The Army Air Corps Crash Boat Base: 1943-1946
Ocean Springs US Army Crash Boat Base
The Crash Boat Base was an Army Air Corps sea going emergency rescue boat facility located on the south side of Hellmer's Lane and on the northwest shore in the Inner Harbor at Ocean Springs, during the final years of WW II. It was manned by personnel of Squadron V, 3rd Air Force Bomber Command, US Army Air Corps from the Gulfport Army Air Field at Gulfport, Mississippi. The base was erected in early 1944, to house crash boat officers and crews as well as ancillary personnel who manned the small post. The mission of the local boat base was to rescue downed aviators, tow targets, and patrol bombing ranges in the Mississippi Sound and Gulf of Mexico. The Crash Boat Base was located in Section 37, T7S-R8W on land leased of Charles E. Clark (1879-1945) to the US Army.
Charles E. Clark was the son of Edwin A. Clark (1853-1936) and Katherine T. Glasscock (1853-1930). He was born at Concordia Parish, Louisiana and arrived at Ocean Springs in 1897. Mr. Clark married Lulu Haviland (1880-1972), the daughter of Samuel T. Haviland (1845-1911) and Sue Moss Haviland (1860-1903). Clark was a soldier having volunteered in 1898, to serve in the Spanish American War. He mustered with the US Volunteers, 5th Immune Regiment, and served as a Sergeant in Cuba from August 1898 until March 1899.(The Ocean Springs Record, July 30, 1998, p. 16)
Mr. Clark matriculated to LSU and received a law degree from Cumberland University. Returning from military duty at Santiago de Cuba, he became involved in the Railway Mail Service and later was a rural mail carrier. Charles E. Clark was a member of the Jackson County and State Bar Associations and practitioner of law in Jackson County for over forty years. He was acknowledged as an outstanding lawyer in chancery court matters, especially land and estate issues. He died suddenly on April 5, 1945. Clark was survived by his wife, sister, Mrs. Charles L. Snyder, and brother, Walter Clark of Louisville, Kentucky.(The Jackson County Times, April 7, 1945, p. 1)
Mr. Charles E. Clark began acquiring lands along Hellmer's Lane and in the area that would become the northwest end of Ocean Springs Inner Harbor many years before the Army Air Corp base came to Ocean Springs. The portion of Clark's land that would become the mooring and fueling area for the Crash Boat Base was once the pasture of the Rehage Dairy.(Charles Fayard, April 12, 1999) Harry Rehage delivered milk to base during its tenure on the Inner Harbor.(Harry Rehage, April 5, 1999)
The John A. Rehage family of New Orleans came to Ocean Springs at the turn of the Century. Both he and Mrs. Madeline Rehage were born at New Orleans, the children of German immigrants. Their family consisted of: George T. Rehage (1878-1937), Edgar M. Rehage (1888-1918+), and Charles F. Rehage (1890-1977).
