Charles L. Fitzpatrick
A BIT OF HISTORY: "...From Then 'Til Now - My Journal - An Autobiography / Genealogy - 1920 thru 2001 - by Charles L. Fitzpatrick firstname.lastname@example.org..." [Updated 06AUG2005 | 01AUG2005]
- Table of Contents -
Activity During WWII - Served as Naval Aviator with Patrol Bombing Squadron 136, Fleet Air Wing 4, flying a PV-1 Vega Ventura bomber with bombing missions from NAS Attu, Alaska to Paramushiro, Japan, 800 miles each way; the longest over water flight of WII 1944-1945. Received the American Theatre Medal, Asian Pacific Campaign Ribbon and the WII Victory Medal.
We had a great leave staying at 2609 Chelsea Terrace with Mother and Dad...
We dined rather elegantly that evening at the expense of our Washington Uncle...
Sun-up on my first morning at Ault Field on Whidbey Island, Washington...
Betty was exceptionally excited and most anxious to travel west even...
What did was the day a note was given me which advised I was to meet my PPC...
The following afternoon I had time to go to Anacortes to look for some...
By the time of Bet's arrival I was able to tell her about the crew to which...
Meanwhile Betty had made our little Project house into a warm and very comfortable...
LT Moorehead was pushing me to make all training flights with him...
Crabbing was positively great I was told. Betty, the Doug Bennetts...
As time drew closer towards that inevitable day, the day we would ship out...
Busy days, busy nights at squadron called for busy off hours...
This salmon was caught by Charles and Betty Fitzpatrick...
There were three movie theaters, walk the mile plus into Anacortes...
Arriving at squadron one morning, not too long before we were to takeoff...
Time was running out for us...
Betty was so impressed with Pastor Foos she made sure the first Sunday...
VPB-136 had a farewell party which was held in a small non-de-script...
78 Victor and her crew were readied for the morning's flight to Attu...
We weren't on the island twenty-two hours when we were scheduled...
The balance of the day was mine so I headed for my quonset hut...
The islands did not go unnoticed by the Japanese, however...
Having lost my log book in a ditching accident on our way home from Attu...
We had made a number of scouting searches, several shorteed by weather...
Our day had come for that long ride...
The navigator's table and seat were uniquely placed...
Recommended by the medics (Doctors all) at the debriefing table...
That November (1944) President Roosevelt ran for his fourth term...
We lived and flew under pressure...
But back to the war. Missions at first for VPB-136 were flown...
Then there was the time all went well, meaning we reached our position...
Once over the target radio silence was broken and there was much chatter...
As for losing our Captain that fateful day, I predicted about an hour...
We utilized our Pratt & Whitney's to their maximum power...
It was during the period of twenty consecutive typically Aleutian foul...
I might have forgotten to mention that I was probably one of the possible...
Possibly it was at the conclusion of those twenty consecutive, miserable bad weather...
I do recall those ultra long winter nights which lasted about eighteen to nineteen hours...
That particular mission was unique and took advantage of the speed capability of the PV...
The idea being that rest was sorely needed because of the previously high loss ratio of pilots...
Saint Patrick's day, March 17, 1945 brought a pleasant morning to the island of Attu...
Little did we know it but there was a fine Missionary on the ground...
My name is Stephen Zdepski...
To deviate here, though briefly, is a must...
Captain Heddy and his Executive Officer...
There was a custom that when a flyer was lost...
A recollection came to my mind...
Bob Larson's acknowledgement of Ken Sherman's letter of July 1987...
All I ever got out of Pat Tierney...
Finally, we were Seattle bound...
It was Lt. Commander Ed Hayes from our Aleutian days...
Jim Moorehead lived not far from the Sand Point Naval Air Station...
News Articles, Squadron, Crews, and Photographs...
Crew that saved my life...
Latest Family Pictures...
This remarkably interesting book tells a story of true life in a corner of these United States of America during the early 1920's until the present. Return to TOP of page!
At times humorous, at times sad, sometimes exciting but forever interesting as one man's travel through life.
The childhood tales will bring back fond memories of yesteryear, undeniably a variety of sports and athletic endeavors, embracing track, ice hockey and football.
The witnessing of the 1937 tragic Pimlico Race Track fire.
The life of a Naval Aviation Cadet during training to earn those coveted and much sought after Navy Wings of Gold, as a Naval Aviator, Officer and Gentleman are factual and detailed.
Exploits of World War II and combat in the Aleutian Islands theater of war, often called "The Forgotten War," taking home to the Japanese some of what they gave us December 7, 1941 certainly will give incite into sorties of the "Empire Express" in those early war years.
The amazing rescue of this Naval Aviator March 17, 1945, and how the crew managed to survive is a miracle. Of how the missionary and Aleuts risked their lives to save the men of the downed Navy plane at 9:45 P.M. St. Patrick's night in rough seas off the coast of Karluk, Alaska is worth reading in itself.
The story does not end there but goes on to an era of local political experience including the arranging of Senator John F. Kennedy's motorcade through Baltimore County and into Anne Arundel County. The writer was on the same local democratic primary ballot when Kennedy ran for President and a somewhat association with Spiro Agnew before he became Vice President of The United States. Followed by the experience of the writer while in the United States Postal Service.
Many will find this book not only entertaining but enjoyable and informative.
Copies may be obtained by telephoning the author at 410-747ˇ3023, or by mailing your request to Charles L. Fitzpatrick, 1355 N. Rolling Road, Baltimore, Md. 21228. Copies are $30.00 plus $5.00 S&H.
NOTE: THIS Copy IS A PORTION OF THE ORIGINAL BOOK THIS BOOK IS NOW OUT OF PRINT
A new publication apropos the FOREWARD as written. Hard bound Navy blue cover embossed with gold lettering, 649 pages plus forty pages of photos. Surely worthwhile reading. At times an adventurous story, forever explicit, never lethargic. Matchless reading. An excellent gift.
"Show! What show, sailor?"
"Bob Hope and Jerry Colona down at the field just north of the main gate, Sir." "I'll be back well before that gets under way."
"Besides, Sir, I think it's against regs." Once again I tried. Shanks mare was the answer. I left my small bag in his office and was off. I was lucky in that the Navy bus stopped in the middle of the block for me. I was at the gate in minutes ..
Finding the officer in charge I again explained my plight. Yes, he said he had heard of the theft and that they were planning to come up to the BOQ after the show. The show wouldn't get under way until 1300.
"Too late, Sir. I'm on travel orders for San Diego and my train leaves at 1400. Personnel said if I don't make it by noon they cannot produce a new ID before late afternoon. How about it, Sir?" Fortunately, he was sympathetic. Shortly I had the appropriate affidavit. Now it was about an eight block walk for me past the area of the stage for the U.S.O. show. Busses in that area had ceased because of the show's proximity to the main street. I had to walk past the stage being readied for the big show. I didn't recognize any of the talent except for Jerry Colona. Bob hope wasn't in sight. Colona cracked some joke as I passed and the stage hands howled. I assumed I was the subject since everyone was looking my way. After passing the stage I jogged the distance to personnel.
This was a negative group if I ever met one. Until I pushed that old train conductor's theme, "There is a war on," little was accomplished. I think the U.S.O. show would have taken precedent over "V-Day." A lieutenant overheard me and set the wheels in motion. Hurried up was my $300.00 advance on next month's salary. Then the angriest was the photographer. I will say he rushed the processing of the photo which completed the ID. About 1 300 I signed for it and left. The Shore Patrolman recognized me coming out of personnel and most willingly offered me a ride stopping at the BOQ for my other bag, then to and outside the main gate. Betty and I made our train for Baltimore and home with little time to spare and $300.00 lighter. That is the sequel to the hair brush caper at Corpus Christi.
WE HAD A GREAT LEAVE STAYING AT 2609 CHELSEA TERRACE WITH MOTHER AND DAD...
We had a great leave staying at 2609 Chelsea Terrace with Mother and Dad. It was the usual, finding who was home on leave or furlough visiting and comparing service notes. I'm sure we went skating once or twice, movies, maybe a dance but more important was visiting all the family, even Pex and Eleanor in Charles Town. I picked up a new driver's license and noted there was never a word from the Navy about the theft, as a matter of fact, I never did hear from them. I didn't miss the Navy life or flying in the least. Military leaves, like vacation, are always too short. The end of the month Dad and Betty took me to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station for the beginning of my trip to San Diego. I was to report for duty by midnight 5 April, 1 944. It's always felt such an achievement to have leave, all is happiness, contentment and pleasure. Not so when you have to return to duty, only loneliness, sadness and pain. Return to TOP of page!
First stop and brief layover was Chicago. From there to San Diego it was via the Santa Fe Railroad.
Betty's first post card enroute to the coast was mailed from Chicago. Wherever the train stopped I mailed a card to Betty. The ride wasn't too bad until Sunday, 3 April when we left Kansas City. That evening the conductor advised me that I didn't have a berth. Mine wasn't recorded and therefore was sold to a civilian at Kansas. Being young and a new Naval Officer I wasn't anxious to create a scene. As I thought about it the next day I was sure the civilian paid handsomely for it after he was aboard the train. An Army Major and I had become friendly not long out of Chicago and when he learned of the conductor's deal Sunday night he became my support and source of encouragement.
Monday morning we managed to convince the conductor he had better look over the Navy's ticket a little closer. Both the civilian and the conductor remained scarce all day. Late afternoon the conductor advised me that there would be a berth available. Somewhere along the way the civilian had gotten off. The Major was a fine person about twenty-seven years of age and reminded me of my friend Larry MacKenzie. He didn't appear comfortable with his junior officers all that much. I wondered how come we hit it off so well when I was certainly a junior officer. Then, of course, I was a Naval Aviator and more often than not that got you that extra attention. Except for crooked conductors.
After Kansas City for the most part were Joshua Palms and other cactus including tumble weeds and soil that looked more like dark sand. The terrain was similar through Amarillo, Texas, Santa Fe and the Albuquerque, New Mexico area but changed through the mountains in Arizona then it was as before into California. The California contrast was striking. Somewhere north of San Diego, maybe San Bernardino, I parted with my Major and picked up three fellow officers from my Jacksonville squadron all with like orders. One I have forgotten the other two were Jack Ward and Red Dulan. Misery likes company it was always said, thus the four of us supported by the company of the others went merrily into San Diego as the blind leading the blind.
There were many cabs at the station waiting like vultures to grab the young serviceman and hustle them off to wherever. Mostly were sailors, a few officers no pilots. Though we felt our cabby's route circuitous we were at the NAS, San Diego main gate in a reasonable time. Transportation within the gate was readily available. We thought it all seemed too convenient. Left in front of a well-worn wooden building at its front entrance and over which hung an equally well aged sign suggesting our welcome saying, "WELCOME, NAS SAN DIEGO." Beside the entrance a lesser sign, Personnel, Second Floor. We had a laugh since from the beginning of training all floors were 'decks.' Climbing several flights of the dimly lit stairway (the ladder) we checked in with personnel about 1900 Wednesday, 5 April, 1944. As we surmised we were prime bait waiting to be devoured.
Yeoman: Jumping up from his desk and dashing to the counter. "Sirs, you don't know how glad I am to see you men. I've a jeep carrier leaving at midnight and I have to place four more pilots aboard by 2300. Let me have your orders."
"We're multi-engine pilots." From one of the four of us. There was considerable conversation back and forth, we were not gaining. He threatened to call the Lieutenant.
"All that doesn't mean a thing. My Lieutenant says to place the next four pilots who check in, aboard, whether or no. You men are the next four and are going aboard." We held onto our orders. Talking hastily and briefly among ourselves we agreed to hold our orders until one minute before midnight. We told the yeoman that was regulation. He quoted quite a few back. We repeated, "All we have to do is to report prior to 2400 on the fifth of April. We'll comply."
Yeoman: "I'll have to call Lieutenant Fitzpatrick at the BOQ. He isn't going to like it a bit, he's touchy when he eats late. Come on lets have your orders." Not having flown single engine operational aircraft to date at all, the thought of checking out in F4F's from a Jeep Carrier at sea did not grab us. Frankly, I'd had to admit to myself I was damn apprehensive. It all was down right scary, and I was scared of the thought. I believe it was Red Dulan who asked the personnel officer's name.
Yeoman: "Lieutenant Fitzpatrick, Sir."
Ensign Dulan, loud enough for all to hear, especially the yeoman: "Fitz, your Uncle isn't going to like this." Someone else called me by my last name.
"Look, Sirs, I don't have a choice. Once you all walked in and if we need pilots regs say you men are It. Don't get me in trouble." He was pleading now, and he especially didn't want to call the Lieutenant at the BOQ.
"Which one of you is Ensign Fitzpatrick?" All three pointed to me. The Yeoman got the implication.
We thought he was pondering the uncle bit. Dulan ascertained that the Lieutenant seldom came back to his office at night. He always left signed orders for the number of men he would have to process by 0900. This yeoman would be off duty long before then.
"Look," we said, "We haven't had chow yet, as soon as we finish eating we'll come back. Maybe something will change. Never having flown fighters we surely don't want those orders. Come on Fitzpatrick maybe you'll see your uncle."
"Ok, if you Ensigns promise, I'll have your orders ready except for your names and a few details.
You have to be here before 2230." We headed for the BOQ and something to eat. Frankly, I didn't eat too well. The possibility of our shipping out at 2400 was indeed unrealistic. It wasn't shipping out that was worrying me, but the way and type of aircraft. The others were equally concerned. I worried, also, that this might be the night Lieutenant Fitzpatrick would choose to drop in to check how things were going. Vie returned on schedule, there were no alternatives. Kind of a command performance you might say.
Climbing the stairs most grudgingly with the heaviest feet in the Navy we were greeted, upon entering the door, by our yeoman jumping up waving papers and yelling. I'm glad I ate but little because I was immediately nauseated.
Yeoman: "Are you men lucky. Four brand new Ensigns, all fighter pilots just out of flight school came in right after you left. Were they ever eager. They're aboard by now." We looked at each other, saying nothing, knowing the relief that each of us felt. It would have been a very tough order to fill and we knew it. I had a better feel for that little carrier than did my friends. After leaving high school I had worked on liberty ships. They were sound but very small ships. A" Jeep Carrier" was a liberty supply ship converted to make an aircraft carrier in a hurry. I believe all hats were off to the young Naval Aviators who flew from them. Tough by any standard.
We turned in our orders and were advised we'd be called when they were to be filled. Frankly, I was ready for bed and asked where I could pick up my room assignment. Our yeoman offered to make a call for us that might save us some running this time of night. He learned there was no room at any BOQ and that we were to be billeted at the Hotel del Coronado just across the bay from San Diego at Coronado, California. It meant nothing to us but to our yeoman, well, he couldn't get over it. "Wait until you see it, better yet wait until you experience it. It's the greatest." He called for transportation and immediately upon entering the vehicle the driver took the liberty to inform us, "The Coronado ain't for Ensigns. You must know somebody." Ten or so minutes winding our way about Diego we arrived at the Coronado across the bay.
Stopping at the front stairs of the hotel was imposing in itself. Our feet hadn't touched the ground when uniformed hotel staff had their hands on our bags. "This way, Sirs." They said along with a grandiose gesture. We were uptown now and it was not to cost us a penny. Uncle Sam would get the tab. I was assigned a room on the second deck. The room was a mess looking as though it had not been straightened in weeks. I turned on some lights only to be greeted by a torrent of profanity about the lights and to get out. My bed was covered with many dirty clothes and rumpled uniforms, as were the chairs and the foot of "The voice's" bed. I never answered only began tossing all of his gear from my bed, on to the floor beside his. Fortunately, the linens were clean I was in bed and asleep in minutes.
Daylight did its best to seep its way into our room. All the shades were down making the room seem worse than it was. There were two windows so I lifted the shade on my side of the room. That brought forth a thunderous response, none to my glory. The body across the large room suddenly came to an erect position sitting on the edge of its bed, lit a cigarette, sucked in a couple of deep drags, exhaled while dropping the cigarette in an ash try and yelled, "Shut the damn curtain." I thought if he wakes again and persists with that attitude I'll suggest to him not to bother me until I bother him, tossing in a little profanity if necessary. I cleared off my dresser, stowed my gear showered, shaved and went to met the guys in the dinning room.
At breakfast we compared notes. They had all struck oil compared to me. Breakfast was royal indeed.
The place in its entirety was all their brochures said it was. Quoting, "Coronado is the play-spot of the Pacific Coast. In a jewel-like setting between Glorietta Bay and the blue Pacific, Hotel del Coronado has served as host to distinguished guests for over a century."
"Coronado offers an abundance of outdoor sport activity and a sparkling succession of dances, parties, and entertainment." They offered, "The Terrace Room, the Circus Room, the Crown Room and the famous ballroom all affording the widest range of amusement and fun." I believed my new roommate had attended them all. The average mean temperature from April through September is 68 degrees; October through March, 60 degrees. They had five championship tennis courts, golf, horseback riding, water skiing and the finest deep sea fishing in California. They boast, "Happy Days" the year around at the Hotel del Coronado.* Send for their brochure and they'll tell you more. It was all there.
*Data by Chief Archivist Betty Fitz who still has the 1944 post cards and Coronado brochure I sent her.
After stopping by personnel there was some little reason for thinking that we might be at San Diego for a month or so. What the reasoning, I no longer recall. Anything could happen so I began to inquire as to efficiency apartments or rooms. My inquiries brought only laughter. From the nicer sort, smiles. I had nothing else to do so I ascertained the better area closest to the base, took a cab there and commenced my search. Who knows I thought, I might strike it lucky and then could send for Betty. My first stop was at the Lutheran Church seeking the Pastor. He wasn't encouraging, nevertheless, he made a few telephone calls for me. He knew a lady who knew a lady that might have a room and kitchenette available soon. It wasn't.
However, she referred me to another. To save money and waiting for taxis I located a bike rental shop near my last visit. Before late afternoon pedaling about that area of San Diego I had located three rooms with bath available within the next month and one efficiency apartment. Elated that space could be found I returned to the Coronado to freshen up for supper with the guys. Entering my room was disastrous .. All the shades were drawn and lights out. The bag I had left on my sack to more or less establish territory was tossed aside and the bed mussed up. He obviously had looked over my uniforms. He must have lost interest since I was an Ensign and he a Lieutenant (Junior Grade). He was out, thus I was sure some sort confrontation was saved. Room service cheerfully freshened my bed. I left him a pleasant note on his bed.
WE DINED RATHER ELEGANTLY THAT EVENING AT THE EXPENSE OF OUR WASHINGTON UNCLE....
We dined rather elegantly that evening at the expense of our Washington Uncle. However, there was news that we were to report to personnel in the morning. A quiet evening at the Base movie theater and a good rest that night would make looking into my unknown future a little easier, maybe a bit more pleasant. Return to TOP of page!
Yes, there was a future and it was eminent. My orders had been cut.
From the "United States Pacific Fleet, Fleet Air, West Coast dated 7 April, 1944 to me. "Subject:
Change of Duty.
Appropriately signed with disbursement of six copies. Clipped to my orders was my T /R from San Diego, California to NAS Seattle, Washington via the AT&SF, RR (LA) then the SoPac through Portland and to NAS Seattle, Washington. One 1st. class ticket. We had an overnight ride being due to report by midnight 10 April 1944.
It was like a happy reunion, all four of us had been assigned to Bombing Squadron 1 36. We arrived in Seattle about noon on the 8th. Per the advice of all the old timers, which said, "Never turn in your orders until sometime after 1900 if at all possible." Not wishing to disrupt tradition we decided to take advantage of the balance of our travel time and relax in Seattle. The first stop was the Olympic Hotel to acquire accommodations for our overnight. Word was there wasn't a room to be had. Simultaneously, two other Naval Aviators, unknown to us, stepped to the desk for the same. They were turned away from another hotel for the same reason. However, it was agreeable to the clerk that if we were quiet he wouldn't ask us to leave the lobby that night if we still had not obtained rooms. It was Easter weekend and every military person within miles was on holiday.
I asked if they had a large room of some sort in which they could put six cots, we'd be satisfied. A second clerk said, "Yes, we do."
"We'll take it," we all responded.
"Let me clear it first." answered the second clerk. He was back in a minute saying to the first clerk, "register them." Our room was indeed large. It had been used as a small conference room. There were already four beds in it. Two more were rolled in. Six beds, four dressers, a dozen chairs and two portable bars, two baths and we were still lost. Once in the room we introduced ourselves. One chap looked Indian but hadn't a particularly Indian sounding name. He was a pure bred genuine American Indian. The first American Indian, he proudly acknowledged, to become a Naval Aviator. He was a grand individual and an Indian who enjoyed his firewater. Albeit, it appeared the stuff easily got the best of him.
Sight seeing, movies and even a trip to the theater, though I no longer recall what it was we saw. In Seattle I became more accustomed to being saluted and saluting, more than anywhere else. It was, as I said, Easter. Betty still has some letters I wrote to her from the Olympic Hotel's Officer's Lounge that Easter Sunday and those following. Thus, it's readily acknowledged, why and how she became my Chief Archivist.
The four of us left our Indian aviator and his buddy at the Olympic Hotel. Sharing a cab out to the base we reported as ordered to the Commander, Fleet Air Wing Four. Our new orders were processed on the eleventh and on the twelfth we were on our way to Ault Field, Whidbey Island, Washington. Our new base was seventy-five, possibly eighty miles north of Seattle on the Pudget Sound. The beautiful three hour ride in an old navy battleship gray school bus didn't lessen our disappointment in that we were not to continue flying the PBYs but now facing a tour of duty in the Aleutians as Third Pilot Navigators, as we were tagged, in medium land based bombers, the notorious PV-1. On the way to Whidbey Island I learned two of my cohorts had as much difficulty with celestial navigation as did I. We all reckoned we were in for it.
Constraining our disillusionment became more difficult with each bumpy mile. Especially so when we learned there was a PBY squadron base only a few miles away at Oak Harbor on the island. No matter now, the die had been cast. We belonged to VPB-136. The old bus' screeching brakes, as it halted in front of the BOQ. might have awakened the dead but for the hour. There were no lights showing anywhere which tended to emphasize the seriousness of our pending training in this squadron. Departing the bus we hauled our discouraged selves and gear up the stairs (ladder) and into the very luminous and seemingly untroubled crowd within the BOQ. If there was a war going on one would never know it. In a matter of days we would learn of the earnestness and seriousness of these men.
The prevailing attitude was, for the most part, one which hid anxiety, stress and the apprehension of returning to what some had left only thirty or sixty days before, the Aleutians. We were checked in, in short order, placed our bags in our rooms and returned hurriedly for what was left of the evening meal. The meal wasn't totally satisfactory so we went into the bar and ordered sandwiches and beer. That we were new aboard was easily ascertainable. One had only to notice our new uniforms and the facial expressions we wore with them. Yes, we were the new Ensigns. I remember well one tall thin stern looking red head. We would meet him in an hour or so.
We continued to sit around as though we expected the Admiral to walk in, call our names and say you four belong to the PBY squadron based at Oak Harbor, shove off. He must have busy that night or just forgotten us. We sat until about 2200 waiting for our hypothetical Admiral then decided it was time to turn in our orders. Transportation was called for the mile plus ride down the big hill to the squadron. War time conditions surely prevailed, it was dark as all get out. Once inside the hanger the dim lights were adequate for we strangers to find our way. The Duty Officer's office was on the second deck facing the tarmac. Hesitating, in the dimly lit passageway, outside his door we kidded about who would be first to enter. I said, without hesitation, I would.
Turning in I all but ran over him. Lieutenant Morrison just a foot or two from the entrance was that tall thin and stem looking officer we saw in the BOQ. Hatless and without blouse, tie pulled open and with papers in both hands he just looked at us.
"Sir, Ensign Fitzpatrick reporting for duty." "y'all the four I saw at the officer's mess?"
"Yes, Sir, we arrived here this evening." Then each of us reported accordingly.
"My orders, Sir." Then we all handed him our orders. He asked who was who and also that the
Skipper had inquired that day if the four new Ensigns were aboard yet. We obliged as to whom each was as he logged us in. He then suggested we be at the squadron by 0830. Not knowing what was expected of us we stood waiting for a response.
"All right, you're logged now get out." We did. Thus, on the night of 12 April 1944 we became honest to goodness fixtures belonging to Bombing Squadron ONE HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX. Shutting the hanger door behind as we stepped into the darkest star laden night, agreeing first, the 'red head' appeared a no nonsense type and hoped none of us would have him for our pilot, and secondly, the night here was absolutely beautiful. There were no city or town lights casting their light reflections skyward to frustrate the beauty of the heavens. I had never seen so many stars in my life standing in one place. Even the space between us didn't impede the glory of them. Of course we hadn't been to Attu, Alaska. Drifting back to thoughts of VPB-136, sadly enough we knew there were no PBYs in our immediate future. The base was loaded, naturally, with PV-1s, the Vega Ventura medium bomber.
SUN-UP ON MY FIRST MORNING AT AULT FIELD ON WHIDBEY ISLAND, WASHINGTON...
Sun-up on my first morning at Ault Field on Whidbey Island, Washington introduced the Pacific northwest in all its glory. However, at breakfast my spirits were darkened as the night before. It seemed two men the morning before, one a pilot and the other a Pratt and Whitney representative, were certain a PV-1 could still takeoff with one engine if the other failed. It seemed once their plane broke ground and had sufficient airspeed they cut one engine to demonstrate. They lived but seconds just beyond the runway's end after they cut their engine. Their plane flipped immediately onto its back and exploded. The story reached me leaving no doubts I'd rather climb at 90, cruise at 90, land at 90 and live to be 90 in my beloved PBY. Return to TOP of page!
We had breakfast and were soon to realize at this base an Ensign was an Ensign and he didn't, or shouldn't forget it. Reporting to squadron left us void. There was no listing of who was to fly with whom. We didn't expect we would be listed so soon. Nevertheless, there were but few flights scheduled that morning nor was there scheduling of classes or lectures, nothing. We roamed around eventually approaching one of the office yeomen. He said not to worry that our names would appear for varied assignments soon, including our PPC (Patrol Plane Commander). Hopping on the base's" Jitney" Bus we went for a tour of the base. We learned where everything was that morning.
