Norm DeTray – His Own Story
From my earliest memories, I was crazy about airplanes. If we were eating lunch or dinner, and I heard an airplane, I dropped every-thing and ran out to see whussup. My folks never batted an eye at this behavior — they knew my passion.
One whole summer, Jack Crahan & I built model airplanes in our garage — all day, every day. When we finished one, we took it up on our roof, wound her up, attached a firecracker to the nose, lit the firecracker and let ‘er rip. When you did this 5 times, you were an Ace.
My folks would say, “Why don’t you kids go outside and play?” We’d say, “Yeah, OK”, but we never did. We stayed in the garage and sniffed glue (not on purpose — sniffing was unadvoidable when you were building balsa model airplanes! But I learned a lot about airplanes that summer.
FLIGHT PREPARATORY SCHOOL, COLLEGE OF WOOSTER
The war started on Dec. 7, 1941 for the United States, when the dirty, yellow Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. This happened on a Sunday in the U.S., and I was at my current girl’s house. I remember thinking that my life was soon going to change.
I graduated from high school in June of 1942, and and started college at Ohio State in the Fall. But before I went to OSU, I took the exam for West Point, ending up as first alternate. I knew the guy that was first was sure to take it, so that left me with other plans to make.
My dad and I went uptown to visit Jimmy Donovan, a local attorney but more importantly a big wheel in the Democratic party. I was thinking about taking the exam for Annapolis, and these appointments required political pull. Jimmy said he thought I ought to try for the Navy V-5 program which could lead to pilot training. This sounded good, so I decided that’s what I’d do.
I started at OSU and shortly enlisted in the Navy V-.5 program. At that time, when you went to OSU, you had to take Army ROTC (OSU being a land-grant university). When the Navy learned about that, they said you can’t be in the Navy and take Army ROTC. On the other hand, Ohio State said I couldn’t continue at OSU WITHOUT taking Army ROTC!!
I know it sounds weird, but after talking to the Dean, it was determined that I would have to transfer! So after one quarter at OSU, I transferred to BGSU for the 2nd semester.
The Navy called me up in Aug. 1943, and I was assigned to Flight Prep School at Wooster.
They took no prisoners at Wooster. The first day, they sent us to Sick Bay where they had a double line of 6 Corpsman. You went thru the line and each one gave you a shot! Then to the PT field for push-ups. We all got sick that nite, and some guys actually tied themselves to the John all nite. This is the Navy?? Buy hey, no excuses the next day — they put us thru hours of PT.
We learned “close-order drill”, and since I had experience in the State Guard, I was made platoon leader. They had a football team that played a collegiate schedule and I went out for the team. So, I was the platoon leader of the “Football Platoon”. That was a wild experience, as this group was totally full of testosterone and were, in a word, ornery. But they seemed to like me OK. These guys had all played college ball, and I was no match. Just before the first game, I was cut. But, I was still Platoon Leader. I later was promoted to Battalion Commander. It was good that I got cut, as they were beating me up plenty. I did help some of the schoolastically challenged ball players, especially in Navigation Class. The tests were all multiple choice (5 possible answers to each question) and the chairs had 5 vertical pieces of wood to form the back. You can guess the rest. I got several guys thru Navigation Class by “scratching my back” on the proper piece.
We learned the Morse Code, Aircraft Recognition and Elementary Navigation. But mostly they worked our butts off in PT. I thought I was in shape, but this was brutal. One time, running high hurdles, I pulled a muscle and got put on report for dogging it when I continued to limp! Had to walk-off demerits. Tough, real tough.
WTS HELENA MONTANA, CARROLL COLLEGE
Helena, Montana, Queen City of the Rockies
Why would the Navy have anything in Montana? There’s not a ship withing a thousand miles!
Well, I’ll tell you why: The Navy didn’t have enough air bases to absorb all the cadets they wanted. They were furiously building bases, such as the Corpus Christi complex, but in the meantime, they had to have some place to store us cannon fodder, so they started a thing called the War Training Service. The WTS’s were located at colleges around the country that had an airfield nearby. As a matter of fact, the Army Air Corps also utilized WTS services. They had civilian instructors, both academic and pilot training. But, we had one Navy guy as the “Skipper”, and another Navy guy who was the PT slave-driver.