In December 1900, Madeline Rehage (1862-1920+), the wife of John A. Rehage (1850-1920+), bought 12.82 acres of land from Herman Nill (1863-1904), a local druggist. This tract can be very generally described by present day geography as north of the Alice T. Austin tract, east of the Gulf Oaks Condominiums, south of Hellmer's Lane, and west of the Inner Harbor.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 22, p. 215)
John A. Rehage (1849-1926) built a home here, a present day 1220 Harbor Drive, in February 1904, which is now owned by his grandson, Harry Rehage. The Rehage family operated a dairy here until the late 1930s, when they moved their dairy operation to a site between Bechtel Boulevard and Alice Drive. This tract in the SE/4 of Section 29, T7S-R8W was platted as the 10-acre Rehage Subdivision in September 1951.(The Progress, February 14, 1904, p. 4 and JXCO Plat Bk. 2, p. 29)
In October 1913, May Staples Poitevent (1847-1932), the widow of Captain Junius Poitevent (1837-1919), conveyed a three-acre parcel to Charles E. Clark, formerly possessed by John A. Rehage and Madeline Rehage. In April 1924, Annie Gaspard Rehage (1888-1971) and Charles F. Rehage (1890-1977) sold Mr. Clark another tract south of the Henry Hellmer's property. These former Rehage lands are believed to have been pasture for their dairy cattle and were dredged out in January 1944, to extend the Inner Harbor to the northwest. The channel thus formed served as the moorage site for the crash boats of the Army Air Corps.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 39, p. 507 and Bk. 53, p. 586)
Henry Hellmers also sold two tracts to Charles E. Clark (1879-1945), containing about 4.2 acres on the south side of Hellmer's Lane, in the area that would become the site of the barracks, mess hall, and other land structures of the Crash Boat Base. The largest of these parcels was about 3 acres and conveyed to Clark in January 1929.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 62, p. 145)
The Crash Boat Base at Ocean Springs was under the Supply and Maintenance Sector of Gulfport Army Air Field (Gulfport AAF). This Army Air Corps facility was erected on a 1200-acre lease near the Gulfport airfield, commencing in May 1942. By September 1942, potential airplane mechanics began classes in tent schools. The 3rd Air Force then took command of the facility and made it a training center for heavy bombers, B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses. Near the culmination of WW II, B-29 Super Fortress combat crews trained here.(Black, 1986, p. 94)
In early 1946, the US Army announced that Gulfport AAF was surplus. The facility had three runways, four double wooden hangers, and two new concrete hangers. The city of Gulfport took control of the air base in early 1947, pending a final settlement with the US Government. (Ibid., p. 96)
The US Army Air Corps Crash Boat Base at Ocean Springs was called Main Base as other crash boat sites under the aegis of Gulfport AAF, called Sub-Bases, were situated at: Municipal Field, New Orleans; Brookley Field, Mobile, Alabama; and the Old Gulfport Yacht Club Pier, Gulfport, Mississippi. In December 1944, there were five boats assigned to the Ocean Springs base. They were as follows: P-236, a 104-foot Sea Going Rescue Boat; P-70, an 83-foot Sea Going Rescue Boat; P-726, a 63-foot Sea Going Rescue Boat; P-246, an 83-foot Sea Going Rescue Boat (not operational); and P-54, Army Crash Boat (not operational).(IRIS Roll No. B2251, p. 804)
The Army Air Corps boats at Ocean Springs were constructed of wood. Some were planked and others made from marine plywood. It is believed that some of these watercraft were built at the Weaver Boat Yard in Orange Texas. Others came from shipyards on the Great Lakes and the Higgins Boat Yard at New Orleans.( W.H. Yarrow, April 4, 1999 and Stewart Folger, April 10, 1999)
As early as March 1945, another Main Crash Boat Base under Gulfport AAF general command was operating at Cameron, Louisiana.(IRIS Roll No. B2251, p. 1338)
Main Base at Ocean Springs was assigned the Mississippi Sound and served as an operations site for crash boats responsible for covering 3rd Bomber Command bombing and gunnery ranges at Freemason Island and Burrwood, Louisiana. By late 1944, high command at Gulfport AAF desired to consolidate the four crash boat bases to one operational unit at the Old Gulfport Yacht Club Pier. It was believed that this action would promote maximum efficiency, convenience, and amply protect the Gulfport AAF.(IRIS Roll No. B2251, p. 805)