Returning to squadron and failing to find our names on any schedule we headed for the BOQ getting squared away there. Kind of at loose ends we decided idle Ensigns should become familiar with the gym. We did and it was great. Taking the Jitney Bus back to squadron we found it quiet and that none of our names appeared on any of the scheduling sheets. Next it was the BOQ for lunch. Here, also, bodies were sparse, of course it was about the end the luncheon schedule. This was advantageous for us. We wouldn't get to know anyone nor anyone us. Back to squadron for a walk through checking the schedules. We were free. One of the guys suggested we ride over to the seaplane base at Oak Harbor and look over the PBY's.
Entering the base at Oak Harbor we noticed there was to be an afternoon family movie at 1600. Thus we went to the show and saw the base afterwards. Actually, we could. stand at the top of Midway Boulevard at the Intersection of Coral Sea Road which ran down a rather steep roadway into the seaplane base. From there you could observe the body of water known as Cresent Harbor, a very wide opening, far more than a cove from which the seaplanes operated and out to Saratoga Passage. The view down into the seaplane base and parking area of the many PBYs was virtually complete. Seeing all those PBYs was about everything there was to see except the setting sun casting shadows as if a covering blanket for the town, planes and harbor. We stayed.
It was relaxing watching the setting sun as it appeared to lift the shadows then serenely spreading them across the placid waters of Oak Harbor thence flowing out to and over Cresent Harbor. These bodies of water were controlled by Saratoga Passage which ran the entire length of Whidbey Island's eastern shore separating the island from the mainland. Wanting to see it in the moonlight we walked into the town of Oak Harbor to supper. Because of the war no lights shown, the mandated blackout was in full effect. The absence of reflecting lights darkness encompassed the town and us at once. The grandeur and greatness of the Pacific Northwest was left to be felt. Its serenity would remain through the night accompanied only by the beauty of the heavens. _
The blackening starlit night, after unfurling its majestic beauty, would, I knew, finally tip the scales to light the diminishing ebony of night. Thereafter, softly, lifting the sun from its eastern cradle along with the early morning seaplane flights, which eased into the glorious northwest pine scented air, leaving Cresent Harbor, moving her tranquil waters up and down and back and forth circling in an undulating motion.
Standing atop that hill seeing and dreaming what I was to miss did nothing to enamor my feelings towards VPB-136. To envision myself as a third pilot navigator of a medium bomber flying team certainly was never in my wildest dreams nor foreseeable thoughts, especially after Jackson. Dreams are what stuff is made of and my dreams were made of the stuff wherein I was first pilot in a PBY combat area. My job, rescuing downed pilots from the sea wherever. In addition to enjoying such a thrill and feeling of accomplishment I would pilot a Black Cat, a PBY painted all black for night missions including dropping off our saboteurs and spies in forward areas and returning nights later. My dream was to slip down to the sea to retrieve them. No, I wasn't ready for the Aleutians nor the PV-1. Reality set in when the Jitney came by and tooted more or less checking to see if we wanted a ride to Ault Field. We climbed aboard. At the BOQ we chose to sit rather remotely so we wouldn't have to introduce ourselves to anyone.
Riding to squadron the second day we wondered what our lot would be. Surely our names would appear on the scheduling board. No names appeared. Except for visiting Oak Harbor the second day was a carbon of the first. That afternoon after lunch we walked the few hundred yards the Link Trainer Building to nose around. The instructors were glad to see us and asked if we were to be scheduled that aftemoon.
"No we weren't," we said.
" How'd you like to look around?"
"If no one is scheduled how about us, were free?"
The instructors were elated. They advised they hadn't given much instruction in some time. "If you officers are going to the Aleutians you can use all the instrument Link time you can get."
" Where do we start?"
"We'll start two of you in the Celestial Link Trainer and one each in the small Links." I don't recall with whom I started but we climbed up into the Celestial Link. Once aboard the less movement the better. It was difficult to hold the trainer steady. We were introduced to an elementary problem. Needless to say, we fouled it up. It was quite a simulator for its time. It was set up so the navigator could take his star shots and run an actual problem. I needed the Link time and no one knew it better than did I. Before we knew it was late afternoon. We thanked the instructors and beat it to the hanger. Relief was not seeing our names on the board. It was back to the BOQ.
The third day I overheard some fellows talking about a town called Anacortes some twenty-eight or thirty miles distant and where there was some limited government family housing. I thought I'd better check it out and find out too, how one gets there. We lived and enjoyed our duty free life for four and a half days so far, it was a long time. At lunch that day we became aware of that tall thin, stern looking, red head Lieutenant was keeping an eye on us. As his friends left he sort of hung back. With their departure he eased over to our table. Spinning the chair around backwards he threw one of his long thin green trousered legs over the seat straddling it. It seemed an after thought, leaning lazily forward deliberately placing his arms on the back of his chair.
"Yes, Sir." I said not knowing what else to say facing this stern looking officer. "You fellows the ones I logged in the other night?"
"Well, where in the h--- have you been? Never mind. Let me give you a tip. Hurry up your lunch and get your butts down to the squadron. The Skipper wants to meet you." Little did I know I would become the Junior Officer in that tall thin, stern looking redhead's Quonset hut on Attu. Nevertheless we got along famously.
"Yes, Sir, thank you, Sir, we'll head right down, Sir." Did we ever. However, in the late A.M. a gunner's mate was checking some fifty caliber machine guns in his PV-1. A PV-1 is a tail dragger. By that 1 mean its third wheel upon which the PV-1 rests is a tail wheel. Thus the plane's nose sits pointing upwards at a considerable angle. I said earlier that the windows of the squadron offices face the tarmac on which our planes were parked, and of course, the Skipper's office windows. Need I say more? Well maybe a bit if you haven't gotten the picture.
Some careless sailor accidentally fired a burst of maybe six or seven rounds, and, of course their trajectory carried them overtop of the Skipper's window splintering everything. If ever there was a tough CO, Lieutenant Commander Charles Wayne was the man. Well, he at least would have made it on the very high side of the top ten. After the mess was cleaned up, shortly after noon, I was the first of our foursome to be invited in to meet our new Skipper. It was judged reasonably safe to enter his office since his voice was a decibel or two lower and his rear was actually resting on his chair. A moment in his doorway and he didn't look up. So I spoke
"Commander Wayne, Sir, Ensign Charles Fitzpatrick, you sent for me, Sir?" His full round flushed face came up slowly.
"I did? Why did I need you, Fitzpatrick?"
"Sir, I'm one of the new Ensigns aboard." I knew he was looking at me but I felt he was somewhere else. His bloodshot eyes looked it and his voice told it.
"Oh! That's right, you're one of those lost Ensigns. Where the h ..... have you been?" Was I ever thinking fast now. The Link Trainers came to mind.
"Sir, yesterday afternoon was spent in the Celestial Link. The morn .... ," The Skipper cut me off. "Who is your PPC?" (Patrol Plane Commander)
"I haven't been assigned one as yet, Sir."
"You will be soon. Check in the squadron every morning and afternoon. If you leave to go somewhere let the duty officer know, understand?"
"Yes, Sir, I understand." His fixed staring was disquieting. It was locked eye ball to eye ball combat. Like, as in who is going to give in first. Immediately, on the spot diplomacy said the Skipper wins. He did.
However, I felt it incumbent that the duty officer and I, became more than casual acquaintances. He was a senior Lieutenant and buddy of the Skipper.
The Skipper spent less time with the other three than he did with me. We hung around that afternoon looking over a PV-1, otherwise doing nothing we thought profitable. I got hold of an area map and learned of Anacortes' location. Now that was educational and profitable. There was a bus but it was not compatible with the squadron duty schedule. There would be no problem from the base to Anacortes in the evening. The morning bus schedule was suited for the civilian work force unless you were an earlier riser. The next best thing was to ascertain whether any of the other Ensigns were married and if so where did they live and how did they get back and forth to the base?
Among those Ensigns living in Anacortes at the project were Hague, McLennon, Prate and a few others whom 1 have forgotten. They were all helpful. After manifold years, 26 to 30 come August 1987, there was a reunion, the 45th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and at which time Betty and I learned there were a number of Lieutenants and Lieutenant, Ug's) and their wives living in the local drafty hotel, in a few dilapidated apartments and even above the town hardware store. All of which were not, from what we had heard, in the least comparable to our housing at the Project. Their loss was the Ensign's gain. These many years later most expressed their lack of knowledge of such housing. Their heads had to have been in the clouds. There was no excuse for them missing the Project since anytime you left or entered Anacortes the Housing Project was easily visible from the road.
Through our Executive Officer I arranged for the necessary time to visit Anacortes and inquire into the 'Housing Project.' I loved the ride in and Anacortes more so. I knew Betty would love the little town, too. The Housing Project manager said there were no vacancies at that moment but if I cared to come back next week he was reasonably sure there would be. I asked to see one and was obliged. I was ready to hand him the rent right then and there.
They were not too big, inexpensive and would serve ideally for Betty and me. The kitchen, dining area and parlor were all within one large room. Then there was a small hallway, off it was a walk-in closet then about a step further the bathroom and bedroom. Really great. I didn't bother to roam through the town at length that day since I could hardly wait to call Bets and tell her all about what I had found and to invite her out if she would like to come. Of that I felt certain. I inquired as to whether or not any aviators lived in the project. The manager advised that there were several and that one or two more would be moving in soon. The unit shown to me was diagonally across the back yard from the Hague's and two doors from the Prate's. The McGlennon's, too, would be near by. Bets would like them best.
I would have to call and write Bets as soon as possible about the house. There was nothing to forward about the crew in which I was to serve simply because, at that time, I had not been assigned to any. My but, I was happy. There remained one catch. How long would VPB-136 be stateside based at Ault Field on Whidbey Island? I thought, too, I'd better explain to her in advance that her stove would be a "coal and wood cook stove." Her experience at home had been with a gas fired stove. This indeed, would be an experience, and it was.
BETTY WAS EXCEPTIONALLY EXCITED AND MOST ANXIOUS TO TRAVEL WEST EVEN...
Betty was exceptionally excited and most anxious to travel west even if it meant we'd be together only for a few months. Anticipating my call Betty's last day with The Davidson Chemical Corporation was 30 March. She was ready. I checked into VPB-136 on the night of Wednesday, 12 April, approximately three days later, Saturday the 15th. called explaining it all to her concerning our house in the 'Project.' Return to TOP of page!
It was only six days after I logged into VPB-136 that Betty left Baltimore. It was Tuesday, 18 April, 1944.
That Tuesday night she boarded one of Baltimore and Ohio's finer trains, the Shenandoah for Chicago from the Mt. Royal Station. Let me remind all that this trip across the U. S. of A. was a first for her. My new wife of three months and fourteen days and I were more than ecstatic, we were electrified and filled with anxiety about the trip and the thought that we'd be together once again before I went overseas. Bets first step was indeed a 'giant step.' For $159.35, including pullman fare, she'd leave Baltimore not far from the Atlantic Ocean to a spot even closer to the Pacific Ocean. Better yet let me set forth her schedule.
Lv. Balto. (Mt. Royal Sta.) The Shenandoah 10:26 PM 4/18/44
Ar. Chicago 04:2 5 PM 4/1 9/44
Lv. Chicago (CBQ) The Empire Builder 11 :15 PM 4/19/44
Ar. Everett, Wash. (GN) 06:55 AM 4/22/ 44
Lv. Everett 09: 1 8 AM 4/2 2/44
Ar. Mt. Vernon, Wash 10:30 AM 4/22/ 44 *
*Data by Chief Archivist Betty Fitz who still has her April 1944 train schedule west and certain stubs.
Her stopover in- Chicago afforded her time to cleanse and re-bandage her finger which she had cut severely a few days prior to her departure. Lacking a clean place she checked into a hotel in the proximity of the railroad station. There she had a chance to administer to her nearly sliced through finger and rest. Then it was back aboard the train by 2245. (10:45 P.M.)
Betty's great North Western train had an unscheduled stop in Montana. While she was not privy why the stop, the conductor advised it would be for some while, certainly time to cross the field and tracks adjacent to the very small town maybe a hundred yards distance. There were only two meals served on the train each day and it was the conductor's thought the passengers might like to get something to eat. "Don't worry," he said, "y'all will hear the whistle, then hurry back." Betty described the town as being many miles from any other civilization and truly typically of a rustic western movie town.
The passengers responded to the conductor's suggestion making a mass exodus from the heaving and puffing stalled train. A chance to stretch your legs and maybe grab a sandwich, too. The only store was a combination of an everything store. It was the town's general store, bar, restaurant and barber shop with gas pumps outside the front door. The reason for this brief and unique tale of , Betty's is her change for a less than a dollar purchase. Whatever the purchase Bets received as change for her ten dollar bill nine (9) silver dollars plus the appropriate nickels, dimes and pennies. This was about the 20th. or 21 st. of April 1 944. Bets still has in her possession her very first nine silver dollars as of this date February 20, 1993. In two months that'll be forty.:.nine years. The passengers were inundated with silver dollars. There was little paper money except for that left by the train's passengers.
From the fifteenth of April until Betty arrived on the twenty-second I'd have to say my days were productive only insofar as time spent in the Link Trainer. More time was gained there then was assigned. We four fellows believed we logged more time in the Link Trainer, gym and the movies than did the entire squadron combined during that period. Sometime between those dates I was assigned my PPC (Patrol Plane Command). That did but little to alter my life style.
WHAT DID WAS THE DAY A NOTE WAS GIVEN ME WHICH ADVISED I WAS TO MEET MY PPC...
What did was the day a note was given me which advised I was to meet my PPC at our plane, designated number l8V (V for Victor) at 1400. I did. It was a formal meeting, rather stiff, not altogether pleasant, more like I was being presented to the Admiral. It was my impression that stress prevailed among the crew more so than cordiality, or oneness, as in 'crew.' After all we were the six who were planning to fly within that plane as a team through training and into combat. lieutenant Moorehead's introduction made me seem, at that moment, like the third man out. I was presented as the crew's navigator. No mention was made that I was also a Naval Aviator. Return to TOP of page!
This was one of the very few times in my lifetime I got off onˇ the wrong foot. Though becoming a Naval Aviator was strenuous at times, I made it, as it was admitted by most of the men. I was proud. Red blood was rising fast. Albeit, I didn't want to fly in the PV-1, I didn't want to navigate anybody, least of all this bunch, was my immediate and strenuously profound thought. Following our almost ten minute conversation it seemed certain PPC Moorehead and his navigator would be permanently at odds. There's something odd about this man, I thought. Time told me I was right. Not having any choice in the matter I mentioned to Lieutenant Moorehead that I, too, was a Naval Aviator assigned to his crew as his third pilot and also navigator. Let me say that went over like a lead balloon. The old adage, "Never judge a book by its cover" was, and is, applicable insofar as people are concerned, too. Once again I would learn this.
Patrick Francis Tierney, an Ensign also and Moorehead's co-pilOt, smiled and again offered his hand and reintroduced himself. He broke the ice asking, "What do people call you?"
"Mostly, Fitz." I answered as Moorehead walked away.
"Great, Fitz. Call me Pat or Patrick I don't care." He said in his decidedly New Jersey accent. He then proceeded to tell me our crew's names again. They were Harry Moran, our mechanic (plane Captain). Frederick Beurskens, (nicknamed Rollo) our radioman and William (Bill) Glennon our gunner.
"All right, Tierney, let's give this bird a visual check." Moorehead called in his best Boston drawl.
With that the crew members hurriedly beat their way checking their area of responsibility. I watched since all there was for me was the navigator's table.
"Fitzpatrick, we're going to take a check ride, want to go along?" Was I being offered a choice or was this the Lieutenant's way of saying get aboard? I assumed he was giving me the choice so responded thus.
"No, Sir, not if I don't have to." Moorehead turned and climbed into the plane never saying a word to me. From the majority of looks I didn't win any accolades. The crew followed him on board. No particular enthusiasm for the flight was noted. I didn't wait for them to takeoff. I spent the balance of the afternoon between the Navigation Officer's chart room and the gym. On the way from the gym to the BOQ I mentioned to several of my peers that Betty was on her way out and was scheduled to arrive on the 22 April. All were envious, those engaged thought perhaps they should send for their fiancees and have a military wedding on the base. To my knowledge none did.
THE FOLLOWING AFTERNOON I HAD TIME TO GO TO ANACORTES TO LOOK FOR SOME...
The following afternoon I had time to go to Anacortes to look for some linens among other things. Such were more scarce than hen's teeth. I was advised that a trip to Oak Harbor or Mt. Vernon would be a waste of my time. The merchants had sold out shortly after our squadron had been assigned to Ault Field and the new seaplane outfit checked into Oak Harbor. I stopped by the Project and signed my first lease leaving the first month's rent in advance for 2318 N Place, a corner unit. At supper that evening, wh~le talking to Red Dulan, I mentioned my plight. He suggested I try Ship's Service. I hadn't given it a thought. Ship's Service was the Navy's equivalent of the Army's PX. That next afternoon Red and I visited Ship's Service where I obtained only a portion of our linen needs. Then it was off to Anacortes. Betty and I would have some linens. Her pending arrival permeated my every thought removing all inane subjects such as training, the squadron and the war. Return to TOP of page!
Bets was to arrive at Mt. Vernon, a small town about sixty miles north of Seattle, the fact was Great Northern Railroad failed to deliver. They were so late coming into Seattle that the connection for their train to Everett and Mt. Vernon was missed. Great Northern was kind enough to arrange for bus transportation on to Mt. Vernon. In addition they had me paged there and advised that Mrs. Fitzpatrick would arrive at the Mt. Vernon bus depot around 1400 to 1445 (2:00 to 2:45 PM).
Fortunately, for us time was mine to waste. Right as rain the old bus pulled in as advised. There I was more than three thousand miles from home greeting Betty, the love of my life, as if it were the comer streetcar stop back home. Truly, it was a thrill beyond description to see and touch her. She got a big hug, too. Here she was in my care and custody in a town, that on a large map, was less than the dot, a pin point, might make on the map. To all the world but those few residing in Mt. Vernon the town didn't exist. Some few weeks before we didn't know it existed either.
By the wildest stretch of our imaginations we never would have prognosticated we'd be in the state of Washington much less Mt. Vernon, Washington, that 22nd. Of April 1944. Even more so wouldn't have foretold Charles and Betty would reside in the town of Anacortes, Washington, population about fifteen hundred, on that day, just three months and eighteen days after we were married. We settled in the Project that day and through the eighth of June when our squadron departed for the Aleutians. We did so much. It was an educational, entertaining and consummate time, that to this day we speak of it as though we were there many months. Actually it was forty-six (46) days. However, we did return to enjoy it all a second time.
There was an old bus from Mt. Vernon to Anacortes, a real shaker. A bus trip made both ways several times to purchase at J.C. Penny's blankets, linens as well as other household items. The ride was far from an ordinary one. Bets was with me. The old bus, the scenic ride combined with the aroma of pine in the air, the totally new experience of the North West, the togetherness riding hand in hand into Anacortes was an impressionable trip and time. Pure sentimentality and sensitivity as to who we were and the love we had for each other. However, there was nothing unrealistic, no illusions, we knew there was a war on and the seriousness of it and my position as a military pilot. We believed we had a life to live and the war would eventually be remembered as maybe only as a vivid giant step on our path through many steps. Never did we ever think that I wouldn't survive that great ordeal.
We got off in 'downtown Anacortes', roamed the few stores purchasing some food, dishes, and utensils at ALLAN'S (TABLE SUPPLIES AT A SAVING)*, he advertised along with an assortment of odds and ends. At ALlAN'S we were informed that there was the 'Jitney bus' and where we might catch it. The Jitney made runs the length of and a portion of the wee breadth of Anacortes. Bets learned later its schedule was anything but exact. The old fellow who ran it was as slow and easy going as was his bus. Actually there was no hurry in the town. It was a pleasant and friendly community whose citizens were always warm to the service personnel. *Data by Chief Archivist Betty Fitz who still has her April 22, 1944 ALLAN'S of Anacortes receipt for purchases.
BY THE TIME OF BET'S ARRIVAL I WAS ABLE TO TELL HER ABOUT THE CREW TO WHICH...
By the time of Bet's arrival I was able to tell her about the crew to which I had been assigned and my first encounter with them. Next was about the PV-1 and the several flights experienced as a passenger. I had learned early through demonstrations the PV-1 was an unforgiving airplane. Lt. Moorehead made certain that both his co-pilot and pilot-navigator were aware of that fact, little else. Co-pilot Pat Tierney and I both looked forward to being checked out. Pat was to receive flight time from the right seat but I don't believe Lt. Moorehead ever had Pat fly our plane from the left seat. Pat missed a flight or two when in the Aleutians so I got the chance to ride the right side. Note I said ride. On those several occasions from takeoff to landing I never touched the controls. Return to TOP of page!
During familiarization of the area and plane we had several very short and elementary navigation hops during which I had no problems. I thought Lt. Moorehead made it clear that as crew our dependence and life was on him to fly no matter the situation, thereby being our protector. In turn each of the crew was likewise holding the life of his fellow crewmen. Each had to be equally proficient and adapt at his job. It was my personal opinion, though I never spoke it, I knew better, Lt. Moorehead meant that for all except for his co-pilot. Tierney never acquired the time up front. Pat should have been 100% proficient in his position as co-pilot. That also was my opinion. Those few scattered times that I recall Pat at the controls I remember he had a nice touch. The crew had pretty well proven themselves except for me. My day was to come.
MEANWHILE BETTY HAD MADE OUR LITTLE PROJECT HOUSE INTO A WARM AND VERY COMFORTABLE...
Meanwhile Betty had made our little Project house into a warm and very comfortable place in which to live. She in some manner, and I don't know how any longer, acquired a large rug for our living room floor. There were always service people moving in and out of the project so it was poSSible the rug was purchased from one of them. The military people bought and traded among themselves rather religiously, kind of in the family, so to speak. Bets was, and is, a great make-do person. With little she could develop much. Our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, who were probably in their mid forties couldn't have been nicer to us. I believe they had a son and son-in-law in the service. Daughter Betty came to live with her folks and was as nice to Betty and me as were her parents. In addition we had maybe four VPB-136 officers and their wives as close neighbors. There were other service people but none with whom we associated. We'd been married three months and eighteen days and had, between us, traveled through thirty-seven states and lived in three. Bets was fast becoming a true Navy wife.
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LT MOOREHEAD WAS PUSHING ME TO MAKE ALL TRAINING FLIGHTS WITH HIM...
LT Moorehead was pushing me to make all training flights with him. I finally mentioned that I'd rather spend the time in the Link Trainers then ride in the sky looking out the astro (astrodome) bubble, sometimes referred to as the astro hatch. It did nothing for me unless it was to keep my nerves on edge. Frankly, I was dam uncomfortable as a passenger never having had a second's time in the cockpit. (If push came to shove I'd have to be more expressive, expletives deleted). For the most part my riding was tantamount to riding in a box. If he would have permitted me to fly sitting behind him and Pat I would have become knowl~dgeable as to what was transpiring in the 'front office' plus the horizon would have been as visible to me as it was them. That meant comfort and would have boosted my confidence level no end. But Lt. Moorehead liked the plane captain to ride there. Return to TOP of page!
His constant push slackened somewhat when I began splitting my time between riding, the Navigation Officer's office and the Link Trainer. The power was his to make me go along. All he had to do was order me, he never did. Our day navigation hops were in reality searches. We'd fly a sector of a pre-planned search area in conjunction with several other planes looking for Japanese submarines or anything which seemed out of the ordinary.
On one such clear day, but with a high overcast, calm seas and visibility forever. At briefing we were told that there might be scattered transports in the area. A convoy for the south Pacific was forming. There was one, a trpop transport, within our sector. Its course and position indicated we should be able to spot it south of our inbound leg. The troopship's course given us would eventually intersect the course of the balance of a convoy forming well south and west of our position.
We had turned on to our east bound and final leg of our search when Lt. Moorehead asked, "Fitzpatrick, when do you estimate we'll see the troopship?"
"If he is on course, Sir, we should see him in few minutes. The ship position is approximately a few miles south of our heading."
"Fitzpatrick, pass the binoculars forward." 'passed them forward. All remained quiet until Moorehead had the ship in sight. He sent Moran back to tell me to come forward. Sure enough the ship was ahead maybe a mile and to the starboard.
"Is that your ship?"
"According to our briefing I'd have to say it is, Mr. Moorehead."
"Alright. Let's make a pass on him." He quipped looking over his shoulder at me. 'nodded in agreement as though' had anything to do with it .
Moorehead: "He'll have to respond with the code of the day. Tierney take the lamp and flash the code of the day." Pat checked a second time making sure of the code. Moorehead took off the automatic pilot then rolled 78 Victor over into a steep bank crossing over the ship's bow at 1 30 knots, about thirty feet. After that pass they had to know we were there. There wasn't a soul to be seen. The challenge went unanswered. We flew well beyond the ship then completing a 270 degree turn to the starboard facing head on with the ship, flying dead onto the ship's bridge. Pat repeated the code of the day several times with no response from the bridge. Jim wasn't happy at all. He wanted the proper I.D so we could head home. The repeated challenge was not acknowledged. There apparently wasn't anyone on the bridge and the decks were clear.
Moorehead: "Try again Pat. ,'II make a slow approach, give me 10 degrees of flaps."
Tierney: "Ten degree flaps, Sir. I'm ready with the lamp." The very slow approach accomplished nothing. Moorehead's Boston Irish was rising now. Moorehead eased the throttles forward and called for, "flaps up."
Moorehead: "Pat, we'll go out about a mile and I'll come about so as to make them think we'll cross their bow at about a 30 degree angle. Just before I complete my turn you open the bombay doors. Early is better than late, you understand?"
Tierney: "Yes, Sir."
Moorehead: "As they open I'll roll out of our turn giving a few burst of our nose guns. That ought to wake them up." We had five fifty caliber machine guns in the nose, had we utilized the turret guns we'd have seven. "We'll put on some speed clearing the bridge by a few feet with the bombay doors open. I'll tell you when to close them. Have the lamp ready." There was a bridge of tracers. So much so it appeared you could ride or walk out on them. Passive, though intent the unyielding Moorehead was bent on a response. Boy! Did he get it. The ship lit up like a Christmas tree. People appeared from nowhere waving, jumping up and down supposedly telling us what we already knew. "Hey, we're Americans."
