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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Getting to know the PBY and a Move to Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station

Consolidated Aircraft PBY-1

The next morning, when I reported for muster on the seaplane ramp in front of the VP-21 hangar, I arrived early to inspect my strange new world.  Each squadron had thirteen big Consolidated Aircraft PBY-1 flying boats.  A total of 52 of the twin-engine airplanes were parked in rows on the broad expanse of the concrete ramp.  Silver fuselages and broad high-mounted wings gleam in the morning sunlight.  Different stripes on the high rounded rudders identified each squadron’ airplane.
Being a lowly seaman second class recruit, I was immediately assigned to the beaching crew.  The PBYs were supported on land by large dual-wheel main gear that locked onto each side of the fuselage and a tripod mounted tail wheel with a steering bar for use when the airplane was towed by a tractor.  To fly, the airplanes were lowered down a launching ramp into the water by a tractor.  The beach crew then removed the wheels and dragged them back up the ramp.
When the airplanes returned from a flight, they taxied to the launching ramp and the beaching gear was re-installed by the beach crew.  It was onerous duty but we did have the advantage the this was Hawaii and we were required to go swimming several times a day.  Our uniform on the beach crew was Navy blue swim trunks and a pair of hob-nailed shoes for good footing on the wet ramp.  The water was eternally warm and we had plenty of time for recreational swimming unless the beach crew chief had us policing the ramp and hangar area while we waited for airplanes to get ready to launch or returned from a flight.
Pre-war duty in Hawaii was a delight because Navy shore installations observed “tropical working hours”.  Our hours were from muster at oh seven hundred (7AM) to fourteen hundred hours (2:00 PM).  The crew was divided into port and starboard watch sections between which the duty was divided so that during off hours, evenings and weekends, half the squadron was on duty—the other half could have liberty and the married men who had families in Hawaii could go home.  The off-duty section could have liberty on the weekends from 1400 on Friday until O700 Monday morning—one of the many reasons that duty in Hawaii was so sought after.
A problem for us recruits was that the $36 per month paid a seaman second was not enough to really take advantage of all that free time.  It did, however, give us plenty of time to study our practical factors manuals for the examinations for our next promotion.  Some of us, particularly we aviation machinist mate (mechanics) strikers, spent some of that free time poring over PBY maintenance manuals and going over the details of the airplanes.  Before I was even eligible for promotion to seaman first class, I was familiar with every system on the airplanes—particularly the big engines.  L also spent time with the ordinance gang helping to bore sight the machine guns and learning to field strip and re-adjust the mechanism.  I was determined to be ready when the time came that I could be assigned to a flight crew.
I did not get well acquainted with VP-21 shipmates.  Instead, I applied for transfer to my brother’s squadron and it came through in less than two weeks.  On 14 March I was transferred to VP-23, soon to become VP-11.
My duties did not change.  In VP-23 I was also assigned to the beaching crew.  I was envious of brother Dick because, being more than four months ahead of me, he had just made AMM third class and had already wangled assignment to a flight crew.  (Flight crew assignments were doubly coveted because flight pay—known as “flight skins”—added fifty percent to base pay.  A third class made $72 per month.  With flight skins it totaled $108—a small fortune to us then.)  Of course it meant that Dick continued to lord it over me just as he had done all our lives.  I did not mind—I was used to it and knew that, sooner or later, I would overtake him.
Dick’s assignment to a flight crew had one advantage for me—it got me my first ride in a PBY.  One day he talked his plane captain into listing me supernumerary on his crew for a local training flight.  The beach crew chief, Tex Foret, gave me permission and I happily drew a flight jacket, helmet, and goggles from the equipment room.
The big fuselage of the PBY had a bombardier’s compartment in the nose that included a manually operated gun turret for a thirty caliber machine gun behind which was the pilots compartment with its raised seats.  Aft of that was the radio/navigation compartment then a compartment with the small auxiliary “put-put” and a rudimentary galley on one side and two crew bunks on the other.  Above that compartment was the mechanic’s station in the tower that supported the big wing and engines above the fuselage.  It had windows on each side, an instrument panel, and all the engine controls except the throttles which were on the overhead of the pilot’s compartment.
Aft of the mechanic’s compartment was a bunk compartment that was also used to stow tool and ammunition boxes.  Immediately behind was the “waist compartment” having the sliding hatches and a 50-caliber machine gun stowed on each side.  There was also a tail compartment that had a hatch that could be opened to fire down and aft with a thirty caliber machine gun.
We had hardly reached our cruising altitude of seven hundred fifty feet and the engines had settle down to their synchronized drone when I knew that I had found my milieu.  I was ecstatic.  Glover was the second mech on the crew and was on duty in the tower.  He waved me to stick my head up and showed me all the gages on the panel, the fuel quantity gages, the wingtip float control, and the engine fuel mixture and carburetor temperature controls.
The fuselage windows were tiny and I could not see much until Dick took me to the waist compartment and opened one of the hatches.  Standing in the gunner’s position half out of the airplane on the port side, I had a panoramic view of the island as we flew around Koko Head, past Bird Island off Kailua, and circled in over Kaneohe Bay.
Richard gestured for me to put on the port gunner’s interphone because the pilot was speaking to the crew.  As I recall his words were something like, “Take a good look down there on the peninsula at those new buildings, fellows.  That is the brand new Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station that will be commissioned this summer and will be our new home.  They are transferring us to Patrol Wing One and we will become VP-11 and move in there in two or three months.

The Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station was on the seaward peninsula of the bay directly across from the village of Kaneohe.  I could see a long seaplane ramp with two or three launching ramps, one big hangar completed and another under construction, and a complex of new buildings of a major air station.  At the north end of the peninsula a small runway for land planes was under construction.  Kaneohe would obviously be a vast improvement over the crowded conditions of Ford Island.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Getting the Lay of the Land

Chapter 22

Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Spring 1941

Hawaii was bewitching to an old Midwest country boy even before I set foot on the island of Oahu.  I went to the signal bridge on the boat deck of Tippecanoe and borrowed a pair of binoculars from one of the signalmen.  With them I scanned the shoreline as we rounded Diamond Head and proceeded west northwest toward Pearl Harbor.
It was an enchanting view.  There were no high-rises in either Waikiki or downtown Honolulu.  Beyond the lacy white froth of low breakers and the sand beaches, there was a lush green carpet of coconut palm trees and other tropical shrubs reaching from the beach to the Kaimuki area.  At Waikiki the foliage was broken only by the white block of the Moana Hotel with its Banyan Court and the massive pink pile of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  The low-lying bungalows of the Halekalani were not visible from the ocean.
Downtown Honolulu boasted only the Aloha Tower at the waterfront and, beyond, the seven-story Alexander Hotel was the tallest building in town.  One thing struck me about the peacefully sprawling city—there were no chimneys on any of the houses since the temperature never fell below the mid-seventies except up in the hills such as the plush houses in Pacific Heights.
West of Honolulu the one outstanding landmark was the pine-apple-shaped Dole water tank.  Otherwise, there was only stretches of kiave trees and red earth reaching to Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor.  West of Pearl there were vast light green fields of sugar cane out past Eva.  Beyond Pearl Harbor, to the north toward Wahiava, were dark green fields of pineapples.  Behind was the backdrop of the green and brown slopes of the Koolau Mountains topped by the sever-present towering white cumulus clouds and the blue tropical sky.
The sea was flat calm and as blue as the sky when we passed the towed barge to the waiting tug and steamed through the anti-submarine net into Pearl Harbor.  Along the shore there were coconut palms and gardened lawns at the Hickham Officers’ Club and the Naval Hospital.  We were awed by the warships moored in Pearl Harbor.  A double row of grey leviathans in Battleship Row near Ford Island dominated the scene.
Tippecanoe came right into the East Loch and moored at a Naval Base fuel dock.  We airdales had our gear packed, lashed, and on deck.  As soon as the mooring was complete, Sullivan launched the motor whaleboat to take us across the harbor to Landing A on Ford Island where the PBY squadrons were based.
Little Ford Island was crowded in those days.  In addition to four twelve-plane PBY squadrons based in large hangars at the west end of the island where the seaplane ramps were located, most of the island was taken up by a landing field for the fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes of the aircraft carriers.  The remaining perimeter space was taken up by officers’ quarters, chief petty officer housing for those who had their families with them, an officers’ club, and a chiefs’ club.  There was no enlisted mans’ club, but beyond the massive main barracks building, there was an open beer garden.
Since the Pacific Fleet home base had been moved to Pearl Harbor more and more naval units and men kept pouring onto Oahu.  We were to find that all military facilities were strained to the limit and when we went into Honolulu on liberty on weekends the streets were thronged by more white Navy uniform, Marine green, and army khaki than by civilians.
We arriving boots stacked our gear in front of the Ford Island Administration Building near Landing A, delivered our orders to the OODs office, then sat on the lashed seabags and waited.  After an hour the Assistant Officer of the Day, a Chief Yeoman, came with our individual assignments.  I was disappointed that, instead of Richard’s squadron, VP-23, both Langford and I were assigned to VP-21.  The seaman that was the duty OOD messenger conducted us, with our gear, to the second deck barracks wing that housed VP-21.
It was mid-afternoon by then and as soon as we had been assigned bunks and lockers and had stowed our gear, I went in search of my brother.  I found the VP-23 barracks area and inquire.  A friendly A friendly AMM3c who said his name was Glover said, “Hey, are you that brother Frieze has been telling us about?”
Five or six other men gathered to meet me and welcome me aboard.  After I explained about being assigned to VP-21 Glover commented, “Hell, don’t sweat it.  All you got to do is request a transfer.  They’ll go along with it and you can move in with us.  We are due for a couple more recruits.  Your brother is over at the parachute loft, I expect.  He has been fooling around over there with our parachute packer, Weaver, after working hours.  Making something, I think.  Just go toward the PBY hangars and watch for the one with the tower for airing parachutes—can’t miss it.”
Dick was, indeed, at the parachute loft and seemed genuinely pleased that I had arrived.  After our greetings and he had introduced me to Weaver, he dug into a bin and produced a paper sack.  “Here—Happy Birthday.  Bet you thought I wouldn’t remember!”
I was inordinately pleased because I had not thought he would remember.  Using the parachute loft heavy sewing machine, Richard had made for me a pair of leather thongs “go-ahead” slippers.  (They were made of top grain cowhide and I used them for nearly twenty years.)  He had also made an over-sized  seabag of good canvas and explained as he gave it to me, “Forget about regulation lashing your hammock and mattress around your seabag.  Just roll it up and stow it in here.  Nobody is hard-nosed aobut baggage in Naval Aviation.”
We went back to the barracks to get ready for evening chow and I met more of the men who were to become my shipmates.  Some of them would be life-long friends.  Besides Glover, there was Joe Brooks who had gone through boot camp with Dick.  Joe was an aviation ordnanceman.  Some of the others were skinny little Dave Davenport, John Hoke, a tall thin individual named McFall, a sandy haired freckled face slow-moving one who was introduced as “Rigor Mortis” Ballou and offered only a grind when he was called the laziest man in the U.S. Navy, and many others.  Counting about 40 officer pilots, sevreral enlisted pilots (NAPs), CPOs, aviation machinist mates, radiomen, ordnance men, and yeomen there were approximately 250 men in each PBY squadron.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Storm and a Disappearnce

