Keyword
in
Collection
Date
to
Download Folder

0 items

McIlwain, Thomas
McIlwain transcript, 1 of 1
File size: 109 KB
Citation
MLA
APA
Chicago/Turabian
UH - Houston History Project. McIlwain, Thomas - McIlwain transcript, 1 of 1. May 13, 2008. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. April 17, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/houhistory/item/292/show/291.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

UH - Houston History Project. (May 13, 2008). McIlwain, Thomas - McIlwain transcript, 1 of 1. Oral Histories from the Houston History Project. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/houhistory/item/292/show/291

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

UH - Houston History Project, McIlwain, Thomas - McIlwain transcript, 1 of 1, May 13, 2008, Oral Histories from the Houston History Project, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 17, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/houhistory/item/292/show/291.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

URL
Embed Image
Compound Item Description
Title McIlwain, Thomas
Creator (LCNAF)
  • UH - Houston History Project
Interviewer (LCNAF)
  • Phaneuf, Victoria
Date May 13, 2008
Description I met Dr. McIlwain at his office at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL). We had spoken on the phone but never met in person. I had first introduced myself and the study some weeks before, and he mentioned he had been giving it some thought before the interview. He has been a resident of Ocean Springs, Mississippi since 1966. He grew up in Pascagoula, living behind Ingalls where his father worked for 44 years. He discusses what life was like in Pascagoula during and after World War Two, and provides some details about a union strike and pressure to join the union. He also worked in the Ingalls yard from 1958 to 1959, first as a machinist apprentice and later as an aid in the nuclear power department, in between taking college courses and joining the army. He discusses the work that he did in those sectors (e.g., on USS Blueback, Sculpin, and Snook). He graduated with a B.S. degree in biology and psychology, and later an M.S. from the University of Southern Mississippi. In March of ’65 he began working for the GCRL, which is part of USM. He received his doctorate in 1978. He discusses the year he took off to work with then Congressman Trent Lott in 1983, as a legislative assistant on marine issues and his role in the creation of the MARFIN Program. He continued at the GCRL lab, acting as director from 1989 until he retired in 1994. Then he worked for NOAA and also again as a leg assistant with then Senator Lott (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act). Since 2003 he has functioned as the program coordinator for the development of the Cedar Point Campus and more recently was appointed to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council.
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Energy development
Subject.Name (LCNAF)
  • McIlwain, Thomas
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Genre (AAT)
  • interviews
Language English
Format (IMT)
  • audio/mp3
  • application/pdf
Original Item Location ID 2006-005, Box 12, HHA 00706
Original Collection Oral Histories - Houston History Project
Original Collection URL http://archon.lib.uh.edu/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=231
Digital Collection Oral Histories from the Houston History Project
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/houhistory
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the "About" page of this website.
File name index.cpd
Item Description
Title McIlwain transcript, 1 of 1
Date May 13, 2008
Original Collection Oral Histories – Houston History Project http://archon.lib.uh.edu/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=231
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the "About" page of this website.
File name hhaoh_201207_326c.pdf
Transcript HHA# 00706 Page 1 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 1 Houston History Archives VP114 Thomas McIlwain May 13, 2008 Ocean Springs, MS Type: mp3 Interviewer: Victoria Phaneuf Transcriber: Lauren Penney Ethnographic Preface: I met Dr. McIlwain at his office at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL). We had spoken on the phone but never met in person. I had first introduced myself and the study some weeks before, and he mentioned he had been giving it some thought before the interview. He has been a resident of Ocean Springs, Mississippi since 1966. He grew up in Pascagoula, living behind Ingalls where his father worked for 44 years. He discusses what life was like in Pascagoula during and after World War Two, and provides some details about a union strike and pressure to join the union. He also worked in the Ingalls yard from 1958 to 1959, first as a machinist apprentice and later as an aid in the nuclear power department, in between taking college courses and joining the army. He discusses the work that he did in those sectors (e.g., on USS Blueback, Sculpin, and Snook). He graduated with a B.S. degree in biology and psychology, and later an M.S. from the University of Southern Mississippi. In March of ’65 he began working for the GCRL, which is part of USM. He received his doctorate in 1978. He discusses the year he took off to work with then Congressman Trent Lott in 1983, as a legislative assistant on marine issues and his role in the creation of the MARFIN Program. He continued at the GCRL lab, acting as director from 1989 until he retired in 1994. Then he worked for NOAA and also again as a leg assistant with then Senator Lott (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act). Since 2003 he has functioned as the program coordinator for the development of the Cedar Point Campus and more recently was appointed to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council. TRANSCRIPTION Interviewer Initials: [VP] Interviewee Initials: [TM] TM: I’m Tom McIlwain, I live in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I’ve been a resident here since 1966. I grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi, which is about 15 miles to the east of Ocean Springs. I grew up livin’ behind what was then Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation, their shipyard in Pascagoula. My father spent 44 years working in the shipyard through the war and then ultimately retired. And so we have a longstanding association with the shipyard. After I dropped HHA# 00706 Page 2 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 2 Houston History Archives outta college in late ‘50s I went to work in the shipyard. And worked there for a couple years and decided that that wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I ultimately made it back to college. Currently, as I say, reside in Ocean Springs. I work for the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, which is a part of University of Southern Mississippi. And I currently serve in the capacity of program coordinator for the development of Cedar Point Campus, which is a new 214 acre campus that we’re developing east of the current campus. I previously was director of this laboratory. I retired from that in 1994 and after retirement there, went to work for the federal government and worked for the federal government, for NOAA fisheries. And retired from that in 2003 and then the laboratory asked me to come back and assist ‘em and provide oversight to the development of this new campus. So that’s what I’m currently doin’. VP: Alright. Now let me ask you a couple of questions about your father’s involvement with the shipyard. Now what did he do? TM: Well he started out working in the fabrication shop. He was, I think the title was leaderman in the fab shop, and that was back durin’ World War Two when, or actually it was pre-World War Two, I think he started somewhere around 1940, ’41 working at Ingalls. And that point they were startin’ to gear up I guess for World War Two. And I remember him goin’ off to work as I was guess probably in the latter part of the war, don’t have any real remembrances earlier than that but I remember he had [Clears throat] ‘scuse me. He had a hard hat that had a brim all the way around it and then with the Ingalls’ logo on the front, and his name and title, leaderman. Then all the other guys just had hard hats with the bills on the front, so they stood out in a crowd. The fab shop was where they fabricated all of the more complex pieces of the ship and then a lotta that was done by hand back in those days. They would build molds and they would heat up the steel and then they had guys there with hammers and hydraulic brims and jacks to stretch, and bend, and mold the steel around the various forms that went into the more complex parts of the ship as far as the hull shape. And that was the area that he was dealin’ with primarily was the hull construction. And then that went on through the war. And I remember the city was, we had housing developments all over the area where I lived. We lived in an ol’ neighborhood that was built in around 1900 and it was built by the owners of a previous shipyard, and I forget the name of that, but it was