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Bo's Stories, Page 19

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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“Fleet Logistics

Air Transport Squadron - 21

&

Fleet  Aircraft Service Squadron - 117

Naval  Air Station

Barbers Point, Territory of Hawaii

 

NAS Barbers Point is located about 15 miles southwest of Pearl City, which is adjacent to Pearl Harbor.  The City of Honolulu is 7 miles southeast of Pearl City, or 22 miles from Barbers Point. At that time the base was surrounded by cane fields on the north and west sides.  On the east side was the old NAS Eva that was badly damaged by the Japanese on their sneak attack of December 7, 1941.  It was abandoned on completion of NAS Barbers Point.  Next to NAS Eva was the little village of Eva, Hawaii.  About all there was to Eva was a sugar refinery.  To the south of NAS Barbers Point, and part of it, was a large beach (Nimitz Beach) named after a hero of WW II and a fellow Texan, Admiral Chester Nimitz.

 

NAS Barbers Point was a very large base, both in area and in planes and manpower.  About thirteen squadrons were headquartered there at the time.  My squadron was a transport squadron, VR-21.  We also had fighter squadrons, patrol/bomber squadrons, a large service squadron, and of course a base squadron (Ships Company).

 

VR-21 had its own barracks where I was billeted.  I reported in to the Duty Officer and was shown to the Parachute Shop where I met my fellow Parachute Riggers.  They were all strangers to me.  It was a small shop with a few sewing machines, and a little equipment, and, it appeared to me, too many men.

 

There was a Chief named Czerina and a number of lesser ranks in the shop, none of which I remember, except for a PR1 by the name of Broder Erickson who later was in Fasron 117 with me.  What I do remember is my introduction to the card game of “Hearts”.  Every day at noon the crew played hearts.  This was not just a game, but very serious combat.

 

I was just getting to know the guys and learning to play Hearts when I was transferred, “Temporary Duty”  (TDY)  to  Fleet   Aircraft   Service  Squadron   One Hundred Seventeen. This squadron was commonly known as Fasron-117.  It was on the same base and just two or three hundred yards across the way.

 

         I walked over there to the parachute loft.  Facilities that care for and pack parachutes are always called “lofts” in the Navy.  They derive the name from the 50’ tall tower that is a part of each facility.  This tower is called the “Dry Locker” and is where parachutes are hung to air and dry.  The tower has temperature and humidity control.  I met Chief Phillips who ran the loft, and most of the other guys.  There were about 25 riggers assigned to Fasron.  I also had to move to the Fasron barracks (one nice thing about moving in the Navy; just throw the seabag over your shoulder and go).  All of the barracks buildings were of the same design. 

 

         They had a roof overhang of several feet and the walls were covered with screen wire and wooden louvers, permanently open.  The louvers on the walls and the wide roof over hang kept rain from blowing into the barracks. With this design, if there was a breeze it came into the barracks.  There was no provision for heating and cooling the buildings.  We didn’t need any.  It was most always nice, sometimes in the winter just a little cool, but never very hot in the summer. 

 

         Hawaii has about a 12-degree normal temperature swing from summer to winter.  That is, if your normal summer high is 95 and the low 80, then in winter it would be 83 and 68.  It almost never got this cool, but on one occasion I remember wearing a jacket during my two years there.

 

         At the time I was in the Navy, parachutes were taken out of service every thirty days, hung overnight in the dry locker and then repacked and put back into service.  The parachute loft was a large square building divided into three sections.  On one side was the dry locker and adjoining it were offices, the head and storage rooms.  Next to this was the sewing shop with sewing machines of all types.  And, on the other side was the packing area, with three tables 3’ x 40’.

 

         The packing tables were covered with a linoleum-like material which we kept waxed and buffed.  We rubbed paste wax on the tables periodically and then buffed them with an electric floor buffer.  Only a skilled operator of the buffer could manage the trick of doing this without running the buffer off the edge or end of the table.

 

         Chief Phillips assigned me to the packing crew.  This crew of 9 men was headed by a Parachute Rigger Third Class (PR3) by the name of Cundiff.  Six of the men were assigned to pack chutes in two-man crews at the three tables.  Cundiff supervised, and the other 2 men brought the dry chutes from the tower to the crews and loaded the packed chutes onto our 1-ton Dodge panel truck. 