At the archives of the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB Alabama, official reports and other information on the Ocean Springs Crash Boat Base were reviewed by the author. The following generalizations about this facility were concluded:
The moral of the base was generally high despite the fact that personnel worked long hours on alert duty due to a paucity of manpower, and finance officers refused to pay the men the additional 20% of base pay allowed for sea duty. Orders from higher commands, especially those requiring corrective action, were not give enough time to take action before correspondence was due to be remitted. In many instances, the time allowed for corrective measures was exhausted in message transit time from headquarters at Gulfport AAF through Main Base at Ocean Springs to sub-base at New Orleans, Mobile, or Gulfport. Some of the men were overweight and Major Turner of 3rd Bomber Command suggested more exercise for base personnel.(IRIS Roll No. B2250 pp. 1710-1711)
A chronology of the Ocean Springs Main Base as derived primarily from local journal sources and US Army Air Corp documents follows:
In December 1943, the B.L. Knost Company of Pass Christian, Mississippi was awarded a contract to build pre-fabricated barracks, a mess hall, and lavatory on Hellmer's Lane. These structures were situated on the north shore of the Inner Harbor. The $14,730 construction contract for the rescue facility was expected to be completed in six weeks.(The Jackson County Times, December 11, 1943, p. 1,)
Barracks (image made June 1945)
It should be of local interest to know that Hellmer's Lane received its appellation from Henry Helmers (1848-1934), a former landowner in this section of Ocean Springs. In June 1927, Mr. Hellmers donated land to the City of Ocean Springs for a street here, which was called Hellmer's Lane in gratitude for the donation. Mr. Hellmers was born at Altenesch, near Bremen in Oldenburg Province, Germany. In May 1907, he and his wife, Isabella Hellmers (1858-1908), bought a Queen Anne cottage at present day 914 Calhoun from Severin and Sophie Schill of New Orleans. Henry Hellmers resided here in his retirement years.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 60, p. 407 and Bk. 32, pp. 549-550)
It is almost incredulous that most of the crash boat buildings are extant. Several are in situ on Hellmer's Lane. A chronology of these buildings follows:
1406 Hellmer's Lane
In 1964, Alice P. Duckett, who resides at 1406 Hellmer's Lane, acquired one of the former military barracks, when she purchased the onetime residence of Miss Scharlotte "Lottie" Moore Schoemmell (1895-1966). Mrs. Schoemmell had procured the lot and building in July 1947, from Lulu Haviland Clark, several years after the crash boat base was closed.(Alice P. Duckett, April 9, 1999 and JXCO Land Deed Bk. 111, pp. 396-398)
Lottie Schoemmell was a woman athlete of international acclaim. She was born on February 13, 1895, the daughter of Ernest Moore and Barbara Schweize, at the Bronx, New York. Lottie began marathon swimming in the 1920s. By in the end of that decade, she had won 21 world championships and was acclaimed the best female swimmer in the world at distances greater than ten miles. Lottie never swam the English Channel, a local myth, but in October 1926, she set a record in averaging 14.5 miles per day during a marathon event in the very frigid Hudson River from Albany, the state capitol, to New York City, a distance of 153 miles. It has been called the greatest performance of marathon swimming every made by a woman.(The Daily Herald, December 29, 1959)
At Ocean Springs, Lottie Schoemmell taught swimming at the Community Pier. Ten private lessons were given for $25. She also operated a health clinic at Biloxi on West Howard Avenue. Here Mrs. Schoemmell engaged in physio-therapy. She was a graduate Swedish masseuse.(The Jackson County Times, June 25, 1948, p. 4 and The Daily Herald, February 7, 1947, p. 5)
In September 1958, Lottie Shoemmell bought several lots from Georgette F. Lee (1889-1979) in the Bryan Farms Subdivision east of Ocean Springs. She resided here on Highway 90 (now Government Street) until her demise from natural causes in August 1966. In July 1970, Bruce and Alice Duckett removed the former Schoemmell residence from 1406 Hellmer's Lane to 916 Calhoun, which ironically is just east of the old Henry Hellmers homestead.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 184, p. 433, The Daily Herald, August 18, 1966, p. 2 and Alice P. Duckett, April 8, 1999)
