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Tacoma, Washington, United States

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.