an Italian family that had a shipyard there where ultimately Ingalls came. The Ingalls were from Birmingham, Alabama, and they were in the steel business and then they got into shipbuildin’. And then during World War Two as the country ramped up with our involvement in World War Two, they built all these little temporary housing areas as well as more permanent housing. A lot of the housing that was built there still in existence today. Like Eighth through Fourteenth Streets…from Ingalls Avenue I guess all the way north to Polk Street. Those were all what they call Navy housing, they were temporary housing and its still there today. And then the area just east of where I live, from Pascagoula to what’s now Market Street, and from about Ingalls Avenue roughly south to…gosh…can’t remember all the names of those streets, but an area there that had a number of houses. And then on the Cornish Drive where I grew up, there was a temporary housing facility there that was called Grand Circle. And Grand Circle was a little frame houses, asbestos siding on ‘em. They were heated with kerosene heaters and the stoves that they cooked with were fired by kerosene. Seems like they only had like two bedrooms, a kitchen, a livin’ room, and one bathroom. And multi person families lived in those rooms. And I lived down the street from that. And I went to school with the kids that were crowded into that area. And it lasted until…gosh, probably the late ‘50s, sometime around the HHA# 00706 Page 3 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 3 Houston History Archives time I graduated from high school I think they began to tear those areas down. But everybody was crammed in there, the neighborhoods were just packed, which we lived all around, you know just to the east side of the shipyard. And people walked to work, it was a huge parkin’ lot on Ingalls Avenue, which at that time was called Lincoln Avenue. And on the weekends that was the place where we went and feed kites and did things like that, and I remember one of the things that we used to do was we built homemade kites and we built one that was about five feet tall. And bunch of us, and the wind was really blowin’. And so we had an ol’ grocery basket, I guess is what it was, some kind of vehicle on wheels with a basket on it. Well we would hook it to the kite and then we would streak across the parking lot [Chuckles] you know what I mean. The other thing I remember about that area was the kids that grew up in that neighborhood there were pretty rough and tough. And so we used to, my grandparents owned some vacant property right to the west side of that thing and that’s where we all played in the trees, and we played marbles and spun our tops, and had little contests to see who could destroy each other’s tops. I don’t even know if kids do that anymore, but, and I’d play marbles and just doin’ things that kids did. We played mumbley pig, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that. VP: Uh uh. TM: It was where you take your pocket knife and you stand it on your finger, and hold the other end, and then you try to flip it up and stick it up in the ground. And whoever could do that the most times, we probably had a few wagers on what we could do. And from time to time people would get excited or get concerned about whatever. And we’d have some fights and, amongst the neighborhood kids. They were, some of those kids were, you know, pretty rough and tough and they uh [Pause] they liked to whip up on us when they could. But we usually managed to hold our own. And when I grew up in that neighborhood, most everybody worked at the shipyard or was associated with the shipyard someway. And there were literally couple hundred kids that lived within probably five blocks of where I grew up. And so we had a great time as kids growin’ up there. And our whole lives I guess were centered around what happened at the shipyard. And, as I say, durin’ the war and immediately after the war a few years, Pascagoula obviously had been a boom town. And I remember my dad wantin’ to do somethin’ different and my grandfather was a doctor there and he owned some property downtown, so he deeded that to my dad. And he opened up a general mercantile store but he couldn’t afford to really leave the shipyard, so he set that up and hired a group, and he worked nights doin’ the books, and ordering, doin’ all those things. And we had men’s, women’s clothes, we had all the sheets and whatever, you know just a general, like a mini, mini Kmart of today. But it was a general store. And downtown Pascagoula at that time was a really flourishing community. And we had lotta activity down, ‘course it was all focused on what was in the downtown area between South Pascagoula Street to [Inaudible] Avenue, and movie theaters, number of different stores. I can remember three prominent drug stores where you could go and get a wonderful hamburger and French fries [Chuckling] as a kid growin’ up. Had a wonderful restaurant called Callahan’s. But guess my point is everything was really focused and really whatever happened at the shipyard was what was happenin’ in town. And then along in the early ‘50s, things started really goin’ down as far as the production in the shipyard. And I can remember specifically in about 1953 when they had an office staff, a very small office staff, and the guards and that was about the sum total of the shipyard. They built some, what they call half-ships at that time, seems like they were [Slight pause] I think at one point they got down to just virtually nothin’ as far as, you know it was just HHA# 00706 Page 4 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 4 Houston History Archives an office staff, officers in the company, and my dad at that time was fortunate to be one of the people that continued to work there. He was a…by that time he had moved on into the office and gotten outta the production end of it. And he was an estimator. And he did that from the early ‘50s until he retired. Was tryin’ to remember when he retired…he died in 2000 at the age of 85. And he’d been retired 20 years, so I mean. So about 1980 is when he retired. At 65. So there were a number of things startin’ back up, they built, I think I remember it was called half ships and they hired some production people. And these were sections of some ships that they built and they towed these off somewhere. And they cut the other ship in half and then put these sections [Inaudible] weld ‘em back up and extended the length of, elongated the ships. And then I remember ‘em buildin’ a tunnel and I’m not sure where that, I can’t remember for sure where that tunnel went. But it was a highway tunnel. And I remember they built it there, fabricated it, and then they closed it up and launched it, and towed it to wherever they were gonna install that. And I can’t really remember where that thing was goin’ now. It’s funny, I haven’t thought about a lotta this stuff in a long, long time. And then things started improving and they got contracts to build two cruise ships. The Argentina was one of ‘em and The Brazil was the other. And see that was toward the end of the ‘50s. And then things started rampin’ back up and then Litton Industries came in sometime in I wanna say the early ‘60s. Bought the shipyard from the Ingalls family. It had been a family-owned business up ‘til then. Litton bought it and started expanding their operations. Lotta new contracts were got into, the Litton [Pause] was tryin’, I can’t remember the timing per se, but I’m sure that’s well-documented somewhere. VP: Mmhm. TM: But I graduated from high school in 1958 and, so I went off to Mississippi State my first year because everybody else was, all my friends were goin’ to Mississippi State and I didn’t know what else to do. [Chuckles] I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I’m still not sure what I wanna be [Both chuckling] when I grow up. But anyway, I went off to Mississippi State with all my buddies, and I was one of the ones that made it through the first year and then bailed out, still not knowin’, and I think it was a mutual thing between Mississippi State and I when I left. They were happy to see me go and I was happy to be goin’. I came home that summer and I really didn’t know what the heck I was gonna do. I didn’t particularly wanna go to school and so I searched around and found a job workin’ at the shipyard. And at that point the shipyard had bought what was called the Arnold Walker Shipyard, which was located just to the north of the main shipyard. It had been a smaller, family-owned business. They built tugboats and workboats, fish boats, barges, and repaired vessels. So they bought that. And when I hired on in the summer of 1959, I hired in as a machinist apprentice and I was workin’ under a fella named Mister Lynn, L-Y-N-N. And I’d know Mister Lynn many years and had a great respect for him. He was a member of the Baptist church that I grew up in and he was well thought of, and really kind of a pillar of the community. And seems like he taught my Sunday school class for awhile. But anyway, that was quite an experience for me ‘cause I was workin’ out in the yard, I was an outside machinist and I worked for the machine shop, and did, they