"Give me a heading for home, Mr. Fitzpatrick." The Mister sometimes implied a good or improving disposition, but nevertheless, a strictly business one. The Fitzpatrick was the same as his raising the proverbial red flag. His moods were obvious. Then again, whenever flying, his attitude was one of no nonsense.
"Make it 90 degrees, Sir, due east. ,'II adjust it in a minute or so, Sir." He liked quick answers and due east was just that. How could I miss. I had the entire west coast of the U.S. and Canada for a target .. , asked him for a couple of radio bearings and adjusted my inbound heading to 88 degrees. There was no sun, the sexton was useless, dead reckoning and a pot full of luck was it. The best you could hope for after all his twisting and turning at the troopship was to head east. If I was fortunate the 88 degree heading would bring us directly into the Straight of Juan De Fuca instead of a couple of miles south of it. I was fortunate once again. It was at this point Moorehead would usually say, "Secure navigation, Fizpatrick." Then I would enjoy the twenty-five or so minute ride into Ault Field.
CRABBING WAS POSITIVELY GREAT I WAS TOLD. BETTY, THE DOUG BENNETTS...
Crabbing was positively great I was told. Betty, the Doug Bennetts and I purchased a couple of crab nets, some strong cord, chicken necks and headed for the railroad bridge over the creek. Crabbing was every bit as good, maybe better, than I had been told. Washington crabs were considerably larger than we had been accustomed to catching in the Chesapeake Bay. From the bridge to the water was every bit twelve feet. Our crabs would hang on for dear life wanting those chicken necks until they were only inches out of reach of our crab nets. It still was fun, however, often an exercise in futility. Several attempts convinced us there had to be another way lacking a boat. Return to TOP of page!
My problem was solved by stopping by the Navy's metal smith's shop and asking him to make two metal rings. The outer ring was approximately 28"across while the inner ring approximated 20". Next Betty and I visited the dock area inquiring as to whether there was a small discarded piece of an old fisherman's net. It was gladly given us. We cut it to fit our rings then with our new cord sewed the net to the rings. Next was sewing a small piece in the center to secure the bait. Four lines were then tied securely at four points measured equidistant around the outer ring. To these was the cord that ran from the net to us on the bridge.
When we hauled our net up the inner ring would drop six inches lower than the outer ring thereby making movement for the crabs very difficult. Up hill and with so many holes over which to travel theirˇ legs would stick. We'd have the net up before our crabs could escape. While our net was very successful you had to have heavy workman's gloves to pull it up. The weight of the rings along with the weight of six or seven crabs could cause the chord to cut into your hand. In addition we had scrounged a five gallon can and had the top cut off thus we had our pot at the edge of the bridge steaming crabs as we caught more. Sitting there on the rails with the beauty and serenity of the great northwest at your feet, steamed crabs at your finger tips with a pretty girl at your side, well, what else was a $1800.00 a year Ensign plus flight pay to ask for?
We were surprised at how many folks were not familiar with steaming crabs as we had been accustomed to back east. Those few who tried our steamed crabs truly enjoyed them. Writing of food reminds me of the time Bets and I had guests for dinner. Mentioned earlier was the fact that we had a coal-wood cook stove. Indeed, it took some effort to master it, especially when you wanted everything to be prepared at the same time and ready for serving. With tips from Mrs. Phillips our grand neighbor Betty did master the darn thing. However, one particular evening about the time Bets was to serve the chicken she noticed a piece of coal with it. Calling me aside, she asked, "What do we do now?" "Don't mention it and serve it anyway. Bets, they'll never know." Was my suggestion. After picking the coal out, she did. O~r guests must have enjoyed it because there was none left.
AS TIME DREW CLOSER TOWARDS THAT INEVITABLE DAY, THE DAY WE WOULD SHIP OUT...
As time drew closer towards that inevitable day, the day we would ship out my days at the squadron were longer, more involved and there was an additional two or three nights of flying each week. Bets was fortunate in that there were four or five young ladies at the project with husbands in '136', all flyers so that there was company or someone for an emergency if the need arose. With the increased flying time Moorehead suggested I be available. He became more pushy. Still no time in the right seat nor was Pat given time at the controls. The more the training schedule was pursued the more we seemed to become a part of the Navy's usual hurry up and wait program. It all served to bring Pat Tierney and me together. Return to TOP of page!
Pat would drive into Anacortes to pick Betty and me up, at least once a week, for an evening at their house. Patrick, Jr., their son of six months or so, was a beautiful boy, slept well, too. We'd play penny poker, dealer's choice with all kinds of wild cards, and often as not it'd be with Pat's diapers hanging about drying. Dryers hadn't been invented. Their house heating system wasn't the greatest even when they'd fire up the heat to dry Patrick Jr.'s diapers. The little guy never woke up with all our ruckus. Anyone listening might think we were playing for mega bucks and not for pennies. With evenings's end Pat would drive us home to Anacortes. Sometimes he'd let me take his car returning in the morning to pick him up and head for the squadron.
There were a number of fantastic places at which to eat. The majority were situated within what anyone would envision as picturesque as the rugged great northwest could be. We'd all arrange to dine out whenever a smorgasbord was planned. Folks claim the Dutch Country of Pennsylvania as the epitome for fine eating. Agreed, it is nice. However, let me assure you the dining places in and around the Pudget Sound area lacked nothing. Especially on Whidbey Island and surrounding environs. Within 'Cheir luxuriously rustic atmosphere never could it be said there was an inadequacy of hospitality, comfort and warmth. Generous proportions, excellent quality, never in short supply. The wholesomeness of them all was enhanced greatly no matter which cove, inlet or body of water they overlooked. The northwest is magnificent in its greatness and stateliness.
BUSY DAYS, BUSY NIGHTS AT SQUADRON CALLED FOR BUSY OFF HOURS...
Busy days, busy nights at squadron called for busy off hours. It was rumored that sometime in June we'd be shoving off for the Aleutians, thus every married member of our squadron was cramming all the free time they could acquire with their wives. I couldn't arrange for a ride home after each night flight so I'd make arrangements to stay over at the BOQ. Then, too, there was no way to get into Anacortes and back from my afternoon schedule and be prepared for night flying It was during several of these layover dinners at the BOQ that Moorehead joined me. I didn't know why, he lived on the Weidenbach farm just a few miles from the base, having his own wheels it was an easy ride to and from the base. Could be he was curious to learn what made me tick, certainly it was mutual. He was stuck with me and as of that date I hadn't emerged from my shell. I thought that a bit egotistical, but what else? He was considerably friendlier but couldn't shake that Boston conservatism. I ventured another thought. If Moorehead is willing to step over the line why not me? Return to TOP of page!
With nothing else to do until the night flight schedule we'd enjoy long suppers. During one of them ice hockey became the subject, beside flying, on which we could relate. Subsequently I had him talking about himself and his accomplishments. Briefly he had a couple of degrees, played a little semi-pro hockey, was an accomplished horseman, taught single and multi-engine instrument flying over a year in the Navy plus other achievements of note I no longer recall. Progress was being made but it remained at arm's length. That Bostonian stood firm. I figured I was destined to fly, live or die with this man so in spite of his stout arm's distance I went all out. One of our night navigation hops did it for me.
Stepping out of the BOQ into the night there wasn't a thing to see or feel but dark and mist. It was awfully black and damp out. The mist was heavy with visibility estimated something a bit better than one mile. If perchance visibility was a mile it sure was a tight one. Certainly, this night suggested no promises but a miserably laborious one. Voices close by me were softened by the heaviness of the air. However, they all were echoing my sentiments. They were in unison in thought and word, maybe the Old Man will cancel the flights, "He'll call them off."
First voice: "No way."
Second voice: "You don't know the Old Man." (meaning the Skipper).
Third voice: "You guys are right, I knew him when" He was interrupted.
First voice: "If you guys don't know him now, aw' forget it, here's the bus." Then with much mumbling about the weather the men crowded into the bus for the squadron. The weather briefing said by the time we took off the ceiling would be up to about 1 000 feet. There were no storms in the area just the lousy soup (fog). Word was passed that all flights as scheduled were 'GO.' I told Moorehead I was going to finish my preparations and that I'd be in the navigation office and following that I'd meet him and Tierney in the briefing room.
Weather was paramount on the minds of the four crews scheduled. The briefer's offered no encouragement, unless, it was that by noon the next day it would be nice for the late afternoon flights. All was in readiness. However, for added safety we were to takeoff at twenty minute intervals starting about 2000 hours. We drew straws. The last takeoff, number four, was ours. We'd get off around 2130 (9:30 P.M.) If all went well our E.T.A. at base (estimated time of arrival) would approximate 0330 to 0345, it was too early to tell. We had ahead of us at least a five and one half-hour flight. Mr. Moorehead was punctual as usual. Rolling down runway 30, a 7000 foot runway was a comforting feeling with so much gas aboard.
Reflecting that eventful night it seems there were five planes scheduled not four. Nonetheless, it doesn't matter now. What does matter is the wrap up of that evening so long ago and what it did for me.
Moorehead eased 78 Victor off beautifully. We had guessed the weather briefers were wrong and they were. The ceiling wasn't 1000 feet, no sir. We were in the soup just about 700 feet. Moorehead rolled 30 degrees to port to pick up the Neah Bay range heading out of the Straight of Juan De Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. My initial point for departure would be Neah Bay since we were to fly the range at the start. An overcast would prevent celestial navigation unless Moorehead could get on top of the weather. Navigating five and a half hours in fog using dead reckoning set for me a real challenge. At Neah Bay I gave Lt. Moorehead our course, speed and altitude. Now into our course the briefing altitude was out as was their story on the weather.
Moorehead: "Mr. Fitzpatrick, let's see if we can get on top. Maybe there will be some stars or the moon." Until the end of this flight, whenever I was at the table (navigating), he usually addressed me as Mr. the same as I addressed him.
"Good idea, thank you, Sir." We never made it. Turbulence and the fact at fourteen thousand there wasn't any indication we'd make it. More importantly we did not have oxygen. He maintained my airspeed losing altitude down to about five thousand. It was smooth and better yet we were flying between layers of clouds. Moorehead had managed to raise two of the other flights who were having as much trouble as 78 Victor. Both said they would try our altitude if for nothing more than comfort.
Somewhere around five thousand feet 78 Victor settled down. Moorehead tried the automatic pilot but it was restless, kind of spasmatic simply because of the turbulence I guessed. Exactly where we were was anybody's guess. The crew was restless moving about considerably. I could see our airspeed and heading varying as we trespassed through our tunnel of clouds. I figured unless I said something this night and flight would be an exercise in futility.
"Mr. Moorehead, is it possible for you to hold our speed and a steadier heading? I'll have to ask the crew to settle down too, Sir." His reply was emphatically direct.
"Fitzpatrick, I'll fly and you navigate.'~ I was out of sorts but answered anyway.
"Yes, Sir, Mr. Moorehead, you fly and I'll navigate." He then gave me a supporting shot. "There will be no moving aft unless Mr. Fitzpatrick approves it."
"Sir, can we drop down some to see if we can see the water? I'll drop a flare. I would like an update on the wind direction and velocity."
"Holding speed and going for a look."
"Mr. Moorehead, since the weather has had its way with us I'm not one hundred per cent certain of my exact position. How about Mr. Tierney ge~ting me some bearings from the radio stations? It'll sure help. I'll furnish him the stations and frequencies." Well the pair of them in the front office (cockpit) stayed busier than a couple of cats on a tin roof. They even found stations not on my charts. Of course there was always my escape route, head east until we hit the coastline then fly north to the Straight of Juan De Fuca swing starboard and head home. We got one wind correction and along with all the bearings from the coastal cities and radio ranges I became comfortable as to our position. The weather was worsening and Mr. Moorehead searched for a more comfortable flight level. About the same time he heard from two squadron members who had deci(:led to more or less call it quits. Both were heading for the coastline. Pending the weather there and inland they would make their decision then.
"Yes, Sir, Mr. Moorehead."
"Are you comfortable with your position?"
"Yes, Sir. I'm tightening it up right now, Sir." I explained we were approximately so far off the coast and very close to 90 degrees bearing from, I stated the city which I no longer recall, following with I'd appreciate Pat giving me bearings in 'x' minutes then naming the two stations. I wasn't unhappy at that moment but knew Moorehead wanted a better position than I had at that moment. We altered our course to a southeasterly heading.
"Fitzpatrick, is this course part of our search plan?"
"Yes, Sir. It's as close as I can possibly get it without the stars, Mr. Moorehead. Navigating by dead reckoning and especially without wind correction leaves room for error, Sir. Mr. Moorehead, I don't have any doubt we'll be home between 0245 and 0300. Providing this bird holds up." I thanked him and Tierney for all their help in obtaining the bearings. Adding we had almost as many to take on our north bound leg. For the circumstances under which we were flying I wasn't dissatisfied. I related to them our approximated position assuring them it would be nearly right on in about fifteen minutes. It was easy to understand his apprehensiveness, I had the chart before me with all my bearings plotted along with my computations. He sat and stared the evening away in our dimly lit cockpit.
"Fitzpatrick, bring your chart forward." It was as though he read my mind.
"Yes, Sir, on the way." Moorehead looked over the many markings and notes I had been keeping. "How far to Tatoosh Island?"
"Sir, I haven't advanced, or estimated, our final leg as yet anticipating a better fix on the leg." "As soon as you're satisfied with your ETA for Tatoosh give it to me."
"Yes, Sir." It was back to work for me. The stress and anxiety of the night and especially producing an accurate ETA over Tatoosh Island for Moorehead was going to be no small ordeal.
"Fitzpatrick, Lt. Jackson has landed somewhere in Oregon. I didn't get where. You are sure of your figures aren't you?"
"Yes I am, Mr. Moorehead. We've taken so many bearings up and down the coast our position has to correct." That was sort of boasting I knew. We had been going by dead reckoning since we flew over Tatoosh Island hours before. With such a long miserable night and with a good portion of it flying on instruments the crew, too, was getting itchy. They asked a number of times as to our position.
"Where are we Mr. Fitzpatrick? What's our ETA at Ault Field?" They weren't a bit more apprehensive than was I. Each was invited to see my chart and showed them our position. The word conceming the other planes was passed by Moorehead, they knew the other three planes had all headed for the protection of some inland field. Probably they had landed earlier, secured their planes and their night was over. Nice beds, dry sheets and sleep. All that was by midnight.
We had every bit of two hours flying time remaining. Visibility was zero and mountains lined the coast every inch of the way to Tatoosh Island. For my morale as well as the crews I gave our new heading to Moorehead early. All in the back of the plane felt that sense of relief when Mr. Moorehead swung around 110 degrees easing 78 Victor into our heading for Tatoosh Island.
It was sometime before I advised Mr. Moorehead of our ETA for Tatoosh Island. We were, I estimated at that time, maybe forty minutes out. About thirty minutes out I made an adjustment to our heading as well as to our ETA.
"Fitzpatrick, are you sure of our ETA?"
"Yes, Sir. If you don't gain any speed on your let down or vary our course, we're right on, Sir."
The way he sort of implied all night, by the tone of his voice, that we were out over the Pacific Ocean and who knew where. I became a little boastful as to our position. Nobody in the world knew better than did I that there was so much hoped for accuracy in all my computations that if I ended up thirty miles north or south of the Straight of Juan Fuca it would have been a dandy job. So many bearings from so many . stations plotted out had to, without a doubt, place me where the Straight emptied into the Pacific Ocean.
"Fitzpatrick, I can't see the lighthouse as yet."
"You will, Sir. Hold steady Mr. Moorehead and we'll fly right overtop of the lighthouse." That very second I was sorry I said that. If we didn't cross directly over the lighthouse on Tatoosh Island I knew I would regret that remark for the rest of my tour of duty with this crew and especially Moorehead. I wondered why he continued to drop the Mister.
"Fitzpatrick, I don't see the lighthouse." I was fumbling about now.
"We will, Sir. It's a bit difficult in these low clouds." I got smart and said nothing more.
"Bring the binoculars and come forward." Forward I went with the binoculars and began searching for the lighthouse. Its flashing identity has long eluded me but at the time I must have repeated it to myself many times over hoping that might place it dead ahead. It was either Tierney or Moorehead who called out, "Look, there, isn't that a light?" All eyes were forward. I believe mine were out on the nose of the plane searching for a light, any light that might say, "Charlie, you're at the Straight." Oh! Did I want to be a winner.
"Put your binoculars on it, what does it read?" With the plane bouncing it was most difficult.
"I don't know, Sir." Tierney asked for the glasses and immediately pried the sky ahead. "Can't tell," he said.
"Where do you suppose we are?" A muffled voice behind me, one crew man, said to another. They weren't any more anxious than the three of us, and most especially me, with popped out eyes straining ahead.
"That's it." Called Moorehead. "The Tatoosh lighthouse. You can secure navigation now, Mr.
Fitzpatrick." Now anyone who says he spent the night navigating by dead reckoning while your pilot is flying three fourths of the flight on instruments and hits his ETA and point dead on is with the Lord's help and maybe a freight carload of luck to boot. To believe otherwise I would have been a liar of the ultimate sort. I had to admit to myself I had worked very hard all night to accomplish that goal and to prove myself. We flew the Neah Bay Range into Ault Field and landed without the aid of instruments.
You've got to understand, even though they didn't see the smile on my face at that moment, I faced them all, touching my finger to my head, simultaneously with a smile saying, "it was skill that did it." What they believed I never knew. I can say though, they all were outwardly mighty glad to be heading in the Straight for Ault Field and knowing we'd not have this trip to do over. We all got a laugh out of the fact we knew four crews who would have to in a night or two. Two crews were scattered over Washington the other two were in Oregon.
Nevertheless, whatever was on their minds they made it quite apparent their navigator showed them the way home and were appreciative of it. I was pleased, too. I had been busy the entire night and the effort paid off. The Moorehead and Fitzpatrick good relations were cemented that night. I was on the tarmac waiting for Mr-; Moorehead who was easing his way out of 78 Victor. Finally stepping out he offered his hand saying, "Congratulations, Fitz, you did a fine job." Pat Tierney followed abounding in good spirits and in his acquired New Jersey Irish brogue chimed in, "Am I glad to be here. Wait until the Old Man (The Skipper) hears what happened to the other four crews." We all were exuberant over our night's flight. Especially me.
"Hey! Fitz," -Pat yelled, "Good job, want a ride home? Well, lets go it's 0310." We all logged out of the Squadron and Pat and I headed for home in his 1 932 Fore!. He surprised me, his house being closer . he let himself off there and told me to go on home and to pick him up at about noon. Bets and I didn't have a phone so when I arrived at our place I called to her and tapped on the window. It was about 0400 (4:00 A.M.). That afternoon there was some good natured kidding, a few senior Lieutenants pulling rank suggesting Lieutenant Moorehead get another navigator. I'd fought that one. It was tough enough breaking in one PPC much less another. What I was happiest about, I'd become a part of the crew. A nice feeling.
Bets and I were in salmon country now and were bent on catching a salmon, ˇmaybe two. The local cannery would can your catch and label it for you.
THIS SALMON WAS CAUGHT BY CHARLES AND BETTY FITZPATRICK...
This salmon was caught by
Charles and Betty Fitzpatrick
In the Pudget Sound, Anacortes, Washington.
We tried hoping we'd be able to send several cans to her Mother, my folks and her sister Bootie and husband Lloyd, the master fishennan of the families. We had no luck at all. We did catch a couple of bug-eyed cod fish, nothing more. I never gave it a thought, but I believed the cannery would have labeled a few cans, for a price. I never asked though. When we told the Phillips about it they had a good laugh on us easterners. Mr. Phillips suggested we try deeper water off some point. He then explained where it was and how to get there. "You'd need a boat" I answered, not knowing the Phillips owned a neat little power boat. Return to TOP of page!
"Fitz, that's what I'm getting to. You can use mine." The offer of his boat to us was almost unbelievable except the offer was from Mr. Phillips. I mentioned before the Phillips were exceptionally fine as neighbors and more so as friends to their young service family next door. It was the first we knew he had a boat. The offer was both a surprise and very generous. A day or so later, during the early evening, Mr. Phillips showed me where he kept his boat and how to start it up. He was a quiet and a very nice fellow, well actually they both were with hearts of gold. Mr. Phillips checked me out several times in the starting and where and how he stowed various objects aboard. We secured the boat for the evening and headed for his car. At that point he handed me the key, saying, "It is an extra key Fltz, keep it over at your house."
Doug Bennett and I looked the boat over one day, even started it but didn't leave the dock. Betty and I used it twice I think. A short ride the first time for experience in handling in those deceptive waters. The second and last time we went fishing for that elusive salmon. According to the 'Locals' we had what it took to catch salmon, but not experience. We were not at all successful. Caught were two cod fish and much milfoil. As a matter of fact at one point it seemed the milfoil and kelp were actually going to catch us. The kelp beds were a unique experience. The beds were thick and dangerous for a small boat. They provided ideal security for fish and other marine life. The long strands of kelp were not unlike vines. They were tubular and maybe from one to two inches in diameter with a bulb like top resting on the surface. From what depth they rooted or how long they grew we didn't know. We saw some at least fifteen to twenty feet in length. They resembled a long whip like the lion trainer uses. Betty said they're the most incredible things she had ever seen. An eventful day losing only fifty cents worth of bait.
Fishing wasn't the eventful part of the day, not at all. Gorgeous, best describes the weather that day.
No humidity like home, comfortable breeze, scenery as picturesque as the photograph on the new calendar. Reminiscent of the type scenery you always see in calendar photographs but never in real life. Even the dock area was symbolic of a small northwest fishing town. As old-fashioned as Anacortes itself, uniquely quaint, attractive to the local gentry and curious alike. After checking over Mr. Phillips' boat, the "Cygnet" (Latin, meaning 'a young swan') we slipped her into Guemes Channel and then west into Rosario Strait. Easing slowly past Fidalgo Island's pine scented shore lines with their beauty further enhanced by the 'essence of the sea' water riveted our eyes and attention, so captivating us the hour of the day was lost.
Our aspiration and purpose for being where we were was to catch salmon. However, I can't deny our pleasure moseying about those waters surpassed catching fish. Nevertheless, we had our lines over anticipating we'd make the catch of the day. Nothing less than a thirty pound beauty was expected momentarily. Moments came and moments went, time nor tide didn't wait for our shipboard navigator. During our geographical exploration we had cruised to Shannon Point, a bit further than realized. I hadn't noticed the sun slipped over the yardarm. It was the cooler air which rang the navigator's bell. Betty wasn't expected to be aware of this factor, it was my responsibility. Ole' Skipper Jones had trained me well back home. The Navy topped his education and hands on training by far. My mistake was enjoying the company, scenery and the northwest in general, so much so little attention was given our position, time or tide.
Looking over Mr. Phillips' chart I recognized we had at best an hours voyage ahead of us. I had Betty reel in the lines while I swung the Cygnet about easing, her throttles forward a mite. Let me say at the outset, lest I forget it, the Lord was gracious to us that evening. With the sun dipping behind the mountains evening befell us faster then I contemplated. Causing in addition, dark shadows across the water making heretofore recognizable land marks indistinguishable. It was only a short time before the darkened sky joined the already darkened water. The difference between them was indiscernible. Except for the fact that the boat was floating and I could feel the water against our prow and our compass heading . was correct. I wasn't prepared for that overwhelming and absolute darkness. Those ever so beautiful tree lined shores were equally imperceptible.
Except for the occasional lighted channel markers our position was unascertainable. I could as easily run h~adlong into a boat, a floating log, one of which barely missed us, or rock jutting out of the water, the tree lined shore, believe me it wouldn't have been a problem. It was my opinion, if we're to survive this trip I had no choice but to ease out into deeper water and parallel the lighted channel buoys into Anacortes. Further compounding my plight was that Mr. Phillips' running lights were out and I without a flashlight. My sole light, a very dim small light on the dash by which to read the compass on the console, and almost the chart. I was afraid to take my eyes from the blackness ahead to focus my eyes too long on the chart fearing I'd ram something. I thought, my what a position I've placed my wife in. All the while she was sitting on the stern seat just riding along not worrying about a thing. She was on a fun trip. Running through my mind was all I ever heard my Uncle Will Boone and Skipper Jones say, or taught about boats and water. More importantly what was learned in the Navy was paying dividends.
Twice before, during Navy training I'd been in situations where my reasoning had to overpower the tendency to panic. Helping, too, was that I wasn't one that became disturbed or panicked easily. Moving out into deep water to be in a closer proximity to the buoys on my port side I noticed little to almost no progress was being made. The Cygnet was at her best cruising speed according to Mr. Phillips and the tachometer before me. My RPMs were right on. Then 1 realized I was buffeting the outgoing tide. At my setting on the tachometer we could burn all our gas virtually standing still and end up spending the night drifting about. There was more than enough gas to reach Anacortes if I increased our speed thereby overcoming the outgoing tide. At the dock there was signage as to the approximate threeJoot tide and reminding boaters to allow for it on any east bound course and the times ..
Why didn't I heed it? I did read it. However, I hadn't planned on staying out past sunset. Now the ˇtide was a factor. No way had I envisioned the final ingredient to my dilemma, a component so big, so powerful and so all consuming upon announcing its presence my adrenalin nearly afforded me the stimulus to dive overboard, lift the boat out of the water with one hand and swim carrying it ashore thereby saving Betty, boat and me. Bets had remarked she thought she heard a rumbling, in fact, she said, "I think it's louder." Looking about I could see nothing in the dark, about all had been eradicated, but, "Yes," I said, "There seems to be a rumbling."
Immediately following my statement, not a second later, there was the loudest booming blasting boat whistle securely attached to the largest ferryboat either of us had ever seen in the blackest of black nights. Bigger than life, not 200 feet astern and rapidly overtaking us. We knew the waterways . throughout the entire geographic area down a hundred miles to Seattle were laden with ferryboats. However, I hadn't given it a thought that there would be one due in Anacortes with us.
