Letter to Lou Ives
May 16, 1994
Just been going through files – unloading “stuff” to make room for new “stuff” (Apologies to George Carlin). Found a letter that I started in Feb ‘89. Since the paper is beginning to yellow, and it’s not too legible, I’ll see if I have the willpower to complete the darn thing. I do so somewhat reluctantly because, as Bill Russell (the tall fellow) sez, “You’re getting old when you talk about what you’ve done instead of what you’re going to do.” I’ll take the risk – here goes:
Began active duty as apprentice seaman in V-5 program at St. Mary’s College, Winona, Minn 7/1/45. Took a demotion from seaman 2nd, the grade assigned when I enlisted in the V-6 program 6 months earlier (never got called to active duty because I was 17 and all the 18 year olds were enlisting to avoid the draft – certainly one of my first lucky breaks). Service number 767-78-77 (add it up and divide by 7). I was on a roll!
There were 50 V-5s and 50 V-12s at St. Mary’s. To the best of my memory, only Bill Musgrove, John Wachtel, Jocko Johnson and I from this group completed flight training – all as AvMid’ns. Bill was killed when his P2V disappeared over the Aleutians in mid ‘48. Last saw John at NAS Dallas while I was on Air Force exchange duty in ‘55-’57. I think he was in a VC outfit in San Diego then. As you know, we lost Jocko in Dec ‘91. (Incidentally, I ‘spose you know Rita’s been dating Jim Morin – great combo!).
St. Mary’s recollections: (1) VJ Day celebration in the town with 23 churches and 2300 bars (most with slot machines), (2) Risking expulsion from the program by sneaking out on a rainy Monday afternoon to party with some good lookin’ gals – & Jocko sayin’, “We’re gonna get caught!” 7000 times. (We didn’t), (3) Lining up alphabetically for shots – TORTURE!
To Iowa State College after one semester at St. Mary’s. One roommate was Jack (Jay) Keller (Chicago boy) who later disappeared on a night A6 mission in ‘Nam. Jay was C. O. – he’d succeeded Billie J. Cartwright, ex NavCad, who’d been killed shortly before.
Next stop, U. Of Colorado. Memories: liberties in Denver and knowing the time required to make taps from all the sorority houses. (we were all faster then). One Saturday evening in Denver I was dancing with a very tall gal (who’d been sitting when I asked her to dance). Jocko, Charles Harry Brown, and Cliff Zobel surrounded us on the dance floor and, on signal, dropped to their knees while dancing. Cliff washed out in Corpus but Charlie had an (I think) F4 squadron before retiring early and going to Grumman where Bob Smyth was chief test pilot. Charlie and Smoe had been in an F8F squadron in Charlestown, RI in ‘48.
Summer session at Milwaukee State Teachers’ College in ‘46. Lived at home and worked part time in the drug store where I’d worked in high school. Jocko worked as a lifeguard. Watched him take the swimming tests – would have killed me!
NAS Glenview for Selective Flight Training (N2S) 8/46. Remember signing papers to become AvMid’n at that time. But the Navy later said that didn’t count –or they couldn’t find ‘em – or something. Recall rolling out the Yellowbirds; rolling in the Yellowbirds; instructors, just commissioned, who prided themselves on getting cadets airsick; the guys who couldn’t eat before a flight, those who had to eat before a flight; those who couldn’t smoke before flying (but didn’t have the sense to quit – my group); finally getting to wear aviation greens! We were pretty innovative with out uniforms since no one knew what an AvMid’n could/should wear. Even put miniature wings on our pisscutters!
Pre-Flight, Ottumwa, IA. Class 9-46 with Jocko, J. D. Burton, Tom Vorhees, Louie Ives and others. Service number 496373. Memories: Great battalion competitions; Jack Dewenter’s success in Golden Gloves & his fight with Bill Hesse; marching to class with watchcaps pulled over our faces (when there were no officers around. Being told by a Marine major, “We don’t want you. We don’t need you. We’ll do our best to wash you out. If you’re not sure you wantta stay, get out!”
