by Lynn Forshee
Praise for Standby, Mark
Lynn Forshee was interested in radio starting in grade school. In early 1941 at age 19, he enlisted in the Navy. During the war, he was a radioman and a gunner, and towards the end of the war, was trained an a Naval pilot. He got his Ham license at the end of the war, and kept his call, W0ILY, for the rest of his life.
Lynn built up quite a station back in his home town of Britt, Iowa. He told me he had quite an antenna farm and enjoyed DXing from time to time. Even in his last years in a rest home, he was able to set up his own HF/VHF station.
I got to know Lynn late in his lifetime. He was fascinating to talk to about both radio and World War II. In a way, both were intertwined, as I learned when he told me about an autobiographical book he’d written and self-published about his experiences during the war. Radio, of course, was a lifeline for pilots who got into trouble or were running low on fuel trying to find their way back to the Carrier.
I asked Lynn if he’d like to share his book with a wider audience, on the internet, and he was pleased to allow that.
His book, called “Standby, Mark” (something the bombardier would call out during a dive) is now on the web at http://www.msmeck.com.
Lynn loved sharing his knowledge and experiences, and was happy to help you if he could. I had been re-building my vintage station from my Novice days in 1960 and needed a Dowkey transmit-receive relay. Lynn had one he wasn’t using and just gave it to me.
Lynn was a real radioman and Ham. They don’t make them like that anymore. Jim Moen (K6JM)
*Much appreciation to Jim, who was was instrumental in first posting, formatting, and promoting Dad’s book online. His great efforts are much appreciated.
Preface and Acknowledgements
It is only due to suggestions from time to time from my wife, Jennie, and daughter, Marlene, that I would undertake to do any writing in the first place. With no desire to do a documentary on WW2, I will attempt to relate some of my personal experiences and observations of the six years from January of 1941 to January of 1947. I have, where my memory fails me, gone to the works of other writers for exact dates and times of some events.
In that this is intended as an informational source for my family rather than its use as a published work, I admit to some of the shortcomings in sentence construction and grammar.
The most difficult task was in attempting to compress time such as the nine months in New Caledonia, one year in Naval aviation pilot training and the six months that Jennie and I spent in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. A book could be written on each of those periods alone.
I give special thanks to my niece, Sylvia, for her work on the computer, without whom I would have probably spent another year, tearing out what is left of my hair. Also, thanks to Cliff for the use of the computers and a big thank you to my friend, Don Bancroft, for the final printing and other assistance in bringing this to fruition.
So, Jennie, Marlene, Gary, enjoy…
by Lynn Forshee
You will find the chapter format much more reader-friendly. I have not yet completed uploading by chapter, so if you want to read ahead, the complete context of the book is below on this page.
The temperature near Caledonia was hovering around 5 or 10 above and I found myself wondering what I was doing eating a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and some sticky beef and noodles from a mess kitt. Of course, if you didn’t slow down cutting cedars for posts you could strip to the waist and work up an appetite for this type food. A couple of weeks ago I was in CCC camp 1720 at Bancroft, Iowa where I had worked up all the way from axe and saw man, through the blasting crew, small CAT operator to driving the gas and diesel truck to service the heavy equipment. At least in the winter I could get into the cab now and then to warm up. Well, they had noted my interest in Ham radio and asked me to take a transfer to Caledonia, Minnesota to teach a class in radio/electronics.
I had in the back of my mind toying with the idea of joining the U.S. Navy but at this time, December 1940, it was not all that easy to get in. The physical was quite stiff, and I had a hernia received in falling off the back porch on a tricycle at age 4. Then, there was a written exam of 100 questions plus some background checks, etc. I finally hitchhiked to Mason City to take the exams. Thanks to having some dental work done earlier, I did pass all requirements.
Of course, I did not have the blessings of my mother and she was, like most, reluctant to see me go for 6 years. After receiving my notice of acceptance I reported to the Post Office building in Mason City at the recruiting office with a small group of others where we got our bus tickets to Des Moines. We stayed in a hotel in Des Moines the night of January 2, 1941. We reported to the recruiting office there the morning of the 3rd and were sworn in and began our trip to the U.S. Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois.
We did visit a bit among ourselves and I learned that twin brothers Richard and Robert Leaman, Weiner, Jake Basgall who I knew from the CCC camp in Bancroft and some others were from the Mason City area.
Upon arriving in Great Lakes we were given a meal, marched to the clothing depot and issued our clothing. This was more than welcome because I had not worn heavy enough clothes for the wind off Lake Michigan in January. We were assigned a large dormitory and were instructed on the care and use of a hammock. Then after changing into the winter blues we marched to sick bay and were given blood tests and a shot. They were sterilizing the blood withdrawal needles with a bunsen burner and they grabbed one from the hot end of the line which of course let a little puff of smoke rise from my arm upon insertion, whatta ya know, the guy behind me saw it and promptly fainted. We were then marched to the barber shop and shorn like lambs.
The first night I pulled guard duty and was on shift at reveille with instructions to yell as loud as I could to assure that everyone was awake. Upon shouting they began rolling out of their hammocks and one man in particular literally rolled out, striking his head on the hardwood floor. He was taken to the base hospital and I was later informed that he had died.
One of the endless rites of the Navy was the morning inspection at muster. It was with great difficulty that I got ready for this first morning formation. I say this because someone had stolen my razor and blades (GI issue) from my ditty bag. I performed the rest of my toilet, but didn’t have to worry about the hair, as I had left it on the floor of the barber shop. Upon standing in the cold for inspection, I was told by Chief Martin, who was our Company 3 commander, that I needed a shave. I was ordered to go and get a razor and stand in front of the company in the cold and dry shave. Now someone else was short a razor and I was to learn that the disappearance of such things was almost routine.
There were hours of close order drill, manual of arms with a rifle which, if you made a big boo-boo, you were required to sleep with the rifle in your hammock.
I soon found out you did not need a calendar to know the day of the week as you could go by the menu. Sea Gull for dinner, Sunday. Baked beans and a bar of soap with syrup on it, Saturday morning and so on ad infinitum.
We had all the usual, knot tying, swimming classes, first aid, ship nomenclature so that we would not embarrass ourselves upon going aboard the first ship and talking about the walls, floor, ceiling doorways, etc. It was from now on the bulkhead, deck, overhead and the hatchway. Of course there was times when we could relax at the end of the day, Friday night was a Smoker of which I still have a hand bill proclaiming me as the great Fire Eater which got me out of the more physical exhibitions such as boxing, I had already lost a chip from a front tooth to boxing. There was one fellow in particular with whom I became very good friends, John Anthony Kasselman who was one of the most accomplished Piano players I had known. Johnny would have to hear a piece once, then he would sit down and put in his own variations, even to playing with an orange on the keyboard. We took the Ell into Chicago a couple of times and roamed around North Clark a bit. On one occasion I visited a school chum and sister of my good friends from Longville, Minnesota high school who was a nanny in Chicago. Lola Englehart and at this writing two of her brothers I ran with were killed in the war and Ray, died of a heart attack. I did have one leave which allowed me to return to Britt briefly and I remember Jennie leaving church upon hearing the steam whistle of the train and coming to the depot to see me off.
Finally it was time for us to test out for the trade schools some of us had applied for. I was planning on going to Jacksonville Florida as I had scored a perfect on a 100 question test on mechanics and the internal combustion engine. Mechanics and science was my forte and I had received first place in the all pupil testing for Iowa in high school and had 3rd place in Biology winning a trip to the university at Iowa City where I had met people who made arrangements for me to apply for a scholarship but of course that was all down the tube by now.
Johnny Kasselman and I had become quite close by this time and he wanted me to accompany him when he took the Morse code test to be a radio operator. I went in with him and he and I were the only ones in the room that knew the code, the only requirement was to copy the dots and dashes while we were setting down the message. Naturally we passed and as we set our sea bags in the hall the next day for marking for our destination we were bidding each other goodbye and whatta’ ya’ know, they stenciled both our sea bags with “RADIO SCHOOL, U.S. NAVAL AIR STATION” North Island, San Diego, CA.
The train trip to California was quite exciting at first and then boredom set in. The scenery was great, first time I had seen anything like that. The food in the dining car which we paid for with chits was a welcome relief from the Navy chow. We got off in a few places to stretch our legs and buy a candy bar or something and when time permitted we walked around a bit a short way from the station. I did recall that in the movies they often referred to porters as “george”. The first time I called one George I felt he was going to throw me off the train. Sure was sensitive.
The trip took the best part of three days and I still recall the aroma of getting off in San Diego and the way the air felt. This coming out of a Chicago lakeshore winter, pack the pea coat in the bottom of the sea bag and forget it. The station where we got off was right on Broadway, not very far from the Navy pier where we were to board the “Nickel Snatcher” for North Island Naval Air Station. Broadway being the main drag in San Diego. Now we had a new aroma, the ocean, the nickel snatcher, so named for the 5 cent fare soon deposited us at the dock and we carried our gear up to our assigned barracks, barracks, man it was all concrete, Spanish style architecture and the compound was a rectangle, two story dorms with bunks so too, store the hammocks away. Our dorm was across from the mess hall and to the left end was the administration building, to the right was sick bay and the dental offices, I’ll address this subject in more depth later on. There was a large swimming pool at that end of the compound also.
Classes continued in firearms, along with our reason for being there which was Aviation Radio School, Morse code, theory of AC and DC circuits, electric motors, batteries and many related subjects plus typing and of course printing the code as we copied it by hand, I have lost all ability to write longhand because of that.
There was a luncheon truck that would stop at the school which was right down near the dock and I found the ham and cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk to be quite a treat. On one occasion we saw Martha Raye and some other stars walking by the classroom as they were filming a Navy movie on location there. Class broke up quite quickly. Another day class was out due to a mishap in the air over North Island, some marines had been parachuting out of a DC3 and one man had fouled his chute on the tail and was being drug around in the sky for quite some time. Finally a couple of Chiefs who were APs (aviation pilots, enlisted men) jumped into a Stearman open cockpit, 2 place plane and went up. After a few tries they managed to pull up under the man in the tangled chute who was dangling head down. The rear seat man pulled him down and quickly cut the shroud lines on his chute holding his head and shoulders in the cockpit thereby saving his life. It was rumored that the two heroes, McCandlass was one, can’t recall the other, were given a medal and afterwards court martialed for taking the plane without permission or possibly against orders. Never knew for sure how much truth was involved though as by this time in my short career I had learned that “scuttlebut” was all too common in the service. Scuttlebut so named because that is where you heard most of it, the scuttlebut being the water fountain.
At liberty call there were the usual money lenders waiting by the door, “five for ten payday” was heard quite often and that is what it was, 100 percent interest. I tried to hold my liberties down to what I could afford but I did splurge one Friday night. At inspection that morning the Captain came down the line and stopped after passing me, turned around and came back, gave me the eye up and down and apparently had the impression that they had given me far too much material in my uniform. In most places the uniform as issued was sacred and not to be messed with. After a few seconds he advised me that there was a place just off Broadway called “MAX the naval tailors”. That night I made a beeline straight for good old Max and told him that I didn’t know what he wanted but that the captain had sent me. Well, I’ll tell you it was a bit lighter than when I last saw it. The jumper no longer tied under the armpits to blouse over to just below my waist. No blouse at all, it just ended at the waist and was so tight I had to wriggle into it. Now the pants were a bit different also. They too were snug and I think he used a lot of the material he cut out to enlarge the bottoms, real bell bottoms, man was I a cool dude. Little did I know that upon reported to my next assignment I would be told that dress blues were to be regulation as issued. Yup, a different captain from a different navy. Well, I outsmarted them, I had two sets of dress blues after that.
San Diego was really quite pleasant, warm days with excellent tanning possibilities and cool nights making for good sleeping and a blanket felt good, that is if you had one. I went down to the enclosure behind the dorm to retrieve my blanket after washing and drying. Guess what, someone had drawn “midnight smallstores” on me. Well, Johnny said, I told you how to work it, so I went down and returned with 2 blankets. Now, let’s get back to the dental situation, I had my teeth worked on before I enlisted in order to make sure nothing held me back and was assured they were in fine shape, ditto in boot camp and now more ditto. A dentist named Frates worked me over twice a week and at the last sitting, he said “open wide” and he stood back and looked at my mouth and said, sailor, that is the worst job I have ever done” that after literally burning the inside of my cheeks from drilling so fast he got the teeth hot enough to do that, I departed with no small reading of his pedigree and mention of his maternal parent. All under my breath of course.
Weekends were quite welcome with trips to Balboa Park Zoo and out to beach for the roller coaster etc. One weekend I got a hop in one of the PBYs which were stationed there and another time I checked out a sailboat and a young instructor took me out in the bay. He gave me the thumbs up so that I could now check one out and go solo. The days at North Island were drawing to a close and Johnny and I were sent to the Submarine base just a short way from there while awaiting transportation to our next assignment which was to be Bombing Squadron Five. We were looking forward to this with much anticipation but also hated the thought of leaving the sub base as the food was really great. The captain himself would dress in dungarees for a disguise and go through the chow line and if something wasn’t right, you could hear him all over the chow hall. If captain Mack asked for a little more meat or wasn’t given his choice of potatoes, woe to that unlucky mess cook.
I did have the opportunity to visit Hank Bergman of Britt who was with an Army unit over across the bay at Point Loma. We were laughing at a fellow with a kingsize hangover and an equally king size tattoo. Of course I hid my small anchor on my left forearm which was a memento of Chicago.
Time for departure and we were bussed to the train. Now these trains were far from AMTRAC quality of today. Most were dirty, sooty, slow and uncomfortable but the Navy liked this mode of travel as railroads built on what was called land grant miles, roadbed property given by the government and therefore the military did travel at a greatly reduced fare. It was miserably hot, air conditioning a few years in the future, and some little gal who apparently had many bucks, had her lower made up with the upper reserved and not made up so that she had twice the room and more air circulation. The two swabbies on either side of her wanted twenty five cents a minute to try to get a peek into her berth.
It was a long trip and very tiring. Our first stop of any consequence was somewhere in New Mexico and then on to Kansas City. Now the stop in Kansas City was long enough that we could go out and walk around for an evening. I can still hear one song that Johnny and I heard in one of the bars, “Monkey Business” . Funny how that one thing sticks in one’s mind. Well, the next stop of any duration was in Cincinnati, guess what, Johnny’s home town. Still recall the bar that Johnny talked about a good many times, The Cat and the Fiddle and there was a coffin in the middle of the floor with a dummy in it. I even remember the address, McMicken and Vine. I can recall Johnny’s home address, 1632 Sycamore and his dad was named Tony and ran a grocery store. And then my memory is either hazy or non existent on other things. On the return to the station we crossed a park and out of the darkness we heard a girl who seemed to be in some sort of trouble. We ran over and chased some character off. This little side trip almost making us miss our train.
A rather uneventful trip after that, the whole thing taking the biggest part of 5 days. From the station we were bussed to Norfolk Naval Air Station where the usual formalities were observed, our assignments for quarters after checking in with yeoman Statchen. We got to see our planes the next day, the squadron had just received new SBDs so we got in on the ground floor with the rest of the personnel. Things moved very rapidly for us now, under the tutoring of Mansfield, one of the leading radiomen although John Trott was our father image. I soon was picked by Mansfield because of some knowledge of electronics and I was to assist him in the making and repairing of antennas on the planes, learned to remove and replace the NEA2 generators on the planes along with the voltage regulators and repair and tuning of the radio equipment. Guess my many hours in the public library as a kid paid off.
I was by now getting a few flights on dive-bombing practice with smoke bombs. We lost one plane, pilot and rear seat gunner during this time. Making the transition from the BTs which they had just prior to our entry into the squadron, a bit costly.
We had been told that the old BTs could idle down quite slowly while taxing and awaiting take off. Not so with the hotter SBDs and it was only after the loss of a few planes that they discovered the reason. The engines in the SBds could not be operated that slowly and they would load up and you didn’t discover a problem until you were about 15 or 20 feet in the air and then with not enough runway left to set down. A couple wound up in the ditch at the end of the runway, one took out a whole row of parked autos near the runway.
Of course everyone in the lower grades had to stand watches in addition to their daily chores, this meant some mighty cold nights standing watch over the planes with the ever present fire bottle. Once in awhile when the fall air got a bit too cold off the water I would climb into a plane and pull the canopy shut over my head but without exercise it was about as cold as outside.
It was a bit of a distance to the chow hall and Tillman’s wife made the best tuna fish sandwiches for fifteen cents which he peddled daily at the hangar. I didn’t take too many liberties at Norfolk, commonly referred to as —- City but Johnny and I went out to mission beach a couple of times and one time Johnny won a lawn chair playing some game, took it back and traded it for an electric iron. We really didn’t have any use for an iron though as in order to press your pants you merely turned them inside out and laid them under your mattress then turn them back again and voila, a crease in the sides that was the reverse of a crease as civilians know it. A light cleaning job was done by using freezer tape and lint would adhere to it and pull the nap up so it almost looked like a professional job.
There were fun times such as a ball game/picnic down by the beach where it was allowed to let down your hair a bit. That is except the leading chief, “Red” Miller who never forgot his position and let you know it at every opportunity.
We were getting the aircraft fine tuned and ready for sea duty which of course included “swinging the compass” down across the field at the compass rose. The plane had to be running and equipment turned on with the tail elevated to approximate flight position. This task was quite tedious and time consuming what with 18 aircraft to do. We used the small tractors with quite long tow bars to get the planes across the field. One day we were towing a plane across and here comes a jeep from the intersection to our right, he paused a bit as the tractor went across and believe it or not he tried to beat the plane across. Sure did bend heck out of the tow bar. Another chore was to take the coils out of the radio transmitter and bring them into the shop for calibration so that we were sure we were all on the same frequency. We had the old GP transmitters and separate receivers which by today’s standards is like two tin cans and a string.
The tempo of preparations gradually reached a faster pace as we continued honing our skills and packing the large footlocker type boxes of spare parts, flight clothing, etc.
I rather liked keeping busy and with the waning days of summer I found myself thinking more toward a leave back in Iowa. The way it was set up only half could go at one time and even then you would be subject to recall in an emergency.
Finally the day came, we were working at a rapid pace to get all our spares aboard ship, planes were to taxi down the NAS streets and be lifted aboard ship onto the flight deck with large shipboard cranes. I was assigned along with the rest of the crew to compartment D201 L which was one deck below the hangar deck. I had the middle bunk of a bank of three, actually 6 as there were three on each side of a middle pole or stanchion. Later in the tropics I was to learn that this type of togetherness was not all that good.
On the afternoon of 14, September 1941, we watched Hampton Roads and the amusement park slide from view as we stood out to sea, my first experience going to sea. I thought I might starve to death before I would learn to understand the loudspeakers aboard ship. I did however learn to make enough out to get in the chow line.
We set out for Argentia Newfoundland for operations from October 14 through 22. I did make one liberty in Argentia Bay but it was a rather barren place and I returned shortly. One night we had a gale force wind of 100 knots over the flight deck and we were dragging anchor as well as sea anchors. I was standing watch on the flight deck with a fire bottle (carbon tet extinguisher) and I had a wing line in each hand and my feet were blowing off the flight deck. This didn’t last too long for which I was thankful and once off my 4 hour watch I slid into my bunk and so to sleep.
We now set out for Casco Bay (Portland, Maine) and what a liberty, I made one of the first liberty boats and headed for a cafe for an order of toast and eggs. The people of Portland were very friendly but for one fault a few had, they seemed to have an affinity for our Peacoats. We had to carry padlocks with us and lock our coats through the top button holes to the clothes rack between the booths. It was here that a waitress took a shine to me and on my way out she insisted I take a watch she had with me to sea. Never saw her again and the watch didn’t keep time.
A couple of the sailors had a little too much fun and relaxation on liberty, one of them went to his third floor hotel room and took off his jumper, tossed it out the window to the sidewalk below thinking it was a closet. The other somehow fell into an elevator shaft and spent the night trying to get out, returning to the ship the next morning with black grease from the elevator cables all over himself.
We stood out from Casco Bay to escort freighters to England along with light cruisers Philadelphia and Savanna and battleship New Mexico, along with nine destroyers, clearing the Portland lightship at about 1630 and we were on our way through the German U Boat sightings, but at the same time we were picking up strong radio signals which had to be from subs nearby. We were constantly changing course, our speed not above the slowest ship in the convoy which was about 11 knots, at times 5 knots when one dropped back for repairs. A westbound convoy didn’t fare so well to the south of us and ran into the U Boat pack. On one of the runs returning south we ran into a gale with such rough seas that we were taking water over the bow and the forward flight deck was shaking off water. We actually had the heavy degaussing cables (anti mine protection welded to the steel hull) torn loose in places, the 2 expansion joints on YORKTOWN were stretching out and sliding back, some welds in the deck eyes in the superstructure on the hangar deck were ripping out at the corners. One of the destroyers lost part of her bridge and the cruiser lost a plane off the catapult mount.