 

         I had been driving for years and was expected to drive the Dodge truck on occasion, but I did not have a driver’s license.  I arranged to take the test for a Navy license and I did.  It was by far the toughest driver’s test that I have ever had, but I passed and got the license.  Later, after buying a car I went into Honolulu and took the test there and got a Territory of Hawaii drivers-license so I could legally drive outside the base. 

 

         While I was in Hawaii, we had a Senator from Texas by the name of Tom Connally.  During the Senate debate on statehood for Hawaii, Senator Connally opposed statehood, saying that he considered himself a better American than the people living in the Territory of Hawaii.  That was not taken kindly by the Hawaiian press and editorials were written condemning Senator Connally.  One night during this uproar, someone took a Texas flag and draped it over the statue of King Kamehameha, rubbing salt into the wound.  I was afraid when the police officer learned I was from Texas, he would not allow me to pass the driver’s exam, but he did.

 

         I will briefly describe how parachutes are packed. They are stretched tightly on the 40’ tables for inspection and folding of the gores and kept taut by a heavy bongee cord.  The bongee cord is then released and the shroud lines (nylon cords) are gathered neatly together and secured in loops, criss-crossing the bottom of the pack.  The canopy is folded in a precise manner and carefully laid in accordion pleats on top of the lines.  An inner flap is laid over the canopy and then a spring loaded “pilot chute” is placed on top of it and the sides of the pack are closed over it.  Metal cones on one flap protrude through grommets in the other flap.  Insertion of steel pins through holes in the metal cones holds the flaps closed.  The pins are attached to a small steel cable running from a handle.  This is the ripcord. After the chute is packed, bongee cords are stretched around the outside of the pack and attached to the flaps.  These cords, quickly pull the flaps back when the ripcord is pulled. A good crew can average packing a chute every 5 minutes.

 

         There was no air conditioning in any of the building there, so we left the doors and windows open all the time when we were working.  Just outside the door at the end of the packing tables was the door to the aircraft Terminal baggage room.  The Terminal was just across the street.  Many people came to the baggage room to retrieve their bags and stopped to watch us pack parachutes, most having never seen that done.

 

         Someone had taken an old parachute pack filled it with rags and put it under one of the tables.  When we had an audience we would take that thing out, put it on the table and pretend we were packing it.  Some of the guys put on a good show, stuffing the material into the pack, pounding on it and even snipping off any protruding corners with the scissors.  I’m sure there are people somewhere talking about those crazy sailors and the parachutes they packed.

 

         Inside the parachute pack was a small pocket containing a card that the packer was required to sign.  If the chute was used (successfully) in an emergency, the user and the packer became members of the “Silkworm Club”.

 

         The squadrons on the base owned hundreds of parachutes and we had to pack from 50 to 100 every day, which we usually accomplished by noon.  In the afternoon we had to go around the base, delivering the newly packed chutes to the proper squadrons, and picking up the ones needing re-packing.  Back at the loft, we would hang the chutes in the tower and do whatever else the Chief had for us.   I liked the packing crew O.K., except for Cundiff.  He was a scroungey guy, smoked stinking black cigars and was just generally disagreeable.  I dubbed Cundiff “Rope” because the cigars he smoked smelled like a burning rope.

 

         After a few months on the packing crew Chief Phillips sent me to the Life Raft Shop.  The raft shop was in a Quonset Hut about half a block away from the loft.  It was run by a PR2 by the name of Snelson.  Snelson was probably about 45 or 50, and looked 65.  All of us called him “Pappy”.  He was a great guy to work for and to be around.  We did most of the service and repair work on life rafts and life jackets for all the squadrons on the base.  There were four of us working for Pappy.

 

         On April 16th, 1951, I was promoted to Parachute Rigger Third Class (PR3) and became number two in the shop under Pappy Snelson.   I was happy there and stayed another year.  I kept thinking I would be recalled to VR-21 to whom I belonged. They still paid me and administered my records, but it never happened.  I didn’t really mind.