were all tasks that were important to the construction of the ship, but I didn’t I guess appreciate it at that particular point in my life. But I would do things like the trucks would come in with steel rods, you know, bundles of steel rods, so it was my job to get out and direct offloading of that stuff to our storage area. And then I would on demand from the machinist in the shop, I would haul that stuff in at particular time. And I can remember one project I worked on where we had like maybe five-HHA# 00706 Page 5 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 5 Houston History Archives eights, three-eighth inch steel bar and I would bring it into the shop, and I would cut it off in lengths of about four inches long. And then I’d have boxes of these things, big ol’ wooden box where just hundreds of ‘em, and they were some kinda spacer. And I would take ‘em, bring this big 20-foot lengths of steel rod in, saw ‘em off in I think four inch lengths, and then I would take ‘em over to the machinist. And they would [Inaudible] ‘em in and they would center a punch on each end and then they would bevel the end of these things off. And then they would give ‘em back to me and I would stand there all day long sometimes, take one little piece of steel, stick it in a vice on the drill press, and drill a hole in one end, turn it over, drill a hole in the other end, and after I’d done hundreds of these things, then I would start all over with ‘em, and I would thread those holes. They were some kinda spacer they were usin’. [Coughs] So I was thinkin’ that was a pretty boring job. [Both chuckle] And then ‘nother thing that I did [Slight pause] was, I would bring in plates of seems like three-eighths inch steel plates. And I would, we had a machine that would cut circles out and I was makin’ these disks that were about five inches in diameter. And I cut hundreds of those things out. And then the machinist had made a male and female mold, and the female part of it was concave and then the top of it was convex. And I would [Inaudible] the steel plates that I had cut out, the machinist would clean ‘em up on the edges as well I had ground them off. And then I would put ‘em in this mold and take a hot hydraulic press and make like little saucers. And I never knew what specifically those things were used for, but I made hundreds of ‘em over the period of the time that I worked there. And then I did all kinda stuff. That’s one of the things that really stands out in my mind [Inaudible] I had to be at work by seven and we worked ‘til three-thirty, and we had a 30 minute lunch break each day. And I would come outta the shipyard after three-thirty and I would usually be so dirty that you just honestly couldn’t believe anybody could get that dirty every day. But walkin’ around with that [Inaudible] steel and then the shop, and crawlin’ around inside one of the boats that we were workin’ on. One of the boats that, and I ended up doin’ a lotta different things. But one of the boats we were workin’ on was a menhaden boat or a pogie boat, as they were known locally. And there had been an explosion on the boat and it sunk. And they had raised the boat and had to rebuild the engines and rebuild the boat basically. And so I had had the opportunity to work on it and I can remember crawlin’ around underneath the engines in the bilge of that boat, and it was nasty, greasy, stinky, hot. But anyway, I enjoyed it and I learned a lot during that period of time that I worked there. And it was really, really interesting. And my dad all that time kept tellin’ me that I really needed to go back to college. And after workin’ there for awhile, there were unions there, and I never had a high opinion of the unions, I think at one point in time they really had, you know it was a good need and use for unions, but by the time I came home, I was beginning to get a little jaded in my ‘ppreciation of unions. And that [Slight pause] goin’ back to when I was 10, 11, 12 years old, they had a strike there. Think it was when I was about 12. And one of the union leaders lived right down the street three hou-, two houses down from us, three houses down from, and one of the union stewards or whatever he was, you know, (rabid???) union man of whatever particular union that was. And I don’t remember. But there had been some fights and things like that. [Inaudible???] harassment of the people that crossed the picket lines, you know the office personnel. And I can remember my dad bein’ harassed and him talkin’ about havin’ to go in the yard, ‘course he wasn’t union. And, bein’ in the office staff. But anyway, I remember this things continued to escalate and one night in the middle of the night, somebody blew this guy’s car up out in the front yard. And my room was, they’d taken the attic of our house and converted it into a bedroom and that’s where I stayed, that was my room. And ‘course we didn’t have air conditionin’ or anything at that time, so all the windows were open. I HHA# 00706 Page 6 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 6 Houston History Archives can remember just bein’ very near knocked outta bed when this car blew up about maybe 100 yards from my bedroom. And, ‘course I jumped up and went to see what was goin’ on. This guy’s car was ablaze out in the street in front of his house. I say all that to go back to when I was workin’ in the shipyard. When I first got there a lotta the guys, they were really friendly and yadda yadda yadda, and they always wanted me to stop in the afternoon, there was a little bar down on the corner from the shipyard, outside the gate there. And they always wanted me to stop by and drink a beer with ‘em. Well, I had my own friends that I’d grown up with and we went drank beer together. And we [Slight pause] I didn’t, it wasn’t that I didn’t like these people particularly, I just didn’t, I had my own group of friends, a lot of ‘em still lived there in town, a lotta guys that I graduated with didn’t go to college, they took jobs, some of ‘em in the oil patch workin’ offshore early on. And then [Pause] then they started encouraging me, this group started encourage me to join the union. It was only fair if I was gonna work there that I needed to join the union, most of these guys that I was workin’ with at that time WERE union members. And first it started out in jest, you know, “Come have a beer with us,” you know. And then it got to be, “You’re too good to go have a beer with us.” “No, I’m just, I’m not interested.” And I really had no animosity toward ‘em, it was just the fact that I had another group of people that grew up with and worked and played with, and probably drank more beer than I needed to with them. And we fished together and hunted together. So didn’t really need a new group of friends. [Chuckles] Well then they got to encourage me to join the union, I told ‘em I wasn’t interested in it, so then they got pretty hostile about the fact that I wouldn’t join the union. And so my, I was enjoyin’ my job, it was hard work, but I didn’t enjoy bein’ harassed by these guys that were promoting being in the union, and I couldn’t really see at that time any major advantage to bein’ a union member. I can remember I started out in that shipyard and I was makin’ a dollar and 69 cents an hour, and workin’ eight hours a day like a Trojan. [Chuckles] It was hard work. It was hot and nasty. But then [Pause] we [Slight pause] so I got to thinkin’, I said, “You know, they’re beginnin’ make life pretty miserable for me, bein’ around this group of people all day.” So I decided that I would find somethin’ else to do. I enjoyed my job, I enjoyed what I learned, but I wasn’t wantin’ to sit around and be harassed all the time. So I began to look for somethin’ else and went to the employment office at the shipyard. And I was able to ultimately secure a job workin’ in what was then the nuclear power department. And my title in the nuclear power department at that time was aid to the chief nuclear engineer and I was this guy’s aid de camp I guess. His name was Abner Smalls. And he was the chief nuclear engineer and I worked with a great group of people up there. Some of ‘em that I can remember specifically. You know, one guy named John Miner who was a friend of my parents. He’s [Pause] his wife taught swimmin’ lessons and taught me to swim back when I was a kid. And then when I was in high school and later in college, I worked for her as a sort of instructor, divin’ instructor, and life guard. But anyway, I went to work up in the nuclear power department. And, as a clerk, aid, and parts of my job, the office staff didn’t come in until eight, but I would come in and I worked directly, my supervisor on a daily basis was a guy named Fred Finley. And he was a little guy, he looked like the classic cartoon character of an accountant. [Inaudible] caps with the green brim on it that was clear. He always wore a coat and tie, or a shirt and tie, and always had his sleeves pulled up. And just, he’s a little, bitty guy, probably five-one or five-two, but just one of the nicest people you ever know, but so meticulous. And that was good trainin’ for me, workin’ under him and then workin’ for Mister Smalls was also good training in that he had a, he