Now this was my first taste of rough weather, and I was surprised to find that I was not the least bit sea sick, but I’ll tell you there just wasn’t anyone topside to tell it to, the bunks were full below. I was taking a can of trash forward to the incinerator when I met a seaman in a hurry with a single purpose in mind, seeing the trash can he grabbed it and promptly tossed up everything except his socks. On the morning of December 3, the YORKTOWN began transferring the air group ashore in Norfolk NAS and that involves a lot of work as everything is off loaded. The “Y” was overdue for boiler rebricking and other modifications to ordinance and her Radar. I went ashore into our old dorm and on the night of 6 December, I took liberty envying the men who were to have the first leave. I recall buying a trumpet in a pawn shop. Oh yes, on the way into Norfolk by trolley there was an obnoxious Limey sailor from I believe the Illustrious, a British carrier and he has a head start on the others, must have found some grog on the ship. Soon he was getting noisy and finally asked one of our men “When are you men going to add that extra stripe to your uniforms?” Someone asked him, what stripe, he said, the yellow one down the back. He almost got decked but some sailor jumped in and said that we should be more hospitable to our British counterparts, with a wink. Well, they took him in and bought drinks as fast as he could down them. Finally when he was nearly out they took him to a tattoo shop and had the American flag with the words “GOD BLESS AMERICA” tattooed across his chest and put him back on the next trolley back to the ship.
I slept in late and read a bit, then laid down in my bunk with the trumpet slid under it for safekeeping. I was awakened by someone running through the dorm shouting. The Japs have attacked Pearl Harbor. We immediately started reloading our gear aboard ship, I didn’t have time to pick up my civilian clothes in the locker in town. All or mostly all of the work scheduled for the “Y” was either not done or some work was done at sea. Most of our planes didn’t get loaded by crane but were flown out and taken aboard at sea. With 42 spares loaded into the overhead of the hangar deck. In passing through the waters off Florida we had another sub scare, then one bright afternoon there was the word passed over the speakers, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE IN THE INCINERATOR. Well, this was an old navy joke, of course there is a fire in the incinerator. But it was followed up by “This is no s—“. Well, as a result of this fire, guess where Johnny Kasselman and I stored our hammock and bedding, you got it, in the incinerator. I managed to get by the hose crew just long enough to salvage one blanket. These things were stored in an enclosure outside the main incinerator chamber but the door blew open and the fire escaped into the outer compartment. The rest of this cruise Johnny and I shared my one blanket stretched out single thickness on the steel deck just beneath our lockers on the port bulkhead opposite the bakery. What a way to wake up with the smell of fresh bread in your nostrils and the cooks always took pity on the two of us and provided a cup of hot coffee to go along with the roll.
Lovely balmy days with fairly calm seas down to Panama. Prior to our arrival in Panama we discovered that we had 30 too many men who had been sleeping on boxes of spare parts and any other thing that would provide a spot up off the steel hangar deck. They seemed quite bewildered and it was determined that they had not even found the mess deck since leaving Norfolk. Muster was made to find out exactly who and how many extras we had. Jocko Clark the exec. came down and faced them demanding an explanation. When asked, the first man said he was told to get aboard at Norfolk, the same for the next three, then Jocko said, “who told you to get on board” the reply was, “you did sir” and this was echoed by the next three men.
It seems they were from boot camp and in their leisure time they had been watching the final loading of the ship for departure. Jocko Clark came down the pier and told them not to just stand there, get aboard and bear a hand with the work, thinking they were Yorktown seamen. It would have been interesting to be at staff office in boot camp and hear the report, 30 men AWOL sir. They were off loaded at Panama and sent back to Norfolk to finish their training.
We reached San Cristobal 21 Dec. in Mid PM. We entered Gatun locks and Cleared Miraflores locks 8 hrs. later. We tied up at Balboa pier and started working through the night taking aboard stores and aviation gasoline and fuel for the ship.
In preparation for passage through the Canal all of the identification was removed from the ship. Large steel letters cut from the stern naming it YORKTOWN and replaced with “ENTERPRISE”, all the launches aboard were repainted with Enterprise and everyone was advised not to let it slip that it was the “Y”. On the trip east from the Pacific she was passed through as the Enterprise also and the Japs were known to have agents in Panama. No liberty was granted so as to insure that word did not leak out. As the captain of the ship went over the quarter deck for a meeting with officers ashore the Boatswain of the watch stepped into his little cubbyhole and spoke into the mike as he had done on numerous occasions before, and out over all the speakers, “YORKTOWN DEPARTING” whereupon Capt. Buckmaster did a double take and granted liberty.
Johnny came back beaming from liberty that night to tell me that he had finally made use of the Spanish he was in the process of learning from his book. “DOS CERVEZAS” and the bartender gave him two beers.
I had always imagined the canal as one continuous narrow waterway but it turned out to be a series of lakes tied together by the canal and a series of locks, Miraflores, Gatun, etc. and we were pulled through the locks by little electric engines on rails. We pulled away from the dock at 0800 on the 22nd and 30 minutes out we had a sub scare and I don’t know how many whales they sank with all the depth charges they dropped. We had our Christmas dinner at sea on the 25th. Dec. 30, one day before my birthday we tied up at North Island, San Diego. It seemed nice to be in familiar territory again. I looked over my old dorm, and a view of the San Diego skyline. Lt. Commander Murr Arnold told Capt. Buckmaster that he was surprised that we were going to Samoa as he assumed our destination was Pearl. Buckmaster said, “how did you know we are going to Samoa, it was supposed to be a closely guarded secret” to which Arnold replied, “those crates on the Broadway pier downtown say to Samoa via Yorktown”.
We had also taken aboard a “re-enlistee” Chief Quartermaster Pelletier who had been retired and pulled strings to get back on the Yorktown. He reported to the captain and was asked if he had picked up all the necessary charts. His response was, yes sir, all except for the South Pacific to which the Captain replied, good grief man, that’s where we are going.
We set sail New Year’s Day with Admiral Fletcher’s flag aboard. The next day was a poor one for VF42 aboard the “Y”. VF42 lost 3 planes to various troubles and all pilots were picked up by destroyers and returned to Yorktown via the bosun’s chair method, sorta like a basket on pulleys over a rope between ships.
We refueled at sea which could be very tricky if there was much of a sea. We were escorting troops of marines to Samoa to reinforce the garrison there. After the landing was complete we roamed the area to make sure of no enemy activity and were ordered to proceed to attack the Marshal and Gilbert islands held by Japanese forces.
At approximately 0400 on Feb. 1, we went to flight quarters under a heavy overcast and rain squalls. Our skipper, Commander Armstrong was first off and we had difficulty in joining up due to poor visibility. It was a disorganized group that set out for Jaluit, some 3 plane sections, some stragglers and some SBDs with TBDs from torpedo five. We eventually descended to 500 feet above the water due to the overcast and rain. Lousy luck to come this far to try to crank up the Navy’s and the country’s morale only to have this kind of weather. Now it began raining with a fervor. The largest group of planes was a 3 plane section. Fierce lightning and torrential rains now hit us as we neared the island. It was find whatever target you could and hope for the best. On the pull out of our low altitude dive we flew over the beach and I strafed a ship in the harbor. The Jap presence was over rated, not too much military targets on jaluit but the planes of scouting five did find seaplanes at their location and some ships that were hit. We had joined up with two torpedo planes and picked our objective as what was shown on the charts to be an administration building. We signaled the torpedo planes to circle while we climbed to 8000 feet. We made a dive and scored a hit on this building. Debris, smoke and flames shot up and there seemed to be quite a fire. On our pull out we passed over a ship in the harbor and Mr. Crawford strafed with his 50’s. I began strafing with the 30 caliber and Mr. Crawford thought my tracers were enemy fire and banked to take me off target. (This taken from my debriefing statement).
It was a disaster on attempting to join up also, we were joined by a TBD from torpedo five and I recognized Ace Dalzell in the rear cockpit. He went down shortly after and the next time I saw him was in Japan when they released American prisoners upon our occupation.
All squadrons except Fighting 42 lost planes and crews on this raid and rescues were impossible due to a vicious storm, 50 knot winds, high seas and driving rain. Our losses for the morning were 3 TBD’s, 3 SBD’s, and an SOC from the cruiser Louisville. Two of the TBD’s were lost near Jaluit and one splashed only a few miles from Yorktown and was sighted by two other plane crews returning, one dropping a smoke bomb to let them know they had been sighted. The floatation bags in the wings of the downed plane had been deployed and the men were in the rubber life raft. They had most likely run out of fuel as many of the returning planes were landing with from 2 to 10 gallon remaining in their tanks. Search and recovery efforts for the 3 men were fruitless, no trace was found. Of our squadron Bellinger and Mckillop, Fishel and Costello were never heard from or sighted since takeoff for the mission. The 3rd SBD from VS5 went down close by the destroyer Hughes and the crew of 2 was picked up for later transfer back to Yorktown.
As we had not secured from flight quarters I made a fast trip below to get a cup of coffee and returned to the hangar deck just in time to hear reports of a 4 engine Jap flying boat being picked up by RADAR and sighted in and out of the partial cloud cover. Yorktown being one of the first ships equipped with CXAM RADAR which was all very hush hush at this time, gave us an edge on the enemy.
As the Kawanishi flying boat came in the Yorktown and Sims maneuvered in such a way to train most of the 5 inch batteries on her. It seemed to dissuade them as they turned around and retreated. A bit later another plane of the same type approached and we had scrambled F4F’s to go after the Jap. Adams and McClusky attempted to make runs on her but she was dodging in and out of the clouds. Then on the last pass they both found her and coming in from high side angles they blew the big boat to tiny pieces with an awesome lighting display. The radio came to life on the bridge with a report, “We just shot his ass off”.
Shortly after this, plans were being discussed on a second attack on the islands but this would entail night landings back aboard and there didn’t seem to be enough military targets there to justify another attempt that day and the weather didn’t appear too promising either. Combat air patrol overhead was continued for the rest of the afternoon while outside the ready room in the passageway we swapped “scuttlebutt” as to what comes next. Admiral Halsey ordered Admiral Fletcher to return to Pearl so we started refueling the destroyers enroute.
On the morning of Feb. 6 we entered the channel at Pearl Harbor, everyone on the flight deck in dress whites as we passed by other ships receiving salutes from their whistles and with a feeling of elation until the shambles of Dec. 7 came into view. Soon it was a very muted atmosphere as the harbor with its blackened hulks that had once been the pride of the Navy and the fuel oil covered beaches and piers gave reality to what had been abstract visions till now.
Everyone was anxious to take off on liberty, shoes shined, uniforms pressed (by turning inside out and placing under the mattress thus giving them the inside out crease which was used by the Navy) and all ready to take in the sights which we had only seen in the movies. We took in the usual tourist attractions, the Hulas etc. and Johnny K and I and a couple others went to a Chinese cafe on the Ala Wai (canal) where we spotted Boris Karloff at the next table. I obtained his autograph to send home impress the family with my worldly travels.
We were given 5 days at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on that famous Waikiki beach. The cost was 25 cents per night and I awoke in the middle of the first night with a terrific back ache due to sleeping on the softest mattress I had ever used. I got up and slept on the floor the rest of the time there. As you may recall, Johnny K and I had slept on a single layer of blanket on the steel deck following loss of our bedding in the incinerator fire and my poor back just couldn’t take that soft mattress.
There were days of sightseeing, lolling on the beach and Johnny was always the center of attraction playing the piano out on the lanai. McGowan asked me to go with him to visit an acquaintance of the family, Mae Atcherly who lived at 414 Launiu just a short walk from the hotel where she lived with a sister and a son and daughter. These folks were to play a part in our being guests of the city of Honolulu as I will explain later.
Our planes were on the beach at Ewa Field and we were there for pre dawn exercises. One morning when we were placed on alert, the plane captains (mechanics) were cranking up the inertia starters (similar to the old cream separators). I noticed my pilot was not at the plane so when they gave the command to start engines I climbed into the front cockpit, started the engine and ran it up to check the mags, figuring he would be along in time to taxi out and takeoff. They gave the signal to taxi out and here I was holding up the ones behind me and if this was for real we had to get them in the air. Just as I released the brakes and started the turn to the runway we got the signal to CUT and did I ever breathe a sigh of relief.
Our stay was all too brief and we were originally scheduled to leave Pearl on Friday the 13th. I think some serious thought went into this and they delayed our casting off until Monday the 16th. We departed with a new exec. Dixie Kiefer, the cruiser Louisville, Astoria which later would figure in our welfare at Midway, the oiler Guadalupe Destroyers Sims, Anderson, Hammann and Walke.
My first contact with Dixie Kiefer proved to be a bit of embarrassment. In those days the flight deck was of red cedar and while messing around with my knife I tossed it down on the flight deck and it stuck there. Kiefer was right by my side at the time and with no insignias on him I had struck up a conversation with him assuming him to be a marine. We chit chatted about weather etc. and upon my knife being stuck in the deck I commented that I guess I should have been more careful to which he agreed and moved off. Later he was to become one of the most respected and revered officer in the Navy.
More balmy days and scouting missions coupled with the watches that had to be stood at night carrying a carbon tet fire extinguisher, checking wing tie downs and making sure of blackout precautions and an almost boring routine interspersed with tasks given many of us. I was responsible for making up and repairing wire antennas for our planes, changing out generators and voltage regulators and even washing down the plane with that good old green soap. The philosophy was that a clean plane flew faster. At any rate, as long as I was flying in it I certainly wanted it to be in the best possible condition.
Our next landing was in Tongatabu where we went ashore and immediately tried the native produce, coconuts and bananas. We rented horses, the old scrawny sway backed ones, and set out for the other side of the island. The horses were very high spirited at this point and nothing could slow them down so it wasn’t long before we had blisters like never before in a very sensitive portion of our anatomy. Then when we turned back for the town, the horses wouldn’t go until we got off and walked. Bill Mohler was unable to sit on the parachute seat back for about 5 days so he was docked flight pay for that period. I was blistered about as bad but didn’t want to lose flight pay so I gritted my teeth and sat easy. We had brought our planes over onto the beach on a grass strip and the natives made grass huts for us to live in, I set up a radio for communications in one of the huts and they even made hinges of grass for the doors.
Back aboard ship and heading for the SW pacific again with dawn patrols which meant we left without breakfast. One morning Johnny K and I were due up on flight deck for a predawn takeoff and had to make a trip to the HEAD (bathroom for you civilians) and I must describe the fixtures. A long stainless steel trough with sea water gushing in one end, under the seats which were only 2 boards and no doors on the place, and the water running out the other end and out the side of the ship. Now ALL seats were occupied with sailors smoking and reading the mimeographed copy of the morning news copied off the air and no one willing to let us use the seats. Johnny wadded up a batch of toilet paper, took his lighter and set it ablaze and dropped it in the end where the water entered. There were immediately plenty of seats available but we decided we had better not stick around to use them.
Now up to the supply room to pick up our flight jackets, helmets, goggles and sunglasses, Mae West life jacket and 45 automatics. The parachute loft personnel were very friendly and would make us custom made helmets of white material with red rubber ear cups to hold the earphones and white silk scarves. Then into our planes, check all the equipment, check machine gun and ammunition boxes. Engines were then started and run up, if everything appeared OK the pilot would sign the plane captains yellow sheet and we would await the signal to taxi up to takeoff position.
The takeoff was usually a tense time as I had seen planes go off into the “DRINK” when an engine got sick at the last minute and particularly since we had received self sealing tanks (rubber liners) which would deteriorate later on and plug the carburetors. It took awhile to find the cause for this as you don’t pull a post mortem on a plane that goes into the water, it goes down fast. Usually a short way out and my pilot would tell me on the intercom to put in the stick and take over. I got a few hours flying time this way and it made the time pass faster. We were assigned triangular search patterns which were triangle shaped only in theory as the ship may be doing 25 to 27 knots so by the end of your 4 hour search it could be 100 miles from your point of takeoff. At our first turn we would circle and throw out a smoke bomb, make a run on it with the forward firing fixed 50 caliber guns and then pull up and I would fire the 30 cal. flexible rear machine gun. This smoke bomb also served the purpose of advising us of any radical wind change since our departure. This form of navigation was called “dead reckoning”, I think partly because if you didn’t reckon correctly, you were dead. The speed and direction of the wind as well as the speed and direction of the ship had to be factored in, along with the speed and heading of the plane. Sound complicated? It was.
Our navigation equipment consisted of a compass and a clock. The radio navigation was very crude. It consisted of a high frequency converter ahead of the communications HF receiver which required very careful tuning. The ship had a rotatable antenna which sent out a letter of the alphabet every 30 degrees. It was changed from day to day and you tuned it in to discover what sector you were in and flew a course that would give you an increase in signal. We also had IFF (identification, friend or foe) in the planes stowed away in the rear of the fuselage along with the life raft. We would be issued a different disc to place in it each day which would show us on the RADAR as a friendly. Once in awhile as with all our early electronics this would fail and we would be welcomed with a burst of gunfire.
One evening up on the flight deck I met a sailor from the black gang as they were called. He was Harold Braun from the engine room and came up on deck in the cool of the evening to get rid of heat rash. I soon discovered that he also came from Iowa, St. Ansgar to be exact and we had gone into Great Lakes Training station at about the same time. He had also joined the Yorktown at Norfolk in the summer of 41 and as I was, he was anticipating leave in December.
There were disadvantages to being off on a scouting mission, the laundry came back while you were gone and someone else claimed your clothes as they were pulled from the large bag still warm from the laundry.
We were required to wear thin leather gloves while flying so that in case of fire your hands would not become paralyzed with the first flash giving you additional time for the radio, etc. I forgot and left my gloves in my dungaree pocket and when they came back from the laundry they were the tiniest gloves I had ever seen. They were shrunken to a size that would hardly fit Barbie.
There was another disadvantage of being out on a search mission, that being unable to enjoy a shower. The ship was overdue for maintenance on the fresh water evaporators and they were rationing fresh water. You might have enough in the morning to shave, wash and brush your teeth but then the water was shut off. It may be turned on for a short period of time for showers later but if you were off ship at that time you were out of luck and showering with salt water doesn’t work. The bar of soap feels like sand and no lather to be had, in fact you feel so sticky afterward you would wish you hadn’t even tried to bathe.
We looked forward to taking on fuel oil at sea as the tanker would come along side, put their hoses across and then the crew would throw fresh fruit at us on the flight deck. Also that usually meant MAIL CALL and those long awaited letters would arrive. I recall one time that we were in the ready room reading our mail. Dean Straub and John Trott were neighbors in Norfolk and at the time of our departure Dean’s wife was expecting. Each sat there with a hand full of mail and John turned to Dean and said, “Oh by the way Dean, it’s a boy”.
Under the ladder to the flight deck, starboard side of the hangar deck was the GEDUNK LOCKER. Soft ice cream, candy bars, cigarettes, etc. Sea stores cigarettes were three to 6 cents a pack. While in flight quarters we would elect one man to go below and get the Gedunks and hope he got back before we had to man the planes.
Sometimes in the evening we would have a movie on the hangar deck with benches set up by the number 2 elevator. A trip to the Gedunk locker for a can of Planters cocktail peanuts was a must. Some time was set aside to learn the nomenclature of the ship, 809 ft. long, 19000 tons displacement and all other pertinent data as these were questions asked on the advancement exams. I had to learn what the plimsoll line was and you didn’t refer to a wall, floor, ceiling, doorway, etc., they were the bulkhead, deck, overhead, hatchway and various other terms. I enjoyed watching target practice at sea. Once in awhile they shoot at released balloons and then the Grumman Duck, a utility plane that could land on either land or water would tow a target sleeve over. You could judge the distance of an enemy plane by listening to the guns. First there would be the loud detonations of the five inch thirty eights of which we had 2 below each corner of the flight deck, then you could hear the one point ones or Pom Poms cut loose with their boom ta ta boom boom ta boom. No regular rhythm at all, then cut in the 20 mm stuff and when the 30 calibers started in they were almost on the flight deck. Flying over the Coral Sea in early morning was a most beautiful sight with all the shadings of color with the different depths of water.
Scuttlebutt had it that something was brewing and it was going to be big, Truk or Rabaul, and to add fuel to the rumor, they announced that the insurance office would be open for a few hours in the afternoon. I had 2 thousand but went in and took the additional 8 to make it the max. of ten thousand which in those days was a bundle. I tried to talk Johnny into taking out insurance but he said it was a scam. I was later to wish I had worked on him more.
We had a correspondent named Hipple on board who was to document things which took place from this point on. We were shifted from the Truk, Rabaul strike to Salamaua and Lae in New Guinea as the Japs were very recently attempting to consolidate there in preparation for moving on Australia. In order to avoid tipping our hand to the enemy by flying along the coast we had to come in over the Stanley Owen range, in the slot between mounts Chapman and Lawson with a high peak of Mt. Victoria at 13,200 feet. To make things worse, the pass was only open between 7 and 10 am in the morning, otherwise it was closed in by clouds. We had no charts of anything inland farther than the coast so we had to guess on a lot of it.
On March 10 at 0545 we went to flight quarters and stood deeper into the gulf of Papua in preparation for a launch. The mountains of New Guinea became visible 50 miles away about 0630. At about 0800 VS5 was launched followed by VT5 and then 17 planes of our bombing 5. I recall coming in low enough over the jungle that I could make out the natives and wondered what they were thinking about the great birds. One of the pilots had loaded up a gas mask bag with all sorts of survival gear plus shiny buttons, etc. for trading material in case he went down in the jungle. We negotiated the opening in the range and at 0950 we peeled off one plane at a time over the harbor which contained plenty of targets. We were carrying one 500 pounder with one 100 pounder on each wing. We took a ship which was in a tight turn making it difficult to stay on target. No enemy fighters appeared so I was able to concentrate on observing and of course getting on the altimeter to give the pilot a STANDBY at 3500 feet and a MARK at 2500 and with the lag in the altimeter at the speed which we were coming straight down put us quite low over the ship and the water when we pulled out.
