George Frederick Will
Lieutenant – U.S. Navy
Aviation Electronics Technician
Korea and Vietnam
I was first introduced to George Will, in full dress uniform, as he was preparing to lead the pledge of allegiance at a large Veterans Day event this past year. A retired 23+ year veteran of the United States Navy, Mr. Will is an active 80-year-old, who can be seen working in his community to support other veterans. He hosts a monthly breakfast for them through his church, visits older veterans weekly at local assisted living and nursing homes, and is an organizer of a city-wide 4th of July event which honors our veterans. I hope you will sense his patriotism and devotion to our country through his military story.
What was your job in the Navy?
“Well I had several. I was trained as an aviation technician which in the Navy was called an AT. I went through the enlisted rank up to E7 which is Chief Petty Officer and I was Chief for five years. Then I went to Warrant Officer. At that time, there were four grades of that. I went to W3 and then I started back over again and then I retired as an 03 Lieutenant. That was one of my accomplishments in the Navy — I had more ranks than anybody else I have ever known. Thirteen separate pay grades while I was in [chuckles].”
That is an accomplishment! Where did you serve?
“My first tour of duty was in North Island [Naval Air Station in Coronado] California, San Diego. I was there for three years.Then I went to VR-21. That is a Navy transport activity.
“Then I went from there to the Navy Overhaul in Kobe, Japan. I spent basically four years in that activity. We were repairing and reworking aircraft at the end of Vietnam. The helicopters that Air America was flying over there– they were shipping them back to us in cardboard boxes and we were putting them together again [chuckles]. At one time, we had thirty — I don’t remember the exact number, but thirty-something air craft on the production line that we were reworking in a place called Shin Meiwa which was in Japan. It was located in the center of a triangle of Kobe, Nagoya, and Osaka. Shin Meiwa [now ShinMaywa Industries] was in a little town called Ishibashi. We were closer to Osaka than any of the other two, but we did a lot of things in Kobe also.”
You were in Oklahoma at the time?
Why did you enlist?
“If you worked on a dirt farm, you would know [chuckles]. I don’t know, there were a lot of factors I guess, but I really wanted to be in the military. Actually, I was in the National Guard in 1950 when the Oklahoma National Guard was activated for Korea, but I was only sixteen-years-old. So I was ready to go, but my mom didn’t quite agree with me. She had to hammer it in.
“I was discharged from the National Guard and I finished high school. As soon as I got out of high school–I graduated in June and by July — I was gone. I was hearing all the war stories coming back from Korea and that was my bag. That is where I wanted to go.”
Was your family military?
“My brother was in the Air Force in the Second World War. He is thirteen years older. Yeah, I don’t know. There was no real military tradition in the family. I had an uncle in the Navy in World War II, but that was pretty much it.”
And basic training was in San Diego?
“Yeah. There were only two places, San Diego and the Great Lakes outside of Chicago. Those were the only two places at the time with boot camps.”
Was boot camp all it was cracked up to be for you? Was it harder than you expected?
“I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea. I just grew up doing what I was told to do and didn’t have any problems doing it. It was just — we didn’t have to climb the ropes or anything.”
So what did it consist of mostly?
“Get up, march, and eat, and march, and eat, and go to bed.”
“Yeah. There was a lot of training. A lot of life skills and staying alive skills. It was school. Like I said, a lot of drill, a lot of military activity as you would expect.”
You said you were trained in electronics?
“Yeah. Of course, that doesn’t start until after basic training.”
I was just wondering, did you take a test, or how did you get into electronics?
“When I went in to the Navy, because I had a high school education, I was guaranteed a Navy school. So, when I finished boot camp, it just happened they were spinning up in for an invasion in Korea–a sea invasion. I don’t remember which of the battles it was, but everyone–all the run-of-the-mill guys anyway, went boat drivers for landing crafts.
“Because I was guaranteed a school, I chose to go to the aviation school because I left a girlfriend behind and the school happened to be in Norman, Oklahoma. So I chose to go to aviation prep school which is what they called it. An eight week school.
“From there, I chose the electronics because somewhere along the line before I joined the Navy, I read they made electronics whiz-kids out of kids in thirty-two weeks or something like that. So I chose aviation electronics as my school — that was in Memphis, Tennessee and [it] was twenty-eight weeks. We learned how to start airplanes and do things like that. It was a real interesting prep school. So was the electronics school.”