The Skipper was a pilot who was wounded early in the War, and I think the Navy looked for a soft spot for him. I think I only saw him twice while at Carroll College. Word had it that he was a near-alcoholic.
But boy, we did see the PT officer!
it was all Navy guys at Carroll College — I don’t know what happened to any girl students. Carroll was a catholic school, and was all in one building when I was there.
We actually got some liberty while we were at Carroll. Helena was a pretty nice town, and God knows there weren’t any other military around, so we got prime treatment. About the best duty you could have and still be in the military.
My flight instructor was Warren Anderson, a civilian of course. In fact, the pilot instructors used their own planes for instruction. I always had the feeling that these guys made out real well financially, plus they got to fly all they wanted. He worked me hard, as he wanted me to be the first in class to solo. Ready or not, I made it!
PRIMARY TRAINING, Norman, Oklahoma
After Wooster, Helena, St. Mary’s, the next step was Primary Training at Norman, OK. This was my first exposure to real flying.
Primary was heavy on aerobatics and precision landings.
Aerobatics could easily produce “upchucking”. This was real embarassing, but when you’re in an inverted spin, all the force is up and out!
The Stearman Biplane was a real sturdy performer. No aerobatics were restricted, and we learned ’em all: loops, snap-rolls, barrel rolls, falling leaf, chandelles, immelmans, regular and inverted spins etc.
The Stearman had one big problem: the brakes were terrible! And with the ever-present wind in Oklahoma, you needed brakes in order to keep a straight line when taxiing. If you were taxiing in a cross-wind, forget it — you were going to “Ground Loop”. This means that the plane was going to go into a violent circle, and there was nothin’ you could do about it. I well remember seeing 30-40 planes aimlessly going in circles on the taxiway until enlisted men came out to walk ’em in.
1ST COCKY SOLO
After considerable dual instruction, the time came for us to go out solo. After all the hammering from instructors, this promised to be a lot of fun. We were just to go out in the general area and do nothin’ special.
Well, that wasn’t good enough for me and some of my other “hot” buddies — we had to go buzzing farm houses, cows and stuff. And of course, I got caught!
This was a serious offense I had violated a direct order, so this wasn’t at all funny. It resulted in a “CAPTAIN’S MAST”.
There are several levels of discipline forthcoming when you were in violation of some regulation, and a Captain’s Mast was pretty high up on the list. It was like a trial, with 3 officers acting as the judges. If they ruled against me, I would be washed-out of the air program, and go to enlisted status. Somehow, they let me stay, but I had major demerits to walk-off, and was restricted from liberty for a good long time. The only reason I can think of that made them go easy on me is that they had probably done the same thing!!
St. Mary’s Pre-Flight, St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California
St. Mary’s College was a truly beautiful place. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay in any of these beautiful buildings — the Navy had to build wooden barracks for the lowly Cadets.
There were about 4 pre-flight schools across the country, and since I had been in Montana, the logical place to send us was California.
Navy Pre-Flight was considiered among the toughest and most demanding of all military training. The Navy stressed physical training, and stressed it in spades.
For example, when we pulled in to St. Mary’s, the buses were instructed to drive around the running track. We we shocked to see guys in leg casts and on crutches trying to run around the track!
There were two places you went if you were hurt: Misery Hall and Agony Hall. If you were just sick or had bruises or other non-life threatening wounds, you went to Misery Hall. There was no getting out of regular PT if you only had to go to Misery. If you had serious sprains, broken bones or something sorta life-threatening, you went to Agony. Here they evaluated you to see what they thought you could do. Guys in casts that truly couldn’t run, were doing pull-ups or push-ups endlessly. You had to do something physical, no question asked. It was impossible not to be in good shape after leaving Pre- Flight!