We then turned inland to strafe an airfield and after the strafing I stood up and threw out a hand grenade, then up the hill toward the way back out I strafed a radio station. Several ships were left beached and burning on the shore where they apparently thought they could retrieve their cargo easier than on the bottom of the bay. Our only loss had been an SBD from Lexington’s VS2 which had been brought down by antiaircraft fire.
Back on Yorktown the crew and correspondent Hipple were enjoying the radio chatter, “See that explosion”, “this one’s sinking”, “Look at that burn”. It was such a big success that Roosevelt sent a message to Churchill describing the victory. It did blunt the Japanese advance down the island chain and delayed their occupation of Tulagi and Guadalcanal.
The return trip was uneventful except for a few anxious moments locating the ship due to deteriorating visibility and some jitters aboard ship when one of the returning planes IFF units failed to respond to a RADAR challenge.
After they all were recovered they were rearmed and respotted, the ordinance shack which was just down the passageway from our ready room beneath the flight deck was now buzzing with activity. Now and then we would assist with belting ammo for the machine guns with about every 5th round a tracer. The tracers were important as the free or flexible gun in the rear seat had different forces acting on the bullets. Firing over one side they would climb due to the force of the wind acting on the imprint the rifling left on the bullet from the barrel, the other side they would drop and the forward movement of the plane acted on the accuracy also. We often had BULL sessions in the ready room where we would share information and experiences, such as don’t throw the empty ammo can over the side until you have installed a new belt and charged the gun. The Nip is waiting to see the empty thrown and will come in on you thinking you are working on the gun. Also we were always schooled on the three stoppage positions of our guns and how to best clear them. For some time in the beginning of the war we were experiencing the problem of stoppages due to the heavy weight grease used on the guns and we finally went to a lighter weight that wouldn’t congeal at the higher altitudes. We were also warned that the Jap pilots would when out of ammo, try to take your tail off with his prop.
On March 15, the Lexington group left for necessary repairs back at Pearl and left us some of the newer planes as replacements. As we had not provisioned for some time the quality of food was going down prompting complaints among some of the men. No longer could you do away with your calendar and say, beans with ketchup and a bar of soap with syrup (cream of wheat solidified and cut into squares) so it must be Saturday morning, or sea gull (chicken) so it must be Sunday noon. The monotonous diet gave no hint of the day of the week.
The daily routine went on, it seemed good to get in the plane and see the ship disappear behind you, sometimes the presence of the pilot seemed nonexistent and you were alone with your thoughts but constantly vigilant, scanning the sea for evidence of surface shipping or a periscope with a white feather of a wake trailing behind. We would run one tank completely dry while alternating tanks and when this occurred the engine became erratic just before dying and there was a manual “WOBBLE PUMP” in the rear cockpit which I was supposed to get on to assist the engine driven pump until it picked up from the second tank. On this one particular day I must have been a bit late in getting on the pump and just as I started giving it what for the pilot reached for it thinking I had not caught it, boy, talk about bruised knuckles but he didn’t complain.
With radio silence being imposed it was necessary for us to use other methods of communicating between other aircraft in the formation. We accomplished this by tapping out Morse code on the top of our helmets, the flat of the hand for a dash, the fist for a dot, of course you had to make sure your bent elbow was facing forward so you didn’t have to fight the slipstream. For longer distances we used the Grimes or Aldis lamps, pressing the trigger for the dots and dashes. Then upon return to the ship if we were not landing but just overflying enroute out to another search sector we put a note in a bean bag with a red streamer, come across the flight deck at almost bridge height and at a 45 degree angle, I would stand up in the cockpit and toss the bean bag up against the ISLAND, or superstructure. I was quite proud of the fact that I never did miss, if you missed you had to fly the pass again. You received a wave from the deck crew to acknowledge receipt of the message.
You made certain that everything was stowed well for the landing as sometimes if you were catching one of the last arresting gear cables the stop would be very abrupt. In fact we would check the planes after landing for any distortion of the after end of the fuselage in the area where the tail hook was anchored. The cables were set up so that the first ones gave you a softer stop and they got progressively harder as you went down the deck. If it appeared you were going to miss all the cables they could erect the BARRIER which was 3 cables like a fence which lay down in the deck and could be raised rapidly. One other feature of the flight deck was the palisades which resembled a large snow fence, designed to break up high winds over the flight deck to protect parked planes.
The Yorktown had 3 elevators for bringing planes up and down, hangar deck to flight deck. This so that we could take planes below for repair and to assist in respotting the flight deck. The warning klaxon horns for the elevator would certainly get your attention giving you time to clear the area. I don’t recall ever seeing the after, or number 3 elevator used. We had spare planes hanging up in the overhead of the hangar deck and if someone ditched one on take off or landing we would pull one down and ready it for service.
Now at times I will drift back to bull sessions in the ready room with Johnny Kasselman, John Gardner, Joseph Michael Lynch, Al Sobel, Hank McGowan, Bill Mohler, “Cleo” Clegg, Cowden, Mansfield who was my mentor in radio, Strickland who they nicknamed deacon, Hill and Musgrove. Missed McKillop and Costello who were lost in the Marshals. Johnny and I spent a lot of time together, watching flying fish, St. Elmo’s fire etc. Try as I might I never was able to decipher the Bosun’s pipe which was his badge of authority, a whistle. Some of the calls were, “garbage detail lay aft to the fantail” and other equally earth shaking bits of knowledge.
All days were alike, they passed without identity such as Sunday, Saturdays were not days of ease, there were always the watches to be stood and at least they did try to arrange them so that you would get a little rest before a dawn patrol. I was berthed in compartment D201L and in the tropics believe me there was NO ventilation in the sleeping quarters. In fact if you exhaled too hard the ventilators would reverse direction. And there was the ever-present dim blue glow of the battle lamps. At night the weather curtains (similar to a roll top desk) would come down to allow any maintenance to be performed on the hangar deck and anytime an exterior hatch was opened it would break the lighting circuit. It was not uncommon for one to go topside and seek cool air by crawling out onto netting below the flight deck. That was also a very good spot to view St. Elmo’s fire, which was a fluorescence of the water as the bow of the ship plunged through it. One particular night one of the men was in that position and fell asleep, rolled over and was gone. It was necessary for us all to muster on the hangar deck the next morning in order to determine who was missing. We lost a member of the ship’s company (personnel other than aviation persons who were permanently assigned to the ship) as he was down inside a tank which had contained toxic fumes, cleaning it out. By the time they had gotten him out he was asphyxiated. Rather than a burial at sea he was kept in cold storage until transfer to another ship bound for Pearl could be arranged.
Some of the activities now were not so much to break up the monotony as to try to keep the mind occupied so we could forget the loss of shipmates and the unpleasantness of the war. One of the activities could be heard on most of the decks, the steady tap tap of spoons on silver coins while they were being rotated in such a manner as to flatten them out to make rings. After they were flattened out the center was drilled out and if you had taken your time doing a good job you had a nice ring. I called mine my lucky ring and never was without it. Another “arts and crafts” project involved making a stainless steel wrist band out of the mess trays. The shortage of spoons and mess trays was soon noticed and this form of relaxation was a no no. I even got involved in a project of building a cigarette lighter of aluminum bar stock and we needed assistance from a pal in the machine shop for this project.
The Yorktown was a floating city in that we had our machine shop, carpenter shop, and of course our good friends in the parachute loft. One of our favorite spots of course was the “gedunk locker” we always took turns going below to the hangar deck for the gedunk’s (soft ice cream) and candy bars.
It seemed there wasn’t too much interest in the usual games of acey ducey (backgammon) and cribbage or hearts. In the old days of the navy it was the art of macramé, the art of string tying and working with knots to make such items as monkey fists and other odd creations.
The menu often left much to be desired and after resupplying a few things disappeared. Johnny and I on one occasion were assisting in the lowering of some cases of canned goods through a hatch in the hangar deck to the mess deck and we “accidentally” dropped a case of pineapple, in fact we had to drop it three times before we obtained the desired effect and several cans of the opened case found their way into our lockers.
A couple sailors who were called door shakers would go about the mess deck at night trying doors to see if one might have been left unlocked. One night they did find an air handling hatch open and went in and found 32 blueberry pies undoubtedly meant for officers mess the next day. The purloined pies were taken aft and they and their friends made short work of them. Next morning all hands were called to muster and ordered to stick out their tongues. It didn’t take long to find the guilty parties.
One other fatality comes to mind, “BOATS” our Bosun mate would raise the very devil if all hands weren’t up at reveille unless you had been on watch. This morning he was attempting to arouse a man supposedly sleeping on the hangar deck and after kicking him a few times determined that he was beyond arousing.
One of the nicer afternoons we held target practice again with the ship’s guns going first at the balloons, then one plane was rigged to take off towing a “SLEEVE” which was a white canvas material and our rounds were painted, each gunner having his own color. The projectile would leave the color around the hole in the sleeve if you got a hit. The hardest shot was a parallel pass alongside the tow plane and just ahead of the sleeve you would bank the plane so as to cross the target at right angles. This made for three angles of deflection and unless someone got very lucky the sleeve didn’t have much ventilation. Most of our actual gunnery in combat would be planes coming in from straight aft or a slight angle. In the event that someone did claim a lot of hits on the sleeve we would check him for crayons in his pocket.
By late March of ’42 the carrier situation was not the best as Saratoga had taken a torpedo off Oahu, Lexington and the Enterprise were both in need of repairs and alterations as they had been at sea for some time prior to Dec. 7, Hornet had not arrived from the East coast yet, Wasp was enroute the British Isles and Ranger was in the Atlantic. The Long Island which was our first smaller escort carrier was also in the Atlantic. This left Yorktown all alone in an extremely large ocean. This meant a “HIT AND RUN” technique with 30 knots all night to come up far enough away that it would appear as though we had more than one carrier out there.
By the second week of April, Yorktown was experiencing food shortage problems and it seemed that the regular diet for awhile would be rice and tea and the beans were becoming scarce. April 10 it was determined that there was a need to boost morale and break up the monotony. Three steaks were found in the freezer and about 5 potatoes. Drawings were made to select 3 names of 2,500 aboard ship to partake of a repast of steak and french fries. To kick it off a parade was held down the flight deck with the steaks on a tray held aloft with the Navy band, a guard for the steaks carrying a sign “large T bone steak, 10 cents a peek, but do not touch. Following was a marine guard with fixed bayonets.
This was all photographed by Hipple of the Honolulu Star Bulletin and got full coverage in LIFE magazine. Below on the hangar deck preparations were being made for an afternoon of fun. The ever cooperative parachute loft made a miniskirt, padded bra and a wig which was worn by a mess cook who served the meal of steak and french fries to the 3 lucky swabbies. In that they were seated on #2 elevator which was raised about 2 feet for the occasion and seating provided all around with chairs and bleachers they were hard pressed to enjoy their good fortune. There was much drooling from the audience. This was followed by various acts of amusements, pieces by the band and highlighted by a hypnotist who had volunteers eating large onions thinking they were apples. One group was told they were on a beautiful beach and they could pick up the most shiny stones and it was suggested they put them in their pockets for safekeeping. Almost immediately they were informed the stones were burning them. All the dungarees were shucked and fell to the deck whereupon they were handed swabs and told they were pretty blondes and to dance with them.
After watching the steak and french fries it was a long slow trip below to the mess deck for some spaghetti which had been covered with an unidentifiable liquid.
About this time we had begun experiencing problems with the self sealing gas tanks in VF42’s F4Fs deteriorating with the loss of planes as the carburetors would plug and in the drink they went. Admiral Fletcher conveyed his concerns to CINPAC and was immediately ordered to retire to our intermediate base back at Tongatabu on the Tonga islands to take care of that problem and to reprovision. On the morning of April 20 we put into Nuku’alofa harbor where Yorktown and her support fleet was reprovisioned to the tune of 578 tons of sea stores in 11 hours for the Yorktown alone. Refueling was completed and our SBD’s had flown ashore before putting into harbor. Two days later the tanks for the F4F’s came in and were rapidly installed.
At this time we were joined by aviators from Australia and we sat around a campfire at night learning their songs and teaching them some of ours. Some refreshments were
enjoyed by all and we stayed up till a very late hour.
Admiral Nimitz was becoming alarmed by Jap buildup in the area of the Coral Sea and on 0900 on the 27th of April we stood out to sea once more.
Mansfield and I busied ourselves with removing the tuning coils from the GP7 transmitters, which were separate from the receivers, taking them to a completely shielded compartment port side beneath the flight deck and tuning them against a frequency standard so they would all be on the same frequency. Our primary frequencies were 3105 and 6210 kcs. however radio silence was maintained so that only in battle conditions would they be put on the air. Another job I fell heir to was maintaining the antennas. The wire antennas running from a mast just ahead of the front cockpit to the tail was stranded copper and subject to corrosion so they must be replaced from time to time. We had one other antenna which was little used, intended to give greater range it was a long trailing wire wound up on a reel in the rear cockpit. It had a pear shaped lead weight on the end and it would be reeled out to the rear and below the plane until resonance was indicated on the transmitter meter. Once in awhile an absent minded operator would forget to reel it back in again, in fact that happened in Norfolk Virginia and it went through the roof of a house when the plane landed.
Well, at least we were eating a little better now except that one thing still hadn’t changed. Milk and eggs were only known to be in powdered form although it was rumored that up in officers country they might be eating the real thing. They had their little black mess boys all dressed in starched whites. I was convinced that somewhere back in the states, someone in a lab was working on a method to make a powdered chicken. The mess deck also doubled as a sleeping compartment for overflow personnel, hammocks all hung from the overhead after the mess tables were stored up there. As flying personnel I was fortunate to inherit a regular bunk.
Two days out of Nuku’alofa we slowed to put a motor launch over the side and take nine ensigns aboard for later transfer to the Lexington with which we would rendezvous shortly. We then worked up to 22 knots to resume our position in the group heading for task force 17. On the morning of May 1 we refueled from the oiler NEOSHO. Also, one other occurrence, 5 of the ensigns we had taken aboard for the Lex were kept on the Y and Ens. Chaffee was assigned to VB 5 and would become Johnny K’s pilot, but for a very short time. On the afternoon of May 2 our scouts sighted a Jap sub on the surface (later known to be the I21 4 days out of Truk enroute the Noumea area) and made a bean bag message drop advising of the sub only 32 miles away. Planes were sent off with depth charges set for 50 feet but no confirmed hit was achieved. A second attempt was made but the sub dived again to escape.
It was later learned that the Jap had not sighted the main force but only reported being bombed by planes which they may have presumed to be land based. Admiral Fletcher now ordered our destroyers to refuel from the NEOSHO so as to be topped off then the destroyer RUSSELL was sent to guard NEOSHO. Now we received reports of 5 or 6 Jap ships just out of Santa Isabel heading for Tulagi and some ships off loading at Tulagi. At 0700 May 3 we started launching planes for Tulagi and we could have not asked for better weather conditions.
A front stretching east to west from 70 miles south of Guadalcanal to the north coast. Up to 20,000 feet and using oxygen we readied ourselves for that dive, secure everything in the cockpit, hit the foot pedal to release the gun covers and get the machine gun out and charged and check the altimeter one last time, check the intercom to make sure that the pilot and I could communicate when time came for the pull out. I had flown with J T Crawford at Salamaua and Lae, but Crawford had come down with pneumonia and while recuperating was taken off the flight list, then sent back to Pearl from Tongatabu. W.F. Christie and I were teamed together for this one and he was an experienced pilot. The skipper Wally Short divided us up into three five plane sections. We were assigned cargo ships and got a near miss, very few direct hits were made on this run by any of the planes but I did see some ships beached and one burning. On heading back to the Yorktown we discovered via radio that an F4F that was assigned escort had gone down on the south side of Guadalcanal and later learned that one of the destroyers had gone on in close and rescued him.
Back to the ship and a rest I hoped for didn’t materialize as Moose Mohler had a bad sinus blowup due to having a head cold and the pull out from the dive was quite painful even if you didn’t have a head cold. I was told to grab my chute and get in with Ens. Leif Larsen for the second wave. Rearming and respotting of the planes was done in record time and we were soon off again. I was at some later date informed by the squadron yeoman who kept our flight logs that this one extra flight gave me the dubious honor of having the most combat time of any one in our squadron. On this run we practically obliterated three gunboats, the F4Fs dispatched about 4 Jap planes and went on to strafe. A total of three of our planes, 2 F4Fs and one TBD were lost due to weather and bad radios, the F4F’s ditching on the island and the TBD at sea. The destroyer Hammann went to pick up the fighter pilots (McCusky and Adams of the sea plane shoot down at Jaluit) and Perkins not finding the three men in the rubber raft from the TBD, returned to the ship. Getting McCusky and Adams turned out to be a three hour ordeal for the crew in the life boat from Hammann. The boat could make it no closer than 150 feet in the surf, then while rescue was being made they had forgotten to destroy the ZB and IFF equipment on the planes, small arms fire did not set them ablaze, and after a third attempt of going ashore to set it afire manually, it went out. Now time was of the essence so they had to get back to the Hammann and left the planes there hoping the natives would take anything they could get loose.
The three men from the TBD were adrift for some time hoping for favorable currents to take them to Australia however they had not had time to get the emergency rations from the plane so it looked like a mighty thin chance. (Later, on the 7th, a ship hove into view, a Jap destroyer looking for 2 lost airmen of theirs. They came close enough and apparently didn’t feel these three were important enough to interrupt their search and, seeing sharks in the area, steamed away. The current was not toward Australia but took them toward Guadalcanal where they were able to effect a landing and natives and missionaries took them in. From here is a story in itself but they did make it back to the United States eventually).
Our total loss, 6 SBD’s, 2 F4F’s and one TBD and 2 more TBD’s damaged. Add that to all the ordnance expended and it wasn’t the success we had hoped for, especially since we had made three separate attacks for the day.
On the morning of May 5, one of the SBD’s spotted a Jap sub and torpedo planes were sent out but were unable to make contact. Then the Hammann sighted a Kawanishi type flying boat like the one shot down near Jaluit. The F4F’s came in on it and had it burning and splashed in thirty seconds. It apparently had not had time to send out a report on our task force. Yorktown’s CXAM RADAR was paying off in being able to direct the fighters to the “BOGEY”.
Today NEOSHO returned and refueled YORKTOWN and HAMMANN and departed for her journey back to Pearl. As Neosho was preparing to depart Yorktown George Mansfield had just received his orders to report stateside for Navy flight school as an enlisted pilot which was a dream many of us held. Mansfield and three other Yorktowners were transferred to Neosho via the Bosun’s chair. It all happened so fast I didn’t even get to wish Mansfield the best on his trip. On the 7th NEOSHO was sighted along with SIMS and put to the bottom with a loss of many lives including Mansfield and the three other Yorktowners. I think most of us had a spot aboard ship to retreat to a time such as this to think and consider our own future.
One of the cruisers in the task force, the Chicago had received a camouflage paint job and we used to laugh and say that at some angles it resembled a country schoolhouse.
Little did we know what was in store for us on the morning of the 7th. Christie and I were assigned a port search sector and Nielsen and Straub were on a starboard sector. They had sighted 2 cruisers and 4 destroyers and promptly encoded this along with their position on the coding board, lifting up the top cover Straub sent out the 5 letter code groups beneath back to Yorktown. Fletcher was elated to receive a report of them sighting TWO CARRIERS AND 4 CRUISERS. At last we had located the Jap carrier task force.
We had returned aboard, refueled and were ready for launch when Fletcher ordered 50 planes from Lex and 43 from Yorktown launched toward the Jap fleet. Upon landing back aboard Nielsen and Straub were called up to the bridge to confirm their report and give any additional information. Both turned white when confronted with the report of 2 carriers and 4 cruisers, what they had sighted was 2 cruisers and 4 destroyers. The coding pad beneath the top cover had slipped one line and everything came out wrong, even the position of the Japs. Fletcher turned livid and proceeded to give a chewing that could be heard down on the flight deck and ordered a recall. At that instant the radio came to life and excited conversations were heard, SCRATCH ONE FLATTOP, YOU TAKE THE CRUISER OVER THERE, LOOK AT HIM BURN.
This was in Fletcher’s words, the luckiest mistake of the war. I was in the 18th plane in VB5 to dive and there wasn’t enough of the flight deck of the carrier SOHO visible to make a good target so we broke off and took a cruiser. The Soho appeared to just plow herself right under the water. Nielsen, Bigelow and 2 others had accounted for 4 Jap sea planes that were on reconnaissance patrols. I had been selected by a persistent Jap which appeared to be a Zero but where did a Zero come from. It appeared that he had run out of ammo and was boring in for what I had been told to expect, an attempt to divest us of our tail section. I got off one short burst and got a stoppage, stood up and fired my 45 at him and by this time I don’t see now I could have missed as all I could see was that big black shiny engine and the pilot’s face. With this he broke off and disappeared. Had I scored a hit, certainly I hoped so. Now down low we were joined by Rowley and Musgrove for the return trip. Suddenly out of nowhere came a Zero on floats with vengeance on his mind. The three of us were twisting and turning attempting to get a good angle. I had corrected the stoppage on my gun and Rowley and Christie were making passes with their fixed 50s while pulling away giving Musgrove and I angles for the 30s. This was becoming a fiasco as no one was getting hits and at this stage all were out of ammo, even the Zero who had escaped being hit due to the maneuverability for which the Zero was famous. He had to take one parting shot from the rear seat though and it took me several seconds to figure out what had taken place. It looked like a huge fiery cannon ball coming at me but was actually a round from his very pistol which is a flare gun or signaling device.