Did it startle us? Oh, no, indeed, it only scared us half to death, so we could hardly speak. The ferry, only partially visible now, appearing as some foul black monster looming out of the inky evening sea, now ablaze with lights. Her sudden lights produced on the bridge followed by its lightening like flash floodlight. As quickly as the Captain displayed his profusion of lights he subdued them all. Then it was another extended vibrating blast of his horn. Instantly, each had recognized the other. There wasn't to be a territorial scrap for supremacy of Anacortes' waters, I had already swung hard to starboard and knocking the throttle far forward with all immediacy and authority.
Praise the Lord he missed us. We were safe and each of us Captains knew it. However, let me add it wasn't without a real fright. As he passed by, too close for comfort, I came about to take his bow wash head on. That, too, produced instant fear and trepidation. With the throttle now reduced somewhat we plowed through his wake with a sigh of relief larger than the ferry we had just encountered. As the ferry passed the black engulfed us once again. Water from the ferry's bow wave stirred and scattered sporadic phosphorus lights which rose and fell from the mountain of water as the ferry pushed forward. Though the experience which took only seconds, I lived it the evening over.
Bouncing through his wake I realized the big old fellow was my ticket home. A little power applied once again and I'd follow him like his shadow. Albeit a very small happy and invisible one. We secured Mr. Phillips' boat and headed for home. Home to 231 8 N Place where Bet's interior efforts would provide us all the comfort and security we longed for after that eventful boat ride. I wasn't certain at that time Betty was really ever cognizant of the danger we had faced. Writing of that episode Bets advised me she wasn't worried a bit. She said, "I had faith in you. There was nothing to worry about."
For some reason Mr. Phillips couldn't recall, he had pulled the fuses to the Cygnet's lights. He apologized profusely then in the same breath advised he would replace them the next evening. We paid him for the gas and in addition gave him some gasoline ration stamps I'd scrounged. Time never permitted a second salmon fishing trip. However, we did go crabbing several more times.
THERE WERE THREE MOVIE THEATERS, WALK THE MILE PLUS INTO ANACORTES...
There were three movie theaters, walk the mile plus into Anacortes or visit one or the other Base theaters. In which event I'd prearrange for transportation to Oak Harbor or Ault Field. No movie played at the same theater more than three days. There wasn't a problem in keeping up with the latest hits. Return to TOP of page!
Betty and I acquired a board game while in Anacortes called Strategy which we played often. Each side had four generals and twenty-four men. The object was to overpower your opponent by taking his generals or reducing his troops to ineffectiveness. Years later it became a favorite with our son Andrew when he was a youngster. Like many items which were a favorite during a specific time in your life you never seem to be able to dispose of them. Strategy in its original form, as we purchased it, is retired though still with us. Today the manufactures have developed it into a more sophisticated game.
ARRIVING AT SQUADRON ONE MORNING, NOT TOO LONG BEFORE WE WERE TO TAKEOFF...
Arriving at squadron one morning, not too long before we were to takeoff for the Aleutians, I noticed my name on the bulletin board scheduling me for the dentist. Every squadron member had his share of physicals, including shots along with a trip to the dentist before departure. I'd been through all the rest no strain and found fit and clean as the proverbial hound's tooth. Return to TOP of page!
As much as possible your physique was to be right as rain and up to par for the trip north. Fix it now was the word, --medical facilities were thin and dentists far and few between. The between I suspected was between Ault Field and Attu. Sitting in the dentist chair the usual picking, scraping, tugging and pulling then the fillings, I had a few, then the 'coup de grace.'
"Son." The dentist said, "I'm scheduling you for 0900 tomorrow morning there are some wisdom teeth that have to be extracted." First, the 'Son' bit didn't sit well at all. This bozo I thought wasn't older than my brother Pex. More importantly he wasn't my father. This alleged medical man couldn't match my Dad's little toenail.
"Why take them out? They haven't bothered me."
"You're going into a forward area and orders are to check you so that you'll be physically fit for duty." I went into a dissertation about my physical fitness and that my teeth were not a problem and on and on. There was no winning, surely I was in a no win situation with this man. My dentist called for another and they both agreed my wisdom teeth should come out. 1 was pushing twenty-four and this dentist could not have been more than twenty-six and fresh out of dental school. That I should have to fall to some professional student just out of dental school and commissioned by .eason he was a dentist didn't set well at all. I ascertained I had been in the Navy longer than he, and gone through more.
To say he was a bloody butcher and a lousy dentist that wasn't dry behind the ears yet might be considered a compliment. That day he pulled two wisdom teeth and surgically removed the third and fourth. Truly, I felt I was a part of the walking dead. I went by the squadron to attempt to explain my plight and ask for a couple days to recover. The Executive and Personnel officers were astonished. I was told to go home and if better report back to the base in a few days. Betty, too, was shocked at the treatment. I was extremely uncomfortable with nothing more than an aspirin to help with the pain. I can only remember how sick and full of pain I was. It lasted better than a week. I believe Bets walked down to the Anacortes Drug store and purchased an ice bag. That was a blessing.
On the fourth day I returned to the squadron telling them I was not ready for flight duty. They understood. However, the dentist had to be seen. I reported to the dental office and advised I would not allow the same dentist to see me. The senior dentist, a older man, looked me over but said nothing. It had been a horribly atrocious and barbarous incident surely akin to torture, honestly. Before I left the old senior dentist in command, he handed me a pink slip which said I was grounded until further notice. Those bums not only laid it on me they worked over a good number of our men. I knew if in the future I had to visit the Navy's medical people it would be a different scene.
TIME WAS RUNNING OUT FOR US...
Time was running out for us. Naturally, squadron personnel were not to divulge where they were going. Being true blue to the cause I refused to tell Betty where. The subject was bantered about for several days. I would not tell her. In bed one night she pulled the sheets over our heads and said, "Now tell me nobody can hear or see you." We laughed about it but 1 would not tell. On one of those last precious few evenings just prior to supper she said she knew. Thinking this was a ploy to get me to say where, I laughed giving her a big hug and said, "No way, Baby." As much as Betty wanted to know I never even hinted as much. I totally ignored the subject whenever mentioned. She knew I wouldn't tell her and so gave up until supper a few evenings later. Return to TOP of page!
Bets, leaning over the table, so as to be closer to me, secretively looked about the otherwise empty room, and spoke to me in whispered tones.
"I know where you are going."
"No way," I responded, "It's all classified." I immediately thought she was attempting to bait me so I would tell her. All my mental red caution flags went up recalling the slogan around the many bases, "Loose lips sink allied ships." There were many such slogans with the same theme.
"According to the other wives around here who feel their source is impeccable ....oo Then she paused, looking around once again, speaking softly, very softly indeed, while 1 listened thinking she has another approach. I'll tell her tonight I thought.
"You're going to the Aleutian Islands to replace another squadron on rotation." I tried to bluff her for a bit and was being somewhat successful when she blurted out that her source was right about our replacing VPB-135.
"That's foolishness besides I don't know where we're going." I said.
"Oh! Yes you do. I can even tell you one of two islands on which you'll be based." "So lady, who's your impeccable source. The Captain?" I said, changing the story.
"No smarty, it's the milkman. Mrs. Phillips said he's been right the last two times. He knows."
Well, now I couldn't keep a straight face any longer. Though 1 still denied the whole thing. I did such a hard sell about her story that my bride of 20, plus a few months, seemed hurt and even apologized for having believed such a story. I convinced her not to discuss it with anyone again. I won that one. However, I could never tell her the milkman was wrong. He wasn't. The moral of my story is, I guess, that media aren't the only ones who may have loose lips and who are prone to talk too much. Some sailor or officer back then must have or the milkman wouldn't have been right.
It seemed everyone in town knew VPB-136 was shipping out to replace VPB-135 in the Aleutians. There were those civilians who openly discussed the subject. I told Betty that I would tell her and also mentioned Mrs. Phillips source was indeed impeccable. One of those pretty evenings just prior to leaving I told Bets of our destination as we sauntered into to Anacortes. She wanted me to have a radio so I could hear what was happening in the States and around the world. The one mini sized department store didn't have any radios at all. Like sugar, meat, gas and silk stockings there was none to be found. However, there was JACK'S RADIO SERVICE, so we walked over to Commercial Avenue for a look see. Yes, it was a very small radio shop and Jack was known for his honesty and reliability. We looked over the two or three he had rebuilt or repaired. New radios were not available. Thinking they were too big I thanked Jack for his time.
On the way out Betty's eye spotted a portable radio on the comer shelf that had a well worn appearance. It operated either with batteries or house current. Its cov~ring looked a disaster. Demonstrated we found it to play excellently. Its tone was delightful. The radio's looks were such that Jack wasn't too anxious to part with it. It might reflect his reputation in someway. In minutes the deal was consummated. Oh! Yes, Jack knew our squadron's destination also. We walked home as though we proud owners had purchased the world. On the way back to the project Bets showed me her short cut she used to and from the Anacortes Lutheran Church. It saved some distance but was hard on her nylon stockings. Dried grass and weeds were knee high. Because of my seven days a week schedule Betty had attended the church several times more than I and possibly a Wednesday evening service with some of the squadron wives.
BETTY WAS SO IMPRESSED WITH PASTOR FOOS SHE MADE SURE THE FIRST SUNDAY...
Betty was so impressed with Pastor Foos she made sure the first Sunday I was free from the squadron's activities we'd hear him together. The Pastor, we'd guessed, was maybe fifty years old. He surely gave the appearance of an older fellow. He had been a missionary and minister in northern Alaska including some part of the Aleutian chain for some time. His experience stood him well. Pastor Foos' expression, mannerisms and bearing were that of a much older and wiser man. Most important was the fact he was a man of God and the first Pastor that either of us could recall who continuously spoke of our Lord Jesus Christ and persistently preached the Apostle Paul's Gospel. That the Lord Jesus Christ was paramount in his life and his Living Lord and Saviour there was no doubt. Return to TOP of page!
Pastor Foos' messages touched Betty deeply. I was too busy with the Navy and the world in which I was exposed at that time to fully understand the blessing and implication of the Pastor's messages. Bets often spoke of Pastor Foos and the Lutheran church at Anacortes, however, neither of us were moved towards accepting the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. In essence without contradiction I Timothy, chapter 3 verse 1 6 was mentioned by Pastor Foos at many Services.
"And without controversy great is the mystery of Godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen --of Angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." 1 Tim. 3:16.
It has been said the above is the Gospel in miniature. It would certainly seem so to anyone familiar with their Bible. The Lord was patient if it was Pastor Foos who sowed the seed of our believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly there were many who watered on the way. But then God the Father said, "Before the foundation of the world He knew us."
Once the Pastor had time for a nice chat at the door with Betty prior to her leaving. He had a comparison and I would think he was referring to the Word. Their conversation went something like this.
Pastor: "When you were back home what church did you attend?"
"The Episcopal Church, it was the Church of The Ascension and Prince of Peace." Having noted in her mind how modestly and humble were the church's furnishings Betty remarked that the Episcopal church was more formal.
"Possibly so," Pastor Foos said, "However, Mrs. Fitzpatrick I can enjoy a good meal just as well on a paper plate as on a china plate." We have never forgotten his comparison. We haven't forgotten him. We were sad to learn of Pastor Foos' death during our 1987 Anacortes visit.
Once home that evening we tried our radio we had just purchased. The reception was positively wonderful. From my quonset hut on Attu I listened to many west coast stations, including Canada, Idaho and Tokyo Rose. More about her later. The little Emerson portable radio was without a doubt an excellent buy. A much appreciated gift.
VPB-136 HAD A FAREWELL PARTY WHICH WAS HELD IN A SMALL NON-DE-SCRIPT...
VPB-136 had a farewell party which was held in a small non-de-script lodge hall in Anacortes. Two reasons I supposed were paramount. The officers club was not going to have it there with the enlisted personnel, and secondly because alcoholic beverages would be served, much of it donated, thus the old proven axiom would certainly prevail. When the drinks are free many who would not drink, or who normally sip it would now swill it. The forever and dedicated beer drinkers switched to the free booze. So, the old axiom prevailed, 'For buy you leave-for free you take.' Thus such parties usually turn from a pleasant evening into a mess and finally a disgrace and embarrassment to most, ours wasn't the exception. Our executive officer was no less a mess. Our Academy grad, now our Exec, made passes at all the attractive women. No matter whose girl friend or wife. When he got around to dancing with my wife I cut in sending him elsewhere. There were a number of married couples who, after making their mandatory appearance left. We headed the exodus. Return to TOP of page!
Yes, the Anacortes era might be classified, for us, as those early forever days and. times of our lives.
VPB-136 was now scheduled to pull out on or about 5 June 1944. In the few days that remained I spent every possible minute with Betty. Each crew had a few training hops of one kind or another to cram in. We polished off a few more navigation flights along with some gunnery and bombing runs. All was a push to move out.
Pat Tierney and I made arrangements for our Bettys to ride the train together as far as Chicago.
Betty Tierney had Pat Jr. to handle and my Betty was to be a blessing during that train trip in that she aided Betty T. considerably. Word was out 136 may go sooner and that the married men should concern themselves with whatever arrangements that might be pending concerning their wives. Bets and I packed and shipped 1 66 pounds of our gear via the Railway Express on 4 June 1 944 then wrote the folks to watch for it.
Early morning 5 June 1 944 bag and baggage the five of us squeezed into Pat's old Ford and headed for Everett, Washington where Betty F., Betty T. and Pat, Jr. would catch the Great Northern railroad train for Chicago. Having assured ourselves they were safely aboard Pat and I returned to Ault Field and checked into the BOQ. The ladies and little Pat arrived Chicago late afternoon on the tenth. Bets then caught the B. & O. for Baltimore while Betty Tierney went on to New York and then down into New Jersey. Bets was home in Baltimore late afternoon of 1 0 June 1 944.
At breakfast, in the Ault Field BOQ, 6 June 1944 VPB-136 got the word of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. It was startling and scary news to say the least. It was strange how that news quieted the. base that morning. The two Bettys we were sure had heard the news. It was their second day riding the train east. Our crew quietly went about our loading of 78 Victor completing, too, our final flight check.
Right as rain 'the loose word' around was correct. We were scheduled to shove off on that Wednesday, 7 June 1944 for the Aleutians. At breakfast that morning Pat and I wondered how far east the girls and little Pat had made it. We'd have to reach our destination, send them our address and wait for their answer. It would be some time before we'd know about their trip east. Lt. Moorehead came by the breakfast table for coffee and to tell us he wanted us at squadron early. For me he wanted to make certain I had acquired all the navigation charts and equipment including the Sectional Charts that I would need. Pat was to meet Moran, our mechanic, and go over the plane one last time. Following that Pat and I were to meet Moorehead at briefing at 0915.
Entering briefing the Executive Officer and the squadron navigation officer pulled me aside to tell me I was now one of two assistant navigation officers for the squadron. However, there was nothing for me to do until we reached our destination since items we would be needing were packed and loaded. I was surprised and wondered had these men ever seen my navigation records from training? Nevertheless, my squadron navigation reputation to date was a very good one. No matter the Exec said this was to be my squadron duty assignment until further notice. Besides, I thought, I'll enjoy whatever it is I'm to do and also learn more about navigation. There can't be all that much to do. Said duty usually meant disbursing and inventory of charts and etc. until the squadron disbandment. Lt. Larson was the squadron navigation officer. I was assigned as the assistant navigation officer. While he was a bit stiff he had prior Aleutians experience and was an intelligent sort. Over aliI was pleased.
We were scheduled about number eight to takeoff. With box lunches aboard we lifted off the Ault Field runway for Annette, Alaska, around 1100. The climb out was smooth. The engines sounded harmoniously beautiful, no hesitation now, our one-way non-refundable tickets were punched for Annette, Alaska. Briefing had advised the first leg of our long journey was to terminate at Annette. There it would be determined as to whether or not we'd attempt the five hour plus leg over the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak. It was all aboard for six to ten months of the unknown. I looked back. The runway grew smaller and smaller until finally it appeared unfit for use becoming lost among the many land marks of the Washington northwest.
For an outdoor guy the flight to Annette was tantamount to being in a wonderland, without the trudging through it. The last large city we saw was Vancouver to our east. The ride was an overview of the Pacific northwest. More picturesque than post cards. However, there were no red coated Mounties to be seen. We touched down at Annette after a four hour flight, it was 1 500. Pat and Moran saw to the gassing up and otherwise checking 78 Victor over while Lt. Moorehead checked the weather to Kodiak. The Kodiak flight would take at least five plus hours, it was now about 1 545 If we could get off by 1600, and that was extremely doubtful, we'd be lucky if we touched down by 2130 (9:30 P.M.). Kodiak was canceled for that day.
There was little to do but sweat the weather those two days. Sunday, 11 June we were Kodiak bound.
We were fortunate, all went well. One crew for mechanical reasons turned back for Annette. Annette to Kodiak was five hours eighteen minutes. Here again we laid over waiting for a break in the weather. Five days later, on Friday the 16th., we were off to Umnak for a refueling stop on the way to Adak. Four hours and twelve minutes later we touched down at Umnak. Gassed up, a so-so lunch then to the weather guys and 78 Victor was again airborne. Adak was estimated to be a three hour and forty-eight minute ride. There was plenty of light left for our daylight landing about 1745.
78 VICTOR AND HER CREW WERE READIED FOR THE MORNING'S FLIGHT TO ATTU...
78 Victor and her crew were readied for the morning's flight to Attu but that evening we were advised all pilots and their navigators were to stay over at Adak for a week to attend Loran School. Briefings also were held concerning the general geographical area, weather, Attu and more weather. Return to TOP of page!
Loran was a form of navigation by radio. There were three stations, each with its own frequency, from which bearings could be taken and at the intersecting point of your three bearing lines was your position. Special Loran maps lined with all the possible readings were pre-printed. The bearing lines of each frequency were a separate color on the map. You read your bearing from a radar like scope switching to each of the three stations, noted your readings on the chart and you had your navigational fix. It was an extremely accurate method when it worked. That is an over simplification of Loran but since I have long forgotten the refinements of it I'll end with that description. Our Loran worked great for me and was truly a blessing for many crews. Weather being our worst enemy.
Much additional knowledge was there for the taking from experienced pilots. The time was exceptionally valuable in our preparation for the upcoming nine months. Weather again held us from moving on to our final destination of Attu. From 16 June until the 29th. Adak was our host. There were a couple of crews who left Adak for Attu on the 27th. flew for five hours and twelve minutes only to land back at Adak. Attu was socked in, ('socked in' meaning the island wasn't visible because of fog, rain, clouds or a snow storm closing the island airfield for operational use). On 29 June, three hours and three minutes Adak to Attu, twenty-one days after we left Ault Field, Whidbey Island, Washington we landed at Attu, Alaska. Total flight time twenty hours and thirty minutes. The western most island possession of the U.S ..
VPB-135 couldn't have greeted us more warmly or more generously at the bar. That was for those . who liked to imbibe. Our presence meant the last of 135 would be leaving the next day. At dinner the evening before I learned we four pilot navigators had no beef whatsoever. When VPB-135 was forming they acquired eighteen pilot navigators in the same manner that brought Ward, Dulan and our unknown fourth and myself to 136. We also learned besides the four of us there were about seven other Ensigns who made it to 136 via the same route. How well I would come to know. and understand their feelings about leaving Attu. Checking in was accomplished amazingly fast. I was to be billeted with Lieutenants Moe, Morrison and Moorehead and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Paul "Punchy" Haag and Ensign Pat Tierney. There was some rumbling at first as to how we junior officers were assigned quarters with the senior officers. It didn't bother me a bit. I ignored all conversations about such since I had nothing to do with quonset hut assignments.
I was content since I was in close proximity to the officer's mess which included the officer's lounge, the briefing room and navigation office. Last and certainly not the least I was only yards from the gym. It was first rate with a steam room, rub down tables, hand ball court, exercise room and basketball court. Better yet, when it snowed, rained or those ever howling winds got up I was close to all the action. Never would I get soaking wet or lost in the snow as on occasion did a few of my drinking roommates.
I even drew the best bed of the six in our quonset. In fact my quarters were best overall I felt. The previous occupant had made a very nice table sized to the room. Truly it was a dandy .. The portable Emerson sat on its edge and was easily operated from my bunk. He even had one of the three best dressers in the hut. Topping it all off he left his down comforter. Though a bit soiled, it didn't take long for the value of its warmth to make it acceptable, its soiled condition and spots of dirt even unnoticed. A few more cool nights on Attu and you were sure the dirt added to the comfort's warmth. An additional such night or two, I'd asked myself, "what dirt, why, it isn't even noticeable Charlie."
My bunk's single spring sagged so far down. that when my covers and comfort were pulled up to my ears the bed very nearly appeared to be unoccupied. There was barely a mound to indicate occupancy. Sleep came easy. There were always three or four of the hut's six windows opened. The cold air wasn't a bother. My drinking neighbors assured me it was for their best interest and mine to leave them open. Rank had its privileges.
The difference from the beginning of our trip from Whidbey up through Annette and on to Kodiak, Alaska and finally to Attu was stark. Where I was to live and be a part of the war, the Aleutian chain of islands were void of tre~s, shrubs and the foliage plants to which I'd been acquainted. Barren, however, not as in our deserts, there was the tundra. Marshy flat land known to the far northern regions, with almost no vegetation except for moss and lichens. Well, our tundra wasn't discriminating, it was all around us. Walking on it was like walking on top of a giant mole run. Soft and spongy like. There was a grass of sorts in which grew a few scattered wild flowers a few inches in height. That was it. No rolling meadows graced with acres of beautiful flowers. No, not even the pines of the great northwest grew out there.
Wild life consisted of a few sparrow like birds. Sea birds would come and go. Then there was the one and only, scrounge moth eaten red fox. Actually, we never did see any moths, the fox only looked like the moths had gotten to him. He was a hold over from an experiment when some optimistic soul ventured to raise fox. He spooked easily, then who wouldn't living under his circumstances. Food was left for him whenever he was spotted hanging around the mess halls. Oh! Yes, there was one tree .. Some enterprising Navy officer brought a tree up in his plane from Whidbey, Island and planted it. It lived, well sort of you might say. The better way to describe it would be to say Charlie Brown's_ Christmas tree was a blue ribbon winner compared to Attu's lone tree. Before 136 left Attu it was my understanding someone had given it its last Rites.
Now if you coveted a salmon for dinner it was very easy. Acquire from one of the shops a sharpened stick or pointed metal rod and stand by the shore and spear him. Fillet him and he was ready to be placed on the top of your round oil heater, after it was dented in a bit to hold the melted butter. Apply a little butter and fry him to perfection. From the mess a little bread along with a couple of cokes, or cans of beer, your choice, and you had a most delightful meal. This was more often seen in huts where more junior officers resided than in those huts wherein there were more senior officers.
WE WEREN'T ON THE ISLAND TWENTY-TWO HOURS WHEN WE WERE SCHEDULED...
We weren't on the island twenty-two hours when we were scheduled for a familiarization and instrument flight. Thus our first takeoff from Attu was on 30 June 1944. Familiarization was just that. First, adjusting your takeoff to the Marston steel matting which was placed over the soggy tundra providing a more-or-Iess level and a firm runway. Many sections laid in place locked section to section and end to end ultimately establishing a 5000 foot runway. It was wavy and full of pockets. Never could it be compared to the engineered concrete runway. It was one thing taking off empty versus our military overload weight. Return to TOP of page!
Familiarization applied equally to the area so as to become familiar with the island and able to recognize specific landmarks anticipating foul weather. That same day we flew out to Cape Wrangel the western most tip of Attu to become familiar with it as a landmark. We wanted to recognize it on the radar scope also. Our flight back to base we paralleled Attu's southern most shore gaining knowledge of it. From all our briefing we knew there'd come that day, while flying on instruments, just above the deck, knowing those landmarks would help in mentally positioning ourselves time and distance wise to the field.
Following that excursion Moorehead and Tierney made a half dozen practice instrument approaches experiencing themselves for that inevitable day. The day fog shrouded Attu would all but disappear, when we'd all be most happy for the trial runs and their many dry runs. After a couple trips out and back to Cape Wrangel, besides eye balling the geography, I had the opportunity to operate the Loran. It was but a brief test and indeed found accurate. After about three and a half hours flight time we secured 78 Victor in her assigned revetment for protection from the weather and possible strafing, if any. It was a busy day for VPB136 since everyone was anxious to learn about this small island and experience the runways.
THE BALANCE OF THE DAY WAS MINE SO I HEADED FOR MY QUONSET HUT...
The balance of the day was mine so I headed for my quonset hut retiring to my recent inheritance, my comfortably warmllnd cozy six by twelve room to write Betty. First, I thought I'd put everything away in my dresser. Next was that neat radio Bets purchased for me. It was positioned on the table beside my bed at a spot from which it could be easily operated. Wondering how well it might operate from the quonset I turned it on and the first station was out of Seattle. It was great. This was the first opportunity to sit quiet and meditate. I got Betty's letter off. Return to TOP of page!
The music from Seattle had me thinking, "Charlie how did you ever get into this situation?" Reality set in, with a mite of the blues. It was the first time since leaving home after Jacksonville. I began to think about where I really was. "The Aleutian Islands, which are a partially submerged extension of the mountain chain that forms the Alaska Peninsula stretching nearly 2000 nautical miles from the tip of the peninsula west to Attu." I thought, "What am I doing way out here it's nothing but a pile stone and tundra with more water around than I ever envisioned." A departing 135 navigator said one of their PPC's aptly described Attu as a fog with an island in the middle of it .. He was certainly correct in his description.
"Weather conditions are among the worst in the world. Violent winds (williwaws) blow [almost] daily along with fog, rain and snow [somewhere along the chain]. Measurable precipitation occurs 200 days a year. Temperatures are not as cold as in the interior Alaska, seldom going below zero. Snow depths average two to three feet with occasional blizzards piling the snow up to six feet. The topography is extremely rugged due to their volcanic origins on most of the islands. Glaciers and permanent snowdrifts dot the higher elevations."
THE ISLANDS DID NOT GO UNNOTICED BY THE JAPANESE, HOWEVER...