DUMB AND DUMBER
This is truly one of the dumbest things I have ever done!
It was our last day at Pre-Flight, and we were mustering in company formation prior to going to dinner. Four of us decided that we would sneak out early and go to the student union for a real burger and shake. So we asked 4 other guys to shout “Aye” when our names were called.
All went well until one of the four guys had a personal message from his family that had to be delivered to him personally. No dice. He wasn’t there!
So they had a complete stoppage of all activity and went over the roster one-by-one until they absolutely knew who was missing. The whole battalion was late for supper.
When we got back to the barracks we were told what happened. Tomorrow was Graduation Day for God’s sake! We hid in the shower, but the cadet officer of the day found us and told us to report to the Officer of the Day. I thought we were finished.
The officer sentenced us to 4 hrs. of demerits, which had to be marched-off that nite yet. But I was overjoyed to march for 4 hrs. & not get washed-out! Dumb and Dumber for sure!!! Graduation was nice!!!
We knew when we graduated from St. Mary’s Pre-Flight we would get 2 weeks leave. Many of us were from the East, so how were we gonna get home?
Well, the Union Pacific Railroad had our answer. One of their representatives came out to St. Mary’s to give us the scoop. Boy, it sounded good! We would have our own car and could take our meals in the Club Car. He assured us that it would be nice and deluxe. OK, problem solved.
When it came time to depart the train station, we found our car. It had to be the oldest car still rolling. It had a coal furnace in the middle of it! This was supposedly for use when we went over the Rockies, where it got mighty cold. We were also sorta led to believe that our car would be a “sleeper”, and what a joke that was. It was a real old fashioned coach with very uncomfortable seats, and this was what we had to go to Chicago in.
One of the guys had worked a short time for a railroad, and he knew how to dismantle the seats so they could be laid out in sort of a bed — at least we could get horizontal. We were pretty miffed at our treatment, and proceeded to dismantle the seats, and sorta dismantled the whole car.
The conductor was horrified at what we had done to that car. In fact, he locked us in so that we couldn’t get to the dining car! We stopped at some town along the way, and the USO provided us with box lunches, or else we might have starved.
It was a 3-day trip to Chicago. On the 2nd day, the John plugged up, of course. What a mess! Guys were going out the window or wherever. By the time we got to Chicago, we were savage!
Thank God the train I took from Chicago to Defiance had a wash-room so I could get cleaned up a little, lots I still needed a shave. I wasn’t a pretty sight by the time I got home. So much for deluxe train travel on the Union Pacific.
When we got ready to do our carrier landing qualifications, we went to a little port on the east coast of Florida called Mayport. We were to board a Destroyer Escort for transport out to the carrier.
We were Navy Men, right? Not exactly old salts, but Navy nontheless. A Destroyer Escort is not a very big ship, and she rocked a lot right at the dock. About half our guys never stopped walking when they boarded the DE, and headed straight for the HEAD, where they dutifully UPCHUCKED! What a way to start!
‘Way back at the beginning of all this, a carload of us went to Detroit for our Navy physicals. The night before the physicals, of course, we went out on the town. Consequently, the next morning we couldn’t pass the eye test! They told us to come back in the afternoon and try again. Well, what’s good for eye problems? Carrot juice is good for eye problems. So we got several jugs of carrot juice, went back and PASSED!!
At BGSU, I got acquainted with some other guys that had enlisted in the V-5 Program. We had a Navy liaison officer at BGSU whose main job was recruiting, but he was also there to assist guys like us were waiting to be called up. He told us we could form our own squadron and could go thru all the training together and go out to the fleet together. Boy, this sounded great, so we formed The Flying Falcons.
We all went to Wooster together. They were all football players, so we were in the same platoon there. What a nice deal! We would look out for each other, and generally build up Espirit de Corps.
What a joke! When we completed Wooster the Flying Falcons were scattered to the 4 winds and I never saw any of them again! The Navy Way.
