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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Becoming AMM Third Class

"Since Hawaii was not on war alert, those final peaceful days of 1941 were devoted to getting the squadron fully operational"

Four days after our arrival at Kaneohe Bay, I took the examination for aviation machinist mate third class and scored a 4.0 (one hundred percent).  My petty officer rate would become effective in two months and I could qualify for a flight crew.  In the meantime, I continued as a member of the beach crew, swimming in the clear water of the bay every day.  With my fair complexion, I sunburn very easily; however, with liberal application of cocoa butter (the only thing available in the way of sun bloc) my freckles gradually merged until I was sufficiently brown to stay out in the sun for extended periods during working hours.
During the last week in June, my blithe existence as a seaman on the beach crew came to an end.  I was ordered on temporary duty in the mess hall as a mess cook.  (Other than being assigned “captain of the head” or scraping paint, mess cooking was the bane of every seaman’s life.  Each unilt was obligated to furnish two or three mess attendants to serve food on the steam tables and do the swamping up in the mess hall.  My turn had come.)
I moved into the mess cook’s barracks at the mess hall building (where we could be rousted out at five AM to set up for morning chow) and suffered the indignity through the month of July.  I chafed with impatience the full time to get back to the airplanes.
It was a miserable period in my Navy career.  When I was notified by the squadron yeoman on the first day of August that my rate had come through, I was ecstatic.  My base pay would now be $72 a month and, as soon as I could get on a flight crew and draw flight skins, it would be a total of $108—a small fortune to an old Ozark boy right out of the Depression.  On our next liberty after payday, out two or three of us who had sewed the third class “crow” of an aviation machinist made on our left sleeves, caught the Red Peril over the Pali and had several zombies at Trader Vics—a traditional celebration.  (I served scrambled eggs the next morning with a vicious hangover and none of us could remember getting back to the base!)
The day after that I lurked in the mess hall after morning chow until our leading chief, CPO “Duke” Byron, was having a last cup of coffee before muster.  As I recall, the conversation went something like this:
“Scuse me, chief, they still got me on mess cookin’ here and I just made third class mech.”
“That so?”
“Yessir—and I sure would like to get on a plane crew.  I got a four point oh on my exam and I been studying everything about those PBYs since I came to the squadron.  I’m good on machine guns, too.”
“That right?”
“Sure is chief—figger I can third mech with the best of them!”
He got out his seat.  “Gotta go to muster.  I’ll think about it.  By the way what’s your name, mac?”
“Frieze, Chief.  Dick Frieze is my brother—he’s already third mech.”
CPO turned to walk out with a noncommittal, “I’ll let you know.”  Two days later I was ordered to report back to the squadron.  On the “Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill” I was listed as third mechanic on the crew of PBY 11-P-11.  As far as I was concerned, I was about as close to heaven as I was liabel to get for quite a while.
The structure of a PBY flight crew was a senior pilot who was the PPC (patrol plan commander), a co-pilot, an enlisted pilot, a leading petty officer who was the “plane captain”, a second mech, third mech, a first radioman, and a second radioman.  (After the war started a bombardier who was an enlisted ordnanceman would be added to combat crews.)
I do not remember all the names on our flight crew of 11-P-11.  The PPC was Ens. Charles “Dopey” Clar, the co-pilot was Ens. Charley “Whiskey” Willis, and the plane captain was AMM1/c “Tex” Foret.  The second mech was Dave Davenport.  I do not recall the radiomen or the AP.
Since Hawaii was not on war alert, those final peaceful days of 1941 were devoted to getting the squadron fully operational at Kaneohe, sporadic and relatively short training flight, and maintaining the airplanes.  The PBY-1s of VP-11 were more than five years old.  They had been first thirteen PBYs off the assembly line at Consolidated and were the airplanes that had made the first mass flight from the mainland to Hawaii in 1936.  It was my understanding that our 11-P-16 airplane was the original XPBY-1.
The old airplanes took a lot of maintenance which rapidly improved our skills as mechanics.  Our plane captain, Foret, had been in the Navy for more than twelve years and he taught us well, driving us unmercifully during working hours.
Working hours were still short.  We remained on “tropical working hours”—muster at 0700, an hour for noon chow, and secure at 1400 (2:00 PM).  Except when we had the duty, liberty cards were available evenings and weekends from 1400 on Friday to 0700 Monday.  Only our funds limited the time we could spend “ashore”.
There were always activities going on at the base during off hours—some that were contrary to Naval Regulations.  Regulations forbade gambling and hard liquor on the base but there was the station beer garden and, almost any evening, poker games here and there and crap games either in the barracks head or the hangar washroom.  We quickly became relatively expert at five card stud or draw, blackjack, and side bets in a crap game.

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