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William Gibson's Citation for Bronze Star

Pathfinder: Recollections of Those Who Served 1942 - 1971

Compiled by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations

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Record of Rear Admiral William M. Gibson, USC&GS
of the Wartime Experiences of the U.S.S. PATHFINDER

rear admiral william gibson


Rear Admiral William M. Gibson served as Navigation Officer and then Executive Officer of the U.S.S. PATHFINDER. He then served as Executive Officer of the U.S.S. OCEANOGRAPHER and ended the war in command of the U.S.S. HYDROGRAPHER. He entered on duty with the commissioned corps of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey on September 2, 1924, and retired in 1958. Prior to WWII he served on numerous ships and field parties of the Coast and Geodetic Survey on the East Coast, West Coast, Alaska, and the Philippines. At the beginning of WWII, he was Executive Officer on the USC&GSS PIONEER, a former Navy minesweeper that had been loaned to the Survey following WWI. In 1941, the PIONEER was operating in the Aleutians, but its field season was shortened by one month as the Navy required the vessel back in preparation for war. NARRATIVE "Three ships, the PIONEER, GUIDE, and DISCOVERER were decommissioned after removal of all Coast & Geodetic Survey equipment. They were turned over to Merrit, Chapman, and Scott for use in sweeping mines in the Caribbean Sea. By this time war had been declared. There was no time for any leave of absence except when officers were given continental assignment. The Navy gave in lieu of the PIONEER a beautiful yacht formerly owned by Mr. Fleishman and built in Sweden of Krupp steel. They gave in lieu of the GUIDE a small yacht called the ANDRADITE.

"We worked like beavers getting the new PIONEER ready for Prince William Sound in Alaska, and when ready the Navy took her back! An officer came down to the dock at Treasure Island and took the ship with a skeleton crew 'to do escort work from Panama north.'

"We had to get off the ship in a hurry and we were standing on the dock as it left. A bar pilot that we knew struck up a conversation. He had been taken into the Navy too. The refresher course at Treasure Island was being given to college graduates who had been through the 90 day courses back east. They were at Treasure Island for practical courses before assignment to ships. Why didn't we tie in with the school? They were desperate for instructors!

"We were transferred to the Navy by Presidential Order, but we had to pass a physical examination at the 12th Naval District in San Francisco. Two rows of doctors were sitting at desks and as we walked by (in the raw) they all asked questions and made notes. Of course we all passed! Commander Lyman Graham and Lt. Charles Thomas were assigned to teach seamanship. I was assigned the Navigation School and Lieuts. Chovan and Stohsner were assigned to the Post Office. That lasted 3 months!

"Not having ever studied Navigation I had to go through Dutton's Navigation ahead of the class! And I had to take the class of about 30 officers out on a tug boat to teach them to pilot. I was just getting to like the work when my orders came along with the orders for the others - all to go to Seattle for the commissioning of the PATHFINDER and to serve thereon. The student officers liked my teaching and asked the Captain of the school to keep me. In the meantime I had driven to Seattle accompanied by the family. Orders canceling my assignment to the PATHFINDER were issued and arrived at Treasure Island a few days after I had left. So I suppose they canceled the cancellation!

"They were cutting a large hole in the PATHFINDER's side to accommodate a printing press. Other photolithographic equipment was installed and the ship soon readied for sea trials. Two 3-inch AA guns were installed on the bow and 20mm guns scattered about the ship. When the ship put to sea, the plumbing did not work right. We were deluged with water all the way to San Francisco from the toilets and the propeller was singing refrains. The propeller was considered a submarine hazard and arrangements made for dry docking. While in San Francisco we got the service of Lt. Vincent of the Coast & Geodetic Survey ( who had been given a Navy commission) to work on the fathometers. Navy technicians had no knowledge of Coast & Geodetic Survey fathometers. [Vincent had been a Chief Radio Operator and electronic technician on Coast & Geodetic Survey ships for many years. He had been a co-inventor of the Radio Sonobuoy, originally used by the C&GS with Radio-Acoustic Ranging Navigation.]

