Mel Kunz -- Navy Biography      
Naval aviator; served in Navy pre-WWII to post-Korea. Seaman Recruit to CDR, USNR (Ret.)

Year:  |  1908 | 1916 | 1924 | 1925 | 1928 | 1929 | 1930 | 1932 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939 | 1940 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1949 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953 | 1956 | 1957 |

Assignments:  |  Naval Training Station, San Diego  |  NTC, Great Lakes, IL  |  NAS North Island  |  V0-3B, USS Nevada (BB-36)  |  USS Minneapolis (CA-36)  |  NAS Norfolk  |  VP-16, NAS Seattle  |  NAS Pensacola (1)  |  VT-6, USS Enterprise (CV-6)  |  NAS Pensacola (2)  |  VP-93 (VB-126), NAS Norfolk  |  NATC Patuxent River  |  NAS Pensacola (3)  |  USS Princeton (CV-37)  |  NATC Pax River (2)  |  USS Antietam (CV-36) |  USS Shangri-La (CV-38) |  USS Yorktown (CV-10)  |  BuAir |  VR-23, NAS Atsugi, Japan |

Aircraft:  |  Curtiss JN-4 Jenny  |  Birdwing  |  Curtiss JN-4 Jenny  |  Piper Cub  |  Vought OS2U Kingfisher  |  Waco  |  Vought O3U-3 Corsair  |  Martin PM-1 seaplane  |  Keystone NK  |  Stearman N2S Kaydet  |  Boeing F4B-4 biplane  |  Martin BM-1 dive bomber  |  Douglas TB-D Devastator  |  Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina  |  Lockheed PV-1 Ventura  |  Curtiss SB2-C-5 Helldiver  |  Ryan FR-1 Fireball  |  Bell P-59 Airacomet  |  North American FJ-1 Fury  |  Grumman F9F-1 Panther  |  McDonald FH-1 Phantom  |  North American FJ-3 Fury  |  McDonald F2H-2 Banshee  |  Chance Vaught F7U-1  |  Grumman F8F Bearcat  |  Beechcraft SN-B Navigator ("Twin Beech")  |  North American FJ-1 Fury  |  Grumman F9F Panther  |  Vought F7U Cutlass  |  Douglas AD Skyraider  |  Grumman F9F Panther  |  Douglas R5D Skymaster  |  Grumman TF-1 Trader  |  Grumman F6F Hellcat  |  Beechcraft SN-B Navigator ("Twin Beech")  | 

1908

I was born October 22, 1908 on a farm in Cosby, Missouri, a country village of 180 people about 12 miles from St. Joseph. St. Jo's claim to fame was that it was the starting place for the Pony Express heading west for Sacramento.

I was just an average farm boy. By the age of eight I was helping with the chores morning and night; milking cows, feeding the stock, helping Mother in the garden, and doing other small jobs that Dad would assign me. Life on the farm went along on a very regular basis; six days of work, and church every Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Every Sunday we hitched a team of horses to the carriage for the 4-1/2 mile ride to church. In the winter with the roads deep in snow, we hitched the team to the big sled with sleigh bells buckled on the harness and off we would go all bundled up in blankets to keep from freezing, listening to the bells jingle. We never missed a Sunday.

I also went through eight years of grade school and four of high school without missing one day.

Dad always had a hired hand as 220 acres in those days was more than one man could handle since everything was done by hand. When I turned 13, Dad said he was going to let the hired hand go and that I was big enough to do a man's work. So I became the hired hand.

1916

Dad bought our first car in 1916, a Studebaker. Roads at that time were made only for wagons -- all dirt, no paved roads. In St. Joseph there were a few cobbled streets. So driving in those days was a man sized job. A driver's license was not required at that time. I started driving when I was 12 years old. Of course, in those days one could drive all the way to St. Joseph and meet only two or three cars. I did most of the driving from then on because Dad didn't particularly care about driving a car. He always kept a team of six or eight mules. He also kept a team of horses and one or two riding horses. We drove a team of horses to church if the roads were too bad for the car since nobody ever drove a team of mules to church.

We went to school for eight months from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. School was usually out by the end of April or first of May so we could help with the spring planting. In the winter, I always knew what I would be doing on Saturday and it wasn't skating on Horseshoe Lake. That was for Sundays after church. We had 40 acres of timber, and on Saturday we headed for the woods to fell trees for logs to take to the saw mill for lumber, and trim all the branches for wood for the next winters supply of fire wood. We cleaned off about four or five acres each winter. I pulled many a stroke on an eight foot cross cut saw and could swing a mean axe.

1924

By the time I finished high school, I knew I was not cut out to be a farmer. I knew there had to be something more exciting. In July, 1924 the first regular trans-continental air mail service was inaugurated with one daily flight in each direction. One of the rotating beacons to light their path at night was installed a half mile south of our house so their flights went almost directly over our farm. Watching those two planes fly over each day was when I decided I was going to be a pilot. At that time, I could envision myself flying the mail in a few years. I had only seen two planes fly over before this time. I had never been out to the airport in St. Jo. Dad would never go out there. He didn't think much of a man flying and thought it was just a crazy phase that would soon pass. The way he felt about flying, I sure knew he wouldn't approve of my wanting to fly so I kept quiet for the present and started saving what little money I could earn for the big day when I could take a few flying lessons.

1925

In August, 1925 at our annual Cosby picnic, a barnstorming pilot in a World War I Jenny landed in a pasture near the picnic grounds to take up passengers for two bucks. I took the $1 the folks gave me for the picnic (big spender) and $1 of my meager savings for a 15 minute ride. That was the greatest thrill of my life up to that time and really convinced me that flying was what I wanted to do more than anything. So I had to start earning some money. Anytime Dad could spare me I would work for a few of the neighbors, hoeing weeds from the corn rows, helping put up hay, or any job available for $1 a day which was about the going rate then. And that was from sunup to sundown, no eight hour day.

Dad never paid me any wages, I guess he figured my room, board, and clothes were enough. He would give me a pig (usually a runt from a litter) and a calf to raise and take care of and I made a little money that way.

I was always sort of a daredevil and mischievous. Never in any real trouble, but always pulling tricks or doing some crazy stunts just for the hell of it. So when I was 18 I just had to have a motorcycle. With $50 of my hard earned money I bought an old Indian Scout. That created one hell of an uproar at home. Dad said nobody but a crazyman or dang fool (he would never say damn) would ride one of those death traps. And Mom was sure I would kill myself. In fact, all of my relatives were sure I would kill myself. Oh, I came close a couple of times. Of course I had to show off; like standing up on the seat and jumping the bike. There was quite a raised hump in the road where the railroad tracks crossed the road by our farm. This made an ideal place for jumping. At about 40 mph, I could jump about 35 feet. One Sunday, with lots of relatives visiting after church, I had to put on a show for the cousins. On the last jump, I was really going to give them a thrill -- and I did. I hit the hump at about 50 mph, on landing I somehow landed front wheel first which is something you just don't do. It really threw me. I went sliding down that dirt road with the motorcycle on top of me. I didn't break any bones that time but sure did shed a lot of skin. I did set a record jump, though. Several of the cousins stepped it off from the track to where I hit; they called it 55 feet which was a good jump. Never tried it again at that speed. I had quite a number of spills, but only ended up in the hospital twice. That must have been why everyone said, "that crazy Kunz kid will kill himself."

1928

By the summer of 1928, I had enough money saved up for a few lessons at $15.00 per hour. On the first of October, I went down to the Rosecrans Airport in St. Joseph and took my first hour of instructions in a plane called Birdwing, a 2-seater biplane with a 90 horsepower engine called OX-5, a V-8 engine.

That evening at home I sprung the big news. That really caused one hell of an uproar. To say the folks were upset would hardly describe the scene. The one thing I remember Dad saying was, "Melvin, man has no business flying around up there. God made the birds to fly. If he had meant for man to fly, he would have given him wings." He also said that I must have lost my mind to think of doing such a crazy thing. Mother cried and said that I was going to kill myself for sure now.

In spite of that, I soloed after seven hours of instruction. I had enough money for about 15 more hours of solo and dual instructions. I worked at the airport part-time, servicing and starting the engines. The engines were started by pulling the propeller through by hand. There were usually 10 or 12 planes at the field: Birdwing, Travelair, Eagle Rock, Waco, WWI Jennies (Curtiss JN-4s), Parks, and a Heath Parasol which was actually a glider with a motorcycle engine.

The average pay for a "grease monkey" as we were called was about $18.00 per week. I managed to save enough for an hour or two of solo time every week or two.

Each Saturday and Sunday there would usually be a few people who would come out to the airport to go for a ride. After I had completed 20 hours of solo time, I could take up passengers once in a while (there was no need for a license yet).

1929

In the spring of 1929, I had a little over 50 hours of flight time. A fellow student, who had started flying about the same time as I, asked me to go in with him to buy a plane and go barnstorming. With the help of Jack's dad who put up most of the $400, we managed to get the sorriest excuse for an airplane that you can imagine -- an old WWI Jenny (Curtiss JN-4). These planes had no instruments to fly by. You had to fly them strictly by feel, or "by the seat of your pants" as they said then. It was a wreck, torn fabric on the wings and fuselage, some broken ribs in the wings. We finally got it repaired and overhauled the engine so we could at least get airborne. With that, we started out to make our fortune. On weekends and holidays, we would land in a pasture near some little country town and coax some likely-looking prospect to get in for a 15 minute flight. Our plane didn't look very inviting; but luckily, most of the people didn't know any better in those days. On weekdays we spent most of our time at Rosecrans fixing up the plane for the weekends, and go home for a few good meals for a change. We made barely enough money to buy gas and oil to keep the plane flying.

We did very few stunts in the plane since that old engine never would develop maximum power. One day I thought I would do a few loops for the spectators. After about 20 minutes of climbing, I was still only at about 1,200 feet. I thought that would be enough so I stalled out on top of the loop and went into a spin and almost spun that plane into the ground. I managed to stop the spin but when I pulled out I was practically clipping the treetops. I never tried any loops at that altitude again.

One evening we were returning to Rosecrans when the engine quit and we had to make a forced landing in a cow pasture. We left the plane there overnight and slept in the farmer's barn. The next morning we went out to work on the engine and found that the cows had torn off some of the fabric from the fuselage and chewed it up. We finally got the engine running and flew it back to St. Jo to repair the fabric. It must have been quite a sight with most of the fuselage exposed and the loose fabric flapping in the breeze. Everyone wanted to know how we kept it in the air.

We were able to struggle along, getting in some good flight experience until the stock market crash in October, 1929. No one, it seemed, had a few bucks for a short airplane ride. That sure ended our barnstorming career. We kept the plane at Rosecrans Airport and managed to get in an hour or so every now and then.

1930

In the spring of 1930, a big air show was being put on at the Kansas City Airport which had just been licensed. A prize of $500 was going to be given for the oldest, most antique airplane that was flyable. We were sure our plane had it made. Jack flew it down to Kansas City, but never flew it out. The officials looked the plane over and said it was absolutely unairworthy and would not allow it to be flown. The plane had to be dismantled and hauled out. And they would not give Jack the $500, even if he was able to fly it in OK. I guess we were like the humble bee. He is supposed to be aerodynamically unable to fly but he doesn't know it so he just goes ahead and flies. Our plane was supposedly unable to get airborne, but we didn't know that so we just got in, shoved the throttle forward, and took off anyway. It would take off at about 28 MPH and cruise at 50-55 MPH.

What to do now? I was broke, and I do mean broke, and I was not going back to farming. Jack was broke also, but his dad gave him enough money to go to Wichita, Kansas where the Waco factory was. That was the last I ever heard from him.

I asked my instructor where he thought I could get a job flying for someone. He said, "hell, I don't know how long I will have a job flying here. You're a young kid with some flying experience, if you went to the Army or Navy, you could probably go to their flight school since each service trains a few enlisted men each year." So I headed into town and the first sign I saw was Join the Navy. If I had seen the Army sign first, I would have been in the Army. After I did get my wings, I was glad that I did get into the Navy since flying on and off the deck of an aircraft carrier was much more exciting that landing on a field. Anyway, I was inducted into the Navy on June 1, 1930. I told the Chief that I wanted to get in the Navy to go to flight class. He said, "well I can sign you up for the Navy, but making the flight school will be up to you."

Naval Training Station, San Diego

I went with five others from Kansas City to San Diego for boot training. We were issued a ticket at least a yard long and after leaving each stop along the way, the conductor would take off a small section of our ticket. For a farm boy who had never been very far from the sight of our farm, that trip of 2,000 miles was quite an exciting adventure. A train ride in those days was no pleasure compared to trains of today. No air conditioning, and as we went south before going west, it was hot. We had to open the windows, and the smoke from the coals came in all of the windows so that by the time we arrived in San Diego, we looked like we had been working the coal mines. After leaving Hutchinson, Kansas, we saw very little civilization. Most of the stops seemed to be a mere crossroads. The Southern Pacific Railroad went through the panhandle of Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle. In those days, there was nothing in those areas. I remember going through El Paso, Texas which was just a small village; and Tucson and Yuma, Arizona which weren't much more than a stop beside the road although they were the only places you could call a town. There wasn't much to see on that route but sage brush and cactus until the big city of San Diego with about 30,000 people at that time.

After a couple of weeks of training camp indoctrination, shots, company assignments, etc., I inquired about putting in for flight school. I was informed that the enlisted flight training course had been closed since March and it wasn't known when it would open again. That was a low blow. So I did the next best thing.