1402 Hellmer's Lane
It is believed that this structure, now a residence, was the crash boat base lavatory, which consisted of showers and latrines). This original small military building has been accreted in area until it is now a house of substantial size.(Alice P. Duckett, April 8, 1999)
1322 Hellmer's Lane
When Bache and Jean Whictlock bought their home here from listing agent, Ruth McKinnon Carr, she related to them that this structure had been the lavatory for the air-sea rescue squadron during WW II.(Jean Whitlock, April 10, 1999)
This is not substantiated by former tenant, Jerri Haviland, who resided here in the 1950s. Mrs. Haviland recalls that her former residence was a barracks building. Her husband, Jack J. Haviland (1920-1996), replaced the flooring in the structure.(Jerri Haviland, April 10, 1999)
1320 Hellmer's Lane
The house of Dr. William Pontius was erected here commencing in early 1994. Prior to the edifice of Pontius, the Howell family resided in a former crash boat structure, probably another barracks building. It was conveyed to Curmis Broome who demolished it.(Alice P. Duckett, April 8, 1999)
Jackson County Beat Four Supervisor, A.P. "Fred" Moran (1897-1967), had committed the County dredge, Wahalak, to excavate slips for the crash boats in the Inner Harbor, facetiously called "Fred Moran's Little Swimmin' Hole". Dredging began in January 1944.(The Jackson County Times, January 15, 1944, p. 1, c. 4)
In August 1944, one officer, 1st Lt. Charles H. Eyster Jr., and ten enlisted medical technicians were added to the roster of the Ocean Springs crash boat base. 1st Lt. Eyster was transferred from Gulfport AAF to relieve the Base Boat Officer of the details of squadron administration. This brought the number of enlisted men at the Ocean Springs base to fifty-three. The Sterling engines, which powered US Army Rescue Boat P-54, were replaced with two Hall-Scott motors. The older Sterling engines repeatedly broke down under the pressure of patrol work. A siren was placed on the staff vehicle to assist it when maneuvering in traffic while transporting base personnel to accident scenes. The two salient events of August 1944, were the freeing of a stranded PBY aircraft from the shallow waters near Ship Island by Ocean Springs and Gulfport base boats, and the fracturing of the back of Cpl. Stanley H. Shelhamer (1920-1977) as a result of heavy seas encountered at the range off Burrwood, Louisiana.(IRIS Roll No. B2250, pp. 1545-1546)
Also in August 1944, Ocean Springs Main Base was placed on stand-by duty to provide crash boat service for Brookley Field to all aircraft flying in the Mobile Bay over water area.(IRIS Roll No. B2250, p. 1552)
In September 1944, the Ocean Springs base received a new commander, Captain Paul G. Andersen, who relieved 1st Lt. Philip L. Jacobs. The base strength as the end of September 1944, was: one officer, six warrant officers, and fifty-five enlisted men. Major activity for the month was the dispatching of three vessels from the base to a point about 200 yards offshore from the Edgewater Hotel. Here, a B-17E aircraft had ditched. All airmen had safely bailed out, but the derelict plane had to be demolished with explosives by Navy personnel as it could not be floated or towed. In addition, WO (jg) Leonard F. Cahoon and a crew of ten men were sent to Savannah, Georgia to secure and return P-248, a Sea Going Rescue Boat of 83-foot, to Ocean Springs. The vessel was at the Thunderbolt Marine Repair Shop.(IRIS Roll No. B2250, pp. 1709, p. 1712, and p. 1716)
In June 1945, the Main Base at Cameron, Louisiana was severely ravaged by a tropical hurricane. The damage was inspected by the Commanding Officer of the Ocean Springs crash boat base. It was recommended after the inspection that the Cameron Boat Base facilities be removed to the Sabine Naval Base, Texas. June 1945 also saw a meeting held at East Pier Base, Gulfport, Mississippi to consider the removal of the Ocean Springs crash boat base to that location. A primary consideration in the relocation of the Main Base to Gulfport was the $184,000 estimated cost to dredge a channel at Ocean Springs. There was sufficient dockage at East Pier for twelve boats and ground space for living quarters adjacent to the present dock at Gulfport.(IRIS Roll No. B2252, pp. 1338-1339)