NAS Corpus. N2Ss at Rodd Field. Went in cocky – after all, we’d soloed at Glenview! Ground looped without touching wingtip on solo after check ride – check pilot thought it was funny. He was gonna give me an “up” when he saw there was no damage. But the Chief Flight Instructor had seen it all, landed, and said, “You are giving him a down, aren’t you?”
SNJs at Cabiness Field after a short period of tarmac for Ken Burroughs, Jack Dewenter and others who skipped Stearmans to start in J-birds.
NAS Pensacola (& surrounding fields). Tactics at Saufley. Flying really got to be fun! Gunnery and night flying. Remembering dogfighting at night using landing lights as guns. Scared – thought my pants would never dry! Lot of time to rehash the day’s flights on the bus back to Mainside. Saturday night routine included 5 (count ‘em), 5 hamburgers and a milk shake from the White Hut outside the gate. Helped you sleep better. Aw, youth!
Instruments at Corry Field. Never felt comfortable. Had to work like a dog. (but I also vividly remember THE flight in a Corsair at JAX when, suddenly, everything fell into place and instrument flying became easy and fun).
PBYs at Mainside. Tolerated this and even had a good time because I figured I’d never get stuck in P-boats. Came much too close to not having a choice! I recall our solo flight with Bernie Jongewaard (can’t remember the 3rd Mid’n – may have been D. B. Rutherford). We had 2 pre-Flight midshipmen as passengers. They thought they might want to fly P boats when they “grew up” (the younger generation must have lacked backbone). They were in the waist blisters on the first full stall landing. If that didn’t change their minds, our final landing in a slight skid did. Wonder who those guys were, if they ever finished flight training and what they finally selected?
Moved to Whiting for SNB/JRB training in October ‘47. Wound up doing a lot of sitting. Aviation cadets and those Middies who’d started in SNJs (Dewenter, Burroughs et al) had first priority. Cadets who couldn’t finish before 12/31/47 would have to wait until they’d completed operational before getting their wings and commissions. It meant big bucks ($270 vs $75/mo) to the cadets. Mid’ns would continue to get $117 (?) with or without wings.
The Navy managed to find some busy work to us. NAS Whiting had overspent their budget. AvMid’ns scoured the base for everything which could be returned for credit. This included unsharpened pencils, unused erasers, light bulbs, etc. Some of us searched for invoices to match the items to be returned and made up RMCMs (remember “Returned Material Credit Memorandums”?)
Another thing I remember about Whiting was a story about Bill Quarg’s “welcome” to the BOQ by the female friend of another Mid’n and his NavCad buddy. This may have inspired Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera”. Gotcha curious? How would you react if a naked lady appeared at your door while you were unpacking. Sorry, you’ll have to ask Bill. I’m sure he’ll be truthful. (Gad, hope it was Bill!)
Speaking of stories, I’m sure most AvMid’ns remember the safety poster which said, “This pilot lived because he wore his shoulder harness!” The picture showed an F6F cockpit, or rather, an F6 fuselage from firewall to about a foot aft of the cockpit. I doubt many know the lucky pilot was Mid’n Eugene Hyman Whittlesey. Whit’s engine quit in the FCLP pattern. He reacted properly – leveled his wings and kept flying speed. When he hit the trees, he closed his eyes. Sez he remembers the “rat tat tat” as wings and tail cut thru and were cut off by the forest. In an instant’s silence, he opened his eyes and saw only ground – fast approaching. He’d entered a clearing. The impact knocked him unconscious. His next recollection was hanging upside-down staring into the eyes of a CPO from the crash crew. The Chief hollered, “He’s alive! He’s alive!” Whit, thinking fast and feeling that this situation called for a classic comment, said, “Down this plane, Chief. It’s broke.” According to Gene, they put him in the psycho ward. Mere mortals – non-flying types – have never understood those of us with wings of gold!! As proof of this, remember the dour predictions about the ‘Nam POW’s? I don’t know anyone morally stronger than Harry Jenkins, Jim Stockdale, Jim Mulligan, Ed Martin and that group.