NTC, Great Lakes, IL

I put in for aviation mechanics school and went to Great Lakes, Illinois; about 30 miles north of Chicago at the Naval Training School. It was there that I spent five days in the brig. A sailor friend of mine wanted me to go with him one evening up to Waukegan, a town a few miles north where there was a good dance hall, lots of girls and cheap booze. I told him I didn't rate liberty that night. He showed me a hole in the fence that we could sneak through and not have to go by the sentry at the gate. We got out fine and a had a good time in Waukegan but they caught us coming back in. We had to go to "Captain's Mast" and he gave us five days in the brig on bread and water. I didn't try that again.

NAS North Island

After graduation, I had orders to the Naval Air Station in San Diego. For two years I worked in the aircraft overhaul shops. When planes came in for overhaul, we completely disassembled them, replaced all worn parts, reassembled, and realigned everything. This was called rigging. All the planes at that time were biplanes; mostly single engine, either fighter planes or dive bombers. There were a few types of twin engine bombers and torpedo planes. Each plane was test flown after an overhaul.

When any two-seater plane was ready for a test hop, I was always there, ready to ride along since someone had to be in the rear seat on all two-seater planes during test flights. I was never one to believe in that old saying, "when your time comes, that's it." But one day one of the test pilots in a dive bomber was ready to taxi out for take off, with no passenger. I asked to ride along and he told me to get a chute. While I was getting one, another mechanic who needed flight time went out and climbed in the rear seat. The plane was loaded with four water-filled practice bombs. The pilot took off and climbed to about 12,000 feet over a bombing target in the water off the air station. On the second dive, he rolled over into a vertical dive to drop his bomb but he dove too low and on the pull out from the dive, he shed his wings and that was it. By just a matter of a few minutes, that would have been me. That was quite a sobering thought, but it didn't stop me from going along on test flights whenever I could.

While stationed at North Island, I would get in a few hours of solo time now and then in Piper Cubs at a little private airport near the Naval Training Center. That is, when I could get a few bucks for an hour or so.

In 1931, while still stationed in San Diego, MGM made a movie about naval aviation called Hell Divers and most of the scenes were shot at the air station. I was one of quite a number of regular sailors used in quite a few scenes. We received $5 per day which was the going rate for movie extras in those days. I made $20 in four days -- just about a month's Navy pay at that time.

One scene in which I participated was the rescue of a pilot (played by Conrad Nagel) from a plane crash during night flying operations. They took an old plane that was pretty well wrecked and stood it on its nose in a hole off the runway. That night, Conrad Nagel got into the cockpit and was painted with something to look like blood. Another sailor and I were standing by in asbestos suits and, on signal, we rushed in to get the pilot out.

I was in another scene with Wallace Berry as a navy chief and another actor in a sailor's uniform standing in front of a plane that was being gassed. I was standing up on the wing holding the gas nozzle simulating gassing the plane and I was thinking, "boy, now I'll be able to see myself in a movie!" In another scene, about 50 sailors in dress blues were lined up for an inspection by Wallace Berry, Clark Gable as another navy chief (he was sure young then) and Conrad Nagel who was the commanding officer. I met and shook hands with all of them. We were all anxious to see the movie as soon as it came out so we could see ourselves. I was sure I was in the shot of the plane being gassed. I was all right, but all you could see were my feet. And with the asbestos suits on during the pilot's rescue, you couldn't tell who we were. So much for my movie career!

1932

V0-3B, USS Nevada

In May, 1932 I was transferred to a section of squadron VO-3B attached to the battleship USS Nevada. The ship carried three OS2U scout observation planes on floats. They were catapulted from the ship and landed in the water along side the ship where they were picked up by the deck's crane and hoisted aboard. I was assigned as plane captain of one plane which was flown by Ensign Drane. I flew with him as rear cockpit gunner most of the time. After he found out I had some solo time, he would let me fly when we were in a loose squadron formation, and even let me land from the rear seat once in a while when the sea was calm, or when we were at North Island and had changed from floats to landing gear and were operating from the field at the air station.

I became friends with another sailor on the ship, I.T. "Lover" Lynn. He was plane captain on one of the other planes. He had been busted out of flight class at Pensacola after 150 hours of flying. He was buying an old Waco plane. When I told him I had over 100 hours of solo time, he asked me to go in with him to help buy the plane, repair it, and get it in flying condition. It was in a pretty sorry condition and needed a lot of repair; but after quite a number of weekends and about all of the money we had, we had it in good flying condition. It was a two-seater bi-plane with an OX-5, V-8, 90 horsepower engine. We each gave it a good test flight. I was able to get in quite a few hours of good flying experience for two years. Another sailor, Bob Shepherd, bought a Waco like ours. They had been used for making movies and were being sold at the North Hollywood Airport, just a grass landing strip then. That's where we overhauled them. After we had them in good shape, we had a lot of fun having aerial dog fights.

In order to to keep the plane going, we would get some of the sailors who wanted to fly to buy the gas and oil in exchange for instructions. There was one sailor in our unit, Sonny Floyd, who wanted to learn to fly so, between Lynn and I, we gave him 12 or 14 hours of dual instruction before I told him he was just not safe to let solo. He wanted to learn to fly so bad that he wanted to keep trying. We figured we would keep trying as long as he kept buying our gas and oil. But he just didn't have it. He would go to pieces on the approach to a landing. Lynn & I must have given him about 25 hours of instructions before he was convinced he wasn't cut out to be a pilot.

Of course, it was necessary to have a pilot's license by this time to give instructions in flying and, since neither of us had a license at that time, it was a good thing we never got caught. We always used some out of the way landing strip where there was not much chance of being caught. A little later on we were able to get private licenses. We kept the little red-winged Waco at a grass landing strip near Long Beach when our planes were aboard the Nevada, who's home port was San Pedro; and at a field south of San Diego when our detachment was based ashore at NAS North Island and the floats were exchanged for landing gear.

In the two years I was on the USS Nevada, I was a member of the ship's race boat crew. Each of the battleships had a crew and we would have at least two big races each year. After each big race, we were given three days leave since we were not allowed to go on liberty for four weeks before a race to make sure we didn't get in trouble and risk not be in top shape for the race. These races were a big thing among the battlewagons. Lots of money was bet on the races.

After one race we pulled into San Francisco and took several rooms in a hotel for our three days' leave. We had one hell of a wild drinking party and, after not having had a drink for over a month, sort of lost track of the days. The management finally called the cops and had us all thrown out. It seems they didn't like the idea of us breaking things, throwing things out the window or washing down the passageway with the fire hose. Plus making a hell of a racket. And they had the nerve to send the ship a bill for $1,200 in damages which the crew had to pay!

Another sport we sometimes engaged in when on liberty was a little gang fight with the sailors from another battlewagon. Six or so of us from our ship would go ashore together on weekends, be drinking in a bar and think things were kind of dull. So we would look around, see how many sailors there were from another ship. In those days, we wore the name of our ship on a band around our "flat hats." If we saw the same number of, say, Arizona sailors, we would have a good, clean free-for-all until the shore patrol arrived. Then we were all good buddies again and say what a good fight it had been. In those days, it was just a good, clean fight; no knives or brass knuckles, and sailors from the same ship always stuck together.

One of the best and biggest free-for-alls I was ever in was on the Pike in Long Beach. This was a street about three blocks long that ran along the docks and boat landings where the sailors came ashore. There were a lot of bars and concessions along this street, our first stop. In the summer of 1933, a British warship, the H.M.S. Hood, was in port at Long Beach. A few of my good drinking buddies and I went ashore and entered our favorite dive called The Hole In The Wall to do a little drinking. There were about 20 limey sailors in there and about that many American gobs. We were all having a good time drinking with the British lads (never call a British sailor a limey to his face). Then, one limey jumped up and said, "a toast! A toast to the Queen!" Of course, some American gob said, "to hell with the Queen," and the fight was on. It spilled out into the street, the words "fight!, fight!" went down the street and about 200 Limeys, and about that many American sailors, piled out of the various bars. It took all the Shore Patrol and Police in Long Beach to finally get peace restored. A few were locked up, but most of us went back to drinking with the good British lads saying what a good fight it was. "Jolly good fight, eh wot" could be heard from all of the Limeys. I lost my front tooth again and had a beauty of a shiner, but that was about all.

1934

USS Minneapolis

In May of 1934, I was detached from VO-3B and had orders to report to the aviation unit aboard the USS Minneapolis, a 10,000 ton heavy cruiser which had just been built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. We had four O3U-3 Corsair scout planes aboard which were catapulted off the ship and landed in the water to be picked up by the deck crane. I was assigned as a plane captain again to the plane that Lt. Purvis regularly flew and I usually flew with him as rear seat gunner. When we went out for gunnery practice, one plane would tow the sleeve target, the other three planes would make diving runs on the sleeve, firing the two fixed guns. Then the pilot would bring the plane around so the gunners in the rear seat could fire on the target. You had to be careful when firing the rear seat machine gun that you didn't shoot holes in your tail or wings. At that time, there were no stops or arrestors to prevent this at that early stage. For each gun, the tips of the bullets were dipped in different colored paint so we could tell how many holes each gunner made in the sleeve.

Lt. Purvis was quite a heavy drinker and when I told him I had quite a few hours of solo time, he always had me fly with him so I could do the flying when the group was in loose formation and he would catch a few winks. When the skipper wanted a close formation, I would tap him on the shoulder and he would take over. I got in a lot of stick time while on the "Minnie."

In July of 1934, the ship made a shakedown cruise to Europe for two months. We went to France, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and England. The ship tied up at LeHavre, France for two weeks. A third of the crew was given four days leave at a time. We spent four days in Paris and really had a ball. Three of us spent a few hours in jail there and for a while I wondered if we were going to get out.

This is how we happened to end up in the Bastille. Monty, Bob Little and I had gone into a restaurant for dinner. They told us to pay when we ordered. We thought that a little unusual, but we paid. When we started to leave, they came after us saying, "you no pay!" We told them to go to hell, we had already paid. We kept on walking and they yelled for the police. Two of the tallest gendarmes I had ever seen marched us off to jail. We tried to explain, but they wouldn't listen. They couldn't understand English, anyway, and we knew no French. We were getting a little worried. Finally, a chief who was on shore patrol came by the jail to see if any American sailors were there. We sure were. We explained the situation to him and that we weren't going to pay twice. He could speak French well so he told the police our story but it did no good. The Chief told us that if we wanted to get out, we had better pay again. Which we did, after cussing them out in all the good American words we knew, telling them what a no good bunch of bastards all the Frogs were. They were good at figuring out ways to get our money. We later found out later why they did this. The year before, the U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen made a European cruise. In France a large group of sailors went in one of the best restaurants, ordered big meals, and then all got up and walked out without paying, saying, "take it out of the war debt." So, they were getting back at us.

A strange thing happened in Paris. I met a French gal who could speak English quite well so we hit it off. I made a date to see her the next night. She then told me she wanted to come to America, so she asked me to marry her so she could come to the U.S. Then after getting settled, we could get a divorce. I told her I would not do that. Then she wanted me to smuggle her aboard the ship and bring her to the U.S. that way. I said that was not possible. I knew that it had been done, but I sure wasn't going to do it. I told her we were going to be gone about three weeks visiting other parts, anyway, before leaving for the U.S. from Gravesend, England. Well, about two days before we sailed, that woman was over there looking for me. I kept myself well hid until that ship got under way.

While we were in France, the three of us smuggled 12 bottles of champagne aboard and hid it for the trip back to the states. The beer in Hamburg, Germany was wonderful like the champagne in France. Helsinki, Finland and Oslo, Norway were the cleanest cities I had ever seen. Beautiful cities. The ship moored at Gravesend, England at the mouth of the Thames River for two weeks. We three musketeers spent a hilarious four days leave in London.

1935

In April, 1935 the enlisted pilot training program opened up again and I immediately put in for it. But I had gotten into a little trouble on account of a dame and had lost my 3rd class petty officer's rate. At that time, you had to be at least a 3rd class petty officer to request flight training.

Here's how that happened. The home port of the "Minnie" was Philadelphia. I had been going with a girl I had met in Philadelphia. She was a waitress in a bar there. Her mother became ill, so she went up to her home in Shemoken, a little town up in the coal country. The ship was ready to sail for the west coast and I wanted to go up to see her before the ship left.

I put in for a weekend liberty pass. The exec of the ship wouldn't sign it so I went in to see him about it. He was one of the meanest exec's in the Navy. I told him why I wanted the pass. He said, "how much will it cost you to go up there?" I told him about $10.00. He said, "send her the money, it will do her more good than seeing your smiling face." That made me so mad, I decided I would show him.

I sure did. I rated liberty Friday night, but was supposed to be aboard ship Saturday morning; then would have liberty again from Saturday noon through Sunday. So I fixed it up with Charlie Wright, a good buddy of mine (all my good buddies seemed to get me in trouble), who had an apartment in town. He was to take my liberty card back Friday night and drop it in the liberty card box. Then when the cards were issued Saturday at noon, he would pick mine up and bring it ashore and leave it in his apartment so I would pick it up when I got back Sunday night. That would have been just dandy, except that there was a surprise inspection aboard ship Saturday morning for the Secretary of the Navy who came aboard to inspect the ship. And with all hands lined up for inspection and muster, I turned up missing. As my liberty card was aboard ship and I couldn't be found, I was logged AWOL. I was given a summary court martial and busted to seaman. So there went my chance for flight class at that time.

