Jerome Edward Nicholson was born on March 13, 1928 in Aurora, Nebraska.
I spent my early years on a small farm near the Platte River. After my father died, I was raised by my widowed mother and grandmother during the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. I spent my summer earnings learning to fly a Piper Cub, and soloed at a grass field near Crete, Nebraska.
With a few classmates, I enlisted in the Navy at the end of high school. At the swearing-in ceremony in Omaha, I was offered a chance for flight training. After passing the tests at Kansas City, I was ordered to report to the V-5 unit at Arkansas A&M University. I reported in July 1945 as an Apprentice Seaman. As the war ended, the co-located V-12 unit was shut down. I was then sent to Southwestern University to finish my college training.
In the fall of 1946, I was ordered to Selective Flight Training at NAS Grand Prairie, Texas. We were designated Aviation Cadets. At last we were flying the Yellow Peril! And more than fly. When the chief yelled "Roll out the yellow birds", we pushed the planes out of the hangar. We quickly learned how to use the external primer and manned the two-man starter crank. On an early flight, my instructor, Lt Arbaugh, made a major impression with a split-S to a landing. Soloed at an outlying field and proudly gave up a shirt tail to be autographed.
I entered pre-flight school in class 1-47 at Ottumwa, Iowa. While there, signed up for the Aviation Midshipman program, presume in that USN meant regular career-oriented navy. A memorable outing was the survival training march where we slipped down the ice-covered back roads of Iowa and spent an overnight camp-out at six below zero.
Primary training began in the SNJ at Corpus Christi. This was followed by formation, gunnery and carrier quals in the Pensacola area. Actually landing on the carrier was much easier than those field practice landings! Instrument training in SNBs. We found out that you had to scrape ice off the wind screens in February - even in Florida.
Then, on to PBY flying at main base Pensacola. Two midshipmen went out to "solo" after a few hours of instruction. I have often wondered what the enlisted crewmen who flew with us must have thought--or if they realized that they were really earning their hazardous duty pay. I flew with John Shaw, who said he was going to loop the PBY, but I threatened to get out and walk. John did try a wingover, got at the top and went white when the left rudder pedal slipped out of its catch.
As we neared the end of our Pensacola training effort, we were given the opportunity to pick the type of airplane we wanted to fly in the fleet. Made three choices; F6F, TBM and, just to make sure that I got single-engine, OS2U. I got: PV-2 multi-engine in Corpus Christi!
On completion at Corpus Christi, received the wings of gold, and ordered to anti-submarine operations with Patrol Squadron One, at NAS Whidbey Island.
We enjoyed learning to fly the P2V-2 airplane. The plane had six 20 mm cannon in the nose and we practiced strafing with the guns as well as with wing-mounted rockets. On one occasion, one of the guys checked out an F8F and towed a sleeve for us to practice a little air-to-air. After several planes made runs, we counted 2 or 3 holes in the sleeve. Oh well, P2Vs weren't really fighters. Commissioned Ensign upon completion of two years as midshipman. After a deployment at Kodiak in 1949, I went on leave and returned a married man. My new wife, Marilyn, was not much impressed with the Quonset hut quarters at Whidbey Island.
At the onset of the Korean War, we took the squadron to Naha, Okinawa. Our mission: patrol the Taiwan Straits against a mainland Chinese invasion of Taiwan. I was a designated Patrol Plane Commander but assigned as copilot to the skipper, John Honan. John flew few of the routine patrols and gave me that assignment for his airplane. I took one of the first patrols. As we flew down the Chinese coast, we spotted two LST's nosed into a small island. As we flew by to get photographs, we could see the ship's gun tubs tracking us. Nobody pulled the trigger! At debriefing, we learned that the island just off the Chinese coast was controlled by the Nationalist forces and the ships were "friendlies." We were glad they recognized US air insignia! Had an occasional trip to Japan, Hong Kong and Sangley Point.
Awarded two air medals as a result of this deployment.