"The islands did not go unnoticed by the Japanese, however. In the early 1930s, the Japanese had largely depleted the run of fish off their own shore, and had begun to work off the coast of America, from Mexico to Alaska. In 1932 they sent floating canneries across the Bering Sea and subsequently extended their trips into Alaska's Bristol Bay region. In 1937, the U.S. State Department protested to Tokyo about Japanese encroachment on the fishing areas. The Japane.se had also been examining the Aleutian Islands for years, and had even landed on some of them to take readings and draw maps. They had landed on St. Lawrence Island in 1937 and tried to barter liquor for fur boots. Submarine sightings had been reported off several islands."* Return to TOP of page!
*Stan Cohen's THE FORGOTTEN WAR. First printing April 1981, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Missoula, Montana. [bracketed comments added by autobiographer from his experience].
Sitting on my bunk at that spot on Attu that day I truly realized for the first time how insignificant Charlie Fitzpatrick was compared to the total war effort. I was no more than a very tiny bean in a mighty large pot boiling in this war and on this globe. The pot was seething now, there were but a small handful out of all the world who cared whether I sank or swam. We as a crew were in that stew. Did the crew realize how much each of us was dependent on the other for survival? I did. Did they think how much the front office (pilots) and the navigator meant to their survival? I did. I felt sure Harry Moran, our mechanic and plane captain along with Fred Beurskens our radioman knew. Our turret gunner Bill Glennon, by far the youngest, what did he think? I believe he sweated each trip, without it showing, like the rest.
The officers knew what they meant to us, as well as what each crew member meant to the other.
Survival was a total team effort. Lt. Moorehead was right back at Whidbey, about each of us honing our skills. He knew. Practice was over. In a few days we'd be over Japanese islands. Our festering enemy. In my mind there was no middle ground. There was enough history already to show there was no doubt the 'Nips' were playing for keeps.
It was 720 plus nautical miles to the Kurile Islands. It seemed across all water in the northern Pacific Ocean and a sizable chunk of the Bearing Sea. You'd make your run (raid) over the designated target and turn running for home. The ride back was no free ride either. You couldn't linger around paramushiro simply because it was a matter of gas. You beat it home for that reason and because the Jap fighters were chasing you. It was tough for them to make more then one pass at you. They seldom got that. However, in most occurrences if a chase ensued we'd had one advantage since we snuck in making our run west to east already on the way out. Out was away from the target towards home, Attu.
If an engagement were to occur and you weren't shot down your remaining petrol on board dictated your destination. Home, 720 plus nautical miles over all water, the Pacific Ocean or it was up the Russian Peninsula of Kamchatka to Petropavlovsk. The Russians had a base there and it afforded the American crews an emergency field on which to land. Russia and Japan were not at war. However, the Russians, for the most part, made it certain no internee felt it a bed of roses at Petropavlovsk. They didn't give a hoot for the Geneva Convention or an American.
Still sitting on my bunk meditating over the few charts I'd spread out Moorehead stuck his head in my door way, asking, "worried?"
"Apprehensive about doing my job. It's a long way over to Paramushiro. Coming back is the same, one heck of a lot of water, especially if we run into weather, it'll sweat the bunch of us." He pulled up a chair and like me, pondered the charts. We discussed approaches to our target areas as well as the way out. The best way out was to head east ..
"A few runs over there we'll all have calluses you know where."
"Not me Mr. Moorehead. I'll be up and down from the navigation table and charts to eye balling the sky and sea through my astro bubble."
As he stood to leave he said, "Fitz, isn't it about time you called me Jim?" He offered his hand, we shook on it.
"How about an early dinner? We'll be through early and have time for letter writing."
"Ok, Jim." My thought for tomorrow, I'd plot a few courses and their specific destinations. ,'II get a set of duplicate charts also. I repacked my navigation bag in the exact order I knew I would keep it so long as I was 78 Victor's navigator.
I decided that no one would have the opportunity to put their grubby paws in it searching for something that didn't concern them. Further, from this day forward the contents were for the eyes and paws of Charlie Fitz only. None would carry or handle my bag without my express permission. It would be well supplied even to a dozen sharpened pencils. Preparations anticipating our first 'Empire Express' concerning navigational situations were securely tucked in my bag. There would be no strange sticky fingers roaming in or through my bag. Maybe the crew didn't realize it but the old bag had our ticket over and back. Providing those twin row 18 cylinder Pratt & Whitneys did their thing.
VPB-136 was scheduled for six months duty on Attu. Theory dictated we would be rotated back to Whidbey, Island, a thirty day leave then back to the squadron to regroup for Attu. Theory was the guide in the rotation of pilots. First tour, a senior pilot as PPC. He mayor may not be assigned a second tour as PPC. If not the co-pilot of that crew was promoted to PPC. The pilot navigator from the prior crew now became the co-pilot. The green horn of the officer contingent was for the most part the pilot navigator, but not always. Both plans mentioned above were, as I said, theory. We ultimately stayed on Attu ten months. In lieu of that much sought after homeward trip in December 1944, it was 17 March 1945.
Operational flights were made up of aerological, photography, scouting and tactical. There were a few other titled flights but for the most part they'd fit under one of the four operational flights mentioned above. Total air time was estimated at three hundred to four hundred hours. An estimated forty-five combat flights, in addition, there were a goodly number of searches along with a number of flights commenced but that were discontinued, mostly because of weather. Familiarization with the instrument approach system was critical. It had to be known better than the palm of your hand. All PPC's spent hours practicing the instrument approach landings. When you had to affect an actual landing by Attu's instrument system, invariably the conclusion realized was more practice time was needed. There was but an exceptionally wee bit of margin for error. It was a known fact that weather was indeed an enemy equal to the Japanese.
HAVING LOST MY LOG BOOK IN A DITCHING ACCIDENT ON OUR WAY HOME FROM ATTU...
Having lost my log book in a ditching accident on our way home from Attu I had to rely on memory. Return to TOP of page!
Bolstering it, however, is the data given me by my former squadron mate Lieutenant Orval H. Moe* who now resides, with his lovely wife Laura in Silverton, Oregon. Mae as he was affectionately called bunked in the cubicle, small room or whatever next to mine while we were on Attu. Orval Moe is a kind, gentle and considerate gentleman. He also was an exceptional basketball player. A very nice friend to have.
*Lieutenant Orval Harlan Moe, USNR of VPB-136, thank you for your copy of your flight log book data. Serving as a reminder and support of estimated data.
For the first few days of July we were weathered in. About the fifth we flew our first Scouting flight.
Such scouting or searches were flown regularly south and west of Attu as a preventative measure against the Japanese of attempting their retaking any portion of the Aleutians or affecting retaliatory action against the Americans for their constant bombing of Shimushu and Paramushiro. Normally there would be three or four flights simultaneously, each covering a very large area. They were long and boring flights with all eyes peeled looking for any unknown or questionable sighting. We never spotted an airplane, surface ship or submarine. None of us did.
I wasn't the only 136 navigator who was thrilled with Loran. VPB-135 ahead of us were the first to appreciate the method of long range radio navigation. Like them, we came to rely on the difference in measurement of microseconds reading the master and slave signals thereby plotting the reading into a triangulation, a fix. Your position over the ocean was accurately established by that plotting, giving your pOSition or fix no larger than a pin head, unless you worked with a dull pencil.
My first flight out of Attu, an extended daylight search the sun was invisible the entire flight. The octant was useless. For experience I plotted the search by dead reckoning along with the Loran. While Jim Moorehead was on and off insofar as instrument flying, the sea was visible often enough to obtain good estimates of wind drift and speed. Loran put us exactly where I planned and estimated time wise. My dead reckoning was off, however, we would have made it back nevertheless.
Henceforth, I thought it best to use all three methods assuming the sun or stars were out. After all wasn't Attu home, such a nice place. I knew I would get plenty experience now at reading the wind from the water. I thought I was at least fair at it. My first trip over such a large expanse of water, I learned fair wasn't good enough. That trip I realized my navigation was good only for our return to base if the plane was functioning as it should. If the occasion arose and we were to ditch, and assuming we were only twenty-five miles from our base or less, the navigational fix was useless.
By the time such a message was radioed, a crew ditched and with the assumption help was airborne in minutes, and it couldn't be, it'd be doubtful for crew survival. Life expectancy in the water was twelve, maybe fourteen minutes. If perchance you survived fifteen minutes the body would virtually be incapacitated except maybe for rolling your eyes a bit. If the rescue PBY could land without any difficulty whatsoever and retrieve the downed crew within minutes, and here again that was absolutely impossible, of its landing the odds were, they would be collecting bodies only, if any.
In the mission crew's favor was the fact that the Headquarters Squadron kept a stand-by rescue plane and crew ready whenever there were any flights scheduled. Their rescue plane was warmed up for ready takeoff approximately each hour.
The Navy kept an improved, yes, a converted vintage WW 1 four stacker, a destroyer, approximately half the distance between Paramushiro and Attu. It was to radio coded weather reports to Attu so that a determination as to the viability concerning missions to Paramushiro. It served as a rescue ship as well. On the way to Paramushiro or heading home that destroyer represented the place to ditch if you could locate it and reach it. Because of weather and exceptionally heavy seas she was more often then not off course. We never saw her simply because she was south of our course to and from Paramushiro. Psychologically to some crews that WW 1 converted four stacker was a comfort. Not so our crew.
I learned in a few trips flying across the ocean that no matter how savagely beautiful or serene and calm its appearance a certain unending hesitation and trepidation rode silently with every crew member no matter his background, experience, age, rank or rate. Even though none mentioned the disquieting subconscious thought, if you ever entered the sea, hope wasn't yours. Three or four trips over to the Japanese homeland, the Kuriles, the uneasiness that there was no recourse dimmed, however, yet never extinguished. It no longer mattered, there was no appeal.
Your wing man was only comfort in that he only could be seen. Seldom after a run on Paramushiro was he there since over the target you usually lost visual contact. If the enemy was pursuing you there was no getting together. If ditching became a reality it would be comforting to pass a few last radio messages through him knowing they would reach home. More importantly, the folks on the home front would learn exactly what had happened to you. Other than he was a friendly voice he could offer no help. He had but one life raft for himself and his crew. Possibly, if he'd circled two or three times, then make it back to Attu with maybe fifteen gallons of gas on board. There was an alternative if in fact you were shot up and leaving the target area. Head for Russia, specifically Petropavlovsk, a town north of the Kuriles up the Kamchatka Peninsula on the Bearing Sea. There was a 5000 foot paved runway on which to set down. But that's another story.
WE HAD MADE A NUMBER OF SCOUTING SEARCHES, SEVERAL SHORTEED BY WEATHER...
We had made a number of scouting searches, several shorteed by weather. However, we now knew we were in for more adventurous flights. Before our tour of duty expired 78V's crew had flown nineteen scouting searches, each averaging 7.8 hours per flight. Two aerological flights totalling about the same hours per flight. Tactical missions or what were nicknamed "Empire Express" flights to Japan numbered fourteen and approximated nine to ten plus hours in duration plus a few tenths of an hour. Not counting flight time over target. There were, however, a few flights for almost every crew which ran in excess of ten plus hours, we did. Yet, on the other hand there were flights destined for the Kuriles which lasted between three to five plus hours, none for 78V. In every instance, of such short duration, flights either because of weather or mechanical trouble turned you back. More often than not it was weather. One very memorable flight, a four plane photographic mission, which took us down most of the entire west coast of Paramushiro. That's a story in itself. Return to TOP of page!
I volunteered to navigate four additional searches for navigator friends. Each had the opportunity toˇ fly the right seat affording them desired experience. In addition, for the same reason, I volunteered to navigate a tactical mission over to Japan for another friend. I don't recall that we ever completed the flight. About five and a half hours of instrument weather was the reason. After experiencing that pilot's attempts at his instrument landings cured me of ever volunteering for a tactical mission again. If we had a nickel for every white cap over which we flew we would have counted them for years. Those long cold and dull searches never were a comfortable way in which to pass the day. After about eight scouting searches each succeeding one became more ignoble than the one before. The first was as the last, a drag. However, a meaningful job that needed to be done.
OUR DAY HAD COME FOR THAT LONG RIDE...
Our day had come for that long ride. 'The Empire Express.' Our first. We were about to become full fledged members of that not so sought for honor. To the Japanese homeland. To Shimushu and Paramushiro their two northern most islands. Our purpose was to prevent, or at least deter, their military build up and to heap havoc generally and especially upon their fishing industry. Fortunately, it was learned through the experience of prior squadrons night bombing raids were not altogether successful. That pleased me for I alone knew how celestial navigation and I fared. Lest any forget, daylight raids were a trip in themselves, no picnic. Return to TOP of page!
Preparations for our first daylight mission had been completed for some time. Our day was inevitable. That morning we were awakened about 0430 by the Master of Arms who made certain we were awake, wide eyed and bushy tailed and in good voice before he left. A little fresh up, step out into the black cold and head for chow. Typically, the Navy fed us well. Chow hound that I was I had an orange, a small steak covered with two fried eggs complete with toast and jelly. Milk wasn't like down on the farm. It was a powder water mix. Every time the chef or whoever it was that mixed it learned the mix routine he either was transferredred or assigned other duty. Breakfast before a mission was similar to the condemned man's last meal. I ate well at each such breakfast. Although I must admit they fed you equally as well if and when you returned.
Breakfast over, (steak, potatoes or cereal & etc.) briefing completed we'd pile into the back of a truck with a canvas top sitting on slatted wooden benches along either side. The driver would drop us off at the revetment where 78 Victor was getting an early morning treatment of deicing. Next was Harry's being a hundred percent sure our gas tanks were full to the brim and water free. The engines were externally warmed then pulled through in anticipation of starting. Our mechanic, Harry Moran, was in command of everything that happened in and around 78V. He was excellent at his job. With little boost from the auxiliary power, 78V's cold engines coughing and sputtering would, with a ˇlittle coaching, finally catch. Oh! That beautiful sound, even at that early hour of the morning. Jim would make a complete run-up with Harry Moran looking over his shoulder and Pat, in the right seat, following through. Jim, satisfying himself the Pratt and Whitneys checked out, would turn, and ascertain for himself all was in order aft.
Satisfied all was in order we taxied to the end of the runway, parked along with three other PVs, and shut down the engines. Immediately, Hedron's (Head Quarters Squadron) large gas truck pulled up and topped off our tanks. Gas was that critical to the mission's success, and our own necks, that from engine warm up to just prior to takeoff your tanks were topped off again. Instantly following was the Hedron people were deicing your plane for the second time. Without delay each plane was deiced minutes prior to taking off.
From this point until we were in the air heading for Paramushiro it wasn't in me to relax. As a matter of fact I don't think anybody did. When Jim did his weight and balance check remained a mystery to me for months. He relied solely on Harry Moran. We all knew Lockheed's figures said 31,000 pounds was the maximum gross overload, the PV's manual said 28,500 in ideal conditions stateside. However, the Navy had their own max and we flew by it. The 31,000 figure of Lockheed was for ideal conditions, wind, temperature and including a paved runway.
We were using the Marston mat runway, far less than ideal. Throughout its 5000 feet it was with depressions then rises and sinking, next the bumps then rises and bumps again and over again. Not conducive for an overloaded PV 1 on takeoff. Regularly we lifted off at 11 0 to 11 2 blood sweating knots carrying 34,000 pounds, sometimes a bit over that, 3000 pounds plus over the gross maximum stated. After the first several nerve racking slowly seconds, lift of our tail on takeoff Jim, to remove weight from the aft end, he had Harry and me ride as close to him and Pat on takeoff as we could possibly squeeze. Bill Glennon was moved forward to the navigator's position.
Our altimeter was set at about eight feet which was the height of the runway above Casco Cove.
Immediately, after we were over the Cove's cold waters I was sure, on more than a few occasions 78 Victor settled a foot or so. None could verify it since those in the office were too busy holding their breath and 78V on course. Their only actual movement came with Moorehead's lips calling for, "wheels up." Pat's motion was the other. His left hand was quick and easy actuating the gear lever into the up position. Pat would call out loud and clear, "gear up." Hearing that was always a relief for we knew our air speed would pick up also. This was no fighter jockey takeoff. Jim held the nose steady in place not lifting it a inch until the airspeed started to climb first.
Once 78 Victor was no longer straining to reach out and get up but approaching her normal climbing speed we'd all settle down to our routines. While we settled down that's true, speaking for myself I'd have to say that was right after my heart resumed its normal sinus rhythm. The rest of the gang never said it, however, their faces more then told the story as did their commencement of nervous and fast chattering once we leveled off. Watching Moorehead and Tierney, maybe exchanging a flight related word or two, followed by the pursing of their lips exhaling extensively all their carbo dioxide accompanied by a long and relaxing 'pheeeew'. Settling back into seats, told we were safely air-borne and on our way. Briefly stated NO takeoff was without fear and trepidation, none ever. Each and every one was in itself a very scary and frightful event. No matter whether it was the fifth, ten or fifteenth. Takeoffs were a thrilling adventure second to none.
I had planned a course to cut across Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, twenty-five nautical miles north of Point Lopatka, I had. previously given Jim the heading. Usually he established it minutes after takeoff. Immediately, I'd settle down at my navigation table advising him of any correction. After a few minutes I called to Jim.
"Pilot from Navigator."
"Go ahead Fitz, what do you have?"
"Pilot from Navigator, course change, 8 degrees port in one minute. Repeat, 8 degrees port in one minute from ..... now, ... mark." It was the way Jim wanted it. He'd mark his time and correct our course.
I'd note the exact time of our course correction by my chronometer.
"Roger, Fitz .... 8 degrees to port, one minute. Is this heading going to cross Kamchatka north of Lopatka?"
"Roger. North of Lopatka twenty to twenty-five miles. Excepting any additional correction for wind after we're out awhile." So we were off on our first trip that would take us over Russia and to Japan. Here I was in a plane flying over the Pacific with water as far as you could see on any point of the compass and with more sky than water. Me, accountable for navigation. Responsible for getting the bunch of us to the target and back to Attu safely. It was tough to quite fathom it all. Approaching the international dateline kind of brought it all into perspective. To reduce my first trip pressures, possibly some others too, and to help myself to better comprehend the complexity of it all, I thought a little levity might not hurt the front office (pilots) either.
"Navigator to pilot." "Yes, go ahead, Fitz."
"How's the weather tomorrow, Jim?"
"What do you mean, Fitz? If we get through this day we don't fly tomorrow." So that I'd be correct I estimated the total time from our first crossing of the International dateline until we recrossed it on our homeward leg. I had to be prepared for Jim and Pat.
"Pilot from navigator. I thought you two might tell me how tomorrow's weather looks since you're looking into it now. This is Sunday, Jim. Monday is dead ahead two minutes, how's the weather?" I could hear Pat laughing, he recalled the International dateline business. However, it was the ever serious Moorehead who answered.
"Navigator from pilot. Monday looks fine. However, can you get me yesterday's weather for our return?" They both turned looking back at me and laughing. I eased forward kidding them asking if they had seen the dateline.
"No," Pat said, "We'll watch for it on the way back."
"Fitz, be sure to log the date, time and position of our crossing, the Navy will issue a parchment with King Neptune on it, it is really very nice for framing and as a conversation piece."
"Wilco, Jim." (Wilco meaning will comply). Once again it became quiet within 78 Victor except for the sound of the Pratt and Whitney's carrying us along at a smooth 160 knots (about 184 MPH). Several course corrections were made to correct for drift as we advanced towards our target. As I looked around I was certain all minds were channeled to that frequency, anticipating our lot in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Attu to target varied from four and a half to five hours. Approximate round trip flight time averaged ten hours. That is not counting time over or around the target. Flights have lasted as long as eleven hours.
THE NAVIGATOR'S TABLE AND SEAT WERE UNIQUELY PLACED...
The navigator's table and seat were uniquely placed. It was amidship without space to place your feet perpendicular to the seat since the table was that close. You sat kind of fly-footed. The reason you sat that way was because your seat was the 40 gallon self-sealing reserve oil tank about a foot from the reserve gas tank. The base for supporting the navigator's table was our 120 gallon self-sealing avgas (aviation gasoline) tank, holding our much needed additional supply of aviation gasoline contained in a self-sealing tank. The navigator's table and charts were but inches above the avgas. Return to TOP of page!
Immediately beneath it in the aft section of the bomb bay was another auxiliary tank of 280 gallons of gas. The bomb bay reserve gasoline tank was not self-sealing, therefore it was standard procedure to empty it first, to reduce the hazard of fire. Immediately, forward of the bombay auxiliary gas tank we carried three 500 pound GP (General purpose) bombs which hung on the forward shackles. They were just beneath me. Further we had two wing tanks carrying 165 gallons each. This all was in addition to our regular avgas wing tank capacity. All armor plate aft of the center of gravity and the tunnel guns were removed. There were days we carried two 1 00 pound fragmentation cluster bombs and one 1 00 pound incendiary cluster bomb. The three were tossed by hand out of the stern hatch on command of the PPC. *(Gas stats)
There was other armament of significance. VPB-136 was the first squadron to receive the chin gun modification installed under the nose thereby increasing the PV's forward firing from two to five .50 caliber guns. Our PV's spat out a lethal dose of fire which exceeded that of some fighters. All fixed forward 50 caliber guns, including our turret gunner's twin 50s could, if desired, make a total of seven guns firing forward. The 50s were bore sighted to converge at 1,ZOO feet (400 yards) and, an experienced pilot could on a strafing attack cut a small enemy wooden fishing ship in half.*
*Publication "PV-l Ventura in action." By permission Squadron/Signal Publication, Inc. Carrollton, Texas ..
In the next hour the weather began worsening. First scattered clouds from about 800 feet to maybe several thousand feet above us. Shortly, it became a solid mass clear to the heavens. There was no use in attempting to go on top. We already had a gas problem without wasting it climbing thousands of feet. The radar and Loran were both operating fine, the decision, go through it until we reach the Kamchatka Peninsula. We did and then flew south for Shimushu. When we arrived we knew even the birds were grounded. The weather had worsened. By radar I guided l8V over the island of Shimushu to where it was anticipated we were over, or in the vicinity of, the Japanese radio station. It was there we unloaded our three five hundred pound general purpose bombs and three one hundred pound cluster bombs, two fragmentation and one incendiary. Departing our target area we heard over the radio our wing man was experiencing the same conditions except that he had observed some anti-aircraft fire. We had none.
Once we cleared the foul weather that covered us prior to and over the target area, our journey back to Attu was a piece of cake. Radio silence now broken we learned from two other of our squadron their luck was no better, certainly no worse, than ours. The fourth member of that mission had returned to base early because of an oil pressure problem. If the base was beginning to close in and you were only seventeen minutes away it was seldom, if ever, you could eliminate that final instrument flight and landing. Once the bubble over the base was dispersed there wasn't time enough for you to reach the base and to get on the ground. You were certain to fly the remaining distance on instruments. It was realistic to believe your final approach would be on instruments also. If the ceiling remained around 500 feet you had the winning ticket. Drop down over water and fly the remaining distance on the deck, beneath the low ceiling. That was your second blessing of the day.
Upon our return home we were advised the bubble was dissipating and subsequently greeted with weather like none we had flown in before. Attu was fogged in. Let me explain the situation at the field. The weatherman had a most difficult task. Predict and project the weather over our airfield for departure and as well for the time we were to return. I mentioned that weather was our number one operational problem. When the wind remained from approximately the north northwest around to the north northeast the weatherman might predict (generally) we'd have fine weather for operations.
With the wind from that direction, the opposite side of the mountains, the air was lifted up and over the mountains. In the process some moisture was wrested out by the lifting and some even fell in the mountains. The lee side being warmer helped to form a bubble over the airstrip. Now the weatherman's problem was to predict when we'd have that bubble for operations and how long it would last. Missions were usually from nine and a half up to ten hours, on occasion maybe up to twenty-five minutes more. They were truly the hairy ones -gas worries also. Excepting time over the target or weather enroute or at Attu. If he was right for takeoff would he be so for our landings nine or ten hours hence? Often he wasn't. Our first trip was one of those days.
I had secured all navigational equipment to prevent my gear from being tossed about resulting from violent maneuvering by Jim if the cause arose.
"Fitz, get on the radar and give me the distance to the runway as I let down. Maybe there will be ceiling enough I won't need you. Start, read now." Our runway was approximately forty feet from the shoreline maybe eight feet above it.
"Wilco." I began with the five mile range. Jim was advised he'd get a reading as soon as land appeared on my scope. Then told him I'd call five miles, four miles, three miles, two miles after two miles I'd call quarter miles.
"Affirmative, Fitz. We'll only respond with roger so you'll know we got the call."
"Navigator to pilot." My "Roger" response was quick, indeed. It was dreadfully quiet. The turbulence of the air bouncing us around failed to lesson the stillness within 78V. The crew sat frozen. The crew's glib drivel died. Jim called for flaps. Pat's response was felt when our large Fowler flaps took affect. It was comforting to feel the surge of power along with the prop's change of pitch. Jim was set up for the approach and holding steady. It was nice to know Jim had taught so very many hours of instrument flying. Almost two years of it. He was cool indeed.
"Five miles Jim, five miles." "Roger.~ Came the reply. "Four miles."
"Three miles." There was no response. I knew they were too busy in the front office. Nevertheless, I thought at two miles I'll be sure. I knew they were sweating like all dickens, but then so was I. We couldn't see the water at 350 feet. The tower was advising the fact there were two planes following and number two extremely low on fuel.
"Two miles, two miles Jim." No acknowledgement.
"One and three quarter miles." The radio altimeter read 300 feet, no water in sight. No land. Jim had said he'd like to be a mile out when he finally reached the deck to give himself some room to set up for the touchdown.
"One and one half miles Jim." Tierney, "I saw water."
"One and a quar." I was interrupted by one of them.
Moorehead, "I got the runway in sight--we're ok." Jim had it, indeed, a few feet over 200 feet of altitude, and, maybe a half mile out. He eased 78 Victor softly on to the Marston mat letting the tail down just as softly. Smiles of relief prevailed all around. Chatter abounded once again. Standing up looking out the astro hatch, as we taxied off the runway, welcoming myself back to that great pile of tundra and rocks, I saw our wing man touching down. Two down one to go. Number three in order wasn't far behind. He made it to his revetment and as he swung about his starboard engine quit. No petrol. There were a similar such like landings to come. Some landings and approaches worse, some about the same.
