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Bo's Stories, Page 20

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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The Officer was on the Admiral’s staff.  He came back with a sketch with dimensions of what was wanted.  I told him that I had no zippers of the length and style needed, so he got on the phone with the Base Supply Officer and told him what I needed, and gave him my name.  Thereafter, I found it much easier to get things from stores.  All I had to do was mention the work for the Admiral’s wife.

 

         I made some beautiful suit bags of “leatherette” (this is artificial leather, but of very good quality).  Some I made for regular dresses and some I made for evening dresses.  I never met the Admiral’s wife, but I was told she liked them very much.

 

         Some of my friends and I went a number of times out to the secluded beach we had found.  A time or two we took food and camped out overnight and really had a great time.  We swam, surfed, explored and enjoyed being out to ourselves.  While in Hawaii, I learned to “body” surf.  This is much like board surfing.  We swam out quite a way and then turned back in toward the beach watching for a good wave, just as the boarders do, and when we found one we liked we would swim like mad to get to the speed of the wave. If you timed it right, you could get on the crest of the wave, quit swimming and ride the crest all the way to the beach.  Great fun except when you went over the crest and got rolled up on the beach in the boiling sand under tons of water.

 

Time rocked along, and I was very happy, except for being away from the family.  A year passed, and then Christmas, 1951 came and I had a letter from Mama.  All of the family had Christmas with my brother Lloyd and his wife Mildred and each of them had written a part of the letter.  I was so homesick that I cried when I

read it.  I kept the letter for a long time, but I don’t know where it is now.  At that time I had been gone from home for about a year and a half.

 

         I had a shipmate by the name of Allen E. Smith.  Smitty was one of the smartest guys that I ever knew.  Both of us were Parachute Riggers Third Class.  Smitty decided he wanted to become a pilot, but he lacked the required two years of college to get into flight school.  To afford enlisted men the opportunity, the Navy would accept a man without the college if he could pass two tests.  The first one was a GED (General Educational Development), college level exam.  If you passed it you were considered to have completed one year of college and could take a second exam called the 2CX and if you passed it you were considered to have two years of college.   Smitty passed them both and applied for admission to flight school. 

 

         While he was waiting he begged me to take the tests and go with him.  I decided to do it and requested permission to take the exams.  Before I got to take the exams though, Smitty was accepted for pilot training and left for Pensacola, Florida for flight school.  He wrote to me telling me how difficult the classes were.  The student pilots were started off on navigation, which involved lots of math and geometry.  That way they were able to weed many students out before they got into the actual flight training.  By the time I got to take the exams, I was beginning to get cold feet about flight training.  I was smart enough to know that Smitty was a lot smarter than I was and if he was having trouble, then I wouldn’t make it.  I went ahead though and took the exams.  Each was a two hour exam and I was very doubtful of being able to pass them, but I did and with pretty good scores.

 

         I decided against going to flight training and I’m glad now that I did.  Had I made it through school there is a good chance that I would have seen combat in Vietnam as a Naval Pilot.  I am happy with my decision, but nearly everyone that has ridden in a car with me will tell you that I should have been a jet pilot.  I never heard from Smith but once after he finished flight training, but he made it through with flying colors.

 

         In April of 1952, I was qualified, with a year in grade, to take the exam for promotion to Parachute Rigger Second Class.  I knew the competition would be stiff, for there were a number of PR3’s with several years in grade and several more years in service to add to their scores.  My friends and I got together in the Parachute Loft and had review sessions, going over all of the technical aspects of being a Parachute Rigger, and studying the general requirements for Petty Officers.  We really boned up.  I know I aced the exam and when the promotion list went up, my name was on it as were the names of most of my friends.

 

         There was a tradition of dunking those who were promoted but I escaped that.  Just outside the Fasron hangar was a large open water tank for some purpose that I never knew.  Generally this was where they threw the guys who were promoted and I saw some people dunked in there.  I don’t know how I avoided being one of them.  There was always quite a bit of horseplay and pranks of one kind or another.  I wish I had a film of one such incident.  Let me explain.

 

         Our lifejackets were equipped with several items.  There was a small one-cell flashlight for signaling at night, a mirror for signaling in the daytime, a bag of shark repellent (of questionable value), a whistle and a signal flare/smoke bomb.  One end of the bomb was for use at night and was an ignitable flare.  The other end, also ignitable, generated a huge cloud of orange smoke.  There was a “D” ring on each end of the bomb and ignition was accomplished by pulling the desired ring.

