SDPD 11/12/1935 - 1940
10/07/1910 - 02/06/1996
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After World War II, battle-hardened PT boat captain Ernest C. Saftig went from the perilous waters of the South Pacific to a venue bigger than life: John Wayne movies.

For 20 years, beginning as a technical adviser on the 1945 PT boat thriller "They Were Expendable," he played bit parts or behind-the-scenes roles on a series of Wayne westerns and adventure movies.

He was 85 when he died of a heart attack Feb. 6 at Tri-City Medical Center.

The grandson of a miner who discovered gold in the Alaskan Klondike, Mr. Saftig was born in Seattle. He moved with his family to San Diego as a teen-ager and worked from 1928 to 1930 as a Mission Beach lifeguard.

He was a motorcycle officer for the San Diego Police Department for the next few years, starting the junior traffic patrol program to promote safety among children going to and from school.

Mr. Saftig joined the Navy in 1940 and worked as an intelligence officer in Panama, Mexico and Colombia before being transferred to Pearl Harbor.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack, he was ordered to find a radio from a downed Japanese plane to break the enemy's codes.

"He found the remnants of a crashed Japanese plane and hauled it back to the naval yard on the truck," his son, Tom, said.

Mr. Saftig spent the balance of the war manning PT boats in New Guinea. All told, he logged 42 months overseas and took part in about 40 PT boat battles.

After the war, he began a 20-year friendship and professional relationship with Wayne, who starred as Robert B. Kelly, commander of a PT boat squadron in the Philippines, in "They Were Expendable."

The movie was based on William L. White's best seller about Kelly, who earned the Navy Cross for sinking a Japanese light cruiser off the island of Luzon in 1942.

Over the next 20 years, Mr. Saftig assisted in such Wayne movies as "The High and the Mighty," "Blood Alley," "The Alamo" and "Big Jim McLain."

Between productions, he built 20 teak yachts, all from 36 to 40 feet long, as owner of a yacht marina in Newport Beach.

True to his gold-mining roots, Mr. Saftig also invested in gold and silver mines in Colorado, California, Mexico and Arizona. He and his partners would find and develop mining properties, then sell them to larger companies, his son said.

In addition to his son, Tom, who lives in Carlsbad, Mr. Saftig is survived by his wife of 47 years, Myrna; a stepdaughter, Jean Ward, of Palm Desert; a sister, Marguerite Kyle, of Los Angeles; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.