         Soon after I went to Fasron, the Navy began bringing WW II vintage planes (mainly Patrol Bombers) out of mothballs, and forming squadrons in the states. 

 

They did a minimum of maintenance on the planes, just enough to make them airworthy for the flight to Hawaii, and then sent them to Fasron.   When the squadron arrived, we stripped the planes.  All the different shops went work.  The planes were completely refurbished; cleaned, new and/or re-conditioned equipment installed, new paint jobs….the works.  When they left, they were like new planes.  Of course this took a lot of work and at this stage the only members of the squadron present at Barber’s Point were the pilots who flew the planes there.  The rest of the crew were sent on ahead to their new duty station to set up operations.

        

The heavy workload stretched us to the limit.  We went on 12 hour days, seven days per week and a three-section duty roster instead of the usual four-section roster.  That meant we were working 84 hours per week, plus a 4-hour watch every third night, with no days off.  On the watch schedule men were normally rotated through the watches, which were 1600 - 2000 (4 to 8 P.M., the “Dog” watch, sometimes split into two, two hour watches), 2000 - 2400 (8 to 12 P.M., the “Evening” watch), 0000 - 0400 (12 to 4 A.M., the “Mid” watch), and the 0400 - 0800 (4 to 8 A.M., the “Morning” watch, also sometimes split into two, two hour watches).

         This got to be somewhat of a grind, but nothing like what the combat guys were going through, so we didn’t complain.  Generally life was good.  I made lots of friends, James Doyal of Conroe, C.F. Nebel from Montana (he and his wife visited us in Pasadena in the spring of 1996), C.C. Crowley from Oregon and Robert E. Cantrell from Symrna, Georgia to name a few.

While  at Lakehurst, New Jersey, I had a brief run-in of some kind with a student at the Parachute School.  I can’t remember what it was about, but the guy was George F. Parrottee (pronounced Pa row’ tea).  The reason I remember George is, he showed up at Fasron 117 not too long after I did.  When I was a kid every magazine, that one saw, had an advertisement in it for a body building course by Charles Atlas showing a man holding the world in his hand.  In between the time that I saw George in Lakehurst and when he came to Fasron, he had taken that course.  He changed from a skinny kid about my size to a, full chested, heavily muscled man.

 

         I guess lots of people tried the course, but George stuck with the routine.  He rolled out of his bunk every morning and did 100 pushups and took a shower before going to breakfast.  I have seen him slide two bunks close together, place a hand on each (about a foot off the floor) and do pushups.  The average man cannot do even one of these.  Anyway, George and I became pretty good friends.  He worked with me in the Liferaft Shop for several months.  His father was a guard at the Federal prison in Dannemora, New York.  George had a high percentage of Indian blood.  He was not dark, but had those high cheekbones with a bronze cast to his cheeks.  I would say he was probably Mohawk, but I can’t remember.

 

         I soon fell into a routine and time flew by.  The food was generally lousy, (this can almost always be attributed to management, the same in the Navy as in civilian life) but very nice with a lot of facilities.  The weather was good except for very frequent rain showers, which we learned to ignore. 

 

         The men in the Parachute Loft got together and formed a “Slush Fund”.  These funds were technically illegal, but we had one anyway and we ran it by the book.  To start it off, about twenty of us chipped in $2.00 per man and one of the guys managed the fund.  Money was loaned out, initially, only to members, but later we loaned to most anyone.  Our motive was not to make money but to provide a ready source of funds to those people who had a need.  The interest rate was 50% per (bi-monthly) pay period.  If you borrowed $10, you paid back $15 on the next pay day.  The fund did very well and we usually loaned out most all of the funds each pay period.  There were no defaults on loans.  After about a year, there were only two of the original members left in the fund and I was managing it.  The other guy and I decided to split the fund and go out of business and that is what we did.  If my memory serves me, we split $56 dollars, for a more than 700 percent increase in our investment of a few months.  Sure would like to invest about $250,000 at those rates now.