 

         The smoke bomb was key to this incident.  One of the guys, I believe it was James Doyal, tied a smoke bomb under the front of a car that belonged to a shipmate and tied the “D” ring to the parking rail.  This car carried a large carpool of sailors who lived off base.  These guys couldn’t wear their dungaree working shirts when entering and leaving the base.  You either had to be dressed in cililian clothes or a dress uniform. To get around this regulation, they wore an “Aloha” shirt (this is a bright flowered Hawaiian sport shirt) with their dungaree trousers when coming through the gate in the morning.  Between the gate and the hangar they changed shirts.  Removing the Aloha shirts and donning the chambray shirts.  In the afternoon they would run out and get into the car and immediately began to change shirts so as to be in cililian dress when they got to the gate.

 

         On this day, when the driver backed out of the parking place a huge cloud of orange smoke poured out from under the car.  The guys started piling out of the car as fast as they could.  Some of them without shirts, some with aloha shirts and some still with chambray shirts on.  A bunch of us were there to see the show and it was a good one.  Nobody was hurt and we had a good laugh.  The brass (Officers) were not too happy with us, but they didn’t take any action.

 

         The truth is that we didn’t have enough to do after those first few months of the war (excuse me, “Police Action”) and were sometimes bored to doing foolish things.  That is what happened in this incident that I am about to describe. 

 

As I mentioned earlier, we had a 50’ tall tower at one side of the Parachute Loft where we hung our parachutes.  One slow day we got our “dummy” (made about the size and weight of a man, but without lower legs and arms and used to test parachutes), pulled it up onto the top of the tower with a rope, put a parachute on it and pushed it off.  This was a dumb thing to do, but was also funny and was over too fast.  The dummy sailed out by the street and landed in the top of a shrub and damaged it some.  Lucky for us it didn’t hit an automobile driving down the street at that moment, driven by our Division Officer, one Lieutenant Fletcher.  Mr. Fletcher was not happy and he chewed on the Chief and the Chief chewed on us, but he had trouble not laughing while he did it.

 

         My friend C.F. Nebel from Montana was an early riser.  He always got up early and went to the mess hall for breakfast.  Usually he was the first one in line.  After having his breakfast he would come back to the barracks and wake me so I could go eat before going to work.  Sometimes if we wanted a better breakfast we would go to the Civilian Cafeteria on the base, but we had to pay to eat there.

 

         Nebel got a wooden propeller that I think was made for a radio controlled target drone.  This propeller had a defect is the reason he got it.  At the Ships Store there was a nice looking electric Sessions clock made like a ships helm with the face painted as a “compass rose”.  I bought the clock and Nebel cut the propeller hub out and fit the clock into it for me.  He also got the paint shop to finish the propeller with lacquer and paint the name of our squadron, “Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 117”, on it.  It turned out great and I was proud of it then and still am now as it hangs here on my wall as I write.

 

         Nebel also made a plywood box that I shipped the clock home in via Railway Express.  The clock came through customs out of Mexico and the clock mechanism was removed from the case and it was damaged some.  I later replaced the movement, which still worked but was very noisy, with a battery powered one. 

 

         While at Barbers Point I also bought a 35-mm color slide projector.  Nebel also boxed it up and I shipped it by Railway Express.  It took the same route through customs and the lenses were removed and left loose in the box.  It took me half a day of trial and error before I got the lenses back into the projector tube in the right order and turned right.  One of the lenses was chipped, but it is on the edge and does not affect operation of the projector, which I still have and sometimes use.

 

         Chief Phillips moved on and we got a new Chief by the name of Ace Pullman.  Ace was a tall lanky guy who looked something like Abraham Lincoln, except uglier. He had a large hawk nose and was dubbed “Hose Nose”. He was a laid back kind of guy and I enjoyed working for him.  Soon after my promotion to PR2, Ace moved me from the Raft Shop to take over the Sewing Shop to replace a PR2 by the name of Shroeder.

 

         About this time a Parachute Rigger First Class came over to Fasron from my squadron, VR-21.  His name was Broder Ericsson who was somewhat famous.  Broder held the Navy record for official parachute jumps at one time.  He had been in the Navy for many years and was a very good Rigger.

 

         Shroeder spent about a week going over the more complex of the duties I was about to assume, and then he was gone.  I made it just fine.  Everywhere I went in the Navy I found a lot of capable, dedicated men that you could always rely on to help you whether they were above or below you.  We had to make a lot of covers for aircraft out of treated canvas, and that was a little tricky.  Ace helped me out here, by showing me how to use measurements from microfilm design plans of the various types of planes.  I would simply get those measurements and then devise a pattern that would allow for securing the covers to the various parts of the planes.