Nerves. Oh! Yes! They were a factor, starting with takeoffs. They were all hairy. Then, too, it wasn't uncommon to fly seventy-five, maybe eighty percent of your mission on instruments. In such cases you praised your automatic pilot rather profusely. Then again it may be clear enroute only to be closed in over the target. Any combination of weather, either going to or returning from, could be applied on any given day no matter how you juggled it and sooner or later you'd experience it. Not to be redundant, weather was indeed our enemy also.
In such weather if the Loran cut out, and it did more then once, the navigator all but had a heart attack. If weather was the case there would be no sun shot using the octant for a position check on your imaginary dead reckoning course line. In addition, you couldn't observe the water to establish drift. You were truly flying blind. Navigation by dead reckoning over the Pacific and Bearing Sea was unlike the States where to check your position looking down comparing the railroad tracks, highways and roads, power lines, water tank logo, town signs with your Sectional Chart. An old timer tipped me off to carrying published highway maps, but not in the Aleutians. If all else failed buzz the town and read its name. Nor did your prayer ever neglect the radar - "Oh, needle of the whirling dial, don't fail me now."
Then there was the other enemy, the Japanese. We took the fighting to their back yard. If they jumped you, your only recourse was to start running those 720 plus nautical miles for home or Petropavlovsk. Fuel was in their favor. Next was that fact that if you ditched, or were shot down overwater and assuming you weren't already dead, and you survived your ditching you might survive twelve or fourteen minutes, give or take a minute or two. Compounding it was the fact at that time we were flying the longest over water flight for both twin engine as well as for four engine bombers in the war. No matter the theater. Subsequently, the big four engine bombers took over our water distance record.
We also lacked the alternative choice of bailing out and trusting yourself based on taught survival techniques. Of course if you were over Russia and couldn't make Petropavlovsk you then would have the choice to bail out over Russia, or possibly hope for a successful forced landing. Failing that it was the ocean or Attu. Not to forget, in spite of your company of live bodies, all compatriots, bundled with you within the plane temperatures more often ranging from minus 15 to 25 degrees during that ever so very long 1 500 to 1800 over water miles which told on many of our aviators and crew men.
For the up to ten hour flight sandwiches were stowed on board. Coffee only made the trip once because, it too, froze. If the sandwiches weren't eaten in the first hour it was doubtful if they'd be eaten at all. They were frozen rock solid. Upon return to base they were tossed from the plane as a crunchy meal for the canine mascots. To relieve yourself there was a rubber tube with a funnel like attachment through which you could pass water. If the rubber tube wasn't held taut, perfectly straight, so that your water might flow through before freezing in the tube you went without any place to relieve yourself.
During one of our earlier flights, while we were, as yet, inexperienced in such matters, there was the occasional dire need by crew members for relief. With the so called 'P-tube' frozen solid there was no recourse but to go as far aft as possible for relief. It froze immediately, no mess. The following day after thawing the plane's interior in that area was washed down. Subsequently, we carried several number 10 size cans. The contents froze in minutes causing no problem for any aboard. Once the flight was terminated the cans were removed and inverted. The substance melted, drained thus the dried cans were ready for the next flight.
Last but never the least was the challenge to survive an instrument landing at your friendly base on Attu. This was no easy task. There was always something unforeseen incorporated to compound and intensify an already stress filled anxiety trip. However, if you were successful in concluding your nightmarish feat, rewards awaited you at the debriefing. The better part of a mission for many of us was the debriefing.
Yes, I know others had it worse. But as I mentioned the weather on the ground and especially in the air along with that never ending psychological mountain to master, ten to possibly eleven hours over 1500 to 1800 nautical miles of water was the never ending cause of mental and physical stress. The shorter scouting/searches from five to six and a half hours were no less a mental stress. Overland afforded you choices, certainly a chance for survival. Aleutian waters offered none, zero. There was a bit of an exception though, providing the base was forewarned. Only then, if you ditched and survived the ditching within a mile of the base, your odds were up'd to slim to none.
Having arrived at the base the order of happenings were cast in stone. Parkˇ and shut down your plane, remove your gear, get out and happily stretch greeting the same guys with whom you have just been cooped up with for hours. I called it a nervous celebration of sorts. Oh, yes, that priority, not to forget to remove those indispensable number 10 size "P" cans, invert same to thaw, drain and dry in time for our next mission. It was a kind of happy, we made it home guys, meeting on the tarmac along with your ground crew. They were a major part of your return.
If there were stories to tell you'd let your ground crew hear some part of them. If there weren't some, in spite of all the odds against them, the discomfort they would encounter wouldn't trade spots with you. Your ground crew simply stated they would, "take our places anytime." You could make book on it that it was 'a done deal.' That was the American male's attitude and desire in WW 2. Next we hopped into the big old truck which took us all to a room adjacent to the Officer's Mess for our debriefing session.
RECOMMENDED BY THE MEDICS (DOCTORS ALL) AT THE DEBRIEFING TABLE...
Recommended by the medics (Doctors all) at the debriefing table for your sanity and well-being generally was an eight ounce tumbler replete with contents. Five fluid ounces of said recommended relaxant colored the tumbler with a mellow bourbon hue. Subject, five ounce prescriptions were made up of 96 proof spirit contents, with the remaining two and one half percent grapefruit juice. All of which immediately curdled horribly upon contact with the prescribed spirit dosage. Nevertheless, it was still profitable for your well-being. Return to TOP of page!
Doctor: "It is in lieu of a tranquilizer that's non-existent. Actually, it's a relaxant, will do you good." Who was I to oppose medical advice.
Flight crew member with a smile: "Will a double dosage hurt you, Doc?" Doctor: "Not usually."
78V's co-pilot and navigator: "You guys that don't require your medication slide them over here."
Thus for our sanity and well-being, you understand, we forced a double dose and a half. Doc's medication was prescribed after every flight and especially so after a run to Paramushiro.
Thus very contentedly we went off for our meal. Our chef had a way with a steak garnished with the right amount of scrambled eggs, accompanied by a large baked potato, hot rolls and an apple raisin salad. That ever so questionable milk mixture was tough. Nevertheless, I drank it. It was a good feeling, very comfortable, though a bit full. Thereafter, it was the custom of some to pass through the officer's lounge for a night cap.
From there it was my habit to go by the steam room topping off the day. Occasionally enjoying a rub down. Usually, by the time I was finished with the steam bath, I was ready for bed. Thoroughly 'medicated,' chowed down, now loose, languid and otherwise quite impassive I hit the rack not caring a darn whether I slept through the evening meal, (if I hadn't already eaten it) or even through to breakfast. If, however, I awoke during the evening and felt the urge for food it was a simple matter to dress and dash over to the Officer's Mess for one of their deluxe hamburgers, fries and a coke. Their evening sandwich menu up to midnight was quite adequate.
THAT NOVEMBER (1944) PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT RAN FOR HIS FOURTH TERM...
That November (1944) President Roosevelt ran for his fourth term. Two groups who pushed all the officers to acquire absentee ballots were the republicans and those who were just anti-Roosevelt. They were the "Elect anybody but Roosevelt crowd." I was one of a dozen democratic agitators who kept saying, "The President didn't need my vote, he'll win in a landslide." My Uncle Lee Miles surely would have been on my case since he was the republican in the family. Like most of the young democrats on Attu, my democrat affiliation was because of my Dad as were theirs. President Roosevelt won his fourth term easily with Harry S. Truman as his running mate. Return to TOP of page!
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years were extremely hard. I'd guess there was more drinking of the hard stuff during those periods than at any other time. Hearing the Christmas carols and seasonal songs such as, I'll Be home For Christmas and White Christmas, brought tears to the eyes of even the most stouthearted of Attu's stalwarts. Dad had sent me a canned fruit cake which when opened was more like a sponge than a fruit cake. It was soaked. I can assure you there wasn't a gram of water in the fruit cake.
That delicious fruit cake had been drowned in fine bourbon. When I opened it in the privacy of my quonset hut cubical the pure aroma of Dad's fine bourbon at once permeated the quonset's warm air. Ensign Fitzpatrick had guests to arrive almost immediately. The small canned cake lasted but minutes. Our vote was unanimous. Dad's bourbon drenched fruit cake was indeed an epicurean's delight. Indeed, one hundred percent so. As I sit and write about it I wonder did Mother know of it? I bet she didn't.
I was most fortunate in that my family were very supportive of me. There were a number of boxes of Christmas cookies and a good number of letters and cards. Betty was especially tender and encouraging. She understood since she was also away from her new husband for our first Christmas. It was probably at Attu that I decided I would never have a traveling job if I got out of the Navy.
WE LIVED AND FLEW UNDER PRESSURE...
We lived and flew under pressure. Tension was always prevalent. To that end the Navy provided us with recreational advantages. Availing yourself of the recreational facilities provided you the opportunity to even out stress versus normality, if possible, during war time in the Aleutians. We had an undersized basketball court, not too much smaller than regulation, built within one of the larger quonset type structures. The deck, er floor, was equal to any stateside hardwood basketball court ever constructed. The court's size mandated a different style of play. Maneuvering about and passing was difficult because the side walls and roof formed a continuous arc. Our out-of-bounds lines were but three or four feet from the base of the arc. Some fellows could stand on the court's out-of-bounds line, then with a slight jump almost touch the overhead curve of the side wall arc. Return to TOP of page!
Long passes paralleling the out-of-bounds line were prohibitive and few. There was no height because of the arc thus no long passes. Our brand of basketball was radically different in that respect. However, we played a faster game because of the court size and also because of the many short very quick and hard passes to thwart the opposition. I'd guess even though the court was smaller we ran or had to move about more simply to develop plays. Each team kept their own score. Seldom was there any hedging, the honor system, you know.
As for rules, we observed some, probably the basics you might say. Out-of-bounds, ball or man, a basket was a basket and that about closed the book of rules. A rule we adhered to was that there were no time outs, period. Games were not often played between squadron officers as much as they were played against officers of another squadron. Subsequently, it was just basketball. Any or everybody played. A game might start at about 1000 hours and go through to 1630 hours. Night games, when played, lasted two to three hours. If you were tired a fellow member of your unit replaced you. There was no reporting or guidelines, or even officials to bother about. It was as simple as stepping off court and your replacement stepped on. If you were hungry, go to lunch. In all honesty I'd have to be assertive in emphasizing those games were not for the faint of heart.
Our athletic department had all the amenities. Weights galore, rings, parallel bars, medicine balls, steam rooms and even rub downs if desired, and handball. In handball doubles not many courtesies were afforded. It was always advisable to allow your opponent room to make his play. Frequently, I watched through a small window in the handball court door one of our physicians play. Rarely did he play with anyone, always opposing himself. He was truly a whiz. I supposed him to be a seasoned bird from the school of the aged. Spindly legs, mustachioed with a Buffalo Bill goatee. Indeed, he was a gentleman of the old school. While waiting for the court and observing him one afternoon my 'old bird' approached the door, opening it, he asked, "Mister, would you care to join me?"
"Yes, Sir." I answered without hesitation. I was surprised he asked not ever having seen him play anyone. It was certain he just enjoyed his private workouts. A long story made short the beard and handle bar mustache sure fooled me. My 'old bird' was anything but. Oh, he had some years on him but the difference was he knew the game. To my ultimate delight I learned the game, his style and loved every minute of his shellackings. Though I never beat him I got to the point where he had to work off a pound or two to_take me. I learned from him there were two classes of handball players, his pro-style and mine.
Provided for our proficiency and pleasure was a gun range. Shooting skeet or trap for pleasure or competition was your option. Pistol competition wasn't a big thing that I recall. However, there were a good number of the fellows who frequented the range for practice. We'd show up and the sailors in charge laid out everything for us. I failed to take full advantage of it, maybe a half dozen times.
If you were weather selective walking could be a pleasant pastime. On a cool clear brisk afternoon, or evening after supper, walking out to the end of Gehres Point was delightful. The point was named after our Commander of the Wing, Commodore Leslie Gehres. The same chap that later commanded the carrier Roosevelt and after a severe South Pacific battle when it was listing to the point of capsizing it was alleged he said, "I'll get the ship back to port if I lose every man aboard to do it." He got the Roosevelt back to port without losing all hands.
Selecting a cold gray and brisk afternoon I thought it would be nice for a walk and for listening to the crunching snow underfoot. While out at the point, I had the misfortune to witness a P38 fighter plane crash. As the pilot approached Murder's Point, losing altitude fast, his engines sputtering and intermixed with some soft back-firing he looked at me as though he were asking me to do something. His distraught face easily discernable from my close and nearly level vantage point told everything. We both knew there wasn't a place to ditch or land. He'd be fortunate if he cleared Murder's Point.
As he approached he looked a little forward off his port wing at me, seconds long. Then when opposite me. I was sure his lips were moving. Finally, turning his head quickly, kind of a fast glance looking over his shoulder in my direction and back equally as fast looking forward facing reality. His plane barely skimmed the crown of Murder's Point settling steeply into the rocky coastline amid the swirling waters. It all was so very fast. There was much prompt action from the base. However, to no avail. Obliterating those seconds, that scene, from my mind took some time.
The next half dozen takeoffs saw me as apprehensive as a body could get. One especially, well there were several actually, seemed as if we would never get airborne. 78 Victor kind of floated up over the Marston mat, our last bounce and we hung for what seemed an eternity. Jim was steady. The end of the runway past, then the forty or fifty feet of rocky shore and we were over the Cove. I was ever mindful of that Army pilot in his P-38 crash. We didn't have an inch of altitude to spare. There wasn't even time to sweat. My eyes were frozen. Waiting for an increase of air speed, to see the needle rotate the way I wanted it to go, up. We skimmed over Casco Cove maybe eight to ten feet for at least a mile when 78V decided she wanted to fly. Death was but a few feet away by so much as a sputter of one of the engines. I never inquired but I'll bet there were a lot of eyes on us that day.
Movies were fine and we had quite a nice variety for being at the end of the Aleutian chain. The same dirty old and drafty truck that met us in the mornings for our missions carried the gang over to the movies. Most times the rides were cold enough that when you first got into the so-called theater everyone felt delightfully warm. By the middle of the movie your ankles were nearly numb, your eyes burned from cigarette smoke, non-smokers clothes stunk and you wondered how long it would be before you'd get emphysema. Jackets, and many times hats were worn in the movie. Often it reminded me of my younger days at home in the Walbrook movie. In the Attu Theater, though not frequent, whistling, cat calls and booing were not uncommon. Nevertheless, there was hardly a soul who ever missed a movie.
So much for the amenities the Navy tried to provide. Nothing could offset the terrible living and flight conditions that came with the Aleutians. Probably a main-stay in the flyer's stability was the Officer's mess. The Navy was known for providing most comfortable lounges in conjunction with the Officer's mess. In some theaters of war they were considered plush. Our was very comfortable for the Aleutians. The liquor rations per officer was phenomenal. I have to admit there were those who made every effort to consume their quota. While it appeared some would, none did.
BUT BACK TO THE WAR. MISSIONS AT FIRST FOR VPB-136 WERE FLOWN...
But back to the war. Missions at first for VPB-136 were flown every third day weather permitting. Return to TOP of page!
The time came when we were up'd to an every other day flight schedule. Fortunately, that didn't last too long since VPB-135 had returned to Attu. A few more adventurous missions come to mind. Let me assure you no mission was ever without anxiety, excitement or adventure. Most left the strongest man looking forward to the briefing session and the Doc's medicinal attention, 'er bourbon or rye in the eight ounce tumbler. Don't be shocked, your writer was no exception. A flight completed, nervous tension left me quickly.
There was the time our crew, along with our wing man, Jim Bacak and crew, were scheduled to hit and hopefully demolish a Japanese cannery on Paramushiro's east coast. The weather, like many trips, was lousy. There was no other way to describe it. It would be a frontal attack. Moorehead and Bacak decided we'd fly straight into the cannery from east to west, bomb it then make a 180 degree turn through the hills and race for home, except that we weren't sure of our position. The time came no matter our position or weather we had to drop down on the deck thereby hopefully eluding the Japanese radar. We had to maintain radio silence and therefore knew not the position of each other. Neither plane could see the other.
I could not give Moorehead our exact position simply because navigation wise I hadn't been able to correct for drift since we were flying on instruments. The water was a thousand shrouded feet below thereby even eliminating a correction for wind drift. Further complicating matters was the fact I couldn't take a sun shot even to establish our position along with my dead (guesstiment) reckoning course line. Jim knew our radioman and I had been working on our Loran since it died about a hundred plus miles back, and as I said, radio silence prevented checking with Bacak. It was I believed safe to assume the Japanese coast was at least over a hundred miles west of us.
Moorehead: "Fitz, on your distance assumption I'll have to drop to the deck now." Fitz: "It's safe, Sir. We're well to sea except I've no idea where Bacak is." Tierney: "Have you or Beurskens picked him up on the radar?"
Fitz: "Negative, Pat." Beurskens' confirmed.
"Pat, it is my guess he is to the south and rear of us. We'll watch on radar as you let down." As we began to descend through the weather my Loran commenced working. Whatever we did, it worked. Before we saw the ocean I had a fix establishing our position. As I had planned for safety's sake I was north of our designated target. We slipped out of the clouds not too far above the water, maybe three hundred feet. I don't recall exactly but it was low. When Jim made his 360 degree turn around seeking Bacak, he was south and to the rear of us about five miles.
Shortly, after establishing our new heading, Jim and Pat spotted something off our starboard quarter, well on the horizon in Japanese waters. Jim altered our course as he felt we should explore and ascertain for ourselves whose ship we had come across. Our position and new course was duly noted. Bacak was following astern. We crossed over the freighter's bow about a hundred yards distance from east to west not seeing anyone on deck nor did we observe a signal of any kind. The large freighter wasn't flying her colors nor were there any identifying marks, letters or numbers. We crossed astern, there was no action on board. Jim repeated his bow crossover challenging for the s~cond time with the code of the day. Bacak close behind did the same. In all the ship was challenged four or five times. No response.
Not even with our bombay doors open did the ship's Captain respond. We assumed it was Japanese even though the tails of some of the planes on deck resembled those of our P-51 fighters. For the most part camouflage netting covered the deck cargo. Our next pass was for real. Strafing the deck and bridge along with our 500 pound general purpose bombs. Jim missed, as we completed our first run. Bacak following strafed the ship from stern to its bow. His 500 pounder' fell at the base of their stack. Ourˇ second and last run did damage from strafing of the deck cargo and bridge, there were a few fires and considerable smoke. Jim Bacak raked the deck a second time doing even more damage.
I don't know how far homeward we traveled any more but we could see smoke a long way. The Loran functioned beautifully the entire return trip. We flew beneath the overcast at about 300 feet until we reached Attu. To get in we dropped down to fifty feet and made our approach. Compared to some approaches fifty feet was considered high altitude. Later Lt. Price bombed a Russian tanker, poorly marked. He left the ship on fire, however it survived. Thereafter, future sightings of Russian ships revealed them to be well marked including very large letters down both of sides of their hulls with USSR. They flew their colors also.
How could we know ours was a Russian freighter? I'll tell you one thing. There was a dandy investigation. Lt. Moorehead was questioned rather extensively as was Pat. I wasn't called into the meeting until very late that afternoon. I was in my hut writing Betty and enjoying music from the states. There was a knock at the quonset hut door then a few hesitant footsteps, a pause, "Mr. Fitzpatrick, Mr. Fitzpatrick, - Sir." A few heavy steps and I asked,
"Who is it? Come on back, first door right."
"Yeoman Otto, Sir. You're wanted in Commodore Gehres board room, Sir. It is about that ship you all bombed. You're to bring all your navigation charts. Any you have of other trips also, I'm to tell you right of way, Sir." I grabbed my navigation bag and told Otto to lead the way. Once there and the Hearing Officers advised of my presence I was invited into the inner sanctum and introduced to all concerned. Then it started, all very direct.
"Ensign Fitzpatrick, do you have with you your navigation charts of," and they stated the dates. "Yes, Sir. Would you like to see them, Sir?"
"Yes. Spread them out on the table and tell us about them." I told them details concerning the weather, over and back, as well as over the target and how the Loran was inoperative not far from Point Wrangell. Then how, it was obvious why, I attempted to chart a dead reckoning course from my last known position and from experience. I explained all my notes. Many computations of importance were noted on the side of my charts. Most Board Members leaned over to see. I was asked was that my standard procedure. I answered in the affirmative. I was asked to see other charts if I had them in my bag. Several were produced. Again, some Board Members leaned over to view them. There were a few uhs, urns and ah hahs then more questions.
"You are thorough Ensign, are you always this thorough or were you so for this hearing?" I was hoping mad but didn't dare show it. I would probably have been assigned the Junior Officer of the Day for the next month, excepting flying days.
"Sir, if you would fly with us you'd observe I'm rather exacting on all my flights and log the info on my charts. My pilots know that." There were only stares.
"Fitzpatrick, do you have any other charts with you?" This seemed a foolish question since I had already confirmed I did, and produced them.
"May we see them?" The answer was of course affirmative. I spread the charts over the table. They were eye balled closely. Then there were more questions as to whether I was certain, without a doubt, I was where I had logged us on the chart, the latitude and longitude where we had intersected the freighter.
"Yes, Sir, I am positive. Sir, if the Loran had been incorrect it would show on my navigation track on our homeward leg. We made no adjustments to the Loran since before we broke out of the clouds and spotted the ship. I was a half mile off Theodore Point exactly were it shows on my charts and my ETA wasn't twenty-five seconds off, at Theodore Point Mr. Moorehead advised I could secure navigation, Sir." There was quiet chatter among themselves for maybe a minute.
"That's all Ensign, you're excused. Thank you for coming over with your charts." Then a junior officer present, a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, obviously their gofer began bunching up my charts, an overly efficient type I suppose attempting to impress the brass. He was handling them like they were so much refuse. He was in my league and I resented it very much. He may have been a J.G. but he wasn't an aviator, or navigator, I was both, and a bit snappy too.
"Hold it, Mister. I didn't ask for your help and don't need it. I didn't bring my charts in all rumpled up." He stopped seemingly surprised that he was addressed so abruptly. The Brass said nothing though all were looking at me as I took each chart, without delay, and refolded them in a like manner as I had brought them. The J.G. stood back and watched. I did apologize to the staff mentioning the value of the charts to our crew and me. Some one of the officers replied, "It's alright, Fitzpatrick, we understand." I left the board room.
Jim and Pat confirmed we had bombed a Russian freighter. Thus the fuss. It was a big investigation commencing in Washington, then traveling through several west coast Naval districts ending on Attu. The key point was, were the Russians, when attacked, in international waters or were they in Japanese waters. It was concluded they were, indeed, in Japanese waters. I don't recall whether Lt. Price bombed his Russian ship before or after us or whether there was a big to do about it. Maybe we were the second bombing and that caused the Russians to holler to Washington. It was the opinion of most flight crews that if the same situation arose again there would be another attack.
For 1 36 and other like squadrons there were rules which we were advised and which provided no excuses for violation. First challenge the ship at sea, unless you were fired upon first, requesting in response to your challenge the proper acknowledgement of the code of the day. An incorrect answer or none at all meant - attack. And especially if in enemy waters. It was standard operating procedure in all theaters of war. The Russians were not an exception.
THEN THERE WAS THE TIME ALL WENT WELL, MEANING WE REACHED OUR POSITION...
Then there was the time all went well, meaning we reached our position along Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula including our ETA. It all changed when Jim decided to attempt to cross through an heretofore unknown or charted valley to us on the Peninsula thinking we might better conceal ourselves, anticipating more of a surprise attack on the Japs. It wasn't the day for such an experiment, the weather was also a problem. We lacked any charts of the Peninsula and were flying at maybe 100 feet above the ground and about the same beneath the overcast twisting and turning wending our way at 140 knots (160 MPH) when suddenly there was no more valley. Return to TOP of page!
Jim was obviously planning upon completing his turn to starboard and continuing our excursion across the Peninsula when, as he began his roll out of the turn there was no place to go. The valley was no more. There was no choice, within the minute either hit the fog shrouded hill or hope to execute and complete a 180 degree turn retracing our entrance flight. The 1 80 was begun and in doing so, as we were about to complete it there was a ragged slope extending out into our flight path. A radical pull up cleared it but in doing so we had to continue our turn almost another 90 degrees. That quickly we were on instruments, lost in what could have been our valley of death.
Jim was in a quandary. One, however, that didn't allow him to lean back and discuss it, like what do you think we ought to do. It was do something now and hope and pray you don't die. I was sure Pat wasn't for the short cut idea, nevertheless,he was in the front office and had to produce also. There was no letting down, it was up and hope we'd clear the mountains enroute. Jim called to Pat.
"Full power, full rich mixture."
"Full power, mixture rich." Pat clearly and loudly called. Then Jim hollered for the prop setting to be changed. Pat complied and acknowledged the same.
"Fitz - Glennon watch for mountains." Glennon was whirling about 360 degrees in his Martin turret and I was no less active looking forward through the astro bubble. There was nothing to see but clouds. We were deeply entrenched within the weather system and by now all hands knew survival was straight up if we were to make it at all. Jim held 78V a knot or two above her stalling speed, climbing in steep spiraling turns upwards between the mountains.
"Mountains, starboard two o'clock." I called. By the time they looked the mountains were three o'clock.
Pat: "Altitude 2500." Frustration gripped us all. We'd make a call and Jim or Pat had it or we had passed it. Most every call was after the fact. I began to wonder would we see it coming and have time to prepare for the impact, or would we see it and hit it so fast there would be no time to register it. Death in a second. How long would our remains rest on this unknown, to us, Kamchatka mountain before anyone found us and reported their find. Probably years. The crew was quieter than church mice. But then who felt like talking when wrapped in such tension.
Pat: "Altitude 3000." For approximately three seconds we'd catch a glimpseof mountains at our level or below the starboard wing. They disappeared in the clouds before you could make the call. The positive side was that we missed that one. But how about the next? Our subsequent calls were from nine o'clock around to one o'clock. Hopefully to warn Jim before his turn was completed.