You worked on board aircraft carriers?
“I worked on aircraft. The only kind of ship I was ever on was an aircraft carrier. Of course, you don’t have very many aircraft on any other ships other than an aircraft carrier. They do have some on the cruisers — helicopters, and that sort of thing, but anyway, at that time, there was only old propeller driven airplanes. It was all aircraft carriers. That is what we were really made for.
“When I graduated from electronics school, my first active duty was [with] an organization called VC-11 which was in San Diego. So I went back to San Diego where I had gone to boot camp. VC-11 were flying aircraft that nobody knows — AD4W — well we had different ones, but the ones I flew in mostly were AD4Ws. They were radar air craft. They had a powerful — for those days — radar and they had a raydome on the bottom — we called them guppies — about 12-foot across with the antenna inside for the radar and then the radar was mounted behind the pilot in the air craft. That is what I was training to be–a radar technician.
“After I went to VC-11, I went to that specific radar training there in North Island and as soon as I finished my radar training [he motions with his hand as if zooming away], I was gone to the Far East!”
Where did you go first?
“I went to the USS Philippine Sea. In the Philippines, we went on a nine-month deployment starting somewhere in, oh gosh, very early ’53.”
What was your mission? What were you to do?
“We went out and flying off of Korea — [the war] was still going on. We flew–well, the normal routine was to go out for thirty days and we home-ported, for lack of a better term. The ship stayed in Yokosuka, Japan. Then we would go on a thirty-day line period and we were out there for thirty days and then we’d come back and spend ten days and go back to the line. When we were on the line, we flew three days and backed off and replenished for a day and then we would go back. We cycled like that. We were doing the radar aircraft — they didn’t carry bombs or anything, of course. They were a support role. But the air group was doing bombing and close air support mission.”
That was all from the aircraft carrier?
“All from the aircraft carrier, right.
“What my squadron did was — we were cover for the fleet. We were out there looking. We had an anti-submarine mission and an aircraft interdiction mission. So we were the eyes of the ship so to speak.”
So were there enemy submarines during that time? I mean, Korea had submarines?
“No, Korea didn’t, but Russia did. China did.”
“That was all in that area. We never, best I recollect, detected a submarine. I mean, we had plenty of our submarines with us. Task Force 77 had a lot more than one aircraft carrier. We normally had three or four carriers online and they all had — a task “group” is one carrier, usually a cruiser, five or six destroyers, and a couple submarines — they’re all part of the task group. In Task Force 77 we had four or three carriers online and that would make up the task force.
“Anyway, they all had their separate missions, but we were flying in to support the troops on the ground mostly. Air support and interdiction to keep the people from bringing stuff in from up north, down to where the people were doing the fighting.”
Online just means you are out, active?
“Right. We were out there working, yeah.”
Why did you choose the Navy? At one time you said something about flipping a coin.
“Yeah, between the Navy and Marine Corps.”
Did you like being out on a ship?
Some people just love the sea. I didn’t know if being from Oklahoma, if that was something you really enjoyed.
“It is a job. It really is. I don’t know, when you’re a kid you don’t know what you are getting into anyway. That is basically the way it worked out there. I enjoyed the ship and flying. It was all good.”
You flew–you weren’t a pilot, but you flew–?
“We were air crewman. Technically, we were called combat air crewman, but that was kind of left over from the Second World War, the combat part. There wasn’t really any air combat. Not with us. There were dog fights and — Koreans did have an air force. We had — especially at the end of the war, there were several aircraft killed in dog fights. But they were the fighter aircraft on the ship — we had a squadron of fighters that their task was to protect the ship from aircraft.
“But the main part of the compliment of the aircraft on the carrier was what we call attack aircraft. They were carrying bombs and making bomb strikes and air-to-ground support missions.”
So when you flew, did you fly over into Korea?
“Oh yeah. I only had one time that I would consider combat.
“We went into Korea and actually, it was my first launch off of carrier at night. It is a long story, but we had a fighter bomber with us and it was just two aircraft and we went into Korea and made a night strike.
