Chapter 8

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

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 form 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 ships 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 gedunks (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 was 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 reville 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.



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