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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Fighting Frieze Brothers

During that summer [1941], my opportunistic brother, Dick, teamed up with one of our mechs named Bill Greer.  Greer fancied himself as an Edward G. Robinson type and he did, indeed resemble that actor playing a gangster role.  He was short and stocky, swarthy complexion, black hair, and a thin black mustache.  There was always a cigar butt in the corner of his mouth around which there was an almost perpetual sardonic smile.  He was a much better “card mechanic” than he was an airplane mechanic and brother Dick was an apt pupil.  (It was not long before I would no longer play poker with either of them.)
Actually, both Greer and Dick played it straight in most games with squadron shipmates except for a little practice now and then to keep their fingers supple.  They confined their card sharking to games at Army or Marine bases.  They would go into a game separately and, with one of them on each side of the table and apparently strangers to each other, they would take turns “third basing” for each other and invariably come away with a nice profit—enough that they solved the problem of liberty transportation.  Greer, in gangster tradition, turned up with a big black Cadillac sedan.  Dick went for a flashier “date buggy” and showed up one day with a big baby blue 1937 LaSalle convertible sedan equipped with chrome spotlights, fender mounted spare tires, and a powerful straight-eight that was a real gas guzzler.
Our life at Kaneohe Bay was truly idyllic through the summer of 1941.   We all agreed that it had to be the best duty in the entire Navy.  We spent most of our working hours on the ramp scrubbing and polishing those old airplanes and using liberal quantities of yellow zinc chromate to fight the inevitable salt air corrosion on the aluminum structure.  Every three or four days we would go on a three or four-hour training flight—the pilots practicing navigation and giving us strafing and bombing practice.
The PBY had no internal bomb bays.  Our armament of bombs, depth charges, or torpedoes were carried on external racks up under the broad wings.  We could carry either twelve one hundred pound bombs, four five hundred pound bombs or depth charges, or two 21-inch torpedoes.  We were provided little lead practice bombs to drop wither on smoke markers or on target sleds towed by ships.  Infrequently, we went on high altitude bombing practice over the bombing range on the island of Kahoolawe off the west side of Maui.  Those were long flights because, at the PBY-1 cruising speed of 100 knots and a climb speed of ninety coupled with a laboring rate of climb, it took a while to get to our maximum altitude of 12,000 feet.
In September, we got some welcome news.  We were to fly the creaking old PBY-1s stateside and pick up thirteen brand new improved model PBY-5s at the factory in San Diego.  We were ecstatic—a trans-Pacific mass flight and we would get brand new airplanes!  Many of us on assigned flight crews did not get to make the flights, however.  Leading Chief Duke Byron re-shuffled flight crew assignments so that the ferry crews were made up of the older men who had been in the islands long enough to qualify for annual leave.  Dick, Greer, Glover, Joe Brooks, and I would be among those left behind to more or less twiddle our thumbs until the ferry crews got back with the new planes in early November.
When the airplanes had departed on their stateside flight and we had received word that all planes made it without incident, we settled into an even more leisurely routine at Kaneohe.  Duty sections were small and liberty very plentiful.  Our VP-11 acting commanding officer, Lt. Delaney, was soon faced with a problem—how to keep the 150-odd men without airplanes busy.  He tired several special activities such as a boxing tournament that went over like a lead balloon.  When he tried organizing softball teams he struck out entirely.  Most of us did not particularly like Delaney and simply would not play ball for him.  He finally gave up and simply gave all the special liberty that was requested.
I did stumble onto one special activity in which I offered to participate.  The wife of our executive officer decided to form a VP-11 drama group and the play she selected for an opener was “Seven Keys to Baldpate”—the senior class play in which I had the leading role of Magee in 1939.  I could still remember most of the lines without looking at the lay book.  At the tryouts, without reading from the script, I was selected to play Magee once more.  It was not to be, however.  The group was formed shortly before the arrival of our new airplanes and rehearsals were scheduled to begin in earnest the second week of December so the play could be presented in conjunction with the holidays.  The Japanese were to put a stop to that.