“The rest of it was pretty mundane, but because it was my first night launch, that is what I remember more than anything else. Now, if you want to hear that…”
“I was really pretty frightened at that time, but the way the airplane was set up, all the radar equipment was down in the back of this airplane. There was two of us back there — one operator and one technician.
“The technician’s job, of course mine, was to take care of the equipment while we were in flight. Well, it was like — I was on the right side of the airplane and there is a tunnel that goes along the outside of the aircraft setting on the side. It was mounted in racks. People don’t even understand what that means anymore. Stuff was so big then compared to now.
“Anyway, this tunnel was about this wide [with his hands shows about eighteen inches] and just trying to get through there was a job in itself. Up to the front which was the bulkhead behind where the pilot was sitting — and at night, everything is red lights — you can’t have white light because it destroys your night vision. So you have all these red lights and at the end of this tunnel on the back of this bulkhead was the pressure gauges for the — the radar equipment was pressurized.
“So they have all these little red gauges up there and that was my tunnel vision — I was focused on those lights. Well when the catapult hit you for the launch, it is like four and a half Gs just — Bam! Just like that. They didn’t have steam catapults — it was all just [he hits his fist in his other hand].
“In my recollection — I went over this a million times — I guess that was the most frightened I had ever been [he chokes up momentarily]. When they hit you, you almost temporarily black out. The pilot does too. You didn’t have G-suits and that stuff in those days. So, when the catapult hit, I looked and the whole world did a full roll. The catapult track is ninety-something feet long — you go from zero to flight stage somewhere around 100-miles an hour, or a hundred knots in those days, in that ninety feet. Of course the aircraft has everything it’s got going — it’s still a single engine airplane. Anyway, when you got to the end of the flight deck, all the sound just went away — all the reverberation from the flight deck and all that. I thought I was dead! [laughs]”
I guess so! Gosh!
“Yeah, I don’t know. That just really–I remember that better than anything.”
I’ve seen videos of them taking off. Unless you are in there, I can’t imagine …
“Well, it’s changed a lot from then to now. I know, I guess, probably the last cat shot I had was when I flew off ship and this would have been in 1956, or sometime after that. I was on the Lexington. We were out just on maneuvers in San Diego. And I got my orders and there was an airplane going back to North Island and they flew me back to take my transfer. Anyway, I was on the Lexington and the Lexington was the first aircraft carrier to have a steam catapult. It catted us off and it was [he smiles and slides his hand up into the air] so smooth. I said oh man, where has this been all my life?”
With the other catapult — if the pilot blacks out I would hope he regains consciousness soon!
“Yeah you do. It is very temporary…”
The Korean war ended and then where did you go?
Well, from there, when I got that set of orders, I went to Japan. When I first started out, I went from there to FASRON-120 [Fleet Air Service Squadron] that was in Iwakuni, Japan. It is another little place on the main island of Japan. There, we had a sea plane –patrol squadron support facility — FASRON-120. I went there. I was now an E5. I was working on a radar for the patrol aircraft. It had the big radars in them. I was there. I was lead radar technician for the latter part of the tour for the FASRON. By then, I was E6.
E5 and E6 are pay scales?
Yeah. Pay scales, responsibility scales.
What was your rank at that point?
First Class Petty officer. E4 is a third class petty officer.
I’m just trying to understand the Navy’s ranking system.
Well we had third class, second class, and first class. Then we had Chief Petty Officer, which is an E7. At that time, when I was in the patrol maintenance section, I was E5 and E6. That was a three-year tour.
How much time was there between?
That would have been from ’56, which was my first reenlistment when I went to Japan. I was there for three years in Iwakuni — FASRON.
Were you married at this point?
No. I did get married right at the very end of that tour. I was still single. I went back after that tour to, let’s see… it all runs together. ’56 to ’58, yeah. I married a Japanese girl.
So, when I got back, I went to another aircraft carrier. Well, another squadron. We ended up being on another aircraft carrier. It was squadron VS-78 — an anti-submarine squadron. We were stationed at North Island again — San Diego — and deployed soon after I got back. We did another six months. I didn’t mention, it was two different carriers in the first squadron. It was the Philippine Sea and the Boxer, which was CVA-21. Then this tour, I was on the Hornet which was CVS-12. Now that was another three year tour, but only one deployment.