 

         We made wing covers, cockpit covers, strut (landing gear) covers, engine covers, tail covers, etc.  The reason for all of the covers was to protect the planes from loading up with snow and ice.  We had two Patrol/Bomber squadrons that rotated to Alaska, 6 months in Hawaii and then 6 months in Alaska.  They alternated.  When they were in Alaska, they were always on alert and subject to be scrambled at any moment.  They had to be able to quickly get the snow and ice off the planes that were parked on the taxi ramp by the runway.  That’s where my covers came in.  They would just pull the covers off and all the snow and ice came off with them.

 

         While I was at Fasron James Doyal transferred in.  As I mentioned earlier, he was from Conroe.  James now lives in the house where he was born, is retired from the Navy and the Houston Police Department.  James and I became very good friends, and spent a lot of time together.  In our spare time we planned a float trip down the Sabine River.  That had long been a dream of mine and together we worked out the details of actually doing it.

 

         We wrote letters to several of the Outdoor Magazines of the day, asking how we could obtain detailed maps of the area, and for suggestions on laying our plans.  All of them wrote back.  Ted Janes, Outdoor Editor for Field and Stream gave me the address of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, which is part of the Department of the Interior.  I wrote to them and got the maps that we needed. 

 

         James and I took a piece of string and laid it on the maps, following the turns of the Sabine and then measured the string to get distances.  We planned where we would begin, where we would stop every night, and what we would take with us down to the last can of Vienna sausages and pork and beans.  We spent a lot of time doing this and it was great fun.  Too bad we never did it.  I still have the maps, but no longer have the other material from our plans.

 

         I will list here the men I remember from Barbers Point, Hawaii:

 

         Burns, PRC  (Was an Instructor at Lakehurst while I was there and James Doyal  and I saw him at the Parachute Riggers                                     Convention in Memphis in 1994).

         Cantrell, Robert E., PR3  (Came by Moffett Field to see me on his way home to Georgia )

         Cappoccia, PR3 (was in my class at Lakehurst)

         Crowley, Coleman C., PR1 (later Chief. Came by to see me at Moffett Field)

         Cundiff, PR3

         Czerina, PRC

         Denis, P. E., PR3  (Followed me to Moffett Field, California)

         Doyal, James C. PR3 (later became Senior Chief and then Master Chief, now lives in Conroe)

         Ericcson, Broder M., PR1

         Gowan, George, PR3 (Doyal and I saw George at the Parachute Riggers Convention in Memphis in 1994 and at Pensacola in 1999).

         Krystkovic, AN (a devout Mormon and a good friend. Was my bunkmate for a time.  The most dedicated Christian that I knew)

         Nebel, C. F., AM2 (Aviation Structural Mechanic)

          Parrottee, George F., PR3 (was in my class at Lakehurst)

         Phillips, PRC

         Pullman, “Ace”, PRC

         Smith, Allen E., PR3

         Snelson, “Pappy” PR1

         Shroeder, PR2

         Wood, PR2

         Wygold. PRAN

         Wylie, Robert L., AL3 (Aviation Electronicsman)

         Wyman, PRAN

 

         August finally rolled around and VR-21 called me back to their Parachute Shop.  A whole new bunch of people was there then, some I had met, but most I didn’t know.  I stayed there only a short time before I got my orders for reassignment to VR-5 at NAS Moffett Field, California.  I had a TripleA air priority and, from experience, was wondering what kind of ship I would catch back to San Francisco.  I left with about 60 other people on a bus and went over to Pearl Harbor.  Sure enough, they told us to go to noon chow and when we came back, we were to go aboard a ship for San Francisco.

 

         When we returned however, they told us there had been a change of plans and that we were going over to Hickham Field which is the Air Force Field that was very heavily damaged during the Japanese attack.  Evidence of that attack was still visible, with bullet holes in the hangar walls.  There, we were to catch an Air Force Transport to Travis Air Force Base.  We got on a bus and went over to Hickam and into the terminal.  After milling around and wondering what was going on, a sergeant came out and said they could take only six of us and that we would draw lots for the six seats.  We drew lots and I was already thinking about my upcoming cruise when; guess what?  They called my number.  An hour later I was over the Pacific on my way to Travis Air Force Base in California.

 

         This was not a Boeing 747, but a four-engine Douglas transport (C-54) that would seat about seventy people.  The seats were canvas bench-type with four rows lengthwise down through the fuselage.  One down each wall and then two, back-to-back down the middle.  Very uncomfortable!