wanted everything right now, he wanted it RIGHT when he wanted it. So you didn’t make a mistake very often. And if you did, you really got chastised for it. My job, I would come in at like seven-thirty in the HHA# 00706 Page 7 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 7 Houston History Archives mornin’ and they would, they had engineerin’ meetings pretty frequently. If they were havin’ a meeting, it was my job to get all the plans, many times from the vault downstairs in the administration building. The nuclear power department was up on the third floor all by itself. And it was, when they had the engineering meeting it was doing their planning and whatever phase of construction they were on the ship was to work out any problems, details, etcetera. And one of the other thing, I would get all of the plans out and any change orders and stuff that was relevant to that particular piece of set of drawings and piece of the ship so that they could discuss those and make whatever changes and redesign or draw, and that was one of the other things that I did. Almost daily we got change orders, and most of these were Navy contracts that I worked on, specifically I worked on the two submarines when I was there in nuclear power department, and they were nuclear boats. The shipyard had built the last conventional diesel electric submarine, a submarine called The Blueback. And its first captain was Bobby Gautier, who grew up two houses down from us on Cornish Drive. And so he had the honor takin’ this ship when it was commissioned. But anyway, after that we started buildin’ the nuclear submarines, the Sculpin and, gosh, I can’t remember the other o-, they ultimately built four of ‘em, the Sculpin is the only one I can remember the name of, but I think that was the first nuclear boat they built. But anyway, those were Navy contracts and I can remember daily getting change orders, so it was my job to file those change orders on a daily basis and make sure they were up to date, make sure the engineers knew that they were there and incorporated ‘em in their work process. One of the other things that I did was to track spare parts on a submarine for every valve and meter and gauge and what have you, which there are thousands of. There’s a spare part, there’s a [Inaudible] on the ship. So what I would do, the engineers would do a take off from the drawings and they’d give me that list and I would get that to purchasing, and it was my job to track this thing from the time I got it from the engineers, went to purchasing, then whenever it had been physically ordered, and then when it was received at the shipyard, where it was stored at the shipyard, and ultimately when and where it was placed on the ship, so that there was some kind of paper trail of all of these different, thousands of spare parts. And all that was done by hand. Which was a monumental task, I mean it took me all week, every week and on Friday I had to present a report to Mister Smalls in their meeting, and that was one of the things that they checked every week. And during my tenure there, now there’s a guy named Tommy Moffatt, he’s a state senator from Jackson. He had graduated from Mississippi State, unlike me at that time. And he had been introduced to computers so he and I were talkin’ about this, and I was describin’ to him what I did. He said, “Ah, well, you know, we could do this on a computer.” You can imagine how archaic, this was in about 1959, or early ’60, well I guess it was in early…’59, I went to work in the yard in ’58, and so this was in ’59. And I moved up to nuclear power sometime after the first of the year in 1959. And so he started workin’ with me and we, you know it was back based on a punch card system back in those days and the key punch operators would punch in the data and maybe would run it through a computer and read it, and get a printout. So I still did the process by hand, but Tommy helped me develop a format to record this data in and, so that we could put it on one big computer printout. And I worked along with him, you know, I saw the utility of bein’ able to do it that way ‘cause you didn’t have to redo the darn thing every week, which was a monumental task. So we would kind of run a parallel system and I would put the data in there, they would provide me with the opportunity to have it key punched, and the end of the week I’d get a printout and compare it with my handwritten. So finally I got brave enough to one week take it into Mister Smalls and tell him about it and show it to him. And he was just real excited about that, he thought that was absolutely wonderful that I would take the initiative HHA# 00706 Page 8 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 8 Houston History Archives to do somethin’ like that, over and above my workload. Some of the interesting things that happened during that time frame. One thing I’ll say, I would have to [Inaudible] plans for the nuclear submarines were housed in the vault. So I would have to go down to the vault, check those plans out, I had a security clearance, and they would put ‘em in a briefcase, lock it up, and then they would handcuff it to me. And then I would have to walk down to the ship, down in the yard, with that briefcase locked to [Chuckling] my arm. I thought about that many times since then. And, you know, what if somebody wanted that thing [Chuckling] really bad and I was attached to it? But anyway, nothin’ ever happened like that. And I would take it down to the ship and the engineers and the workers that were workin’ on that particular thing would have the key to the briefcase, or have a key to the briefcase. And they would take the plans out and go over ‘em and do whatever they had to do. And then they would lock ‘em back in the briefcase and in the interim I’m wanderin’ around the ship, tryin’ to see what’s goin’ on and I’ve always been fascinated by construction. So then I would walk ‘em back to the vault and [Coughs] take ‘em, you know, then they would take ‘em away from me, lock ‘em back up in the vault. And one of the pleasures of doin’ that, there was a girl that was one of the clerks in the vault, and her name was Sue Mitchell. And she was a really good lookin’ blonde, very well constructed and proud of it, and loved to let you know that. [Chuckles] So I guess you’d call her a tease. [VP chuckles] But anyway, that was, you know, that was a fun thing to do. Sue is retired from the shipyard and she’s the receptionist in the mayor’s office here in Ocean Springs today. And has some health problems, but she’s still around, still fun person to be around, I see her frequently, and still enjoy her company. Anyway, I can continued on in the shipyard there ‘til late in the spring of 1959. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a clerk the rest of my life [Chuckling] either, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I ended up leavin’ the shipyard and joinin’ the army. And at that point in time, this was in 1959 and it was kinda between wars, we didn’t have a whole lot goin’ on. So I thought it wouldn’t be a bad time to go ahead and get my military service out, we still had a draft back in those days and I knew not bein’ in college the odds of my bein’ drafted were probably gettin’ better all the time, so I decided, and at that time they had what was called a six month (wanderer???) program where you could join army, you could go on active duty, go to bootcamp and serve a total of six months on active duty, and then you had five and a half years in the army reserve. And they had a unit in Pascagoula, so it made it convenient. And so I did do that. Went off and [Pause] joined the army, went to bootcamp at Columbia, South Carolina, at Fort Jackson. And then stayed on a Fort Jackson. [Coughs] Ended up bein’ a clerk. My MOS was clerk typist. I was one of the few people that could type when I got-, when they inducted me in the army. So I went to typin’ school and filin’ school and all this stuff. Learned how to do all the government reports. But I had a leg up on a lotta people because that’s basically what I’d been doin’ for, you know, several years. And so I got out and by that time I’d pretty much made up my mind to go back to college and get my degree. Early on as a kid I’d always been fascinated by marine biology. And just bein’ associated with the water, I grew up on the water there in Pascagoula, played in the water. [Pause] You know, ‘bout everything I did was somehow related to the water, and to boats. And I can remember in several years later, well before this, the Ingalls family had a yacht built, they built it at the shipyard, called Rhonda III, and I guess it was named after one of their children or his wife, somebody. And it was about a, I wanna say it was somewhere between 75 and 100 feet long, which was a ship. And, or maybe it wasn’t that big, but it just seemed to be like that big. It was just a magnificent thing. It had a bar in it that was gold leaf. I mean it was really nice. And I knew the captain on the boat, so we used to get to visit the boat, tour around on it, go [Inaudible], do things. And so anyway, I got outta the army November of 1959 and off HHA# 00706 Page 9 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 9 