Black Hawk County

Ens. Harold "Bud" Garretson





“Wasn’t So Much,” Say Pilot
Rescued from Reef in Atlantic

Ens. Harold (Bud) Garretson, 236 Hillside Avenue, is shown above reviewing his “adventures” for six days on a barren and uninhabited Atlantic island off Key West, Fla., after his navy patrol plane was forced down Dec. 20. He and an enlisted man were rescued Dec. 26, and though Garretson insists “the deal was not heroic,” he is asked to tell his story over and over. He holds a part of the parachute he saved which proved “more than useful” to the two, and the jack knife with which he cleaned their “rations” of crabs and snails and an octopus.

Tells of Days on Raft,
Isle After Landing at Sea.

By Frances Jordan
Courier Staff Writer

“We didn’t do any more than anyone else who wanted to live would have done. It wasn’t anything so much.”

That’s the way Ens. Harold (Bud) Garretson, home on leave in Waterloo after six and a half days’ unwonted sailing and subsisting on a barren island, dismisses his experience.

When he and John P. Curran, Jr., aviation ordnance mate third class, Longmont, Cal., inflated their rubber life raft and watched their patrol plane sink two minutes later, after being forced down off the Florida coast Dec. 20, they were riding a swollen and “plenty rough” sea.

They were near an island with a lighthouse and tried to row their “boat” in that direction, but a powerful wind and the high waves pushed them away from it. When dawn came they lost view of the lighthouse and finally the island, Garretson told.

That afternoon (Dec. 20) their raft capsized and many of their supplies were lost. Also lost were time and energy in righting the craft. An oar gone, as was their map, Garretson’s shoes, etc., and in place they “took on quite a bit of water,” Garretson told, laughing.

“I got sick the first night and stayed sick for quiet a while,” the sunburned ensign said, “but I was all right the next day, ‘cause there was nothing else to be sick over.”

Daybreak of the 21st the pair sighted land. But it was a different island – not the one they had previously seen. This was uninhabited, a rocky reef with a shoreline of cliffs. At only one spot on the entire island was a beach where they could disembark in safety.

An abandoned lighthouse made their sleeping quarters. They made haste to hang a piece of parachute on it for signal. Garretson perceived that a family had lived there many years ago.

He described a house and small buildings as deteriorated and run down. A cistern provided water to boil and drink, for which they were thankful, Garretson said.

“The lady who lived there had planted a bed of iris, and we tried making a stew of iris bulbs, but they were too bitter. She had a large bed of cactus there and several palm trees. We found two very small coconuts with hardly any liquid in them.”

So crabs of various dimensions and large snails made a rather dull menu for the next four days. Crab and snail stew for three meals a day, with an octopus once to break the monotony, kept their hunger under control. But both men lost on the average of a pound a day.

“The white meat of octopus had little taste, but it was flavored by the snail and crab meat in the stew with it. That meal afforded us the most meat we had at any one time,” the ensign said. The creature’s foot-long tentacles were eaten. They didn’t feel like trying the body, which was about as large as two of his fists.

A hut and fireplace near the house was used for cooking quarters. They built a fire the first night on the island, but slept so hard from exhaustion that they allowed it to die. One match was left to start their next fire.

“That was serious,” the youth said, “and when we tried it, it went out before the fire got a start.”

Curran had a lighter, but the salt water had ruined the flint. The he found just one more flint.

“By the grace of God, the first try on that lighter started the fire,” Garretson said. “Then we kept constant vigil the rest of the time and our fire never went out. We used wood from the old house to feed it all the time.”

Garretson’s loss of a shoe made it “pretty hard” for him as he walked with that one bare foot on the rocky island. He finally tied blocks of wood to his soles with strips of his parachute for protection. Their parachute was used for warmth when they slept on dry palm leaves.

Its other use was for luckless fishing with a shroud as a line and a hook made from a piece of rusty wire found near the old dwelling. Garretson’s jack-knife came in handy for cleaning crabs and snails and cutting the chute.

“I know we were both worried,” he said, “but neither let on to the other. I felt sort of responsible because the enlisted man was only 20 and I’m 22, see?

“We didn’t lose control – well, until we were sighted. Then – then we were pretty happy,” he stammered, “and the strain sort of took us to our knees.”

They were eating breakfast after the sixth daybreak when they saw the plane searching for them. The pilot buzzed the island and remained about some time before he returned to report their location.

Then several planes came, dropping emergency food and supplies. One box dropped into the ocean, but another landed near them. Later a coast guard vessel was sent to rescue them.

“We didn’t do any more than anyone else who wanted to live would have done. It wasn’t anything so much,” the sunburned young ensign said.

Navy censors allow the two men to tell only about events transpiring after their life raft was set afloat.

Except for a few balmy days spent on an Atlantic island, Ensign Garretson has been in training in submarine patrol duty at Boca Chica, and will return there when his leave is concluded.

He is visiting at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Orval Garretson, 236 Hillside avenue.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday, January 07, 1945, Section Two, Page 11 (photo included)