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Bo's Stories, Page 22



Gathright was a good friend.  He trained me on the Flight Orderly job and was on the trip that I talk about above where we went to the Philippines.  Gathright was there before and had bought a supply of “Queen Isabella” cigars.  He brought me a box when he came home knowing that I occasionally enjoyed a good cigar.  And these were the very best that I ever had and cost $8.00 for a box of 100, a princely sum to us.  These cigars were very long, by far the largest cigars that I ever smoked.  Gathright told me they cost more than a dollar each in the States and I don’t doubt it, since we paid only five cents per pack for cigarettes out there.


         Speaking of cigarettes.  Some of the guys bought cigarettes at the PX on Guam, the Philippines or other stopping places for the five cents per pack.  They would take a parachute bag and put 50 cartons of cigarettes into it, and take them into Yokohama where they could get 50 cents per pack.  One parachute bag of cigarettes would net them more than $200 dollars.  I never was inclined to do those illegal things, but had I been, I was too chicken anyway.  At Atsugi Naval Air Station the local bus company came on the base to pick the sailors up and take them into the little town of Sagami Otska about 3 miles away.  From there one could catch a train to most anyplace.


         Yokohama was the closest large city to Atsugi and that is where I went on liberty in Japan.  It was about a 30-minute train ride and on the return trip, Sagami was the thirteenth stop of the train.  I counted the stops so I would know when to get off the train.  My first time there was a real culture shock.  The “smell” of Japan assaulted my nose the minute I stepped off the plane, but I soon got used to it.  I rode in taxis quite a bit in Yokohama and that was not a soon to be forgotten experience. 


         Every taxi that I rode in was a U.S made automobile from pre-WW-II days, but in pretty good condition.  They all ran faster than I cared to ride in a taxi with a Japanese driver.  It was always time to “hold on and pray” when you got into one.  At each major intersection there was a small tower, maybe 15 feet tall with a policeman standing on top waving his arms and blowing a whistle.  I’m sure that meant something, but I never figured out what it was.  Best I could tell the drivers mostly ignored him and kept going with one hand on the horn and blowing it at every opportunity.


         Everything was cheap.  The exchange rate was 360 yen to the dollar, so for a twenty you got 7,200 yen.  I think I still have a cigarette lighter or two some place that I bought there.  They cost about a hundred-yen (30 cents).  Some guys bought a lot of them and took them back to the states and sold them for $5.00 each, but that was illegal.  Everybody wanted me to bring them something from Japan and I accommodated many of them.  I probably bought 20 pairs of binoculars which cost around $10.00 and 20 or more bamboo fly rod sets for about $5.00.  Guess what?   I never got one of either for myself and I don’t know why.


         One afternoon in Yokohama I stopped at a small park to get my shoes shined and while I was sitting in the chair a young boy, maybe twelve, squatted down on the sidewalk and did a charcoal of me in about five minutes.  He did a pretty good job too and I still have it.  He wanted 500 yen for it and would probably have taken 100 but I think I gave him 300 for it.  Gathright told me to never pay the first price asked.  They expect to haggle over the price.  At nearly every shop that I went into there was a little kid with good English.  Few of the older people spoke it then, but most young Japanese are fairly fluent in English now.  Speaks well for them I think.


We were warned against eating any fresh fruit and vegetables while in Japan because of the Japanese practice of fertilizing with “nightsoil” which is human wastes collected during the night and put onto the garden in the morning.


         I was wary of eating anything in the city so I didn’t try  the restaurants.  It probably would have been O.K. in the larger hotels though.


         On the train once, there was a group of young Japanese men who kept pointing at me and laughing.  They would talk among themselves, point and laugh some more.  They were enjoying themselves at my expense and I ignored them as best I could while trying to imagine how I would feel if the roles were reversed.  I hope we never have to face an occupying military force, but if we ever do I hope they  comport themselves as well as we did.


         I bought a Coleman camp stove from one of the guys in my division and let my friend Eugene Gathright borrow it from me.  It was still in the back of his car when he got discharged and left for Mississippi.  He wrote to me and offered to ship it to me, but I told him to just keep it.  He wrote to me a few times.  He took a degree in electrical engineering from “Ole Miss” and went to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority.  I haven’t heard from him in more than 30 years.


         I will list here the men I remember from Moffett Field.