The trip was not all monotony.  Three days out of San Francisco we ran into a gale that we later found was one of the worst in that area in three or four years.  That was when I learned to like coffee.
The third evening out the sky was leaden at sunset and the ocean was dark grey with a froth of whitecaps and spume fro a wind that came off the port bow.  The horizon was indistinct.  The dark grey of the clouds simply merged somewhere into the darker grey of the angry ocean.  Neither was there a sunset glow to fit the old saying, “Red sky at night—sailor’s delight—red sky at moring—sailor take warning”.  There must have been a blazing red sky that mornig as the wind was rising rapidly to gale force.  Even with the stabilizing influence of the tow, the ship was rolling and pitching so that we had to sleep with a grip on the bunk rails and our toes hooked on the bottom rail.
I had barely gotten to sleep when the watch petty officer woke me—I had the twelve to two watch on the port wing of the bridge.  The watch PO warned me to wear my peacoat and watch cap as it was cold and wet up there.
When I emerged from the foc’sul hatch I found the watch petty officer was right.  It was raining and the wind buffeted me as I struggled through the blackness along the catwalk above the main deck over which green water was breaking.  Rain drops and salt spray stung my face in the fifty=knot wind.  The whitecaps towered well above my head from the catwalk level as the heavily laden Tippecanoe slugged her way through the mountainous waves.
I reached the bridge at twenty-three-fifty, ten minutes before eight bells when the watch would change so I ducked into the dimly-lit bridge before relieving my man on the exposed port bridge wing.  I looked at the chart spread on the navigator’s table at the rear of the bridge and was impressed by the ferocity of the wind—the line of our course made good was actually going backward.  With the drag of the towed barge, we lost ground for six or eight hours.
I reported to the watch officer who was a grey-haired and spectacled elderly “re-tread” reserve lieutenant from the World War.  He was a mild-mannered little man and was the ship’s executive officer.  (I do not recall that I ever saw the captain of the Tippecanoe.)
The two hours of my watch were interminable and miserable.  In the wind-whipped blackness I was pelted by rain and spray from the waves that broke level with the bridge—and the bridge was forty feet above the waterline.  Other than the red running light, I could see nothing but blackness abeam and could barely make out the bow of the ship.  Every thirty minutes, as required by regulations and custom, I reported to the watch officer, “Nothing in sight—port running light burning bright, sir.”
Sometime during the first hour of my watch I was a dim figure moving along the catwalk.  The individual was wearing the hat of a CPO with the visor strap under his chin against the wind.  It was apparently Larzenarski on a round of inspection of the decks but he did not come to the bridge and I could not be sure.  The figure went out of sight in the darkness toward the stern.  I thought for a minute that I saw someone else move back there, but in the rain and spray it could well have been an illusion.
By the time I was relieved at 0200 hours I was wet and chilled to the bone.  I needed something hot to drink and knew that the cooks left an urn of coffee in the gangway outside the galley each night for watch standers.  With difficulty and clinging to the lifelines, I made my way aft.
I had tried coffee at home prepared just the way my father did with cream and sugar, but I never liked the taste of the stuff.  This night I was desperate and cold enough to try it again.  There was hot coffee in the urn; however, I found that the condensed milk can left out was empty and so was the sugar bowl.  Shrugging, I tried it black and, to my delight, found that it tasted delicious.  I sat at the mess table and enjoyed a warming cup before I braved the blow back to the forecastle.
The next morning the weather had cleared a bit, but the wind was still at gale force.  Green water was still breaking over the main deck and, periodically, over the fantail that was held down by the tow hawser to the heavy barge.  The deck division was told to stand by for muster in the mess compartment instead of on deck.
Chief Larzenarski did not show for muster.  It was held by Sullivan.  Afterward, scuttlebutt (rumor) was that Larzenarski was missing.  A search of the entire pitching and rolling ship was made and no trace of the abrasive CPO was found.  I found myself remembering the figure in a chief’s hat that I had seen on the catwalk during my watch and presumed that he had gone down to the fantail to check the tow cable and was swept overboard.
I was still wondering if I should report what I had seen when our stern and very disliked division officer Lt. Williams, appeared in the mess compartment.  We came to attention and, after he had told us to stand easy, he said, “Men, the tow cable is chafing and needs to be lengthened.  I need four volunteers to go to the fantail with me and do the job.”
There was a prolonged silence.  The men of the regular ship’s company simply looked down at their hands.  I noted that the officer was wearing dungarees and he had said “go down to the fantail with me”.  Even though the word always was, ”never volunteer for anything”, I suddenly blurted out, “I’ll go, sir.”
Langford then volunteered and, apparently not to be outdone by Airedales, two of the ship’s company rose.  I was surprised that one of them was Sullivan.  I kicked off my shoes and stripped of my socks because I felt that I would have better traction barefoot.  The lieutenant led us out onto the wave-washed fantail.
The fantail was clear except that every fifth or sixth wave was large enough to crash green water over the deck.  When the big waves came all we could do was hang on with both hands until the water subsided.  I found myself next to the officer was we struggled with the heavy wire cable.
The lieutenant loosened the stoppers on the tow cable and we inched out several yards.  He had just re-secured the stopper when the great-granddaddy of the waves buried us under solid green water.  I barely had time to get an arm securely around the tow cable.
When the water subsided I realized that the lieutenant was no longer beside me.  He had lost his hold on the cable and was haing half over the scuppers holding the bottom chain of the lifelines with one hand.  It was apparent that another wave could take him over the side.  I let go of the tow cable and liunged for the lifelines.  I caught the upper cable with my left hand and held out my right to the officer.  He seized it with his free hand and, as the ship rolled back to port, dragged himself back aboard.
Without a word the lieutenant checked that the able stopper was secure and led us back to the shelter of the mess compartment.  There he said, “Well done, men.”  Then turning to me he said, “Get some dry clothes, Frieze, and see me in the wardroom in fifteen minutes.”
When Lt. Williams had gone, Sullivan said to me in a low voice, “Goddamn Airedale, whyn’t you let that bastard go—we’d have been rid of him and Larzenarski both!”
Officers’ country was strange to me so I rather timorously made my way to the wardroom amidships after getting some dry dungarees and a clean white hat.  The wardroom was not plush but had a sliver coffee service, curtains at the portholes, and mess tables with green baize overings and chairs instead of benches.  The lieutenant, hair still wet and a towel about his neck, was sitting alone at one of the tables.
The officer said, “Help yourself to a cup of coffee, sailor.  You earned it.  And sit down a minute.”
It sounded more like an order than an offer.  I drew coffee into a china cup with a blue Navy emblem and sat on the edge of the chair opposite the lieutenant.  He eyed me for a minute.
“Just wanted to say thank you, Frieze.  There are probably men on this ship that would not have offered me a hand.  I am fully aware that many of the men think I am a mean s.o.b.”
I was embarrassed and could feel my ears and face getting red.  “Wasn’t anything, sir.  I reckon you could have made it by yourself.”
“Probably so, but you did offer me a hand without waiting to see.”
I recall being totally at a loss.  I believe I may have stammered, “Well—uh—I didn’t know how soon the next big wave might come along.  Ain’t as if I saved your life or something.”
“Right,” he said briskly, “and you’re not going to get a medal or anything, but I will see that there is a note of commendation in your service record.”
He looked down at a paper on the table that was the watch list from the previous night and changed the subject, “You had the twelve to two on the wing of the bridge last night.”
“You know that Chief Larzenarski is missing, apparently overboard during the storm.  Did you see anything on deck during your watch?”
A short montage flashed into my mind—the dim figure in a chief’s hat on the catwalk going aft, what could have been the shadow of another man back there, and the gleam in Sullivan’s eyes when he told us at muster that the hated CPO was missing.  I also recalled THE WAY Sullivan had cursed the CPO the first day we were aboard.  I knew, however, that I should not attest to anything of which I was not totally sure.
“Well, sir, yes.  Sometime around oh one hundred or thereabouts, I saw someone, who I thin was wearing a chief’s hat, going along the catwalk from the bridge aft toward the stern.  That’s all I saw.  It was dang dark out there.  I figured it was the chief checking the decks.”
“No one else?”
“Not that I could swear to—too dark and too many shadows.  Couldn’t see good through the rain and spray.”
The lieutenant dismissed me then and the ship’s log recorded that chief Boatswain’s Mate Larzenarski was apparently lost overboard while carrying out his duties on the ship.  For fifty years I have wondered about Coxswain Sullivan and his knife.  After Larzenarski’s disappearance, Sullivan’s first class rate was restored and, being the ranking petty officer in the deck division, he was made acting CPO for the balance of the voyage.
Scraping, painting, and holystoning seemed to go on interminably; however, his temporary promotion made Sullivan much more human and he did not make our lives as miserable as the Polish CPO had done.  Two or three days after the storm we sailed into calm waters and within the week were under blue skies and a tropical sun.