We had expended more fuel than intended with all this activity with the float plane and headed back for the Yorktown. Musgrove and Rowley disappeared while we were busy taking stock of our damage.
We made an uneventful return back to the Yorktown to learn that LEX had vectored fighters out to identify and intercept unknown aircraft. The F4F’s noted fires below which turned out to be enemy bombers that had been shot down a bit earlier. We had landed back aboard and just got in ahead of complete darkness. Now we had some F4F’s out that I listened to on the radio and two of them were lost and begging for a heading from our Radar. They were already out of range of Radar though and their radio signals were fading fast. Then as in Alice in Wonderland, “Things got curiouser and curiouser”. We had three planes that made a pass close by on the starboard side and crossed the bow of the flight deck to port. This was not an accepted approach and there was something different about their position lights, “They are Japs” came the announcement. They fell in with our circle of planes and about every other one was a Nip. We began shooting about everything we had and somebody with either a 20MM or a 1.1 shot the star on the side of an F4F’s fuselage right out. Believe it or not it did land safely.
Now it became clear that in the patchy cloud cover our task force and the Japanese force had approached within a few miles of each other. It was a long time before I could forget the pleading voices of those two F4F pilots. We managed to shoot down two of the Japs that were apparently intending to land on the “Y” as they made no hostile moves and even went so far as to send blinker messages to us. The third plane must have suffered the same fate as our two F4F’s. It was estimated that at 1930 we had come within 30 miles of the Jap carriers. They were busy with radio traffic trying to land planes and guide them in. They had lost about 10 it was later determined.
Fletcher met with the pilots to see how they felt about another strike in the darkness. Due to the extremely bad weather conditions and the possibility of losing more planes it was decided to wait for a strike in the morning. The weather factor at Jaluit was still fresh in our minds. The possibility of detaching destroyers or cruisers to take it to the Japs in darkness on the surface was also considered but it was felt that the carriers were too important to place in jeopardy without anti submarine protection.
Now we knew that tomorrow would be the big day and the ready room was buzzing, we had left Commander R.G. Armstrong at Tonga and Wally Short from VS5 became our CO. JO JO Powers was briefing the pilots, some of whom would be flying their first combat mission on the art of dive bombing advocating a late release for increased accuracy but of course this had drawbacks, the possibility of getting hit by a blast from your own bomb, more effective enemy anti aircraft or going so low that a pull out was impossible. It was later rumored that upon leaving the ready room he made the statement that he was going to get a hit if he had to go in and “lay it on the deck”. I’m quite sure that his rear seat man, Hill would not have found much reassurance in that.
Just after midnight on the morning of May 8 Fitch gave orders to Fletcher to carry out a 360 degree search, 200 miles to the north and 150 to the south with strike force readied, condition 1. Combat air patrol to be sent aloft 15 minutes before sunrise and Destroyer Monaghan sent out to search for survivors of the Neosho and Sims and to send radio messages back to CINCPAC from a location well away from us in case the Japs got a bearing on them.
Scouting planes sent aloft soon discovered that the cloud cover and adverse weather that had shielded us previously had now shifted north and was aiding the enemy.
At about 0830 2S2 from the Lexington sent the following message, 2CVs, 4 CAs, 3 DDs, this being relayed from another scout, position unknown. This was the force we had been looking for, 2 carriers, 4 cruisers and 3 destroyers. The Jap scouts had found us at about the same time so we would no doubt be meeting each other’s attack groups somewhere in between. Their position was given as bearing 006 degrees north and 120 miles. They had apparently gone north while we had gone south after the contact the night before.
At 0908 we began launching planes, 2 F4Fs were to give us air cover and 4 were assigned to the TBDs of VT5. As we rolled down the deck with our heavy load, 250 gallons of aviation gasoline and a 1,000 pound bomb it seemed that we would not clear the bow in the air. Johnny Kasselman and I and our pilots had traded planes at the last minute and a glance around the cockpit told me that Johnny had left his 45 automatic in the plane. I now had two and I hoped that Johnny would not have need for his. We began our struggle to 20,000 ft. and at 10,000 we went to oxygen. Sometimes at this altitude I would put on the mask without the “O” turned on just to warm the air as it came around the mask. Fitch, an experienced Naval Aviator had been given charge of the strike force by Fletcher.
At 1032 we sighted the Jap task force, it consisted of a battleship, 2 carriers, 6 heavy cruiser, and 4 light cruisers or destroyers moving at 20 knots. On the way in Johnny who was my wing man sent me a message, tapping it out on his helmet, “IAS”, I checked with Horenburger and tapped back our indicated airspeed, then came “MOPA”. Johnny wanted to check the setting on the radio with mine. I gave him the master oscillator and power amplifier settings and we circled for about 7 minutes while the carrier ZUIKAKU headed into a rain squall to hide, the SHOKAKU began launching planes. This was the time she was most vulnerable but we had to wait for the torpedo planes to come in. We had to draw attention from them as they were considerably slower, coming straight in much easier prey than the SBDs.
Johnny was flying with Chaffee and would have been in a position just aft of us in our dive. At about the same instant we pushed over for our dive the zeros were on us and my concern was that I would be kept so busy with them on our tail that I would miss giving Horenburger the standby and mark for a pull out and with his eye glued to the bomb sight we could go right on in. Boy they were like a swarm of hornets, I got the first one and I believe I got the pilot as he pulled right up abruptly, did a sort of a wing over and nosed down in a spiral. The next one was staying back a bit farther but I got some hits but didn’t see what happened to him other than he broke off the attack. One thing about facing aft is that you see all the antiaircraft and tracers converging behind your plane, facing forward all you see is the muzzle flashes and you don’t know if they are aimed at you or someone else. I now turned my attention to the SHOKAKU which after launching her planes was in a tight circle, standard procedure for a ship under dive bomber attack. I gave the Standby and Mark, we released and pulled out with what appeared to be a hit on the flight deck. We now headed south at full throttle trying to get into some of that cloud cover. No other planes joined up on us so I maintained a sharp lookout for any planes, enemy or ours.
As we appeared to have cleared the area of enemy fighter operation I relaxed a bit and in looking around something caught my eye. Shucks, I didn’t own any polkadot dungarees. Then it hit me, we had been holed and the sunlight was shining through the holes and making those nice little round dots. Sure would like to see a familiar plane right now. I wondered where Johnny was. I wondered about all the others. We had lost our F4F escorts on the way in but the torpedo planes had their 4 with them cutting down on their losses. We were grateful for the cloud cover as we ducked in and out on the way back. Some of our aircraft returning met some of the Japs returning and a few aerial battles ensued. Our radio contact was almost nonexistent and as we came in, low on fuel as usual. We joined some others in the landing circle and came aboard. Many of the faces we would have welcoming us aboard were strangely white and taut.
As we were released from the arresting gear cable and taxied up to the forward elevator for the trip to the hangar deck a strange feeling came over me, something was wrong. As I crawled from the plane on the hangar deck I came upon a pile of bodies stacked like cordwood. There was a hole in the deck next to our plane with a ring of flesh and dungaree cloth around it. Someone came up and began counting holes in our plane and examining them to see if they were in very sensitive areas. One sure was, it had cut all but three strands of the rudder cable between my feet. There was a 7.7 bullet lying on the floor of the plane in the front cockpit, the antenna was shot away and they were making a decision as to whether or not to push 5B7 over the side. Some of the returning planes had been given the “deep six” from the flight deck. Moan who should have been Johnny’s pilot and Hodgens were pretty badly shot up and full of shrapnel and their plane was disemboweled when it hit the island.
I went back topside and discovered that the Lex had been hit worse and her aviation gas supply was burning. I was watching for late returning planes as Johnny must be short on fuel by this time.
One of the rear seat men who was on the dive with us knew that Johnny and I were always together and he came up and told me that Johnny got 2 zeros in the dive but he and Chaffee went down burning. I volunteered for a flight just to get away. I ended up flying patrol over the burning Lex all afternoon. It was like watching a person die I think.
We were short a lot of SBDs that day as they had run into the Jap fighters while returning to the ship. We could take some spare planes out of the overhead but those friends could not be replaced.
The Yorktown and Lex had been in a battle for their lives that day and the “Y” had suffered much damage to her watertight integrity, sprung plates below the water line were leaking fuel oil but she was still capable of 24 knots when Capt. Buckmaster called the engine room for a status report.
The one bomb that had pierced the flight deck, hangar deck and went down 4 decks below had gone through our ready room and glanced off the squadron safe. The ship had been tightly closed to maintain watertight integrity from about 5 am except for a brief period of time when Capt. Buckmaster allowed some ventilation just before the ship was attacked and the air was bad. Now as the ship tried to make 25 knots the vibration caused some body parts to fall from the overhead to the hangar deck and I was glad for any opportunity to get in the air. Now I discovered that Harold Braun was killed in the repair party below decks where the bomb went off. Baird had been on the flight deck just forward of the number 3 1.1 mount and a near miss had blown him over the side into the sea. He had been with Johnny and I since boot camp. There were others killed at the gun mounts, one point ones, 20MM and the 5 inch 38s. I stayed pretty much topside watching the Lexington as she continued to pour up thick columns of heavy black smoke. I was given the afternoon flight to patrol over the Lex most of the afternoon. Toward dusk the decision was made to eliminate the possibility of this serving as a beacon to the enemy and the DD Phelps was ordered to sink her with torpedoes. Buckmaster had once served as Exec on the Lex and it must have been hard to hear Fletcher’s order to sink her. Three of the 5 torpedoes fired by the Phelps made hits just after dusk and she went down almost on an even keel. I went below rather than stay and watch her go down. I turned in without an evening meal, it was a very long night.
Work went on into the night with the gruesome task of removing the remains from C301L compartment and preparing others for burial at sea. At 0200 the Chaplain and a working party bid farewell as the bodies and remains were slid over the fantail, sewn into canvas bags and into the Coral Sea to join their aviator shipmates who had gone down the previous day.
After a cup of coffee the next morning I went up to the ready room and met four of the Lex rear seat men sitting in the passageway outside. I sat down to join them and we were on the deck, the passageway being narrow enough so that our backs were against one bulkhead and our feet against the opposite side, our knees slightly bent up. Now on the Yorktown we had two expansion joints to allow the flight deck to flex a bit in rough seas. As we hit some good rollers of course the joint which ran right under the middle of the passageway began to give. As they saw their knees raise and lower they took one look at each other and left for topside. You see the Lex did not have expansion joints and I’m sure they must have thought the Yorktown was getting ready to go down.
One of the scouts had gone out on early patrol to the north and reported the Jap task force. We were certainly in no condition to take them on now and one of the pilots who had received a foot wound took an SBD and a rear seat man and flew to Australia to attempt to contact McArthur for his assistance with B17s, B25s and B26s. The pilot landing at Townsville was unable to contact MAcArthur’s headquarters and contacted Adm. Leary who got things moving. They sent the 17s, 25s and 26s off to the reported location and found the task force to be a coral reef strung out so that it appeared to be ships trailing a wake behind them.
We found later that the Japanese had reported a great victory at sea and the SARATOGA and YORKTOWN both sunk along with a battleship and cruisers. At least the Japs were known to be in retreat northward. Australia had just received another reprieve.
We put into the harbor at Tongatabu on the 15th on fumes as we were practically out of fuel oil. The only source of a fuel supply was a British ship and it proved to be very high in sulfur content. But having no choice we filled from her. One of our battleships which I believe was the Missouri was aground having refused the offer of a harbor pilot to bring her in. She was removed at first high tide. There were no liberties granted and on the 18th, (we gained a day as Tonga was across the international date line) we put into Pearl. Just prior to leaving Tonga we had a movie on the hangar deck and just as it was about to begin the order “ATTENTION” was given and Capt. Elliott Buckmaster strode in. What took place then was totally unexpected and instead of the silence that would have normally greeted his presence there was wild cheering for the Capt. that had brought them through one of the toughest battles they would ever see. It was later said that there probably was not one man present who would not have gone into battle with Buckmaster in a row boat.
As we put into Pearl there was one thing missing, no anchor pool which was a navy custom. You buy an estimate on the time the ship’s log shows the anchor dropped, or the ship secured to the pier. Too many thoughts of lost shipmates this time to think of frivolous things.
There would be no liberty granted here as it was feared that word of the loss of the Lex would leak out and apparently it had in some fashion as men on the pier would ask what had taken place as they could see visible damage to the ship and some even inquired as to the Lex as she was missing from TF17.
It was hoped that Yorktown could be made ready to sail by the 28th if not completely battle ready and if this deadline could not be met, she then would have to sail to her homeport of Bremerton Washington for major repairs. We had lost watertight integrity due to some sprung hatches and buckled plates below the water line and of course the old problem of the fresh water evaporators needing repair. Admiral Fitch had estimated that we needed at least 90 days for complete repair. After being pushed into number 1 dry dock the caissons were closed behind her, she was placed on keel blocks and the water pumped out and Adm. Nimitz made a personal inspection of the plating. He said, “I want her back in three days”.
The Yorktown had been at sea for 101 days, needless to say she was quite tired.
Our planes were on the beach having been flown in prior to the ship entering Pearl. Replacement planes were brought in and we hastily “cobbled up” new squadrons consisting of men from the Lexington, some pilots fresh from state side and our VB5 was the only squadron to retain their identity or so we thought. The orders came down that VB5 would be VS5, for what reason no one could tell. We had 5 of our own, 6 from VS5, 5 from the Lex’s orphaned VS2, and 2 from the pool at Pearl Harbor. We were all refitted at a most feverish pace with twin 30 cal brownings in the rear seat doubling our firepower and also doubling our ammunition requirements. The fighting squadron had received the new F4F-4s to replace the 3s, 2 more guns but less overall ammo and a heavier plane giving up some maneuverability which already was below that of the zero. The one gain was to the advantage of the plane handlers as the wings folded for storage aboard ship.
On the morning of 30 May, 1942 Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor with her escorts, Hammann, Russell, Hughes, Morris and Anderson all wearing new measure 12 camouflage, cruisers Astoria and Portland and the “Y” bringing up the rear still in her weathered paint job from the Atlantic.
Spruance with his TF 16, Enterprise and Hornet of the Doolittle raid had already departed Hawaiian waters and Halsey was in sick bay back in Pearl. Almost immediately we held gunnery practice with towed sleeves and sleds and to say that it left something to be desired is a gross understatement. There were some good chewings of the ship’s gunnery department and gun crews were told there would have to be more hits per gun per minute if they intended to survive coming events.
About noon the PA system came alive and we were told to standby for a message from Adm. Nimitz. The following statement was read by Capt. Buckmaster. Men of the Yorktown you have quit yourselves well and made us proud of you. I am sorry that you will not be returning to Bremerton for long overdue repairs but there is work to be done and when it is finished you will be going back to Bremerton and I don’t mean for just 30 days either. We were also informed by the Captain that he was aware that the Yorktown was not in a state of full readiness but if it was any consolation we would be bringing up the rear. We were to discover later that this was the direction the Japs would come from.
With nothing to do except to check over equipment there was much time for thinking. I thought about packing Musgrove’s stuff for shipment to his family, and Johnny, I would liked to have had one picture of him but figured his family would want it, his Spanish book from which he was learning the language and then trying to instruct me. I thought of the times he would borrow five bucks to get into a crap game back in the after storeroom with a promise that if he ever hit it big some day, we would buy a sailboat after the war and sail to South America.
We had flown our planes aboard and as the first F4F landed the eager deck crews went to fold the wings and broke a flap. The pilot jumped down and instructed them in the proper way of doing this, no more incidents of this kind. Lovelace of VF2 landed and was in the process of taxiing forward when Ens. Evans came in hot, missed the cross deck pendant and landed on top of Lovelace, the prop slicing through the cockpit. He died almost immediately. He was in plane number 13. One of the destroyers had made an entry in the log upon watching some of the landings that this appeared to be a bunch of green pilots.
Hornet and Enterprise had launched search planes but they had been recalled due to weather, fog and rain and one pilot remarked, cold as the devil.
At about 4:30 on June 2 we refueled from oilers Cimarron and Platte and prepared to join up with TF16. Both forces launched search planes and found nothing yet reports were coming in from the PBYs out of Midway. The PBYs could go out to about 700 miles. Fletcher was wary of the Midway reports remembering the land based scouting reports in the Coral Sea that turned out to be reefs. We were given a course that took us to a point about 200 miles north of Midway on the morning of June 4 just about daybreak. We launched another search group out to about 175 miles and again came up dry.
At 0730 on the morning of June 4 we received reports of enemy carriers and many planes heading for Midway and as a number of carriers were not given TF16 was sent out and Yorktown’s planes held in reserve in case this was not the main attack force. Soon after the last of the attack group rolled down the flight deck, headed for the same targets as TF16s planes, the flight deck was respotted and 12 F4Fs and 17 of us from VS5 (old VB5) were launched. Four pilots from bombing three had malfunctioning bomb release circuits and dropped their bombs in the water amid the F4Fs below. This shook up the F4Fs no small amount until the cause was located.
At this point I would like to mention how we stacked up against the enemy. Their fighters were lighter, faster and more maneuverable than the F4Fs, their torpedo planes were almost twice as fast as our TBDs, their dive bombers were faster and up till now we had not had one torpedo hit as they were running erratically, diving beneath the targets and one that did hit was observed to bounce off the target. We were outnumbered and their pilots had the advantage of dropping live torpedoes in practice which was denied our aviators before the war. We had malfunctions in the electric release devices for our bombs, we had the troubles with the self sealing tanks and it seems that everywhere we turned “Murphy” was there.
Now, at about the time we had launched planes, the enemy had not sighted our TF16 and TF17 and was proceeding to Midway with 36 fighters, 36 bombers and 36 dive bombers.
A navy patrol plane spotted the incoming planes and alerted Midway Island. Midways defenders with their older planes and some SBDs were no match for the Jap planes. They dropped 30 tons of bombs on the island killing 24 and wounding 18.
The Japs not having sighted us yet had a second launch of a second group getting ready, bombs, torpedoes and gasoline on the flight and hangar decks. This was a situation of which a pilot dreams. There was one glitch however, the group had not coordinated their approach, the old lumbering TBDs came in low over the water first and were easy marks for the Jap fighters who tore them to pieces. Four of our torpedo squadrons were decimated with ensign Gay being the only survivor of his entire squadron and he escaped the plane alone and clung to a seat cushion and when later recovered told of a ringside seat for the battle.
In that the torpedo planes had been sacrificed, the SBDs came in from above with no fighter opposition and the Japs were still all down where they had been drawn by the TBDs.
Just prior to this attack by our planes Yorktown had sent out a scouting mission in which I participated and we had no idea of what had taken place.
I was flying with Horenburger and our mission was to try to locate the rest of the Jap carrier force. We flew our complete search sector and assumed that there was no activity anywhere as it was completely quiet. We had been observing radio silence and our old friend Murphy had visited us again. The radio was clear dead so after going out to the end of our sector we started the return flight to the Yorktown. It was getting to be about time we should have sighted Yorktown and nothing yet. We continued on beginning to be concerned about our fuel situation and it had been some time since I had manned the wobble pump to change tanks. Soon we sighted an oil slick and made a turn to follow it. The Yorktown finally came into view, nearly dead in the water and with a decided port list. We knew we wouldn’t be landing there so sought out the Enterprise. On approaching her I sent, “PC, PC” with the signal light which is a request to land. She quickly sent “N, N” which is negative. We knew we wouldn’t have enough fuel remaining to circle so we started to make a gear up, flaps down pass alongside the antiaircraft cruiser Astoria. She had been picking up survivors and had a boat boom rigged out on starboard and was dragging a cargo net in the water. Our thinking was that if we could splash just ahead of her we could jump out on the wing for the few seconds the plane would remain afloat and reach up and grab the cargo net.
Just as we slowed and started to flare out I took one last look aft and the Enterprise was frantically signaling “PC, PC, PC”. We didn’t know it at the time, but she had lost so many planes that she needed every one she could get. I told Horenburger and he pulled up, dropped the gear and circled to the left to get in the pattern as the Enterprise turned into the wind for us. We made the approach and at this time I will describe the approach. You are in a left turn with left wing low, getting ready to line up straight aft of the ship. At the point where you transition to a straight approach the left wing comes up and the nose is pulled up in preparation to flare out and at this point you have absolutely no visibility ahead. The only thing you have is the LSO, the landing signal officer Soupy Campbell. He makes all decisions for you and you watch his two flags very closely, you are high or low, wings not level or your heading is off in which case he raises the corresponding leg and kicks mightily to one side or the other. If at the last minute he decides you have a bad landing going, he waves both flags in a criss cross motion over his head and that means a wave off, go around. We knew we could not make a go around and the pressure was really on Horenburger and I had my fingers crossed. We hit the second cable and the arresting gear crew came out, unhooked the cable from the tailhook and gave us the go signal. Throttle forward and starting up the deck and the engine died. We had landed on the fumes. They pushed us to the forward elevator and took us down to the hangar deck and spotted us aft.
