thereafter.
Transferred to the Coast Guard were 15 aircraft seized over the previous few years. While on paper this would look good, in reality most of the aircraft were in extremely poor condition and unsuitable. Eventually all were replaced except for the two New Standards. During 1934-1935 six Vought O2U-2 model aircraft were purchased by the U.S. Navy on behalf of the Coast Guard and four were utilized for the aerial border patrol.
In 1936 Edge was ordered to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles as the Commanding Officer. During this period the Navy deployed the aircraft Carrier USS Ranger to Alaskan waters for “Cold Weather” operation tests. Edge was assigned as the Coast Guard Observer. He stated that the weather never got cold enough so little was learned.
On 3 June 1936 the first of the 327’
Foot Treasury Class Coast Guard Cutters was launched. The 327’s were designed to carry a JF-2 or SOC4 aircraft on the aft deck. Entry into the water was made by use of a boom.
CDR Chalker directed Edge to utilize a JF-2 and work with the CGC Campbell to determine the maximum sea conditions in which an aircraft could be launched and recovered. Edge stated that the CO of the Campbell worked with him as they worked their way up in worsening seas until certain damage would result in heavier seas. From the results it was determined that the aircraft could be launched and recovered in moderate seas and swells.
With the completion of the testing Edge expected his long-awaited orders for CO of the St. Petersburg Air Station. Instead, orders came directing him to go to Alaska with a JF aboard the CGC Spencer. Edge called Chalker. “Boss, that Alaska shoreline doesn’t look much like St. Pete. Chalker chuckled and said “Edge I need you there. I must have a man I can trust. We must know what we can do with Coast Guard Aviation in Alaska, what we will need to do it, and where to establish an aviation operating base. I must have that information and it must be correct. You will be there one year and then you can name your next billet.” Edge asked “Then can I have ST. Pete” Chalker answered; “St Pete is yours one year from now.”
A JF was put aboard the CGC Spenser which proceeded up the inside passage to Ketchikan. Th ere, Edge talked with the bush pilots and thought it evident that that area was not suitable for a base because the cost to build would exceed development funds. They then proceeded to Juneau, and Cordova, which were also deemed unsatisfactory. Anchorage was also checked out but Edge decided it was too far from the operation area. The next stop Kodiak. Edge recommended Kodiak. He noted there was good sheltered water in Woman’s Bay, and the channel would carry fairly good draft ships. There were good approaches for planes, except that sharp little hill to the west, and northwest of that was the Buskin River Flat with room for a small air strip without excessive cost. In addition, Kodiak was partly out of the coastal weather.
After Kodiak, Edge went back to headquarter to brief Chalker. Chalker listened, then said Edge, The Navy picked Kodiak too, but they plan to build a seaplane base on Woody Island. What do you think?’ Edges reply was “‘Boss, somebody must be nuts over on the Navy side. Woody is out in Chinaka Bay, nearly a mile east of Kodiak Village and open to all weather except from the west and there are some pinnacle rocks in Chinaka Bay.’ Chalker sent Edge over to brief them on his selection. The Navy agreed with Edge. Plans were made for a joint base on Woman’s Bay.
In 1938 Edge finally got his wish. and was given the command of the St. Petersburg Air Station. It was a very busy station. Coast Guard Aviation had grown from five aircraft and six active pilots in 1926 to 53 aircraft, eight air stations, and two detachments and 55 active pilots as of 30 June 1938. Coast Guard aviation continued to grow rapidly.
In 1943 Edge was transferred to the Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn as the commanding Officer. The Coast Guard Air Station was on land leased from the City Of New York on Floyd Bennet field. In In 1941 the Navy leased the remainder of Floyd Bennet and established the Naval Air Station New York. This placed the Coast Guard Air Station on NAS New York. Edge and the Commanding officer of the Naval Air Station butted heads over an incident. Charges were drawn up but reduced to only insubordination. An agreement was that disciplinary action against Edge be limited to detachment from command of the Coast Guard Air Station, Floyd Bennet Field, and assignment to other duty of no greater prestige and authority. Edge was assigned as the Executive Officer on the USS Dickman APA 13, a Coast Guard manned Attack Transport. Edge was aboard for the invasion of Normandy 6 June 1944 and the Invasion of Southern France 14-16 August 1944. Edge had consistently requested Combat Duty since the start of WWII. Almost everyone would agree that this is not the recommended way to achieve a goal.
In Edge’s Service Record is a statement that Edges fitness reports ranged from Excellent to Poor. Edge had an assertive personality. People with this type personality tend to be confident, decisive, forceful, insistent and enthusiastic. A person in a senior position with a passive personality can acquiesces or in some cases become resentful. I believe Edge was very competent in his endeavors and it is the disparity in personality traits that lead to the poor reports.