Instructed in PB4Y-2 airplanes at Corpus Christi and Hutchinson, Kansas, then was ordered to VR-5. Under the Naval Air Transport Command, I flew R6D transports from Moffett to Hawaii, Japan and Alaska. Once, we took three aircraft to Samoa to pick up native recruits for the Navy. At the time, no routine flights were being made into American Samoa. The villagers had to scythe down the tall grass on the packed coral runway so we could land. No fuel--we stopped at the small British island of Canton and pumped fuel from 55-gallon drums which had been stored there since World War II. Strained the gas through a chamois to get out the water.
In 1955, I went to the Postgraduate School at Monterey. Spent three years, took up golf, lost my appendix and got a master's degree in Electronics Engineering.
During a tour with VP-7, NAS Brunswick, Maine, we developed and practiced anti-submarine operations. On one night exercise in the Virginia Capes op area, Hal Potter and I were in a pair of P2V-5F airplanes practicing against a diving submarine target.
We pushed over to our operating altitude (100 feet), I got a MAD contact, then we both started dropping sonobuoys around a two-mile circle about datum. Periodically, one of us would fly across the circle to try for a MAD contact. It was pitch black and bumpy. Hal and I spent much of our effort trying hard not to fly into each other (or the water), so our flight patterns were complicated and confused, to say the least. Listening to the tactical radio between a couple of assisting destroyers--one asked "What are those guys doing ?" The reply "Oh, I guess it is one of the new tactics VP-7 is developing." We were later involved with the Icelandic barrier patrol against transiting Russian submarines. Flying from Keflavik, we were able to get photos of the "new" Golf-type sub.
Shore duty with the Operational Test and Evaluation Force included testing of all sorts of electronic countermeasures for both ships and aircraft. Then I worked as Navy Engineering Officer at Lockheed's Burbank plant, where we test-flew and accepted new P-3A airplanes for the Navy. After Armed Forces Staff College, I was assigned to the Second Fleet Special Projects Office.
I set up a special test squadron for training Fleet forces with countermeasures and developing defensive tactics, then worked in Adm Dennison's war room during the Cuban missile crisis.
I retired at the rank of CDR and went to work for Lockheed as an electronic engineer. Spent several years with the Navy's S-3A program, then worked for Magnavox (and other companies) on the Global Positioning System. During this time, I took GI bill flight training and became a (civilian) flight instructor in small airplanes. Part-time college earned an MBA at California State University, Fullerton.
In 1994, I stopped work and moved with my family to Santa Maria, California to concentrate on golf, gardening and grandchildren.
It's been a great and interesting career.
WE WERE FULLY ARMED AND READY
In June 1950,1 was designated a Patrol Plane Commander in P2V type aircraft. We received new P2V-3 airplanes, which had three-bladed props on the R3350 engines and had electric prop deicers. There were six 20 mm cannon in the nose and upper deck and tail turrets. But the planes were not as fast as the older models. Shortly thereafter, the squadron left for the Far East in support of the Korean War. We were based at Naha, Okinawa and assigned to patrol along the Communist Chinese coastline.
I was the CO's copilot, but quite often took the patrols while the skipper stayed at the base. Most of the patrols were out from Okinawa to the China coast near Shanghai, then south through the Formosa straits along the coast past the southern tip of Taiwan, then reverse course and return. The mission was to identify any build up of forces along the Chinese coast or invasion of Taiwan Island. We were fully armed and ready to defend our aircraft. On my first patrol, we flew past Quemoy Island in Amoy Harbor which had several LST ships on the beach. We observed the ship's guns tracking our airplane as we made low passes taking photographs, but no firing.
Later, we found the island was under control of the Nationalist Chinese. Happily, neither side did any shooting. The Communist forces showed very little activity and except for one incident when an airplane brought back a few small-arm bullet holes in the fuselage, we had no casualties.