The "Minnie" went around to the west coast in May, 1935 by way of the Panama Canal and up to Dutch Harbor, Alaska and Anchorage for fleet maneuvers.

1936

NAS Norfolk

In June, 1936, I had orders to N.A.S. Norfolk, Virginia for a six month course in advanced aviation mechanics school. Here I got my petty officer's rating back but could not put in for flight class as I was already enrolled in this school.

VP-16, NAS Seattle

In December, 1936 six other graduates and I had orders to report to VP-16 Patrol Squadron at N.A.S. Seattle, Washington. Burton Langworthy bought a new 1936 Ford coupe to drive to Seattle, so he asked me and Bradshaw to go with him to share expenses. Burton's home was in Atchison, Kansas, about 40 miles from St. Joseph so we stopped over at our homes for four days. Then, on to Seattle over the northern route in the dead of winter. And the roads weren't very good in those days. We drove nonstop, except for the four days at home. We ran into a sleet storm in Wyoming and, as the cars in those days didn't have windshield defrosters, the windshield wiper couldn't keep the freezing rain and sleet off. So we had to keep stopping to scrape the ice off. We finally pulled into a little town and stopped for a cup of coffee. While sitting at the table, I happened to look at the salt shaker and had an idea. If we could make a couple of little cloth bags and put salt in them and tie them to the windshield wiper (there was only one on the driver's side), the salt might melt the ice. So, we swiped a couple of salt shakers full of salt, made a couple of bags from old rags, filled them with salt, and found a way to tie them on the wiper blade. It really worked. That could have been the first windshield defroster.

We arrived at the N.A.S. in Seattle the day before Christmas. Squadron VP-16 had the old Martin seaplanes. They were twin engine biplanes with open cockpits for pilot and copilot and cruised at a speedy 70 knots. I was aircraft mechanic and plane captain during my short tour of duty in the squadron. We made numerous training flights to Alaska from N.A.S. Seattle, and that was a long two day flight in those crates. We would land in the bay at Sitka, stay overnight as we weren't equipped for night flying then. Then on to Dutch Harbor or Anchorage. The fog was usually so thick at Dutch Harbor one could almost get out and walk on it.

I put in for flight training just about as soon as I reported to the squadron, and a request went in each month until I had orders to N.A.S. Pensacola.

1937

Seattle is where I met Maxine. It was on January 6, 1937 in a nightclub, The Garden of Allah, on a blind date. We really hit it off right from the start, except that I was the world's worst dancer and Maxine was a wonderful dancer. I guess I would have to say that getting court-martialed in Philadelphia was a good thing for me. If I hadn't, I would no doubt have gone to flight school in 1935 and would never have met Maxine, or gone to Seattle for duty after receiving my wings.

NAS Pensacola (1)

I received orders to proceed to N.A.S. Pensacola on May 1, 1937 for flight training. Our first flight instructions were in NK (old Keystone) trainers. Two open cockpit biplanes on floats. After a total of 20 hours, (10 dual, and 10 solo) we went to land planes. It was the same type of plane except it had wheels instead of floats. After five hours of instructions, my instructor said I was ready to solo. I knew I was, too, having had many hours in seaplanes and land planes. But the flight board would not allow anyone to solo with less than seven hours of instructions.

I soloed after seven hours. Those first 20 hours, especially the solo time, were quite a thrill on the first morning take-offs. All the solo student pilots would get in their planes and taxi out in the bay ready for take-off. At 0730, the signal for take-off was hoisted up the mast. This was two large black balls made of canvas. A large red ball hoisted up the mast meant the recall of all planes as there were no radios in the planes then.

When the black balls went up there would be about 40 students each trying to be the first in the air. The instructors never entered into this first morning melee, they had better sense. We students never gave it a thought and somehow there were no accidents on that mad scramble, at least while I was going through primary training in seaplanes. We continued our primary training in land planes. They had no brakes or tail wheel. They had a "tail skag." On landing, to help slow the plane down, you pulled the stick all the way back raising the elevators, thus forcing the tail skag into the dirt. For formation flying and acrobatics we had the N2S, (Stearman Trainer) the first planes we flew with brakes and a tail wheel. We were really getting up in the world by then.

The flying was a breeze for me. It was the morse code that just about did me in. Since that was before we had voice radio in our planes, the only way to communicate was morse code. We had to be able to send and receive 22 words per minute. I just could not receive that fast. A good friend of mine, Tommy Said, saved my life. He was a radio operator aboard a ship before going to flight school. We lived in a duplex with Tommy and his wife. He rigged up two keyboards and ran the wire through the wall between our houses and every night we would sit there and "dit-dah" to each other until I got it down.

The ground school was tough. Mechanics, aerodynamics, aerology, and navigation. But the morse code was my nemesis. We would fly one, or sometimes two hour a day. The rest of the time was spent in class.

After the primary training of about 50 hours, we moved up to service type planes for close formation precision flying, and aerial stunts. That's where I really shone.

I loved stunts and was very good at them. For advanced stunts and aerial combat dog fighting we had F4B-4s, a little Boeing fighter biplane with lots of power -- 400 h.p. You could do any kind of stunt in them and they were great for dog fighting. We were the first enlisted class of students that received training in all types of carrier based aircraft. Of course, at that time, all carrier type planes were biplanes; no monoplanes had been designed yet for carriers.

When I was about two-thirds through training, I received my first "down" on a flight check. For each phase in our training, we would get a "check flight" by another instructor when our regular instructor thought we were ready. I was one of three who had never received a "down" on a check flight up to that time. It was quite a severe blow to my ego. This check flight was on precision flying. The maneuver called for flying over a 200-foot diameter circle at 1500 feet. Once that altitude was reached, we were to cut the power and descend, making a 360 degree turn, and land inside the 200 foot circle without using any power. We had to repeat the maneuver from 800 feet, flying downwind, making a 180 degree turn while descending into the circle. I could hit the circle every time in practice, but on my check I missed it two out of three tries from 1500 feet, getting my first "down" check. What a low blow that was. I thought for sure I was going through flight class without a down. I received three hours extra time and passed my check the next time.

1938

Our class (102-E) graduated April 1, 1938. Out of the 69 students who started, 29 received their wings. Two were killed in training, and the rest "washed out."

VT-6, USS Enterprise

Seventeen of our class went to aircraft carrier squadrons; the USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise. I had orders to VT-6 which was to be aboard the Enterprise as soon as the ship was completed. Both the Enterprise, the Big "E", and Yorktown were being built at Portsmouth, Virginia.

VT-6 was supposed to get the first monoplanes for aircraft carriers. They were TB-Ds, a torpedo-bomber plane. When I reported to the squadron, we had the last of the dive bombing biplanes, the old BM-1s. I checked out in them and had quite a few hours in before we received the new TB-Ds.

One day when I was flying the old BM (Martin dive bomber) on a familiarization flight up the coast north of Norfolk, the engine quit cold. I decided to bail out. Then I thought about the cost of that old plane which was $6,500 at that time and I looked the area over below and decided I could set it down in a little spot on the edge of the beach and save the plane. (Quite a difference from now. When anything goes wrong, the pilot ejects and there goes a million dollar airplane.) I landed OK, but there wasn't room for a take-off, so we had to remove the wings and haul it out on a truck. But we did save the plane. After that, I was always sorry I didn't jump because I never got the chance again.

Our squadron flew up to a field at Cape May, New Jersey to practice field carrier landings in preparation for qualifying aboard the carrier. The ship went out to sea off the coast of Norfolk, and we flew out to the ship where each pilot made 12 landings. We all qualified except one pilot. He would get so nervous on his approach that the LSO had to wave him off. After six passes, and no landing, the LSO waved him back to the field. He never qualified and was later transferred to a patrol plane squadron.

My first carrier landing was one of the greatest thrills of my life. I made my 12 landings with only one wave-off.

For our shakedown cruise, the USS Enterprise set sail for Rio de Janeiro, South America, stopping at Guantanamo, Port-au-Prince, Puerto Rico, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Port of Spain.

1939

The Big "E" was scheduled to go to the west coast in September, 1938, but due to the conditions arising in Europe, we had orders to remain in the Atlantic. It was not until May of 1939 that we sailed for the west coast, and for most of the next year and a half we patrolled the Pacific out of Honolulu, making practice bombing and torpedo runs on fixed and towed targets.

One day during flight operations, one of our squadron planes, a TB-D, came in too high at the cut, drifting to starboard. The pilot, Walt Winchell, dove for the deck and the hook caught an arresting wire but the plane bounced back up in the air and came down over the side of the ship. The hook held the plane against the side of the ship with the nose of the plane about five feet from the water. The crew was unhurt and were rescued with ropes. We were operating near the island, so the few remaining planes to land were sent in to the landing field at Ford Island at Pearl Harbor. A sea going crane was dispatched from Pearl Harbor to meet the ship and retrieve the plane which had received very little damage.

Our planes were TB-Ds, Grumman torpedo bombers. Their mission was two-fold. To make torpedo runs about 50 feet off the water, and to make high altitude horizontal bombing runs from 20,000 feet using the famous Norden bombsight. All the pilots practiced using the bomb sight and the three best would be the bombardiers to lead the six plane formations. I was one of the three best and was one of the master bombers while in VT-6. I could drop a bomb in a barrel from 20,000 feet -- almost every time.

1940

NAS Pensacola (2)

In November, 1940 I had orders to shore duty to report to Pensacola as a flight instructor. In the 13 months there, I taught many students to fly. On two occasions, I had students freeze on the grip of the stick.

As I loved to do acrobatics, and was very good at it, I usually got most of the students who didn't pass their stunt checks the first time. I would get them for three hours and never had a student fail his check after I had him.

There were two other enlisted pilots besides myself, Henderson and Campbell, and two others who would go up for a little formation stunt flying. When we had a little spare time, we could put on a pretty good show.

One night during night landing practice there was a freak accident. An instructor with his student were just starting their takeoff and a solo student making a landing landed on top of the plane just taking off. The plane on top could not have been placed more center if it had been done on purpose. His prop chopped through the upper wing leading edge of the plane below just ahead of the instructor's head. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt.

I had one student that I just couldn't convince to pull back on the stick to make a three point landing. He would come in for a landing with the tail high and at the last second I would have to bring the stick back to keep from driving the plane into the ground. After about three hours of this I decided to let him drive it into the ground. I figured that was one way to break him of that habit. It sure did. We hit the ground so hard that it broke the left wheel, but we bounced back in the air. This was at one of the outlying fields used for practice landings. I flew it back to Cory, our main operating field, and flew by the control tower pointing at my broken wheel (there was no radio in those planes yet) so they would have the crash truck standing by. I brought the plane in as slow as I could, keeping the left wing as high as possible, and held it up as long as I could. When the wing dropped, the plane went into a gentle ground loop and we had no trouble.

I made chief while at Pensacola and was taking exams for warrant officer when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. There were six enlisted pilots instructing at Pensacola on December 7, 1941. I knew we would be leaving there at once and I was sure I would get orders for an aircraft carrier in the Pacific as I was well trained for carriers. And I sure wanted to go to the Pacific. But you know the Navy, you seldom get just what you want.

1942

VP-93 (VB-126), NAS Norfolk

All six of us received orders on January 2, 1942 to report to Norfolk for assignment to a new squadron being formed there (VP-93) -- 12 PBY-5A's. They were twin engine amphibious patrol bombers.

As it turned out, I guess I was lucky when I was transferred from VT-6 on the Enterprise. As all orders for transfers were frozen two weeks after I left the ship, all my old buddies were still on the ship on December 7 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Every plane in VT-6 was shot down making torpedo runs on the Japanese carriers during the Midway battle. Only five pilots were picked up after crashing in the water. I might have been one of the lucky ones, but maybe I would not be here today.

As soon as we were checked out in our PBY-5A's, we took off for Argentia, Newfoundland. That was our main base of operations. But we were seldom there as we were operating from about every base in or around the Atlantic Ocean at various times. We flew out of bases in Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, from the eastern United States, eastern Brazil, Ascension Island, Port Lyautey, Morocco, and the Azores. Any base from which we could fly coverage for convoys bound for England, Russia, or Africa, or from which we could look for German "U" boats wherever we thought they may be lurking.

Flying anti-sub patrol or convoy coverage was about 60% just plain boredom. Maybe 38% was exciting, but that other 2% sure made up for it. Especially when attacking a sub, getting near the coast of Europe, going into Port Lyautey, or trying to find Ascension Island. That was a little gem. Not much bigger than a landing strip. It was about half way between the eastern tip of Brazil and Port Lyautey, Africa. Sometimes when we were covering convoys going into Africa we had to land on that little island. We had a saying for that place -- "if you miss Ascension, your wife will get a pension." How true, as there was no other place to land within 600 miles.

Going into Greenland was quite a thrill in itself. The base was called BW-1. It was located near the southern tip of Greenland and 45 miles up a narrow fjord between mountains. At the mouth of the fjord, there was a little Eskimo village called Julianehaab where a radio range station had been set up and you had better be damn sure to pass over that marker in order to start up the right fjord, especially if it was foggy as it often was.

The landing strip was laid out on a leveled off rocky moraine which was left by a receding glacier over a period of a few thousand years. The rocks were covered over with Marsden Matting, metal sections linked together to form a landing surface. It was finished in April, 1942 and I was flying one of the six planes leaving Argentina for BW-1. We were the first to land on that mat, and when I landed I thought the whole plane was falling apart. You never heard such a godawful noise! That steel mat laid over that rocky moraine was no doubt the roughest landing strip I ever landed on. And the more we used it, the worse it got to be.

