“This is No Drill, Drill, Drill” *
I have been negligent in coming up with some of our escapades and memories from AvMid’n days and will now comply.
(Story #1: “I Pass/Flunk the Test.”): I received orders to VP-HL-13 at NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii mid-1948 with a delay in reporting so’s to attend Fleet Airborne Electronic Training Unit (Pacific) at NAF Ream Field, south of NAS North Island. By the time I’d graduated (barely) from this school, the squadron’s name had changed to VP-25 and they were deployed to NAS, Guam.
Arriving at Agana, I was informed that the crew to which I was to be assigned was on Okinawa, would I please hi-yako up there. Arriving at Naha, the first test I both passed and failed was the drinking one. The bar at our BOQ (a Butler Building) was overstocked with left over WW II booze so each stalwart drew a bottle in place of a glass. The question the “Old Timers” had of me was simple: could a Middie quaff a bottle of booze and still navigate? Well, I did--it was Vat 69--but then failed the remainder of the test by turning left into the nearest uncleared minefield rather than right to my bunk. Spent the night in an abandoned reefer box and was rescued in the AM by several SeaBees with mine detectors. The skipper, CDR Norrie Johnson, then told me that my deportment, while not in the highest traditions of the squadron, did qualify me to use the squadron call sign which was “Wildman.”
(Story #2: “This is No Drill, Drill, Drill “): We moved shortly to Tsingtao, China where several interesting things happened. In the first, we were performing a USF #78 exercise, trying to intercept a US sub driving toward Tsingtao over a five day period. Our briefings indicated the sub was probably two hundred miles or so out (this was the third day of the exercise) and that there were no other subs in the area. So, off we went into the 0400 charcoal haze over MCAS Tsingtao.
Six hours later we gave up and headed for home--no contact. Our patrol altitude was 1500 feet and, in the event we spotted our target, we had a miniature bomb rack suspended in the tunnel hatch in the after station of the PB4Y-2B. This was closed up; we climbed to 2500 feet; and sent a “relieved on station” report by key to base. Several hours later--we were probably fifty miles from MCAS--one of the crew sitting in the bombardier’s compartment excitedly called, “There’s the sub! Right on the bow! Four miles!”
Tom Suther, our PPC saw it about the same time and we went into a real Chinese fire drill getting the miniatures ready for action, the cameraman back into the tail turret and the other turrets manned. Radio sent out the usual, “DRILL DRILL/OC/OC/SUBMARINE SURFACE CONTACT (LAT 7 LON) ATTACKING /DRILL DRILL DRILL.”
Tom made a fine Class A attack, dropping the miniatures athwart the by now crash diving submarine and the cameraman in the rear turret recorded the direct hit – right by the periscopes and the – was that a snorkel? Yes, it was a snorkel and the only snorkelers (ex-German -23 boats) in the Yellow Sea were the Russians. Base came back about this time suggesting that we hurry on home in radio silence – THIS IS NO DRILL/REPEAT/THIS IS NO DRILL.
Landing a half hour or so later, we found that Admiral Badger plus every three and four striper in the area had made it to the Air Station in record time from downtown. We were queried, questioned, interrogated, probed, examined and grilled while our film was developed. The Intelligence gang took a second to pronounce it a Russian -23 boat acquired from the Nazis – Admiral Badger said, “Shyiit!” – and we were instructed to return to quarters to await further developments … of which, there were none.
I’ve longed for lo these forty odd years to meet that skipper and hear his side of the story! “You comrades won’t believe this, but the other day on patrol in the Yellow Sea …”
Another China story took place not long after. A few of us were “relaxing” in the ABC Dance Hall after an eight hour jaunt over the Yellow Sea. We lived sumptuously in an old German hotel – The Edgewater Beach Mansions – where each resident was issued a towel, soap and a houseboy upon checking in (it had been a house girl until a rather prim black foot took over as BOQ officer). I had made friends with an attractive young thing name of Meling some days earlier and was suggesting to her that we might just slip back to the Edgewater chop chop and have a rittle ol brandy and a tub (water was scarce in those days). She demurred, saying, “Chorrie not stay homey, homey all night – no fun.”
I argued that there was no way, I was going flying for several days, but she assured me, “Big brue prane go fry fry ‘morrow soon.” I lost the argument. She went home own lickshaw – Chorrie go home own lickshaw – and, my houseboy woke me from a sound sleep at 0300 saying, “Boss pilot wait you front door. You chop chop down go fry.”
We took off at 0430 for Haneda carrying some Blackfoot Intel’ Commander carrying a TS document to MacArthur’s Headquarters. “Spur of the moment flight,” he said.