We crawled out of our plane, threw our parachutes back in the cockpit and jumped off the wing and were met by someone whose horsepower we didn’t know. He advised us to report to sick bay and then come back up and meet him here. Upon our arrival at sick bay we were given a shot of whiskey and sent back up. I was met by a Bosun’s mate who took me down to compartment D201L which was my own sleeping compartment on the Yorktown. It was familiar because they were sister ships and practically identical. I was instructed to pick out a bunk, I asked which one and was informed, “any one you want as they are not coming back”. I didn’t even take off my flight gear except for the mae west and picked out one of the middle bunks. I guess the whiskey was taking its effect as I was becoming very sleepy. Just before drifting off I raised my head to look at the name stenciled on the mattress cover, it was “Red Durawa” a kid I had been in aviation radio school with in San Diego. Another name and face to add to my memories.
During this time our SBDs had been busy with the Jap carrier fleet. In just six minutes the Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu were destroyed and the Hiryu became the fourth carrier that day that had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor to be sunk by our SBDs. It would have been nice if the crews of the torpedo bombers who gave their lives that day could have known this. A sizable Jap force was still out there somewhere and we still had work to do.
There was so much activity around us it was hard to keep up with it. A PBY would fly over, a PT boat would come out of nowhere and a sub surfaced nearby giving the recognition signal and dove again.
Now we were an amalgamation of orphans, VB5, VS5, VB3 and some of VB8. We got our assignments in the ready room after an early breakfast and our planes were respotted on the flight deck.
We were dependent on the PBY Catalins for a lot of our information. The PBY is a seaplane with a rather high parasol wing with twin engines mounted rather close together over the fuselage, two blisters, one on each side aft for 50 cal. machine guns and a tail gun. They were quite slow with a cruise speed of about 95 knots or less but with a good long range.
We were acting on a PBY reported sighting and after launch formed 4 three plane sections under Wally Short.
We struggled up to near 20,000 feet with our 1,000 pounders and overheard some radio operator with a small voice talking to his pilot and thinking he was on ICS, intercom. Someone finally went on the air and told him to shut up. Now out ahead appeared the thin white feathery plumes of the wake of ships. We had found them.
As we drew overhead of the enemy Short picked out the biggest ship in the absence of any carrier. It was the Mogami class battleship. I was in the second section to dive and we did our roll to the left, nose down and a vertical dive toward the target. I was facing aft to cover any fighters that may be above us but saw none and after viewing all of the tracers converging behind our tail I thought facing the muzzle flashes to the better alternative. Standby, Mark and I braced myself for the pain in the ears from the pull out and then quickly turned my head to locate our bomb hit. Right behind the stack amidships. I told Horenburger we had a good one. We formed up a few three plane sections for the return and it was becoming dusk rapidly. We used the ZB homing device to locate the ship in the darkness and she showed us enough deck lights for the night landing. This for many was the first after dark recovery and I’m sure Soupy Campbell felt the weight of his responsibility that night.
Later as we viewed the pictures of the Mogami, everything above decks was a mass of twisted metal and she had a torpedo hanging from a torpedo tube on the port side and also at this time we were told we had misidentified her and she was in fact the heavy cruiser Mikuma. This also explained the heavy antiaircraft fire we had received in our dive.
We went below for coffee and a sandwich, then back topside to check the flight schedule for the morning. I spent a little more time working on the squadron insignia patches I had been painting for our squadron as we had lost our identity in the mixing of three other squadrons. They looked nice on our jackets I thought.
As I turned in for the night a thought struck me, all I own is the clothing on my back and my 45, and they were both in need of cleaning. Wow, what would I do when we hit Pearl?
The Japs were beaten badly and were headed west and TF16 and TF17 were running low on fuel so we flew scouting missions, watching for subs and set a course for Pearl We had not been witness to the final gasp of the Yorktown but relied on the accounts of those who were there. At first they rigged a cable and were attempting to tow her in, then they gave up on that for the time being and ran the Hammann alongside to take off pay records and health records. The Hammann was also supplying power from her generators for the pumps in an attempt to correct the heavy port list.
This brought to mind how the Yorktown had tied up at the pier at Bremerton Washington and supplied electrical power for the city during an emergency back before the war. The Hammann was still tied to the “Y” when a Jap sub sneaked in and sent a torpedo toward the Yorktown, missing her and hitting the Hammann. The Hammann had her depth charges set and armed and that one fish sent the Hammann down with great loss of life. When the Hammann got to the depth that the charges were set for they went off practically blowing the bottom out of the Yorktown. She could have probably taken that one torpedo and still survived had the Hammann not caught it.
I spoke with Wilbur Daley of Algona a few times in recent years and he was one of a very few survivors of the Hammann.
Coming into Pearl was a bittersweet event as I had just lost my home for the past year and shipmates for that same length of time. Some of our buddies were on the dock to meet us. One of the first bits of information we received was that Musgrove and Rowley were here in Pearl and safe. After our bout with the Jap float plane they ran out of fuel and went down, used their rubber raft and parachute for a sail and sailed back to Tulagi, traded their equipment to the natives and with the help of a missionary were able to make it eventually down to Australia. Once there they made contact with a British cargo ship and got a lift back to Pearl Harbor. What an event that must have been for their families as we had already sent their personal effects home.
We were given a few bucks emergency pay and turned loose to make it to the Royal Hawaiian hotel once more. I made a stop at a uniform store and they accommodated me by sewing the proper “crow” on a couple of jumpers and a white hat completed my uniform. Out to the hotel to clean up and then for liberty with the rest of the gang.
They all wanted to hit a certain bar where one of them knew a girl and had dated her. I decided to be sociable and had a drink, then blotto, I awoke next morning in the hotel with my arm in a bandage. Must have been a fight but I didn’t remember it, take off the bandage and there for all the world to see was a rather large tattoo of a skull with flying helmet and the words “U.S.S. YORKTOWN”. I discovered later that these friends, and I use the term loosely, had slipped me a Mickey.
I furthered my education that night as we gathered in the room and three of them were going to teach me to play poker. I found out that you never play poker with your back to a full length mirror.
McGowan and I had to report back to Kaneohe Bay and were two of the first to fly in the new SB2C which was to be the replacement for the SBD. It did not come up to our expectations and apparently others also as the SBD was to be used throughout the rest of the war. Most of our pilots were sent back stateside and we were mostly with strangers for the first time so it was not a disappointment when we were reassigned to CASU 3, carrier aircraft service unit.
I had a chief aviation radioman named Oliver Wendel Grew who was all business, wore a handlebar mustache and insisted on cleanliness around the shop, “a good coat of paint will cover a multitude of sins” and “familiarity breeds contempt” so we tried not to become too familiar.
I think he did take a liking to me however and one day he came to me and said I was to report to the Enterprise in dress uniform. When I got there I was lined up on the flight deck with some others, mostly officers. Admiral Nimitz went down the line presenting medals and shaking hands. Coming to me he handed me a little card with a gold star on it. I guess I betrayed my puzzled feeling as when we were invited into the superstructure for lemonade and cookies he came over and said “son, apparently you didn’t understand the gold star”. I said no sir, I thought just Navy mothers who had lost a son got that. He informed me that it was for a second Distinguished Flying Cross and promised to look into it personally. In about a week sure enough I was told to report to the pier at the sub base at Pearl Harbor. We were lined up again and they started reading the “heroic deeds” of one man, called for him to step forward and receive his medal, they called his name a second time and someone stepped up to the captain who was making the presentations and said very quietly (into the mike for all to hear) he’s in the brig sir.
McGowan and I had liberty the next day but decided to get off to an early start. We took our clean whites, fresh from the laundry, wore our dungarees and sneaked out the gate with defense workers and headed for “Aunty Maes”. With the city of Honolulu blacked out we found it impossible to get farther than the Nuanuu hotel where we put up for the night. We were just about asleep when there was a commotion outside. I said to Hank, “shore patrol.” Hank said no, just defense workers. With that the shore patrol came into the room and asked to see our liberty passes, which were of course for the next day. They made us get up, unwrap our clean whites and they took us to be guests of the city of Honolulu for the remainder of the night where we had to sleep on the dirty cell floor. We did get to make one call and Hank informed Aunty Mae that we would not be there.
We were taken back to the base the next day and required to spend the next 2 days confined to the administration building.
Chief Grew said that they were looking for some men with knowledge of radio and recommended us. We found that we had been “volunteered” to a highly secret place with no windows, double marine guards at the door and we could not carry as much as a pencil in or out. From early morning to late at night we attended class not even going out for lunch. We were attending RADAR school which up until now even the word was secret.
After six weeks we were graduated a bit early due to an assignment of CASU 3 to the south pacific. I sure wouldn’t miss those ice cold showers where we bunked out by the airstrip.
I had acquired an Indian 101 motorcycle, WWI vintage and knew I wouldn’t be able to take it so I hurriedly sold it to one of the aviation mechs in the outfit. He was to pay me $75 payday which never came and he boxed it up marked spare parts and sent it on ahead. This would not be the only time I would be taken.
We went out to New Caledonia on the U.S.S. DIXIE and I was assigned a bunk on the mess deck or more properly a cot. It became unbearable hot one night below the equator so I took a stroll out on the deck and met a sailor who said he couldn’t sleep either. He said he had a hammock up forward and after learning of my assignment, he offered a trade. I pulled myself up and settled in and later I discovered why he couldn’t sleep. When the ship rolled the hammock swung out over the water.
Unloading at Noumea we started hauling everything we had up about 30 miles over something called a road to an air strip at Tontouta. This was to be my home for nine months.
We became quite innovative and had a barrel up the hill on rocks, built a fire under it and used aluminum aircraft tubing to bring hot water down to another half barrel for a bath tub. We scrounged every board from packing crates we could find and soon had a wood floor in our tent. I made a phonograph with a pickup made from an old earphone, motor from a stolen mixmaster and stolen records from a USO down at Noumea. We sharpened bamboo for phonograph needles but they would only play one record.
I complained bitterly about not having anything other than pliers and screwdriver to repair such complex equipment as radio and radar. Someone had gotten a requisition form and gave it to me. I donned the greens of a marine working uniform and took it down the road to the supply tent. I told them I needed a volt ohm meter and it was as easy as that.
Chief Grew had promoted me to ARM2C at Kaneohe and seemed to rely on me more as the days went by. He called me in one day and said he was recommending me for ARMIC.
We had a couple of men who went off the base into the boondocks and made a deal with one of the natives for wine. It turned out they had mixed the homemade wine with aviation gasoline which they had stolen from our fuel dumps in the jungle. The two ended up in the hospital tent and died a very painful death that night. It wasn’t long before I ended up in the hospital tent myself with Dengue Fever and they didn’t seem to have any medication or treatment other than to let it run its course. I was quite weak for several days and I counted my blessings that it wasn’t malaria. About this time Clegg from VB5 had heard I was in CASU 3 and managed a transfer in so that we could share our miseries but misfortune followed him as he came down with malaria the second day he got in. He was transferred out to a hospital ship and I never saw him again.
I was still doing a few haircuts for my friends and some joker in an attempt to repay me left a case, not a carton, but a case of Domino cigarettes in my tent which I was never able to give away and I think someone traded them to the natives.
One day I was told that I would be getting some help in the electronics shop (tent) and we had received an ensign fresh out of MIT. He came to the shop and asked a few questions including what was our power like. I told him that we had very close to 115 volts. He apparently didn’t want to take ;my work for it and picked up my purloined meter, stuck the test leads into the outlet and the smoke rolled out of it. He had neglected to reset it from Ohms to Volts and now I was back to square one.
We had several types of planes using the airstrip. The marines had a DC3 which they used for parachute jumps and once in awhile a P38, P40 and others. We had some F4U Corsairs also, those usually took two men on the ground when starting them as the carburetors were prone to catching fire and it took two fire extinguishers to get a safe start. We did occasionally have a plane come in and crash land in which case the rule was, number one, get the 24 hour clock out, then the pilot. I did become the proud owner of such a clock and later incorporated it into a homemade radio.
One morning the DC3 disgorged her load of parachutists nearly over the main camp across the road whereupon one of our men thought it looked like so much fun that he went AWOL for three days and jumped with them. They never did bother to ask him if he was one of theirs.
This jungle life was certainly not my cup of tea, it was the monsoon season and it would pour down rain, then the sun would come out and the steam would rise from the ground and between the humidity and the heat it was very miserable and especially so if you had work to do. One night I must not have checked my bunk too well or the mosquito netting must have come loose as I was bitten in the rear end by a spider and it became infected. Some of the mosquito bites would cause trouble like that also but eventually I became immune to the mosquitoes, in fact they would not even bite me. One morning I took advantage of this when a group of new men arrived from the states and I walked through the tall grass enough to get a swarm following me, I then walked up to engage them in conversation. Their group immediately disbanded and took off in every direction.
There were many inconveniences among which was the chow. Spam, cheese and crackers, open air showers on the hillside from a makeshift water tank on stilts, that is open air until one day a jeep load of nurses came by, drinking water in LISTER BAGS hanging in the sun seasoned with chlorine and a salt tablet dispenser attached to it. The ever present threat of Malaria and the treatment of quinine tablets. We had no barber but I happened to have a pair of hand clippers and treated my friends to a custom haircut provided they were brave enough to stand the hair being partly pulled and partly cut.
Two of us set out for the hills one day with carbines in search of wild boar. We did cross some pretty wild streams to get up the mountain, edged our way along some cliffs and finally were getting into what was supposed to be boar country. The underbrush got so thick that we were at a distinct disadvantage as the boar could run along at a rapid clip beneath and we could barely make it through the brush at shoulder height. About this time we decided we were not that hungry for wild board and headed back for the camp.
We were unpickling the TBMs for ferry up to Guadalcanal and they were a great improvement over the old TBDs. It was the largest single engine plane the navy had. A crew of 3 or 4 with a ball turret on top, 30 Cal in the tail and a radio position in the belly aft of the bomb or torpedo bay. The process of preparing the plans included not only installing everything but I had to go along with the skipper and test the guns, radio and radar. We practiced until we could come reasonably close to dropping the bomb or torpedo on target by radar such as at night. We used an old wrecked ship along the beach for target practice and limbered the guns up on it also. One day the side hatch on the turret came unfastened and disappeared into the jungle below and I was very happy I had taken the time to buckle my belt in the gunners seat.
Mail was quite slow, unpredictable and the fastest form was something new called V MAIL which was a printed form that was copied onto microfilm and at the other end was printed back into letter size. Censorship was always in effect and sometimes they cut out something just for the amusement of it.
I did receive one large packet of letters from friends and nearly all the business people of Britt due to the exposure in Iowa and Minnesota by the radio stations and newspapers following the Distinguished Flying Cross presentations at Pearl. They all felt it was something for a small town such as Britt, population less than 2,000 to be mentioned in the press. These letters such as the one from the Papadakes brothers in the candy kitchen with their homemade ice cream and lollipops, a stick through a milk bottle cap with a scoop of ice cream and then dipped in chocolate for five cents. What I wouldn’t have given to be back there, or even just to taste some ice cream. I could close my eyes and hear George say, “You don’ta’ reada’ the magazines unless you buy them”.
Most personal photography was forbidden but once in awhile we would luck out and find some film and a buddy would have access to a camera. I had a roll of pictures of myself, and a friend from St. Louis, Koerber, was going back stateside so he volunteered to take the roll back and send it home for me. Never did hear from him or anything about the film again. All of my pictures, even some 8 by 10 glossies of Jap ships going down on our strikes had gone down with the Yorktown. I did manage to get some pictures of myself with the phonograph I built from odds and ends.
One night about 5 of us were to be treated to a dinner out at one of the natives homes. It was claimed to be steak and I wasn’t able to identify what cut the fellow next to me got, but I think I got part of the saddle.
News of the war was rather sparse but we got some firsthand accounts of local action up north on trips to Guadalcanal.
One of the men we visited with who flew in the SBDs told us of making a dive on the enemy and taking a large round in the leading edge of the wing which made a perfect whistle and it was the most ghostly sound causing the Japs to abandon their gun positions and dive for cover. Had washing machine Charlie received this bit of information, he would probably have rigged his plane that way for the nightly runs over Henderson Field. Seemed he kept a pretty regular schedule making it the same time every night sending everyone to their foxholes.
I had gotten to know S W Tumosa who was an AP and one day I had gone to the far end of the runway with a toolbox to do some work on a plane and Tumosa asked if I wanted a ride back to the shops. I said sure and put my tool box up on the wing of an F4F and he began to taxi back. He hollered at me over the sound of the engine to hang on and he gave it the throttle and soon we were sailing down the runway at a good clip. The exec. saw it and thought we were trying to take off and about had a fit. Tumosa and I had a good laugh over that later.
We were really roughing it there and one of the things we missed was a laundry. We would sometimes boil our clothes in a barrel but they came out spotted and looking like today’s camouflage clothing. At other times we would take our clothes down the road to the river and beat them on a rock ala native method.
I had submitted an application for enlisted pilot training and had to have a physical from an Australian flight surgeon which I passed with flying colors. My promotion to ARMIC had also come through and Grew assuming I had a good chance for flight school asked me to teach what I knew of RADAR and IFF equipment to a couple of the other radiomen.
Murphy, who was always in trouble, was assigned to task of constructing a new latrine. After having a few drinks, he called his friends down, had them sit on the planks and drew lines around their posterior portions, making tailor made holes.
We had to go down to Noumea for some parts and I volunteered for the trip wanting to see the metropolis which we had only seen in passing through on the way in. It seems we got there a bit late as they close up all the shops at noon and go home and take a nap through the heat of the day, reopening again later on. The exchange rate at that time was 8 Francs to the dollar and our navigation computer which was really just a circular slide rule was great for figuring the prices in dollars, providing you could find a shop open.
My orders finally came through to report for flight training in the states and I was looking forward to a short stay in Britt. By this time my folks knew where I was as in reply to their question in a letter I asked them if they could remember the name of that last CCC camp I was in, that NEW one. Of course the camp was in Caledonia, Minnesota.
I received congratulations all the way around and packed my gear and was taken down to Noumea where I boarded a PBM twin engine sea plane for transportation back to Pearl. We made a stop overnight in Suva Fiji and I stayed at the Hotel Metropol where everything was very British. Just like in the movies with mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling down over the bed, fancy table settings, etc. The natives were wearing the latest in hair style, red, bushy and standing straight up. I was told that they achieved this effect by putting lime in their hair to kill lice.
The next leg was to Pearl Harbor and these PBMs were not meant to carry passengers, you could stand up or lay down in a bunk. On our arrival at Pearl I ran into Don Hoff who was a member of the mixed group who flew off the Enterprise with me at Midway. We didn’t get much time to chat as I had to report to a ship for the last leg, to San Francisco.
They utilized everyone of us at one time or another for standing watch, scanning the sea at night with binoculars watching for subs. We had a lot of chit chat going on the sound powered phones until the officer of the deck heard it and stated he did not want to hear anything unless we sighted something. These five days passed rather rapidly in anticipation of our first stateside liberty since Dec. 6 of ’41.
Three of us checked into the Hotel Whitcomb up near the top of Market street, cleaned up, went out and got a civilian haircut and proceeded to check out the scenery. We came back to the hotel late in the afternoon and sat around a table in the lounge getting acquainted and swapping tales from the south Pacific. There was a Lt. JG sitting at the next table alone and he would occasionally glance our way as if waiting for an invitation to join us. One of the fellows promptly slid his chair over. After introductions all around, someone asked him what time it was. He had his watch on the same hand with which he was holding a drink and in looking at his watch turned his drink over on his lap. We had to excuse ourselves to get out of there and have a good laugh.
The next day I caught a cab down to the Embarcadero and took the ferry over to the train station, boarded the Challenger for Ames and spent three miserable days in soot and grime. No berths this time and there was no way to get comfortable in those seats. While shaving in the washroom one day I watched a sailor standing on one leg while bracing himself with the other up against the wall and swaying as if still at sea as the train rocked, shaving with a straight edge razor. I made up my mind that I would learn to use one of those some day.
I had alerted my folks as to my arrival time on the bus from Ames and it seemed that we would never get there. Things began to look familiar and the bus pulled into main street at Garner and my folks were standing there with the broadest smiles you ever saw. On the ten miles to Britt I tried to catch up on what I had missed in the last two and a half years as it was now the last of June, 1943. My brother Don was working at the standard station for Bill Gifford and I had the loan of my aunt’s 33 chevy coupe with wire wheels and white walls and with Don in the station I was given gas stamps, oh yes, that is something that had happened while I was gone, rationing. That first night I went down to see Jennie who was working at Selbys produce plant. I picked her up and I don’t recall what time we got in but both of the DINKYS on the M and St. L railroad had come through and gone which was probably in the neighborhood of 2 AM. That was not a good neighborhood for someone who had to get to work early the next morning.
I guess I had expected to see some of the old gang around the bank corner where we used to hang out, but most everyone was gone to the service or away working.
Don had been getting around on a motor scooter which he had given the name, YORKTOWN. I thought my dog, Jabby might have forgotten me, but he about went into a tailspin when I came into the house the first time.