One of my best buddies all thru training was Tommy Davis. Tommy had gone to Kent State, and was a gymnast. He was about the best-lookin’ guy I ever knew. Anyhow, since our names were close alphabetically we were generally in the same room, or close by.
But Tommy had a problem. He didn’t have a middle name. The Navy said ‘You have to have a middle name”. Tommy kept telling them that he didn’t have one. So, they gave him one. Actually, they weren’t worried about having a middle name as such, but you had to have a middle initial. So they gave him “L” as a middle name. Every time he signed his name, he had to write it as Thomas “L” Davis. I wonder if he continued to use “L” in later life…
The Navy issued you a Sea Chest, which was a big, green chest, to carry all your clothes and stuff. When I transferred to the West Coast after JaK, we went to a little base south of San Diego. My chest didn’t show up. Weeks went by, but no chest. I was getting desperate for clothes!
It came time to transfer to northern California, eventually to go to VernaIlls. When we went to the train station in San Diego to make the move, I SAW my sea chest with a bunch of other luggage going where we were going. I couldn’t get at it, but at least I knew it was in California, and maybe even stood a good chance of going where I was going! I finally caught up with it later.
At Norman, Oklahoma, one time I went up to the 2nd floor of our barracks to see someone. I was walking down the aisle between the beds when I saw a picture of a girl on some guys’ locker door. It was a glamor shot of Mary Helen Pohlman from Napoleon! Mary Helen was a real beauty, and was a Golden Girl for the Purdue band. So I hung around until the owner showed up. Turned out to be a guy who had gone with Mary Helen at Purdue. Small World Department.
Tommy “L” had a very steady girl back home in Cleveland. When we were at Norman, OK, we got a coupla’ weeks leave, and Tommy and I arranged to meet up in Chicago to make the train-trip back to Norman.
Tommy didn’t look good — pale and absolutely no pep. When we got to Norman, he checked into sick-bay His nurse turned out to be a former competetive swimmer, a big, good lookin’ women probably 10 years older than Tommy. She liked Tommy — she liked Tommy a LOT. She pretty well knew what Tommy’s problem was, and gently nursed him back to health. I won’t tell you his medical diagnosis, but you can guess.
While I was in the Navy, at least part of the time, I was going with one of the Marilyn’s. Not the one I married, but that’s another story. Anyhow, this Marilyn worked as a telephone operator here in Napoleon. When I was in Florida, I used to call her often, and we talked for hours. Somehow I was led to belived that she could “lose” the charges. Not so. When I got home on leave, my sister-in-law Jean infomed me that a pretty big bill had been paid. Jean kept books for my dad. and somehow she ivaaled the charges into his business account!
NAS CORPUS CHRISTI
Corpus Christi, Texas
Advanced Training at Corpus Christi was a major goal of all the grief that went before. There were 2 advanced training complexes; Pensacola, Fla. and Corpus Christi. Since I completed Primary at Norman, OK, I was closest to Corpus, and that’s where I went.
“Corpus Christi” was really several air fields spread around about a 50-mile radius. The picture is of the main base, and I never flew out of there. At the main base, it was all ground-school and PT. We were introduced to Radar, which was super-secret at the time. The security at the class where we studied Radar was intense. We also studied Aerology, which was the Navy’s term for meteorology. Aerology and I didn’t get along well at all and I didn’t pass. This meant that I would get another chance somewhere along the line.
Transferred to NAS Cabiness (Imtermediate in Vultee Vibrator), then to Advanced at NAS Kingsville (SNJ “Texan”), then to NAS Beeville (SBD “Dauntless” dive bomber) It was at Beeville that my problem with Aerology returned.
This requires some explanation. After all the months of heavy PT and Ground School, the only thing standing in the way of getting my Wings & Commission was this stupid Aerology exam. I wasn’t the only one –there about 10 of us who had one more chance.