Living conditions at BW-1 were very primitive when we first arrived. The construction crews had thrown up some wood and tar paper shacks. There was no running water or any other conveniences and we had outdoor privies. It wasn't too bad in the summer when it didn't get too much below freezing very often; but in the winter when it would get down as low as 40 and a few times 50 below zero, that was something else!

The only heat for our shack was an oil heater. To get any hot water we cut an old 50 gallon drum in half, sat it on top of the stove and kept it full of water. We rigged up a shower in one of the tool sheds with a 100 gallon tank overhead which we would fill with water right off the glacier. We never stayed very long under that shower, or took very many for that matter.

Like all arctic weather, it can change very quickly. It could be 30 below zero and one of those foehn winds would come along and warm things up to 50 or 60 degrees. Wind velocity could reach tremendous speed. The highest recorded was 212 mph. It may have been higher because it blew the weather station at that speed.

We lost two of our planes after going to Greenland. One at sea with the crew; and one on the ice cap, although we did rescue the crew.

Another time, the skipper sent me and my co-pilot and part of my crew back to Argentia on a Coast Guard cutter to get two more planes. What a rough ride that was! Ensign Morelli, a new pilot with a new crew, was to fly one of the planes. He was to follow me into BW-1 since I was pretty well acquainted with the approach up the fjord. I told Morelli before we left Argentia that if we hit the fog at Greenland he should stay with me about ten feet off the water since there was always about 25 feet between the ocean and the fog. If you tried to climb up over the top and come down at the field in the fog there wasn't a chance in hell of ever making it because there were 5,000 foot mountains on three sides and their bases were practically touching the field. On that field you landed uphill with the glacier dead ahead, and there was no going around for a second try.

Well, we did hit the fog about 50 miles from Greenland. I was homing in on the radio signal at Julianehaab and flying about 20 feet off the water. I was dodging a few icebergs but I could see about one mile ahead. Morelli wouldn't stay down with me, I guess he got scared that close to the water and the icebergs. It was rather nerve-racking, especially the first time. He tried to climb up and over and flew right into a mountain killing all 13 crew members.

How the grapevine always gets the word around before all the facts I will never know, but somehow word got back to Argentia that the plane I was flying in had crashed. The odd thing was that a year and a half later, back in the states, I ran into another pilot that I had known and he stared at me like he was seeing a ghost. He said he had heard that I crashed in Greenland.

When the field in Greenland was finished, the planes being sent to England were flown from the U.S. instead of being shipped across the Atlantic on cargo ships. They went by way of Argentia or Goose Bay in Labrador, then to BW-1 in Greenland. From there they were flown to Iceland, and finally to England.

One of our extra duties was to hunt for downed aircraft, usually on top of the ice cap; or to go out to the mouth of the fjord, locate the lost planes and lead them up the right fjord. Usually there would be a B-17 or B-24 with an experienced navigator aboard leading six or eight fighter planes.

One day, a B-17 with eight fighter planes in formation heading for Europe took off from BW-1 for Iceland. They could not get in at Iceland as the area was socked in with heavy fog, so they returned to Greenland but were unable to locate the field. They were about to run out of gas so they all belly landed on the ice cap. After searching for three days we located them. The Greenland ice peak is about 1,200 miles long by up to 600 miles wide and the elevation at the center is about 10,000 feet of solid ice. So, you see, it's a large area to scout for a downed plane.

The pilots were all OK, but how to get them off was the big question. They were about 200 miles north of BW-1 and 100 miles west of an Eskimo village, Angmagssalik, on the east cost of Greenland. We dropped them food, warm clothing, sleeping bags, etc. and tried to figure out how to get them off the ice. This was in November with temperatures of about 40 degrees below zero.

At BW-1 were kept two dog teams, with sleds and drivers experienced in Arctic rescue. It was decided that we would fly one team of dogs and sled up to Angmagssalik, called BW-2 as there was a large protected bay there that we could land in when unable to get into BW-1 -- and from there the rescue team would try to get up onto the ice cap and pick up the pilots.

Loading eight dogs and a big sled was quite a task. Lt. Dunlap and Frankie Henderson flew the plane. The air was rough as it usually was up there, and the dogs got air sick. That must have been one hell of a mess. Sure glad I didn't have to make that flight! They delivered the rescue team up to BW-2 OK, but they could find no way to get up on the ice cap from there. Both the east and west coasts of Greenland are lined with very rugged mountain peaks 3-4,000 feet high with many huge crevasses.

Lt. Dunlap decided he could land on the ice with the wheels up on the seaplane and pick up the downed pilots. So they stripped the plane of all they could in order to make it as light as possible; and with only Dunlap and Frankie and one flight engineer, headed for the downed pilots. They landed OK, but after loading the pilots the hull was stuck to the ice and wouldn't move. So everyone got out to try to rock the plane and break it loose. They finally got the plane moving so Dunlap taxied around and came by the group where a couple would jump in the gun blisters. After loading half the pilots this way, he took off for BW-1, unloaded, and went back for the rest.

One day, Bob Shepard was returning from a submarine hunt between Iceland and Greenland. As it was a beautiful clear day for a change, he decided to return to BW-1 over the ice cap to the field and spiral down between the mountains to the landing strip rather than go around the lower tip of Greenland and up the fjord from Julianehaab about 150 miles further on. Now the ice cap has a gentle slope up from 2,000 to 4,000 feet around the edges up to about 10,000 feet at the center. All of a sudden there was a sharp jolt and the airspeed dropped to zero. He put on full power, but nothing happened. The gunner in one of the gun blisters looked out and could see they were on the ice and he yelled back to the pilot, "you're on the ice!" Bob had been flying into the sun, and with it reflecting off the ice cap, he couldn't tell where the snow was and our planes had no radio altimeters at that time. He became snow blinded, and simply did not allow enough altitude to clear the top. He just flew right into the snow. As he was too heavily loaded with bombs, he could not get it airborne again and the plane just stuck in the snow. They were located in two days, and we dropped them food and other supplies for 17 days until a rescue team was able to reach them and get them down the ice cap into Evigtuk, a little Eskimo village on a large bay. One of our planes flew up to this bay on the west coast and picked them up and brought them back to BW-1.

In the summer of 1942, a new Army Air Force colonel reported to Greenland to be our commanding officer. He took off one day in an AT-6 single engine training plane to get in some flight time and to familiarize himself with the area. Engine trouble developed and he made a wheels up landing on the ice cap. When he failed to return, we began a search for him. There were only three planes that were not out on sub sweeps or convoy coverage so we divided the area into three sections. I was the first to locate him about 90 miles north of BW-1 near the west coast of the ice cap, and I looked the area over to see how we could best get to him. I noticed a large lake formed by the melting snow in a depression between the mountains on the western coast and the ice cap and only a few miles from where the C.O. was down. He seemed unhurt and I thought if I could land on the lake my crew could pick him up in our seven-man inflatable raft. I flew over the lake estimating it to be about 3/4 mile long. Not much room to get an old PBY-4A airborne, especially at 3500 feet. I thought if we could strip the plane of all unnecessary weight, we might make it.

I told the skipper my idea and he said, "give it a try and I'll go with you." So we stripped the plane of everything possible and the skipper, two of my crew and I took off. We landed fine and got to the C.O. Now all we had to do was get the old crate airborne again. There just wasn't enough room to take off from a straight run, so we taxied downwind to get our speed up and made a hair raising U turn, shoving the throttle all the way home. We cleared a few jagged peaks at the edge of the lake by a few inches. The C.O. had a broken leg from his rough landing.

Two days later, I flew over that area on my return from a sub hunt and that lake was gone. It must have found an outlet and left for the ocean.

There were at least 50 planes down on the ice cap that I knew of. We were able to locate and rescue all but a few of the pilots by one means or another. A few no doubt went down in the ocean and up there you didn't have a chance. Five to seven minutes was as long as a person could survive in that water. I least in the Pacific, you could survive for many days in a life raft.

In August, I was back in Argentia. There had been a lot of U-boat activity about 150 miles below Argentia. One night while out on a sweep of that area hoping I might spot a sub on our radar that would be on the surface charging up his batteries, I ran into a snow storm with icy conditions. I used the Aldis lamp (a high powered signal light) to check the wings to see if we were picking up ice. I had two pilots with me and one was a new, and very nervous, lad. He became very agitated when I flashed that light on the wings. He said, "don't use that light! A sub will see it and shoot us down!" I told him that if we didn't keep a watch on our wings for ice buildup, we would go down anyway. That was one dark and stormy night. I was wishing that I had stayed on the ground. I landed just ahead of the storm that was moving in on Argentia. When I took off it was just partly cloudy and the weather forecast said nothing about a storm. That was one thing about the weather up there, it could be nice one minute and then all of a sudden you were in the soup.

At about that same time a new skipper came up to Argentia to take over the HEDRON (headquarters squadrons). He wanted to make a tour of our bases on the way to Europe. As I had flown in and out of all of them in that area, I was selected to take the captain around. Argentia was so fogged in the morning we were taking off the sea gulls wouldn't fly. They were smart. I taxied out to the takeoff position and the captain said he wanted to make the take off. I asked him if he could make a take off on instruments and he said he could. The fog was so heavy that I could barely make out the sides of the runway. I gave him a heading to turn to as soon as we cleared the runway that would take us down the center of the bay since there were peaks up to 1200 feet high on each side of the bay. He got off just fine but the vertigo was getting him. He couldn't keep a straight course. I took over the controls and at 1500 feet we were on top in beautiful sunshine. I let him do the flying then. He said, "guess I need a little instrument practice." I couldn't have agreed more.

The first stop was Goose Bay in Labrador. I could see there was snow on the runway so I told him to slow down but he was afraid to slow down enough. I had to chop the throttles, almost too late. We were at the very end of the runway when we stopped.

The next stop was BW-1, Greenland. I figured I had better take it up the fjord as there was a heavy fog greeting us about 40 miles out. I was right on the water, dodging a few icebergs as usual. The captain was really getting nervous, there were beads of sweat on his face and it sure wasn't warm in the plane. He said, "don't you think we had better go up?" "We stay right down here," I replied. He wanted to reach for those throttles and climb. I would have broken his arm if necessary. There was no way to come down over the field with those mountains on three sides. We next stopped at Reykjavik, Iceland. The landing strip at that time wasn't the best in the world, but a lot better than BW-1.

I left the captain at Reykjavik since I had temporary orders to operate from there with my crew. The captain thanked me for getting him there safely. He went on to Prestwick, Scotland and England with a British pilot.

One day in November, I flew out of Iceland to cover a convoy bound for Russia. It was 52 degrees below zero outside and just about as cold inside the plane. There was an inch of frost all over the inside of the plane. I was about 200 miles off the coast of Norway and had to leave the convoy in order to make it back to Prestwick, Scotland, about 600 miles to the south since I was too far out to make it back to Iceland. Just as I turned to leave the convoy, a JU-88 came out of the blue and made two passes at me but my gunners drove him off. He was probably only out looking for convoys and didn't want to get shot down and fail to report the convoy. We made it back to Prestwick and the temperature there was about 40 degrees warmer which sure was a relief.

1943

In April of 1943, our squadron was to get new planes so about half of the squadron pilots went back to Quonset Point, Rhode Island to check out in these new bombers. The rest of the pilots came later. These planes were PV-1's, twin engine medium bombers. They were twice as fast as the old PBY-5A's, could carry more bombs and depth bombs, and also had seven 50-caliber guns that could all be trained to fire forward for strafing when a sub didn't dive but stayed on the surface to shoot it out with the plane making a bombing run.

When we had a full complement of the new bombers (18 planes), we were re-designated VB-126 (bombing squadron 126). We were really spread out over the Atlantic for a while. Four of us went to cover convoys crossing the southern route to Africa. We flew out of bases at Guantanamo, Cuba, a field in northeast Brazil, Ascension Island, and Port Lyautey, Morocco for two months then back to the north Atlantic. It was sure a relief to be flying in warm weather for a change. A good friend of mine was killed taking off from that field in Brazil. One crew member in the tail section survived the crash.

We really appreciated these new planes. Now that the subs were quite often not diving, we really had the advantage with the 50-caliber guns for strafing.

In early December, 1943, Lt. Gramada and I flew the last of our old PBY's back to Quonset Point to get two new PV-1's to replace losses. When we arrived, the weather was socked in solid. We were homing in on the marker beacon at Newport Bay, but it was 25 miles from there up the bay and river to the field at Quonset. With the ceiling just about zero, visibility less than a mile, and a large bridge over the river just below the station, it would take a lot of luck to make it. I knew there was a long breakwater at the entrance to the bay so I said, "let's head for it and set her down inside the breakwater and anchor the plane for the night." We did, and were very glad to be safely down.

During the night, a storm came up and a very cold rain began coming down, almost sleet. The wind kept increasing until we were dragging anchor and were drifting into the breakwater. We started the engines and brought up the anchor, and taxied upwind as far as we could. We dropped anchor again, cutting the engines and slowly drifted back out to the breakwater. We didn't want to keep the engines running as we were afraid of running out of gas before morning.

It was a miserable night and we were all wet and cold. As soon as it was light enough to see to take off, we started the engines and got out of there. It was raining hard, but at least the fog was gone.

