In the 1940’s thousands of Sea Scouts and Sea Scouters joined the armed services to protect our country. Raymond Finley was one of those men. As I announced in our last post, Raymond Finley, a WWII veteran, a Quartermaster Sea Scout, and the man who strengthened our partnership with the United States Power Squadrons passed on January 17th. Many Sea Scouts may be aware of the Finley Sea Scout Service Award, but who was the man behind it and what was his story? I reached out to Joshua Gilliland who had the opportunity to interview Mr. Finley a decade ago and I thought it was appropriate to share the impact that Sea Scouting had on Mr. Finley’s life.
Raymond Finley is a former Naval officer, a former Chief Commander of the United States Power Squadron, and a true Quartermaster Sea Scout. He has lead an impressive life and has a very impressive story to tell.
Captain Finley joined the Sea Scout Ship Essex, in Maplewood, New Jersey 1935. He would earn rank of Quartermaster on April 27, 1939. The S.S.S. Essex met twice a week, once for a Landship ceremony, and also for a weekly work party.
At Finley’s high school was a teacher and BSA Council officer named Emerson Powell. Mr. Powell had the vessel Ballantrae, a 65 foot diesel yacht. The Ballantrae was used by the three local Sea Scout Ships for cruises. The local Sea Scout Ships at the time each had crews with 30 members.
The S.S.S. Essex met for their weeknight in an apartment building. The Essex had a meeting area for their Landship ceremonies, with the wall dead ahead of the Landship painted as the sea and horizon. The Essex had many great adventures, including cruises on the Ballantrae, activities with the United States Coast Guard, and at Mr. Powell’s sailing camp.
The cruises on the Ballantrae provided Captain Finley hands on maritime instruction that would prove extremely useful in World War 2. Voyages on the Ballantrae were very hands on, giving the Finley and his crew real maritime experience. Vessels in the late 1930’s did not have VHF radios (as vessels in the 1980’s did not have GPS’s) and all cruising communications were done by semaphore, flare, and other visual means. Captain Finley spent a summer as a deckhand on the Ballantrae, taking three cruises to Canada.
Mr. Powell had a very impressive association with the United States Coast Guard. Finley’s fellow Sea Scouts enjoyed opportunities to learn and practice breeches buoy at local Coast Guard base. Finley and his shipmates also trained in the USCG nine man rescue surf boat. The crew rowed out through the waves in the same manner the lifeboat rescue services did.
The Sea Scouts of the Essex also participated in the sailing camps run by Mr. Powell. These sailing camps were run on a large farm on a lake. The youth would camp and learn sailing skills. The Mariner Girl Scouts would participate in three weeks of program. The Sea Scouts would participate in five weeks of sailing events as well.
Raymond Finley benefited from his time on the Ballantrae, assisting in the Sailing Camps, and other Sea Scout endeavors. These experiences ultimately lead to Finley earning the rank of Quartermaster in 1939. After reaching the pinnacle of Sea Scouting’s highest rank, Finley went off to Rutgers University and majored in mechanical engineering.
Sea Scouts has provided skills to many that make for some great sea stories beyond the confines of sea bases and boats. Raymond Finley is no exception. As a freshman at Rutgers, Finley joined the crew team. In a showing of school spirit, the freshman and varsity teams raced. Finley’s freshman team won.
As a sophomore in college, Finley took flying lessons. The plane he learned to fly in had a wooden frame and canvas skin over the fuselage. On a flight with his instructor, the plane’s engine died and Finley and instructor had a hard landing in a farm field. The crash ripped the canvas fuselage open. While talking with the farmer, Finley was able to get sewing materials from the farmer’s wife. Utilizing his sail repair skills, Finley sewed up the bottom of the plane. Finley and his instructor were able to fly safely home.
Admiral Chester Nimitz credited Sea Scouts for helping win World War 2 in the Pacific. Finley was one of those who served his country in the United States Navy, contributing with all the other Sea Scouts who helped earn Admiral Nimitz’s praise.
Raymond Finley, having taken flight lessons, attempted to join the Navy Air Corp. However, the Navy Air Corp did not want him, because he was a junior in college, earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The Navy thought it was harder to get an engineer then it was a pilot, so Finley was to finish his engineering degree.
When Finley reported for the Navy, he found that his Sea Scout experiences, namely in drill, to be extremely useful. Finley quickly became a Midship officer, having responsibilities, and the privilege of his own cabin. He quickly became an instructor at Midshipman School, and was assigned to teach engineering and basic seamanship.
Finley had the choice of serving as an engineer on any kind of ship he wanted. He could have picked a battleship, which had a complement of 16 engineers. He could have had an aircraft carrier, which had a complement of 18 engineers. Or, a destroyed which had a complement of 3 engineers.
Raymond Finley picked a Fletcher-class destroyer, the U.S.S. Monssen, DD798. Finley wanted to be able to make a difference and actually be a part of a crew. As such, he picked a ship that only had three engineers. His fellow engineers were “mustangs,” those who worked their way up through the ranks. Since Finley had the college education, he found himself writing the engineering reports. The Monssen saw action in the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and the Battle of Surigao Strait, to highlight her distinguished World War 2 record.
At war’s end, Finley had a choice: continue in the Navy he loved, or accept a job from his father’s business partner. Finley asked his Captain for advice on what he should do. His Captain gave a simple answer: When his children were born, he was at sea.
Finley took the job offer.
And Mr. Finley’s successes in life continued: Father, businessman, sailor, Chief Commander of the United States Power Squadron, and a Quartermaster Sea Scout.
Correction: On 2-2-15 the spelling of “Finley” was corrected in several places throughout the article- PS.