I learned to swim when I was about 6 or 7 years old. My father was transferred to Santa Barbara right after World War I and I swam at the Santa Barbara swimming pool. From the start I was a fast swimmer, without trying. The manager of the pool said that I had the potential of being a champion. Once again my Dad was transferred to Long Beach in 1923 and I swam at the YMCA. I won a candy bar every Saturday night for first place in my age group. This was during my Junior High School days.
As soon as I entered High School, I went out for swimming and water polo. I won my first gold medal in 1926. The first person I showed that gold medal to was my neighbor, Hazel Galvin. I changed her name to Bivens in 1934. About that time I also started swimming for the Pacific Coast Athletic Club and Los Angeles Athletic Club in AAU meets. I won many gold medals, but the one I value the most for being a State Champion is a Life Pass Medal to any athletic event at Long Beach Poly High. I still wear that medal today.
I mention all this so that you will understand that I thought I was pretty good. I was a little cocky, maybe. My ambition was to be a Long Beach LifeGuard. I had to be 21 years old. I passed all the tests and was hired in 1930. I was going to show the other lifeguards what a real life guard was like.
Captain Dutch Miller stationed me between the Silver Spray Pier and the County Flood Control Outlet. I expected this because it was considered the most dangerous stretch of beach. I was a bit disappointed when I learned that I was being teamed up with Roy Houssels, a seasoned guard of about 280 pounds, but all muscle and a very powerful man. He was a slow swimmer, compared to me, and I was going to show him what a real guard was like. We were stationed in front of the old Virginia Hotel that had a raft anchored past the breaker line with a rope running to shore with buoys every ten feet. My first week there was a quiet one. The surf was small and it was very uneventful. Then the waves started getting large and a rip tide developed where the raft was anchored.
Roy told me to keep an eye on a man swimming sidestroke and headed for the raft. Roy said the man could see the rope going by fast so the man thought he was a good swimmer when actually it was the rip-tide that was carrying him out to sea. The man got up on the raft and lay down to sun himself. When he started to stir, Roy told me that we better get into the water because the guy was going to need help. We both hit the water but I, of course, was out there ahead of Roy. When I looked to where the man ought to be, he wasnít there. Then I noticed some brown hair near the surface. I grabbed the hair, and it was our man. He was unconscious and the color purple. I was sure he had drowned. I waved my hand in a circle, which was the signal for the guard on the shore next to our station to call for the rescue boat.
About that time Roy arrived and he told me to keep the victimís head above the water and he would do the rest. Roy performed artificial respiration on the victim and I never saw so much liquid and food come out of a person. This was done in a vertical position. Soon the rescue boat arrived and they hauled the man aboard and started respiration with an E and J respirator. They wasted no time getting away.
I noticed that a red flag had been hoisted up the mast. This was a signal to headquarters to call for an ambulance to be at the end of the pier when the rescue boat arrived. Roy and I swam parallel to the beach to get out of the rip tide when we caught a large breaker and rode it to the shore. We were very quiet the rest of the day.
The next day we both were not in the mood to have a conversation. I couldnít get the event off of my mind. It kept going over and over in my brain. About 2 oíclock in the afternoon a lady came up to us and thanked us for saving her husbandís life. What a relief. She said she didnít have any money but she baked a cake for us. We explained that we would not have accepted any money anyway. The cake was the best thanks that she could give us. She said her husband was still in the hospital but that he was going to be O.K.
After she left I got to thinking of why her husband was still alive. It all started with a captain that knew how to deploy his men, the best way
to team his men, and put me with a man that had knowledge that I didnít know existed. I marveled at how the whole routine went like clockwork.
I ate my share of that cake, but somehow it also seemed to be humble pie.
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