"Altitude 3500." Jim's extended instrument training was again our hoped for ticket. That and the fact the further we climbed and didn't hit a mountain, and, assuming we hadn't drifted too far, our chances might improve. That the mountains were further apart as we climbed was a plus on the odds board. Jim was frozen at the controls, his knuckles white as the clouds we were in. Freezing 78 Victor in her steady climbing swirling upward turn. Pat's eyes were all over the panel back and forth again and again.
"4000 feet." The engines were sounding great and we were climbing. My mind wouldn't stay a second on anything but the engine's continuing steadfastly with the burden to which they were called. We were climbing by their grace. Then shockingly again, barely visible through a patch of the thinning gray mist, were the mountains. Had you blinked your eyes you'd have missed them. It was scary. Horribly worse when you saw them port side, somewhat above and we were turning their way. Then both you and the sighting were covered with clouds. Was there a ridge stemming out from the peaks we had just spotted? Once, before completing a full 360 degrees ,three sightings were observed as we progressed in our climbing counter clock-wise turn. "There, 100 feet above and off the port wing." Glennon called, "There at one o'clock." By the time you caught a glimpse of them, if at all, another would holler, "Ten o'clock high." And so it went as we wound around and around.
Your mind worked fast, analyzing each sighting always adding, to yourself, "Will I see the next one?" Then there would be another port side sighting even altitude, the direction of our turning, as quickly it all disappeared into its covering of fog. We're climbing, and wondering, too, is there a higher closer fog bound peak jutting out? How many more to miss? Each few seconds we hoped that the last sighting was the end and we would break out into the clear. In addition drift kept crossing my mind, are we drifting closer to one of these slopes on each revolution? Would we hit head on or pancake against the mountain's side? I couldn't be rid of that ever recurring futile thought. Then I'd think where is our first ad kit? Like it would help if we flew into the Kamchatka mountain. There was no evasive action to be taken. Only to continue tight spiraling turns climbing upwards barely above the plane's stalling speed. If Jim were to lose his concentration and stall 78 Victor, we'd go into a spin, spinning to our deaths 4000 feet to the valley floor below.
"Altitude 4800." Pat's voice never sounded so nice to me before. The crew was looking around nervously hoping blue sky would be the next call. I hoped I didn't look scared, I tried not to be. I didn't want to look as uncomfortable or nervous to them as they did to me. Apprehensive yes, but far from being petrified or terrified. I recalled classes where it was taught the Naval officer was not to fail his crew. Set the example, be forthright, firm in command, never show anxiety or fear but step forward and be the leader. I did attempt to exude all of the above and more.
However, I had to admit it all sounded far better in the classroom then somewhere whirling around in circles between mountains from just above sea level to 5,500 feet. A smile crossed my mind when I thought where is that ground school instructor now? There were more then several occasions, if you'll permit me to express feelings of self-accomplishment and fulfillment, while serving my country in the Navy, wherein experiencing adverse situations I embodied Naval tradition and specifically that which I was taught and was expected of me as an officer. I was more proud than the proverbial peacock to be an officer and a Naval Aviator.
Pat's calls kept coming and that was assurance to all of us astern that we were still alive and well. It seemed an eternity since I'd heard Pat's last call. Thus we climbed, Pat calling altitude for Jim and all hands, tied in with a few mountain sighted calls from me. There were a half dozen, maybe a few more, such calls I believe to the top. There were less as we gained altitude and each more distant. At last there were white toothed smiles on board, no more grinding of teeth or pinched lips when we heard Pat's Jersey voice calL ... ,
"Altitude 700Q;" Pat called. Jim hollered again to me about charts and the heights of these mountains. Again I answered in the negative. But suggested he continue on a heading of 090 degrees climbing to 1 0,000 feet or until we see blue sky, whichever comes first, until I can establish our position. Jim had scattered gray clouds and mist up front but clean enough to know all was clear ahead. Astern only bits of several pointed peaks showed. If there was ever a torment to the nerve breaking point that climb was it. Before we all drew our second clean deep breath Jim called for a heading for Shimushu. It was a wonder the Russian fighters didn't scramble. Possibly their weather was as bad as that we had just experienced.
"Pilot from Navigator. Take 120 degrees for one minute then 180 degrees. We'll be clear of Kamchatka. Corrected heading for Shimushu in a minute."
"Roger. Fitz, give me our heading for home at the same time, if we have to run from fighters gas will be tight. We'll dump everything from this altitude, be ready to unload the three one hundred pounders. We'll estimate the dumping area and time using radar."
"Roger. Jim, we'll need several headings to dump on Shimushu." .He then said to put him in proximity of their radio station. I stuck my neck out by mentioning what I was sure Jim already knew.
"Jim, it's a shot in the dark."
"I know." Pat computed the gas. "More was used in that climb out then I thought. I'd rather fly back to base than Petro (Petropavlovsk, Russia)." The clouds were breaking up fast. Jim decided to lose altitude before dumping our bomb load. Through the scattered clouds we could see the island of Shimushu ahead and he proceeded on his own. Over the partially hidden station there was but little opposition.
With our load lightened we headed for home. Our ordeal was tougher on Jim and it showed. He sweated through his T-shirt, long johns, two wool shirts and clear through his leather flight jacket. Visible was a ten inch circle of pure arm pit perspiration testifying to the tension and pressure on him during our peninsula experience. It was indeed a gut wrenching time. I'm certain Pat never said or even implied to Jim, as much as it was the second pilot's right. That his attempt to cut across Kamchatka so far north was for the fool hardy. Like Pat I remained silent. Our Skipper was a difficult man. However, I made it clear on the several days following there were no charts of Kamchatka available to his navigator. In addition, there were none for squadron use in planning for low altitude crossings as far north as we attempted of Kamchatka. However, I assured Jim that I would plot those mountains and their height the best I could. It all would be done based on an estimated Loran fix from that day. A more accurate fix would be established after our next trip.
As one of two assistant navigation officers I encouraged a second memo to be posted as well as circulated concerning the prohibition of crossing over the Kamchatka Peninsula, a reminder that Russia was not at war with Japan. I might add all crews continued to cross Kamchatka but at its southern tip where it was an easy crossing and safe. This violation of protocol probably saved more than a few lives since it afforded us the advantage of a surprise attack. I had no objection to crossing over the Peninsula, it was flying up unknown valleys with 500 foot ceilings with so much gas and a full bomb load aboard. Once was enough, Jim never discussed that trip. Frankly, it smacked of lunacy. Had there been a half dozen Japs on our tail it would have been another story.
There were a number of occasions when Jim flew across the Peninsula farm land when our radio altimeter read around fifteen feet. He flew so close to the ground our props . literally cut through hay stacks. As we passed over, props biting into them, Russian hay stacks literally exploded. It appeared they blew from the inside out. Viewing it all from the astrodome bubble I saw hay belch thirty feet into the air leaving a trail more than sixty feet and every bit forty feet wide. Hay was so thoroughly scattered there was no semblance of a prior haystack. Well, maybe a little mound. Several farmers were seen once and from their gestures it was a certainty Jim's action did nothing to please them.
Crossing the Kamchatka Peninsula we were able to thwart the Japanese. It wasn't often they were aware of our presence until we were about to strike. Sometimes they returned fire and sometimes they watched you go by, not often though. Most of our raids were low level ranging from between seventyfive to five hundred feet. Once Jim was so low buzzing the Japanese airstrip I felt he was in the position of practicing touCh and go landings.
It was amazing what damage five fifty caliber machine guns firing forward, three cluster bombs, a five hundred pound G.P. bomb and your turret gunner's twin fifties could inflect. When strafing Japanese fishing vessels seven fifty caliber machine guns could be utilized as forward firing power. During WW2 it was considered awesome. Actually, althoug~ we never did it, such wooden vessels or small ships could be severed in two. There were a few, however, we left well splintered and in dire need of help. The few Japanese fighters that attempted a head on confrontation lost.
Lt. Frank Littleton in 74 Victor shot down a Jap Tojo just off Paramushiro in a short lived head to head confrontation. Littleton had only to raise his nose a bit and squeeze off a burst or two and his five fifties forward did the rest. It was over quickly. His gunner, in the Martin turret with his twin fifties gave the Tojo some after thought on his way into the Pacific. Frank handled it alone that day since the four plane formation was scattered due to the uncertain weather into which they all flew on that mission.
ONCE OVER THE TARGET RADIO SILENCE WAS BROKEN AND THERE WAS MUCH CHATTER...
Once over the target radio silence was broken and there was much chatter among our planes. Because of this the names of most of our PPCs were known to Tokyo Rose. She was raised for the most part in the U.S.A. and was a graduate of a U.S. college. Her English was beautiful as almost was her voice. She, the voice of the Japanese propagandist machine, mouthing off throughout the Pacific, in hopes of discouraging the American servicemen. Return to TOP of page!
Our PPC's names were heard stateside as well as about the Pacific. She often used Ralph "Pinky" Morrison's name on her broadcast, even when he had not flown that day. Many of the guys on Attu tuned in just to hear what Tokyo Rose had to say about our most recent raids. Had we lost all the crews and planes she attributed to the Japs marksmanship our squadron would have been decimated in the first month or two of raids. As for losses we were a most fortunate squadron. Praise the Lord for our most enviable record. We lost four crews and planes that had to land in Russia. Lt. Carl Lindell was the first. He spent so much time in high-speed operations at Paramushiro that he didn't have enough fuel remaining in his tanks to make it back. He took my navigator friend Ensign Jim Head with him who I believe was the missing fourth goof-off when Ward, Dulan and myself, the diehard PBY guys, checked into VPB-136 at Ault Field.
Lt. John Dingle's one engine was so shot up he scarcely made it to Petro, landing with one engine.
Accompanying him was my good briefing friend and drinking buddy. Navigator Ensign Red Dulan and I developed the bad habit of making sure there was no medicinal liquid medication left on the table when briefing was concluded. Next was Lt. Jack Cowles who was so badly shot up he crash landed on the Kamchatka Peninsula The Russians took him and his crew to Petropavlovsk to join the others. The last and the one who because of his ending up in Petropavlovsk, Russia, terminated his Command as Captain of VPB-136. There were two reasons why. But he is another story. Through VPB-136's tour of duty, the glory of it all, not one life lost, no sustaining injuries and a commendable record. Most, I'm sure, realized there were blessings afforded us far beyond the prayers from home. There was no other way we might have accomplished so much. Even though Tokyo Rose didn't agree.
AS FOR LOSING OUR CAPTAIN THAT FATEFUL DAY, I PREDICTED ABOUT AN HOUR...
As for losing our Captain that fateful day, I predicted about an hour and twenty minutes into the flight the Skipper and his four plane formation wouldn't return to Attu unless we altered our course immediately. The minute I finished computing a series of fixes my track revealed we were Petropavlovsk bound. I thought it couldn't be so. I checked my work thoroughly and fast adding another Loran fix to the one only minutes old. It, indeed, was so. What I read on my chart was conclusive and unless we took action to alter our course soon we'd be having supper in Russia tonight. Return to TOP of page!
"Pilot from Navigator." "Go ahead, Fitz:"
"Jim, is the Skipper leading us on a mission I haven't been advised of?" "No, why Fitz?"
"Are your compasses reading correctly?" There was a slight pause. "All three read the same, Fitz. Is there a problem?"
"Jim my tracking tells me we're heading due west. The Skipper's heading is taking us directly for Petro."
"Are you certain?"
"Dead on, Jim. Stay on this course and you can drop your load on the briefing target but you'll spend the night in Petro."
"The hell you say - get up here fast with your chart."
"On the way." I quickly roughed in a corrected course fine for the briefing target, loosely rolled the charts and climbed forward.
"Jim hold the left edge." I unrolled the chart towards Pat so they could see. I even had several sun lines to back up the Loran. Pat spoke up.
"Jim, if we change our heading for the target right now gas is going to be marginal. If we're jumped by fighters we'll have to run for Russia there's no getting home then til' the war is over." Immediately, Jim began easing closer to the Captain's wing man, who was some miles away. Progress was slow. Our wing man, Bacak was in position and was reached with the signaling lamp.
"Your position, Lat. and Longitude now." Was the repeated message to Bacak. "Damn radio silence."
Jim called into his mike. Bacak was hanging off our port wing while we continued trying to contact the number two plane. Still no word from Bacak as to verifying our position. Minutes seemed an hour. On we flew following the true course for Petro. Six, seven minutes later Bacak's radioman flashed his position. We were frantic. What took them so long? Once we had their acknowledgement we forgot how up tight we were getting. I had just completed another fix and it showed also we were without a doubt on the way into Petrpavlovsk. Beurskens handed me the Bacak position which I plotted immediately. It coincided within a mile or two of mine. It was correct as they were approximately two miles from us. The front office was advised. Jim told Beurskens to signal Bacak, "Roger your position."
On we flew for Petropavlovsk. Jim and Pat were talking continuously as to whether or not to break radio silence thereby scrubbing the mission. The problem was the Skipper. If he continued on his present heading he would be able to complete his portion of the mission but it was positive now he and his crew would ultimately lead four other VPB-136 planes into Petro with him spending the night and war in Petro. If he turned back now he'd have plenty of gas to reach Attu. Via the lamp a few brief messages between Jim and Bacak it was agreed they didn't want to continue the mission. Jim and Pat were steamed because number two plane never altered his course.
"Fitz, what's our position now?"
"Petro bound." Then I offered the distance and ITA. Bacak was hugging near us like a lost kid.
Number two plane finally altered his course. Then he blinked out his message asking course and position verification. Then as an after thought, "You continuing mission?"
Jim had Beurskens respond. "It's Petro or Attu tonight. Suggest return Attu."
The answer: "Return and hell will break loose." Someone, I don't remember who broke radio silence. It was all resolved in minutes. Lieutenants Moorehead and Bacak turned and headed for home thus aborting our mission. Plane number two said he was going on. None heard from the Skipper, that is until hours later.
Number two's statement was accurate. A valid assumption in that to return "all hell will break loose." It did and Lieutenants Moorehead and Bacak were the recipients until the base received word that number two was returning home also. His message was that he was very Iowan gasoline and, no, he didn't make it to the target, mission aborted. Nearing home he radioed his course and position periodically so that Headquarters Squadron's PBY might intercept him and be available as number two said, "In the event we ditch." The rescue plane was dispatched. Piloted by my Corpus and Jacksonville classmate.
Subsequently number two, the Skipper's wingman, advised he had intercepted a message the Skipper was sending blind. In essence it implied that he had spent so much time in high-blower operation because of the Japanese fighters attacking, one engine failed. That and because he was low on fuel he was heading for Petro. Fortunately, for us, number two made it back. Albeit he touched down as one engine quit. Because of his supporting statements at briefing the hell which had broken loose was scuttled. Ultimately, the decision of Lieutenants Moorehead and Bacak was endorsed, though not too vociferously. When the subject matter died down I asked Jim in the privacy of our hut, "Jim, how long were you going to continue on that compass heading of due west?"
"You were the navigator, Fitz." I reminded him, at briefing, it was emphatically stated we were all to follow the Skipper's lead and reminding Jim the compasses were in the cockpit.
"You had to know where the Skipper was heading." Then asking why he didn't question me earlier.
There wasn't a clear answer.
" Jim, when I got worried I advised you of our situation in plenty of time f()r a decision." He shrugged his shoulders. At this point I could see I was pushing a very stubborn man, who didn't care to be pushed. It was tantamount to beating a dead horse. I thought he might have said, with a smile, "Thanks Fitz, steak and potatoes suits me better than caviar and vodka." I knew the subject was closed forever. Bacak's navigator only said, after it was all over, "Fitz, you were our lead, we fly wing on Moorehead and I assumed you knew what you were doing."
I answered with. "Didn't Bacak question you about the 270 degree heading."
"No." He said. I was indeed frustrated and gave up. Truly the subject was closed. It was a lesson indeed, reminding me to navigate only, as I had done, for my pilot in command. I was not responsible for, and not to worry about the rest. I remained independent insofar as my navigation was concemed. Wing men were in fact to plot their own courses. Actually, a backup to the lead pilot.
Nevertheless, there were many tongues wagging in the Officer's mess that evening and into the night, even for the next few days, all wondering about Commander Wayne. Did he go to Russia because he was really shot up? Or was it because he didn't have the petrol to make it home? Didn't the Skipper ever question his constant westerly heading? His gas gauges would also have told him he was in trouble. No matter what or how, rumors were rumors and the Skipper was out of our lives. Out of gas? Really! He won't be back you say, how devastating!
That night on Attu VPB-136 and their many friends savored the biggest wildest raucous hell raising soiree ever held on Attu if not the entire Aleutian chain. The occasion was mentioned above. The departure of Commander Charles Wayne Skipper of VPB-136. Sorry Skipper, but it was the truth. There wasn't a tear shed. But I must admit my few moments with him weren't all that bad, only almost. The drinking and partying went on into the wee hours. Fortunately, Commodore Gehres didn't appear anytime during that Aleutian party of parties. Mid evening, I believe, most of the junior officers had retired to their quonset huts leaving the celebrating to those more senior and especially those who had served under him previously. The party is remembered even as I mention it here, as the greatest Attu party ever.
WE UTILIZED OUR PRATT & WHITNEY'S TO THEIR MAXIMUM POWER...
We utilized our Pratt & Whitney's to their maximum power. Once for thirty-five minutes and the second time, which was two days later, for twenty-five minutes. We had been jumped by two Jap fighters who stuck like glue. While we separated ourselves from them keeping a reasonably safe range between us, we couldn't gather that needed distance to protect ourselves from their scattered firing. Every time one of their shells hit the water we'd see the splash. We had gained additional speed in eluding them by nosing 78V over several degrees and heading for the deck with the throttles as far forward as they could be shoved. Finally flying about 335 knots (385 MPH) ten feet above the ocean. About 150 miles to sea the Japs quit, leaving us in the neighborhood of 560 miles to home. Return to TOP of page!
Both times we held 2600 RPM's and 18 inches of manifold pressure and hoping neither engine would cough. Interestingly enough our wake spouted up above our tail section shooting back maybe thirty feet thereafter leaving a trail similar to our PT boats. I saw that day why such wake was called "a rooster's tail." There was one sure thing, if they had hit an engine at that speed it would have been as the guys so often said, "It'd be all she wrote, brother." After our second such run, upon arrival at Attu 78V was placed into a hanger to check her engines. An all night work-over by our Navy mechs accompanied by the Pratt & Whitney representative produced nothing. The next afternoon 78V was pre-flighted and subsequently test flown. She was cleared to fly and scheduled for a mission on the fifth day.
For a reason which I don't recall we flew a search in another plane while Lt. Bacak took 78V back to Paramushiro. Bacak and crew were extremely happy to part with 78V. They, also, had flown that beautiful airplane at high blower for thirty minutes. The maintenance people studied 78V's power plant history and forgetting the many other running hours accrued felt that after our several other flights of fifteen minutes each, one at twenty minutes, three or four at ten or less minutes they would replace 7aV's engines. But the power struggle climbing out of the Kamchatka mountains along with the three very harsh runs on her engines in five days was the real convincer. We could say nothing but the greatest things regarding Pratt & Whitney.
IT WAS DURING THE PERIOD OF TWENTY CONSECUTIVE TYPICALLY ALEUTIAN FOUL...
It was during the period of twenty consecutive typically Aleutian foul weather days I met the colored steward (today we'd say black) who cared for our quonset hut. He came in to work the hut, my cubicle was first. I was working on a model railroad box car. Being curious he looked over my shoulder asking questions. He was pleasant and small talk ensued. It seemed only natural to ask, "what's your home town?" Return to TOP of page!
"I'm from Baltimore too. What's your name?"
"John, Sir." Here again it seemed only natural for me to stand and offer my hand in greeting. He extended his, we shook, and in addition the biggest white tooth smile I'd seen in a long time.
"Where in Baltimore do you live John?"
"On Pennsylvania Avenue, Sir, few blocks below North Avenue."
"I know where that is, John." Again more small talk. He knew generally where I lived remarking he had friends who did gardening 'out there.' Something one of us said brought up the Harlem Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue. Casually, I mentioned Dad worked there checking theater attendance. Then adding, for the lack of anything else to say, "Do you know Buddy the bouncer at the Harlem?"
"Yes, Sir. How do you know him, Sir?"
"I don't but my Father does. I believe my Father and he are on gxx:l terms. My Father is a short fellow and I'm sure Buddy kind of looks out for him."
"Ain't that something. Well, Mr. Fitz, that kind of makes us friends." Commodore Gehres would have died at that, as would a gxx:l number of my fellow senior officers. John mentioned he also worked at the Officer's mess in the kitchen. He seemed content to talk so once again not knowing for sure what to say I asked, "John what happens to a II that fresh fruit I hear about but don't see?"
"If you like fruit I'll sees you gets some. I'll put it right here." He said pointing to my dresser. "I has 1D take care of a citizen friend from Baltimore." Thus the next few days I found an apple or orange on my dresser. It was sparse but fresh fruit no less. The conniving part of me began to give thought of how I might increase production by several pieces each week at the minimum. Knowing enlisted men were allowed only 3.2 beer and alcohol was tabu, I waited for John one day and when he arrived asked him if he would on occasion like a little drink.
"Oh! My, Mr. Fitz, what jus' a little one would do." I explained to John if I were to find an additional apple or orange in my drawer, and showed him where, he might find on occasion a drink or two. However, the subject had to be kept a strict secret. My fruit ratio increased a bit. John said a close watch was being kept on it and besides it was difficult to carry out unnoticed. We had a gxd thing going. I 9Jt more fresh fruit and he made a few dollars selling a few shots of bourbon. A bootleg fifth sold for forty-five to fifty dollars on Attu. It was known deals were being made, but, since they were kept in moderation nothing was done about them. More money was made by the shot and was less traceable. In addition I was better taken care of at the dinner table. A month later I was advised John's tour of duty was up and he returned to the States. I didn't dare commence a fruit deal with a perfect stranger. After all John and I did have certain ties. Though doubtful at best. I'd have to admit my fruit and booze deal was wrong to begin with.
Before we lost our Skipper to Russia he and I had, well you might say, a loose agreement of sorts.
When we returned late from a mission or search, then went through our briefing, grabbed a bite to eat then changed clothes we'd find the movie transportation truck had already left the Officer's mess area. There was no other way to get to the theater. Walking was out simply because the movie was too far and on occasion the weather too foul. Transportation was needed. It was a foul evening. We were fortunate to have gotten in at all and not have put in at Shemya. There were six desperate flyers who had to find a way to see John Wayne that night ..
There was a way but none of the group would pursue it. While we mulled over the subject the bar at the Officer's mess had been encircled by heavy brass. A Commodore, two visiting Captains, a half dozen Commanders along with two or three Lieutenant Commanders with a Chief tending bar. For reasons not privy to us rank utilized their privilege taking over the entire bar to celebrate. Commander Wayne was among them, thus it was obvious he wouldn't be needing his command car that night. I suggested to Lt. Moorehead, since he was the senior officer among us, he ask Commander Wayne if we might use his vehicle for transportation to the movies. Moorehead's no was emphatic. The rest became silent hoping it wouldn't be suggested one of them approach the Skipper. Show time was fast approaching and we had to have transportation very soon or forget John Wayne.
"Fitz, it was your idea why don't you ask the 'old man'?" I gave it some thought. What could he do but say no. Surely he wouldn't give me extra duty simply because I asked; But then again the Commander had a tough reputation, many times for no apparent reason at all.
"What the heck," I said standing up buttoning my blouse and squaring my tie away, "It's time he spoke to an Ensign good, bad or indifferent." On that daring trip to the bar to speak with him and ask for his vehicle I had a little extra support. Most of that support was consumed during our debriefing, by reason Pat and I emptied those glasses of the less stouter sort at the conclusion of debriefing who didn't feel the need to partake of the medicinal benefits offered by the medics. That's not to mention I might have added a few liquid ounces of the stuff after supper.
"All right gentlemen get your foul weather gear, you'll need it for the ride to the movie." "You're kidding," someone remarked.
"Not in the least," I answered.
The bar in the officer's mess resembled a third of a circle. At the far starboard was the Commodore with rank diminishing around to the port side as I faced the bar. The last back to see on the port side was Skipper Wayne. A break indeed. There was room for maybe two officers. But let me stress not room for a junior officer in this case. As I sidled up to the bar I purposely left that space between the Skipper and me. I waited for him to recognize me. A junior officer always waited to be recognized, he never interrupted his superior. I waited some more. Senior eyes began drifting port, like dominos falling. One by one it was inquired of each, "To whom does this Ensign belong." My liquid debriefing support held me there unshaken. Wayne looked left and asked, he knew who I was, then said, "What the name of hell do you want? You don't belong here Mister, you're not welcome."
"I beg your pardon, Sir. I apologize for the intrusion Commander Wayne, we got back late from our mission and missed the transportation to the movies." He interrupted me.
"Is that what you wanted to tell me, Mister?" He was madder than a wet hornet.
"No, Sir. I wanted to ask permission, if I may, Sir, to use your vehicle to take six of us to the John Wayne movie." I was aware there were more than his ears tuned in. Some of the brass laughing others offered a bit of mild needling. My demise had arrived I was sure. In his very loud voice he said, "The Ensign wants to borrow my transportation." More laughter and jokes about the Ensign approaching his Skipper.
It was Wayne again louder than the first time. "This son of gun (expletives deleted) is the only one in my squadron who has the guts to ask me for my transportation. Hell Ensign," he stopped, whatever he was going to say he didn't, then tossed his keys on the bar. They slid right to me.
"Thank you very much Commander Wayne." I picked up the keys thanking him once again. "Mister, do you now where to leave them so that I'll have them the first thing tomorrow?"
"Sir, I was planning on being at first breakfast in order to give them directly to you."
"No need of that Mister, just put them by my place at the dining table tonight when you're through." "Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir." I played it very seriously returning to the straight faced five.