I don’t remember how, but one of the guys obtained the “Gouge” for all 5 of the possible Aerology tests. You didn’t know which one of the five you would end up with. They were all multiple choice. I’m not proud of this, but I took a 6-sided regular yellow pencil, and on each of 5 sides, using a knife, I carved in ALL THE ANSWERS FOR ALL THE TESTS!! This took awhile, but time wasn’t important. When we took the test, I determined which of the 5 I had, and turned the pencil to that side. I was done in minutes, but stayed there for an hour or more. I also purposely missed a couple, but believe me. I PASSED AEROLOGY!!!!
OPERATIONAL: Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida
CHANCE OR CHOICE
Just before we were to graduate, get our wings and commission at Corpus, 4 of us made a little trip at night to the office where they made out your next assignment. Ordinarily, this was a random choice by the Navy: Multi-Engine, Dive Bombers, Torpedo Bombers, or Fighters. We wanted Fighters. Corsair Fighters at that.
We had heard that there was a nice little gal that worked in this office, and that she could be swayed. So we “swayed” her with a bottle of good booze, and by golly, we all got assigned to Corsair Fighters! What a stroke of luck!
We had 3-4 days delay enroute from Corpus to Jax, so we spent them in New Orleans. What with commissions, Wings of Gold and our general good looks (hah!), we felt really HOT. It took us a day to get into a decent hotel, The Roosevelt, but it was worth it.
LOOK AT THAT!!!
Shortly after we got checked into Jax, we went down to the flight line to look at the planes. My God, how beautiful the Corsair looked to us!! We all had our hearts set on flying this bird since Flight Prep School, and here it was! “Boy, it’s Big!!”; “How the heck do you see in front of you?” We were soon to find out.
THE ROTTEN MARINE
Lo and behold! Who showed up with us for Operationa!’. The Rotten Marine from Beeville!! He was very much the pussy-cat now, ‘cuz he knew we hated his guts. I think he was afraid we’d shoot him down the first chance we got, and he was close to being right!. We told him he should always be nice, ‘cuz you never knew who would be on his tail!
My love affair with the mighty Corsair,
Started out with a bit of doubt!
Could I fly this big bad awesome thing?
Did I have the guts to find out?
Some called it “Hose Nose” (a loving term)
Because of it’s extra long snout.
To others, it was “Bent Wing Bird”
Or “Birdcage” (I can’t see out!!)
To most it was the “F4U”,
With a mind all of it’s own!
The first few hops, the plane flew you,
A bit of a “twilight-zone”!
Although it’s over 50 years,
Since my initial flight,
I won’t forget that feeling,
Great excitement—mixed with fright!
“Cleared for take off’ said the tower,
Am I finally ready to go?
I locked the tail-wheel—Added power,
I really didn’t know!
Be still my heart, go back to your place,
Why are you up here, so close to my face?
Look straight ahead, can’t see a thing,
Look right and left, look at the wing.
At 90 some knots, the tail comes up,
By George there’s a runway I see,
I’m now off the ground, the wheels come up,
What’s wet?—did I take a pee?
The field is dropping away quite fast,
I just pulled up the flaps,
The gauge reads over 2000 feet,
I’ve got it made–perhaps?
2000 horses working hard,
That purring sound is sweet,
Was on the ground five minutes back,
And now—10,000 feet!
Down wheels and flaps, ease the stick back,
Time to practice a landing stall,
Try landing on a fluffy cloud-bank,
Hell, this ain’t bad at all.
Let’s do that again; go for another stall,
Down wheels and flaps,
Holy Smoke, no action at all!!
Hydraulic failure. could this be Taps?
My instructor flew up to take a look,
“Try it again, both wheels and flaps”,
So I did it just by the book,
“She’s busted for sure, you gotta bum rap.”
“Pump the Wobble Pump, see if that helps,
Jeeze, you gotta pump it harder than that!”,
“They’re comin’, they’re comin”‘ he said with a yelp
And brother, I pumped, with nary a gap.
“The wheels are down” I said with a shout,
But no flaps for my first landing?
What’s this all about?
Well, they cleared NAS JAX for me alone,
For a straight-in approach, which I’d never done,
But when you’re desperate, you grab any bone!
You get pretty inventive when under the gun!