         Chenoweth, Cecil, Airman

         Denis, P.E., PR3, (was with me at Barbers Point)

         Gathright, Eugene L., Airman

         Hecathorn, Airman

         Hosmer, Airman

         Lodriguez, Airman  

         Lyon, Airman

         Lyons, Charles Wesley III, PR3

         McNeil, PR3

Morgan, Frank, PR2 (the guy who delayed opening his chute at Lakehurst)

         Mullins, “Moon”, Airman

         Palmer, Airman

         Ronk, Vern John, PR3

         Russell, PR1

         Shonenfeld, PR3

Stubblefield, Ray, Airman (Introduced me to Mary and was my “best man” at our wedding)        

Taylor, James F., PR2 (my friend from Memphis and Lakehurst and the guy who talked me into becoming a Parachute Rigger)


         That reminds me of a story I should tell.  V. (Vern) J. Ronk had a little problem with the sauce.  He never got stinko (well not often), but his judgement often failed him and he would spend all of his money in a day or two after payday.  He talked to me about it and he asked me if I would help him and I agreed.  On payday he would bring most of his money to me and give it to me for safekeeping.  Invariably he would come begging for me to give him his money.  All of it!  I always refused, instead I doled it out to him a little at a time to make it last until payday.  He threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t give him his money, but it was just talk.  Next payday, here he would come with his money and we would go through the same routine again.


         Ronk was quite a bit older than I was, and he was a smart, hard working Rigger and I was glad to have him in the division.  He asked me if I would take him to the bus station the day he was discharged from the Navy and I told him I would. His bus was to leave at 9:00 P.M.   When I left work, I took him to his locker outside the base (most guys had one to keep their civilian clothes in) and got his gear, then I took him home with me.  When we got out on the Bayshore Highway (bypass U.S. 101), Ronk pulled his white hat off, leaned out the window and threw it as high in the air as he could and yelled at the top of his voice.  When we got to our house, Mary had fixed spaghetti for supper and he ate with us and repeatedly told Mary how sorry the spaghetti was.  Of course he was kidding with her, but one couldn’t always tell.  She didn’t know what to make of him.   A little later I took him into San Jose and put him on the bus for Kewanee, Illinois.  I haven’t heard from him since.  In 1999 I made contact with Smith, who I mention below, and swapped E-mails with him.  After being discharged from the Navy as a pilot he entered UT and became a successful corporate attorney.  He married a girl from Conroe that my friend Doyal knew.  Smitty told me that Ronk married (I never thought he would) and lived in Florida for a time before his death a few years ago.


         Ronk and McNeil were classmates of Allen E. Smith in Parachute Rigger’s School at Lakehurst.  Smith was with me in Fasron 117 at Barbers Point before going to the Navy flight school in Pensacola, Florida and becoming a pilot and an officer, but a gentleman?  I don’t expect he did.


         A brief note about Cecil Chenoweth.  He was from the area around Cody Wyoming and grew up there on a ranch.  He was the only kid born in the year of his birth in that school district.  He went all the way through school in a one-teacher school and was the only kid in his class each year and was the single graduate when he finished.  He rode a horse to school most of the time.


         I recall one flight that I was on to Hawaii when we had five major league baseball players as passengers.   They were all Marine Corps Pilots, and I believe two of them were Gene Coleman and Allie Reynolds, but I could be mistaken.  I talked with all of them during the flight.  At another time Ted Williams came through Moffett Field and I saw him, but I was not on that flight.  He was on his way to Korea as a Marine Corps pilot. 


         The flights then were much slower and longer then than they are now.  A typical flight from Moffett Field, California to Barbers Point Hawaii was 9 to 10 hours.  I recall one flight, when we had a super tail wind, when we made it in 6 hours and 50 minutes.  A squadron time record.  The same day, our flight going in the other direction took almost 16 hours.  That was pushing the fuel limit of our planes. 


         On another flight our only passengers were General “Chesty” Puller, a Marine General and a World War II hero, and his aide-de-camp.  We had some “knock-down” bulkheads that could be quickly installed in one of our planes to form a stateroom.  Nice beds and chairs were added to make for pretty plush accommodations.  I didn’t like the VIP flights because most of the VIPs were a pain to deal with, but not General Puller.  He didn’t care a whit about being waited on hand and foot.  He mainly just wanted to relax which he did.