During those halcyon days of October and November in 1941, Richard and I had a reputation in the squadron for frequent verbal scrapping as sibling will inevitably do.  We went on liberty together often in the blue LaSalle, usually accompanied by Glover, but we occasionally had a few arguments.  Sometime during that period I forget exactly when, we became “those fighting Frieze brothers” purely by accident.
Since civilian clothes were not allowed on the base, we had each rented lockers at a “locker club” in Honolulu and had purchased some basic civilian clothes to wear on liberty instead of our uniforms.  I had a pair of slacks, some sports shirts, and a lightweight jacket.
On one liberty both Glove and a shipmate Art Grace had gone into town with us.  During the course of the evening Grace managed to get himself thoroughly drunk—and when he was drunk he was mean.  The rest of us had a few drinks as well.  Sometime in the shank of the evening we went back to the locker club to change back into uniform to go back to Kaneohe.
I do not recall what started the argument between Grace and Dick, but Grace got mad and stomped out of the locker club declaring that no way would he ride back to Kaneohe in the blue car.  We just let him go although we knew that the last Windward Transit had left and that he did not have money for a cab.  “Hell,” Glover said, “let the bastard walk or hitch hike—might sober him up a little!”  We went to the Black Cat and had a couple more drinks.
Somewhere up in Nuuanu Valley on our way to the Pali we caught up with Art Grace trudging along the shoulder of the road.  Apparently he had been unable to thumb a ride.  I insisted that, after all, he was a VP-11 shipmate and that we should stop and pick him up.  Dick pulled over.
Grace had not sobered up appreciably.  He proceeded to cuss us out soundly and finally got so mad that he pulled a very small penknife out and opened the blade, declaring as he did that he would uct one of us.  I had enough to drink that I grabbed his arm, got the little knife away from him and threw it off into the brush getting a cut on a finger in the process.  Art was so drunk he really did not offer much resistance at that point. 
Later I recalled only that Glover said, “Shee-it, we ought to Sunday punch the bastard and throw him into the car!”
In my alcohol fog I thought I was just the man to Sunday punch Art and swung a hard right at him.  It was unfortunate that Dick was standing directly behind Grace, half supporting the frunk.  Just as I swung, Art’s head slumped forward (he was apparently passing out) and my fist missed him and caught Dick on the cheekbone.  I was wearing a heavy Navy ring on that hand and it laid open a pretty good gash on his cheek.  We shoved Art into the back seat and went on to Kaneohe.
At muster the next morning Dick showed up with a bandaid on his cheek and a beautiful purple shiner.  Of course the story inevitably got twisted and scuttlebutt was simply that I had done it to him—which was true, but I had not meant to hit him.  It was an accident.  When I would explain that, eyebrows would raise and someone would snort, “Oh sure!”
Art Grace, it turned out, was an ornery s.o.b. and his story was that Dick ahd held him while I tried to clobber him and that he could whip us both only one at a time.  Since he did not have a mark on him, he was ignored and it was assumed merely that Dick and I had a fight and I belted him.  Our reputation as “the fighting Frieze brothers” was really quite undeserved.
Except for the inevitable occasional squabbling of siblings, Richard and I got alone more as good friends than brothers.  He was reluctant to lend me the big blue LaSalle to go off in liberty with others but we used it frequently, often with glover or other friends.
I sometimes double-dated with Dick when he took his little Japanese friend from the saimen stand out for an evening or for a picnic.  She had a friend named Vivian, a beautiful, slim little half Chinese girl who sometimes came along as mu date.  We never developed more than a casual relationship but she liked me well enough that on one occasion she presented me with a good luck charm.  It was a small teak statue of the Laughing Buddha.  Supposedly, rubbing the Buddha’s fat belly would bring good luck.
One of our favorite spots for a night beer party was Haunama Bay which would later become famous for a steamy beach scene in Jack Jones’ “From Here to Eternity”.  It is a developed Hawaii state park now with asphalt paths, lights, and restrooms; however, in those days it was a very isolated cover reached only by a steep, winding path down the cliff from the Kam Highway.  With that car, we could always recruit a few girls.  I never asked Glover where he found some of the dates he would have.  They were usually haole and seemed quite familiar with the South Hotel Street area.

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