 

         Shortly before we cashed in the fund, I had a guy come to me for a loan.  I knew him only slightly.  His name was Sherriff and he was from New York.  He needed $20 to pay the shipping on some things he had accumulated and wished to ship home.  He was being discharged from the Navy.  I was afraid that if I let him have the money, that once home in New York he would forget about us and just keep it.   But I believed him when he assured me he would send it to me as soon as he got home, and I just didn’t have the heart to refuse him.  Guess what?  About three weeks later here came the $30 ($20 loan plus $10 interest) that he owed the fund.  An honest man!

 

         We had a large outdoor, bowl type, theater that featured first run films with a different one every night.  It cost 10 cents for a ticket, and I went almost every night when I didn’t have the duty.  At that time the federal tax on movie tickets was twelve (12) cents.  I wonder what it is today?  We paid only ten cents of the tax with the other two cents being paid out of the recreation funds.  When I first started going, if it began to rain, I would run for cover.  I soon found that the best thing to do was just sit still and watch the movie.  The rain running off your nose was a little distracting, but usually it would quit in a few minutes, and you would dry out in a little while.  It was warm anyway.   The movie was a popular place with many of the dependent wives and children there in addition to the sailors and there was always a line to buy tickets.

 

         To avoid standing in line we started going early and buying a roll of tickets (they were not dated) which we would keep in our locker.  We took our tickets with us and bypassed the line until next time we had to buy a roll of tickets.  During the course of the movie there would be messages put up on the screen for some on call duty person.  I myself was called a time or two when I had the duty and was on call.

 

         Another friend of mine, Robert Lee Wiley, Third Class Aviation Electronicsman (AL3), from Fort Worth, was in a flight status as a radioman at VR-21.  Robert was my bunkmate in the VR-21 barracks before I went to Fasron .  He was waiting for his wife and son to join him.  (I learned in 2001 that my old friend Wiley, whom I had not heard from in 50 years was living in Tatum, Texas, not 10 miles from where I was born and raised.  His second wife raises and trains dogs at their place there.  Wiley became a commercial pilot after leaving the Navy and captained Airliners before retiring.)

 

         There was a small apartment house in Honolulu that all of the sailors heard about sooner or later.  For $25.00 the manager of the apartments would sign the papers showing there was an apartment reserved for the sailor’s family.  This was a Navy requirement before steps were taken to transport the dependents.  Of course the papers were signed with the sailor’s understanding that no such apartment was available.    Between the time of application and when the dependents actually arrived the sailor could maybe find some type of housing, but there was a distinct shortage at that time.  I remember one guy camped out on the beach with his wife for two or three weeks before he found something.

 

         Before his wife and son arrived, my friend Robert rented a house in Hauula, which is all the way across the island from Barbers Point, about a 40-mile commute.  I went out and spent the weekend with them two or three times.  I thought a lot of them.  One time while I was there, we went to a neighbor’s house where I was introduced to the new card game “Canasta”.  We played it a lot and I enjoyed it.

 

         Robert rented his house from a man who was retired from the Honolulu Fire Department by the name of Sam.  Sam was a native Hawaiian, was tall and square with bronze skin and white hair.  He would have been the perfect model for the classic Hawaiian man.  His wife was a full-blooded Chinese woman and he called her “The Grouchy Old Lady”, but he did it with affection.  They were a devoted couple and I liked them both.

 

         Sam spent two or three hours every morning across the road in front of his house spear fishing for squid.  Wylie and I went with him and he gave us some pointers, but we were not very successful.  Sam had a small wooden box with sloping sides and a window- pane for a bottom.  This box floated like a small boat.  Sam would ease along on the coral bottom with his head down looking through the glass at the bottom and searching for the squid which hid in holes in the coral.

 

         Sam’s wife cooked the squid for him in various ways and I ate some fried and some in a dish something like seafood linguini.  About all I remember about it is that I thought it pretty tasty.  Now of course you can get fried squid at most any seafood restaurant anywhere.  It is called “Calamari”, and if you order seafood linguini it is almost sure to contain some squid.  Who would have thought it?

        

         Wylie and I had a lot of fun.  His wife was a very nice lady and I liked her a lot.  I knew her very well, but cannot remember her name.  They rented the house furnished and it was nice and comfortable, though small.  Once when I was there we were sitting talking when the wooden arm fell off the couch.  It was eaten up with termites.