Houston History Archives active duty, and I came back and went back to school. And I stayed there until late fall of 1960. And then in about September of 1960 was the Berlin Crisis, when they built the Berlin Wall, John F. Kennedy was president. And so all of a sudden, I’m in school, I’m doin’ well, and I’ve made up my mind I wanted to go to college, I’m makin’ reasonably good grades. And actually I was makin’ good grades. And [Pause] so I went to, you know I was at school, enjoyin’ that, finally had some direction- VP: What school was this? TM: I was at University of Southern Mississippi by this time. And all of a sudden I got a set of orders [Chuckles] to report to Fort Gordon, Georgia. I had been pulled out of the reserves, the regular reserves, and attached to a unit from North Tonawanda, New York. So me, was a guy from Bessemer, Alabama, and then the other 100 or so guys were all from upstate New York. And we were a real novelty to them in that we talked funny. [Chuckles] They considered us a buncha rednecks and, but anyway, we had a wonderful, you know I ended up spendin’ almost a year on active duty in this unit. And the first several months that we were there, we actually lived on ready alert. We had a backpack and a duffle bag packed, and we had a bunk and a footlocker, and that was all the possessions that we had and we had to be, even when we left the base during that time frame, we had to let people know where we could be contacted. And we went into town, we had to be alert. Let ‘em know where we were goin’. And we had limited [Inaudible] we went to a couple different bars [Chuckling] you know, ‘bout it. But anyway, about January or February of 1961, I think it was ’61…all the time things are, it was either ’60 or ’61, I can’t remember which all this took place in. The, maybe it was ’61 when the Berlin Crisis went on, and then ‘cause I do remember getting off active duty in August of 1962, so the Berlin Crisis was in ’61, so I had a year in college during that timeframe. Got dragged outta school, went back into the army, and we lived on ready alert for extended period of time. And then about January of that year, February, all of a sudden things relaxed, we had brought in wall lockers, so we had a place to hang our clothes and spent more time cleanin’ up the barracks. And then we spent a lotta time out in the field camping out, bivouacked, they call it, doin’ these marches and basically they didn’t have anything for us to do, so they were just makin’ busy work for us. And then seemed like around February of that year, they changed the whole mission. We started goin’ to classes every mornin’ on geography of Southeast Asia. And we went to Vietnamese language training school in the afternoons. This was in spring of 1962. And then we had no idea what we were gonna do, where we were gonna be, when we were gonna get out. And the Berlin thing had kinda, you know, they built the wall, and you had East Germany and West Germany and all that business, and we [Pause] we were just there. We didn’t know what to do, so I had the opportunity to volunteer to go to jungle warfare training down in Panama, central America. So I volunteered to do that. Was bored, wanted somethin’ else to do. And so I was waiting on my orders to be cut to go to Panama, and all of a sudden in early August of 1962, they announced that we were gonna get out, we were gonna be released. And so [Chuckles] then I was concerned that I was gonna have to go to Panama, fortunately I didn’t have to do that. And I was released in August. So that fall I went back to college, went back to University of Southern Mississippi, and I met up with a buncha guys who had been in the Korean War. They were veterans of that war. And then others who had gotten outta the military. Somehow we all just kinda ended up together. And we all lived in what had been the married student housing, but they had built a new marriage student area, and so this ol’ area, which were apartments, there were two, I guess three bedroom HHA# 00706 Page 10 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 10 Houston History Archives apartments, one bath, and a kitchen, and a living room. So we were about, one, two, three, four, five of us livin’ in that, we were all somehow had just gotten outta the military or had military background. One of the guys that was livin’ with us was what they called a bootstrapper and he was in the Air Force and was stationed at Keesler in Biloxi. And so he was in school with us, livin’ with us. So we had a great time. We all had similar interests, we were all a little bit older than most of the students by this time. And unlike when I was at Mississippi State and involved in fraternities and spendin’ a lotta time drinkin’ and carrying on, partying, by that time I knew what I wanted to do and I was pursuin’ that. And we had a competition amongst ourselves in this apartment that we all lived in, grade-wise, and every one of us in that group were on the president’s list or the dean’s list every semester, well actually on a quarter system then. Every quarter we were either on the dean’s list or the president’s list, we were all tryin’ to outdo each other, so that was a really good experience. But to make a long story short, I ultimately ended up graduated from University of Southern Mississippi in 1964 with a B.S. degree and I was contemplatin’, I actually had a B.S. degree in psychology and biology and I didn’t, and you’ve heard this before, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. So I had made application to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to attend their…clinical psychology program and then I had made application to LSU and to Auburn University to go in their fisheries programs, they both had good fishery programs at the time. So in the interim, while I was waiting on that, I was workin’ for one of the professors there as a student worker and sorting plankton samples. And so anyway, we had a new faculty member that came on board that summer, his name was Doctor Jeff Fish. And he was an oceanographer, planktologist, and plankton is the little animals that float in the, you know. So he was a guy that wasn’t much older than I, brand new Ph.D. outta McGill University in Canada. He had done his dissertation research on copepods, which are little crustaceans. And, down in B-, no, don’t know whether he was in Trinidad or Barbados, Barbados I believe, had a research laboratory down there. [TM talks about how they got to be friends and Dr. Fish asked him to stay on at USM to be his graduate student. He and his wife had married in ’62 and they both worked on campus and liked where they were living, and TM accepted the offer to be Dr. Fish’s graduate student and stay there. His master’s thesis research examined the copepods in Mississippi Sound.] TM: And that’s kinda how I got here at the research laboratory, I came down here, was a guy named Gordon Gunner who was director here, and another fellow whose names was Mister J. Y. Christmas. And so I met with them and with my major professor, and they agreed to supply me with a boat so I could go out and take my samples. And so I came down here every month and went out and collected my samples, and by the time I had graduated I was to a point where I finished all my class work and I needed to do somethin’, but I needed to be back down here on the coast so that I could collect my samples and do that, and the research laboratory had offered me some space to be able to take my samples that I had collected and sort those out. [TM discusses how he took a science teaching job at St. Martin High School in west Jackson County. It was rural at that time and most of the people who lived there were fishermen. It was a nine month contract and they made ends meet by his wife going back to work. Then in ’65 J. Y. Christmas got a new contract and hired TM as a biologist at the lab, and TM quit his teaching job in March of ’65. His job at the lab paid 6500 dollars, which was more than double his teaching salary (2500). He had graduated with his master’s degree in marine science in summer ’64. He HHA# 00706 Page 11 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 11 Houston History Archives worked two years in Christmas’ project and then Dr. Gunner called him and told him about a new congressional program, the anadromous fish program. Gunner wanted him to write and submit a proposal to this program to study a relic striped bass population in the northern Gulf. They received the funding and TM moved into the administrative side to head up the anadromous fish program research in ‘67. In the fall of ’69 he was going to take a sabbatical to go back to school to work on his doctorate. But then a hurricane came through and flattened the area.] TM: The lab was very hard hit. The building next door to us was the only building on this part of the campus, it survived intact but everything on the lower end was destroyed. So we were faced with tryin’ to dig out, so I didn’t even think about goin’ to school, I put it off until 1972 and then Doctor Gunner again agreed to do that. In the interim, I’d made much friends with other research scientists and what have you. So I went back to USM in the fall of ’72, I was on half