A Project of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

Oral History

Recollections From Aviators

The Coast Guard Aviation Association began an Oral History Project during the annual Roost in 2016. These retired aviators gave their accounts of career experiences. Here are their stories.
My Life in the Coast Guard: A Conversation with CAPT David Oliver, Coast Guard Aviator #124

In September 1999 Tom Stanback sat down with CAPT David Oliver, USCG (retired) in his hometown of Wilmington, NC to discuss his career (1941-1970). The outcome of this interview was a booklet titled “My Life in the Coast Guard”. 

CAPT Oliver had an interesting and diverse career from serving aboard USCGC DIONE performing coastal convoy escort duty early in WWII to earning his wings and flying anti-submarine patrols and coastal search and rescue late in WWII. He was an early convert to helicopters at Air Station Brooklyn (December 1944) and flew several important rescues at the Rotary Wing Development Unit during a pivotal time when the Coast Guard was struggling with acceptance of the helicopter as a rescue asset. In addition, he flew International Ice Patrol missions and was the CO of the first Helicopter Port Security Detachment during the Korean War. He later served at Air Detachment Kodiak, AK; Air Station San Francisco, CA; and Air Station New Orleans, LA.

Speaker: Lt. Art Ross, USCG (Ret.)
“I wish to recount a rather small episode when I was attached to Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico. We were flying normally search and rescue. thoruought the Carribean. But I was tasked one time to carry the Admiral on a rather awkward mission throughout the islands…”
Speaker: Capt. Bob Workman, USCG (Ret.)

“I’m Bob Workman. I’m a retired Coast Guard Captain. Coast Guard aviator number is 914, and Coast Guard helicopter pilot number 458. My wife says I belong in a museum…”

Speaker: CMR. Bruce Melnick
“I retired as a commander from the Coast Guard as an aviator and Coast Guard Astronaut number one, in 1992. I think I had one of the most amazing careers and I feel like I’m one of the luckiest people on this planet…”
Speaker: AD1 Carl Saylor, USCG (Ret.)
“I enlisted back in the Coast Guard in July of 1977. At the time, I really didn’t have any other options. My dad kind of pointed me in that direction. I always wanted to be a helicopter crew member. Loved the thought of flying…”
Speaker: Lt. CMR Dave Cooper, USCG (Ret.)
“I began my Coast Guard career at OCS in Yorktown in 1968. After graduating there and being commissioned as an ensign by my father, who was a retired marine colonel, I went to New Castle, New Hampshire and reported aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Active (WMEC-618), a 210…”
Speaker: Capt. Dave Spillman, USCG (Ret.)
“I went to the Coast Guard Academy. Graduated in 1979, then I went to the Coast Guard Cutter Dependable in Panama City, Florida, for about a year, and then I went to flight school. I graduated from there in I think it was October of 1981. Transitioned to the H-52…”
Speaker: Lt. CMR Dennis Turner, USCG (Ret.)
“I was a direct commission aviator, so I actually started in the Navy in 1971. I was actually stationed in Guantanamo where they had the last Navy HU-16’s, and then transitioned to C-131’s…”
Speaker: CMR Don Winchester, USCG (Ret.)
“I’m a 1966 graduate of the Academy. I spent a year on the ship Matagorda, a sea plane tender, ocean station vessel out of Honolulu, Hawaii. A year in flight training, ’67-’68. My first air station was San Francisco….”
Speaker: CMR Frank L. Shelley, USCG (Ret.)
“Coast Guard Academy Class of 1949, and Coast Guard Aviator number 633. Okay, I … initially graduated from the Coast Guard, graduation with the Coast Guard Academy … I lucked out and went to a buoy tender in Monterey, California. And it was so good it couldn’t possibly last, and it didn’t…”
Speaker: Vice Admiral Howie Thorsen, USCG (Ret.)
” I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1955. We spent two years at sea in Coast Guard Cutter Ingham, usually in the north Atlantic, and weather patrol, refresher training, that type of thing, and then fortunately got orders to flight training…”
Speaker: Capt. Jeff Pettitt, USCG (Ret.)
“I flew for 28 years of my 30 years in the Coast Guard. That was a charmed time to be flying. I got my wings in 81 and retired in 2009. While a lot of these guys have some incredible stories to tell, I like to tell a lighter side of things…”
Speaker: CMR John Lewis, USCG (Ret.)
” A long time ago, it seems that I may have made the last official water landing in the Coast Guard A216 Echo, the Albatross. More affectionately known as the Goat…”
Speaker: Capt. Les High, USCG (Ret.)
” Only been retired for 41 years. I started in the Coast Guard back in the ’40s during the war, and I was going to college for a couple of years. While I was there, my dad told me about the opportunity with the Coast Guard Academy, and I went to the Coast Guard Academy…”
Speaker: Mario Marini, USCG
” I joined the Coast Guard in August of 1980. I went to my aviation school at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in 1985, when the rescue swimmer program was just starting out for the Coast Guard. I was assigned to Air Station Kodiak in January of 1986…”
Speaker: Capt. Merrill Wood, USCG (Ret.)
“I think I may have been a second senior captain in the Coast Guard when I retired in November 30th of 1984, yes. Now we’re going to talk about where we went and how we got there…”
Speaker: Senior Chief AE Capt. Tom Wynn USCG (Ret.)
“I joined when I was 17 years old in 1972, July the 27th at noon. I remember that because there was a picture of me when the clock is in the picture of me swearing in. I swore in here in Mobile. I went to Davidson High School here…”