Two Coast Guard buddies reunite after 60 years and plan to stay in touch.
Two World War II vets who served together in the Coast Guard spent a weekend earlier this month yakking and yakking. They stayed up late, too.
Retired Canandaigua dermatologist Bernard J. Oseroff and Charlotte, N.C., resident Floyd M. Willis Jr., both now 80, had a lot of catching up to do. It has been more than 60 years since they've seen each other.
In mid-August, the Willises and the widowed doctor spent several days reminiscing about the military and their youth. "It has been absolutely delightful telling these stories," Oseroff said.
They met back in 1945 as apprentice seamen at boot camp in Curtis Bay, Md.
Both were Southerners. Oseroff hailed from Virginia. Willis is a lifelong Tar Heel, so proud of it he wears a tiny gold footprint dangling from a chain around his neck.
Willis made the reconnection possible after calling his fellow Coastie a month ago. He actually located him six months ago. "I Googled it," said Willis.
Seems Willis was perusing some of his old paperwork and came across a duty list and a liberty list, which he admits snatching from a wall in boot camp. He got to thinking about some of the guys he knew back when and remembered Oseroff because he was the only guy he'd ever seen with an electric razor.
"He had real dark (brown) hair and a thick beard," Willis said. "You couldn't get into the mess hall with a beard. He'd shave in the morning, and by dinnertime, he had enough growth that they wouldn't let him into evening chow unless he shaved again."
They were apprentice seamen in Q-2 Company, 2nd Platoon. Fun stuff. Rifle range practice; firefighting details; peeling potatoes; scrubbing pots and pans, latrines.
They almost didn't get to enlist.
"When I took my physical, Oseroff said, 'You have an obese condition,'" Willis recalled. "I'd never heard that word before, so I asked him what that meant and he said, 'You're too damn fat.'"
He got teary-eyed because he really wanted to be in the service. In three months, he lost 27 pounds and made the cut. Not only did he have to lose weight but use his wiles. He had 20/20 vision in his right eye, but his sight wasn't as good in his left eye. When the doctor told him to put his hand over his left eye and read with his right, he did and of course he passed the test. When the doctor told him to do the opposite, he simply changed hands over his left eye and continued reading with his right. He passed.
Then the doc asked why he wore glasses. He fibbed, replying that he only used them to read once in awhile.
Oseroff left as an electrical technician, 3rd Class.
"I wanted to learn medicine, so they made me an electrician," Oseroff said wryly.
Willis had to leave boot camp three weeks early. He was assigned to the personnel unit because he knew how to type and take shorthand, skills the Coast Guard sorely needed.
"My dad was a barber and we didn't have money for college, so my mother said to take a commerce course. I did, but there were only three guys in the class," Willis said.
He quickly learned that the phonetics of shorthand didn't translate into the mispronounced terminology used by his fellow Coasties. When gunwale was pronounced gun-nel, he wrote "gunnel." With boatswain or bosun, he wrote "bosen." He was promptly corrected.
The Coast Guard during World War II did antisubmarine duty in the North Atlantic. It handled long-range navigation in the South Pacific, transported troops and ran the landing craft that carried Marines to deadly beaches.
"Whenever we went to a bar where there were Marines, we could never buy a drink," Oseroff said. "They'd say 'Hey, Coasty — buy you a drink?' They said the Coast Guard put Marines on the beach so they didn't have to get their feet wet. If the Navy dropped you, you went into water up to your neck."
Oseroff and Willis both got money for college thanks to the G.I. Bill. Oseroff graduated from the University of Virginia. Willis earned his degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and went into the freight business.
These days Oseroff teaches water safety through the local Coast Guard Auxiliary: Flotilla 4-7 Canandaigua.
Willis and his wife, Carlene, rack up the miles on their Honda Gold Wing touring motorcycle. They're up to 77,600 and counting.
The Coasties plan to stay in touch. There's more yakking about their yesteryears to do, and time's a wastin'.
Billie Owens can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.