salary here by virtue of my having spent an extra on active duty, I was no qualified for all the veteran’s benefits that were available. Part of which was an educational stipend that paid me 300 dollars a month. So I took advantage of that. And I went to work for a Doctor Thompson, who was my major professor at that time. And he was a fisheries biologist who had retired from the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, which was a federal agency at that time that was dealing with the federal end of fisheries. He was a wonderful mentor in that he helped me write a couple grants to the Corps of Engineers so by the time I’d built salary into those grants, I was workin’ on those, goin’ to school full time, kept up with [Inaudible] my duties here. I was makin’ more money [Chuckling] goin’ to school than I was when I was workin’ full time here. But anyway, to make a long story short, I started in ’72, I finally graduated in 1978, in August of 1978 I got my doctorate. And at that time my mentor was J. Y. Christmas, who had introduced me to all of the people in the government and the state governments in fisheries from Washington throughout the Southeast and across the Gulf. Had really put me in a position where I was, if I failed it was strictly my fault. And so he retired 1978 and Doctor Gunner and the board of trustees appointed me assistant director of fisheries for the research lab in 1978. So at that point I was over all the fishery activities here at the laboratory, which at that time was a significant part of the lab, it still is, but the lab has grown obviously since then. And I stayed in that capacity until 1989, from ’78 to ’89 and was very much involved in regional fisheries programs and in 1983 Trent Lott, who has been in the congress as a congressman representin’ the Fifth District of Mississippi, and in consort with some of the people from the national fisher service, Gulf Station Marine and Fisheries Commission [Coughs] had a laboratory here and made it possible for me to take a year off and go to Washington and work for then Congressman Trent Lott as an, and at that time he was a minority whip in the house. And so I was able to [Pause] work with him in that capacity, I was dealing with fishery issues throughout the Southeast and particularly in the Gulf and specifically in Mississippi. Also was dealin’ at that time with issues that dealt with the shipyard. Anything that was marine oriented, that was my responsibility and trackin’ legislation, keepin’ Congressman Lott informed on various issues as it would affect our area, specifically Mississippi and in general in the Gulf area. So I got a tremendous amount of insight into things at a national level. Two of the things I was able to do when I was there, in consort with a guy named Andy Kemmerer, Doctor Andy Kemmerer. K-E-M-M-E-R-E-R. And he was the director of the Pascagoula National Marine Fisheries Service lab. We wrote a paper, which has become known as the Lott-McIlwain paper, but it detailed, was kind of a short white paper, it detailed research needs of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. So after I left Congressman’s Lott’s office in 1984, I was hired by the, I had a contract, I came back to the lab but I also had a consult contract with a HHA# 00706 Page 12 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 12 Houston History Archives group called the Gulf and South Atlantic Estuaries Development Foundation. And the purpose of the contract was to take that white paper and develop it into a legislative proposal, of which we did, it took us about a year. And then in 1985 I took I back to Congressman Lott and he had consort with then Senator John Breaux from Louisiana and Congressman Don Young from Florida. We were able to get that introduced into the congress, it was passed and funded, and became known as the MARFIN Program, Marine Fisheries Initiative I guess. [Slight pause] Marine Fisheries Initiative. MARFIN, it was part of, put in the National Marine Fisheries Service budget and it was a classic earmark as Senator McCain complains about all the time. But part of the problem that we had, that I saw when I was there in Washington was the fact that the Gulf of Mexico at that particular time was producin’ about 40 percent of all the fishery products that were produced in the nation, but when you looked at the allocation of funding to the agency that had control of this, we were gettin’ about 15 percent. Which I thought was very unfair. So that was basically what we couched our testimony in, that there was a need, we produce this, we were havin’ a impact on the area, and we needed to know more about what was goin’ on. And so we did that. It was funded, it was put in the budget, they didn’t like it, they bein’ the National Marine Fisheries Service. And for three, four, five years, well actually longer than that I guess, it wasn’t until…after the Reagan Administration, every year the congress put that money in there for us to do research, and we expanded the program into the Southeast and it’s now been extended into the mid Atlantic and then to the Northeast. Finally the National Marine Fisheries Service just decided that it was gonna be there every year so they started buildin’ it into their budget. And a lot of the money went to National Marine Fisheries Service to cover the cost of some of their research as well. And, so the long and short of it is, I was known as the father of the MARFIN Program, which is literally millions of dollars of research funding into the Gulf of Mexico area, which has allowed us to get a much better handle on the status, condition of our fisheries, which allows us to better manage those resources today. So it’s been a good program. As I said, I retired from here, I became director in 1989, and my job at that time, we were under the direction of the Board of Trustees Institutions of Higher Learning in Mississippi. And we [Pause] the board at that point in time, the laboratory had been an independent unit within that board, you know we reported directly to the board, so they decided that that wasn’t the best structure and they moved us in 1988 under the control of the University of Southern Mississippi. And then I was hired in July first of 1989 as the director of the lab, with the job, my charge was to make this marriage work between the university and the lab. And it wasn’t a very popular thing as far as the lab bein’ taken over by the university, that’s the way it was viewed, so it was a difficult job. And I stayed in that position until September I guess of 1994. So a little over five years I was director. And I retired, went to work for NOAA Fisheries and eventually in fisher service. Spent 10 years with them workin’ with the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council as the liaison between the science center in Miami and the Gulf Council. The Gulf Council is the organization that’s appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, and they’re representatives from each state fisheries management agency and members at large from the commercial industry, recreational industry, and [Inaudible]. So my job was to make sure to cover the research needs of the Gulf Council and then relay that information back to my agency and then try to coordinate and get that done so that the management agency had the information necessary to make management decision. And I did that for 10 years. And then during my tenure in Washington, I mean workin’ for NOAA, I got them to transfer me to headquarters in Washington and then detail me then to Senator Lott, the majority leader in the Senate at that time. And my specific job was to work on legislation that affected the fisheries management agencies, specifically the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery HHA# 00706 Page 13 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 13 Houston History Archives Conservation and Management Act. The [Pause] so I spent the year of 2000 in Washington, working for Senator Lott on his staff, again as a legislative assistant, working on legislation that affect fishin’ industry and environmental community, and again specifically and relative to the shipyards and boat buildin’ industry and the oil and gas industry here in the Gulf. So I had a pretty good overview of what all goes on relative nationally and how all these pieces of the puzzle fit together. In 2003 I retired and then the university came back to me and asked me if I’d come deal with this program that they were starting. So at the end I came back and we’re developing a new campus. [Coughs] [TM describes the work that has been done and what is upcoming on the building of the new campus. Mentions that in 2006 he was asked by some people in Mississippi to put his name up for consideration of appointment to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. In July 2006, he was appointed at an at-large member representing Mississippi. November 2007 he was elected chairman of that group. He continues to work about 20 hours a week at the lab, and serves as an elder in his church and on the Ocean Springs Harbor Commission, and has been heavily involved in the planning and redevelopment of this area.] TM: For a guy retired, I put in a lotta