 

         Wiley had a couple of friends who owned motorcycles.  These were small bikes (they didn’t allow large ones on the base.  I think one was a James and the other a BSA.  Those guys were also in flight status and when they were away, they let us use their bikes.  I fell in love with riding those things and we went all over the island (Oahu) on them.  An ideal way to travel….on Oahu.  The top speed limit on the island was 45 mph and most places it was lower than that, so it was nice and relatively safe.

 

         I tried to buy a motorcycle, but couldn’t afford a new one and there were not any good used ones available.  My friend Robert E. Cantrell and I bought a 1941 Cadillac Torpedo from another sailor and drove it a little while and sold it.  Then we bought a 1941 Buick Special and kept it until I left the islands.  I sold my half to Robert when I left and he brought the car to the States with him and drove it to Georgia.  He wrote and told me the engine blew up just before he got home.  I wasn’t surprised.  He drove like a maniac.

 

Some friends and I found an isolated beach about 20 miles down the coast, south west of Barbers Point.  At that time, the highway ended, but a dirt road continued for about two miles to the beach.  The water was deep here and the surf high and very

.

 

treacherous.  The beach was off-limits to naval personnel unless there was a Red Cross certified lifeguard in the group.  Several of us were certified so that was no problem.  The valley at the head of the beach was a target zone for carrier planes and when it was being used, Marines were posted on the road to keep people from going up the valley, but it was O.K. to be on the beach.

 

         At this point I would like to explain a few things for clarity.  In the Navy, competitive examinations were given Navy wide, for advancement in the enlisted ranks.  Certain training and performance standards were required in order to qualify to take an exam.  The examinations were given on April 1 and October 1 each year.  Promotion lists went up a few days later and promotions became effective on the 16th of the month. 

 

         The exams were graded and then a point was added to the score for each year in the Navy, plus a point was added for each year in the present rank.  The final scores were then used in determining who got the promotions.   As you can see this system was weighted in favor of those who had been in service the longest and who had failed to be promoted the longest.

 

         Parachute Riggers were sought after by the other men on the ship or base, because they had access to sewing machines and materials.  When the men were promoted, the first thing they wanted to do was get their new stripes put on all their uniforms.  In Hawaii, we were allowed to wear short sleeve shirts, but the Navy didn’t sell them, so the men were always after us to cut their sleeves off.  Another thing, I think every man wanted a “parachute bag”.  This is a bag that will hold a sailor’s entire wardrobe.  It is made of heavy canvas, is approximately square has two straps that go around it and form handles on top.  A zipper goes from one end near the bottom, across over the top and to near the bottom on the other end.  I made a good number of them.

 

         A couple of times when the promotion list went up, I rented a small Singer portable sewing machine, set it on some coke cases, and using my bunk for a seat, I opened up for business.  Best I remember the going rate per sleeve was 25 cents, with hash marks extra (these are diagonal marks sewn on the lower arm.  Each stripe signified 4 years of service).  No telling how many of these things I sewed on.  Most of the shirtsleeve work and making parachute bags was done on the machines in the Loft --- either in our spare time, on breaks, or in the evenings and usually for no charge.

 

         We made some aprons for one of the cooks and he really liked them and so did all of the other Cooks.  They were much better than the ones available from stores, so soon we were making aprons for all of them. This was gratis work, sometimes called “government work” or usually called “cumshaw”in the Navy.  Cumshaw is derived from a Chinese word meaning thanks and that is usually what you got for doing it.

        

After making the aprons, we were soon known to all of the Cooks.  They couldn’t do enough for us, and were always slipping us tidbits of one kind or another.  Coffee, cream and sugar were provided to all of the coffee messes by the commissary (food stores), but they were notoriously stingy with it, but we could get all we needed, no problem.

 

         An Officer directed to me by my Division Officer, Lieutenant Fletcher, asked me if I thought I could make some suit bags for the Admiral’s wife’s dresses.  I told him sure I could if he would sketch out what she wanted.  You have to understand that I had never heard of a suit bag, much less seen one.  You couldn’t go to the store and buy one then like you can now.

 

 

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