Another anecdote worth filing in the AvMid’n time capsule concerns one Aviation Midshipman who shall remain nameless. He ended up as my PP1P – a great pilot – but a real pisser. Every flight it was, “Gear Up! Coffee Pot On! Permission to leave the cockpit, Sir!” Permission granted, he would retire to the radioman’s rack where the relief tube in our B-24M (PB4Y-1P) hung about one carriage length from the radioman’s typewriter. George, we’ll call him, would quickly draw the relief tube to the vicinity of his male member and let go, getting the majority down the tube, but always leaving a little bit for the radioman’s typewriter, rack and radio log.
After several months of this, my crew (PP-13 of VC-61) asked, would I mind if they made a minor adjustment to the venturi system on the relief tube. Not at all, I replied, only to be overwhelmed the following day by a new venturi measuring, probably six inches at the open ends and an inch or less at the throat! George, like all good PP1Ps, pre-flighted the aircraft and never noticed the new piece of claptrap suspended right in his very way as he ducked into the port forward bomb bay to enter the craft.
Soon it was “Gear Up! etc.” and, as George left the cockpit, I could hear this wild whistle emanating from the relief tube as treble or quadruple the normal air flow air was being sucked through. When the scream of pain came, the radio man broke the suction by quickly severing the relief tube with a pair of scissors brought along for the occasion and, George, to his dying day1, I am sure, never again relieved himself while airborne!
VC-61 became VP-61 somewhere along the way – VC holding on to fighter photo and we husbanding our rottencrotch -24s and Beechs. In November of ‘50 (I only remember the date because that was the year Navy upset Army and we “watched” the game at about 0400 at the NAS Sangley Point “O” Club. (You watched games in those days by setting up a humongeous blackboard as a playing field and then tracing the game’s moves – passes, interceptions, fumbles, yards gained, etc. – with chalk as each quarter unfolded). Of course there was much drinking and gambling to ease things along.
Anyhow, I was flying a brand new (from NAS Litchfield Park) PB4Y-2 to the French Naval Air Arm at Saigon. I was an Ensign PPC with a LCDR co-pilot who didn’t want to know how to fly a 4Y – in fact all he ever flew were the Beech’s. A great guy, nonetheless. We had hopped from Moffet to Barbers to Johnston to Kwaj’ to Agana to Sangley Point and were RON-ing there prior to leaving the following morning for Saigon. The afternoon of our arrival, I had taken my four chiefs (they had never been west of Hawaii) on a tour of downtown Cavite, or, as we used to say, “Cabeeti-Cabeeti”. We’d stopped by the Copacabana for some beer and a check on the girls (it was too early, naturally) and were walking down the main drag when, midst all the pandemonium and noise of downtown Cavite, I hear, “Cholly! Cholly! I see the beeg blue airplane and I know my Cholly come back!”
Sonuvabitch if it wasn’t Ramona! Several years before, I’d done a stretch of Typhoon duty at Sangley with VP-25 and had met a young thing name of Ramona. She had a “… beeg medal” from Uncle Sugar for her part in carrying messages as a child during the occupation and, when I met her, was working at the Navy Exchange at Sangley. We’d enjoyed each other’s company for a spell then and damned if she hadn’t spotted me in the crowd.
I was actually a bit embarrassed by all the attention her yelling got as she jumped from the Jeepny in which she was riding and came to join our little group on the sidewalk. Actually, that little episode made it for me with my crew of rather elderly, jaundiced Chiefs! They were pretty well convinced by then that I could fly and I’d treated them reasonably, much as you would grown-ups so far, and now this – this pretty little brown skinned maiden leaping from her chariot to throw her arms around the “boss” at high noon in Cavite. That story got retold in chiefs’ messes throughout the Pacific Fleet and I never wanted for good crew members from then on!
And you ought to ask Hank Stanley about the wire suspended across the valley in Korea which removed the dog house on his PBM, causing the trusty craft to stall. Undaunted, Hank recovered and flew on, sans radar.
I ended my active duty career as Ops Officer at the Photo Center, NAS, Anacostia. Our skipper was Captain Joe Ruddy – later relieved by another photo character, Captain Johnnie McElroy. There were probably six or seven “pilots” at the Center and as I remember, only two or three of them really cared about aviating. Captain Ruddy was a fearless cleaver of the bright blue, however, and had pulled every string in the book to get an F7F assigned to our motley fleet (1F6F-5P and 1 SNB-5P). Success came the day he was transferred so I went to Cherry Point to pick up our freshly overhauled F7F-3P. It was an awesome vehicle for a mostly Four By pilot to behold. True, I had maybe a hundred hours in the Hellcat, but that was easier than flying an N2S. This thing, as it rested on the ramp at MCAS Cherry Point awaiting my attention, absolutely exuded heavy duty fighter pilot Hotel Sierra stuff.
