by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey D. McConnell
For most 17-year-olds, the years of graduating high school, attending college or trade school, and beginning the first steps into adulthood are a time of unbridled optimism and possibility. For Wilmington, North Carolina native Floyd Wilvers, now 92, turning age 17 meant a voyage into the unknown laced with fear, but also a sense of patriotism and duty.
In 1942, with the Second World War raging and the world in turmoil, Wilvers decided to join the fight. After the U.S. Navy declined his services, Wilvers found himself readily accepted and embraced by the nation’s oldest continuous sea service, the United States Coast Guard. Wilvers recalled “The Navy couldn’t take me for one reason or another, so I walked right upstairs to where the Coast Guard recruiter was and they took me right in. I signed the papers and raised my right hand that same day.”
Wilvers then attended boot camp where the core training involved seamanship and day-to-day operations rather than genuine military training. He remembered “It was much less about your typical military training and more about what you would need to know on a ship,” because nearly all recruits at the time were being sent overseas on ships to bolster the war effort.
After basic training, Wilvers took up residence on board USS Ramsden, a 306-foot Edsall-class destroyer escort. Destroyer escorts served as a supply ships and escorts for the larger Navy destroyers that combatted the threat of submarine and aircraft attacks on the convoys that brought crucial supplies to the European and Pacific theatres of the war. After working through the “striker” program, Wilvers became a Radioman 3rd Class.
His time on the Ramsden took RM3 Wilvers through the submarine infested waters of the North Atlantic into the Mediterranean Sea. He also transited the Suez Canal and rode the destroyer escort all the way to China and South East Asia. There, the ship engaged in escort missions and delivered much needed supplies to all five armed services stationed in the Pacific Theater. Although Wilvers did not see combat, he swells with pride noting the impact of his military service: “I was in a war zone the whole time. I was a replacement. My going over there allowed men that had been in combat to go home, to see their families, to get some rest.”
During his time in the Coast Guard, Wilvers amassed a collection of experiences and stories that he shares with others. One of them involved a shipmate who was quite proud of a motorized Jon Boat he built. So proud was his shipmate, that when he transferred off the ship he motored it into the middle of Ramsden’s anchorage and ceremoniously sank it in full view of the crew. Wilvers also spent time with shipmates ashore in far flung ports like Shanghai and Manila. When asked about shipboard life during World War II, he described the food as barely edible, but the experience as life changing and worthwhile.
With World War II over and his four-year tour complete, Wilvers got out of the Coast Guard and attended a technical school while working at a leather tannery. He later worked as an engineer until he retired. He now lives in Hampstead, North Carolina, with his son Floyd who carries the same name as his father and grandfather.
When he wears his World War II veteran’s ball cap, people approach Wilvers and thank him for his military service. He is very proud of the Coast Guard and the years he served in it. When asked if he had a message for today’s Coast Guard men and women, he stated:
I am proud of my time in the Coast Guard. But that is in the past. I want people to remember that we have veterans from Korea, Vietnam, and other places. We have men and women out serving right now that we can’t forget about.
Floyd Wilvers is an inspiration to us all and the embodiment of the Coast Guard’s core values of “honor, respect and devotion to duty.” Most surviving World War II veterans are in their nineties now, and the number remaining decreases every day. Floyd Wilvers is a connection to an important time in our history, and played a vital part in securing our freedom. He also serves as a role model for current Coasties.
Mr. Wilvers is a living connection to the Coast Guard’s rich history and a reminder to us all that we serve a purpose higher than ourselves when we wear the uniform. He is a proud veteran, and serves as an example of a life well lived in honorable service to our nation. He is one of thousands of Coast Guard men and women who served in World War II as part of the long blue line.
Editor’s note: MST2 Jeffrey McConnell serves as Public Affairs Officer for Sector North Carolina. MST2 McConnell later stated “It was a great honor to interview and get to meet Mr. Wilvers. His story is fascinating and he is so proud of his service in WWII. You can tellthat the Coast Guard means a great deal to him.”