Before sunset on March 2nd, we sighted the island of Molokai on the far horizon.  By muster at 0700 the next morning we were sailing past Diamond Head and Waikiki on Oahu.  A grey Navy tug met us when we had downtown Honolulu broad on the starboard beam and relieved us of the barge we had towed.  Just after noon chow Tippecanoe steamed through the anti-submarine net and up the entrance to Pearl Harbor.  We arrived in the Territory of Hawaii on my 19th birthday, 3 March 1941.

[My father had sailed into his second paradise, Washington State being the first.]

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Admiral's Inspection and Anchors Aweigh

When we mustered with the deck division the next morning, we found that it would be nearly two weeks before we sailed.  Before then the ship would be subjected to an admiral’s inspection.  To make the old ship ready, both Lt. Williams and Chief Larzenarski drove us unmercifully.  Paint parties went over the side to scrape the worst rust spots, coat them with red-lead, then apply a fresh coat of Navy grey.  The rest of us got very familiar with iron paint scrapers turned out by the ship’s machine shop and paint brushes.
The joking rule was, “If it moves—salute it.  If it doesn’t move—paint it!”  The rule did not apply to brass, which in peacetime was kept shined.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of brass—cofferdam ID plates, porthole rims, compartment identification plates, and many fittings.  The ship’s stores included dozens of cans of pink brass polish and we used up a lot of elbow grease and rags.
When the Friday of the admiral’s inspection came, I was amazed at the transformation of the rusty old ship.  All fuel oil hoses and hawsers had been neatly stowed.  The decks, bulkheads, and side plates were resplendent in fresh grey paint.  Every bit of brass gleamed in the sunlight.  Our quarters and all other below decks spaces had been scrubbed and painted.  The ancient brass washbasins in the head gleamed like gold.  When the inspection party was piped aboard, the entire crew had been mustered in immaculate white uniforms and shined dress shoes.  At that moment I was proud of the old Tippecanoe and did not regret the sweating hours of drudgery that had made her look like a part of Uncle Sam’s Navy.
Two days after the inspection, Tippecanoe’s engines rumbled into life and the P.A. system blared, “Now hear this—all hand, man your special sea details!”  I had been assigned to the first crow’s nest watch on the high foremast so I scrambled up the seventy feet of steel rungs welded to the foremast to the small, waist-high metal can that was the foremast lookout.
Below me the ship’s crew not assigned to sea details manned the rails in undress whites.  The mooring hawsers splashed into the water and with a “Whoop—whoop” of the ship’s horn and a blast from the siren, Tippecanoe backed away from the pier where a small contingent of wives and children waved and headed out to sea.
We did not sail directly to Hawaii.  On February 13th we put in at Long Beach to take aboard a full load of fuel oil.  The next day we sailed for San Francisco.  Our normal cruising speed fully loaded was twelve knots so it was three days before we sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and anchored in San Francisco Bay off Treasure Island.  We got no liberty in San Francisco and had to be content with looking at the lights of the Barbary Coast and wondering why the ship had put in there.
We weighed anchor the next morning and headed back out beneath the Golden Gate.  Once more I had the first watch in the foremast crow’s nest.  I gaped upward as the Tippecanoe slipped beneath the main span of the soaring bridge.  High over my head two men were working on a scaffolding at the endless job of keeping the big bridge painted.  As the ship slid beneath them, the painters looked down and answered my wave from the crow’s nest.
I was neglecting my lookout duties.  The voice tube to the bridge suddenly whistled.  When I answered a mild voice said, “Keep alert, sailor—we have traffic ahead.”
Abashed, I jerked my eyes to the fore.  About a mile ahead of us as we cleared the narrows there was a tug towing a large barge.  Actually, the tug and barge were laid to waiting for us.  We came to a stop and the tug transferred the tow lines of the barge to Tippecanoe.  We were to tow it to Hawaii.
The drag of the barge plus our full load of oil reduced the sedate pace of the Tippecanoe to less than ten knots at turns of the single screw for standard speed.  In fact, on a calm day the captain decided to turn up full speed ahead for a test run.  Tippecanoe refused to get above twelve knots.  It was to be a long slow passage to Hawaii.  We continued to scrape and paint deck plates and, in bare feet and rolled-up dungarees, with holystones and sand we scoured the wood of the fantail and boat decks just as sailors had done for a century.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The USS Tippecannoe and Partrol Wing One