         The Global Positioning System in place now has eliminated the chore of navigation that we once had.  For many years there were ships on station in the Pacific for navigation purposes.  The two between California and Hawaii were referred to as Baker and Charlie.  One of them was about one-third the way from California to Hawaii and the other about two-thirds of the way.  The planes making that flight homed in on the ship’s radio signals, but they also shot the stars or sun with a sextant to plot our course.


         On one flight we were bucking a stiff head wind and for some reason or other we got off course.  We were just about out of fuel and it was looking as if we might have to put down in the sea.  We had a guy holding prayer service in the cabin and maybe that is what saved us.  Oahu looked mighty good to me when we saw it through the clouds.  


         The way the system of flights worked was; a crew would fly out to Hawaii, where there would be two or more of our crews waiting.  One of those crews might take the plane we flew out on and go on to Japan, or another crew might take the plane back to Moffett.  Then when another plane came in and was serviced, we would take off to our destination.  Which plane went where depended on a number of factors, such as the condition of the plane (how many hours on it since major maintenance), or how it was configured (was it loaded or ready for cargo, or ready for passengers).


         An interesting sidelight here.  We had an Ensign in the squadron.  They were pretty rare in that part of the Navy because typically by the time an officer came into a transport squadron for duty he had been promoted to Lieutenant (Ltjg).  This guy was in a flight status, but had arranged a few days off for the occasion of his wedding.   The other officers cooked up this scheme to call him for emergency duty about the time the wedding ceremony was over.  This they did and assigned him to a two week WestPac flight.  He and his bride were devastated, but the call of duty cannot be denied (not in the Navy anyway).  What they didn’t know was the rest of the scheme.  We had a Hawaii turnaround scheduled to leave Hawaii for home about the time the WestPac flight was to get to Hawaii.  They held it and as soon as the plane from Moffett landed they hustled the Ensign off and put him on the flight back to Moffett.  Instead of a two-week trip it was a one-day trip and he and his bride had their honeymoon after all.  A dirty trick you might say, but it was all in good fun and could have been worse.


         When we were on “lay-over” as we called it, we were free to go and do whatever we wished, as long as we stayed within an hour of the base, and called the Flight Control Office every four hours to see if we had made the schedule.  Theoretically, flights were always put on the schedule eight hours in advance.  All crew members were required to report in, at least two hours before the estimated time of departure (ETD) to prepare for the flight.


Once on a Hawaii turn-around, I was invited to dinner at my friend Coleman C. Crowley’s house.  His wife Jean was a lovely lady and I had visited them many times, usually in the company of James Doyal, when I was stationed in Hawaii.  I checked with Flight Control at 1600 (4 p.m.) and we were not scheduled.  Coleman came and picked me up.  It was about two miles to his on-base quarters.  We had a good dinner and then had a real nice visit.  I called Flight Control at 2000 (8 p.m.) and was told that we had not been scheduled.  Around 2200 (10 p.m.) Coleman took me back to the transit barracks.  When I went in, I immediately saw that my whole crew was gone, bag and baggage.  I almost had a heart attack.


         I grabbed my gear and ran all the way to the Flight Terminal and checked in, to find the rest of the crew had left for early chow at the mess hall.  I left my gear and joined them.  No damage done, I thought, since I was only a few minutes late checking in, and that would have been true, except that the Plane Commander was my Division Officer Lieutenant Larson.  He made a big fuss about it, and the fact that I had called in (I had no way to prove this) made no difference.  This incident caused a further deterioration of our relationship, and I was glad to see him transferred out soon after that.


         As a replacement for Mr. Larson, we got a really nice Lieutenant Commander, whose name escapes me.  This guy was a great bear of a man who could have played as a center in the NFL.  His demeanor was just opposite his appearance and we immediately liked one another, in spite of the performance review that I’m sure Mr. Larson gave to him about me.   I had asked Mr. Larson for a parking space by the hanger but he wouldn’t allow me to have one.  My new Division Officer assigned me one right next to his, soon after he reported aboard.


         About this time, I met Mary.  Just outside the Moffett Field main gate was a restaurant/club named the Bon Ton.  This place was always filled with people from the area and the base.  I stopped in there frequently, and on this night when I went in I saw a guy who worked for me sitting in a booth with three young women.  The sailor was Ray Stubblefield from Oklahoma.  He was not a good friend, but I knew him well.  I stopped and he introduced the girls to me and asked me to join them and I did.