So when did Vietnam come along?
Oh, it was a long time downstream, yeah.
So between the Korean War and Vietnam War, you were patrolling the seas? Was there anything particularly threatening?
One of the big things that happened, I guess was in ’55 to ’56 on the Boxer tour. We had a pretty big dust up with China over Formosa [Taiwan] and the little islands out there that China and Japan and National Chinese were involved with.
It was a lot of fun flying out there. A lot of — I wouldn’t necessarily call them combat missions, but they were pretty hectic. We did a lot of night ship surveillance which is pretty exciting when you are hurling across there 400-miles per hour 50 feet off the water. We always flew with a fighter bomber. They carried search lights. When we get down there and go in, of course, the radar was what we used to spot the ships. We would go in and when we got about a mile out, we would light up the ship. Then it got real sporty because a few of them were a little upset with that and they would shoot back at you. You are a pretty tough target, but yeah. You did that for four hours. It was pretty exciting.
That went on–I got a lot of clippings from out of the paper. That lasted quite a while. I don’t remember how long. I know that the Chinese tried to sink our ship. Next morning, we were there. We stayed there for basically that whole cruise.
Were you nervous?
You get used to it. It was just the way we made a living.
Well then, what happened after that?
After that cruise, I was talking then about the Boxer and cruise of ’55, but then we jumped to the Hornet. It was nothing very exciting. I was no longer a radar technician. Well, I was still a radar technician, but no longer on flying missions. I was now a First Class Petty Officer and I was running the radar shop. I wasn’t air crew anymore on the Hornet. I was still on flight pay, but I wasn’t actively engaged in the anti-submarine operation. Just maintaining the equipment.
Was that okay with you, or did you like to fly?
Well, I got kind of a belly-full of flying. We had stuff to go places and all these things that kept me flying, but it was not the carrier operation. That is the tough stuff.
Anyway, after the cruise on the Hornet — I can’t remember anything all that earth-shaking during that deployment at all. It was only a six-month deployment. That was after the Chinese shake up and before Vietnam. So Korea was way behind us at that time. It was about keeping a presence out there.
After the Hornet cruise, I got orders back to Japan then. At this point, I had a Japanese wife. So she wanted to go home then. So we went back to Japan and I went to the overhaul facility.
First I went to VR-21. They called us “crumble cookie carriers.” We flew aircrafts out to the ship and they called us CODs — Carrier On-board Delivery. They always had those guys around, you know. [chuckles]
Crumble cookie carriers?
Yeah. You know, a lot of the mail of course–
Oh okay, gotcha.
Anyway, I was in that squadron six months. VR-21. We had large transports we flew from United States to Japan. I made that trip a lot of times. Again, they are all old reciprocating aircraft engines. It would take us four flights to get from Japan back to the states — island to island. We would go from Japan to Guam. We nearly always had to have a stop in between depending on winds and navigation problems and all those sorts of things.
It usually took us four hops. We would go from Guam to Johnson or Kwajalein — one of those islands out there — and then into Hawaii to the states. Most of them were 12-hour flights in between.
Oh wow! I was thinking about four or five hours in between. The Pacific is a big place! I was talking to a veteran from World War II and he said almost every little island had an airstrip on it.
Johnson, Kwajalein, Midway… I don’t even remember all of them. But I remember landing on Johnson. When you landed, your wings were over the water. When the breaks stopped squealing, you were over the water again — like a 5000-foot runway or something like that. You could reverse the prop or reverse thrust, but you had to have the brakes on when you hit the dirt. It was amazing flying!
Those pilots on that little spit of land!
Finding them — that always amazed me — I did a lot of navigating in those days. Because we didn’t necessarily have trained navigators on board. Everybody had been trained, but we didn’t have LORAN [Long Range Navigation] which was one of the things that came along about that time. It was very primitive then. We had an oscilloscope and you could look at it and you would look for these spikes in the spikes. It took a three-way plot to tell you where you were. But anyway, it always amazed me every time we found an island. It was like a surprise! [We laugh] There were no alternates, you know, if you were out of fuel too. So that was fun flying…
So that would take two or three days to get across?
Generally, we would R-O-N [remain over night]. You have to get rest in there. The pilots especially. Normally, they would fly a day and R-O-N, and then go again the next day.