At this time, there were a lot of U-boats right off the United States coast and were sinking ships in sight of land. Gramada and I had orders to stay and operate out of Quonset Point to assist the coastal defense. One night, I took off at midnight to relieve another plane covering a convoy 300 miles out. I stayed with the convoy, sweeping the area ahead with radar and picked up a blip on the radar screen about 20 miles ahead of the convoy. When I was about two miles from him, I turned on my flood light. He started to dive and I dropped a string of four depth bombs. When I came around for a look to see if I hit him, I couldn't see any evidence but I dropped the other string of bombs a little ahead of the first as the flood light showed where the first bombs went off. I didn't know if I got him or not, but the destroyer escorts went to work on him -- I doubt he got away.

When it was time for me to return with a half hour fuel reserve, I requested a weather report at the base and was informed the whole east coast was fogged in. What great news. I was confident I could make an instrument approach, as these new bombers were equipped with good instrument approach equipment. But disaster struck. The whole radio system went out, there was not even any voice radio. The radar was working, but all it could tell me was where the coast line was. I throttled back to just maintain airspeed and leaned out the mixture control all I could in order to conserve fuel, hoping the fog would lift by the time I reached the coast. I could see the coast coming up on the radar screen. I decided to climb up to see if there was any clear area inland. It was daylight now and I might find a landing field. I was on top at 2,000 feet, but as far as I could see the whole east coast was fogged in. I didn't have a co-pilot along and after almost eight hours in the air I was very tired, and I knew I had less than a half hour of fuel. I was becoming unraveled and I guess was on the verge of panic. I was yelling at the radioman to get the damned radio working. I couldn't think of what to do. I looked back and saw six very worried faces looking at me. That snapped me out of it. I cussed myself out real good and said, "Kunz, get the hell on the ball and start thinking. You have six men to get down safely." I decided on two things. Either head inland, hopefully not over a town, and bail out, or head back out to sea and drop down to the water hoping to find enough ceiling to fly in to the coast and find a spot on the beach to make a belly landing or a water landing. I had my crew trained to be able to abandon the plane in 29 seconds and be in the seven-man life raft with water and rations. I decided on the latter alternative. As soon as I knew I was clear of the coast (by radar) I started a very slow descent. I broke out of the soup at 50 feet above the water. I turned and headed for the coast and finally saw it at a half mile out. I turned down the coast looking for a good place to belly land on the beach. I also knew there was a landing field right on the coast at New Haven, Connecticut. If I had enough ceiling to see it, I might make it. I also knew I was just about out of gas. Old Lady Luck was with me again that day. I sighted the field, dropped my landing gear and landed straight in -- no going around. I taxied up to the parking line, and before I cut the engines, one died. That's how close I was to being out of gas. I guess there may have been five minutes of flying time left. I called Quonset and found they were going to start a search for me as soon as the weather cleared.

Lt. Gramada returned to Argentia a week before I did. I left Quonset Point the day after Christmas, 1943 and had my first plane crash. Nearing Prince Edward Island in northeast Canada, I hit a hell of a snowstorm. The Canadians had an air base at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for training English and Canadian pilots. I requested landing instructions and they cleared me to land, but I could hardly make out the field. There was a lot of snow on the runway, but what I didn't know was that there was a couple of inches of ice under the snow as there had been a heavy sleet storm a couple of days earlier. I came in as slow as I could -- the brakes were useless. I ran off the end of the runway across a road. A ditch on the side of the road broke the landing gear retracting struts, and the wheels folded up and the plane ended up on its belly in a big snow bank across the road. No one received more than slight injuries, except one of the crew members who unbuckled his safety belt as soon as I touched down and ended up against the front of the cabin. He was bruised some but not too seriously.

The Canadians picked the plane out of the snow bank with a large crane, carried it to a hanger to check it over to see how badly it was damaged. The propeller blades were bent back and the bomb bay doors were flattened out some but otherwise it was not too badly damaged. They checked the run-out on the propeller hubs and found them in ?? They braced the wheels down with welded-on brace rods, had two new props flown in and I flew it back to Quonset. That was one cold ride as I could not retract the wheels and close the wheel well doors so that nice cold air came right up in the cockpit. The plane went in for overhaul and I flew another new one back to Argentia.

One day MacAllister returned from a sub sweep, bragging how he bombed a sub. The next day another pilot flew out to the area that Mac said he bombed to see if there was any evidence. He bombed it all right except that here was this hugh whale floating belly up. Mac was quite a braggart and that sure shut him up. I guess more than one whale was mistaken for a sub and bombed.

I would say that the weather was our worst enemy, at least for pilots flying from bases in the north Atlantic. Some of the worst weather imaginable and very bad ice conditions all through the winter and even in summer. I hit a snowstorm one day in July, northeast of Iceland.

In the two and a half years I spent in squadrons VP-93 and VB-126 in the European theater of war we lost half of our squadron and about half of those lost was due to weather conditions. In that time, there was very little of the north Atlantic ocean I didn't fly over.

Heading out to pick up a convoy one day, I lost one engine about 80 miles out from Iceland. I dumped my bomb load and any other weight I could get rid of. I made it back to the base OK, but it sure makes one sweat a little as this was the PV-1 bomber which was a land plane with no hull for landing on water.

Anytime you were within 300-400 miles of Europe you could expect enemy planes, usually out to locate and report convoy positions. I was jumped by JU-88's twice. The best defenses were to fly just a few feet over the water because the enemy could not dive on you for fear of going in the water, and to depend on my gunners. The Germans hadn't flown over water very much and I don't think they liked it and were in a hurry to get back to land. My gunners sent one back who was leaving a trail of smoke, I doubt he made it back.

1944

From the first of the year 1944 until June, we flew our butts off covering convoys and sweeping the ocean for subs. Convoys with as many as 155 ships carrying all the supplies, equipment, fuel and what have you for the upcoming invasion of Europe.

In February I really got a break. There were many German U-boats lurking right off the coast of the US again sinking ships that were forming into convoys. Half of our squadron had orders to the U.S. flying out of Bangor, Maine; Quonset Pt., Rhode Island; New York and Norfolk. I was at Quonset for about one month, then in March I went to Floyd Bennett field on Long Island. This is where the largest convoys were forming and there were a lot of U-boats in that area.

I advanced from chief warrant officer to lieutenant while in these two squadrons.

NATC Patuxent River

I had heard about the new naval air test center opening up at Patuxent River, Maryland and since I had almost two and a half years of duty in the war zone, I put in a request for duty at Patuxent River as a test pilot. In August of 1944, I received orders to report to the Navy Flight Test Center at the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River. Upon arrival, I was assigned to the Service Test Unit. I made many test flights in new types of aircraft and many flights in operational planes testing new types of equipment.

When I first arrived at Patuxent River, we were testing the latest and last of the experimental propeller planes. After checking out in most of the new models, I was assigned as one of the test pilots for a new dive bomber, a Curtiss SB2-C-5 Helldiver. Two of these planes had already crashed. One pilot had gone down with the plane, but I talked to the pilot that was able to bail out. He told me that on pulling out of the dive, the more he pulled back on the stick the more the plane nosed over going into an outside loop.

The first dives were rather shallow in order to get the feel of the plane. I increased my angle of dive and with speeds up to 400 mph, the plane answered to the controls OK. Above 400 mph, the controls were slow to respond. I decided to give it the works. I climbed to 25,000 feet to give me room to pull out or bail out. Bailing out at 450 knots is no easy matter as there were no ejection seats yet. I rolled over and headed straight down, soon reaching 450 knots. I started pulling back on the stick with very little response. I applied more back pressure on the stick and the plane began nosing over more like going into an outside loop. I didn't like the idea of bailing out at that speed; as I said, no ejection seat.

Then I had a thought, if the controls were acting in a reverse manner, what will happen if I reverse the force on the control stick? I shoved forward on the stick and sure enough, the plane started to come out of the dive. After safely landing, I explained the situation to the engineers and their consensus was that in pulling back on the stick, the downward force of the elevator on the horizontal stabilizer at that speed caused the horizontal stabilizer to warp down giving a lifting force to the tail causing the plane to nose over instead of coming out of the dive and that reversing the action on the stick was real smart thinking on my part. Modifications were made at the aircraft factory on the tail surfaces and dive flaps were incorporated to help control the speed and stability in a dive which solved the problem.

We were just beginning to enter the jet age. The first jet engine, the I-16 with 1600 pounds of thrust, had been developed and tested OK on the factory test stand, but the Navy at that time did not have a plane designed for the engine. So the Ryan Aircraft Company took one of their latest propeller fighter planes, the FR-1, redesigned it, installing the jet engine in the fuselage tail end with the conventional engine and propeller in the nose. This plane was then dubbed the "Ryan-Fireball." We would take off with the front engine as the jet engine alone did not have sufficient thrust to get the plane airborne. Once airborne we would start the jet and cut the front engine, feather the prop and practice flying on jet alone. We had two of these planes and I was the project pilot on one. We could put on quite a show with this plane. It was the fastest plane we had at that time, over 450 knots in level flight with both engines going. Then, when we cut the forward engine, feathered the prop and flew low over the field on the jet with the prop stopped, it put on quite a show.

1945

Then in early 1945 we received our first all-jet aircraft. There were three P-59's with two I-16 jet engines with a total thrust of 3200 pounds. Some difference from today's jet engines with 70-80,000 pounds of thrust for one engine. My first flight in the P-59 was quite a thrill. No big engine and prop up in front. No reference point to keep the nose on the horizon. We had to fly it by instruments to keep the plane level until you had the feel. About this time, the Army Air Force received their first jet aircraft, the P-80 Shooting Star. It was a little faster than our P-59 but not quite as maneuverable.

My name is in the archives on a list of the first 100 pilots to fly jet planes. I am number 92. Boy! I just made the list.

1946

Up to June, 1946 we were still testing propeller planes, the P-59 and Ryan Fireball. Then we began receiving our first service type jet fighter planes from the aircraft factories; the North American FJ-1 Fury, the Grumman F9F-1 Panther, and the McDonald FH-1 Phantom. These were all straight wing type jets with top speeds around 500 knots and not designed to break the sound barrier. Of course most of us with the old daredevil spirit had to see how near we could come to that sound barrier in a dive. Two pilots came a little too close and their planes disintegrated. I had a Phantom up to 600 knots and when it started an erratic vibration, I knew it was time to slow down.

A couple of months later, we got a few newer models -- the North American FJ-3 Fury and the McDonald F2H-2 Banshee. These were the first model jet fighters with swept back wings and could come close to the sound barrier but again it was not designed to go through it. I had a few hops in the FJ-3 and at 650 knots it began to buck. (The speed of sound at sea level is 750 mph.) Several more test pilots were killed trying to crack the barrier in different fighters. Then in October, 1947 Charles Yeager in the Bell X-1 was the first pilot to break through the sound barrier. That was the start of the supersonic jets.

In the two years I was a test pilot at Patuxent River, I had flown 29 different types of military aircraft, from single engine land and sea planes to four engine land bombers and four engine sea planes. There were also five new types of jet fighters, six counting the Ryan Fireball.

I sure loved the flying at Patuxent, although flight testing has its hazards! I think on average we lost one or two pilots each month. One plane, the Chance Vaught F7U-1 jet fighter killed three test pilots before they had the bugs ironed out. Four of the planes crashed, and one pilot was able to safely eject. I had a number of close calls, but I guess the closest one was in the Ryan Fireball.

In June, 1946 there was a big three-day air show being held in Birmingham, Alabama. I was one of four test pilots from Patuxent River selected to fly one of four of our latest fighters in an aerial demonstration for the Navy. The Army had their first all jet plane, the P-80 Shooting Star there. It had us beat for speed, about 550 mph, but our latest prop planes were much more maneuverable and could put on much better aerial dogfights and do better stunts. I was glad I had the Ryan Fireball as with both the forward prop engine and the jet in the tail, it would do over 450 mph in level flight and maneuver very well.

One of my aerial displays was a seven minute solo demonstration. I taxied out to the take off position and when I was ready to start my show, I started the jet engine, since I didn't want to start it until I was ready for take off because at sea level the jet would drink up the 55 gallon jet fuel in about eight minutes at full throttle. I held the brakes on until I had full power, then released the brake. In a 100 foot run I pulled the plane off the ground, raised the wheels and did a slow roll on take off. I then pulled up into an Immelman turn, did two slow rolls crossing the field at 3500 feet from an inverted position, dove down and pulled out to clear the ground at 50 feet doing 450 knots. I then did a slow roll past the grandstand. I then pulled up and did the same thing except that I stopped the front engine, feathered the prop and went by the stands with the prop stopped doing a slow roll with just the jet. Made one more pass by the stands in an inverted flight roll over into level flight and started the forward engine since I was just about out of jet fuel. Flying with the prop stopped made quite a spectacular show because very few people had ever seen a jet plane and they couldn't figure out how I stayed in the air with the prop stopped.

The first two days went very well. On the third day, there was a solid overcast at 3000 feet so I had to stay under the clouds to be seen by the spectators. I knew it would be cutting it close, but was sure I could pull out of the dive. When I rolled over and started my dive I could see I would never make it on a normal pull out of about four or five G's. I know it would take both hands on the stick with all my strength to make it through. I also knew I would probably grayout, if not blackout; but if I didn't shed my wings, I just might make it.

I was told I cleared the ground by no more than 10 feet. I could barely make out the field and I was just about to black out. Needless to say, I didn't do the slow roll in front of the grandstand. I was just happy I wasn't buried in the turf. That's the thing that kills stunt pilots, doing something they know they shouldn't do but think they can get away with it in order to give the spectators a big thrill.