Startcart in place – crank up number one (or was it two?) – then number two (or was it one?) Taxi to TO position – long check and double check – then push ‘em forward and Jesus T. Christ we’re airborne! Where’s the gear handle?
What’s that? Oil going down on number one and no co-pilot to feather it! Hit the button – mixture off – switch off – level this mother out!
Turns out, the O&R folk had hurried the airplane along and “… neglected to tighten up several of the clamps designed to maintain the integrity of the lub’ system”, as the civilian who inspected my bird later said. That wasn’t what I said.
An hour later, fresh store of oil and double secured clamps and it’s off we go again for Anacostia. Squall line enroute north of Norfolk. Land at NAS and wait? No. Got a date with old what’s her name tonight. Go over or under. No oxygen on board, so it’s under, through a light spot at 800 feet and 16 knots … bumpy. On the other side, start a climb back to whatever altitude I was supposed to be at – 5 or 6 thou’.
Bangety, bang, pop! Number One was misbehaving – running very hot. Rich her up all the way. Still hot. Shit. Cowl flaps all the way open. Getting hotter. Okay, so we’ll shut you down again you miserable marine miscreant.
Called NAS Anacostia when I had recovered sufficiently to speak and said I was single engine, twenty miles south for a landing. Did I want to declare a deferred emergency? No. (Never did really understand how one could defer an emergency). Did I want to declare an emergency? No. Okay. Cleared to join the pattern one mile east and report downwind for landing south.
Over the Anacostia River …over the South Capital Street Bridge … over the gatehouse and on the deck … piece of cake!
It was only after I had two single engine landings in the bird that I got to practice normal operations … at Friendship Airport, no less, which we used as a bounce field, there being no civilian traffic there to speak of at that time.
That F7F-3P was like my car. Nobody else wanted to drive it. The only other guy at the Center who would fly it was a Chief AP by the name of Saint Onge – super guy. The Photo Class Desk Officer, Captain “Red” Frazier also would come out and “borrow” it. The rest of the time, I used it to pick up fresh shrimp at Key West (the gun trays were devoid of fifties and made an excellent sea food bin) for the lads at Anacostia and bushels of oysters at NAS Chincoteague. My great friend and co-conspirator on more than one occasion from flight training days, Hank Stanley, was Ops or assistant Ops at Chincoteague during that time and we would meet occasionally on the ramp as old Mrs. what-ever-her-name-was would load the plane with bushels of oysters!
No kidding! We would depart Anacostia on a Fam flight; call Chincoteague when we got in range and place our order with the tower; and, before our Fam flight was due to end, would drop in for a “five minute passenger stop” in a single seat fighter to pick up our oysters. Heading home, we’d call in at max VHF range and announce that Navy 983 was landing in twenty minutes and would the tower be so kind as to notify Captain so and so of that fact? Taxiing into our slot to the north of the tower, we’d be met by assorted brass from BuAer whose order we had taken earlier that day.
I wonder what Jack Anderson would say to that?
Probably the greatest thrill I ever had with that fine bird was “coming home” to Danbury, Connecticut. I had been taught to fly by one Stanley Knoecko, an early contract training pilot for the Navy in “E” Base days. He had returned to civilian flying at Danbury in late 1944 and started me on my way toward my Private ticket in November 1944. He was really a super guy and a great friend and we’d kept in loose touch over the years.
Doman Helicopters was on the other end of the field from Stanley’s little fixed base operation. The runway was macadam 3800 feet in a little valley. I was due to interview for a job with Doman as I was going inactive shortly and elected to fly up for the meeting. Called Stanley and said I was coming up, but didn’t tell him in what. Got the “tower” on low freq and requested a low pass and landing –granted – no other traffic.
As you may remember, in those days the “tower” was usually the fixed operator’s back room and received and transmitted on some weird low frequency – 4 or 500 as I remember.)
Anyway, Stan put the mike down and raced outside to see what might be coming by and he damned near jumped as high as the hangar when I swung by from a shallow dive at about 300 knots, balls to the wall. Made a couple of passes before putting her in for the meeting.
*Letter to Lou Ives 30 August 1990; © 1990.
1 He bought it in a P2V in the fifties.
“A Sob Story” *
You could have fired a Zuni through the Miramar O'Club that Thursday night over 50 years ago and not hit a soul. Except for Lurcott and me and the bartender, the place was empty.
Charlie and I were arguing where we should take old Peter Peter 13 on Friday, the first leg of a three day RON. After the second scotch rocks, he asked, "Where'n hell's everybody?"
"I saw Weil filling that new Hudson Hornet of his with a gaggle heading to ‘The Blue Note’ for an evening of cultural enrichment," I said. "Marv Birdt's studying the F9F handbook over in the BO, and, oh yeah, Johns has the duty and Mohlenhoff and Clark are up for night Fam in F8s." During which, we later found out, they chased a ‘strange light’ over San Diego, which an AirPac Intel type had the temerity to suggest was a star.