Mrs. Jimmie [Harrold] was telling me she flew air-evac. I don’t know if they would stop that many times.
They probably did. I know she flew C-54s. I don’t know why I never heard her mention the subsequent aircraft that they used so much, the R-60.
I never heard her mention it.
I never heard her mention it so she probably didn’t fly them. But I know she flew C-54s.
That was the one that we had so many of in VR 21 — we carried troops back and forth. Not combat troops, There were always people moving around out there — and cargo. Parts, and all the other stuff that has to come out from the states. I mean you get a lot of support requirements out there — that’s a long supply line.
That always amazed me. Just the distance of it. I mean, a third of the globe.
It doesn’t sound like much now. You can fly from San Diego to Tokyo in four and a half hours now. But it was such a long ways. We had to supply our troops out there during the War too the same way. That was even more primitive than what I was flying in.
I know LST is for Landing Ship, Tank, but what does LSD stand for?
D stands for dock. They are floating maintenance facilities.
Ah, so they could fix ships while out in the ocean.
Okay, so then what happened?
That is when I was back at the aircraft overhaul over there in central Japan. We were repairing aircraft for– a lot of the stuff was now starting to be for Vietnam. I went to VR-21 in 1961 and ShinMaywa in late 1961. I was just six months at Atsugi and then I went to ShinMaywa and spent the rest of my three year tour down there at the overhaul facility.
That is where we had the H-34s which later become the marine main landing craft that they used with attack helicopters. We were fixing those and we had a control aircraft we did scheduled maintenance on. A lot of helicopters.
At ShinMaywa, we had Army, Navy, Marine — no Coast Guard, no Air Force. We had all their aircraft there were reworking them because they didn’t want to send them back to the states for rework. So that is why they set up the facility out there. The old facility there at ShinMaywa was the Japanese fighter base during the war and they also had a sea plane. The Japanese had a lot of sea planes. You don’t hear too much about those guys, but they had a sea plane facility and we also were repairing the sea planes that the US Navy was flying over there — which you probably never heard of either. They were MONSTERS! [chuckles] I will tell you about that some other time. [chuckles] We flew across the pond [Pacific Ocean] in those, and they only had TWO engines.
Anyway, that was ShinMaywa. It was a big maintenance facility. [It consisted of] all Japanese, except we had a dozen military [non-Japanese] there that were doing the contract supervision all the way down to quality control. In other words, what it took to keep the inspectors happy — the OSHA people. The only exciting part about that was when they had their crises that the government is always having. The Japanese people who did all the actual work, they just put on another ship. We turned our hats around and just kept on going. Cause if they were working, we had to be there. We got in a lot of hours, but no exciting stuff — strictly a support activity.
I went there as a first class and made E7 there at that facility. That was the morning I first wore a chiefs uniform. You can’t see much there. The picture wasn’t too good to begin with. That was in January 16 of 1962. Yeah, the reason I remember that is because promotion day is kind of big day. Making E7 or E8 is a significantly big deal. Any place else, there would have been the chiefs’ initiation day. It was a big day in that time. The Japanese shut down the activity. There were two of us that made chief that day. The other guy was an EP — an enlisted pilot. He had been in first class, of course. He supposedly qualified in something like a different kind of navy aircraft. His job was to test fly all the aircrafts coming out of overhaul. That is what he did. He had flown everything the navy ever had, I guess. He had 28 years in or something like that. I just had 12 years in when I made chief. That was a big day. Anyway, they tried to put on a chiefs initiation, but it wasn’t much. But it got us into the E7 suit. They used to say the chiefs run the navy. It is like the master sergeants run the Marine Corps and that is true to an extent. They are the technical specialist. At that time, they didn’t have a higher enlisted rank. That was it. In the navy, they actually had chiefs that were commanding officers of ships. They had experience and they had horse power as well. That is what made it work.
“[When] I finished my tour of duty at ShinMaywa, I went to instructor duty in Memphis Tennessee. I became an instructor teaching electronics — well I taught receivers and transmitters and antenna theory. A receiver is what they used before they had transistors. Transistors were just getting off the ground there — I even taught a little transistor theory and I taught a little bit of nuclear physics, which was at that time — quantum theory of electrons. Because I had taught antenna theory, I thought I could revamp the way we taught electronics and I did a pretty thorough evaluation and got a long way, but I could never make quantum theory work for batteries, so I flunked out! [he chuckles] But I tried.