Chapter 21

USS Tippecanoe

[For Patrol Wing One the 1941 voyage from San Diego to Pearl Harbor was peculiar from start to finish.]
She lay at a pier so far out on Point Loma that it would be more than a thirty-minute bus ride into downtown San Diego.  Tippecanoe was an oil tanker but she was surely the dowdiest old frump in the Navy fleets of auxiliary and support ships.
The old girl was an oiler of World War I vintage.  She had a tall single stack that towered above a large after deck house and fantail, a deckhouse structure just forward of amidships topped by the bridge, and a raised foc’sul deck—all connected by an elevated walkway that spanned the main deck clutter of cofferdams, oil transfer houses, and faked-down manila hawsers.
The bow hook in the whaleboat had been right—she was a rusty old bucket.  Ocher streaks soiled the Navy grey of her side plates although there were sailors working with paint scrapers and paint buckets on scaffolds and boson’s chairs over her sides.  The upper works appeared to be fairly recently painted; however, the first impression was “she don’t much give a damn”.
The Tippecanoe was empty of cargo and riding high in the water.  The Coxswain did not take us to the pier but laid the whaleboat alongside the platform at the foot of the steep sea accommodation ladder.  It was difficult to negotiate the ladder carrying our heavy seabags with the hammocks lashed around them.  No one offered to lend a hand except that the how hook and motor mac heaved the seabags onto the platform as each man disembarked.  After the snide remarked about “Airedales” of the coxswain we were determined to make it on our own—and somehow we did.
Once we had achieved the main deck and had properly saluted the colors aft and the officer of the deck, a burly CPO identified himself as the boson, Larzenarski, and took our orders.  He left us sitting on the cofferdams in the hot sun for more than thirty minutes before a seaman appeared and let us to our quarters.
The ship’s crew was berthed aft below the after deck house which contained the mess deck and galley; however, the berths for temporary ship’s company aboard for transportation were in a compartment in the forecastle just aft of the anchor chain locker.  It was strictly primitive and bare bones.  There were three-high steel bunks welded to stanchions where hammocks had once been slung at night.  In a clear area at the foot of the entry ladder there was a single mess-type table with a bench on each side.  Beside it was a trash can.  This would be our home for the next four weeks.
Across the compartment from the entry ladder, an open door led to the head, such as it was.  It was a narrow compartment lined on one side with eight brass wash basins each having a small mirror.  Along the other bulkhead, the sanitary provisions consisted of a mental trough at sitting height through which sea water was circulated.  Cut out seat boards for eight had been installed over the trough as a gesture at comfort.
We selected our bunks and unlashed our gear.  Just as we were laying out our hammocks and horsehair mattresses on the steel bunk frames, Chief Larzenarski came down the steep entry ladder.  (Note:  In Navy terminology, stairways are “ladders”, floors are “decks”, ceiling are “overhead”, walls are “bulkheads”, and upstairs is known as “topside”.)
Larzenarski’s weathered round Polish face was set in a perpetual scowl.  He growled, “Listen up, you people.  You goddam Airedales (a derogatory cognomen applied by men of the surface fleet to anyone in Naval Aviation) ain’t in for no pleasure cruise to Hay-wa-yee!  You are temporary ship’s company of Tipsoo assigned to the deck division of which I happen to be the chief.
“Your division office is Lieutenant Williams who is one mean s.o.b. that goes strictly by the book.  Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill is posted on the bulletin board aft by the mess compartment.  Check it out.
“Uniform of the day is dungarees unless otherwise posted so get out of them whites before evening chow.  As long as you are aboard, you are in the working Navy!”
Langford and I looked at each other and shrugged as the CPO disappeared up the ladder without further comment.  As we were changing to our dungarees, the P.A. system came alive with the whistle of a boson’s pipe and a voice boomed in a bored chant, “Now hear this!  Sweepers starcher brooms—clean sweep-down fore and aft!”
It was sixteen hundred hours, the end of the work day.  We finished setting our gear and stowed our seabags in a rack along the bulkhead (no lockers were provided in our austere compartment) then, not knowing what we were expected to do, went topside to check out the ship.
The late afternoon was beautiful, the wide bay calm beneath a blue sky studded with white cumulus clouds.  Gulls circled overhead and flights of pelicans winged ponderously past.  We made our way aft along the raised catwalk above the cluttered main deck, noting as passed around the bridge structure that a brass plate above a watertight entry door read “Officers Country”.
At the stern we found the mess compartment and the bulletin board the CPO had mentioned.  Beyond that was a wide wood fantail deck scored clean by holystoning and above which a white canvas sunshade was stretched.  Some of the ship’s crew were lounging there.
I saw the dour coxswain of the motor whaleboat sitting against a bulkhead stropping his wicked looking belt knife on the leather of his shoe.  The name stenciled on his blue dungaree shirt was “Sullivan” and there was the badge of a second class petty officer in stencil on his left sleeve.  I dropped down beside him.
“Hi, Sullivan—some ship.”
He eyed me sharply but some of the antagonism went out of his sour face.  “Yea—some ship!  This here old bucket just been reactivated from the reserve fleet—Standard Oil had her.   She’s a pile of junk and you’ll find out most of the crew are either the dregs of the Navy or are reserves.  Only thing worse than an Airedale is a reserve!”
“Chief Larzenarski doesn’t seem very friendly,” I said.
Sullivan snorted bitterly, “Friendly?!  Bastard is the meanest sonabitch on the ship.  Wasn’t for him, I could make chief and be the boson’s mate myself.  I was first class and he got me busted!  Ten year I got in his canoe club and he gets me busted for bringing a little booze aboard.  I’d like tosee the sonabitch go over the side some dark night!”
Sullivan tested the keen edge of the knife by shaving some hairs from his forearm while I said, “Larzenarski says Lt. Williams is a mean s.o.b.—how about that?”
The coxswain sheathed the knife.  “He is and he ain’t. Regular Navy ring pounder out of Annapolis, but he must have fouled up somewhere or he wouldn’t be on this old scow.  Yeoman says he been passed over once for promotion to lieutenant commander.  Hard man and Navy regs is his bible, but he don’t seem to have many friends.  He’s the ship’s first lieutenant and division officer of the deck gang.  He’ll ride the hell out of you just like Larzenarski and you won’t like him, but you gotta respect him.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the ubiquitous P.A. system.  The boson’s pipe shrilled and the bored voice said, “Now hear this—chow down.”  Sullivan stretched, and walked off toward the mess compartment.
The food was surprisingly good on Tippecanoe and was plentiful.  After supper, not wanting to go back to our dismal quarters right away, we once more lounged on the fantail.  It was a languorous evening—the sunset was fading beyond the point and a nearly full moon was in the east.  In anticipation of our destination, Hawaiian music was coming over the P.A. system.
I lay back on the scoured wood with my hands behind my head and looked up at the canvas gleaming white in the soft moonlight while I listened to the strains of “Lovely Hula Hands”.  That music was known as “shipping over music”.  It was totally peaceful and I was content.  A whole new life of adventure awaited me out there somewhere.  The rusty barbed wire fences and dusty little country roads of the hot Ozark hills seemed a million miles away—a distant past.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Finishing up AMM School and Falling in Love with the PBY