hours every week. [Both chuckle] And I’ve gotten totally off the subject of the shipbuilding, but it’s all been interesting because I’ve honestly work on a regional basis and the shipbuilding as a whole, and if you go through the ‘60s, late ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and even into the early ‘90s, our fishery in the Gulf of Mexico has exploded and expanding tremendously. There were a number of shipyards in Biloxi, in Pascagoula, Moss Point, over in Bayou la Batre and Coden, Alabama, that were noted for buildin’ really fine specifically shrimp boats. They started buildin’ shrimp boats in steel from the early, probably the late ‘70s I guess and continues today. But they’ve built up this huge fleet of vessels. And then probably 1976, our boats both wooden and steel, at that time there was still a number of wooden boat builders still in existence here across the coast. We built up this tremendous fleet of vessels that fished all over the Gulf. And then in 1976 the original Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act was passed and that started up what’s now known as NOAA, with the National Marine Fisheries Service a subset of that. And the National Marine Fisheries Service was charged with managing these resources in consort with the councils such as the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council that was set up in this management structure. [TM explains there are eight regional councils in the U.S. that are charged with making recommendations for management of the resources to the Secretary of Commerce. When Magnuson originally passed, the goal was to get rid of the foreign fleets fishing in U.S. water and expand U.S. fleets to take these resources. Estimates at that time were that we could take 300 to 500 million metric tons of fishery resources from the world’s waters. In 1976 they established a 200 mile boundary and negotiated other boundaries with nations within that area. Describes how a huge fleet of U.S. ships that were then fishing in Mexican waters were sent home and there were not enough fishery resources to accommodate that fleet. It took 30 some years to whittle the fleet size down, it’s taken a couple hurricanes, economic chaos, and fuel prices outta sight to bring the shrimp industry to its knees today.] TM: So this huge boat building infrastructure and repairs are just about gone today because there is no need for it. We built vessels that were shipped all over the world to fish in the world’s fleet, HHA# 00706 Page 14 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 14 Houston History Archives we were innovators and at the same time, the oil and gas supply boat industry was boomin’ as well in these same shipyards. And today, we basically cleaned out the shallow waters of the Gulf, so that technology’s changed. And if you look around, I was just in Saint Thomas last week, and I saw probably a half a dozen ol’ oil vessels that were bein’ used as ferry boats down there, been converted. And those boats been converted for a lotta things, ferry boats, fish boats, there’s a half o’ dozen of ‘em that fish out of Biloxi today. So they kinda [Inaudible] those fleets. But at one time we estimated that there was as many as 5,000 boats fishin’ for shrimp in the federal waters of the Gulf. Today we pretty sure that there are only about twelve hundred, and probably this year probably be half of that. The world’s supply of shrimp is just exploded primarily because of aquaculture. We import almost a billion pounds of shrimp a year, we produce less than 250 million pounds. Worldwide the take from the wild fish fishery has taken about 100 million metric tons. And that’s all we’re ever gonna be able to take from the wild stocks. The [Pause] there’s just a lotta areas that don’t produce high numbers of resources. So all of that has impacted this whole boat buildin’ industry and one of the things that’s of interest to me right now, there’s a company called Trinity Marine that’s located since the hurricane over in Gulfport, Mississippi. And they build luxury yachts. There’s was an article in the Sun Herald recently, within the last five or six months, talkin’ about Trinity and the dire economic times we find ourselves in, on the world market there’s a huge demand for these magnificent yachts by all of these people that have made boodles of money over the years. But they are just, so that whole boat buildin’ industry, we have a labor supply in this area that is skilled in boat buildin’, so it’s good that it can keep morphing into these different, you know from military ships and obviously Northrop Grumman over there is still producin’ magnificent Naval ships. And there’s still a number of smaller yards, like Halter and uh, tryin’ to remember the other one in Pascagoula. Hm? VP: Signal. TM: Signal, yeah. And, you know they build [Inaudible] repair and doin’ those kinds of things, so that, but there is a skilled workforce that occurs in this area, so these smaller yards have been able to flourish when the shipbuildin’ industry changed and large numbers of Naval vessels early on, went through a slow period and the smaller yards were able to pick up the slack, and pick up and utilize this labor force to build fish boats, oil boats, that type o’ thing. And now that the contracting for the big vessels has kinda had a resurgence, then they, again it’s been able to, you know, it’s just kinda been complementary, we’ve been able to keep this workforce, or at least the basic group of people who know about it and can build ships, intact and be able to continue that heritage throughout this area. And I’ve talked way too long, but. VP: [Inaudible] TM: Excuse me? VP: It’s very interesting. TM: Oh, thank you. VP: Now when you were working with Trent Lott those two times, what sort of things came across that were relevant to the shipyard [Inaudible]? HHA# 00706 Page 15 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 15 Houston History Archives TM: Well, primarily defense contracts that dealt with the shipyard. And I had some input into, you know the design and language in those bills. And I guess that’s the primary area that I was concerned with. Also from the standpoint of funding Corps of Engineers and then their work to support the channels and, it supports this industry and it makes it possible to maintain the channels which are necessary to have these [Pause] industries flourish in this area. And also to continue to build, there are a lotta government vessels that are built not just for the military, but for Corps of Engineers, for NOAA, EPA, there’s just a host of ‘em, so. That’s basically where my input was in that. VP: And then going back a little bit further, you mentioned that your father had started a store? TM: Mmhm. VP: Back when the shipyard was booming, sort of during World War Two. What happened to that when in the ‘50s, when everything sort of dropped off- TM: Um, he survived with that store until about 1962 I believe. Or at least in the early ‘60s, I can’t remember specifically. The shipyard, and like I say he was a white collar worker I guess in the shipyard, and fortunately he was able to stay there. The store struggled and we started out as a general mercantile store, and then we went to sellin’ men’s, women, and children shoes. And then it morphed from that into basically selling women’s shoes and hats and bags. And I grew up working in that store, this was when I was probably 13 to 15 years old. And I can remember sellin’ shoes and hats to women, and that was an interesting thing. These ladies would come in and try on hats. And they’d ask me, “Well how does this look?” And I naturally, “That hat is you!” [Chuckles] I mean, you know, “You really good look good.” But anyway, the economy of Pascagoula just went down the tubes after the shipyard went down in the early ‘50s. And he struggled, kept downsizin’ the store, but he was able to keep that until the early ‘60s and then Pascagoula went through a urban renewal. Many cities went through this. And they basically, in my opinion, destroyed the downtown by modernizin’ it. It was a good thing in that they rebuilt the utilities and distribution systems, gas, electricity, water, sewage. But it basically, you know that was when businesses started movin’ away from the downtown area. And so here was this all torn up, stores were, you know it was a mess and then other people got used to goin’ somewhere other than downtown. When I grew up there, everything was focused downtown. The drug stores, [Inaudible] the restaurants, I can remember home comin’ parades where we-, I played in the band while I was in high school for awhile, and I can remember walkin’, marchin’ from the high school up through the middle of town and then back to the high school for home comin’ and other events. The other thing I remember about playin’ in the band was that we used to [Pause] we attended all the launches at the shipyard. We had the luxury gettin’ outta school and goin’ and watchin’ the ships bein’ launched. Back in those days, they built the ships up on a slip, what they call a slipway. And they would [Pause] when they’d get ready, they’d have all their speeches, and they have a sponsor and then they would crack the champagne bottle on