The first peacetime draft in the history of the United States commenced on September 16, 1940 in response to escalating wars underway in Europe and East Asia. While much emphasis has been placed on the draft instituted by the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, many young men of that time chose voluntary enlistment in the armed forces.
Today is the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a day on which several Park City families were closely impacted.
An earlier publication of this column told the story of Steve Marinich, a young Parkite who enlisted in the Navy in May 1940 and perished aboard the USS Arizona the morning of December 7, 1941. For more about his life and service, read that Way We Were article here.
In the fall of 1940, the U.S. Coast Guard opened an office in Salt Lake City; the office operated a mobile recruiting unit that was usually stationed at the Park City post office on Tuesday afternoons. In October 1940, several young Parkites answered the Coast Guard’s call for “single men between the ages of 19 and 25 years of age, of good character, of fair education, not less than 66 inches in height and in good physical condition.”
Among the new recruits was a 17-year-old named Douglas Firth who resided with his mother and stepfather, Reta and Jack Beck, at 71 Daly Avenue. At the time of enlistment, Douglas likely had completed two years of high school and was ready for adventure on the high seas.
After completing his training, Douglas was stationed in Pearl Harbor aboard a 125-foot active patrol craft named the USS Reliance. In the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Douglas and other enlisted Parkites stationed in Hawaii wrote letters to the Park Record, sharing what information they could about their assignments, their impressions of their beautiful environment, and the friendliness of the locals. They seemed to enjoy their posts and felt that their work as part of the military effort was helping to keep the folks at home safe.
The USS Reliance, commissioned in 1927, originally served to follow and deter bootleggers and smugglers during the height of Prohibition. She was repositioned to Pearl Harbor in 1935 and transferred to the United States Navy under executive order in November 1941.
On December 7 of that year, the USS Reliance was docked at Pier 4 in Pearl Harbor, “performing normal duties for a peacetime Sunday.” Although many military vessels and crew were lost that day, the USS Reliance and its crew survived. Sixteen months later, while home on a 20-day furlough, Douglas recounted witnessing “scenes of brutality, destruction and wholesale murder.” He said that the “horrors of that terrible sneaking assault will remain a vivid memory and nightmare to him if he lives a thousand years.”
The U.S. Coast Guard subsequently reassigned Douglas to bases in California and promoted him to boatsman, first class. In February 1944, he married Peggy McKenzie of Santa Rosa, California. According to his mother’s obituary when she passed in 1970, she was grandmother to their two children. Douglas passed away in 1980.
Douglas was proud to be a coastguardsman and strived to remain connected to his community while serving his country. Upon reassignment to sea duty in 1944, Douglas wrote: “My new ship is a ‘beaut’ with a history as long as Main Street, but we couldn’t go into all that. All in all it makes me feel proud to serve on such a vessel.”
Next week, on December 14, the Park City Museum has an in-person lecture at their Education and Collections Center at 2079 Sidewinder Drive on early prospecting and ore discovery in Park City, given by mining geologist Bill Tafuri from 5 to 6 p.m. Register here.