Chapter 3

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

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 swabbys 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 ones mind.  Well, the next stop of any duration was in Cincinnatti, guess what, Johnnys 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.


Bombing Squadron Five at Norfolk, Virginia, just prior to the time I joined the squadron in July of 1941.  Less thn half of this group sailed with us to the Pacific following Pearl Harbor.  Shown is one of the old BTs in use prior to receiving the new SBDs.


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 a while 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 tunafish sandwiches for fifteen cents which he peddled daily at the hangar.  I didn’t take too many libertys 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 todays 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 by 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.


Copyright ©2004-2007 Lynn R. Forshee.  All rights reserved.