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William Scaife's Citation for Legion of Merit and Bronze Star

banner - diary of william mccaslan scaife covering the years 1919 thru 1920

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William McCaslan Scaife entered the United States Coast andPicture of William Scaife on a hand cart, 1923. Geodetic Survey on January 1, 1919, and retired from the C&GS in 1954. During the 35 years that he served as an officer of the C&GS, he became one of the most experienced field officers in mountain triangulation in both the lower forty-eight states and Alaska. He served on many ships of the Survey on both coasts and in the Philippines. He received the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal while serving as the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. HYDROGRAPHER in the Aleutians and the western Pacific during WWII. The following account traces the experiences of his first year and a half in the C&GS and was obtained from the William Scaife family of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Unfortunately, although this account ends rather abruptly and would seem to be but Volume I of a continuing biographical account, no continuation of this diary has been found.

As William Scaife led an adventurous life, this is a shame. For instance, he was married later in 1920 after meeting his wife in Southeast Alaska. She was a teacher at an Indian school, and she and Scaife were married five days after meeting. For the next few years, she and Scaife were inseparable as she accompanied him on mountain triangulation in Idaho and Montana and then into the interior of Alaska between Anchorage and Fairbanks. This life involved months out of touch with civilization and was accompanied by many dangers and hardships.

Picture of William Scaife and his wife on a horse.

In the Philippines, Scaife put down a minor mutiny by pointing a 45 cal. pistol in the belly of a ring-leader and told him that he would use it if orders weren't followed. Fortunately for all concerned, the crew chose to comply with orders at this point. During WWII Scaife served with distinction and was involved in combat operations in the Aleutian, Marianas, and Palau islands while conducting hydrographic surveys in support of fleet operations.

This document provides not only an account of one man's attitudes, perceptions, and experiences, but in a way epitomizes the early career of generations of Coast and Geodetic Survey officers. These men and, since the 1970's, women of both the old Coast and Geodetic Survey and today's NOAA Corps have been confronted with difficult jobs in remote areas of the world. The spirit with which William Scaife's challenges were met, one of enthusiasm, perseverance, wonder at the natural world, and desire to contribute to his organization and society as a whole, must have been an inspiration to all with whom he crossed paths.


Sunday, Mar. 28

1920 I should have started a diary on January 1, 1919, the day that I entered the Coast and Geodetic Survey, but as I didn't, I will give a brief summary of events from then up to the present time, and then start a regular diary.

During the three weeks which I spent in Washington with my people after leaving the Army, I saw quite a bit of the Graves family, who had become very good friends of ours. Capt. Graves was a Chief of the Division of Hydrography and Typography in the Coast and Geodetic Survey. He talked Coast Survey to me, and finally I decided to try it. While I was attending to the preliminary details of getting into the Coast Survey I exchanged several letters and telegrams with Lowrie Burdette in regard to his getting in also. On Dec. 31, 1918, I took the Oath of Office as Deck Officer. My appointment became effective Jan. 1, 1919. On the night of Dec. 31, 1918, I left Washington with orders to report to Capt. Harry Leypoldt, in Miami, Fla. I arrived in Miami on the morning of Jan. 2. As the captain was out on the water I spent the day getting settled down. For awhile the party had eleven officers, who blew in one by one, Capt. Leypoldt, Mr. Okeson, Witherspoon, Wilbur, Mower, Meany, Burdette, Bernstein, Albert, Malnate, and myself. Burdette joined me on the night of Jan. 7. I was on the launch "Cracker" with Okeson and Malnate practically the whole season. Mr. Okeson is certainly a fine fellow, and he was a good friend to Lowrie and me even if he did give us _____ at times. Lowrie and I finally moved around to the Hotel "Glenbula," where Mower, Wilbur, and Malnate were living. It was a nice place and we had a great time there. Lowrie and I took steps to join the Masons while in Miami, but were not there long enough to get fixed up. I ran across the McFeeleys, Ben Boynton, Rube Murray, Bill Blackmon, and others in Miami. We had quite a time there, hearing Pryor's band, swimming, playing poker, etc.


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