“Anyway, I did my three years there and now it is 1966. Now they also have an E8 and E9 tacked on top of the E7 — so senior chief and master chief. E8 and E9 put two more pay grades in.
“So, in Memphis, this was the electronics in the university of the Navy and they had chiefs running out their ears down there. There were literally thousands of them. They had been chief for one year, or two years, and at that time in the Navy they had a ‘permanent chief petty officer’ which no one has ever heard of anymore. But I just happen to have a certificate where I made permanent appointment chief. It was a congressional appointment at that time. Permanent appointment chief at Navy Memphis was a real rarity.
“Anyway, I went out for senior chief and applied for warrant officer at the same time. I passed the test, but I wasn’t selected for senior chief, but I was selected for warrant [officer]. There was always a big hassle in the chiefs’ rank about people who went on to take officer or take commission.
“[But] I had a mentor was an old Navy chief and an AT [Aviation Technician]. He had his 20 years in, but he was kind of the bulldog of the outfit. I was trying to make this decision of [whether] to go with the E8 or the warrant. He said, “You know George, you can do more for your people as an officer than you can as a chief.”
“I actually took a pay cut to do that job, but…
But you could make more of a difference.
“Yeah. So when I left Memphis and there were ten or twelve of us who made warrant officer. The Navy closed the warrant officer program back in the ’50s. They quit making them. The carriers all had warrant officers — they [even] had their own mess on the carrier. They were officers, but they weren’t enlisted. But they didn’t belong in the officer category either. So they were kind of strangers.
“Anyway, when I made warrant, I went to school in Pensacola — ‘knife and fork school’ we call it — they teach you how to be officers. It took a lot of teaching. [He smiles] I had been chief for five years so I already knew what color socks I was supposed to wear and all that stuff. So it was more of an eight-week boondock than anything else. We got a lot of actual academic teaching or training I guess out of the eight weeks. Other than that, we had a really good time. [Laughs] Pensacola has always been a great place for a good time. Fished a lot. No officers, no wives. That kind of thing. We were all down there – there was no dependents — no place for them.
“They wouldn’t let us stay in the barracks with the young officers — see this is where all the pilots were training — we’ve got all these little greenies running around who still got runny noses. [grins] Most of us — average — every guy in that group had been in the Navy fifteen years or so.
“Yeah, we were middle-aged guys. So they wouldn’t let us stay with the young officers. So they give us per diem and sent us to town and we had to live in a motel or something. We had a really rough time… [grins] So that was knife and fork school — we learned our manners. [laughs]
“Then I went to VP2 which is a Navy patrol squadron — first time I had something other than aircraft carrier for sea duty. The squadron was deployed when I joined them.
“The administrative part of it was in Japan, but we were flying all our missions out of Vietnam. In ’66 — things were popping pretty good over there. So I was not air crew, but now I am aircraft maintenance officer. My actual job title was maintenance material control officer/assistant maintenance officer. That is what I remained for the rest of the time I was in the Navy. As a warrant officer you’re a technical specialist, but basically you are an administrator. That was three years in VP2 flying out of Saigon. We flew our missions out of Saigon until the very end of ’68 which is about the time I transferred.
“Sixty-eight was when Tet happened and we were in Saigon – Tan Son Nhut [Air Force Base] at that time. They got one of our planes on the ramp. It got hit by a rocket. We left it there and we moved to Cam Ranh Bay [Air Force Base] which was brand spanking new– still building rooms from the VOQ [visiting officers quarters] up there.
“Saigon was pretty exciting sometimes. We got hit about every night with rockets. After a while, you didn’t even bother to go to the bomb shelter.
Take your chances?
“The only thing I remember too much about was that the old brick house I grew up in on the farm back in Oklahoma was built back before Oklahoma was a state and we had a screen porch on the back where we would bring our milk in. And the porch had a screen door on it and I remember the old screen doors would slam [because] it had a spring on it. The rocket sounded just like that screen door. Every time one of them hit, I would remember that. I mean, that was just an everyday occurrence.