"At last the toilets had been vented; the fathometers performed O.K.; and the propeller made reasonably quiet. We sailed out the Golden Gate, past the picket boat that didn't like our bow wave, and into the war. My leave that was canceled totaled 72 calendar days. This was regarded as necessary to the country in time of war and was an accumulation since 1938 when ordered to the New York office to take charge. Perhaps some time I would get the leave back.


1. Bascom Thomas, Commander USNR, Lawyer in civilian life, Commanding Officer.

2. Harry A. Mason, Lieutenant Commander, Executive Officer, from Merchant Marine, a strict disciplinarian.

3. William M. Gibson, Lieutenant Commander, USC&GS, Navigator and Chief Survey Officer, Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, President of Summary Court Martial.

4. James Walls, Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander USNR, Steamboat Inspection Service, U.S. Coast Guard.

5. James E. Baker, Lieutenant, USNR, Asst. Chief Engineer, Civil Service rating of Chief Engineer, U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey.

6. Samuel N. Davis, Lieutenant, USNR, Asst. Engineer, U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, Civil Service.

7. Evan Kackley, Lieutenant, Medical Corps, USNR.

8. Robert E. Glaze, Ensign, USNR, Engineer Officer.

9. William K. Herman, Lieutenant, USNR, Supply Officer.

10. Walter J. Chovan, Lieutenant, USC&GS, Wire Drag and Hydrography.

11. Edwin Hicks, Lieutenant, USC&GS, Tides, Currents, Hydrography.

12. Junius T. Jarman, Lieutenant, USC&GS, Cartography and Hydrography.

13. E.E. Stohsner, Lieutenant, USC&GS, Hydrography, Wire Drag.

14. Lorin Woodcock, Lieutenant (jg), USC&GS, Hydrography, Wire Drag (joined ship after Funafuti.)

15. E.E. Anderson, Jr., Lieutenant (jg), Gunnery Officer, Hydrography, Topography.

16. William B. Sears, Ensign, USNR, Hydrography.

17. William W. Thompson, Lieutenant (jg), Communications Officer.

18. Dan W. McMurphy, Ensign, USNR, Courts & Boards, Hydrography.

19. Breed Mounger, Lieutenant (jg), USNR, Hydrography.

20. Clarkson W. Pinkham, Ensign, USNR, Hydrography.

21. Raymond Dondero, Ensign, USNR, Engineer (joined after April 1.)

"Commander Bascom Thomas, a Naval Reserve Officer from Dallas, Texas, was given command of the PATHFINDER when commissioned as a Naval Ship in Lake Washington at Seattle. The ship had been altered to conform to Navy Regulations during the construction. The Coast & Geodetic Survey flag was run up and down immediately; and the Navy Pennant run up.

"Each department head was responsible for his own work. The Navigator was responsible for the charts and location of the entrance to the harbors of the South Pacific and Honolulu. The Engineer Officer (a Coast Guard Officer) was appointed from the Naval Reserve - Commander Walls - and the Executive Officer was from the Merchant Marine.

"Five Coast & Geodetic Survey officers were transferred to the Navy to serve under Navy Regulations for the duration of the war. And various Naval Reserve Officers in lower ranks were assigned.

"Commander Bascom Thomas was an excellent Commanding Officer. Although his knowledge of map making was deficient, his knowledge of Communications, Naval Procedure, and Gunnery were excellent and he learned of the map making as he progressed. He was firm, fair and dedicated.

"After 18 months were up he transferred his new Executive Officer and Chief Survey Officer, and appointed Walter Chovan in his place. Also he put Edgar Hicks in the plotting room and transferred Junius Jarman to heavier duty. He had previously parted with his Coast Guard Engineer and had put Sam Davis in that top spot. He had transferred Ernst Stohsner to new construction; and Engineer James Davis had been called home on account of the death of his wife. With his new organization he was all set for another year of duty which he did in commendable fashion. Details follow.

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