OPERATIONAL TRAINING - NAS JAX:
Seventeen Mid’ns ready for operational training reported to Mainside to draw for our assignments. We all wanted fighters. There were 3 VF (F4U), 1 VOVS (F4U), 4 PBM, 5 PB4Y2, and 4 PV billets available. Buz Warfield, Bill Carrozza and I got the VF; D. B. Rutherford got the last Corsair opening but; unfortunately was killed at JAX in an SC-1 in May 1948; Tom Taylor, Russ Roberts, Bill Wald and Davy Jones went to PBMs; Bernie Jongewaard, Bill Murphy, Bud Hower, Jim Jenista and Bob Perry to 4Y2s; and Joe Klause, Ed Madden, Rudy Peterson and Nick Vagianos had to return to Corpus for PVs. We who were lucky couldn’t celebrate because we had thirteen disappointed buddies. The irony of it all came a few months later when many multi-engine volunteers were sent to JAX to fly Corsairs and Hellcats – reluctantly. To make matters worse, I recall an incident in the Mess when a Corsair student wanted to swap with an F6 guy because he was afraid of the Mighty Superhog! I joined the Navy to fly the Corsair and could hardly believe my good fortune.
Two stories involving Jocko at JAX. I have a picture of his Corsair (he’d lucked out a few weeks after I did) with a huge gash just behind the armor plate. A taxiing F6 ran into him. Perhaps the most cogent memory of JAX was Jocko’s demonstration of the unselfish dedication to the principals of loyalty and honor ingrained in each AvMid’n. When Buz Warfield went to Pensy for CarQual, he asked Jocko to keep an eye on his girlfriend. Jocko became so dedicated to this charge that he missed Buz’s return and graduation – wasn’t able to ever make contact with Buz. Kept an eye on Rita for over 40 years. Now, that’s a Buddy!
Completed training and was designated Naval Aviator J-1351 on 27 May 1948.
POST DESIGNATION, PRE COMMISSION:
FAETUPAC [Fleet All-Weather Training Unit, Pacific] and a short time in the ferry squadron preceded assignment to VF 212 in NAS Seattle. Remember, Lou? The F6F-5N’s were real dogs after Corsairs but we had a close knit Air Group – for 6 months. You’ll remember that almost all the Group lived in the BOQ. Many were recalled Reservists who hadn’t bought their families to Seattle. Remember the wetting down/Christmas party which became a wake when we learned, that day, that the group was to be decommissioned? And the OD who came downstairs to quiet things down and was greeted by glasses hitting the wall behind, and ahead of him? His was one of the fastest retreats in Naval history.
Met Ruth our second night in Seattle. She picked me up in the bar while trying to avoid some of the married troops from visiting VF-51. At that time, Nello Perrozzi and Fran Brown were the only bachelors in 51. Jack Dewenter, John Nyhuis and others wound up there after Air Group 21 broke up. Dude Brannen, Lou Simmons?? and I wound up in VF-52.
