By Pat Sherman
War II Veteran Carl “Dusty” Dustin got to reflect on his service in the Navy this month during a flight to the nation’s capital with 80 other veterans.
“They decorated the whole airplane with confetti and pictures — they really did a whale of a job,” said Dustin, 89.
During the free, chartered trip to Washington, D.C., paid for by Honor Flight San Diego, Dustin and other veterans were taken to view the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other monuments.
Displaying a keepsake book that tour organizers gave participants, Dustin said the National World War II Memorial touched him deeply.
“But I think Arlington (National Cemetery) is the one that really got me, realizing that 200 men or women in the service are being buried there every day,” he said. “That’s a lot.”
Dustin was drafted into the war. Given his choice of which branch to serve in, he chose the Navy, thinking he could remain in San Diego and train here.
However, he was first sent to Farragut Naval Training Station near Bayview, Idaho, (now closed) where he served as company yeoman (a petty officer performing clerical duties, or as Dustin puts it, “the guy that pounds typewriters and takes shorthand”).
“I stepped off the train into six feet of snow,” he recalled with a laugh. “I damn near died up there, as you can imagine.”
An Eagle Scout with more than 30 merit badges to his name — he would go on to lead his own Scout troop in La Jolla after the war — Dustin excelled at Farragut and later found himself back in San Diego for a month’s training on rangefinders (long, binocular-like devices that measure the distance to a target). He later obtained advanced training in Washington, D.C. to become a fire controlman, whose duties include operation of combat and weapons direction systems and gun fire control systems.
“We compute how far away (the target) is, the weather, the angle on the bow and all that,” Dustin said. “It’s a little complicated, and a lot of fun. We’re the guys that pull the triggers. That’s why I’m wearing hearing aids. It’s kind of noisy.”
Though Dustin didn’t see combat during the war, as a member of the
(DE-178), he spotted 19 Germans floating in the Atlantic Ocean, after their submarine had been sunk during an air attack.
“I heard whistles blowing, just like cop whistles,” he recalled of the rescue of the near-drowned German soldiers. “They were the happiest men in the whole world.”
Dustin went on to join the inaugural crew of the
light cruiser, which was just on the east side of the Panama Canal when the war ended. Though he hoped the ship would travel through the canal and return to San Diego so he could see his girlfriend, June (now his wife of 63 years), the ship instead headed for New York City, where the crew was treated to a hero’s welcome, free drinks and endless adoration.
With no targets to fire at, the captain asked Dustin to entertain the crew spinning records by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Roy Acuff and other artists popular at the time, as the ship sailed for Palermo, Naples, Marseille and other ports in the Mediterranean.
After being discharged on April 23, 1946, Dustin went on to graduate from San Diego State University with a degree in marketing. He would later own and operate a sunglass distribution company.
Today, Dustin is active in the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, for which he has designed many of the plaques adorning the memorial atop Mt. Soledad — including those for Glenn Miller, Bob Hope, President Harry Truman and even some of the men on the recent Honor Flight trip.
Speaking with Dustin, his pride at being a native San Diegan and longtime La Jollan is apparent. His aunt purchased the lot upon which he built the home he and his wife now occupy, on La Jolla Shores Drive (which cost her just $200 in 1927).
Despite dealing with skin cancer on the top of his head, Dustin said he has few complaints.
“In the South Atlantic the sun bounced off the water and I got pretty well burnt — but at least I don’t have any bullet holes.
“I’ve had a good life,” he mused.