Autobiography *

Good Morning Bill [Busse]: I should not write mes­sages when the Dodgers are playing on TV as they were last night. I was more focused on the game than what I was writing (Dodgers won). I just reread the msg and decided to clean it up.

I joined the Navy in 1945 because I wanted to see the world and didn't like the idea of walk­ing to war but it was a friend of the family who steered me into Naval Aviation. I've been asso­ciated with flying ever since and the result has been a good life for me.

I was originally in the 4 year college V-12 pro­gram and scheduled to attend the University of New Mexico. My appendix burst a few weeks before I was to start college, requiring surgery and an extended hospital stay. I recuperated several months later but the V-12 program had closed and I was transferred to the V-5 program. Subsequently, I attended Los Angeles City Col­lege majoring in mathematics and engineering.

What stands out in my mind about Preflight happened the first day in Pensacola. I left the train at 5 am in mid-August 1948 with five other candidates. Being from California and having no knowledge of the South's humidity factor, I was clad in a new heavy wool suit for the occa­sion and by 8 am I looked like a drenched cat. It wasn't until mid-afternoon that we received our Navy clothing issue and I could have squeezed a quart of sweat from my dripping suit. I was so miserable that I would have signed myself out of the program with a "quit chit" the first day, if I could have found one.

Preflight and Basic Training went smooth and my life's goal was to be a commercial pilot so I requested land based multi-engine training and received Advanced Training at Corpus Christi, TX.

The need for Navy pilots was diminishing in May 1950 when I received my wings. I prepared for a discharge after graduation but the Korean War re­plenished the need for aviators and I was trans­ferred to a school at NAS San Diego for anti-sub­marine training and further assignment to VP-28. The squadron was based at NAS Barber's Point, Hawaii where I spent three years enjoying the best duty a young man could wish for and met some life long friends.

Neither North Korea nor Communist China op­erated submarines so VP-28's chief contribution to the Korean War was night flare drops behind enemy lines. It was a successful tactic working with Marine Corsairs, but with a new twist. Our PB4Y-2 would arrive over North Korea soon af­ter dark and we would look for suspicious lights or movements that the Navigator would plot on his chart. Every 45 minutes or so, a Corsair night fighter loaded with Napalm and rockets would join us and follow us a few miles back.

The Navigator would direct the airplane to the position where we previously saw lights or ground movement and we'd drop several parachute flares at one time. The trailing Corsair driver would start a decent to arrive under the flares just as an altitude sensitive timer ignited them, illuminat­ing the ground like it was daylight. If the Corsair pilot saw a worthy target, he would release ev­erything he had but if not, we'd go to the next target position and repeat the tactic.

A Corsair's fuel capacity limited it's 'on station time' to one hour but the Privateer's endurance al­lowed us to remain over North Korea all night looking for targets and waiting for the next Cor­sair. We saw a lot of incoming Communist fire but surprisingly never took a hit and if we saw the enemy's gun flash, it would become another target for the Corsair.

In 1953 I received a letter from a Washington desk jockey asking where I'd like to be assigned for "shore duty". Darn nice fellow I thought and replied with some choice duty assignments for his consideration. For my final choice, I said that if I couldn't have any of the above stations, send me anywhere but Pensacola. You can guess what happened and I instructed Basic and For­mation flying (1953-1955) before joining United Air Lines.

I spent the remainder of 20 Navy years in the reserves at NAS Seattle in VP-892 (1956-1960), at NAS Los Alamitos in VP-771 (1961-1967), and finally one year on the Los Alamitos Wing Staff where I flew the R5D. When Navy brass told me I was too old to fly military airplanes, I put in my quit chit. At the time, I was flying as Captain on the B-727 and went on to fly the DC-­8, DC-10 and B-747.

After retiring from United in 1988, I realized I'd seen a lot of this planet from an airplane and wondered what the same territory looked like from the ground. Since then, I've been touring the world by land and sea and writing about those experiences. I've enjoyed seeing the world from a different level and at the same time, I'm glad that I didn't rely on writing skills to earn a living.

* Van Leuven, Al, West Coast Reunion 2002, © 2002.

Pensacola Preflight Class 19-48