Living his dream

Listen to a sound byte of Stan Ferriss here.

After reading a Pulp magazine issue about werewolves in fighter planes, a young Stan Ferriss dreamed of flying an airplane. At age 18, he enlisted in the Navy after graduating from the City College of San Francisco, even after the vice principal had spent hours trying to convince him not to. He served during World War II as an SPD Navy dive bomber, and was honorably discharged in Feb. 1946. He now is part of the American Legion Post 642 in Cupertino.

“Being in the Navy was not dangerous — until you had people making mistakes. We’re getting up early in the morning and the planes are turning over, so their propellers are going. Youíre walking, and as you were around them long enough—too long maybe ó you lost that cautiousness and all of a sudden, you hear this “swish swish swish,” and you turn around. You’re too close to a propeller. That really made me get more alert. You’re playing with dangerous things.

“When we were on shore [of the Pacific islands], there were usually nine to ten men to a quanza hut. One night, a loud explosion woke me up. I could see through the end of the hut that the sky was lighting up. In fact, I thought it was the end of the world. We ran out. There was smoke everywhere [and] there were sirens going off. What happened is a Coast Guard ship that transported fuel and ammunition and other supplies blew up — killed 200 and some odd people. We were very close [to the accident]—so close that our mess hall was behind us and going to breakfast the next morning, there was the breach of a 5-inch gun laying by the mess hall. There were also dead bodies floating in the waters—I didn’t actually go look, but I just kind of saw them. One of my nephews recently found out that it was the largest loss for the Coast Guard during the war. Things like that leave an impression.

“[One time] we took off from the airstrip—we take off two planes at a time, one a little behind another—and [we circled] until the other planes got off. I usually rode backwards because the gunner faced the back. Iím looking back and there’s this formation of planes that I’m a part of, and overhead is our fighter protection. I was impressed. [It] all [went] back to my [dream] that I would be flying someday.”