Hall PH flying boat

The second half of the four months at AMM school in 1940 was the best part.  Early in November, after the written tests on the basic subjects, we had come out of the classroom onto the flight line and gunnery range.  We literally tore down and rebuilt the old Hall PH flying boats—rigging, control surfaces, instruments—and we removed the radial engines mounted in nacelles up between the wings, tore them down to the crankshafts, rebuilt and re-installed them and got them running and tuned up.
I came to love those big old radial aircraft engines and soon found that I had a knack of diagnosing a problem by listening to an engine run.  Those old piston engines did not scream as the jets in later years would do, telling the mechanic nothing.  At idle or low power settings, the radial engines would “talk” and at the higher power settings for takeoff and cruise they would sing.  It was possible to detect a grumbling complaint or sour note from an ailing engine and know what was wrong with reasonable accuracy.  The chiefs and first class petty officers who were our instructors taught us to recognize when a spark plug was misfiring, magneto points needed adjustment, or a carburetor was not functioning right.  An airplane engine, and indeed the airplane, became a living thing to me.

My second love, sparked by my desire to become a PBY mechanic and machine gunner, was the big fifty-caliber machine guns.  We trained on both those and on the lighter 30-caliber guns that were standard in the nose and tail of a patrol bomber was well as the rear cockpits of dive bombers and torpedo planes.  The big 50-caliber guns were installed in the waist hatches of the big patrol bombers.  The 30-caliber guns, firing a cartridge similar to a 30.06 Springfield rifle, fired at a rate of 1200 rounds per minute with a rapid chatter.  The fifties, however, fired a cartridge more than twice as large at a rate of 870 rounds per minute.  It fired with a very authoritative and satisfying thudding.
I could more than hold my own on the firing range with a Springfield rifle or either of the machine guns.  I never did mast the 45-caliber automatic pistols that were standard Navy sidearms.  No matter how I aimed or corrected, my clip of shots on the pistol range would usually go off down and to the right.
Brother Richard had been assigned to a PBY patrol squadron stationed in Hawaii, VP-23.  Peacetime Navy policy was that brothers could serve in the same ships or units if they so desire.  After the first of the year in 1941, I applied for patrol aviation in Hawaii.  With my grades in the upper percentile of the class, I got my choice.  On 15 January I was notified that upon graduation I would be assigned to Patrol Wing One based on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Langford scratched his head when he read the orders posted on the bulletin board.  “Whut in the hell,” he drawled, “is a tippy canoe?!”
None of knew what kind of ship it was.  Destroyers were named after famous people, cruisers after cities, and battleships after states.  We knew the name of all the aircraft carriers—Lexington, Saratoga, Yorktown, Enterprise, Hornet, Wasp, Ranger, and the old Langley.  We concluded that it must be a transport of some sort, but if so, why were we designated as “temporary ship’s company” instead of passengers?  We were to find that it was because we would work our way to Hawaii scraping and painting in the deck division.

We got our first clue as to the nature of the Tippecanoe when her number one motor whaleboat came alongside the Naval Air Station dock to transport us and our gear to the ship.  The grey paint of the boat was flaked in spots and the coxswain’s brass tiller and his bell for the motor mac needed shining.  The coxswain, a boson’s pipe on a braided thong about his neck and a sheath knife on this belt, was wearing oily dungarees and a grease-stained white hat neither of which appeared to have been near a laundry for a spell.  The motor mac and the bow hook were not much cleaner.
When the boat laid alongside, the unsmiling coxswain barked out, “Tippecanoe—get your gear and your butts aboard!”
Our spanking clean dress white uniforms were quite a contrast to the boat crew in their soiled dungarees.  They largely ignored us as the boat swung away from the dock and headed for Point Loma to the north except that, in response to a friendly greeting from Langford, the surly coxswain snarled, “Airedales—shee-it!”  and spat over the side of the whaleboat.
I made one more attempt with the Tippecanoe seaman who was sitting beside me in the bow of the boat, “What kind of ship is the Tippecanoe?”
He curled his lip wryly.  “You’ll find out soon enough, Mac. She’s a rusty old bucket and the crew is a bunch of goof-off!  I think they moored her out on Point Loma so she don’t clutter up their nice clean harbor!”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Christmas Leave 1940, but You Can't Go Home Again

