We in hut C-4 had made advance preparations for New Year’s Eve. We bought nuts and potato chips from the ship’s service on a supply ship in the harbor and each of us were to provide a bottle of booze. By the end of December, we had four bottles of the potent Old Soldiers Australian rum, a quart of torpedo alcohol, and a fifth of Ancient Age for which I paid a flight crew thirty dollars. We were really going to celebrate.
I never got to participate. On December 31st I was posted on the base watch list as leading petty officer on the eight to twelve watch. I tried to bring every first class I could think of to take my watch but got no takers even for a promise of that fifth of scarce bonded rye.
That evening, as I made my rounds checking the sentries, I could hear parties, poker games, and crap games all over the base. It was as noisy in “officers’ country” as it was in the enlisted section of Dallas huts. I stopped by C-4 around ten and all five of my bunkmates were already pretty well swacked. Andy and Pappy Berridge both drunkenly swore they would save me some fo the rye for when I got off watch.
The only drink I had that evening was a shot of brandy provided by the OOD when we were relieved of the watch at midnight. I shucked off the 45 and the armband and trotted back to C-4. It was a shambles. The table was littered with empty bottles (including the rye), an empty grapefruit juice can, and the debris of the nuts and chips. Four of my bunkmates were snoring—little Amuchustagi under the table—but Troy Anderson was nowhere in sight.
I stepped outside and called Andy’s name but got only a distant groan in reply. After a search I found him draped over the main float of an SOC that was parked near the end of the row of huts, sick as a dog and smelling to high heaven of booze and vomit. He was barely aware when I shook him and tried to talk to him and would only groan, “Gawd—I think I’m dyin”!”
Finally, I hoisted Andy onto my shoulder and carried him up the hill to the shower enclosure where I deposited him under one of the shower heads and turned on the cold water. I sat down outside and smoked a cigarette until he came spluttering, ripping, and cursing out of the shower and I could guide him firmly back to the hut. I went to bed and left the mess for them to clean u when they finally woke bleary-eyed and remorseful on New Year’s Day.
The days passed uneventfully through January 1943. As the Solomon Islands were secured and the combat zone moved northward, our supply situation improved. We got all the engines, parts, and tools we needed and the food at eh chow hall was better. Our engine crews were working like clockwork and we cut the turnaround time for the overhauled PBYs in half. I spend nearly as much time on test flights as I did supervising the shop crews. They all knew their jobs and did them well.
On the first day of February, 1943, Chief Barnes strolled into the office and said, “Frieze, the exec wants to see you.”
I headed for the Ad Building wondering if I had fouled up some way. Maybe, I thought, they are going to make me pay for that damned pig I had shot.
It was not the pig and I had not been put on report. The executive officer informed me that orders were being cut to send me back stateside. I was stunned. I told him I did not want to go stateside. If I was due for transfer, I wanted back on a combat flight crew—in VP-11 if possible.
The lieutenant commander informed me that was not possible. I was being sent back to go to advanced AMM school at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Chicago. More PBY squadrons were being formed and they wanted some experienced men from the fleet.
I wandered back to the shop, flopped into a chair by Barnes’ desk, poured a cup of black coffee, and voiced my complaint to the chief. I did not want to go to school—I wanted to stay and fight Japs.
Barnes was not sympathetic. “Look, you knot head, this is a great chance for you. You do good at NATTC and get into a new squadron, you’ll make chief in no time at all! You might even make warrant officer or even chief warrant before this damned war is over.”
“But why the hell did they pick me?”
“You done a good job here, even if you are still wet behind them big ears, and I recommended you, that’s why!”
I could see the logic in what both the exec and the chief had said but it was not easy to sever the times with Ile Nou and my shipmates. I recommended my replacement as leading p.o. and also recommended Troy Anderson, who had made AMM2/c, to take over one of the two crews. I had accumulated an excellent tool kit (each man had his own) which I passed along to Andy.
On the 11th of February I got my orders, packed my sea bag and hammock, said my goodbyes, caught the mail boat to Noumea, and reported to the Receiving Ship for transportation back to the United States. I had been in Hawaii and the South Pacific for two years. I had some accumulated leave to look forward to enroute, then a new adventure waited in Chicago.