I'm sure every one of those spectators thought I was going to crash, for a minute I thought so too. But it was spectacular all right! Everyone said they had never seen such large vapor trails come off the wing tips from the extreme pressure put on the wings in the pull out. The G-force Gravitator indicated I had pulled eight G's which is about three more than the average pilot can stand without a G suit, which we didn't have yet anyway. Our maintenance crews and I sure gave that plane a thorough checking over to see if there were any cracks in the wings or wing mounting fittings. We couldn't find any -- that was one tough fighter plane which was a good thing for me.

NAS Pensacola (3)

In November of 1946, I received orders to report to Pensacola, Florida for six months training as a landing signal officer (LSO). I went to the Bureau of Aeronautics (Bu-Air) in Washington, D.C. to try to get out of it because I wanted to go to a carrier squadron and do the flying instead of signaling the planes aboard. I knew that as an LSO I wouldn't get to fly as much as I would like. They wouldn't change my orders at Bu-Air. They gave me that old line about being the best qualified man for the job since I had a lot of carrier experience.

So, to Pensacola I went. There were 20 pilots in the class. We went out to one of the outlying fields and lay out a section of the runway with markers the size of the landing area of the aircraft carrier. Half of the student LSO's would get in the planes, take off and make carrier approaches to the field following the LSO signals to land in the marked area and then take off and repeat the procedure. The other half would wave the planes in under the directions of the LSO instructor. After each of the ten students on the ground had signaled in a number of landings, we traded places and flew passes for the other students LSO's. This went on day after day until our instructor decided we were good enough to go aboard a carrier and practice the same procedure. We used the carrier USS Wright (CVL-49) for these training sessions.

Some of these students had never landed on a carrier before, so with a few green carrier pilots and 20 green LSO's it did get a little hairy at times. Fortunately, there were no serious accidents. There were a few blown tires, a broken wheel or two from landing too hard, and one barrier crash.

The shipboard operations really separated the men from the boys. Eight of the students didn't make it; they were either too nervous or their judgement of the plane's speed was poor. I really thought of busting out as I didn't want to be an LSO since I would not get to fly as much as I wanted. But I guess I am not built that way. I always gave the best I had no matter what it was. I was very good at judging the speed of a plane in the approach and always felt at ease bringing the planes aboard.

USS Princeton

1947

In June 1947, I was ordered to report to the USS Princeton (CV-37) as the ship's LSO. After completing instrument flight instructors school at Corpus Christi, Texas, I was assigned the additional duty of training the squadron pilots in instrument flying.

The LSO I relieved was rather nervous using the paddles. When the planes were returning aboard Andy (Anderson was his name) would wave three or four planes aboard then hand me the paddles saying he had to take his nervous pee. No matter if he had just gone to the head before starting the landings, he always had to take that nervous pee after a few landings. He had a rather poor record as an LSO; there were quite a few deck crashes during his tour.

When Andy left the ship, a new LSO came aboard as my assistant, just out of LSO school. He was always nervous and never sure of himself. I could never trust his judgement. After about three months with very little improvement, I told the skipper he just didn't have it so he was transferred and another LSO was sent to the ship who became very good. I could let him take the paddles and trust him with them. Then I could get in a few flights off the carrier now and then to keep my hand in on carrier landings. Most of my flight time would be when the squadrons were on land. I was also busy giving instrument flying instructions. One time, the squadrons were all at North Island and I was working some new pilots on the field in preparation for qualifying them on the carrier. One fighter squadron had just received new planes, the Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat One. I had done some testing on these planes at Patuxent and really loved flying them.

The carrier anchored at Long Beach one weekend so the ships crew could have a weekend liberty. On Monday the ship put out to sea, and I was going to fly out from North Island, land aboard and wave the squadrons in. My assistant was supposed to bring me aboard, but he had missed the ship in Long Beach. I told the skipper I could land without an LSO, just have the spotter give the "roger" signal if the deck was all clear. I landed with no problem. As far as I know, I was the only pilot to ever land aboard a flat top without the aid of an LSO.

Shortly after I reported to the Princeton, we had a change of command. I had a few arguments with the new skipper about him not keeping the wind over the flight deck about 5 degrees off the port bow. If the wind was coming straight down the deck or a few degrees off the starboard bow, the island structure would create very rough air over the aft end of the flight deck and in the final approach area making it rather unsafe for the plane at the cut since I would have it slowed down to just a few knots above stalling. I would wave the planes off and the skipper would ask why. I would tell him the wind was not off the port bow. He got the idea of installing a wind sock on top of the forward 5-inch gun turret to give him the true wind over the flight deck. The trouble was that it gave erratic wind directions due to the proximity to the island structure.

One day he had the wind coming from 5-6 degrees from starboard. I was having a hard time keeping the planes lined up with the deck on their approach, and I was breathing stack gas from the ship's exhaust stacks located on the aft end of the island structure on the starboard side of the flight deck since the LSO platform is on the port side of the deck. I started waving the planes off. My talker, stationed at the LSO platform and connected to the bridge and primary fly by phone said, "the skipper wants to know why you're waving the planes off." I replied, "tell the captain to get the wind 5 degrees off the port bow." The skipper replied, "tell the LSO the wind is right." I said, "tell the skipper I'm breathing stack gas at the platform." The talker says, "Sir, the skipper said to tell the LSO he can eat stack gas!" "Tell the skipper," I said, "I will resume landings as soon as the wind is off the port bow." He finally changed course so the wind was right and I continued landing planes.

The instant the last plane hit the deck the talker said, "the captain wishes to see the LSO in his sea cabin immediately!" I knew I was in for a rough time. You talk about a real old fashioned ass chewing -- he was in rare form. To say he was displeased with me would hardly be correct. He was practically foaming at the mouth. He started by telling me I was bringing the planes in on too long of a straight in approach. He said that when he used to land on carriers they would come in on a short approach and turn in at the cut. I told him I had also landed on carriers with the slow old planes before the war but with these newer and faster planes with a higher stall out in a turn and 15-20 knots faster you can't do that. He finally agreed that was true. I told him if he would just look back at the stack and see which way the smoke was going, it would be much more accurate than that wind sock. I told him I would bring the planes in the way I was taught at LSO school and if he didn't like the way I did it, he could get another LSO. I would have been glad to be transferred to a squadron where I could do more flying.

He finally calmed down and told me I was doing a very good job. And he would see that the wind was always off the port bow. The strange thing was, he gave me some of the best fitness reports I ever received. I guess he didn't like yes-men, but liked an officer who stood up for what he believed.

In the little over two years aboard CV-37, I signaled aboard over 7,000 planes. I had a very good record as a LSO; in fact, one of the best. I only had two bad deck crashes. The pilots got out OK, but the planes were a total loss.

One was an F8F fighter plane. The pilot mistook one of my signals for the cut signal, he cut his power and settled at the ramp hitting the flight deck stern breaking off part of the tail section with the arresting hook and tail wheel. With no hook to catch an arresting wire he went rolling up the deck, riding the brakes hard trying to stop. He hit the rear 5-inch gun turret breaking the engine off and catching fire. He was pulled out by the rescue squad. He had been riding the brakes so hard that the sudden impact with turret broke both his ankles.

The other plane was an F4U Chance Vaught fighter. The pilot, on my cut signal, dove for the deck so hard the landing gear was carried away. He was carrying an external gas tank under one wing and when it hit the deck, it exploded leaving a trail of fire all the way up to the barrier. The asbestos-suited rescue squad pulled the pilot out and had the fire out in short order.

I lost one pilot who spun-in making the final turn into the landing approach. He went down with the plane -- there was no chance of recovery. I saw it coming, he was making too tight a turn coming off the downwind leg into the landing approach. I was frantically giving him the wave-off signal, but he was a little too far away to see it. I felt very bad about that, but was helpless to do anything about it.

While I was LSO on the Princeton, I held the record for the shortest landing interval for the entire four squadrons. One day all the squadrons were out on a training mission. On their return to the ship, I landed the entire four squadrons (72 planes) with an average landing interval of 28 seconds. The Essex (CV-9) held the previous record with a 29 second interval. I had a little luck, the sea was calm and I had been landing this same group for about four months. No new pilots and I had no wave-offs. I don't know if anyone ever beat that record or not.

In the 27 months on the Princeton, I had three pilots that I just couldn't get aboard. They did fine on field carrier landing practice, but when they approached that carrier deck they would go to pieces. I would always give them at least six tries, then send them back to the air field. On carrier qualifications, the ship was always close enough to the field so pilots could return when necessary. I would work them once more on the field, then try again on the ship. If they couldn't make it the second time, they would be transferred to some utility or patrol squadron for duty.

In October 1947, Carrier Division #2, consisting of the carriers Princeton (CV-37) and Tarawa (CV-40) and six other ships (cruisers and destroyers) were ordered to Tsingtao, China to evacuate the families of a Marine detachment stationed there. The Chinese communists were taking over China, driving Chaing Kai Shek's nationalist armies out of China. The red army had completely encircled Tsingtao but so far had not taken it.

It was at Tsingtao that I had my second plane crash. Another pilot and I needed some flight time so we went ashore to the airfield where the Marines had a few planes. They had one SN-B, a twin-engine utility plane. I finally talked the operation's officer into letting us borrowing it. He said, "for christssake, be careful with it because its the only one we have and landing at this field is very tricky." There was only one runway, and there was always a crosswind. I assured him we would be very careful.

We both needed four hours flight time, so we decided to fly north to see the Great Wall. It was just a little over 300 miles from Tsingtao to the eastern end of it. Of course we really weren't supposed to fly over that area as the red Chinese controlled it. I figured if we stayed above 5000 feet we would not be fired upon.

As I said, there was only one landing strip and there was a very strong and gusty crosswind blowing. Just as I touched down, a very strong gust from the left picked the left wing up almost overturning the plane, but it came back down so hard the left landing gear carried away. No one was hurt but it sure busted the wheel and landing gear strut. I had no spares on the ship for that type of plane and they had no spare strut on the field so we had to wire the states for a replacement. Needless to say, I didn't make any friends with the Marines that day.

When our ships left Tsingtao, we headed for Yokosuka, Japan. Upon arrival, I was sent to Guam. There were 24 Marine pilots stationed there that I had to get ready to qualify for landing aboard the carrier. I had two weeks to work them on the field to have them ready by the time the ship arrived in Guam waters. They were a fine group of pilots, but they sure were heavy drinkers. We worked tropical hours at Guam so we would be out to the field at 0600 to start field carrier landing practice. At 1300 hours we secured operations and all headed for the Officers Club and drank until the bar closed. Then we were out on the field again by 0600. I had them all ready for landing aboard the ship by the time it arrived. I flew out to the ship and started landing them. I gave each pilot six landings each. I got them all qualified except one -- the one who spun in on the turn into the landing approach. His body was never recovered.

Since we wanted a clear deck for carrier qualifications, we had to send two of our squadrons to the airfield at Agana, Guam -- we could not park all the planes on the hanger deck. After the Marines returned to Agana, and we had all our planes aboard, the ship headed for stateside arriving in San Diego two days before Christmas 1947. The planes were all flown off and landed at NAS North Island in San Diego. The ship went to Hunter's Point naval shipyard in San Francisco for minor overhaul.

For the first couple of months, I was very busy instructing the pilots in instrument flying. The squadron was designated the first squadron of jet planes, the FJ-1 Furies, squadron VF-5A (USN Fighter Five), so they needed a couple of LSO's to get these pilots ready for qualifying aboard a carrier. Pete Peterson, an LSO from another ship, and I were selected for the job. As no LSO had ever brought a jet aboard and no pilot had ever landed a jet on board, we had our work cut out for us.

The field at North Island was a little small to practice carrier landings with jets so we went to NAS Miramar, a new airfield 15 miles north of San Diego, which was large enough to handle all jets. It took Pete and I a little time to figure out the proper approach altitude of a jet to be able to cut him in order to land in the marked off area representing the landing deck of a carrier. After three weeks of eight-hour days signaling planes in, we both felt quite confident we could get them aboard with no trouble. And all the pilots were looking good.

The ship was out of the yard and on the first of May, Pete and I went aboard the Princeton and headed out to sea. Half the squadron (nine planes) came out at a time. Since we didn't have a suitable barrier for jet planes yet, we kept a clear deck forward so, in the event a plane missed the arresting wire, it could take off and come around again. Pete and I were arguing who should bring in the first jet so we decided to flip a coin. Pete won the toss. On the first landing approach, I could see Pete was really nervous, and so was I. It looked like a very good approach. Pete said to me, "how does it look, Mel?" "Looks good to me," I said. But just about one second before the cut point, Pete gave the wave off signal. He said, "I just couldn't give the cut on that first pass." The next approach was also a good approach and Pete gave the cut and we landed our first jet aboard. Pete landed the first six and I could see he needed a relief. I took over and had the advantage of already judging a few good approaches and landings. I did very well. I will admit I was somewhat on the nervous side, too.

We gave all 18 pilots 12 landings. When they needed gas, they were sent to the hanger deck for refueling as we didn't want them parked forward when another plane was landing. It was quite a day. We only had two minor accidents; a broken wheel and a blown tire from landing too hard. Pete and I felt we were two well qualified jet LSO's.

Landing jets was a lot different than waving in the old slow prop planes. They were approaching at almost twice the speed of the prop planes, so you had to think twice as fast to give them the correct signals.

