October 27th, 1941 was a day that seemed to start like any other day. I was up early and had just finished a fine breakfast in the wardroom of the USS SALT LAKE CITY. The SLC was riding at anchor in the harbor in Long Beach, CA. We were enjoying a rest and recreation period. The good old Navy R & R.
After I finished my breakfast I relaxed in the wardroom for a few minutes before I got ready to go ashore. While I was relaxing
Lieut. Winsor (Windy) Gale stopped by and casually asked, “What are you doing today, Coie?” I said, “Not much, Windy, except that I’m planning to get married this afternoon.”
Windy was taken aback by this and asked, “Are you having a military wedding?” “No”, I replied, “I feel that is something you Academy men have that is special. Chaplain W. J. Kuhn is conducting the ceremony, so it has a military flavor.”
At this Windy became unglued. “You are going to cheat your young lady out of a military wedding? Sit down and shut up. You will have nothing more to say about this.” “But,
Windy” I pleaded, “the wedding is scheduled for 1:30 this afternoon. We can’t possibly be ready by then.”
“Yes, we can.” He replied and promptly went into action. Windy was an action man. He nailed the next seven junior officers that came into the wardroom and told them to get their sword belts and swords on because they were going up the foc’sl to practice the Arch of Swords. “We are going to marry Coie and his new bride off in style – military style.”
About this time
Lieut. Commander Church Chappell, the ship’s navigator, came into the wardroom, saw all the activity and asked what was going on. Windy told him of the new plans and what they intended to do. Church asked who would be giving the bride away. I said, “Ruth lives in Chicago, her father is dead and we had not planned to need anyone to give the bride away. So I guess we will have to call this off.” His response was, “Not by a long sight. As of now you can address me as your new father-in-law. I will give the bride away.”
Seeing no hope of derailing this runaway train, I meekly asked if I could at least go ashore and inform Ruth of these radical changes to her wedding plans because of course she knew nothing of what had happened.
Church again stepped into the breach. He said that I was not to worry. He would take care of informing Ruth and that he would keep her entertained until the wedding.
I had to agree, because now a Lieutenant and a Lieutenant Commander were pulling my strings. What was a lowly Ensign to do? I finally got their approval to go ashore to take care of last minute business as long as I swore that I would not go near the bride before the wedding.
I did have serious business to attend to. I had to get the marriage license from the Court House and arrange for a photographer and wedding pictures, and to arrange for the flowers.
Armed with my medical clearance that was required in California, I approached the County Clerk’s office and asked for my license. After looking over the medical certificate showing the results of my blood tests, the clerk said, “I can’t accept this. You had this done by your ship’s doctor who is licensed in Michigan – not California.
I was dumbfounded. Pleading as hard as I could, I could not shake her. The law was the law, and the certificate had to be signed by a California-licensed doctor. I explained about all the plans and the short time we would be in Long Beach, but she was firm. The law was the law.
Dazed, I left the Court House wondering what to do. But nothing could keep me from giving it a full SALT LAKE CITY try. I looked around for the nearest large office building and scanned the building directory until I found a doctor’s office. I took the elevator to the floor the office was on and made my entry.
Unfortunately the doctor had just stepped out for a short time but his nurse was there to hear my story. I have always prided myself on being able to really lay it on in telling a sob
story. Even though it had not worked with the Country Clerk, I would just have to try harder with the nurse. After I had finished she said she did not know what the doctor could do since it takes two days to run a test. She said that she was very sympathetic with my problem and would explain it to the doctor to see what he would do. I sweated out the next fifteen minutes until the nurse motioned for me to see the doctor. He said, “I have seen your medical certificate and feel you are perfectly okay. But for me to sign the certificate is highly irregular. If the results are positive, I can call the church and stop the wedding. If this is alright with you, I will sign a new certificate.”
Since it was almost 10:00 o’clock and the wedding was at 1:30 I knew that this was only a dodge to make things seem more legal, so I happily agreed.
Again, armed with a new medical certificate, I approached the County Clerk’s office. Thankfully I was served by a different clerk so I did not have to give any explanations. I received the license and was on my way. I arranged for a photographer and for flowers. I felt completely exhausted. I thought I just had time to meet with my sword bearers and we would all go to the church together.
They were all assembled in the bar of the Breakers Hotel. They greeted me warmly and insisted I join them in a final bachelor drink. The one they fixed for me was loaded. I was not too sure I could carry out my part of the ceremony. The adrenalin was running so high it saved me.
I met my brother at the church. He was to be the best man and his wife was to be the matron of honor. My parents were there, very proud of their son. Also present was my new “father-in-law”. He assured me all was well with my bride. I am sure she could add a lot to this story by telling of her reaction to the startling news.
The wedding went off without a single mistake. After all that had happened that day I was really surprised. After we had marched through the arch of swords we posed for some wedding pictures.
Ensign Burton Bikle, one of the ushers, took advantage of this time to announce that they had no rice and a wedding was not a wedding without rice.
Ensign Bikle took off at a full gallop down the sidewalk, his sword slapping at his side, to a neighborhood grocery to buy rice. A lady, seeing him in all his haste, came out of her house and asked what was wrong. Without slowing, Bikle yelled over his shoulder, “The Japs are coming, the Japs are coming.” The frightened lady hurriedly ran back into the house. The stories she must have told would have been fantastic.
Now this was in October prior to December 7, so it was apparent there was some fear of a possible Japanese attack. Especially since our “R&R” had been cut short.
Ensign Bikle’s run was the crowning climax to the day that will live in glory.
(As a post-script to this story I would like to add that I owe Windy Gale a great deal for arranging a memorable wedding. I wish I could thank him in person, but unfortunately he was killed in the course of the Battle of the Komandorski Islands near the Aleutian Islands. This battle took place a little over three months after I left the ship.)