My ten-day Christmas leave began on the 20th of December.  I still had not saved enough money for either a bus or train ticket so I elected to hitch-hike home to Vancouver.  To get out of the San Diego and Los Angeles areas, I did buy a bus ticket to Bakersfield, California, then hitchhiked up Highway 99. Men in uniform had very good luck hitch-hiking in those days and I had the good fortune of decent weather in the Siskiyou mountains.  I arrived in Portland, Oregon, the morning of the 22nd and caught the interurban bus to Vancouver.
My first leave in uniform was not the triumphant return I had envisioned and, in the end, it emphasized the point that already my life and my interests had diverged from those of my family and my old friends.  It began with the fact that the family had moved du9ring my absence of six months.  Instead of the familiar yellow house I had left in July, they now lived in a small shingled house on the eastern outskirts of town.  It was somehow not like “coming home”.
They were all glad to see me, of course, and admired my tailored uniform (Richard had come on boot leave in a regulation baggy blouse).  It was nice to be there for Christmas, but somehow there was a feeling that I no longer really belonged.
The same was true of the close friends I had left behind.  Dad still had the old Chevrolet and the first evening home I drove it down to Gearhart’s.  The only ones I saw were David Schaeffer and Ariel.  We had a Coca Cola and they asked me the usual polite questions about life in the Navy, but it quicky became obvious that they were not really all that interested.  I had been away and was not up to date on local happenings.  Our acquaintance had become casual.
I spent some time on evening with Shirley Mills and her family, but did not take her out on a date. She had started to Oregon State College and was only home for the Christmas holiday.  Again, I answered the usual questions about life in the Navy.  Shirley and her sister Mary admired my uniform, my suntan, and my muscles that had been hardened by daily calisthenics.  Mr. & Mrs. Mills asked polite questions also, but then they would suddenly be discussing local events or happening at OSC whih left me feeling very much the interloper.  Before long I excused myself on the basis that I had to get back to my family, but instead, I drove down to 13th and Kaufman to see Patty Cross.
That was one fo two gratifying instances during my leave.  Pat wanted to hear everything I had been doing and, unless she was an accomplished actress at the age of fifteen, was truly interested.  Her mother welcomed me like a returning son and I spent a comfortable evening with them.
The other gratification was a movie date with dear Elaine.  She had enrolled at the University of Washington in Seattle and was home for the holiday.  I recall that she wore a simple black dress for our date and the scattershot high school girl was becoming a poised young lady.  She, too, was truly interested in what I have been doing and, with her rapid fire delivery, wanted to tell me all about the university.  She was a dear, sweet friend, but I did not have the feeling that a serious relationship could develop for us—I had too far to go out there in the world.
My leave was to be up on December 30th.  I decided to leave Vancouver on the morning of the 27th to allow time for hitch-hiking in case rides were slow or scarce.  The weather had turned rainy in Oregon with possible snow in the Siskiyou Mountains so, although he could not afford a ticket to San Diego and it was my responsibility, Dad insisted on buying me a cut-rate ticket on a small wildcat bus line in Portland that would get me into Northern California.  The crowded little bus deposited me in Redding and from there, with less than five dollars in my pocket, I was on my thumb.
I had good luck with rides down the long valley through Sacramento and by dawn on the 28th had been left near a truck stop café in Lodi.  There my luck seemed to have run out.  After an hour or more with very few cars and trucks passing, I went to the café for a glass of milk and a doughnut (I still had not developed a taste for coffee).  The driver of an automobile transport truck loaded with wrecked and used cars was next to me at the café counter.
When the truck driver heard that I was headed for San Diego, he made me an offer.  He said that he could ick up the wreck of a Cadillac convertible in Modesto but that he had a full load of cars.  The rear car on his truck, however, was a driveable Chevrolet sedan and would I drive it for him to Los Angeles?
I jumped at the chance.  When he had finished his breakfast we drove to Modesto, unloaded the black Chev sedan, and loaded the wrecked Cadillac in its place.  He instructed me to simply stay on his tail and to flash my headlights when I needed to pull off for gas.
The drive was uneventful until we reached the top of that section of old Highway 99 past Bakersfield that was known as “The Grapevine”.  It was sunset when we pulled off at a café for some supper and was dark when we took to the road again.
That truck driver took the twisting curves of that steep mountain grade considerably faster than we comfortable for an inexperienced driver like me.  I had to keep his taillights in sight, however, because I did not have the address of the wrecking yard in L.A. that was his destination.  He had just said, “Aw, you won’t have any trouble keeping me in sight.  If I lose sight of you in my mirror, I’ll just pull over until you catch up,” so, with sweating palms on the steering wheel, I stayed glued to his tail.
The worst part was when we got into Los Angeles and its traffic and stop lights.  It seemed to me that at every stop light it would turn red while the truck was pulling through the intersection.  I was afraid that if I lost him he might make a turn before I caught up so I got the front bumper of the car as close to the truck as I dared and simply shot though the red lights.  It was fortunate that we did not encounter a police car as I left exasperated motorists honking at fifteen or twenty intersections, or so it seemed.
We finally found the wrecking yard on the south side of L.A. and I heaved a sigh of relief when I parked at the yard and, since he lived in Long Beach, I had hi drop me at the bus station there.  He had paid for my supper andI had just enough money left to buy a ticket on the late bus to San Diego.  IT had only a few passengers so I stretched out on the long rear seat and slept.
From the downtown San Diego bus station, it was but a short walk down to the Broadway Landing where I caught the “nickel snatcher” foot passenger ferry out to North Island.  I arrived on the Naval Air Station dock just at morning colors and, as I walked to the barracks past the tall flag pole with the stars and stripes waving against the blue sky in the warm breeze, I had the feeling that I had truly come “home”.  I belonged there.  I loved my close knit family dearly and would always be concerned for them; however, never once again would I feel any real pangs of homesickness.  For a long time to come the Navy would be my real home and my squadron would be my “family”.
[I would argue that the Navy remained what defined my father for his entire life.  Although only a relative short part of his life in actuality he thought of himself as “an old Navy man” until the day he died.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Making Seaman Second Class and AMM Striker