"Yeah, and Streich and Day are over courting those gals in La Jolla," Charlie added, staring wistfully into his empty glass. "Well, I guess it's you and me, Boss, so let's have another."
"Good thinking, Charles." We returned to the argument at hand--where to go tomorrow night? Charlie had an old flame in Corpus who, he claimed, had said drop in any time and she'd drop whatever she had planned to be with him. As a kitty sweetener, she said she had legions of girlfriends who'd just die for an evening with an air'dale (It didn't occur to me until later that weekend that there was an inexhaustible supply of ‘air'dales’ in Corpus.) I, on the other hand, wanted to go to Nellis and take the bus into Las Vegas and let the chips fall as they might. We finally played "horses" and Corpus got the nod; an omen, I thought, that my luck at the tables might have been shabby had we gone to Vegas.
Late Friday afternoon, I was standing in my sweaty flight suit listening to Charlie's end of an obviously distressing phone call. "So, what's up?” I asked as he hung up with more force than was really necessary.
"The dumb broad's in the family way and isn't dating anymore," he replied, about as dejectedly as I had seen the ever-ebullient Lurcott.
"No kidding?" I said for lack of anything substantive to say. "How long?"
"Five or six months, she thinks," Charlie replied. "Guess I hadn't heard from her in at least that long." I mulled that over, remembering that Charlie last night had said, "I just heard from her." I guess "just" is measured in months in his lexicon. Finally, I asked about those legions of girlfriends and the best I could make out was that all had either left town or joined a nunnery in Laredo. Corpus was a bust without 'busts', if you take my meaning.
The next morning I was filling out a flight plan to Nellis Air Force Base when the irrepressible Charles W. Lurcott ran up to me and breathlessly announced that there were two young Waves in the Transient Waiting Room looking for a ride to Ok'City. They'd promised Charlie to show us a really great time in that dry-as-a-bone state if we could get them there. I walked over to the window separating Ops from the hitchhikers and damned if there weren't two cute third class petty officers in skirts and nylons smiling back at me. Charlie's effusive banter in my ears and the come hither smiles on the other side of the window caused a junior officer brain fart of magnitude 10 during which all caution and any concerns I may have had over fraternizing with enlisted female personnel went to four winds. "Charlie, me lad, tell Kennedy to add the girls to our crew list, get them out to the plane, do the 'walk around'; and I'll refile for Tinker Air Force Base."
Twenty miles south of Tinker, we closed out our IFR clearance--why take the time for a practice IFR approach when we had perishable cargo aboard??--and Charlie got us cleared to break over the duty runway and report turning base. Then the tower came back, "Navy three-fiver-fiver, request aircraft type and senior rank aboard, over."
"Tinker, fiver-fiver, we are a Peter Baker Four Yoke One Peter. Aircraft commander, Ensign Charles Welling, is senior rank aboard, out."
There was a long period of silence then the tower came back, "Roger your last transmission, fiver-fiver, but could you give us a general description of your aircraft? Uh, over.”
This was meat and grits for Charlie. "Tinker tower, this is Navy Six-five-three-fiver-fiver. We look a lot like a B-24, Liberator, except that we are painted a pretty sea-blue color all over and have the letters Peter Peter painted on the outside portions of our twin tails and a large Thirteen painted on either side of our bow … excuse me, our nose. Out.” We scorched over the runway at 160 knots and did our signature 360 degree descending turn to touchdown almost at the head of the runway. A minute later, following the ‘Follow Me’ jeep, it became obvious that we were headed for ops and not, as we had requested, an overnight parking place. "Ground Control, this is Navy fiver-fiver, we do not need to go to ops--just direct to our parking place. Over." "Roger, Navy, but Senator Throttlenose insists that you drop his daughter and her friend off at Ops where he is presently waiting. We will then direct you to you overnight space. Over."
"Roger, fiver-fiver, Out," Charlie replied, staring straight ahead as a large tear formed in the corner of his eye. The girls thanked us then dropped down through the bomb bay onto the tarmac and ran to the senator who clutched his daughter as tightly as he might, had he just rescued her from unspeakable peril. Senator Daddy waved happily at us as we taxied off to park as far from civilization as the Air Force could place us. The pie wagon finally found us a half hour later and we went into town, bought a three dollar room and a nine dollar bottle of bootleg, no-name blend and discovered the Oklahoma girls prefer guys in cowboy boots and big hats. Even my crew who could make a good liberty on a barren atoll were unhappy with me Sunday morning.
If there is a moral to this story, it is that you may trust your mortal flesh and blood to your co-pilot but never your social Iife … Amen!
* Aviation Midshipmen LOG, summer 2001; © 2001.