Air Station Astoria celebrates 40 years of serviceWARRENTON - Even though an expansion had doubled the hanger's size and the helicopters they worked on had long since been replaced by newer versions, Bill Ballard and Pete Hoffman could see U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Astoria as it was years ago.

"I remember many nights in this barn."

"The ready H-3 always sat right here."

"Took us longer to open the doors than anything else."

Astoria held its 40th Anniversary Commemoration Saturday at the air station. It was a time for current and former Coast Guard members to reminisce about the four decades the station has spend protecting Northwest waters and the many lives saved along the way.

KIM ERSKINE - The Daily Astorian

Bar pilot Chuck Lane is hoisted off the runway into a helicopter during a demonstration Saturday at the air show in Astoria.When Dale Perkins first came to the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Astoria in 1964, he was warned not to wear his uniform into town. The area was a little gun-shy. The Navy had departed - and there was a feeling the military was coming back.

"You can see the change," the former aviation machinist said. "Now the Coast Guard is the golden child."

Perkins also remembered how primitive the air station was. He said there were no quarters for the men, no fuel trucks, and no testing facilities for the helicopters. When he rebuilt an engine, he had to risk his life in the helicopter making sure it worked.

But the memories Perkins has held closest over the years are the search-and-rescue missions he and other Coasties were called out on.

"If I hadn't made the right decisions and done what I did that person wouldn't be there," he said. "It's something nice to carry around."

Adm. Ed Nelson, fourth commanding officer of the air station, remembered a training flight off the mouth of the river. A mayday call came in that two jets had collided and from his position in the air, he could see parachutes coming down. So close were the rescuers that the pilots were saved mere seconds after the accident.

KIM ERSKINE - The Daily Astorian

The cockpit of the new Columbia Pacific Airlines Piper airplane."The time they bailed out until they were sitting there drinking coffee was about 10 minutes," Nelson said.

When James T. Maher, the station's second commanding officer, was in charge of the group, men were

flying HH-52 Seaguard helicopters, and there was no such thing as a rescue swimmer. But he said the essential things have remained untouched.

"We still get the same kind of calls and do the same general kind of work," he said. "The skill and dedication remains the same."

Hoffman agreed that the attitude of the Coast Guard hasn't changed.

"It's always been ask the Coasties to do something and if they don't have to tools to do it they'll still find a way to get it done," he said.

"We're Coasties and we're proud of it."


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