Richard (it was about that time we started calling him “Dick” as they did at school) and Rex still had two or three weeks of school left, so I had time to explore the town on my own. I usually walked because Dick had not said I could use his bicycle; however, if I wanted to go quite a way I sometimes took it anyway—making sure to get it back before he got home.
I got acquainted with downtown Vancouver then, one sunny day, wandered through the Army post, Vancouver Barracks, where a division of infantry and the 7th cavalry were stationed. Down between the Barracks and the river there was a small airfield. Part of it, called Pearson Field, was used by the Army Air Corps for some small bombers but part of it was private and I was irresistibly drawn to the collection of ancient biplanes and some homebuilt aircraft housed in a few small wooden hangars. I vowed again that someday I would fly airplanes.
I was also frequently drawn to the waterfront along the broad river. I watched the remaining big stern wheel steamboats thrashing up the river against the current and the pompously chuffing little tugboats maneuvering rafts of logs that arrived at the DuBois sawmill.
I was not a frustrated Mark Twain—I had no particular desire to be on either the steamers or the tugboats. I did not realize, in fact, that the maritime world held an attraction for me until Navy Day weekend that year of 1937 when several Navy warships came up the Columbia River. A cruiser and two or three destroyers went on up the Willamette River to tie up at Portland. One destroyer tied up at a dock at the Vancouver waterfront.
I watched the destroyer come in and sat on the bollard most of the afternoon watching the activities of the white-clad sailors on the deck. I envied them and wanted to be in one of those snazzy uniforms with a cocky white hat and flapping collar. I even came back after supper that evening and watched from the dock with some other youngsters while they showed a movie for the crew on the open fantail. It was a gangster film.
My feelings about the Navy solidified that weekend when the Navy ships were open for public tours. I bummed a quarter from my mother for the fare and rode the interurban street car from Vancouver across the Interstate Bridge and into downtown Portland. (The interurban streetcar was replaced by bus service in 1938.)
I waited in lines and toured every one of the Navy ships, marveling at the immaculate grey paintwork, gleaming brass, and the big guns. I especially envied the naval officers in their crisp white uniforms and gold-braided peaked caps. The desire to wear a Navy uniform was perhaps even more strong than my desire to fly.