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William Barnes was born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi. After high school he attended Bowling Green Business University in Kentucky where he got a degree in accounting. Soon afterwards he graduated and returned home; then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On 8 December 1941, Barnes enlisted in the US Coast Guard. On 7 December 1941, Barnes had just returned from church with his family and had started eating when someone turned on the radio and he heard the news of the Pearl Harbor attack. He was shocked beyond words and felt the urge to accept the call to defend this country. Barnes went to Memphis, Tennessee, where he originally intended to enlist in the US Navy, but when he got to the recruiters office the line was about 2 miles long so he walked off down the hall. He tripped over a sign and an officer helped him pick it up. The officer asked him Barnes if he wanted to join the Coast Guard. Barnes was a country boy and had never heard of the Coast Guard. The officer told him that if he joined it would keep him out of the army. Barnes signed up. After receiving his letter to report for duty he had to go to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was accepted into the Coast Guard. The first thing they did was take a physical. There were 50 naked men in the room moving down an assembly line of doctors who were checking the recruits. After induction, Barnes was sent to New York City to Sheepshead Bay. At the time there was no training center at Sheepshead Bay. When Barnes reported he was given a hammer and told to go out and tear down all of the bath houses in the area where the new training facility was to be built. Barnes didn't have a uniform so he had to work in his own clothes; it was two weeks before Barnes got his uniform. After someone learned that Barnes played the piccolo he was recruited for a Coast Guard military band; this was in February and March of 1942. When Barnes learned that he would have to compete against a professional musician for his spot in the band he gave his piccolo to the man and quit the band. After leaving the band Barnes was sent to the Walter Chrysler estate on Long Island. The estate had been sold to the federal government and was being converted into the Merchant Marine Academy. After some time there Barnes was promoted to the Postmaster General of the Merchant Marine Academy. Barnes thought the war was passing him by and wanted to get into it. When he saw an advertisement in the Coast Guard magazine looking for a yeoman for a PC [Patrol Craft] boat being commissioned in New Orleans, Louisiana, he volunteered for the position even though he had no experience as a yeoman. The New York District Office approved his request and made him a Yeoman 3rd Class over the telephone. He got his orders that afternoon and took off for New Orleans to join the commissioning crew of PC-590.
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