Bringing planes aboard when the sea is calm is really quite easy. It's when the sea is rough and the deck is pitching that you run into trouble. The stern can be moving up and down 15-20 feet or more. That's when you sweat them aboard. It requires precise timing. You want to try to give the cut signal so that the plane touches down just as the deck reaches the level position between the high and low extreme pitches. If not, then a wave off is necessary.

1949

NATC Pax River (2)

In June 1949, I was sent to the Naval Technical Training school in Philadelphia for instruction in the operation of catapult and arresting gear equipment. Upon completion, I reported once more to NAS Patuxent River and was assigned to the flight test division as test pilot. I was also assigned the extra duties as catapult and arresting gear officer and LSO.

Most of our testing at Patuxent River, especially on arrested landings, was to see if the planes could take the maximum stresses they were designed for. One day, I was bringing a pilot in the F9F Panther jet into the arresting gear on the field. I brought him in fast, about 10 knots above normal landing speed to give the maximum strength test to the tail hook assembly. On my cut, he caught the arresting wire OK, but the plane kept going, leaving the entire tail section in the arresting gear.

That was our job, to find out where the weak spots of the plane were. We tore up more than one plane on arrested landings and catapult shots.

During my two year tour of duty there, I conducted carrier suitability tests on many new experimental aircraft for catapulting and arrested landings on the field and aboard the following carriers: USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), Coral Sea (CV-43), Tarawa (CV-40), Bennington (CVA-20), Wright (CVL-49), and Palau (CVE-122).

Of all the new experimental planes I brought aboard a carrier for the first time, the F7-U (Chance Vaught Cutlass), a twin jet fighter, was the only plane I had a little trouble with in judging its approach speed. It was a radically designed plane with a very high angle of attack (23 degrees) on a landing approach. I had trouble slowing it down on the first field carrier approaches. With such a high angle in the approach, it looked like it was about to stall. But after a dozen approaches, I could land him in the desired spot. I will admit I was a little nervous bringing that F7-U aboard the ship for the first landing. The trial runs went just fine; we completed six landings with no mishaps. There were four of this type that crashed (three pilots were killed, one was able to safely eject) before it became operational. (Mike, you saw that one when it crashed.) The plane was only 1500 feet from crashing and the seat failed to eject. The pilot was finally able to roll the plane over and he fell clear.

1951

USS Antietam

In May 1951, I received orders to report to the USS Antietam (CV-36) and assigned duties as aircraft handling officer. I was in charge of all flight deck operations. I was also responsible for all the work performed on the hanger deck. We were the second carrier ordered to the war in Korea. The Antietam was the first carrier to operate with two squadrons of jet planes aboard. The Essex (CV-9) went to Korea about two months before us with one squadron of jets.

I really had my work cut out for me. Our four squadrons were all made up of reserve pilots and crew members. None of the pilots of the two jet squadrons had ever landed a jet on a carrier. The LSO's had never brought a plane in on a carrier deck.

The first carrier qualification landings were a disaster. On the first ten landings, four had a landing accident. The LSO's were giving the cut signal too late, so the planes had to dive for the deck to catch the wire, thus blowing tires, breaking the landing gear, or going into the barrier. The captain called me to the bridge and asked me what the trouble was. I told him the reason. He knew I had spent two years at Patuxent River with the new jets bringing them aboard carriers. He said, "get back there and get those LSO's checked out before we lose all our jets."

I went back to the LSO platform and told them what the captain said. I took over the paddles and on the first cut, which was about twice as far out as they had been giving it, all the LSO's on the platform with me dove into the safety net below the platform as they were sure the jet was going to crash into the flight deck ramp. He caught the #2 wire (there were 12 wires on those carriers) for a perfect landing.

I worked the jets for a while until the LSO's were convinced that the jets had to be cut much earlier than the prop planes. After coaching them for the rest of the day, they were doing pretty good, so I figured they could handle the jets OK.

I also had my problems training my flight deck handling crews. Out of 110 men, only 15 had ever been on a carrier. I was lucky to have very experienced chief warrant officers, Chief Bosn. Cooper and Chief Pence. They had spent most of their naval career on flattops, both during World War II and afterwards, so they really knew flight deck operations.

We only had two weeks for training and were on our way to Korea. We stopped in Honolulu to get our Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI). We certainly weren't ready for an ORI, so we failed. But Admiral Richardson said, "your ship isn't ready for operation in the war zone, but you're going anyway." That didn't really sound like any compliment.

I held flight deck drills every day on the way out to Korea, spotting and re-spotting, taxiing planes up and down the decks to give the plane directors experience in directing the planes on deck. I also gave the gassing crews and bomb loading crews experience in gassing and bomb handling. We held "flight quarters" each day, launching and recovering the four squadrons.

Operating the two squadrons of jets and the two squadrons of prop planes was a double hazard. With only prop planes, you had to be very careful of the whirling props. But with jets, you had to be careful not to get too close to the jet exhaust which could blow a man over the side, which did happen. You also couldn't get too close to the jet intake. With 72 planes aboard, we had to be able to spot them with no more than eight inches between planes front, back and sides. By the time we reached the war zone, I had a very efficient flight deck crew; with a lot of thanks to Chief Bosn. Cooper and Chief Pence.

Each of the carriers operating in the war zone would spend four or five weeks on the line launching planes loaded with bombs, rockets, napalm or whatever the army would request the fighters to carry when they engaged the enemy aircraft. Then, each would return to the naval shipyard at Yokosuka, Japan for 10 to 12 days of much needed repair to the flight deck and any other necessary repairs, and to replenish our aircraft losses. The officers and enlisted men were given liberty for rest and recreation, and I might add that a lot ended up in jail and had to be bailed out.

One time when we returned to Yokosuka for repair and R&R, arrangements had been made for a party for my flight deck crew at a large dance hall with a dozen geisha girls and a band. As I always had good rapport with my crew, they invited me to their party. We had plenty of booze, good music and entertainment.

Everything was going along fine until everyone began getting drunk and as it had been over a month since any of us had had a drink, it didn't take long. Then one of my plane directors said, "Mr. Kunz, I bet I can take you." The floor had a heavy matting (we had to remove our shoes) so it made an ideal wrestling mat. Everyone was feeling no pain so when they saw their boss wrestling, they all got in the act; wrestling, chasing the girls, taking over the band. Things got a little out of hand. Fights started, things were broken, and one sailor was thrown out a window. The shore patrol and the Japanese cops arrived and got things under control. The girls and the band had all bailed out of the place. The Japanese charged us $900 (American) for damages to their hall. That was enough to build them a new hall.

We went back to the war zone after that for another month, launching and recovering aircraft for about 16-18 hours a day.

The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is a very hazardous place during all flight operations. Anything can happen, and quite often does. I could write a book on the many accidents (minor and major) I have seen on carrier operations. We lost one third of our aircraft the first month we were operating along the coast of Korea; either from being shot down or from crash landing after having been badly shot up over Korea. I will relate a few that happened during my two years in the Korean War.

One day when a jet landed and caught the arresting wire a five inch rocket that had failed to release on target let go and came sliding up the deck coming to rest among the planes already parked up forward. It caused only minor damage and fortunately didn't explode -- why I'll never know. We were lucky another time on the flight deck when a 1000 pound bomb that had failed to release on a bombing run came loose on the landing. It came bounding up the deck end over end. I was out at about the center of the deck forward of the barricade and saw it coming. I made a wild leap for the shelter of the island, not that it would have been any protection if it had exploded. I would bet that if I had measured that leap I would have set a world record.

Another time, I was standing out on the deck forward of the barriers talking to one of my plane directors while I was waiting for a plane to land to direct it to the forward flight deck. When the plane caught the arresting wire, a 20 mm shell that had jammed in one of the guns fired and hit the plane director I was talking to. It went through his midsection leaving one hell of a hole. We rushed him to the sick bay and the sailors with his blood type lined up to give blood to him until they had the bleeding shopped (7 pints in all). Then he was transferred to the hospital ship in that area. He lived, but was paralyzed form the waist down. The last I heard of him was about a year later. He was in a wheelchair but was getting along OK. Old Lady Luck was with me again that day. That could very easily have been me.

One day an F9-F jet plane developed engine trouble just after a launch. He made it back to the ship but crashed on landing. He did jettison his bomb load, but didn't jettison the external gas tank he was carrying. When the landing gear was carried from too hard a landing, the drop tank ruptured, spilled 200 gallons of fuel and ignited. The plane came to rest on the #3 elevator which is in the landing area. The gas was running down into the elevator well in the hangar deck and burning where the oxygen storage tanks were stowed. With fire all around those oxygen tanks, we had to get that fire out in a hurry or that ship would have been blown wide open. There was also a hot fire going on on the flight deck. Thank God for foam for fighting gas fires.

Once during a night landing, one of the planes from the bombing squadron (AD-1 prop plane) came in too high and fast but was given the cut signal by the LSO. The pilot dove hard for the deck, missed the arresting wires and bounced up in the air about 15 feet clear over the barrier. His right wing hit the island structure and the plane cartwheeled down on top of two planes parked forward of the barrier. That was a mess to untangle. We didn't have much time as there were several more planes to be landed that were getting low on fuel.

Like I said, there is never a dull moment during carrier flight operations.

The worst accident we had in the time I was out there was when an F9-F Panther jet failed to catch an arresting wire and went through the barrier and crashed into the planes parked forward on the flight deck.

On the cut from the LSO, the pilot was too high. When he dove for the deck, the nose wheel landing gear strut was sheared off and the plane went right through the barrier. About 20 planes had already landed and were parked forward. I had gasoline crews gassing planes and ordnance crews loading bombs and rockets in preparation for the next launch. I was out at about the center of the deck forward of the barricade when I saw it coming. I yelled "take cover!" to the men forward but it happened so fast they didn't have a chance to run for cover. I no doubt did another world record leap and went sliding under the forward five-inch gun turret.

The plane went sliding up the deck on its nose and went under the tail of the first parked plane causing it to crash into three more planes shoving one plane into the catwalk. When the plane slid under the tail of the first plane, the tail sheared off the windshield and completely decapitated the pilot. I was the first to get to the plane to try to get the pilot out. The sight that I saw was one I will never forget. I had a few nightmares about it for quite some time. Since the plane was a mass of wreckage, it was decided to bury the pilot at sea in the plane. The chaplain held a brief ceremony for the pilot and the plane was pushed over the side.

Seven of my flight deck crew were killed and 12 injured. Five of the planes parked forward were badly damaged. Why we didn't have a disastrous fire and explosion with all those bombs, rockets and gas hoses around the planes I will never know. Once again Lady Luck was smiling on our side that day.

Two weeks before, the Essex (CV-9) had the same type of accident except they did have one hell of a fire and explosion. Fifty sailors were killed and a large number injured.

After two very bad accidents within two weeks, it became very obvious that landing jets on an in-line carrier deck was very unsafe. And with newer and faster jets becoming operational, if carrier aviation was to have a future, there had to be some way of landing without the inherent danger of crashing into the planes parked forward.

On my second tour of duty at the naval air test center at Patuxent, I was also the LSO working on all the newer and faster jet models on the field and aboard ship. On landing these planes for the first time aboard ship, we kept the forward deck clear with no barriers up so in case a plane missed all the arresting wires, it could take off and come around for another try. I could see that we were going to have very serious problems landing on a straight deck with planes parked forward.

One day I had a bright idea. Why couldn't the flight deck be extended out over the port side a little in the landing area so the planes could land about 8 or 10 degrees to the port side of the deck center line? In case of missed wires, it could take off again without danger of crashing into the planes already parked forward.

I mentioned this idea of mine to one of the aeronautical engineers (Paul Durap), also a pilot. He said, "that's an excellent idea, let's go to Bureau of Ships (BuShips) and see what they think about it." They said it was not possible to extend the landing area of the flight deck that far to one side as it would unbalance the ship too much. As we didn't know enough about ship building to argue, we forgot about it.

So what happened?! About a year later, the British were the first to experiment with the angled deck. That was the Answer. If I had pushed a little harder and been able to get some of the big wheels in BuAir interested in my idea, I might have gotten credit for the angled deck.

So now the navy brass decided to experiment by converting one of our carriers to an angled deck configuration. Now here is a good example of some of the stupid planning that goes on in the defense department and why there is so much waste.

1952

USS Shangri-La

They decided to convert our ship, the USS Antietam, at the naval ship yard in New York. Now the USS Shangri-La (CV-38) was already there at New York waiting to go in for regular shipyard overhaul with no crew on board. It was a sister ship to the Antietam. Why didn't they use that ship to convert to an angled deck? No! The navy ordered the Antietam all the way from the Korean war zone to the New York shipyard. We stopped off at the Yokosuka Naval shipyard in Japan to off load all our flyable planes to replenish the losses of the other carriers out there. Then we loaded all the cripples to bring back to the states for overhaul. We arrived in San Diego a few days before Christmas 1952. We stayed there for Christmas, off loaded all the aircraft for repair then steamed for New York.

USS Yorktown

The entire crew from the Antietam transferred to the Shangri-La and took it around to the west coast to the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. The crew then transferred to the USS Yorktown (CV-10) which had just completed overhaul there and headed for Alameda to on-load our squadron personnel and a full complement of new planes, then off to the war in Korea again.

