Chapter 6

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

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 by 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 sun glasses, 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 a while 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 a while 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”.

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