An open house was held at the Crash Boat Base on December 1, 1945. The event was held by the US Army Air Corps to express their sincere appreciation for the hospitality and many favors accorded to them by the people of Ocean Springs during their tenure at the crash boat base.(The Jackson County Times, November 24, 1945, p. 1, c. 7)
After several patriotic tunes were played enthusiastically by the Ocean Springs School Band, under the direction of Miss Corrine McClure (1887-1961), Marcus Shanteau played "Taps" during a moment of silent prayer. Ralph Duncan, master of ceremonies, then presented Reverend Father Francis Deignan (1901-1965), the pastor at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, who gave the invocation. Crash Boat Base Commander, Captain Thomas H. Hacking, spoke briefly. He related the history of the base and expressed pride in the fact that the Ocean Springs based crash boats had completed several life-saving missions. One involved the rescue of six civilians for which the base had received a special commendation.(The Jackson County Times, December 8, 1945, p. 1)
Ralph Duncan organized the affair, which was highlighted by a ride on the crash boats. At this time there were sixty men stationed at the Ocean Springs facility. A request for donations as Christmas gifts for the Army Air Corps soldiers was sent into the community in early December. Items needed for the base Christmas Tree were as follows: combs, razor blades, tooth paste, playing cards, and money. Miss Jessie Boyd (1881-1963) and The Gulf Wave Shop were contacts for contributions. The Gulf Wave Shop was a beauty parlor operated by Mrs. Theon Galle. At this time, one could get a shampoo and set for $.65 and a permanent wave for $4.00 and up.(The Jackson County Times, December 8, 1945, p. 1 and February 2, 1945, p. 4)
After V-J Day on September 2, 1945, activity at the crash boat base began to diminish rapidly. The rescue vessels at Ocean Springs were moved to Brookley AFB, Mobile, Alabama. By March 1946, the military facility on Hellmer's Lane was still open, but not operational. It was permanently closed shortly thereafter.(W.H. Yarrow, April 10, 1999)
Men who served
The following is a partial list of the men who served at the Ocean Springs crash boat base from 1943 to 1946: Major Bodenstein, Captain Paul G. Andersen, Captain Thomas J. Hacking, Capt. William H. Hoover, 1st Lt. Charles E. Eyster Jr., 1st Lt. Philip L. Jacobs, WO (jg) Leonard F. Cahoon, WO (jg) Flyod G. Lewis, WO (jg) Charles A. Montgomery, WO (jg) Harry Lombard, SSgt. Guy L. Gammon (1916-2011), TSgt. Henry W. Eschmann, Sgt. Julius H. Pettis, Sgt. Casimer Zadrzynski, Cpl. Stanley H. Shelhamer (1920-1977), Cpl. George R. Duncan, Cpl. Warren Rutter, Cpl. Richard Borneman, Pvt. Felix Rogers, Pvt. David M. Caldwell, Sgt. Stewart Folger (b. 1920), Michael J. Lamacchia (1921-1992), Walter H. Yarrow (1925-2009), and Anthony W. Davidson (1920-1990)
Crash boat base veterans remember Ocean Springs
Stewart V. Folger
Stewart Folger (1919-2010) now resides at Newport Beach, California. He was born in New York, but relocated to California in his youth. Folger was trained to be a radio technician by the Army, but became a skipper of P-575, a twin-engine crash boat. Post WWII, returning to the Golden State, he formed his own machine tool company, FD Contours. Folger still manages the company at seventy-nine years of age. He recalls that he had good feelings about his military duty at Ocean Springs, and that the people made the service men very welcomed. Sergeant Folger would trade sugar, a rare commodity during the war, for Davis Bayou mullet.(Stewart Folger, April 3, 1999)
Elaine Ryan Miller remembers Stewart Folger well. Her mother, Mrs. Elsie Seymour Ryan (1905-1989), would occasionally invite him for Sunday dinner at the Henry L. Ryan cottage at present day 1106 Calhoun.(Elaine R. Miller, April17, 1999)
Guy L. Gammon
Guy L. Gammon (1916-2011) now calls Laverne, California home. He was one of the first servicemen to be assigned to the local crash boat base. Gammon lived at Biloxi and ate in local restaurants until construction of the barracks, mess hall, and other facilities were completed in early 1944. He recalls that there were five buildings on the Hellmer's Lane site. Mr. Gammon knew, Anthony W. "Boots" Davidson (1920-1990), an Ocean Springs native, who was stationed at the crash boat base. Gammon and cohorts would sip suds at Dave's Place, a local pub on Washington Avenue, run by Walter S. "Dave" Davidson (1888-1950), the father of Boots Davidson.(Guy L. Gammon, April 3, 1999)