the bow of the ship as she started, ‘cause they had burners down there cuttin’ these big steel plates that hold the ship up on the [Inaudible]. Then as soon as the ship would break free, we would play Anchors Away, the ship would slide down and splash into the water. It was spectacular sight to see. And even today I had the opportunity to, last year to go to Halter’s yard over in Moss Point and I was a guest of HHA# 00706 Page 16 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 16 Houston History Archives the government to watch the launching of the NOAA ship Pisces. And I still got that, you know my eyes teared up when they started playin’ Anchors Away, it’s a [Inaudible] experience if you’ve never seen a launchin’ like that. The one’s at Ingall’s today, or Northrop Grumman, they slide their ships out on a floating wet dock and then they sink the dock and then pull the ship off of it, it’s not very spectacular. Back in the ol’ days when that ship would go rollin’ down the way, and at Halter they still launchin’ that way. That was pretty spectacular. But I can remember a time in the early in Pascagoula when there just wasn’t anything goin’ on because for its history, at least for the last hundred and…nine, eight years, or maybe longer than that, it’s been tied to the ship buildin’ industry. [Coughs] And it’s flourished when the shipyard has flourished and it’s gone through hard economic times when it has not flourished. It’s pretty closely associated with that. [Pause] VP: A lot of the movie theaters, the restaurants, and all of that closed in the ‘50s? TM: Uh, ‘50s and ‘60s, yeah. And the number of stores, they had this urban renewal and they bought my dad’s property ‘cause, the city bought the property and then it was redeveloped. My dad’s buildin’ was one, was the first buildin’ south of the corner of Delmas Avenue and South Pascagoula, it’d be on the southwest corner. Today there’s a law office that covers the corner as well as the area where my dad’s store was and where the drug store was. And on the corner back when I was a kid, there was a service station, and then my dad’s building, goin’ down South Pascagoula was my dad’s buildin’, then there was a drug store, (Karer’s???) Drug Store, and then my uncle had a insurance office. And then on the corner was the Ritz Theater, which today is still standing and is a law office. And then across the street was a post office which is now where the library stands. And then south of it was the (Picks???) Movie Theater. And then there were a couple of businesses and offices there. VP: Well were your parents both from Pascagoula? TM: My dad grew up in Pascagoula. Now he was born in Richton, Mississippi. My grandfather moved there when he was a small child. My dad was the youngest…yeah, he was the youngest…of…three children I guess. And they had one that died at childbirth early on. My grandparents, my granddad was a doctor there in town. And my mother comes from Alabama. And my dad was in school up in Birmingham, Alabama, in college at, I think it was Howard University. And he met my mother there, she was at Montevallo College, I think it’s a university today. And they met and were married in the late ‘30s. And they came to Pascagoula and bought the house my mother lived in until she died in 2003. They bought the house in 1940 and this was one of the houses that had been built for the shipyard that preceded Ingalls. So the house is close to 110 years old now. And then Hurricane Katrina, it ended up with five feet of water in the house. But my niece, my brother’s daughter and her husband and two children live there today. They had bought it, bought the house from the family in first of August 2005. And then the hurricane came and we had just done a lotta work to the house. And obviously been added on to, expanded over the years. And the, all that was destroyed and they basically had to start all over and when they had gone to secure the financing for their purchase of the house through the company in Hattiesburg, and so when they ask about insurance, they said, “Eh, you don’t need that flood insurance, it’s never flooded.” It did this time, big time. So it had no insurance. And they had a tough time tryin’ to get it all back together, but it’s back together and looks nice, and HHA# 00706 Page 17 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 17 Houston History Archives you know so it’s a home again. And what’s interesting, that neighborhood has always, it’s basically redeveloping, it’s reinventing itself, the younger people are movin’ back in there and their kids back in there today. We went through a period where there were nothin’ but, you know, elderly people livin’ in that neighborhood. So it’s kinda recycled itself, they’re fixin’ up the houses and things are lookin’ pretty good. VP: So when the shipyard closed, you mentioned that the neighborhood next to you that they built the temporary housing in? Where did those people go when the shipyard was just slowing down in the ‘50s? TM: They, some of ‘em are still in the area, most of ‘em left. And I assume they went back to where they had come from. ‘Cause durin’ the war there was a big push to get enough labor in there, they were turnin’ out ships almost weekly I think at one time. And, so they had a huge workforce there. And I assume a lotta those people moved back to the areas that they originally come from. VP: Now the people that you graduated from high school with, what did everyone end up doing right after high school, not now? TM: Obviously a lot of ‘em went off to college, but there were a lotta guys that basically went to work in the oil industry. Working offshore. That was a fairly new industry in the late ‘50s. And they worked as roustabouts in the oil and gas platforms out in the, at that time it was in the near Gulf. Today obviously they’re drillin’ out way deep, but that was pretty shallow water. It was a tough job. Will you excuse me, hon’? [End audio file A, start audio file B] VP: Now when you were getting out of high school, how did you find out about the offshore oil industry or your friends who went into that? TM: Um…I guess because of the fact that there were, you know there were a lotta boating people, people who had been working on boats in the area, there were job opportunities for captains. And so that kinda spread the word and then the idea of makin’ big bucks. They worked a week on and a week off, and that appealed to a lotta people. And the pay was much better than what you would get working locally. And so a lotta folks, you know chose to take that route rather than doin’ other things. It was, I thought about this before as to why some of us went to college and some of us didn’t. And basically percentage-wise of our graduating class, it wasn’t a real high percentage of us that went off to college. Most people got outta high school at that point in time and went to work. And that was an area where you could make good money. It was very challenging work, it was dangerous work, a lotta people go injured early on workin’ in that area. ‘Course workin’ on boats in the fishin’ industry is probably one of the most dangerous jobs period. And a number of people that I know went to work on their, you know their families were involved in the seafood industry and they followed their fathers to sea. [Buzzing sound in the background] It was, interesting to notice that they went there. You know, as a kid, durin’ the summer I spent some time workin’ on some of the fish boats. Shrimp boats. Had some firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be a fisherman. It’s an interesting way of life, it’s a real HHA# 00706 Page 18 of 18 Interviewee: McIlwain, Thomas Interview Date: May13, 2008 University of Houston 18 Houston History Archives independent thing, and I think that’s one of the attractions to the oil industry. It’s kinda rough and tumble, it pays well, it’s hard work, and the guys that I know that have spent their lifetime out there workin’ in the oil patch have, you know they’ve lived pretty hard. [Chuckles] And, but a good group of people. I guess you could kinda sum up this area, a lot of what we all do here is related to the water. And whether it be oil and gas, or the fishin’ industry, or boat buildin’ industry, it all kinda centers around, so much of it centers around and is directed at, and directed by the water, and boats, and the activities that go on there. So I guess it’s just by virtue of the fact that that’s what we do here. Pascagoula I guess has always been a port. I know back before the turn of the century and early in the 1900s it was a port that shipped tremendous amounts of timber, lumber. [Coughs] I was talkin’ to a woman yesterday and she was talkin’ about her grandfather was a captain and had a couple boats that ran lumber between here and the Caribbean, in the Bahamas, back in the early 1900s. And actually owned an island down there somewhere. But it’s always, everything we do has basically been, revolved around the water in some aspect. Our recreation, our work, and I can just sit and watch the water and be fascinated by it. My whole career has been spent in the water. In one way or another. VP: Well thank you very much. TM: It’s been my pleasure. [END OF RECORDING]