During working hours that idle week, dressed in my new denim dungarees and blue work shirt, I roamed the flight lines and hangars to familiarize myself with the different types of airplanes.  There were the Ryan ST training planes, a squadron of Brewster Buffalo fighters that were manned by enlisted pilots, two squadrons of F4F Grumman Wildcat fighters, a squadron of Douglas SBD dive bombers from a carrier in port, and two squadrons of Consolidated Aircraft PBY-1 patrol bomber flying boats that were not flyable but that we would use in the mechanics’ classes.
The old TBM biplane provided my first ride in a Navy airplane.  It was probably one of the ugliest and clumsiest airplanes ever built.  It had tall awkward fixed landing gear so that torpedoes could be carried under the belly of the fabric-covered fuselage (TB stands for torpedo bomber), three open cockpits under the broad fabric covered top wing, and was powered by a very noisy Wright Whirlwind seven-cylinder radial engine.  It was a primitive flying machine even in 1940.
One afternoon I was poking around the flight line and fell into a conversation with the first class aviation machinist mate that was the crew chief on the TBM.  When he found that I was an AMM striker and had never flown in a Navy airplane, he offered me a ride in the mechanic’s cockpit of the old airplane.  He was to ride in the rear cockpit to drop a couple of parachute dummies and the airplane would be flown by a Chief NAP (enlisted naval aviation pilot) from the middle cockpit.
The mechanic’s cockpit, protected only by a small square windscreen, was located forward immediately behind the radial engine—so close to the engine that the mechanic’s feet actually straddled the accessory section.  When the old airplane was ready to go, the crew chief scrounged a helmet, goggles, and seat-pack parachute for me from the supply room.  I climbed into the high cockpit, one more feeling like Errol Flynn in “The Dawn Patrol”.  
It was a very noisy, breezy ride.  The old engine had no mufflers, only short exhaust stacks that belched smoke when the engine started, then blue flame when it had warmed up.  The noise was literally overwhelming and voice communication with the other crew members was impossible.  I gloried in it, however.  We took off and flew east of San Diego to a drop range area.  I was relieved to see that both parachutes functioned perfectly because they were the same as the one I was wearing.
After the drops, the pilot circled back over San Diego at three thousand feet altitude and I had a magnificent view of the bay area.  I could identify the naval training station, Lindbergh Field where Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of Saint Louis” had been built, the naval air station on North Island, and literally dozens of grey Navy ships of all types.  It was exhilarating and, in spite of the din of the engine exhaust, I was a bit sorry when the big wheels touched down on the landing strip.

Class 4-41 of the Aviation Machinist Mates school was formed on 1 October 1940.  There was approximately one hundred of us under class officer Lt. Faber, a genial reserve officer, a Chief AMM Woods, and Chief AOM (aviation ordnanceman) Freer.  The class was broken down into sections of twenty-four individual classes in airplane construction, engines and carburetors, electrical and instruments, propellers and fuel systems, and armament that included 45 caliber pistols, 30-caliber and 50-caliber machine guns.
The first two months of AMM school before Christmas leave consisted of classroom work in each subject.  The basics were duck soup to me.  I scored 87.5% on the construction exam, 90% in electrical and instruments, 95% in propellers and fuel systems, 96% on the 45 caliber pistol, and 100% on machine guns.  The only score I did not like was 75% on engines and carburetors, especially since engines were on of my principal interests.  The explanation was that the engine exam came on a Monday after a payday weekend when Langford and I had made liberty and I took the exam still suffering from a first-class hangover!
On the 22nd of November I was automatically advanced from apprentice seaman to seaman second class which brought about my first pay raise—from $21 a month to $36 per month.  That added a second white strip to the cuffs of my dress blues and the white winged propeller badge of an AMM striker to my lower left sleeve.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Boot Camp Graduation

The balance of our boot camp training went swiftly and smoothly.  We had liberty every weekend that was usually very uneventful since our apprentice seaman’s pay was only $21 a month minus any allotments and whatever we had charged at the Ship’s Service store for toothpaste, tobacco, etc.  Tailor-made cigarettes were twenty cents a pack so most of us made do with roll-your-own Bull Durham (five cents a sack) or, as I did, bought a pipe.  (After all these year, I still have the now-cracked yellow-bowl pip that I bought then.)
I usually went on liberty with either Langford or one or both of the Olsen brothers.  With little to spend, we sometimes went to the San Diego Zoo, a movie, or for a big evening to the ballroom at the top of Broadway.  We had neither the funds or the desire to patronize the red light district even though the price was only two dollars.
Our graduation picture was taken on the 5th of September 1940 and, having become reasonably adept at the tools of a sailor’s trade such as knots, and Naval regulations and tradition, we graduated from boot camp on 20 September 1940.
The afternoon of graduation day was a relaxed time.  Our two training CPOs, Nelson and Logan, circulated among us with friendly last words of advice.  During training, we had been required to treat them as officers and call them “sir”.  When I called Nelson “sir” while he was chatting with me he shook his head with a friendly grin.
“No more ‘sir’ to a CPO, Frieze,” he said.  “From now on you only say ‘sir’ to a gold braid and don’t forget to salute the first time each day you see an officer.  After that it doesn’t matter or you would wear your arm out.  A CPO you just call “chief” and if you don’t know a shipmate’s name just call him ‘Mac’.  You are now a full-fledged sailor in Uncle Sam’s Navy.”
After morning chow on the 21st we lashed our hammocks around our seabags and scattered to our duty assignments.  Those of us assigned to AMM school on North Island reported to the dock and a motor whaleboat too us across San Diego Bay to the Naval Air Station on the island.