Jennie and I probably put more miles on that 33 Chevy than Bernice had put on it in the last year. Since arriving home I was troubled with a condition that upset me quite a bit. When trying to drink from a cup, glass or bottle I would get so shaky I would have to hang onto it with both hands. This made me self-conscious to the point that I would turn down offers of something to drink.
I was asked to come to Mason City and appear on KGLO radio for an interview. It was difficult to know just how much to say or what topics to avoid not having been given any guidance on the subject.
The time passed all too quickly and it was back to Ames to catch the train for Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced nah-codish). I had to change trains in Chicago, a short layover in Terre Haute, Indiana and then on to New Orleans for an overnight stay at the Jung Hotel. While walking to the hotel, a Cadillac pulled over to the curb and two women motioned me over. I spoke to them through the open window and told them I was a stranger and couldn’t give them directions. It became very clear they didn’t want directions and except for the cadillac they were what you could refer to as pavement princesses.
The train from New Orleans got me into Natchitoches in the middle of the night and I stood there briefly in the dark with my luggage wondering if everyone had forgotten me. Soon a vehicle pulled up and the driver said he was to take me to the Louisiana State Normal College Campus.
The dimly lit campus didn’t reveal much to me and I was shown to a building where I was directed to a room and a bunk. In the morning I found I was only a few steps from the mess hall and after introductions of the other 3 in the room we went over for breakfast and I guess I was a bit surprised to find that we were in the minority. College girls all over the place and we were all in one long building with only an archway separating us. I was given a tour of the campus and taken to the post office where I was assigned my own mailbox.
The city of Natchitoches boasted of the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana purchase. Most everyone was very friendly and it wasn’t long before the banker had invited me to his Sunday School class. The main street had all the business places on one side and the Cane river on the other. Once in awhile we would go down Sunday afternoon and sit on the river bank and watch the negroes get baptized and take off screaming and running as they came out of the water. There was a theater on main street as well as a hotel that had the nicest little cafe in the back room, the old style marble top tables and wrought iron chairs. A good steak dinner was one dollar. Years later on a trip through there I told my wife about it and I said I bet that has changed. Sure enough it had, it was now a buck twenty five.
The second day on campus we went right into routine with no loss of time. Classes in navigation, math, aircraft engines, geopolitics and Meteorology. It was tough to take a class in the summer down there, things got real sleepy after the noon meal. On one such occasion I dozed off a bit and was poked in the side by an elbow to alert me that the instructor had asked me a question. Now down there given any set of weather conditions you could safely predict fog. I rose to my feet and loudly proclaimed, “FOG” whereupon I was advised that I was in math class. This did not make a lot of points with the instructor.
Someone was always trying to get the “gouge” for a test and that was of course the answers. Sometimes these could be had from a member of a preceding class or one brave individual who broke into the office and copied it down. New they pretty well had all the bases covered during testing and would watch very closely for a scrap of paper or someone turning up a cuff. One thing they never did catch was the pencil trick. You take one of the flat sides of a wooden pencil and use a pin ahead of time. The pencil face was divided into 5 areas from left to right with the extreme left edge being A, B, the middle C and so on. Five multiple choice answers and from the top down from one to forty for the standard forty questions. On one test we had a fellow that was anxious to get done and he whizzed right through it without bothering to check a few of the questions to make sure he had the right gouge.
For the most part though everyone was eager to learn and there wasn’t really too much cheating going on. There was homework aplenty and of course the ever present physical activities. Soccer, wrestling, boxing, swimming and track. I was usually paired with a marine for wrestling and it seemed we both had about the same ability so it made for an extremely tiring session. My best sport was track and I managed to hold the record for track and cross country mile the six months I was there.
We had a Navy Lt. named Hurd for exec. and he could usually find an infraction worth more than a few pushups. One of the physical tests was called the step test and it was to see how long after hard exercise it would take your pulse to come back down. I always did well on that as well as the push ups.
One morning while shaving with that straight edge razor I had promised myself I would get, I got a crick in my neck with my head turned way off to one side. It was impossible for me to get my jumper on over my head and by this time it was fall and rather cool. I went to classes in a T-shirt for three days, yes the same T-shirt and I became aware that seats along side me were vacant.
We had a class clown named Hazelbaker who entertained us often. One night while going through the chow line with the college girls serving, he was sliding his tray along and about midway he stopped and threw a fit, shaking and slobbering with no small response from the girls.
Soon we were introduced to the J3 Cubs for flight training. The little yellow 2 seaters with a 65 horse engine and noisy with a lot of air conditioning built in due to the poor fit of the doors. It was said that they would climb, cruise and dive at 65 which wasn’t too far off.
Our instructors were Downer and Leonard. I had Downer and after the normal instruction he told me to taxi back to the takeoff end of the runway, he got out with his parachute and said I was to take off, circle the field and give him a good landing. I did as directed up to a point. I found that on my approach I was quite a bit too high as I had not allowed for his 200 plus pounds not being aboard. Well, no problem, and I stuck a wing down, opposite rudder and slipped her in quite steeply, straightened out and flared to a good landing.
I taxied back to pick him up and he was mad as a wet hen. He said he had never taught me to slip and where the devil did I learn that maneuver. I told him in the rear seat of an SBD. Nothing more was ever said. Our training consisted of recovery from spins, precision recoveries. You enter on a certain heading and were required to recover 180 or 270 or 360 degrees later or even a three turn spin if you had the altitude. The falling leaf was another one and lots of stall recoveries. We were told that if we ever tried to fly under the cane river bridge up town we would be on our way down the road. We found that it had been done by someone in a prior class.
After becoming proficient in the J3s we would be allowed to fly the N3N which was a large biplane with a much larger engine and a tendency to ground loop. We would find out more about this in the Stearmans later on.
This was a poor time of the year to solo as the river was quite cold and the custom was to throw you off the foot bridge into the water. It was a long walk back to the dormitory for dry clothes. But then I could look forward to being the thrower instead of the throwee.
With a new class coming in we were moved to the “BRICK SHACK” which was still a two story building but our next move was to a little wood frame building much like the cheap motels and it had unvented gas heaters. Also it was much farther from the classrooms. The inspections as always were white glove inspections. No dust over the doorways tolerated or you received demerits. Some could be paid for with push ups but mostly privileges canceled.
Of all the places to pick for surgery this is the last I would have chosen. It was a little dispensary usually frequented by those with colds or flu. It had gotten to the point where I could no longer sit during the class periods and I reported to the sick bay. An aging doctor saw me and told me I was afflicted in a similar manner as the Philistines of the old testament, with emerods, or in present day terminology, hemorrhoids and would have to undergo surgery. Well, the anesthetic did not take hold at all and he called in four of the largest APs in my class to hold me down, one on each limb while he sawed away with what must have been an old butter knife. Anyway, I spent about 3 days in bed there and moved very cautiously for the next week.
Three of us were chosen to assist our instructor Leonard the night of his wedding. We had to practically dress him and get him ready as he seemed to be in another world. As they used to say, as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof.
We got the job done and he took off on a three day honeymoon which gave us a reprieve from a flight check but also gave us some additional time to practice some aerial maneuvers.
The laundry there was operated by the girls from the college and they delighted in sending panties and bras back in our laundry bundles. The theater building had a large sign attesting to the fact that Huey Long, Louisiana’s famed politician had been instrumental in providing the college with such a facility.
To make certain that we did not become individualists there was always the marching and close order drill which was conducted by one of the Marine sergeants in our class in an open area by the laundry. I think we made it unnecessary for them to mow that spot of ground for the period of time we were there.
The time came for us to bid good-bye to preflight and WTS and proceed to the University of Georgia at Athens. This would be my second trip through New Orleans and as I had a layover the night I got in it naturally followed that it would be necessary to crowd in as much as I could.
I went down Canal Street to Mac’s restaurant which took in a square block, one part western style, one seafood bar and one part French cuisine. Having the meal ticket issued by the Navy I ordered the largest T-bone steak they had. When it arrived I was already drooling and I proceeded to cut into it. I must not have used the right technique as the entire platter slipped from the table upside down on my lap. The waitress brought me another steak and I tried to get most of the spill off my dress whites.
After polishing off a good meal, I proceeded toward the Roosevelt Hotel as I remembered hearing the radio program even before the war. “This music is coming to you from the beautiful blue room of the Hotel Roosevelt in downtown New Orleans” and I had always wanted to see that place. On the way I met Stan Amos and a friend of his, Joe DeNeu and together we headed for the Beautiful Blue Room. On the way we made a couple of stops and on arriving at the hotel we entered and went past the blue room to make a quick stop at the bar first. I took a place between a navy four striper, full captain and two army first lieutenants. It wasn’t long before the two dog faces were giving me a bad time about the campaign ribbons I was wearing. The captain on my right took notice and I said, I think you are the one who presented me with the DFC at Pearl Harbor sub base. After a little more lip from the two second-lieuies he said, hit the SOBs. Now I had never been a violent person but without thinking I swung around and dropped the nearest one flat on his back. Two shore patrol grabbed me appearing from nowhere and as they turned with me the captain spoke briefly to them and I was escorted right past the beautiful blue room of the Hotel Roosevelt in downtown New Orleans, right down the long flight of steps onto the sidewalk and told to keep going. I still wonder at times what the blue room was like.
The train trip was uneventful and we were met at the station by a person who asked for our papers and seemed oblivious to our questions about the place. Maybe as with the blue room I would always wonder.
This was a much larger campus and a disappointment to us APs as we were at this time lumped in with the V5 cadets and were required to wear the uniforms of a cadet. They resembled the Army uniform in most ways including the visor bill cap, shirt, tie and trousers. We were issued brown high top shoes you would normally refer to as work shoes but we were required to put a spit shine on them in a short time. This had been our habit with the navy issue shoes but these things were a challenge. Another thing that bothered us was that we were treated as V5 cadets. They could not ride in a vehicle but must walk and town was a ways off.
Normally we should have gone to Dallas which was at that time the training ground for APs and they had much more freedom than the cadets. Still the close order marching drills, the inspections were something you did not look forward to. Your issue was all that they expected to see when they came into your room. The right number of socks rolled in the right way and placed in the proper position in the drawer. Only issued books on the shelf and according to title, all lined up just so. Hazelbaker and his three roommates were just across the hall from us and during one inspection they had learned that they could unlock a door in their room and it was a closet. They invited everyone on the floor to put their nonconforming gear in their closet and they would lock it up until inspection was over. Murphy’s law went into effect, they forgot to lock it up again. With all four standing at attention, one of the officers ran his white gloves over the doorway and then turned the knob. It was like Fibber McGee’s closet. The officer asked who was in charge, Hazelbaker said he was and the officer said, “Hazelbaker, this room looks like a s— house, what do you have to say for yourself?” Hazelbaker replied, “You should see the room next door sir”. They promptly went to the room next door and upon opening the door discovered it was the head.
We had classes in relaxation after which we were required to sit in a chair when commanded and go to sleep within 15 minutes. The class involved loosening the tie, lying on the bunk with eyes closed and thinking of something relaxing such as the American flag waving loosely in the breeze. Believe it or not after a few weeks of these sessions, we were capable of falling asleep on short notice. This all to enable you to take advantage of a few minutes break between missions in the air.
We also had classes in survival in a hostile country should one ever be downed behind enemy lines. We would be given rudimentary maps, matches, knives and a compass and driven out into the wilderness area of Georgia and believe me they approximated those of the South Pacific jungles in several areas. We would be blindfolded for the trip and dumped out and told to wait ten minutes to take off the blindfolds.
Well, we sneaked the blindfolds off early, found out which way the vehicle went and walked that direction until we found telephone wires, followed them to a house and called for a taxi. It was the weekend and one of the girls dorms was empty so we crawled in through a basement window and later sent one man out for hamburgers from a nearby diner. This survival wasn’t so hard after all and as the instructor said, if there’s a will there’s a way.
The classes were becoming more difficult as time went by. The celestial navigation classes were asking us to come up with a location within one mile on the chart using a three star fix and that’s a lot of math. Then too, the physical education classes were getting tougher. The dreaded obstacle course which left you retching and glad you hadn’t eaten recently seemed to be getting longer, crawling, jumping, climbing, leaping and any other devious method of torture they could think of.
Then as from the very beginning we had classes in recognition with them showing silhouettes on a screen in a darkened room with a projector, starting with one fourth of a second and graduating on up to one 2,000th of a second. We had to be able to identify a ship as to type, class and country such as, destroyer, Benson class or 1917 class, American or enemy, German or Japanese. The same was required of aircraft and after identifying you would have to give the wingspan and any other pertinent data. When you came out of that darkened room your eyeballs would be spinning for awhile.
The food wasn’t too bad but as always we were marched to the mess hall in formation and fed in order of platoons, no individuality would be accepted. We often thought of other classes who had gone elsewhere and probably right now were walking around individually in their dress blues or dungarees instead of these V5 uniforms.
We were also used in a reforestation project and taken out in a truck to some clearings a short way out of Athens and given large buckets of seedling pine trees which we planted mostly along hill sides, probably to cut down on soil erosion. I wondered what would grow in this red soil and thought someday I would like to return and look at the forest we had created.
I was called from class one day and told that I should contact the Red Cross as they had been informed that my mother was quite ill.
I contacted the local office by phone and was told they would arrange for emergency leave. As it was close to payday I was short and was able to borrow a few bucks from them for the bus trip back to Britt. My dad and Jennie met me at Ames and at some time on that trip home from Ames I had asked Jennie to marry me. Well, at least she didn’t say no but I do know that she was feeling some responsibility to her mother as a bread winner at the time. I returned to find that my mother was already improving and we started making plans for a wedding.
The wedding was held in my folks home with family gathered around. Rev. B. A. Rust performed the ceremony and Jennie’s sister Eileen and my brother Don stood up with us. When the preacher came to the part, “with all my worldly goods I thee endow”, I thought, Oh boy, there goes my fountain pen and sea bag. Didn’t realize until then that I really didn’t own anything and what a way to start out a marriage.
It blew up a blizzard that night and we had to stay in town with my folks. We did manage to get uptown to the photograph studio for pictures however.
We decided that Jennie would accompany me back to Athens and we would look for an apartment. The wedding was on Feb. 10, 1944 and by valentine’s day we were on a train out of Ames bound for Athens. We made one change at Terre Haute, Indiana and by the time we arrived in Athens we had all the train riding we wanted.
We got in late in the evening and took a cab to the hotel which was on the same street the college fronted on but some distance away as the college was farther out on the edge of town. The next day a one room apartment was found just down the street from the hotel and the only thing that went with the room was refrigerator privileges. This was not the last time we were to be in this situation. There were two others from my class who had upstairs rooms with their wives. Jennie met Mrs. Gilardi and they became rather good friends after discovering that he and I were in class together. One of her other close friends was Lillian Thrifily who worked across the street in the laundry.
There was no let up in the classes, I would have to get out of bed at 2 or 3 AM to go out to the college for star class hoping that Jennie could get back to sleep again. Then the hand to hand or martial arts training was quite strenuous.
We had to learn all the ways of disarming an attacker and various ways of killing with the bare hands. I had a black belt instructor and the gym was laid out with a corner for us to practice, mats hung from the walls and on the floor. One day while working with my instructor we somehow got off the mat and he did a body throw on me and tossed me up against the brick wall. I slid off the wall and laid there unable to move. They hauled me off to the hospital, examined me and tied a weight to my right foot with a rope over a pulley and called my wife to come down and look at me.
I was in constant pain and told the doctor that it was my back, not my leg. I had a nurse that believed me though and when leaving at night she would put the weight up on a chair so that I could get some sleep.
One day Jennie didn’t come to see me and I learned that she was in bed with neuritis. Guess what, she ended up with the same doctor I had, a Doctor Rice and he had us both on codeine. By now she was in more misery than I was. I finally got notice that they were going to release me, but I could still hardly walk. The doctor examined me again and said “you were right, it was your back (they had finally taken x-rays). I was excused from pushups and some of the more rigorous exercises for a short while but walking back to the apartment was probably doing me some good. I had two broken vertebrae in my lower back.
Jennie was if anything getting worse, by now I couldn’t touch the bed or walk heavily on the floor. It would soon be time to go to the next base at Memphis, Tennessee and how would I get Jennie home. When the time came we knew we would have to come up with something and I had a friend who had a convertible which would be a bit easier to enter. We got Jennie into the car as carefully as we could and took her to the chiropractor for diathermy treatment. It seemed to help but we only had one more day. The next day she made the trip again and the day after we were offered a ride to Mason City, Iowa with another couple.
It was a difficult ride for Jennie as it was non stop and few chances to get out and stretch. Britt never looked so good as it did this time. Jennie started doctoring locally for the neuritis and would do so for years to come and my back problems would never quite leave.
I was to go from here to Memphis Naval Air Station at Millington, a few miles out of town and we bought a ’37 Ford from Waldo Burgardt which I drove the 839 miles down to Millington. My dad rode as far as St. Louis to visit his relatives down there. I reported in at the air station and was told there was a parking lot just outside the base fence where I could leave the car. We were assigned quarters in a wooden barracks with minimal locker facilities which was OK because I had minimal possessions.
At this base we were to concentrate only on flying. We were introduced to the N2S Stearman biplane which was quite an acrobatic plane with a 220 horse continental radial engine. This plane was to go on to become a popular stunt plane and crop duster after the war.
Our first session was familiarization with the aircraft by standing alongside and having the instructor explain everything in detail and we had been given instruction manuals to study. The flight line was set up so that you came out of the office by the assignment board, got your name and plane number off the board, picked up your parachute and jumped on a trailer behind the tractor which would take you down the flight line. Getting to your plane you flagged a mechanic to crank up the inertia starter. As soon as the instructor arrived you would climb in, let the instructor start the plane and put on your helmet with the gosport tube which allowed the instructor to talk to you but you couldn’t talk back. I guess that was intentional to keep you out of trouble.
After a few flights we were allowed to solo and shoot touch and go landings. When the wind was right we would take off over some kind of a dorm which always had girls sunbathing on the roof. We always checked the wind direction to see if it would allow for the use of that runway.
Soon it became time for acrobatics, snap rolls, slow rolls, double snaps, inverted flight although the engine would cut out and you had to glide as the Stearmans didn’t have an inverted fuel system. By now we had pilots “washing out” for failing flight checks, or some even for not being able to pass the Red Cross swimming tests. I still have my card attesting to proficiency in swimming. Quite a few had washed out since beginning at Natchitoches. Wingovers, Immelmans, loops and pylon eights and very little tolerance was allowed in these maneuvers. We had two planes working the same pylon one day and the instructor was in one when they hit wing tips however they both made it back OK. One student flying a TIM wasn’t quite so lucky as it ended up looking like a pile of shredded plywood.
We used to go out to our assigned practice areas and do our stuff. One day I had another student in my practice area and we went down low to take a look at a cotton field. Sure enough there were some negroes picking cotton so we came in low and buzzed them. They were right down burrowing to get closer to the ground but we figured we had better not try that again. One of the men flew into a clothes line and landed back at the field trailing some laundry and making it most difficult for him to deny it when the report was phoned in. Another man got a chewing when he made a low pass to throw out a sock with his pay in it to his wife on the edge of town.
This had turned out to be another station where they did not know what an AP was. They started us out flying those greasy planes in dress whites until word finally filtered down to them. They had read somewhere where we were supposed to have a full sea bag which would have meant a heavy pea coat. Mine was at the bottom of the Pacific as I had never been in a climate where it was necessary.
I had made a couple of liberties in Memphis, losing the car the first time for a couple of hours. After a lot of walking around I finally found it and decided I had seen enough of Memphis. The next time I got a ride in and went to the amusement park where I had my first roller coaster ride.
About every time flight checks would come around there would be another poor soul wash out. One day I went to the flight line to get my assignment, got the plane number off the board and picked up my chute, jumped on the trailer and when I came to the plane with that number, jumped off, got a mechanic to crank it up and was off into the wild blue yonder. I went to my practice area and got enough altitude for some acrobatics, did a couple of snap rolls and something went wrong. A couple of Dzus buttons (pronounced Zoos) came from somewhere and hit the windscreen, then an oily rag appeared across the windscreen and this was accompanied by a vibration in the engine. I pulled the power back and looked to see if I could make it back to the field. It looked as though I would have to stretch it a bit and the vibration started getting worse. I was making a straight in approach and figured with a bit of luck I could make it when an SBD appeared off my left wing making his final approach. Having no choice in the matter I cut him off and landed. I was called up to the tower upon getting out of the plane and was informed that I had just earned a pink ticket in my folder. I said what would you have done with an engine that would not make a go-around? The man told me he would have done the same thing but he would have gotten a pink ticket too.
What had happened is that they had two planes on the line with the number I was assigned and this one had just come from A and R and had not been checked over and flight tested yet. I guess I was the only test pilot in my class.
They eased us into night flying by sending us out just before sundown and having us shoot touch and gos until after dark. It was a bit scary at first with me remembering the night landings at Coral Sea and Midway.
Other maneuvers required were slips, S-turns, and straight in approaches with 3 point touchdowns in a 50 foot circle. As we were closing out our program there we were introduced to the SNJs which were similar to the SBDs. Another instruction book for my collection.
Now we began hearing scuttlebut about assignments and I was hearing rumors that I would be scheduled for Lakehurst, New Jersey for the gas bags, (dirigibles) and I certainly wanted no part of them. Of course everyone wanted fighters at that time. Soon I was hearing more about Lakehurst as they were taking the top man from the celestial navigation class to send there and that was me. The more I thought of it the more fed up I became. I had been told that I could not have my wife with me as I was a cadet, which of course I was not but there was no arguing with them.