Ferrying our planes to and from Seattle under VFR rules was a lengthy process. Do da name “Sexton Summit” ring any bells? On clear days in the northwest, it was always IFR. When the rest of the world was marginal, “Sexy Summit” was CAFB. Johnny Nyhuis was one of 3 or 4 stuck in Klamath Falls for a couple weeks. John got a job in the local cannery to help support the others who spend every day at the local theater. Someone had met one of the usherettes who’d sometimes get them in free. Daily routine was: Get up; call field for weather; get Johnny off to work; check weather at 10; hit the matinee at 1 (after checking weather); check weather at 2; liberty call at 4. And was that the trip when a couple of the guys met a (slightly) horny gal who’d just been released from prison? I’m sure that we delivered paychecks to stranded pilots who were waiting for VFR conditions. Who was the guy who pulled a flat hattin’ job over Eugene Airpark after we were forced down by weather? Little Head Brown, Lighting Ben Bayse and I were three of the 4 who had to write statements about that. Johnny Nyhuis was killed in Korea. I was CAG’s wingman, Don Engen (later head honcho of FAA) was section leader and John was tailend Charlie. We’d split into sections to work over 2 trains we’d stopped. Had figure 8 patterns going during which John and I came pretty close to colliding. After one run, John called Don and told him to speed up his runs because they were being fired on after passing the target. That’s the last we heard. Don tried to contact John after the next run. We broke off attacks. CAG and Don conducted a low search while I orbited as flak observer. We spread out into search formation and flew the most direct route to the water. Spads and Corsairs searched later. Don Engen got permission to conduct a ground search during our next inport period (the Army had just occupied the area). All to no avail.
VF-52 (TO-1s, F9F-3s, -2s. last couple months) USS Valley Forge; Training Command (Saufley, IBTU); Photo school; VC-61 (became VFP-61) F9F-5P,6P USS BOXER; 17th TRS (USAF exchange) T-33, RF-80C, RF-84F; Univ. of Washington; General Line School; AI/PI/RA school, DC; FICPAC/CINC-PACFLT; CVG-16 Ops A4, F8 USS Oriskany; Armed Forces Staff College; VA-34, XO/CCO A4C, USS Saratoga, USS Intrepid; ComFair Alameda, A7, A4. Other CVAs in log book – USS Wright, USS Ranger, USS Phil Sea.
Well Lou, think that’s enough for now. Sorry it took so long to get my act together. As I reread this I, naturally, thought of half a million other stories. Guess I’ll save them for 5 years from now.
/s/ Bob Zajichek
Fragment of letter to Pat Francis
January 27, 1996
Can’t dispute Gene Tissot’s version of our boxing match in Ottumwa. I’ve always been a slow starter – still am. If my opponent is over 80 or has been playing tennis for less than three months, I generally win the fourth set (some-times by default). The only boxing match I recall in Pre-Flight ruined my undefeated record. They had me pitted against some guy who’d just won Golden Gloves. (can’t remember his name). The only mercy shown was they allowed me to wear dark trunks. This successfully disguised my fear as long as I moved fast enough to hide my shaking knees.
One thing that Gene mentioned which I’m uncertain about. I thought we received flight pay as Midshipmen. Perhaps I was just spending money as if I was earning flight pay. But my recollection is that the ensigns who were commissioned from AvCad status were earning $270/month ($180 base + $90 flight) while Mid’n were getting $112.50 ($75 + $37.50). Incidentally, if I’m not mistaken, a higher percentage of those who stayed cadet made Regular Navy than those who signed on as Mid’n! Two of the three AvCads I remember made regular (Tex Birdwell and B. J. Cartwright). The “retention” rate for the Mid’n class of '48 was about 50%.
The ex-cadets claimed that they hadn’t been given enough information when they were asked to “go” Mid’n so, when they applied for regular, they were considered. They were right in one regard. We weren’t told that we would have to request retention in the regular Navy until early 1949. I remember well the amazement when our COs had to submit a special fitness report. We’d who’d been cocksure and confident about being Regulars were suddenly concerned. Most COs figured it was just routine and were shocked when the selection rate was so low and the “rejects” included some truly outstanding officers – Jack Dewenter comes to mind. Those of us who did make it the first go (some got a second chance during the Korean War) were sincerely humble.
Got a Gene Tissot story for you. In June or July of 1948, while we were going through the San Diego training schools, Gene’s most prized possession was a beautiful car – Chevy, I think. He was especially proud of the fancy hubcaps and had them on as securely as possible knowing that they were treasured by a certain element in California. Gene took a load of us to some sporting event at the stadium, parked under lights in the parking lot and came out to find his hubcaps missing. We all shed tears over that.
Sincerely, /s/ Bob