After 44 years, he practically knew the words by heart.
With Curtis Creek as a backdrop, flanked by U.S. and Coast Guard flags, faced by uniformed guardsmen frozen at attention, Master Chief Stanley Hiller, 60, repeated the familiar oath, one he first took as a teen-ager.
Before him stood Adm. W. Ted Leland, who was just a child whenHiller sailed his first Coast Guard ship. Now, Leland pronounced Hiller a member of the guard, one more time.
But this time was different.
The previous occasions lacked the pomp and fanfare of Friday's ceremony in the sweltering heat of Curtis Bay Station, just across the border from Anne Arundel County. Those other times, Hiller simplywalked into a superior's office, raised his right hand and promised to serve his country.
But Friday, the Pasadena resident headed into his final two years with the guard. And, more notably, he achieved something of a national record.
After joining the Coast Guard at age 16 and working on ships up and down the coast, fixing engines, running lighthouses, warning ships of treacherous icebergs and rescuing boaters and Haitian refugees, Hiller, an engineer, has become the guard's longest-serving enlisted man.
Not only that, Hiller is the oldest enlisted guardsman -- and has served the longest as master chief.
"He's a unique man. This has been his life," said Cmdr. Brian Hadler, commanding officer of Group Baltimore, based at the Coast Guardyard to oversee search and rescue missions, aids to navigation and law enforcement at six stations in the upper Chesapeake Bay. "He's a highly skilled technician and a real leader in training the youngsters."
To Hiller, though, it's been nothing more than sticking with something he loves -- "the camaraderie, the people, the work, theboats,the water, the lifestyle," he said.
The affable master chief withgraying hair and a Boston accent could have retired more than two decades ago.
But, he says, "It never crossed my mind to think about retiring. I had to go to work anyway. This doesn't make you a millionaire, but it's a good job."
He inherited his lifelong fascination with ships and the water from his uncle, a lighthouse keeper. Hiller's uncle belonged to the U.S. Lighthouse Service before the Coast Guard absorbed it. The uncle raised the young Hiller in a Provincetown, Mass., lighthouse.
After years of watching ships on the horizon, Hiller got his chance to take to the sea himself when he turned 16. In 1948, he enlisted in the Coast Guard in Boston and went to boot camp in Cape May, N.J. More than anything, he hoped to become a Coast Guard master chief, the highest enlisted rank.
First, the guard sent him to a Portland, Maine, base, where he served aboard the cutter CookInlet. The ship traveled to weather stations from Greenland to Bermuda, staying at one spot sometimes for two months at a time. While at a station, the ship would monitor weather conditions for airplanes oralert other ships of icebergs. Hiller began training as an engineer.
He was transferred to Rockland, Maine, where he pulled lighthouseduty and found himself called upon to rescue fishermen or weekend sailors. After a promotion, he became officer in charge of a five-man crew aboard a 64-foot cutter in Rockland, shipping supplies to lighthouses.
In 1966, he achieved his lifelong goal, making the rank of master chief. He was sent to the Curtis Bay yard in 1974, then to Boston and finally to Cheboygan, Mich., where he worked aboard the biggest icebreaker in the Great Lakes.
In 1987 he returned to Curtis Bay, where he works as an engineer on yard boats of 65 feet or smaller and on visiting boats.
Hiller's life hasn't been an easy one. In the earlier days, the guardsmen launched their boats by hand and rowed them. Technology improved, but some parts of the job never got easier.
Aboard the cutter Hamilton in the early 1980s, Hiller and his colleagues often had to rescue Haitian refugees trying to escape to Florida. To flee their homeland, the Haitians would give up their life'ssavings, then find themselves crammed into overloaded boats unable to withstand storms.
Often the boats would sink. The Coast Guard sent the people they saved back to Haiti. But many didn't survive.
These days, Hiller hasn't slowed down much. Besides working as an engineer at Curtis Bay, he teaches engineering courses and offers sympathy and advice to fellow guardsmen as the Command Enlisted Adviser.
Many come to him with problems with money or being separated from their families. He recalls that in his early Coast Guard days, he sailedwith mostly unmarried men. Today, many young guardsmen have familiesto support.
"Family separation is a big thing today," said Hiller, the father of two sons, ages 32 and 26, from a previous marriage. "It's tough for a husband to go away for two weeks. Some of the gals are great. But some can't do it."
For the past four years, Hiller has lived in the Chelsea Beach area of Pasadena with his wife, Elaine.He will retire in April 1993.
"If I think I'm slowing down, I'll get out and wave goodbye," Hiller said.