You can’t stall her out without any flaps,
You fly it in and keep the speed up,
I lined her up with a 3 mile gap,
To the end of the runway, no if, and, or buts.
My instructor flew wing,
Told me just what to do,
Wheels contacted ground, I felt like a king,
And that’s my experience with an F4U.
(With help from “Anonymous”)
THRILLS SPILLS AND MISTAKES
ROLL HER HOME
We had been out over the Atlantic for gunnery practice. For gunnery practice, they had a medium bomber trail a target sleeve, a long distance behind the bomber, of course! We were returning to base after practice, in formation about like the above.
For some reason, I was feeling particularly “hot” by this time. We were fairly well along in the F4U training, and I thought I was “Top Gun”.
Rather than join up with the other 2 guys as in the picture, I decided to barrel-roll around the 2 planes. The F4U was especially good at this.
The first roll was so much fun, I decided to “roll all the way home”, so I did. I’m not sure what the other guys thought.
My squadron of 6 planes was returning to NAS Jax after a training mission. We were in right echelon, and each plane peeled off in succession to land. There was not supposed to be much interval between planes.
As the Corsair had the biggest engine and biggest prop of any U.S. fighter, it produced tremendous slipstream. Usually the wind blew the slipstream off the runway.
But this was an especially still day— little did I know that the previous plane’s prop wash was still right above the runway. I found out, though!
As I rolled out to land at about 50 feet off the runway, all of a sudden I was rolled completely on my left side. AtI this point, pure reaction took over, and I threw the stick full right. I no sooner finished this manoeuver than I was on the runway, like nothin’ had happened. But believe me, somethin’ HAD happened!!
One of the gunnery approaches we used was called he “High Side”. In this approach, you get about 1000′ higher than the target sleeve and a little ahead.
Then you peel off and dive towards the target, urning to parrallel the target the closer you get. When ou get within range, you are coming in on his rear uarter, still in a dive, and then you fire as long as the arget is in the sight.
You build up a lot of speed on this approach, and fter firing, you pull back on the stick to recover. We idn’t have “C” suits, so all the blood went towards your eet, and you “blacked out”. This didn’t last long, maybe 10-15 seconds as you pulled out and climbed back to ltitude.
One time, when I finally got my vision back, I found hat I was in the shade! Odd, because there ain’t no hade over the ocean. I looked up, and there was an SB2C about 10 feet over my head! I was in HIS shade! Close. real close. maybe the closest thrill of all.
HOOKS, WIRES & BARRIERS
Carrier Landings were, of course, the ultimate in Naval Aviation. A lot of Navy pilots never qualified, for one reason or another. But, if you wanted to fly fighters, you had to qualify for carrier landings.
We qualified on the USS Guadacanal, an escort carrier, a “Kaiser Coffin” or “Jeep Carrier”. The reason it earned this name was that it was built on merchant-ship bottoms by the Kaiser Corp. The Guadacanal had a flight deck that was 477′ long and 80′ wide. To give you an idea of size, the Corsair’s wingspan was 41′ so there wasn’t a LOT of room side-to-side. And God knows, there wasn’t much length — 477′ is like one and a half football fields. This ain’t a lot of room to land a 400 mph fighter.
The deck had about 7 arresting wires, or cables stretched across the deck. The wires were hydraulically controlled so that they would “give” when hooked. The amount of “give” each cable had was dependent on it’s location on the deck. The first wire was quite forgiving, the second tighter etc. and the last wire was really tight. Then, there was a barrier also made of cables, which could be erected in a split second. The barrier was at the end of the wires, and was the last resort to keep a plane from going into the drink.
You had to land tail-first so the hook could engage. From the very first flight in the T-Craft, we were instructed to land tail-first. This is the “Navy Way”.
Sometimes when landing on the canner, it was possible to bounce over several wires before engaging one. I had one friend that bounced over all the wires, and hit the barrier. Beat up the plane a little, but he was OK.