The girls were Mary, her sister Edith and their friend Eleanor.  I think Ray had met Eleanor and dated her some.  I immediately took a liking to Mary and the other girls as well, and Mary and I began to date.  We dated for about a month when I decided to ask Mary to marry me, which I did. 


         Mary accepted my proposal and Edith and Eleanor planned our wedding, which we set for September 1, 1953.  We were married at Mary’s parent’s home in Sunnyvale, California.  We said our vows before the Reverend Harold Bottemiller, a Baptist Minister, with Ray Stubblefield as my best man and Edith as Mary’s maid-of-honor.  My old friend James Taylor with whom I was stationed in Memphis and Lakehurst and now at Moffett, and his wife were guests at our wedding.  After our honeymoon in northern California, we rented a house on Bonita Avenue in Mountain View California where we lived until I was discharged from the Navy.


         I changed my whole routine after we got married.  I stopped going on long flights.  I did the scheduling so I did it the way I wanted and just flew enough to qualify for my $67.50 flight pay each month.  Money was tight.  We paid $75.00 per month for our house, and that was about twice what the average guy was paying at that time.  With my base pay, flight pay, sea pay, commissary rations and housing allowance, I was making about $275.00 per month.  Which was pretty good pay for those days.


         The remaining nine months of my hitch went by swiftly and were largely uneventful.  Snuffy Smith and I ran the Division and I was home most every night.  Mary and I saw a lot of her family and really enjoyed ourselves. Mary’s brother Nathan and his wife and children lived close to us and we visited them often and enjoyed their company.  We also spent quite a bit of time with Mary’s Dad, and her sisters, Claudie, Edith and Edith’s daughter Patricia.  Claudie’s husband Bill Bowden was in Korea in the Army and Claudie was expecting their daughter Vickie.  Mary and I spent the night at the hospital with Claudie the night Vickie was born.  On January 3, 1954, Mary’s mother died.  She had been very ill for some time.  Soon after that we found out Mary was pregnant with Clifford and I made the decision to get out of the Navy and go to college.


         Snuffy Smith and my Division Officer begged me to stay in the Navy and I was really tempted.  I loved the Navy then and still do.  Many people hated the regimentation.  I loved it.  You always knew the pecking order and it was seldom challenged.  Everything was well organized and almost always ran smoothly.  I despise politics, and am happy to say there was little of it to be found in my part of the Navy in those days.


My orders had been cut for the Naval Air Station, Atsugi, Japan.  If I re-enlisted, then I would leave immediately for Japan, and Mary would follow later.  I had been to Atsugi several times and liked Japan. I knew it would take some time for me to be able to arrange housing and that Mary would not be able to join me until after the baby was born.  I thought about how difficult it would be for her to make the trip out to Japan with a little baby and decided it would just be too much, so I took the discharge.   

I was mustered out of the Navy on June 21, 1954.  Mary and I left for home, via San Diego, the following day.  We stopped and visited Mary’s sister and brother-in-law, Bea and Damon Riley.  I had not met Damon until then, but we hit it off immediately and I enjoyed being with him, Bea and the boys. 

         It was murder for Mary, being almost 7 months pregnant, crossing the desert without air-conditioning in our car, but we made it.  I enjoyed being home and did some fishing and frog hunting before going to work for Uncle Roy Brown.  Uncle Roy and my brother Ray were building a house near Carthage for Mr. Henry Kelly and his wife Gracie, and Ray talked Uncle Roy into giving me a job against his (Uncle Roy’s) better judgment.  He paid me $5.00 per day, which I was thankful for.  Uncle Roy found out that I was a willing and able worker and I earned my pay.  My son Clifford was born on Monday August 30, 1954 about 1:00 AM.  I took off work that day and a few days later I drove over to Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches and met with Dr. Sullivan who was Chairman of the Agriculture Department.  I made a deal with him to let me move into an empty house on the college Dairy Farm and do some part time work for the college in lieu of paying rent.  Billy Bob Sitton who worked for my brother Lloyd and was a recent graduate had proposed this to me.  Mary and I went to Carthage and bought enough furniture on the credit to set up housekeeping.  We moved a day or two before classes started and I enrolled and became a college freshman.                   


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