Dave's opened for business in May 1935, in the former Russell Beer Parlor where The Whistle Stop, a frame and art gallery, is now situated. Walter Davidson served Eagle Beer, Double Eagle Ale, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and fresh crab omelettes every evening. Dale's on Porter, now the Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral home, was also a favorite haunt for these seaman soldiers.(The Jackson County Times, May 4, 1935, p. 1, c. 3, and July 27, 1935)
Walter H. Yarrow
Private Walter H. Yarrow (1925-2009), a native of Jersey City, New Jersey, was one of the lucky Army Air Corpsmen to win the heart of a local belle. He met Nell Baker, the daughter of Orion S. Baker (1898-1951) and Eula Tiblier Baker (1900-1996), by asking her for directions. He says that she has been given them to him now for 53 years! The Yarrows were married at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church on March 19, 1946, with her brother, B. Baker (1925-1997) and Marion Forde, as attendees. Miss Baker was employed in the public relations office at KAFB before her betrothal.(The Jackson County Times, March 23,1946, p. 4, c. 4)
Walter H. Yarrow remembers that the crash boat base was well situated. The only logistical problem was with shallow water and low tides. He trained for his military skills at Cameron, Louisiana and San Diego, California. The Yarrows now reside in Hattiesburg, Mississippi where he is a retired professor from the faculty of the University of Southern Mississippi.(Dr. W.H. Yarrow, April 10, 1999)
Foreign servicemen make local scene
At various times during WWII, British and French sailors were billeted at the Magnolia State Park, formerly the CCC Camp and now the Gulf Islands National Seashore, east of Ocean Springs. They remained here while their ships were being repaired at the Pascagoula shipyard. In December 1943, seventy French sailors were quartered at the park. They arrived after a British vessel had embarked. The limey crew caused quite a stir in the local female population, which only continued to sizzle after the Army Air Corp soldiers came here in early 1944. Hearts were made and broken.(The Jackson County Times, December 18, 1943, p. 1 and various anonymous local women)
Many thanks to Christopher H. Mauer, Professor of Spanish Literature at Vanderbilt University, who inspired this research and Captain Christopher M. Cwynar of the Air Force Historical Agency at Maxwell AFB, Alabama for his kind assistance in securing documents for the author. A sincere and very special gratitude is owed to Guy L. Gammon who donated his entire WW II archive and multiple photographs of the Crash Boat Base at Ocean Springs to the author.
Others who contributed greatly to the author's knowledge of this subject were: Jean and Bache Whitlock, Elaine Ryan Miller, Sammy Cvitanovich, Dot Noel Ross, Walter H. Yarrow and Nell Baker Yarrow, Charles Fayard, Harry Rehage, Alice P. Duckett, Alice Hire, Theresa Hire, Sandi Shelhamer, and Stewart Folger.
Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Alabama
Henry W. Black, Gulfport, Beginings and Growth, (Rivendell Publications: Bowling Green, Kentucky-1986)
The Daily Herald, "Shoemmell Health Clinic", February 7, 1947.
The Daily Herald, "Still A Champion After 30 Years", December 27, 1959.
The Daily Herald, "Famed Swimmer Found Dead In Ocean Springs", August 18, 1966.
The Jackson County Times, "Contract is let for barracks for Key Field men", December 11, 1943.
The Jackson County Times, "70 French Sailors at Magnolia Park Await Ship Repairs", December 18, 1943.
The Jackson County Times, "Dredge 'Wahalak' doing fine job in Inner Harbor", January 15, 1944.
The Jackson County Times, "Charles Clark dies suddenly Thursday p.m.", April 7, 1945.
The Jackson County Times, "Crash Boat Base Has 'Open House' Last Saturday", December 8, 1945.
The Jackson County Times, "Yarrow-Baker", March 23, 1946.
The Jackson County Times, "Learn To Swim", June 25, 1948.
The Ocean Springs Record, "Anthony W. Davidson", April 19, 1990.
The Ocean Springs Record, "Sous Les Chenes", July 30, 1998.
The Progress, February 14, 1904.