Due to the huge engine and prop that the Corsair carried, it produced tremendous engine torque. This torque caused the left wing to drop when in a stall condition. They even added a “spoiler” to the right wing to kinda’ compensate for this, but it wasn’t totally effective.
When the Landing Signal Officer gave you the cut-off to land, the action was that you pushed the stick forward and then immediately pulled it back, and of course zero throttle. Due to the narrow deck, the landing crew had nets alongside the deck that they could dive into if a plane was off-center. On one of my landings, I apparently was just a little high, and when I got the cut-off, popped the stick etc., the left wing dropped! Crew members on the left side bailed into the nets, as did the LSO. Buy hey, I wasn’t that bad! I caught an early wire and everything was cool as far as I was concerned! Anyway, it counted as a successful landing. A carrier landing was commonly called a “Controlled Crash”, and in a sense, it was. There was no adding throttle to go around again, as you were in a completely stall condition. You either caught a wire or crashed into the barrier.
I was home on leave after Corsair training in the Summer of ’45 when the “A” Bomb_was dropped. There was a humongous celebration in Napoleon and everywhere else on “VJ Day”. You grabbed a girl (any girl!) and celebrated ’till the wee hours of the morning.
Downtown Napoleon was completely plugged with people, cars, trucks etc. You couldn’t move. The bad news is that they closed the bars. The good news is that they closed the bars!
When my leave was over, I was assigned to the west coast for Night Carrier Landing training, which I wasn’t especially looking forward to, as you can imagine. But when I got to California there was a certain amount of chaos. They didn’t know whether to continue our training, send us out to the fleet to replace pilots already there, or what.
They finally decided NOT to send us out as replacements. This meant that we really had nothing to do, except play basketball all day. No flying. Bummer!
I was finally transferred to NAS Vernalis, a small base near Modesto. Again, there was nothin’ to do. It was so dull that 4 of us went into Modesto and took jobs in the local fruit exchange manhandling boxes of fruit!
This was strict y illegal as ar as the Navy went, but the fruit exchange was desperate for help and didn’t ask any questions.
Eventually, we were given the chance to get our flight-time at Vernalis. You had to get 4 hrs. per month to earn your flight pay, which was an added 50% over base pay.
This was when I met the “Hellcat” up close and personal. This plane was the “other” first-line Navy fighter. It was slower than the Corsair, but way more forgiving. It had been designed to combat the Japanese “Zero” fighter, which was a real agile fighter. You could do maneuvers in the Hellcat that you wouldn’t consider doing in the Corsair. The Corsair was near impossible to get out of an inverted spin, for example. So you didn’t do anything that might get you in an inverted spin.
The Hellcat didn’t have these restrictions. I did a lot of acrobatics in the Hellcat that I hadn’t done since the SNJ days. There was no assigned training, you just went out and flew around doing whatever. It truly was Sport Flying.
As I mentioned before, when the bomb was dropped, the whole Naval Air program came to a halt. They literally didn’t know what to do with us.
Eventually they came out with a point system to establish if you were elgible for discharge. Since we were bored stiff, this seemed like a good idea and I was elgible. I thought long and hard about staying in the Navy (I would have been retired for about 40 years!) but finally decided to take the discharge.
I well remember packing up to leave NAS Vernalis. My closet had a shelf just a little bit higher than my head, and every month when I got paid, I threw a hundred dollar bill up on that shelf. As I was pulling shirts and stuff off that shelf, the hundred dollar bills were fluttering to the ground! I remember thinking “It’ll be a long time, if ever, that I will see 100 dollar bills fluttering to the floor”. And, I was right.
I was transferred to Great Lakes Naval Air Station near Chicago for discharge. Unfortunately, they were real bears on us turning in our watches, leather flight jackets etc. They were formal, right to the end. I had lost a winter flight helmet somewhere along the way, and they threatened to withhold my discharge! I offered to PAY for it, but they wouldn’t hear of it. I finally had to sign all kinds of legal documents to get out of there and on home.
ROUND THE BEND
Here’s some stuff that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. But I couldn’t leave it out.