After sleeping on it I asked for a hearing before the board which was the board you had to appear before when they washed you out. It seemed they had never had anyone ask to get out before as they just heard from pilots who had failed flight checks or something else and wanted a second chance. This puzzled them and I got a bit of a chewing with them telling me how much money the government had spent on me the past year. They went down the line asking each one, my flight instructor as well as all those who taught the classes I was in. They could all offer no reason and looked at the psychologist for our class. He shrugged his shoulders and said I had no problems. Saying that they would give me their answer shortly, they dismissed me.
When I was advised I could be relieved of further duty there I got my orders, bought a couple of recaps for the Ford after going to the proper board for the stamps and was on my way with another sailor who was to report to CASU 36 in Alameda Naval Air Station also. Unfortunately he did not drive so I drove the thing solo with a stop in Britt and on to California. I still remember driving at night in the mountains with those dim headlights, before the days of sealed beams, and cable brakes, no hydraulic brakes on a 37 Ford. We drove it, or rather I drove it non-stop to California and was dead tired on arrival.
My new assignment was rather temporary at CASU 36 and I had maintenance as well as flight duty and I appreciated the flight pay which I had drawn except for the period in flight school. Flight pay was an additional fifty percent of the base pay and I was receiving four dollars a month for the DFCs. The pay in those days was a bit skimpy, $21 for apprentice seamen, $30 for S2C, $36 for SIC, $54 for third class petty officer, $60 for 2nd class and $72 for first class which rate I held.
I took the Ford on liberty one night and wanted to see Chinatown in Frisco. I got pretty well up the hill, the whole city was hills, and the clutch went clear out. I started to coast backwards and steered around a corner backwards and then started forward again as I turned back into Post Street. Oh yes, the brakes on the Ford decided to give out at this time and I finally got it stopped at Post and Market by driving into the curb. I had a garage pick it up, put in the new clutch for $35 and promptly sold it.
Orders came through for reassignment to VT5 which was the designation for Torpedo Five of the old “Y” but the new VT5 was just forming and had no ship assignment yet. I was granted leave prior to reporting in at Santa Rosa and took the Challenger back to Ames. Traveling on leave I was on my own as far as expenses were concerned and I was more frugal than when traveling on orders. The dining car was quite expensive so I got off the train at stops they made along the way.
Jennie, my brother Don and my folks met me at the station in Ames and we drove home with Don appearing quite uncomfortable during the trip. The next day Don was worse and the doctor said he had the flu. After a couple days in bed we got another opinion and it was determined he had a burst appendix and would need immediate surgery. Dr. Stoner who had been seeing Don had him taken to a house in Algona that served as a hospital. I watched the surgery through a window in the door and as they finished I saw them look at each other, shrug their shoulders and dump the whole box of sulfa into him. Penicillin was not available yet in those days. They didn’t hold much hope for him as they said gangrene had set in. I wired for an extension on my leave and it was granted. I was glad I could stick around until he began to do better and it was with misgivings that I left for Santa Rosa as Jennie was expecting and I knew I would not be around for the birth.
Santa Rosa was a nice little town and the air station was just in the outskirts and small enough so that one could get acquainted easily. The squadron had an opening for an aviation chief radioman and as I had time in rate they gave the advancement to me. It was to become official the next day after I was notified but the rest of the chiefs all insisted that I come over and eat in the chief’s mess and one of them gave me a chief’s cap to wear to make it look official.
We were in the process of training crew members in the TBMs which carried a crew of three to four. Pilot, turret gunner and a radio/radar operator and gunner in the rear.
We would be training in bombing and torpedo runs and it would involve going to different bases for the different activities. Overall familiarization with the aircraft was done here at Santa Rosa and with the loss of one of the first planes put into service. On final approach which was over a residential district one of our planes went inverted and into a house. The only loss of life was the crew as no one was at home in the house. We went out to do an investigation on the scene and removed the wing flap actuating cylinders taking them back to the squadron office for safekeeping. It was thought that one might have deployed and not the other causing the plane to invert. The next day for reasons unknown, the hydraulic cylinders turned up missing.
The next fatality happened around 4 in the afternoon a day later when planes on the flight line were turning up for taxi and takeoff and a mechanic pulled the wheel chocks from the right wheel and walked right through the prop to pull the left one.
We were getting off to a bad start and everyone was a bit tense. Perhaps a change of scenery would help as we took two sections north to Arcata for bombing practice in that area. I had made a lot of friends by now, especially the chiefs among which was my old friend Tumosa, there was Pagel from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Gordon Lyons who had his wife out there and Zeno McKay, and two others whose names escape me now. And then there was Al Jenkins of CASU 12 who was taking care of our planes.
We made another move to Modesto, California for night flying practice where we would once more taste of bad luck. I was line chief that night and was just in front of the line shack when one of our planes came in for a landing on the perforated steel matting that covered the runways. They must have come in gear up as there was a loud scraping noise and a bright flash and it went up in flames. The fire crew went out but it was completely enveloped in flames and ammunition was going off by that time. No one came out of the plane. Everyone was wondering if we were jinxed.
Two days later I was again line chief for night flying and was called to the tower by Waves who were working the radio that night. They said, “chief, one of your planes is in trouble, they can’t get gear or flaps down”. I took the mike and asked if they could hear the hydraulic pump running. They said yes, so I assumed a loss of hydraulic fluid. The plane’s interior always smelled of hydraulic fluid so a leak would not necessarily have been detected.
Now the reservoir is located just beneath and to starboard of the turret and accessible to the radioman/rear gunner. Knowing that the crew had been on liberty most of the day I assumed that they had probably taken on quite a good deal of beer. I wanted them to fill the reservoir but do you think I could think of the word urinate at that time. I had to improvise and do the best I could to convey my wishes to the crew and as I understood later it took both of them to replenish the reservoir. I assumed that the WAVES had heard the four letter equivalent somewhere before anyway.
The plane captain who was responsible for the cleaning of the system the next day wasn’t too thrilled over my solution to the problem.
A short time after this I was called to the office and advised that Jennie was quite seriously ill and that they had already arranged emergency leave and transportation via NATS, Naval Air Transport Service. I quickly changed into the chiefs aviation greens and got a ride up the coast to the field where they were based, got a quick salute from the marine guard and headed for the plane. It was about the same comfort level as the PBM which I had come from New Caledonia on and I found that it was no direct flight. We made a stop in southern California, one in New Mexico and then on to Kansas City. I spent an uncomfortable night in the bus depot in KC and boarded a bus for Mason City the next day and once again they took the scenic route.
I was picked up at the bus depot in Mason City by Jennie’s family and went to the hospital. Jennie sure didn’t look good at all, swollen face and extremities and I learned that she had gone into convulsions from the effects of toxemia and that they were going to induce labor. The doctor seemed to think that the baby would have a better chance than Jennie. The baby was born the next morning and was named Alan Lee. I watched through the window in the door as they worked on the baby but nothing was available such as the equipment they have today for prematures. It soon became evident that they held no hope for the baby and it was just a matter of time. It was pretty hard to carry that news into the hospital room.
Arrangements were made for the service and burial with Jennie unable to attend. I was able to remain just long enough for her to come home and get settled in before I had to return.
It was a long trip back to join the squadron at Santa Rosa and quite difficult to concentrate on my job. Eventually as Jennie got her strength back we decided that she should come out and join me. She made the trip by train and we got a hotel room in Santa Rosa which would give us time to look for an apartment, or so we thought. It seems that the hotels weren’t too enthused about military personnel setting up housekeeping. People were borrowing hot plates, keeping milk out on the window ledge, etc., so they had a three day limit on our stays. In the meantime I found a buddy at the airbase who was going overseas and he and his wife had been running a motel for the owners who were separating. We went over and interviewed with the Knowlden’s who owned the Downtown Motel on the highway in from San Francisco.
They were apparently satisfied with us and we moved into the apartment which was quite spacious and there was a maid every day except one when we would have to do the chores.
It was a seventeen unit motel, with no number 13 and it was quite interesting. Across the way a couple of girls had gone into business for themselves and had to be evicted. A girl in the unit next to our office OD’d on drugs. We had a family from one of the southern states in a 2 bedroom unit with a kitchen and the kids wrote on the plaster walls with crayons. Most of our business came from salesmen though and we would know ahead of time their arrivals and departures.
We decided it would be nice if we had transportation so we went car shopping and came home with a ’36 Plymouth Coupe. It was a nice area for sightseeing and we also had a very nice park just up the street a ways across from Luther Burbank’s home. By living off base we had the usual problems as everyone else, rationing. We went to the ration board and obtained the red points, blue points and whatever coupons were necessary.
I would pull the night shift on the line now and then and Jennie wasn’t too enthused about running the office until midnight. It became obvious that the squadron was getting ready to go to sea with the increased activity and Al Jenkins began pestering me to trade places with him. He said that with my wife there it would be nice if I stayed and waited for the next squadron to go out and he wanted to go with Lyons, Pagel and the other chiefs. I talked it over with Jennie and I told Al it was OK with me. It was no problem with paperwork as Al and I held the same rating and it was all accomplished in short order. I took his place in CASU 12 which I found later was only a short reprieve as I didn’t get a new squadron. In a few weeks I was transferred to a detachment base at Shoemaker while awaiting orders. Jennie’s brother Harm was out on the west coast and agreed to drive Jennie back to Britt in the ’36 Plymouth Coupe. They got very good mileage on gas but they poured oil into it all the way home.
While at Shoemaker, I received the bad news that VT5 had gone out on the Franklin and in their first engagement every chief in the squadron was killed, Tumosa, Pagel, Zeno McKay, Gordon Lyons, Jenkins who took my place and all the others with whom Jennie and I had spent some fun times with. I particularly remembered Hontz and Teague, a couple of fun characters whom I had flown with and wondered about their fate. The Franklin was nothing more than a floating junk yard which was eventually towed back to the USA and scrapped.
My new assignment was CASU 6 and I boarded the train for Seattle which was to be my departure point. On the train ride, April 12, 1945, I learned of President Roosevelt’s death and wondered what effect that would have as he was a strong Navy supporter and promoter of our two ocean Navy.
One night in Seattle and we boarded a transport for the island of Guam. I made friends with one of the chiefs who was going to Guam also and he offered to do a pencil sketch of me for a haircut as I still had my hand clippers.
It was quite boring, all that time on a ship and not having a job to perform but Acey Deucy and hearts helped pass the time. I missed the carrier battle group as we only had a couple tin cans for escort.
On arriving on Guam my outfit was CASU 6 on Orote Peninsula which sat up high on the end of the island. We had crushed coral all around the base except for the runway. My job was maintenance and one of the worst jobs was changing out radios in the belly of the fighters. Sitting on top of that white coral with the sun beating down it was like an oven inside. You could only stay a few seconds and usually had someone standing by to pull you out if necessary. I usually had a shirt pocket full of detonators to put in the electronic equipment with an impact switch to blow the stuff up during a crash. I found out I had been walking back and forth in front of live radars with those in my pocket and put them in a metal box to keep from being blown up.
The food wasn’t the best but we did manage to get some native produce such as fresh onions, some fruit but I was to learn much later in life through the VA that these things were suspect in health problems
We had separate quarters for the chiefs and I got into some spirited Acey Deucy games with Fussel who was a southern fellow and not a good loser. We had a chiefs club which was just another Quonset like all the rest of the camp and as a favor to the other chiefs I would cut hair there once in awhile. One night I was cutting a man’s hair and he noticed a scorpion on my shoe. I did a new dance right there. It was about like in New Caledonia, you would shake out your shoes in the morning before putting them on.
I had gone by the army base where the B29s were being flown to Japan on bombing raids and never learned until after the war that my cousin, Johnny Cary was there and had failed to return from one strike. Also Lowell Baker of Britt was on Guam as well as Willy Bartik. I didn’t leave Orote Peninsula very often so never ran into anyone there.
One evening things livened up a bit when we got a Jap in our chow line. They had holed up in caves the same as Americans had done while it was Jap occupied.
A couple of men got caught stealing potatoes from mess and were operating a still. A couple more from camp had gone out to a raft in the harbor at night where ship’s service items were stored while awaiting transfer to the proper camps and had made off with radios, pens, watches and all sorts of stuff. They had sold it and were in the process of sending money orders home when caught. We had fast buck operators of all kinds.
I had a spare low frequency aircraft radio that covered the broadcast band which was never used in the fighters so I tore it apart, made a new chassis and rebuilt it completely from scratch. About the second night I tried it out it was after lights out and no one complained as we had some nice soft music. This was interrupted with the announcement of the bomb drop and the possible unconditional surrender of the Japs. All the lights came on and there was very little sleep the rest of the night.
We wasted no time in packing and getting ready to board a couple of LSTs, the 1139 and the 867. They had a bow ramp that after running up to the beach would be lowered permitting vehicles to be run ashore.
Below decks the loading went on into the night with the final equipment being shoehorned in. Topside we had crates piled high, a “follow me jeep” for leading aircraft in and sailors everywhere climbing over a mountain of gear.
The mess compartment in the lower deck, after end was doing double duty as an office with a ladder to the wheelhouse.
My sleeping quarters was forward on the port side and also served as a passageway between decks to get topside.
We sailed for Japan on the 1139 along with the 867 and a screen of destroyers, constantly zigzagging day and night when during the second night out one of the LSTs didn’t get the signal to zig and we took a hit on the port side amidships. It broke through the hull and we immediately pumped all the fuel into the starboard tanks to control the list. At daylight we were slowed to about 8 knots and put a scaffold over the side so that we could get a welder down there. With all the fuel and water in the starboard tanks we just managed to get the breach in the hull above the water line so that we could get a patch welded on. We took turns with rifles keeping the sharks away from the man on the scaffold. I had to borrow a carbine as I had been issued a 45 automatic.
It was quite a sight as we sailed into Tokyo Bay and beached the LSTs on the ramp at Yokosuka. We could see what I think was the Japanese battleship Nagato and other ships over by the submarine base.
We had not let down the ramps and were told that we would wait till morning. We didn’t sleep much that night wondering what lay in store for us on the beach. Next morning we lowered the ramp and started off loading equipment, tools, parts and personal gear. Four of us chiefs were assigned to a large building just behind the Jap administration building but getting our priorities in order, we sneaked over to the hangars and what a sight. There in the middle of the floor was a huge pile of arms, electronic equipment, tools and I even found a sextant. We found a couple of their “BAKA” bombs in which they sealed a pilot and carried him aloft aboard this bomb with a seat and no engine, only to release him over ships with orders to aim at the largest one.
Next a couple of us discovered a cave in the large hill adjacent to our area. It had multi levels and aircraft repair shops on the lower level with shops and sleeping quarters above. One of the fellows found a hastily dropped camera and a few personal possessions in one of the quarters.
Tokyo Bay, Sept. 2, 1945 the U.S.S. MISSOURI flanked by the U.S.S. IOWA stood ready for the formal signing of the Japanese surrender. Chester Nimitz’ flag was flown from the aftermast and was flanked by McArthur’s flag but one flag that day outshone them both. It was the flag Admiral Perry had flown from almost this same location in 1854 and it had been delivered to MISSOURI by special messenger from the President of the United States of America. The formal signing took place at 0903 followed by a flight of 450 carrier planes coming masthead height over the MISSOURI. One of Japan’s large battleships which I believe to be the NAGATO was in the background.
About this time we headed back for the quarters only to find that there had been a foul up and McArthur had not as yet signed the surrender. Our building was a large three story concrete affair with a map of the world painted on the whole side of the building with naturally, Japan right in the center with spokes radiating out in all directions.
We soon found one of the large hot tubs these people were known for. However, there was no hot water and only the bravest would dare bathe and soak in them.
One of my first projects was to get a tower going on top of a large building near the breakwater for arriving aircraft. Next I was given two local Japanese telephone workers in order to get some phone lines going. We also had one interpreter we shared by the name of Suzuki. When we first landed we saw no one at all and then one at a time would peek out from around a building. One of my workers had expressed a desire through the interpreter to learn a bit of English so I was to teach him some English in return for him teaching me an equal amount of Japanese. I first taught him to count, Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro, Cinco, etc. and he taught me to count in Japanese. He was a bit concerned when no one could understand him.
I had one worker that would do my laundry in a concrete trough and I gave him a pair of GI shoes. They stopped him going out the gate that night with them and he came back indicating they wouldn’t let him out. I ended up carrying them out for him as he was a hard worker.
My little radio worked better than expected on the Japanese current which was only 50 cycle and 90 volts. I was glad I had used heavy parts in the power supply. I got a lot of comments on that radio, it also had an aircraft 24 hour clock in the front panel, one I had rescued from an F4U Corsair in New Caledonia.
I did venture off base into the edge of Yokosuka one day and there was a cold rain coming down. I marveled at the health of the Japanese infants who were riding on their mother’s back in a scarf. I figured it must be only the extra strong ones who survived.
One day the mayor of the town came out in his most prized possession, his automobile. He had a little fellow walking ahead of him steering him around the potholes. He came to invite some of us to dinner that night. Five of us were to go over to his house for an evening of dining and entertainment. Not being too anxious to partake of a menu that we were not familiar with we sent some of our best steaks on ahead in the afternoon so that we might treat them also.
Arriving there in the evening we were led into a room after divesting ourselves of shoes and seated on the floor cross legged with a very low table in front of us. His daughters were to serve us and provide the entertainment.
One of the things on the first course was what I had dreaded the most after discovering that there would be no steaks. Yes, fish heads and rice. Apparently there is a small piece of meat just behind the eye socket. The next thing looked like a hamburger patty and I worked on it with my chopsticks for awhile and it flipped over on my plate. Lo and behold a pair of birds legs were looking at me. I think I ate some seaweed and this was without dressing. We got through the evening somehow and politely thanked him and left.
They had the honey bucket people on the streets going from house to house collecting fertilizer for their gardens, I was glad we had not had any fresh produce. These men would have a long pole across their shoulders with a bucket on each end. One day Fussel came tearing down the narrow street in his jeep and avoided the man but hit one of the honey buckets, spinning man and buckets around like a child’s top. Everything for several feet around was painted in earth tones.
One morning my sinuses were bothering me quite badly and I made a trip to a wood and straw shack they were using as a temporary dispensary. It appeared its main function was the dispensing of APC tablets as I didn’t see much around the room in the way of equipment. A pharmacist mate asked my trouble and proceeded to get a couple of long wires and wrapped cotton around the ends. He then placed them up my nose as far as they would go. While I was sitting there trying to protect the ends from being bumped by someone, the whole place broke into flame. The alcohol heater for the sterilizer had been knocked over and the wood and straw construction took off immediately. People were scurrying around like ants from a stomped on ant hill. I finally found my way out with my arms held in front of the swabs for protection. I removed them myself and decided to risk being a social outcast with a runny nose.
Time came for us to move around the other side of the bay to Kisarazu and for the trip we found a Jap fire truck that didn’t appear to have any immediate duties to perform so we loaded it up and headed out. Well, we got into downtown Tokyo without too much trouble but getting back out again was another thing. I got off and stopped a gentleman walking along the Ginza for directions, I said “Kisarazu, you know, you show me”. He looked at me for awhile and said in the king’s English, “oh, that is quite far”. The next person I asked told me in broken English that there was no way of giving directions as all the buildings were bombed out, everything gone, no landmarks.
We found that we had not been lied to when told that these people used the center of the street as a toilet. They would stop in mid stride and urinate. I have forgotten the way they said it but it was to the effect that you leave it where the sun can dry it. Women would come running out of the house holding a child and into the street thereby saving on diapers.
Kisarazu was a big disappointment. It was barren of any conveniences whatsoever and they would bring food across the bay for us which consisted of only one thing, boneless turkey and crackers and so help me I can’t stand the thought of that stuff today. Well, here we were, a complete CASU outfit and one airplane, it soon became evident that we were overstaffed. One day on a trip to see the yeoman I learned that orders had come in to transfer two men out of the outfit to Bering Strait. Isn’t that by Alaska?, a chance to get back to the states. I found out the skipper was off base and the exec was drunk. I talked to the yeoman to put my name and that of a buddy on the orders and get the exec to sign them before he sobered up. We packed and got out of there in a flash. What the yeoman didn’t tell me was that this was the “U.S.S. BERING STRAIT” a ship. Well, too late now and we arrived just in time to sail. It was a destroyer escort hull which had been made into a seaplane tender but one of the small ones that were not able to bring a seaplane aboard but refueled them and furnished spare parts.
I discovered that they did not really have an opening for an aviation chief radioman so I really didn’t have a job. I did volunteer to copy radio messages in the radio room now and then but mostly I enjoyed doing the cooking in the chief’s quarters which was clear up forward just aft of the paint locker.
We chiefs had our own mess for which we paid a nominal fee and we could come down after the movies and fry up cheeseburgers or whatever we wanted. One night I made a pot roast with potatoes and carrots and everyone overate. I fell asleep on the leather couch and when I awoke I discovered that some change had fallen out of my pocket so I proceeded to remove a cushion and came up with three dollars and seventy five cents. What a windfall, but I donated it to the mess.