“All kinds of stuff flying in and out of there. They used to say it was the busiest airport in the world. Numbers of aircrafts wise anyway. The Vietnamese had these old AD-4s and they would load them up — about a 500 pound bomb — fly to the end of the runway — drop all their load, come around and land. There was a lot of traffic there.
“So ’66 and ’67 when we were at Tan Son Nhut and ’68 was when we got hit — that was Tet and we left — took our airplane and went away with them to Cam Ranh Bay.
“Speaking of Tet, at the time it was still going on, they flew an airplane down and picked me up and got me out. I was out at Cholon [Chinese section of Saigon heavily damaged in the Tet Offensive] We had a facility out there. That’s where the big fight went in ’68 — in Tet. They flew me back to the Philippines where the administrative office and stuff was. We loaded up a C-54 and we took twenty-something guys and myself and we went to Iwakuni [Marine Corps Air Station in Japan] because that was also when the Koreans took the Pueblo.
[I look puzzled…]
“You don’t remember that…well, the Pueblo was a spy ship. The communists grabbed it and towed it in and made a big political deal out of it. Anyway, it got pretty hot — international incident. I took my crew up there and we also took six of our patrol aircrafts — it was six or eight. We had three squadrons that were patrol aircraft flying in [Operation] Market Time in Vietnam. I was ONC of the group and we started flying barriers up on North Korea again. Same old stuff. But we were loaded to the guild and we were carrying nuke. Like I say, it was a pretty hot situation. We worked that for I guess three weeks. We were flying twenty-four hours a day like I said, we had twenty-one guys and we were working twelve [hours] on and twelve off. It was a great effort really. But for the situation, not unusual.
Wow, I didn’t realize they were carrying nuclear weapons.
“Oh yeah, yeah. We had anti-sub [nuclear] weapons.
I am still learning about the Vietnam War, but the whole cold war situation was going on when I was a child. So I didn’t get the impact of all that until now when I am starting to read about it more. It was scary, on the brink times.
“That it was.
“I went to VP-2 as a W1. Warrant officer with a pin stripe. Two years in grade, I made W2. That is a fully commissioned officer. I made W3 also out of VP-2.
“When I left VP-2 in ’69, we were still flying [Operation] Market Time out of Cam Ranh then. They shut down our squadron because they had a new airplane come along–the Orion P3. It took over. We couldn’t fly Market Time because there were jets now. You know, they were turbo jets. But still, they flew so much faster than our P2s that we couldn’t mix the two kinds of air craft on the patrol mission. So they shut us down and it was time for me to rotate anyway.
“I went back and I went from VP-2 to naval test pilot school in Maryland. I was now–I made ensign then about that time. I pinned on my ensign stripes in that picture.
“That is a fantastic organization. It is all pilots. They were all training to be test pilots. We saw a lot of astronauts and such passing through — military celebrities. They all had to go to test pilot school called TPS. There were only two. The Air Force had one and the Navy had one.
“[The Navy] had about thirty-one or thirty-three aircrafts. It varied at different times. There were 23 different kinds of aircrafts. It was a maintenance nightmare. Here I am — I am assistant maintenance officer and maintenance control officer. That is where you get all the parts and do all the paper work and it was just terrible.
“Normally in a squadron environment, you go to school on one type of airplane, and you know a lot of about that airplane. When you see something go wrong with the airplane, you have seen it before. Test pilot school was nothing like that. All these airplanes are different. [If] you have a discrepancy, and the mechanic has to go get a book and go out and sit under the nose strut and try to figure out what the hell is going on. I felt sorry for the guy that worked there.
“There was still lots of stuff going on in Vietnam. There were a lot of openings for rotation. I had quite a few opportunities. I could have bailed out of that and I wanted to so bad that I could taste it, but I could never make myself do it.
“Anyway, that was the worst tour I ever had. It was the most rewarding as well because, like I said, there was a lot of great people there and heroes that passed through that place.
Who are some of the ones you remember?
“Oh God, the names… I would have to think about that. Who was the first one that orbited the earth?
“Shepard! That’s the one [I’m thinking of]. He was a Navy test pilot graduate. There was a bunch of them. All the astronauts were test pilot graduates — either Navy or Air Force — one of the two. It didn’t make a lot of difference when they came through. They were celebrities when they came through.
