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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Postcard from the Edge of Peace

I waited eagerly for Chief Byron to post the new permanent flight crew assignments the next morning and let out a whoop of joy.  I was once more assigned to 11-P-11 with “Dopey” Clark’s crew.  Not only that, Foret had made CPO and Ernie Davenport was the plane captain.  I had been moved up to second mech and a new man, Paul Herrin, was our third mech.  Clark, our PPC, had been promoted to lieutenant junior grade and Ens. “Whiskey” Willis was still the co-pilot.  I forget his name, but we had an experienced ARM1c for first radio man.  It was a good crew.
Davenport had been on a ferry crew and he lost no time getting us familiar with the changes in the PBYs.  The engines had late model Stromberg pressure injection carburetors that had automatic temperature controls.  No longer would we have to sit in the tower endlessly and manually keeping the temperatures right.  In the galley compartment beneath the mechanic’s tower seat there was a new type of auxiliary power unit (we called it a “putt-putt”) that was designed to run on aviation fuel instead of white gasoline from its own little fuel tank.  The putt-putt was plumbed directly into the main fuel tanks (a fact that would become important to us at a later date.).
Back in the roomy waist gun blisters, the big black fifty-caliber machine guns were mounted on pivots so that it was not necessary to swing them up into position.  To fire, the gunner simply opened the side of the blister and swung the gun out, all the while well shielded from the slipstream.  Forward in the nose, behind the bomb sight window, the PBY-5s were equipped with the latest (and still secret) Norden bombsights. Being classified, it was necessary for the bombardier to carry the bombsight to the airplane in a black bag just before flight and return it to the ordnance vault immediately after the flight. [Since my father writing his memoires the Norden bombsight has been replaced by a radar based bomb sight.]
By the middle of November all of us were fully aware of the deteriorating of U.S.-Japanese relations.  We knew from scuttlebutt that the entry of the U.S. into the war in Europe was more and more imminent and we were fully aware of the “Axis” that had been formed by Germany, Italy, and Japan.  Tojo and his minions became our very potential enemy in the Pacific and a serious and grim air crept into our training flights.
We had read the accounts and seen the newsreels of the debacle at a coastal town in Europe called Dunkirk.  We knew that President Roosevelt had armed our merchant ships participating in convoys to England.  We knew that Navy destroyers had been sunk guarding those convoys.  We knew, too, that Roosevelt was still faced with a very divided United States with the pacifists and German bundists still making themselves heard.  We had had absolutely no idea and no hint that we might be in immediate danger in Hawaii, however, and went about our training with a blithe attitude, still observing those relaxed tropical working hours and long weekends.