One night we lay at anchor off Ominada and there was a bad groundswell. My bunk was athwartships so I got the maximum benefit of it. Now the ship was rising and falling, at the same time it was rocking left and right and the bow was rising and falling if you can imagine anything moving about all three axis at the same time. After all the bad storms in the Atlantic and off Cape Hatteras and never once getting seasick I really made up for it this night.
One of the more interesting stops was Hong Kong China. We put in there for fuel and supplies. We walked down narrow busy streets lined with merchandise hanging from store fronts. Ducks picked and cleaned hung in the sun and looking not the least bit appetizing to this sailor. I entered a few shops where I purchased a piece of jade for a dinner ring, a pair of jade earrings to match set in silver mounts, a hand carved Buddha in redwood, a platter with chopsticks and a silk Kimono complete with a large colorful dragon on the back.
You do not accept the initial price given by the merchant but haggle until you can get him no lower. Then the figuring is done on an Abacus board which is the forerunner of the modern computer. These merchants were so adept with it that your eyes couldn’t follow the little beads flying up and down.
The rate of exchange varies not only from day to day but can change by the hour with the movement of ships in the harbor. The banks and currency exchanges have runners who keep them posted on shipping. Ships come in and the rate goes in their favor, ships leave and the rate goes in favor of the buyer as it is all due to the amount of money in circulation. I saved a Chinese paper with ads in it for coffee, $800 a cup, ice cream, $500 a dip and they had more than one type of currency, one of which was the CNC notes. Chinese National Currency.
These people were very adept at manufacturing things of trash such as jewelry out of tin cans and were constantly tugging at you to buy their items. I did look at some diamonds which I understood could be real bargains, if you knew diamonds but I had no knowledge in this area leaving it to others to invest in the commodity.
As evening approached you could see the homeless scurrying to find shelter. Some of the favorite spots were the basement window wells along the sidewalks.
As in other Chinese seaports and river cities an entire family of up to three generations would live on a small junk or sampan and supplement their diet by shrimping.
I was not too disappointed when informed that I was going to the large tender, U.S.S. ST GEORGE and assigned to VPB27 which was a squadron of PBM Mariners.
VPB27 was assigned to the task of flying mail, parts, and personnel around China, Japan, Philippines and wherever else needed. The St. George had the capability to bring the large seaplanes aboard for scraping and repainting the hull, patching hulls and other maintenance. Engine repair was usually done on the water by means of stands affixed to the wings for the mechanics to work from.
My first morning aboard the ship I sat at mess with the rest of the chiefs and a mess cook came to me and asked, “how do you want you eggs chief?” I hadn’t dreamed of real eggs and I told him over easy. They looked a lot better than they tasted as they were cold storage eggs.
We did eat quite well on the planes as we had a small galley just beneath the flight deck and we took turns fixing meals. We had an electric hot pot for heating soup and vegetables and an electric range for other cooking. I had a picture of myself frying steak at 10,000 feet. We had bunks in the rear for use when we were off duty if they didn’t contain too much cargo.
We made a flight into Shanghai and landing on the Huangpu river that went through the city was a bit touchy as there was a very rapid tidal current flowing either in or out all the time. Upon landing and anchoring we learned that we were scheduled for a turn around that same afternoon. We had expected to at least go ashore to take in the sights and this was needless to say quite a disappointment. We had a little pow pow and one of the mechs went out on the starboard wing with a ball peen hammer and lo and behold, he found a cracked exhaust stack on that engine. Now normally this is a job we could take care of next morning and be on our way, but this happened to be one stack that was not in stock on the U.S.S. Pine Island which was the repair ship tied up to the pier at the Kaiping coal wharf.
Well, then we should have another day while waiting for the part to be flown in. We did make a liberty and heard of a little cafe way out on the outskirts that was run by an old retired chief. We got a rickshaw and went out in the afternoon passing by a soccer field where we watched the seven foot tall Sikhs playing soccer. We arrived at the little cafe and sat around there visiting with the owner and snacking until dinner time. The evening meal consisted of steak, salad, and french fries, which we had been snacking on all afternoon for the price of one dollar. Well he did have a low overhead what with USN on all the silverware, GI waste baskets and even the chairs looked familiar. We visited until after dark and had noticed faces at the window in the door. Upon leaving we discovered that the narrow street was full of faces. You had to elbow your way through and finding one lad who spoke English a bit we were offered a look into their home. These were high density apartment houses and the one he showed us had one small room for three generations.
On the way back we decided to stay on the Pine Island for the night and go back to the plane in the morning having left a couple of men to guard the plane.
The next morning we discovered the Huangpu river had many uses. It was the thoroughfare for junks bringing produce to market from little canals entering the river much the same as roads in our country. It was also the city sewer with even dead bodies being disposed of by pushing them into the river. There was a sampan tied to the pier and I was told that the first family to arrive at a ship’s berthing claimed that ship and in payment for chipping paint along the water line, a job detested by sailors, they were permitted to go through the ship’s garbage. I watched as they separated the carrots and peas which had been mixed on purpose by the cooks, into two separate piles. One old grandmother took a couple slices of bread that had been thrown on top of the garbage can and had been dampened by coffee and swished them in the river, then lay them up on the deck of the sampan to dry.
We called for the launch to go back to the plane and took out a load of groceries, steak, eggs and a few other things. Upon starting the auxiliary generator referred to as the PUTT PUTT. It gave out some strange noises and promptly died. Now we had no electricity for the galley and sent a message to the Pine Island asking for sandwiches and coffee. They, knowing of the supplies we had carried out ignored us completely. Finally in the evening, we got the putt putt going again and happily, as without it, no heat for the bow heater and the temperature was dropping.
Wouldn’t you know the bow heater didn’t want to start and while we were working on it (it was operated by gasoline) we heard a bump on the side of the hull. It turned out to be a black market operator drifting down the river at night with his wares trying to avoid the police in the darkness. I leaned out the window on the flight deck and got a pair of handmade brown leather boots for a 30 cent carton of cigarettes just before the bow heater let go a blast with a flash of flame just over his head. He and his boat left hastily with each going in a different direction. At least we now had heat.
Repairs were made the next day and we were off to Sasebo which was quite a sight with at least 7 Jap ships beached in the circular bay, three small carriers alone. We lay at anchor here for a couple of days and then it was on to Manilla where we went ashore for overnight. In the morning we proceeded under orders back to Oahu to be based at Kaneohe Bay which was familiar territory. We did have one layover in Johnson Island which from the air resembles an aircraft carrier. It is quite small and the barracks I spent the night in allowed me to hear the surf on both sides of the island. The sea gulls, or as the sailors called them, gooney birds, held a 99 year lease on the island. They were a hazard to aircraft taking off from the runway but our water takeoffs weren’t hampered by them.
Back in Kaneohe we were assigned a large hangar allowing us to get our large seaplanes inside for regularly scheduled inspections. No more standing on a small platform suspended over the water doing engine repair or changes. We were back into real dormitories again with good mess facilities and even a ship’s service, canteen and movie theater.
To keep up our gunnery skills we were sent out to the range for skeet shooting. I liked the doubles with a clay bird from both the right and left tower at the same time which meant you had to get on target fast. This in some respects was similar to aerial machine gunnery. The PBMs carried 50 caliber guns in both port and starboard waist hatches, with one topside also. The bubble on top could be used by the navigator for star shots also.
The PBM was very unforgiving as to weight and balance and would start to porpoise on takeoff if it were out of CG, (center of gravity) and once started if allowed to continue through more than two oscillations it would most likely go down nose first into the water. This happened to one of ours killing the entire crew in sight of the station.
We soon had the opportunity to remodel the old Quonset huts to be used for living quarters for dependents should we desire to bring them out. I talked with Jennie and she was looking forward to joining me there. I worked every evening on the huts and we would be put on the waiting list for one when they were finished. By a stroke of good fortune they decided that I should have one half of a duplex in housing at “Termite Village” which was a dependents housing facility right on the base. 441A was our new address and even a phone numbered 72835. Roy Lightfoot and his wife and small son were just across the street from us. He was an aviation chief machinist mate in our squadron.
Jennie had come to California to stay with one of my elderly relatives out there, Mary and Gilbert Austin who were glad to have the company. I wanted Jennie to fly out but she would have none of that and elected to wait for a ship. In the meantime I had the opportunity to take a “transpac” back to the west coast and spend a short leave with her while she waited for passage on a ship.
Now our PBMs were getting some age on them and we would be taking the older ones that were not too reliable any more back to the west coast for either major overhaul and new engines or to be scrapped. These things cruised out at about 115 knots and the thought of a thirteen hour flight over water in them did cause some concern. After waiting a few hours for a cable line I was able to make a call telling Jennie I was coming the next day. We loaded up with fuel, coffee and sandwiches, double checked everything and attached the JATO bottles to the waist hatches. This was our jet assisted takeoff to allow us to get off with the heavy fuel load we had. We would crack the first two to get the plane up on the step and the other two to get it off the water. With this much of a load we would be about 75 miles out to sea before we were able to get out of ground effect and begin to gain altitude. Murphy’s law went into effect. The navigator had failed to account for some food and stores that had been put through the bow hatch into the galley and we were out of CG enough that it started to porpoise. The JATO bottles had been cracked and it was sundown allowing us no time to rearm for another attempt. The next evening we readied for another try. This time all appeared to go well until near the halfway point. As I indicated, these old things were just not too reliable. The port engine propeller went into flat pitch and we thought it was coming through the side of the fuselage right into the flight deck. Throttling back for awhile and exercising the prop control brought it back to life. By now we were nearing the picket boat which was on station at sea at about the halfway point. If you are having trouble or lose communications before the halfway point you are required to turn back. Murphy again popped up and the radio went out. I had no spare to put in the rack and couldn’t bring it to life so we had to turn around and return to Kaneohe which brought us in about daylight.
By now we began to wonder if we were jinxed. Two days later we received our orders to take PBM Bureau number 59244 along with Pilots Moore, Barnum and Spurlin and crew members Saburn, Carpenter, Bridges, Lutz, Flanagan and myself for delivery to Commander Fleet Air Wing, west coast.
We got off this time without any problems and after a stint on the flight deck I took a short nap in the after bunks.
Out plans were to deliver the plane to Alameda Naval Air Station and our orders permitted us to take off on liberty coming back Monday morning to pick up leave papers. I had put on my dress aviation greens under my nylon flight suit so that I wouldn’t have to waste any time getting ready to go out the main gate.
The beaching crew met us and put the dolly wheels on and pulled us up onto the ramp. As soon as they put the ladder up to the waist hatch I went out and headed for the main gate leaving Moore and Spurlin to turn in the papers.
I caught a cab to the bus depot and grabbed a bus for Modesto where Gilbert Austin met me to take me to his home in Denair where Jennie was waiting. We had the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday before I had to report back to pick up some leave papers so Jennie and I went up to Oakland and got a hotel room for the night. We went over to San Francisco and walked down Van Ness Ave. to Jennie’s sister Susan’s apartment at #288 So. Vaness and spent the day and that night there. Susan and her husband Ronnie and their little daughter Carol took us to the park and showed us around a bit with a side trip to the amusement park.
Monday morning I returned to the Air Station to pick up my leave papers. I was notified they could find no record of me or a leave. In further searching they discovered that right after my departure they found the plane was to have been delivered to San Diego and the rest of the crew boarded her and took off. Now I was in a mess, I left Jennie in the hotel, got a flight to San Diego and got the leave straightened out but had to stay overnight to get a flight back the next day. Making it back without further incident I picked Jennie up at the hotel and we took the bus back to Denair. After my short leave was up I was ordered to report to TADCEN at Shoemaker for transportation back to Oahu.
I caught a ship back this time and soon Jennie received her departure date on the Arthur Middleton. She wasn’t troubled by the rough seas but everyone else in the cabin got seasick and they had to wet the table cloths to keep the dishes from sliding back and forth on the table.
I met her at the dock at Pearl with the traditional Lei and a short ride took us over the Pali to Kaneohe Bay and 441A Termite Village. It was a furnished apartment and within walking distance of the base facilities including the commissary where we bought groceries. It was necessary to hold each slice of bread up to the light and pick out the weevils. Funny I had never noticed that while eating in the mess hall, maybe they had a different source of flour.
To explain the reason for the name TERMITE VILLAGE. One night as we sat on the punai in the living room we heard a faint hum and went in the kitchen to investigate. We discovered a swarm of termites resembling flying ants emerging from the wall just beneath the kitchen window. We found that this was not a rare occurrence at all and others had been visited by these house guests.
On one trip to the commissary for groceries one of the clerks asked me if I would like a little something extra in my sack. I should have been suspicious but I stopped to inquire and was shown the cutest little tiger striped kitten you ever saw. I put him on top of the sack and took him home, sat the sack down on the table and asked Jennie to unload it. We adopted “STINKY” and set up a litter box which he took to readily. In fact the first time I let him out he about went nuts trying to get back into the box.
There was an arts and craft shop just around the corner from our apartment and most all the materials were furnished. Also one of the base personnel was a radio ham and had been given use of a shack down by the main gate. I visited with him about it, having been desirous of getting a ham license ever since grade school. This was by big chance. I made an appointment in the federal building in Honolulu and took the test. A few weeks later I received my license and went on the air from the base radio shack with the call letters W0ILY. This was right after the FCC opened licensing up again after the war as all amateur communications was shut down during hostilities.
Kaneohe was on the windward side of the island and you could always tell just how far a window had been opened as the curtains had the red volcanic ash on them and when the sudden rain squalls blew up it compounded the problem, staining them even more.
We used to watch for the good humor man in his little truck with the jingle bells on it. The wives would come running out to meet him and purchase frozen fish, shrimp, ice cream and other goodies that were not available in the commissary. It was hard to figure why eggs were $1.35 a dozen in 1946 dollars, and butter was only about 35 cents per pound.
There was a nice chiefs club right down the street but it was used mainly by the chiefs who were single or did not have their wives on the base.
We soon found we had the best beach on the island just about a half mile from our apartment and absolutely no one was ever using it. It would put Waikiki to shame and all ours, well almost, as we had mentioned it to Mildred and Roy and the three of them would accompany us once in awhile. A lot of fun times relaxing in the sun out there. Right adjacent was that little cemetery with the white crosses and white picket fence where those lost on December 7th at Kaneohe were buried. One day Jennie ventured out to a large rock just off shore and while standing there a shark fin came out of the water at her feet. She came close to walking on water that day.
Lightfoots bought a surplus jeep for $225 and took us on a tour of the island. We went by the blow hole and up around Waimea Bay, by the cane fields and ended up in Honolulu.
The squadron was engaging in Sonobuoy operations with the submarine fleet. We would have seven Sonobuoy transmitters which would be dropped in a pattern over a suspected sub location. You could tune them in one at a time to determine which one the sub was closest to, its direction of travel and then drop the final one to let you know when it passed allowing the depth charge to be dropped on it. It was necessary to familiarize all hands with the operations so we would take sub crew members up with us and we would go down on the sub. One day it was my turn to go down on the sub and I was to be with the sonar man. We rigged for dive and the klaxon horn nearly blew your hat off to the accompaniment of “DIVE, DIVE, DIVE” and there was a noticeable change as the diesels shut down and the electric drive took over. Also I could sense the slant of the deck change. Suddenly there was a great deal of frenzied activity and the sound of water. It was blow ballast and get the bow planes up to get to the surface as quickly as possible. Once on the surface I was advised that we had dived with the main induction open. That is the main air intake for the sub.
When things normalized I told the Sonarman that I recalled reading a book in the late 30s about a sub on the east coast that dived with the main induction open and lost 33 men, it was raised and refitted, it was the old S28 boat, Squalus. He looked at me and said “This is the old S28 boat and they renamed it the Sailfish”. This was enough for me as this was supposed to be impossible, the “Christmas Tree” is supposed to be all green with no red lights before you dive. Apparently there was a malfunction both times and I vowed never to board another submarine.
Congress was cutting appropriations and we were told that we would no longer be able to throw out a set of Sonobuoys and take subs out for practice. After a conference with the exec I went to the salvage yard and got a bunch of junk together and constructed a device that allowed a person to sit in the hangar and simulate the path of a sub through the water even to the sound of the props, with flight crews in the next room monitoring this on a chart. They were so proud of it they invited the Admiral to look at it the next captain’s inspection. I used an oblong cardboard box taped to a 33 1/3 rpm turntable with rice in the box to simulate the sound of a submarines prop under water. Upon the Admiral’s arrival, we turned the system on and promptly discovered mice had chewed a corner out of the box releasing the rice. We made hasty repairs and the demonstration was successful. Apparently he liked it too as I was notified that my enlistment was coming to a close and if I would ship over I would be recommended for warrant officer with the possibility of chief warrant before long.
Lightfoot tried to talk me into shipping over but I told him that once they had your name on the line they could do anything they wanted. He said he was going to ship over as he liked it out there. I told him I doubted he would stay there once he signed up.
Sure enough, he shipped over and I later found out they sent him to the Mediterranean and his wife back to Florida. We decided that the best thing for us was to take the discharge and return to Iowa.
We had bought a ’39 Packard after researching the car market and discovering that the only thing harder to get than a car was an apartment. We paid $939 for the Packard which had some rust holes in the doors. The only other possibility was a Hudson that was lying in pieces yet on the man’s floor.
At least it allowed us to get around a bit easier and we reasoned that with our mothers coming out to the west coast to meet us we could all drive back in the car. With my orders all typed up and a few good-byes we loaded our stuff into the car as the Navy was going to ship it back on the same ship we would be on. Well, surprise, through usual government efficiency they had scheduled Jennie and the car on one ship and me on another. With the help of the skipper I got that changed at the last minute. I had a little different boarding procedure than Jennie, she was comfortably on the ship and I was standing on the dock waiting to have my bags inspected. I figured they would take almost everything so I had my flight gear and 45 automatic right on top. I had previously tried to turn in the 45 and was told they had no method of accounting for it. They pushed all that stuff aside and asked if I had any lighter fluid or photos. When told I didn’t have any of that they passed me by.
We had a nice uneventful leisurely cruise back to the states with one last look at Diamond Head, leaving October 30 and arriving at San Francisco 0845, November 5 where I drove the car off the ship and we went to pick up Jennie’s mother and drove to Denair where my mother was waiting. I then went to Treasure Island and spent the day going through the separation process and receiving my mustering out pay.
To complete my role as a civilian I went to a men’s clothing store to celebrate my entry into the outside world. I remembered that six years ago I had also walked in for a clothing change.
The Lord has smiled upon me in the years following separation from Naval service just as he did during my six years from January of 1941 to January 1947.
He has given me a family to share the good times and the bad and seen me through many difficult physical experiences.
I have no fear of the future as I have received the promise of eternal life from His hand, aware that I have already received the allotted to man on this earth.
Now during the quiet times I think I can hear the Lord’s voice saying, “STANDBY.”
Lynn Forshee Obituary
Lynn R. Forshee, 84, of Britt passed away on Sunday, February 11, 2007 at Mercy Medical Center of North Iowa in Mason City.
Funeral services for Lynn Forshee were held Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 1:30 p.m. at the Bethel Baptist Church in Britt with Pastors Robert Fleming, Stan Johnson and Keith Wiyninger officiating. Burial will be at Evergreen Cemetery in Britt.
Visitation was held Wednesday, February 14, 2007 from 5:00 until 7:00 p.m. at the Ewing Dugger Funeral Chapel, 178 Center Street West in Britt and one hour prior to services at the church.
Lynn Raymond Forshee, the son of John Raymond and Iadona Cary Forshee, was born on December 31, 1922 in Mason City. His family lived in Albert Lea, Minnesota for a short time, which is where Lynn started his education. The family then moved to Britt where Lynn was raised for most of his life and he finished his education in the Britt schools.
On January 1, 1941 Lynn joined the United States Navy to go to Great Lakes Naval Training near Chicago. He served his country aboard the USS Yorktown as a radioman and gunner. Lynn took part in the Battle of Midway and Coral Sea receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses for his efforts.
On February 10, 1944 Lynn was united in marriage to Jennie Lewerke at his parents’ home in Britt. The couple moved to Athens, Georgia and later Hawaii. When Lynn was honorably discharged from the Navy on January 13, 1947, he and Jennie made their home in Britt and raised their family.
Lynn started his own radio company in Britt, which would later be known as North Central Communication. He also worked as a movie projectionist, school bus driver, auto mechanic at Pritchard Auto, helped with construction in Duncan after the tornado went through, Justice of the Peace and lastly for the state of Iowa. Lynn started working for the State Department of Public Safety in communications for the Iowa State Patrol on September 27, 1954 and later as an Assistant State Fire Marshall on May 17, 1978 retiring in 1986.
Lynn loved to share stories about his time spent in the Navy. He was also very accomplished at photography, carpentry, electrical and plumbing. Lynn built the house that he and Jennie called home. He enjoyed playing the organ, listening to music, flying, astronomy and operating his HAM radio.
Lynn was a member of Bethel Baptist Church in Britt and in the last few years, friends were able to take him to the Evangelical Free Church in Britt for Sunday services. He belonged to the VFW, American Legion and was on the Hancock County Veterans’ Affairs Board.
Lynn is survived by his wife of 63 years Jennie; son, Gary Forshee of Urbandale; daughter Marlene Meckenstock and her husband Ron of Wichita, Kansas; brother, Donald Forshee and his wife Ellen of Swea City; as well as nieces, nephews and other family members.
He was preceded in death by his parents, a son and a sister both in infancy.