“Another kind of interesting thing about that was, every one of graduating test pilot classes — which their curriculum was like eleven months or something — pretty long tour of duty. We took them on a trip around the different facilities. The aircraft manufacturers like Ling Tempco Vought was a big one at that time. They built the A-7 airplane. All those big names.
“We took these guys and introduced them to the people — the civilian community. It got them a lot of publicity. We flew them all in an old C-54. So, a lot of those trips I went on because I had to be there to take care of that airplane.
“Made a lot of those trips. Had a maintenance chief who had been flying C-54s since he was in “knickers.” He and I were great buddies — we went on liberty together all the time.
“We had one little shindig — we had flown out of Wichita and we were in a Beech aircraft with a load of test pilots on our way to Burbank, California. And we lost an engine while over Texas. We had a runaway prop which is the worst thing you can possibly have in a C-54. The propeller has an automatic pitch control on it and the thing just failed and the prop ran away. It started windmilling in the wind stream. Of course we are going 300-miles an hour, or something like that.
“We had a rough night the night before and I was sleeping in the fuel department catching a nap and the plane captain and the enlisted person in the jump seat didn’t get to shut down the engine quick enough and it ran away — it went from 2000 RPM to 3000 — and I heard that sucker go and knew what was happening. And I also knew every one of those props — when they come off go right through that fuel compartment. So I bailed out of there really quick.
“The engine finally froze. So now we are dragging a barn door through the air. [He chuckles] We had to go down. There was no question about it. So we landed at an old bomber base in Texas. We got all the new test pilots off and got another plane to come and pick them up and took them on to Burbank.
“I stayed there with the crew. There was four of us there. The plane captain and a good mechanic and myself and Jerry Young who was my maintenance chief stayed there. It took us a week to get another engine flown out–oh and we had a pilot with us too. I forgot about that. We got the engine repaired and re-installed the engine and caught up with our crew at Burbank, but it was an interesting side trip there — one which I will never forget.
Wow — so you spent a week out in the desert of Texas.
“Now that was cowboy heaven out there! I tell you what, Dalhart, TX is it! [He chuckles.]
Probably not too far from where you grew up huh?
“Not too far. About 150-miles.
“When I left the test pilot school [in ’72] I went to VA-147 maintenance control — which was my last tour. I did two deployments on the USS Constellation. This was my last ship. We deployed in ’73. Now, I’m a lieutenant JG [Junior Grade].
“In maintenance control I had an assistant maintenance officer job, but now we have a real airplane. The A-7. It was probably the premiere attack aircraft in the Vietnam War. It could carry more bombs than the B-17 and fly it off the carrier. Great aircraft. We loaded them up full as they would go and launched them off. Now we have steam cat, so..but this is a one-seater — no threat for me to fly in it. [He chuckles]
“But we had terrible parts problems trying to support the A7. The carriers–this was in the days of automation in the mid-’70s — they had stuff on there. They didn’t know what they had. They would bring it out and no one inventoried it. There were all kind of support problems with the A7. Great airplane, but they didn’t provision well.
“The big fun of VA-147 was I was one of the senior officers on the squadron. The rest of them are all pilots. I was a senior ex-enlisted. I had a gunnery officer who worked for me, an electronics–avionics they call it now–you know, computer specialist kind of guy, and a JO — junior officer maintenance type — who is now a dear friend. His last ship was the Midway, which is now a museum. The Hornet is now a museum too. I made a trip to the Hornet one time. It is tied up at Alameda point in San Francisco Bay.
“When they found out I had done a cruise on the Hornet, they got all these volunteers around it and they had to show me the ship. It is in better shape now than it was then. It was a cool trip.
“Anyway, I said I made two West Pac deployments on the Constellation and it was a lot of fun. The last trip was–the Vietnam War was over with — so we were doing the old mundane stuff. We were flying a lot, but no combat missions on that second tour at all. We had some combat missions on the first tour when I was out there.
You have seen a lot. Been in and around. Gosh. Would you do it all over again?
“You bet. In a heartbeat.
That is the feeling I get from you. Well that is very cool.
“I dream about it sometimes. Never quit.