Monday, March 7, 2022

Clint Eastwood’s memories of being a lifeguard at the Fort Ord pool


Marin Independent Journal

By Brian Phan

February 28, 2022

MARINA – The abandoned, graffiti-covered swimming pool at the former army base contains a story that many have forgotten.

But not for a local who was a swimming instructor and lifeguard at that pool: Clint Eastwood.

When the famous actor, director and producer read my Herald story about the pool in November, it brought back a flood of memories from his days in the Army. He recently visited the Fort Ord pool with me and shared his experiences as a lifeguard and swim instructor there in 1951-52.

“I actually lived in that pool,” Eastwood said.

After finishing basic training at Fort Ord, Eastwood and another soldier went to Division College, where the Army organizes instruction and instruction in weapons, communications and other training, to look for jobs.

Eastwood recalled thinking at the time, “If we get a job, maybe they won’t send us to Korea.”

 [When actor Clint Eastwood read Brian Phan’s story in the Herald about the Fort Ord pool, he walked over and the two agreed to meet there and talk about Eastwood’s memories of working as a lifeguard. (Brian Phan — Herald Correspondent]

A Division College captain took down their names, and as they were leaving the building, a man came in and said, “You need three or four people in the pool.” Eastwood thought he was talking about the motor pool. The Fort Ord Vehicle Pool was where military vehicles were stored and worked.

“So we were thinking this would be good. We will go to the car park, drive some cars, and keep our mouths shut,” she said. “That would be great. We won’t go to Korea, but we will be in the car pool.”

When the man clarified that he was referring to the pool, Eastwood said he could feel his eyes light up.

“Now we’re talking,” Eastwood said. “I had to swim a lot when I was very young.”

in your alley

Eastwood, 91, had been a competitive swimmer at Oakland Technical High School in the late 1940s. After high school, he had also been a lifeguard at Washington state. The chance to be a lifeguard at the Fort Ord pool made her day.

The officers took the names of Eastwood and his friend and received a call from the captain the next day. They want you in the pool.

Back then, the 50-yard, 10-lane pool looked a lot different than it does today.

It was in the open air with a 6 foot high wooden fence surrounding it. It had three wooden trampolines, all set at different heights.

On one side was a wall that had a changing room for men and another for women. At one end of the pool was a two-story building containing a sand filter for the pool water.

The site has changed considerably since then. The drained pool is now inside a building behind a chain-link fence. Marina city planners have plans for an aquatic complex and fitness center on the site and hope to one day see the public enjoy the facilities as much as the military and Eastwood did 70 years ago.

Teaching soldiers to swim

The soldiers would dive into the deepest part of the pool, which was 10 feet deep, to see if they could swim.

When Eastwood arrived at the pool, there were several older soldiers who had been teaching the enrollees and giving them calisthenics.

Eastwood remembers that he had to convince them, using his charm, to hire these two rookie soldiers who had just finished basic training.

Using their “best selling voices”, they got the task.

For a couple of weeks, Eastwood lived in the barracks. He remembers getting up on cold, foggy mornings at Marina and walking to the pool, helping with swim lessons. He then he would leave in the afternoon.

After a while, the older soldiers who worked with him at the pool either shipped out, moved out, or finished their service and went home. Eastwood and his friend, who were hired at the same time, started teaching swimming lessons.

They were in the pool together for a couple of weeks when Eastwood’s friend was sent to Korea.

“Suddenly they sent it,” Eastwood said. “You never know how they pick the people that are sent out on those days, he sorted himself out.”

Eastwood told me he still wonders that today.

“My friend was expelled but I was not. I could never understand why that was.”

While the other soldiers were reassigned or deployed, Eastwood, then 21, spent the rest of his service manning the pool, teaching and saving people from drowning.

life in the pool

Eastwood said he was at the pool 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To one side of the pool was a small room in which Eastwood convinced the company commander to allow him to move his bunk so that he could “care and watch over the pool.”

“While everyone else was getting up at 5 in the morning, in the cold air, I was sleeping,” Eastwood said. “I didn’t have classes until 10 or 11 or whatever that day is. It was a good life for me.”

Eastwood’s job at the pool was to make sure the soldiers knew how to swim. To test this, he would line up a dozen bathing suit soldiers next to the diving boards and tell them to jump off.

[Brian Phan’s story about the Fort Ord pool brought back many memories for Clint Eastwood. (Brian Phan — Herald correspondent]

Many of the soldiers knew how to swim but decided to pretend to drown. That’s easily explained, Eastwood said. The alternative to taking swimming lessons with Eastwood, he said, was running 10 miles with backpacks and rifles in the cold morning.

“It was funny because everyone was trying to pretend they couldn’t swim,” Eastwood said. “Everyone wanted to stay there and get lessons, then go out in the field and run around with the other guys carrying rifles.”

Even after swimming lessons, the pool was a great place for people to enjoy themselves. Eastwood remembers soldiers coming downstairs and asking if they could have lunch by the pool or sit in the afternoon.

Members of the Women’s Army Corps “were coming in a lot, poking their heads over the fence and asking if they could hang out,” Eastwood said.

a life changer

Eastwood told me that he was lucky to have gotten into that situation: “It saved me from going to Korea. Which was important in those days.”

His life would likely have been dramatically different had he been deployed.

“It was a great, great concert. Too much fun. I actually became an actor because they recruited guys like Richard Long, Martin Milner, and David Janssen. These guys became my friends.”

These were the guys who convinced Eastwood to go to Los Angeles City College instead of going to college in Stockton.

“I followed their careers,” Eastwood said, reminiscing. “It lured me to Los Angeles and it started my career.

“It all started there in the pool.”

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