General Lewis Brereton, US Army Air Force sent a personal letter to Edge dated November 2, 1944
Of note is the Generals comment desiring Edges service if it became possible and the offering of influential contacts for the Coast Guard helicopter program.
Lt. Gen Brereton was an aviation pioneer graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1911, transferred to the US Army Coast Artillery Corps prior to WWI. In 1912 He transferred to the Signal Corp Aeronautical division. Then spent the remainder of his service as a career aviator. He served with distinction in both WWI and WWII. An attempt was made to ascertain where and how the personal relationship began. It appears this letter was not the first communication. I was not able to find anything with any degree of certainty. General Carl Spaatz, in his last Officer Efficiency Report on Brereton in 1946, justly described him as “personally fearless, forthright and given to firm and direct expression of his opinions regardless of the consequences to himself” We know the two knew each other – they were kindred spirits.
On 25 March 1945, close to the end of the War in Europe, Edge reported to Commander Task Force 24.0 (Greenland Patrol) as Chief of Staff. The irony of the situation was that once again he was working with Edward “Iceberg” Smith. The same Edward Smith who was CO of the CGC Spencer when Edge determined the best location for a Coast Guard Air Station in Alaska. The relationship between the two men had not been good.
On 12 July administrative control of VP-6 (CG) was transferred from Commander FAW9 to the Commandant U.S. Coast Guard. Operational control remained with Task Force 24.0. In August VP 6 headquarters was transferred Naval Facility Argentia Newfoundland. The Coast Guard was returned to the Treasury on 1 January 1946. The Argentia operation continued as part of the North Atlantic Ocean Patrol.
Clarence F. Edge, known as Larry during the Air Patrol days and as Deacon later, retired on 1 October 1946. His wartime rank of CDR was temporary during the conflict. He was retired as a LCDR, but over ten years he made many requests to the Coast Guard’s Board for the Correction of Military Records (BCMR) because the law stated that if an officer served successfully in the higher grade for a specified period he was entitled to retire at that grade. Edge received the permanent retirement grade of CDR and a huge sum of back pay.
The Deacon flew West on August 28, 1991. Destination St. Petersburg
Edge was one of Coast Guard Aviation’s great leaders. He contributed significantly to the success of early Coast Guard Aviation He willingly accepted challenge and produced outstanding results. He would never ask a person to do something he would not do. Vision, Alacrity, Audacity and Aeronautical skill would describe him. But he was not without fault. His methods of circumventing rules and regulations viewed as obstructions, as well as his sometimes-outrageous personal conduct, often proved that he was — “his own worst enemy.”
I believe Edges story is an important one for those interested in or who are part of Coast Guard Aviation as we seek to know and understand those early pioneers.
During WWI. the Coast Guard Aviators were part of the Navy and remained as such until August 1919 when the Navy returned the Coast Guard to the Treasury Department. An Ad Hoc Air Station was established at Morehead City North Carolina but closed due to budget restrictions. Coast Guard Air Station Gloucester followed in 1926 and was the first permanent Air Station. The Rum War was on and the airplane paired with an outstanding Coast Guard intelligence organization was so effective that it practically guaranteed the permanence of the airplane.
It is of note that almost all of this was initially self-generated and took place prior to Aviation having a place in the Coast Guard Bureaucracy. In July of 1935 Captain Lloyd Chalker became the head of the newly created Headquarters Aviation Division. This was a definite improvement; however, it did not solve all of the problems. The chain of events created a degree of independence within the Aviation Community that in some instances both frustrated and annoyed the Coast Guard hierarchy.
Leadership Style was another point of contention. The non-aviators, for the most part, used an autocratic form of leadership in which the Leader makes most to all of the decisions within a highly structured environment, utilizing defined rules and processes. The input of those under his command is limited. If you are familiar with shipboard operations you can see merit in this. The aviator on the other hand, for the most part, used Participatory Leadership. Participatory leadership involves those under his command in the decision-making process. This creates a strong sense of value and creates a sense of greater community. It also provides a pool of experience and skill to draw. Because of a unique joining of individualism and commonality, this system worked very well in Coast Guard Aviation. In certain instances, this led to resentment or animosity.
Coast Guard Aviation, over the years has progressed from incidental to adjunct to necessity. It would never have happened without the dedication and extensive efforts of the early Aviators – Men like CF Edge – warts and all!
John Bear Moseley
Coast Guard Aviator # 743