1953

BuAir

In September 1953, I received orders to report to the Bureau of Aeronautics (Bu-Air) in Washington D.C. With all my experience aboard flattops (ten years), having held about every job that had anything to do with aircraft operations on a carrier, I was assigned duties in the carrier suitability section of the ships installation division. Our job was to recommend new and improved methods of operating and handling aircraft, and improve repair facilities aboard ship. I made numerous trips to the various shipyards where the carriers were going through overhaul to make sure that all the changes and improvements we had recommended were carried out to our satisfaction.

During my three years at Bu-Air I worked with Bu-Ships in the planning and installation of all aircraft facilities that went into the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) and the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) -- the first of the 79,000-ton supercarriers. These were the first two carriers to be built from the keel up with the angled deck and steam catapults installed. All the old Essex (CV-9) and Antietam (CV-36) class carriers had the angled deck added to the port side at regular shipyard overhauls. I made many trips to the Newport News and Norfolk, Virginia shipyards where these two carriers were being built.

Shortly after reporting to Bu-Air in 1953, the Antietam and Essex class carriers began coming out of New York and Norfolk shipyards with the angled deck installed. I was on board the following carriers, Lake Chaplain (CV-39), Hornet (CVA-12), Bennington (CVA-20), Intrepid (CVA-11), and Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31), for their first sea trials after conversion as a technical advisor from Bu-Air. During these sea trials we would have on board a few of the latest jet planes to test out the catapults and arresting gear. It was becoming quite evident that the old H-4 hydraulic cats used on all existing carriers would not be capable of giving the newer and faster jets sufficient launching speed when fully loaded with armament. Work had been started on developing more powerful cats, the H-8 hydraulic cat and a steam cat. But it would be a couple of years before they were fully tested and available for operation.

It was decided to experiment with increasing the air pressure in the H-4 cat accumulator from 3500 psi to 4000 psi to be able to give the planes more launching speed. The Bennington (CVA-20) was the carrier used for this experiment. I was aboard for these tests. We had on board several different types of the latest jets for catapulting.

We started out by increasing the pressure 100 psi after each shot and checking everything carefully after each increase. After reaching 4000 psi, one launch was fired from each cat. Then operations were secured for the day and a very thorough check was carried out on both cats. On the second day, after firing ten shots on each cat at 4000 psi, everything was looking good. That afternoon I flew back to Washington to make out my official report of the operation. Limited carrier operations were scheduled on the carrier for the next morning.

I will relate another instance where I probably cheated the grim reaper once more. The two nights that I was on board, I slept in one of the officers' quarters staterooms located on the deck over the port catapult machinery room. Another officer moved into that room when I left the ship. On the first launch on the port cat the next morning at 0600 hours there was a violent explosion and fire in the port cat machinery room. Several men in the machinery room were killed. The explosion blew open the deck of two staterooms above and in the ensuing fire, two officers asleep in those rooms were killed. Had I stayed aboard ship one more night that could have been me, although I would probably have been up to observe the operations.

That sure put a stop to any more shots at 4000 psi on any H-4 cats. Those accumulators just weren't designed to withstand that much pressure.

Shortly after I reported to Bu-Air, Nick Goodhart, a commander in the British Royal Navy Air Force came in to see me. He had reported to NAS Patuxent River on an exchange pilot program with the British Navy about a year before I left Patuxent in 1952 for Korea. I knew him well as we had worked together on the field and aboard ship on catapult shots and arrested landings. He knew I was an experienced LSO. He said to me, "Mel, we're going to land planes with a mirror." I thought he had really flipped his lid.

After he explained the principle to me I could see it really had possibilities. It would consist of a high powered spot light shining a spot of light called the meatball onto a mirror which reflected the meatball to the pilot. On his approach glide path he would keep the meatball in the center of the mirror until he touched down on the deck. If he was above the proper glide path the meatball would move up toward the top of the mirror, and if he was below the glide path the meatball would move toward the bottom. After explaining this to the big wheels, they decided it was worth experimenting with. The captain of our division said to me, "you're an experienced LSO, so I'm assigning this project to you." We called it the mirror landing aide program.

It's very interesting how Nick came up with the idea of landing planes by the use of a mirror. He told me that one day when he entered the office, one of the secretaries had a mirror on her desk to powder her nose. As he walked in the door he could see her face in the mirror. As he approached her desk, her face disappeared off the top of the mirror. That's when he had a thought. So he went back to the door and walked toward her desk. In order to keep her face in the center of the mirror, he had to keep lowering his head until his face was along side her face. That's how he got the idea of using the mirror to land planes on the carrier deck. So now we had a new project on our hands.

I worked with Commander Goodhart on this project for almost two years making many landing approaches on the field using the mirror. We had a number of problems. The main problem was getting a mirror with a perfect reflecting surface. We found the mirror had to have a slightly concave surface in order to give the pilot a little more leeway on his approach path. The first mirror produced did not have a good enough reflecting surface. The meatball was reflected in a very elongated image which wasn't good enough. We finally found a company that developed a mirror that gave us a very good round meatball reflection.

How far astern of the mirror the spot light should be to give the plane the best approach angle was another problem. Too close would cause the meatball to move up or down on the mirror too slowly. Too far astern and it would move too rapidly. We found that 165 feet astern of the mirror was just about ideal for most planes.

We went from one to a bank of four spotlights to give a more intense meatball on the mirror. We also added a four foot horizontal bar with four green lights on each side of the mirror at the midsection to help the pilot keep on the proper glide path. As long as he kept the amber spot light in line with the green lights, he knew he was on the proper landing approach.

After many landings on the field using the mirror, we felt sure it was ready to be tried out aboard ship. As the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) was just about ready for its first sea trials, we decided to wait until it was ready for carrier operations to try out the mirror aboard ship for the first time. Her flight deck was much larger, so it gave us a little more leeway in case things didn't work out like we thought they should. Also the steam catapults on CVA-59 were about ready for testing. We could accomplish both tests at the same time.

Sea trials were scheduled for August 29-September 2, 1955. I was one of three technical advisors on board from Bu-Air. We tested out all aircraft facilities to make sure everything was working to our satisfaction.

On all carriers there is a control room located on the after inboard corner of the island structure called primary fly (pri-fly and sometimes called the penthouse) -- it's like the control tower at an airport. This is the air officers station during all air operations. He is in charge of all flight operations. It is four decks above the flight deck level on the same level as the bridge which is on the front of the island structure. On all carriers before the Forrestal, there was a catwalk passageway along the inboard side of the island connecting pri-fly and the bridge.

During the Korean War we had a captain who was a very nervous fellow. He was always running back to pri-fly and harassing the Air Boss. The Air Boss would get all excited and start yelling at me. I would get mad and tell him that if he didn't like the way I ran the flight deck he could come down and run it himself or get someone else to do it. I would have been glad to be transferred to some outfit where I could do a little more flying. Then the Air Boss, Joe Hill, would calm down, apologize and tell me what a good job I was doing.

Anyway, I thought to myself, if I had my way I would remove that catwalk so the captain couldn't get back to pri-fly without going down three decks and then back up three decks. The captain's place is up on the bridge to con the ship, not back in pri-fly trying to tell the Air Boss how to do his job. So when I was at Bu-Air, I saw my chance to do something about it, if I could, on the Forrestal.

My idea was approved, so when the island structure was completed on the Forrestal and Saratoga, there was no direct passage from bridge to pri-fly.

Upon returning to Washington after the Forrestal sea trials, a big symposium was held at the Pentagon. All the big wheels were there and Admiral Hayward was in charge. I knew him real well having been in his squadron when he was a captain. In going over all the details of the ship, Admiral Hayward realized there was no direct passageway from the bridge to pri-fly. He said, "who the hell is responsible for that?" "I am, sir," I replied. He said, "Mel, what was the reason for that?" I told him why and the Admiral sat there not saying a word for what seemed like ages. I could see he was really mulling this over in his mind. It was so quiet in that room you could have heard a pin drop. Finally he said, "you know, that is a very good idea. I like it." That's the way it stayed. As far as I know, all new carriers were designed the same way.

In October 1955, the Forrestal was ready for its first air operations. The mirror landing aide was installed and we headed out to sea with several types of the latest jet aircraft to test out the mirror and the new steam cats.

We had to make a few minor adjustments and changes, but the landings went very well using the mirror. We had a landing signal officer standing by. If the pilot got too far off the glide path, he could wave the plane off for a new approach. The mirror was then installed on all new carriers and the old ones that were modified with the angled deck.

The steam cats worked fine, but had to have a few modifications and minor changes. They were then approved and installed on all new carriers and on some of the old carriers.

1956

VR-23, NAS Atsugi, Japan

On September 1, 1956, after three years in Bu-Air, I was detached and received orders to report to Air Transport Squadron VR-23 based at Atsugi, Japan. My orders stated that I was to assume the duties as engineering officer of the squadron. But upon arrival, the skipper said, "you are going to be the new administration officer." I told him that my orders read that I was to be the engineering officer. The captain said that there had been a change, "you are my new administration officer." I told him that I knew nothing about that job. "Start learning," he said. And I did. I burned a lot of midnight oil for about four months trying to learn a little something about the job. Luckily for me, I had a very efficient chief yeoman. He was sure a great deal of help with all the correspondence we had to deal with. That kind of work was not my strong suit.

About one-fourth of my time was taken up with answering letters from mothers of sons in the squadron. Ninety percent of them went like this, "Dear Captain, my son is in your squadron and I have not heard from him for a long time and have not received his allotment (not receiving their allotment, I think, was their main reason for writing). I hope he is in no trouble, he is such a good boy, etc., etc." Usually, it was these good boys who didn't write to their mothers who were the little bastards that usually would get in trouble on liberty, be picked up by the shore patrol or end up in jail in town. I would have to go in and see about getting him out of jail and released into my custody.

My answers to these dear mothers went something like this, "Dear Mrs. X, your son is doing very well. He is studying for a rate which is why he hasn't had time to write (what a liar). I will personally see that he writes to you at once, etc., etc." I would have the culprits brought into my office, tell them to sit down and write at least two pages to dear old Mom, address it, stamp it, and hand it to me. I would see that it went into the outgoing mail. I would loved to have written to some of those mothers and tell them what I thought of their little dears.

One day I thought I would have a little fun with the skipper (there was seldom much hilarity in the office). We had one sailor in particular who would get in trouble almost every time he went on liberty; that is, when he wasn't restricted to the base or in the brig. I went into town more than once to get him out of jail by assuring the Japanese police that he would be properly punished. So, I wrote a letter to his mother that went something like this, "Dear Mrs. X, your dear son is in our squadron and I must say I wish he was not. He is the biggest troublemaker we have. Every time he goes into town on liberty he gets drunk, gets in fights, gets in trouble in some cathouse and usually ends up in jail." I wrote about two pages about the troubles he had been in. I took it into the captain saying, "here's a special one for you," and went back to my office. The next thing I heard was, "Mel! Come in here." He said, "now you know we can't send a letter like that out to any mother. Why, we would have the state senators and half of Washington out here to investigate." I said, "I know, Captain, but wouldn't you like to send a letter like that to the mothers of a few of our prized troublemakers?" He agreed with me. So I wrote a nice little letter telling her what a fine young man he was. After every liberty I would have to go into town, be it Tsuruma, Yokohama or Tokyo to get one of our sailors out of jail.

Another thing that took up a good deal of my time was trying to talk the sailors out of marrying the Japanese women. Their request to get married to a Japanese had to be approved by the skipper and Navy department in order for them to get dependent's compensation for their wife. I would do all I could to discourage those who wanted to marry Japanese women. For one thing, at that time there were 23 states in the US that would not honor interracial marriages. Most of those states were in the south. If the sailors were from any of those states, I would tell them that if they planned on taking their wife back to their home state they would not be considered to be married. It would stop a few. We averaged about five or six requests a month to get married.

The skipper also appointed me senior member of the special courts martial board which was another field that I knew practically nothing about. So, I had to take another crash course in naval justice. I presided over quite a number of court martial cases and some of them were real doozies.

The main thing I disliked about the administration job, and being senior member of the court martial board, was that I had very little chance to do any flying. A desk doesn't fly worth a damn.

In VR-23 we had R5-D's, four-engine Douglas transport planes, the last of the propeller transports. They were used to fly mail and high priority cargo to the various bases in the area where we had armed forces stationed or political interests. There were also 12 VJ-2 twin-engine cargo planes for delivering mail and cargo to the aircraft carriers operating in the far east. Although I was checked out in these planes, I seldom flew them or cared to since there were two F6F Grumman hellcat fighters and two twin engine Beechcraft utility planes at Atsugi so the pilots with desk jobs could get in a little flight time. Anytime I could get away, I would go over and get one of the Hellcats and go up and ring it out or challenge a pilot in the other F6F to a good old fashioned aerial dogfight at which I was very good. It helped to forget about the office work for a spell.

1957

In July 1957, Congress drastically reduced the Defense Department budget. So there was a big economy drive on in all the armed forces. In the Navy, almost all the reserve officers on active duty were being discharged. Those with 20 years of service could retire with a pension. Those with less than 20 years active duty received severance pay and that was all.

All the officers with temporary commissions (like myself) had to revert to their permanent enlisted rate or could retire at their present rank if they had at least 10 years commissioned service and over 20 years active duty.

In August 1957, I received a letter from the Bureau of Personnel directing me to revert to my permanent status as chief aviation pilot or retire at my present rank as commander. As I had over 15 years of commissioned service and over 20 years in the Navy, I elected to retire as commander with 27 years, 7 months of continuous active duty. Date of retirement was January 1, 1958.