 

         Most of the passengers were military dependents.  That is, women and kids.  Lots of kids.  I sat in the center facing a woman who had three small children.  The oldest must have been about 5, so I spent my time helping her with the kids as best I could.  That made the 12-hour flight seem not much more than that.  While we droned through the night, I couldn’t help but think about all those guys that went back to Pearl to catch the ship.  That made the flight much easier.

 

         We left Hickham Field around 2:00 P.M. and arrived at Travis Air Force Base in California about 4:00 A.M.  By 6:00 A.M., we’d had breakfast and were on an Air Force bus for the ride into San Francisco.  Several of us had debated which was the best and quickest way to go across the country, train or bus.  The consensus was the bus, so I decided that is how I would go, and several with me had the same plan.

 

         The Air Force driver was to drop us in San Francisco, but we wanted to go to Oakland, and talked him into driving us across the Bay Bridge, contrary to his orders.  He didn’t want to do it, but finally agreed.  The poor guy was stopped and given a ticket.  He was devastated and I felt sorry for him.   I’ve observed that frequently when you go out of your way to help someone, that you have a misfortune.  Why is that?

 

         He dropped us at the Greyhound Bus Station and I bought a ticket home and we left shortly.  I remember few things about that trip except how long, hot and tiring it was.  There was an Air Force Sergeant on the bus with me, who had been stationed in the islands for two years.  He was from Dallas and said he hadn’t had a glass of buttermilk since he left home.  Every place we stopped to eat, he ordered buttermilk.  They looked at him like he was crazy, but finally about halfway from El Paso to Dallas, they brought his buttermilk.

         The bus we were on broke down in Gila Bend Arizona.  We were stranded in a hot little Bus Station there for 8 hours while they sent another bus.  Finally we resumed the trip.  We left out of El Paso about 3:00 A.M..  When the driver came out to depart he had a large cardboard box full of rolled newspapers, which he set just inside the door where he could reach it from the driver’s seat.  We soon found out what that was all about.  He had a paper route.    He would slow the bus down, open the door and throw a paper out then go on down the road.  I guess he must have done that for a hundred miles until all the papers were gone.

 

         You know, my mind is blank on arriving in Marshall, except that I knew the bus driver from Dallas to Marshall somehow or other which I don’t remember.  It was good to be home and I enjoyed it a lot.  While there, Ray took me to Henderson and introduced me to a banker that he knew and helped me to arrange a loan to buy a car.  Then my brother-in-law, Cleo Roberts helped me find a car that I bought.  It was a 1951 Ford Custom sedan, white and in very good condition.  I paid $1600.00 for it.

 

         When my leave was up, I left home for my new duty station.  I had never driven anywhere that I didn’t know the way, and I was a little worried about that.  I got a map though, and left out on election-day in November, 1952.  I visited Grandpa Brown the day before I left, and a week later he died.  Mama had no easy way to get in touch with me so I didn’t know about it for a few days.

         Out west of Dallas I saw a young man thumbing for a ride, so I stopped and picked him up.  He said he was eighteen, but I doubt it.  He said he had been living with his mother in New Orleans and was on his way to join his father in Los Angeles.  He was hungry and didn’t have any money.  I asked him if he could drive and he said he could, so I pulled over and let him have it.  It was obvious that his experience was very limited, but I didn’t say anything, just kept a close watch on him.  A little while later we stopped for gas, and I took over the wheel.  I didn’t let him drive any more.

 

         About dark we got into Sweetwater and I bought us supper, then found a tourist court and rented a cabin.  (There were very few motels then and none like we have now).  It was pretty cold that evening and the woman in the office went with us to the cabin to light the heater.  The heater was a small gas range.  She turned the gas on and tried to light the oven, but it didn’t light.  She struck another match and stuck it into the stove and when it ignited it blew the door off the stove.  It kept us warm though. 

 

         In the morning we headed on west and the following day I dropped the young man off on a street corner in downtown Los Angeles.  Before I drove off I gave him a twenty-dollar bill and wished him luck in finding his dad.  I turned north then (there were but a few miles of freeways then and I didn’t see one) up Highway 99 past Fresno and then turned west across the mountains toward San Jose.  I stopped in the wee hours in the little town of Los Banos at a motel (my first), and woke the manager and got a room.

 

         I slept late, got up and ate breakfast and went on my way.  I made it over to Highway 101 Bypass, which was called the Bayshore Highway and headed north again and came to Moffett Field.  I reported in to the Duty Officer, got a pass for my car, drove in and found the VR-5 barracks.   I was assigned a bunk and settled in.

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