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Marvin T. Paulson

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NOAA Central Library Introduction

marvin paulsonCaptain Marvin Paulson, Coast and Geodetic Survey (retired), wrote the following memoir for his family in 2001. It covers the years 1945 to 1969 and contains recollections of the travels and travails of Captain Paulson and his wife Muriel during this period. Through it all, the good nature, friendliness, and sense of humor of Captain Paulson shines through. Although written by Captain Paulson, the life of Muriel Paulson, an adventurous lady who endured over 40 moves in 24 years while traveling with or visiting her husband on his many assignments ranging from the post-war Philippine Islands to the North Slope of Alaska, also comes through in these pages.

Before entering into Captain Paulson’s “A Travelogue and Memories”, the following excerpts fill in much of his life up till the beginning of his 1946-1969 autobiographical memoir. The first excerpt is from a speech that he gave upon his initiation to Toastmasters in 1960 while the second was from an interview he gave for “The Riptide,” an informal newsletter printed on the Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship PATHFINDER in 1958:

“If I were to summarize my junior years into one slang expression, I would probably say that ‘I was a North Dakota boy that couldn’t take it.’ The weather ranged from 45 degrees below zero to 110 degrees above. There were dust storms in the spring and crop failures in the fall. Up and working before dawn, and still plodding away after dark.

“Most every person can point to some period in his youth as being the turning point in his life .... It happened to me at age 19.... I had just finished two years of a junior college course at Minot State Teachers College but lacked the funds to continue my college studies. I applied everywhere for a job, but money and jobs were hard to come by in the 30's, as many of you may remember. I worked that summer on my father’s farm, and an uncle offered me an opportunity to become a partner in his dairy business .... so by fall that year, I was beginning to feel certain that farming was going to be my destiny.... Then one day a telegram arrived from the C&GS (Coast and Geodetic Survey) that read: CAN OFFER YOU A POSITION, PROVIDING YOU CAN REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO TULSA, OKLAHOMA .... Boy, I dropped that pitch fork in a hurry and was on my way.

“I really enjoyed the survey work, and the 10 to 15 mile walk every day on a leveling party seemed like a breeze compared to farming. The living in tents and ‘baching’ was intriguing to me ... besides giving me an opportunity to save money. After one year, however, our survey party was sent a telegram from Washington saying: SO SORRY NO MORE FUNDS .... I felt sure that providence had dealt me a stacked hand this time and that I would certainly have to go back to farming.

“As it turned out, though, fortune was actually with me for an aunt of mine offered me shelter and meals, only a 3 ½ mile walk to the State College in Fargo, in exchange for some care-taking about her home. I decided to take my $700 and go to college until it would be depleted. Fortune did continue with me the next few years, too, for they were remembered as the years of the big blizzards and snowfalls, so, I was able to stretch my funds by literally shoveling my way through college (at 25 cents per hour) for a Civil Engineering Degree.

“With my diploma in hand, I felt that the world was mine but jobs were still hard to come by and I had the choice of only two jobs: one with the Highway Department at $125 per month and the other with the Coast and Geodetic Survey at $135 per month. I chose the Coast Survey job, and I believe, it was a good decision as it led to my appointment in the Commissioned Service....” Thus Marvin Paulson embarked upon his life’s work in the Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Twenty years after accepting a position on the Survey, then Lieutenant Commander Paulson was Executive Officer on the C&GS Ship PATHFINDER conducting surveys along the Alaska Peninsula and in the Aleutian Islands. The ship newsletter, the “Riptide” ran a short article on his career prior to coming to the ship. The article only alludes to his career prior to being commissioned in 1941. For three years prior to 1941, he had been in a civilian capacity as a Junior Engineer and had been chief of a level party operating primarily in the western United States. One of his interesting assignments during this period was the re-leveling of the area around Lake Meade, Nevada, to see if any crustal movements had occurred since the filling of the lake. The excerpt from the “Riptide”article picks up in 1941:

“In 1941 Mr. Paulson applied for and received his commission as an Ensign and was transferred to the ship GUIDE in Oakland, California, then to the PATTON in Seattle after the Navy had taken over the GUIDE. He was aboard the PATTON for a year, working off the West Coast. In 1943 he was transferred to the SURVEYOR and spent most of the season in the Adak area. Most of us can imagine how he felt when in October of that year, with season over and about ready to sail for Seattle they received orders to join a convoy for Attu. When he finally did get home in late December he just had time to hop a train to get home in Hatton, North Dakota, for New Year’s.

“The year 1944 found him still aboard the SURVEYOR in the same general area as the previous season. The Japanese were at Kiska and the SURVEYOR was working close to Attu. They were doing hydrography accompanied by a Destroyer Escort. He said he spent about half of the time as liaison officer aboard the D. E. It was during this time that he was awarded the C&GS Meritorious Service Ribbon for ‘making numerous difficult and hazardous landing which contributed to the charting of regions at a time when charts were vitally needed in connection with the war effort.'

“On the 1st of January 1945 he was ordered to report to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to be assigned to the Army and the Observation School with the rank of Captain [Army rank]. He spent about five or six months awaiting orders and was finally transferred to the Observation School as an instructor.”

It is from this point that Marvin Paulson picks up the narrative in his “A Travelogue and Memories,” the story of his and his wife’s travels and adventures together over the next quarter century.



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