While at Beeville we had a pretty funny thing happen. We had a Marine lieutenant who was the permanent Officer of the Day. This guy was a pilot, and this was a really lousy assignment. But well deserved, as this guy was a complete ass.
The reason he was permanent Officer of the Day was because he had run into a fuel tanker while taxiing his SBD Dauntless. This, was his discipline while he awaited trial.
This guy was really rotten. When Taps came at 10 PM, he would check the barracks to see if anyone was still up in violation of Lights Out. To disguise just where he was in the hall-way, he took one shoe off!! This allowed him to run down the hallway quickly, but if you counted his steps, he was well away from your room.
We got even with him, though. Every time he would walk past outside our barracks, we would holler out the window; “Hit a truck??? How’n the hell did he hit a truck?? Well, he would come charging in, but there was no way to tell where the “cheer” came from!!
At Wooster, one of the guys was a last-year football star at Wooster! He was a super guy, and had a lot of info about Wooster.
One of the very first things they had us do upon arrival the first day was to go to the pool to see how well we could swim. Well, this guy COULDN’T swim. He told the officers in charge that he couldn’t swim, but they wouldn’t listen.
Several of us told him we would stand at alert, and when he started to sink, we would pull him out. Sure enough, he jumped in and started to go down, and we violated our first order by jumping in to save him. You had to be able to swim to be in the Aviation Program, and he worked like a dog until he could at least dog-paddle, which was enough to get him by. The Navy didn’t like to listen to your problems!!
Wooster again: After a few weeks of isolation, we finally got liberty. Most of us lived in Ohio, and we wanted to go home to show off our uniforms etc. The train route was from Mansfield to Lima, where I would arrange for someone to pick me up.
Local civilians with cars, wanting to make a little extra money, would line up just outside campus to take us to Mansfield. Timing was critical, and there really wasn’t enough time to make the train schedule at Mansfield. But they guaranteed delivery, and drove 80 and 90 mph with a car-load of cadets. I guess it was worth it, but boy, it was scary. We just scooched down in the seat and closed our eyes.
Sorta the same thing in Helena. Carroll College was on the edge of Helena. When we got liberty, civilian cars would take us to a really nice nite-club, maybe the only one in Helena. They had an organ player for music, and he was pretty good. But mostly, they had booze!!
We had to be back at midnite. About 10 minutes till 12, the civilian cars would line up outside the nite-club. Once we didn’t make it. This was serious. Beaucoup demerits, again!!
THE ENSIGN ELIMINATOR
“The first production F4U-1 made its first flight on June 25, 1942. The USN received its first aircraft on July 31, 1942.
Overall handling of the F4U-1 was acceptable, but not very good. In level flight the Corsair was stable enough to be flown hands-off. The ailerons were light and effective, and the high roll rate was used with good effect in combat. The elevators were heavy but effective. Only the rudder really stiffened with increasing speed. For combat maneuvering, the flaps could be deployed 20 degrees.
After the first delivery of an F4U-1 on July 31, 1942, more than two years passed before the US Navy cleared the type for shipboard operations. The Corsair was found to be much too difficult to land on a carrier deck. First of all, the pilot could hardly see the deck, because he sat so far aft of the bulky engine. The F4U tended to stall without warning, and was then certain to drop the left wing. Quick action had to be taken to prevent a spin. Spin recovery was difficult. On touchdown, the F4U-1 had sluggish controls and insufficient directional stability. It also was prone to “bounce” because of overly stiff landing gear oleo legs.”
(Some of these faults were corrected in later versions, primarily a change in the landing gear to reduce stiffness.)
“The F4U is often said to have been the most successful fighter of WWII. This is based on a claimed 11 to 1 kill ratio: 2140 enemy aircraft shot down for a loss of 189.”
The US Navy finally accepted the F4U for shipboard operations in April 1944, after the longer oleo leg was fitted, which finally eliminated the tendency to bounce. The increasing need for fighters, as a protection against Kamikaze attacks,resulted in more Corsair units being moved to the carriers.”