By AMANDA LOVIZA VICKERY
Glasgow Daily Times
Wilmer “Bill” Henry Peil can’t remember everything he used to, but then again, he has a lot of memories to sort through. At age 91, Peil has been a mechanic, a serviceman in the U.S. Coast Guard, a farmer, a police officer on the city, county and state level, a beekeeper and a security guard.
Peil was 20 years old and had been working at Waukesha Motors in his home state of Wisconsin for five years when one day a man requested to see Peil at the gate. Peil was told he was needed in the Coast Guard, and he was being sent to training in Connecticut. It was 1942.
“All I could do was comply with the rule,” Peil said. “He had a legal paper to serve on me, so I assume Uncle Sam needed me and I was willing to go.”
Peil was sent to the Coast Guard training station in Groton, Conn, where he learned how to repair and maintain diesel engines in ships. He spent about six months training there, and then started working on ships.
“There was so many things that happened eventually,” Peil said, as he started thinking about his three and a half years in the Coast Guard.
Peil served on ships that patrolled up and down the Atlantic Coast, from Cuba to as far north as Iceland. In order to conserve fuel, ships traveled north using the ocean current, and only needed power to travel south, Peil said. The ships were loaded down with 400 types of depth charges, and other weapons such as machine guns and launchers.
“We would patrol between Panama Canal and the United States, attempting to prevent the enemy from penetrating…” Peil said. “Technically, everything we did was to prevent the German submarines from penetrating the Panama Canal and Cuba, and some as far east as Key West.”
Everything done on the ships had to be precise, Peil said, because there was no room for error in things like ventilation.
While the focus was on the Axis Powers, sometimes the ocean served as its own threat to U.S. vessels.
One day in Connecticut, Peil said, an aircraft carrier was trying to come into the harbor, but the wind was so high the carrier kept swinging around. The captain asked for help over a speaker, and Peil had to throw a line to the carrier deck to steady it as it came into the harbor. Later, Peil said the captain came to find him, to see who it was that got them the rope that pulled the carrier into the harbor.
They were also called out to sea to escort ships carrying the wounded, or help ships that ran aground, Peil said. Sometimes the wind was so much they couldn’t do anything to help the grounded ships.
Peil’s claim to fame, and the incident that almost ended his Coast Guard career, was a mission to escort British royalty. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were seeking asylum in the Bahamas, and Peil’s ship was assigned as an escort. The duke and duchess wanted to be taken ashore at a specific location on the island, Peil said, and the ships required fuel to get there against the current. As they were maneuvering, another escort ship struck Peil’s ship, nearly cutting it in half. Peil was in the engine room at the time, and not only was it filling with water, but the greater danger was the fuel tanks threatening to explode.
“I was caught between the engines and getting out of there, so I couldn’t escape,” Peil said.
For the full story, see the print or e-edition of the Glasgow Daily Times Weekender.