“MOST OF THE SAMOAN RECRUITS HAD NEVER FLOWN BEFORE”
In April 1953, I transferred to Air Transport Squadron 5 at NAS Moffett Field, California. The squadron flew R6D aircraft, generally on Hawaii/Japan routes. VR-5 was part of the Naval Air Transport Service. Routes were not scheduled with airline regularity, but depended on needs of the Navy and schedules changed from month to month.
Most often we flew to Hawaii (NAS Barbers Point) or Alaska and frequently through the Western Pacific to Atsugi, Japan. Sometimes flights would be scheduled with little advance notice to new locations.
In April 1954, three of our aircraft were sent to American Samoa to transport recruits for the Navy. The defense department had gone to Samoa on a recruiting drive and signed up several hundred prospects from the Samoan natives. I flew first pilot in one of the R6Ds commanded by Norm Grey.
We left Barbers Point early on the 7th of April, flew south to Canton Island for fueling. Canton is a British island very close to the equator, and very hot & humid. As we stepped off the plane, our uniforms were immediately saturated with sweat. Fueling was done with hand pumps from 55 gallon drums of 130 octane gasoline. The fueling was slow because the gas had to be filtered through chamois skins to get rid of contamination.
We got airborne for Tutuilla, Samoa in the early afternoon. Tafuna airfield on American Samoa had seldom been used since World War 2. It had no tower or radio aids, and the coral runway was overgrown with grass and weeds. Taller vegetation had been cut down by the Samoans before our arrival. We found the field visually, set up our own spacing and landed; we parked the transports at the end of the runway. We were taken to the hotel in Tutuilla in an open truck. The hotel was a small two-story clapboard building with small rooms and bath down the hall. No air-conditioning but ceiling fans.
There was a luau that evening for us, including Tahitian type dancing and much food. Flies were everywhere but there were and I suspect, seldom wore shoes until that morning).
Some of us remember a preflight school survival hike in February '47. The temperature was about 6 degrees F. and the Iowa roads were covered with glare ice. It was hard to walk and more than one of us slipped and fell. Survivors spent the night in a small tent in the woods enjoying K rations. My memory was mostly of a prolonged period of nonstop shivering. I found this snapshot taken with a cheap 35 mm camera and not too clear. I'm on the right, Goose Gossen on the. left; anyone recognize the guy in the middle?
“ALL THAT EFFORT FOR A FEW PHOTOS”
My last deployment with VP-7 was in the spring of 1959, when we went to Kefiavik, Iceland. Officers were billeted in Quonset huts which held about 20 double-decker bunks. The shower and head facilities were in another hut connected through a covered (but unheated) passageway.
Our mission was to assist in detection of the new Russian submarines as they came out of the North Sea north of Scotland. We flew continuous barrier patrols between Scotland and Iceland, designed to keep the submarines submerged for a long distance during their transits. South of our barrier, there were several US submarines stationed.
The US submarines were to use sonar in detecting the Russians. On one of my missions, we received a message from one of our submarines that they had contact, and we went to assist with sonobuoys and MAD runs. We would fly out under the direction of the US submarine towards their sonar target and when we had a MAD indication, we would drop a smoke canister. Doing this, we were able to track the Russian for some time. Then we had a MAD equipment failure and had to call for another aircraft to replace us on the missIon.
But success for the U.S. the coordinated effort finally forced the Russian to surface. All that effort for a few photos of a new submarine type.
“AL MILLER HATED SNAKES”
While transitioning from the Corsair to the Bearcat my fellow Corsair Pilot and good friend AI Miller and I were in the middle of FCLP qualifications. He was in the pattern just ahead of me ... he had touched down and was taking off and I was landing at an outlying field surrounded by those Florida swamps. He radioed “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, engine failure” and he took the ‘Cat straight into the trees at the end of the runway. I circled the crash site where smoke was rising till the Crash crew arrived then widened my orbit over a clearing to the south. Hoping for less, but I was afraid Al was a goner. Then out of the Jungle I saw AI running like the wind across the clearing. Later he told us that, as he came to, he saw a snake on a branch near his canopy and he hated snakes so he got out of there fast. AL MILLER was a wonderful friend.