"Would any of you gentlemen care for a lift to the movies.? John Wayne is playing, it's a war movie?" The sides of the Skipper's command car were closed with the old time isinglass curtains. They were anything but sealed. The wind and rain took its toll on us. Arriving at the movies we pulled into the Commander's parking spot not fifty feet from the door. Rank has its privilege, even the door to the movies was held open for us. There were several more occasions when I asked the Skipper if I might borrow his vehicle for transportation to the movies. On both occasions he was among a group of superior officers and I hesitated to approach.
Finally, when he would look my way I would hold my right hand up and out towards him with my thumb and first finger pressed together as though I had a key pressed between them. Rotating them imitating the rotation motion as though I were turning the ignition switch starting a car. To be certain he got the message I'd close my fists as gripping a steering wheel then alternating the raising and lowering the right and left hands implying I was steering a vehicle. I'd mouth the word m 0 vie s. Each time the Skipper kind of tilted his head to the side as though without the benefit of headsets thinking to himself, "One of my problems had just arrived." He'd follow that with a slight unobtrusive beckoning wrist motion, meaning it was ok to approach. As I did he would toss the keys at me and saying, "Be careful, Fitz." In acknowledgement I'd give him a short snappy salute accompanied simultaneously with a "Yes, Sir." Thus, on those occasions, we arrived at the movie warm and dry
I MIGHT HAVE FORGOTTEN TO MENTION THAT I WAS PROBABLY ONE OF THE POSSIBLE...
I might have forgotten to mention that I was probably one of the posSible dozen guys who was blessed with a wife, my sweetheart, that wrote every day. There were a number of times when a letter didn't make it to keep my consecutive streak going, but that was because of weather. However, the next day or so, weather permitting, the mail plane brought in three or four delightfully scented letters for me. Once, and thank heaven it was only once, when twenty days went by, because of severe weather kept the mail plane from getting into Attu. Actually, it was so bad the mail plane made only several attempts at getting in. Return to TOP of page!
All hands, both Navy and the Army, became so upset by the lack of outside communications it was agreed to let a volunteer try to make it to Adak for the mail. Our Navy volunteer got off, made it about a third the way to Adak but because of the severity of the weather turned back for Attu. Adak was completely closed down. Had he made it to Adak he couldn't have gotten in and by the time our volunteer returned to Attu it would have been doubtful if he could have landed at Attu. When he did arrive about three instrument approaches were made before finally getting in by the skin of his teeth. Our weather was something like fifty feet forward visibility, ceiling about twenty-five feet and the wind crazy. The weather prevented any additional attempts.
Official orders followed, there would be no more trying. Whenever NATS (Naval Air Transport Service) made it would have to be soon enough. They made a couple of tries but like our volunteer had to give up. When NATS finally arrived they buzzed the field thereby advising all that the mail had arrived. Their touch of humor was appreciated. The mail and other cargo was unloaded in about forty minutes, the outgoing load in another thirty and they were off for Adak. No one spent time on Attu unless ordered there. Even then it was forced acceptance with much moaning.
That afternoon I sorted my thirty letters and papers by date of postmark then tuning in my radio to hear some of those romantic ballads from stateside, leaned back on my bunk with feet propped up, then spent the balance of the afternoon and evening reading Betty's Woodhue scented letters. Each epistle was reread, missing nothing. The best part most were very long. I read late into the night. I cherished every second of the reading and with every alphabetical letter written loved her even more. Last but not least were the few newspapers and magazines. Such periodicals ultimately were passed on. They reached many hands before-they were discarded.
POSSIBLY IT WAS AT THE CONCLUSION OF THOSE TWENTY CONSECUTIVE, MISERABLE BAD WEATHER...
Possibly it was at the conclusion of those twenty consecutive, miserable bad weather days when VPB-135 and 136 planes were sent out to locate our guard ship. It was the converted World War One destroyer, formerly a four stacker, that had not been heard from for some considerable time. A half dozen planes were sent out in attempts to locate it. All failed in their attempts to locate her. Whether Moorehead volunteered, which was what I always believed, or was assigned for the additional search I didn't know. What I vividly recall was we made the trip. Between the last effort and ours were a couple more days of extremely foul weather. It afforded me time to ascertain from briefing the areas of search conducted by the others, including the wind, as reported in the area, where our missing ship was alleged it be. Return to TOP of page!
Specific conclusions were hard to come by. But I was expected to set a course for somewhere out in that vast Pacific that would lead us to the Navy's lost ship at sea. My mind kept telling me to plot such a course would be difficult if not impossible. Actually, she was lost only to the base at Attu. If she were afloat and healthy their position ought be known to them. Then again maybe not. It was my feeling the high winds and seas destroyed their radio antennas, if so it was a distinct possibility their Loran antennas were inoperable also. There hadn't been any sun or stars for several weeks. That their position was unknown to them was indeed realistic. Thus I set about to plot a series of courses beginning within the area where I hoped we'd locate the old converted WWl four stacker.
In the quiet of my hut all were plotted along with the high wind and their variations at the time of the prior extreme distances searched. Plotted then were the ship's last known position, course, speed and the estimated wind factor. These last three figures were set up anticipating normal conditions and especially the sea. Next I plotted where she might be expected to be under these extreme conditions. Finally, I inquired as to whether there was an old 'Sea Dog' about who might tell me about a ship under way at sea in such intense weather. The answer to my weak inquiry was as I expected, negative. With it all it told me where I felt fairly comfortable the ship wasn't. Next, just ponder for awhile where she is, if in fact, she is still afloat. Agreeing with myself I plotted 78V's course.
"Loot", (nickname for my PPC Lieutenant) another of my names for Bigmoore Jimhead, stopped by my cubicle and asked what I was doing. I explained it all to him, and, the why he knew. He agreed as to my hypothesis. Somehow, I can't recall whether Pat was present or not. Our conversation continued with Jim wondering how successful we'd be in such hellish weather. I smiled, suggesting we'd locate the ship within an hour of our arriving at the end of our first leg.
"Any money on it?" Jim inquired reaching into his pants pocket.
"I don't gamble, Jim. It's Irish intuition." Said with a smile, of course.
"You're right, Fitz, the bet's off." I knew he wasn't going to bet anymore than was I. However, there's a story there. Several times when we went in on a target I had said I wasn't comfortable, I had a funny feeling, meaning peculiar, and sure enough we experienced considerable opposition. There were several other times, shortly before, attacking our target when Jim asked, "how are your feelings?" I replied, "uncomfortable." Jim choose an alternate target and strange as it seemed we usually experienced little or no opposition. Arriving in the proximity of our selected targets Jim would ask the same question. Those half dozen times or so it was the same pending my response. So it was that day Jim canceled his offer to bet.
Weather was marginal at takeoff but called for a good ceiling and scattered clouds accompanied with favorable winds upon return. None would bet the farm on that prediction. The search from the beginning was very rough flying about a thousand feet through scattered clouds, damp and exceptionally cold. Turning on our second leg doubt of ever seeing the 'old tub' in these high winds and twenty-five to thirty-five foot waves was almost assured. It was scary and very frightening to say the least. I'd have to admit it was one of the worst flights ever for me. I believe it was the sea that was so frightening. Further, I had nO' seat belt and found it virtually impossible to remain seated upon my gas tank seat. Then, too, it was exceedingly difficult to operate the Loran much less draw a straight line. Turning into our third leg Jim was crabbing about thirty degrees to port in an attempt to hold my heading.
Jim and Pat had their hands full in piloting 78V on course. They did a fantastic job. We had about another hour of searching and no one aboard was hoping anymore than was I that we'd be successful very soon and turn about for home. "Attu was heaven in another world compared to this stupid endeavor," I thought. It was an epoch adventure and a situation never to be easily forgotten. Jim and Pat had much to do and see inside the plane besides scanning the sea for the hoped for destroyer. Yesterday, much less yesteryears, were nearly impossible to recall. Over and over I asked myself, "What in the world are we going to be able to do for those people on board if we found them?" The answer, of course, was to tell those of concern, "She's afloat, and, of course, where."
If the ship capsized in front of our eyes we were helpless, we were helpless period. If we found her upright and steaming into the wind and waves, at best we'd be the bearer only of news that she was afloat located at latitude and longitude so and so, course X degrees and estimated ~peed. Ohl Yes, and ad:! the weather conditions. That seemed to bother me considerably. At that moment the closest help for her was two hundred plus miles away. If help could steam at a steady fifteen knots, and it was doubtful in those seas and wind, said help would take better then thirteen hours to arrive on the scene. Even debris would have been lost by then.
The proverbial snow ball in hell had a better chance of lasting twenty minutes then that crew if they had to abandoned ship. If we had to ditch, and assuming we survived our ditching in those twenty-five to thirty-five foot waves and icy cold water, our time and the snowball's would be halved. Indeed, our estimated survival time would be less based on prior ditchings of Aleutian aviators. I agreed with myself. At best, any person would only be able to say about us was that, 78 Victor and crew were lost at sea.
My bemoaning our situation to myself and the hopelessness I felt about it all was jubilantly eradicated by the fact we had located the missing ship. Sometime before the termination of our third leg expired Jim and Pat hollered they had spotted the ship. In addition for me was the satisfaction that with my combination of luck and time plotting I lead 78V to the heretofore lost ship. There were so many factors, and especially time and weather, to be equated then plotted in finding our ship I have to credit and thank the Lord first. Nevertheless, we in 78 Victor were the ones that did it. I climbed forward. I suppose my subconscious erased present conditions and pictured for me a ship sailing through normal seas leaving behind her foamy wash.
My first glimpse was utterly shocking. My voice was barely audible, I pointed and said, "look." Jim and Pat were, of course, looking. The bow had just plummeted downward, disappearing into the oncoming wave, her twin screws (propellers) and last third of the ship were well out of the water not having reached the peak of the wave on which the bow just slid down and into. Her screws churning only air. I was startled believing I was about to witness the demise of the entire crew and ship as it dove into the depths of the sea.
That converted and weary old WW 1 four stacker was valiantly fighting a sea she should have forgotten about many years prior. We watched getting the distinct impression she was the board, as in a sliding board. With the apex of each wave she precariously hesitated, perfectly centered, with both her stern and bow clearly out of water. Perched thus, hesitating but for seconds then falling forward as the apex rmved aft leaving her bow completely in the air too, as we call it, belly flopping, into the trough below plunging her into and through the next oncoming wave. Her entire bow following back amidship disappearing as she savagely fought and twisted her way through.
As her bow burst forth, decks awash she strenuously dumped water from her soaked decks. Her stern with its screws thrashing the air anxiously awaiting another bite of the tumultuous Pacific. APacific all hands would sooner forget for the want of a quiet lagoon, slid from the apex into the trough disappearing momentarily following as though it was an ignoble version of follow the leader. Each bow action didn't last minutes but rather seconds. As the bow burst forth she hesitantly, though not really, paused as she rested now seemingly slipping backwards in the following trough immediately rising again her bow pointing upwards striving for the following apex. Her dirty ill-painted bow grotesquely tilting to port about thirty degrees reaching for and finally settling on the apex she so desperately climbed, seemingly for the purpose of saving her stern. Settling but a second or two then while listing to starboard twentyfive or thirty degrees she once again belly flopped into the trough diving then into and through the oncoming wave almost righted. It was endless.
When ships crumbled under the weight of nature's torment and sank, surviving ~amen returned for another attempt in their quest to conquer nature's seas. What men are created for such punishment? Days ran into weeks. The weeks riding out these unbearably violent seas came to an end a few days short of five. We located our ship at the peak of their tribulation, we found them early in their fourth week. Because of the seas and their rising and falling, disappearing and reappearing so continuously signaling them with the lamp was most difficult. Circling them sending repeated short messages was their only outside contact in weeks. We advised them of their position. Stating with a further message.
"Will advise base your position." Then we'd come around again as the ship's bridge burst forth and began her climb.
"Your position." We skipped using the words latitude and longitude, sending them only their
numerical counter parts. They understood, replying only, "Thanks." Then a garbled message.
"Returning port. Severe hull damage."
"Roger. What port?" Was our reply then we circled about for any additional word. "Attu - Adak -the States."
"Roger." Was all that we flashed back. The next time around they asked for the weather to Attu. We knew they had to be all smiles at learning starting late that night they would be seeing stars. Tomorrow blue sky was the word and for the following two days. Subsequently, they thanked us for coming out to see them. That thanks was the answer to all my questions. Surely, that crew was thankful somewhere someone cared.
Jim circled them a few more times then took my course for home. This flight was an excellent example of why we left the octant home. It was useless with no sun or stars and altogether too rough. Enroute to base we coded and radioed a message of their position and of their damage. The amazing thing we didn't have a camera aboard. It upset us because we knew they would have loved to have had pictures of themselves under the waves. I've never understood while after so many days of drenching the ship didn't sink. They almost could qualify for the submarine service. The sight of Attu and calmer seas sent chills over my body. My thought, "love that pile of rocks." Eventually, we learned that old refitted WW 1 war weary had to return to the States for repairs. Besides her twisted hull there was considerable above deck damage.
I DO RECALL THOSE ULTRA LONG WINTER NIGHTS WHICH LASTED ABOUT EIGHTEEN TO NINETEEN HOURS...
I do recall those ultra long winter nights which lasted about eighteen to nineteen hours, plus or minus a half at either end. A normal winter's daylight was maybe four hours with graying sky for a 'brief period fore and aft. Sleeping for some few became quite an adjustment. It didn't bother me. Return to TOP of page!
Months of so many dark hour takeoffs were made in the very early morning hours thus allowing for daylight returns and landings during the few hours of daylight. Those times were uncomfortable to say the least. Overloaded dark (the same as night) takeoffs from Attu were decidedly not my thing. None of our crew cared for them. Actually, none of the crews did. On one such night flight my Loran acted up and to compound it all weather prevented me from taking any sights on the stars. In addition during those last miles weather prevented me from taking drift sights using the water.
On we flew. Blindly though not happily. From the same old timer that assisted me with my dead reckoning navigation I was given the advice never tell your pilot you're lost or are not sure of your position until the last moment. "He'll drive you crazy", he stressed. I was using the wind from the early part of our trip. "Who knows what our position is now," I mumbled to no one in particular. Using what I had, which wasn't much, I adjusted our heading hoping for a sighting along Kamchatka about thirty miles north of Point Lopatka. The worst predicament possible we'd make landfall somewhere about the middle of Paramushiro with the Japanese fighters up. The solution to that dilemma would be to make a fast hundred and eighty degree turn dumping our bombs blindly into the Pacific Ocean, and head for the clouds and horne.
If we were farther north then I anticipated we still could turn south dumping our load on Shimushu.
As it was we made land a little above where we normally crossed the Kamchatka Peninsula. Weather again prevented a visual raid. Via radar and a pinch of Yankee guesswork Shimushu got another load in the area of their radio station. West bound there was plenty of land to intercept and to square yourself away as to your position. East bound no way, the Aleutian Islands were too small in a big pond for guesswork. I needed some help. Wind direction and velocity were desperately needed.
"Pilot from Navigator."
"Go ahead, Fitz, what's on your mind?"
"Jim I need some wind direction and velocity you'll have to get me within sight of the water. While we're on the deck I'll drop a flare or two."
"Ok, Fitz, I'll ease her down. It was pretty rugged down there coming over. As soon as you get your drift let me know and we'll go back up." At about seventy-five feet we leveled off. Jim was right, it was very rugged but the help I needed for the time was on the deck. There was no doubt but our ride home was going to be hairy. Beurskens still had his hands on the Loran fiddling around. I gave Jim our new heading.
"Fitz, if the Loran is working why did you have to drop to the deck for wind?" I dreaded breaking the news about the Loran now. It was too early.
"Jim, the Loran hasn't worked for the last couple hours. If we don't get it working it's home using dead reckoning."
"How in the h--' did you get us to our Kamchatka crossing?"
"Sweat, luck and skill. Besides west bound we were sure to make a landfall somewhere. Alii had to do was to correct for a south or north error and we'd be right on Jim. ,'II tell you all about it when we get home." Pat turned to look at me and I gave him a thumbs up signal.
"Let me know when you want your next drift correction." That was all, he said. I expected more at least an octave or two higher.
"With this weather Jim, how about thirty minutes from now?"
"Roger, Fitz, thirty minutes." Beurskens and I continued our tinkering with the Loran. Thirty minutes later I got another drift correction. There was but a slight course correction.
About an hour and a half from Kamchatka the Loran showed promise. By the time we were readying for another drift sight that beautiful box of wires and electrical connections came back to life. I took a reading, plotted it and advised the front office of our new course. Either way we were as good as home. My next thought was, "Hang on Messrs. Pratt and Whitney." Our engines sounded great at that moment.
With the loss of our Skipper further daylight bombing raids were all but canceled. This ruling was awhile coming down, however, it implied that because of that loss, daylight raids were too costly. That was a fact long known by many and easily attested to by their Command and the losses suffered by several prior squadrons. VPB 1 36 went back to more scouting flights than tactical missions. No one fussed about giving up the Empire Express Missions. However, there was an additional flight to Paramushiro by four crews. We were one of them.
THAT PARTICULAR MISSION WAS UNIQUE AND TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE SPEED CAPABILITY OF THE PV...
That particular mission was unique and took advantage of the speed capability of the PV. The mission was singular in purpose, photographic. It was planned to acquire accurate up-to-date information along much of the western coastline of Paramushiro. To ascertain which of the west side beach locations offered the best possibilities for beach landings for a proposed invasion of Paramushiro. Return to TOP of page!
Lieutenants Jim Moorehead, Bob Larson, Ralph "Pinky" Morrison and Jim Bacak, normally our wing man, were chosen, drafted or otherwise foolishly volunteered for the mission. The 'how"of each PPC and his crew selection has remained a bit gray to this day. I believe we either drew names out of a hat or drew strips of paper torn, in advance, into varying lengths. The longest was to be the first plane off and so on. Lt. Moorehead drew the shortest which meant 78 Victor and crew would takeoff last being the tail's end. From the briefing room to crossing over to Paramushiro, then for home was an epic ride.
Contrary to the opinions of some who didn't partake in that mission we did not leave as a group in formation. We took off as best as I recall about five or ten minutes apart. Bob Larson or Pinky Morrison were first and second off, who actually was number one or two doesn't matter now. They were in fact the two lead planes. Third was Jim Bacak and following him, and last, was our .crew in 78 Victor with Moorehead in command. Radio silence was of course strictly observed.
Each such flight carried a Navy camera man. Our camera man was Dan Culotta brother Pex's friend with whom he worked at Glenn L. Martin Company prior to the United States entry into the war. Dan had made several trips with us when specific targets were to be photographed. We were' use to each other, he fit well into our crew. Better yet he was small of stature thereby not adding appreciably to our already overloaded plane. Maybe only a hundred and ten pounds we didn't need. He was the smallest of the photographers. We were furnished additional gas since on this trip no bombs were carried. However, we carried the maximum ammo for the seven fifty caliber machine guns. Ohl Yes, Dan lugged a spare camera, just in case his big K-20 failed.
My set course when leaving Attu for our point of crossing Kamchatka was known to Jim and Pat by heart. All I'd have to do on the trip over was to track our progress on my chart to be certain we were on course and periodically correct for drift. Other then a fair cross wind the day was very nice. That was, of course, by Aleutian standards. If the wind held its present direction and like velocity along the west coast of Paramushiro we would have the benefit of a tail wind aiding and abetting our run down the coast. We'd take any help we could get, especially a ten to twelve knot tail wind.
Naturally, in our attempt to surprise the Japanese, we flew the last one hundred miles at maybe ten or fifteen feet over water. Then we planned to violate all the rules again by crossing the Kamchatka Peninsula approximately twenty-five miles north of Point Lopatka, maintaining our flight level, flying ten or fifteen feet over the peninsula. By the time we reached the Japanese Island of Shimushu heading down their west coast Jim and Pat increased our airspeed to 250 knots. There was a slight tail wind thereby boosting our ground speed to about 256 knots, about 297 MPH. Jim said he was saving a little speed in the event the Japanese fighters got up. By the time we started our run, plane number one, we hoped, probably had already crossed over Paramushiro now out over the Pacific heading for home. Plane number two was about to make his way across the island strafing any worthwhile target then heading for the Pacific and home. It's my guess now that Jim Bacak, number three, was maybe thirty-five miles ahead of us and trailing the second plane by thirty-five or forty miles.
Because of the choreographers needs for all the physical features of Paramushiro's west coast unknown to the planners for the discussed invasion we were about to fly the gauntlet. The map makers wanted it all. To acquire it four specific approaches had to be flown. Each flight was assigned its own altitude and distance to be flown from Paramushiro's western shore. It all boiled down to ascertaining the most desirable beaches for an, invasion including channels, rocks, possibly navigable features, topography, harbors, canneries, elevations and obvious gun emplacements. What they were after was a compendium of information whatsoever.
The guns had all been test fired after we crossed Kamchatka. Bill Glennon was already whirling around in his turret. As we passed Shimushu little activity was observed, maybe a few tracers were observed coming up at us. No hits were scored. If that was the worst, we thought, this might be a milk run. 78 Victor's assigned run was the last, closest to the shore and lowest altitude. I believe the run approximated eighty nautical miles. If we were fortunate we'd be crossing over Paramushiro in about twenty minutes with no casualties with 78V in sound flyable shape for the long lonely flight home. With any mission over the seven hundred and forty nautical miles to Attu was never thought of as a piece of cake. Much apprehension, considerable trepidation and if the oil pressure dropped a mite or an engine coughed you were damned uneasy. We had never been this far south and west of Paramushiro before.
As we approached the big island our apprehension peaked. All inside 78V was readied. Correct altitude, distance from shore with some speed to spare. Three planes passed by this route before us yet nary a thought was given them. Interest for the moment was on ourselves and fulfilling the assigned task. As we progressed scattered fire was observed. Nothing serious but puzzling, yet not lasting. The first third of our run was now history. Then, suddenly, the now previously awakened and alerted Japanese were truly alive. Thankfully, they were only almost accurate.
Commencing the last two thirds of our run we met with considerably heavier fire, more accurate, too. A steady stream of tracers which represented every fifth round fired at us was our constant companion. They fired so continuously their barrels obviously becoming so overheated their shells came at us twirling resembling corkscrews. They, nevertheless, ceaseless in their attempt to bring down a Yankee bird. Within 78 Victor we were so busy voices over the radio meant nothing, absolute meaningless. The sky around us became more actively alive with their ,anti-aircraft fire exploding about us. Through to the remainder of our run their firing was frighteningly incessant. Continued black explosive bursts of flak high and to starboard, never seemingly able to track us accurately enough for a kill.
Intermingled with their anti-aircraft fire were their tracer bullets. It was a dreaded and worrisome unceremonious ride watching their flak continuing to burst so consistently at two o'clock high. As we flew it was as though we were moving along within their anti-aircraft firing pattern. Those sudden black bursts appeared so frighteningly close and as we passed their fading clouds of smoke when yet another, the two or three would reappear seemingly at the two o'clock high position. Killing bursts followed, keeping us neatly within their planned pattern. Why we weren't hit by their flak fragmentation or other shots only our Lord knows. Tracers and flak were continuously uncompromising trailing us through the air. Flak and tracers were over, under, before and after and from the inception of the firing you wondered when one hit would end our flight.
Moving along at better than 300 MPH now gave us some advantage. Yet the Japanese hadn't corrected their tracking. When will they? Why haven't they? Anticipating their resolving whatever problem they were having became more intimidating by the second. As sudden and voluminous was the opposition firing it became very nearly nil for the next five minutes then again, down the coast further, the opposition was up for battle. Less accurate, not as intense but altogether too uncomfortable being like the proverbial sitting duck. Still no hits. Dan Culotta blind to it all, cold and uncomfortable continued his picture taking. Glennon never ceasing his whirling around in the turret watching for the enemy fighters. Moran too, watching for fighters standing and looking out of the astro hatch. Beurskens crowded at his radio position ready to relay a message if we took a hit.
Jim and Pat in the front office were doing an excellent job at flying. the prescribed altitude and distance from shore required by us. They never so much as flinched once nor were they detracted from their flying by the thousands of tracers or by the Jap's anti-aircraft fire bursting in front of them. As for me I had the best seat in the house along with the foremost view in town. I had no duties other then to ride and watch. Jim had me forward, never saying why. I know it was as third pilot if in the event he or Pat were injured. It was a bit of a safeguard, a tiny bit, but had he forgotten I never had landed a PVl even in an ideal situation. To him, I imagined, any pilot in an emergency is better than no pilot at all. It reminded me of the old seafarers expression, "Any port in a storm."
As we progressed through the last third of the ride I believe we all could say we had seen more flak and tracers that day on that run than we had seen during all of our missions combined, much more. There was no doubt we had just buzzed by the proverbial Japanese hornet's nest. We flew above and past a number of Japanese ships, both commercial and military, though none bothered us. There was a heretofore unknown air strip. Japanese planes were sighted on their tarmac but none pursued us. Sight seeing was limited. The photos would have to tell the story. The last third we saw only sporadic antiaircraft firing and only a mild amount of machine gun firing. That was until we turned inland to cross Paramushiro headi~ east for home. It would be safe to say for the first one or two minutes the Japs threw everything but the kitchen sink at us. We observed some few Japanese with small arms firing at us.
Our opposition soon settled down as we flew very low through paramushiro's valleys heading for the east coast. It was our guess that between our engine noise and its reverberating off of and through the hills some confusion might have prevailed as to where we were or even as to how many planes were coming through the valley. If there was someone to fire at us, by the time they spotted us we were well past them. Jim had saved some of 78V's power for the run and had put it to good use when we turned heading east running the valley for home. Anticipating we would be greeted by Japanese fighter planes at the coast Jim and Pat had the throttles all the way forward as we exited the valley. Flying about 320 MPH through the valley just skimming the Japanese Motherland was our remaining bit of protection from their fighters.
We burst out from between the hills at 300 plus knots, a shade under 350 mph, dropping down into a clearing and at once spotting a number of buildings approximately two miles dead ahead. All were of wooden construction and appeared rather depressed. There were a few fishing boats docked along side. As we approached them it was certain some of our gang had hit them minutes before. Jim chose to strafe them on our way out. I believe Glennon with the turret 50's got a piece of the action also. Splintered wood and debris generally flew everywhere. There was some smoke as we left and the boat well damaged. We didn't wait around nor did we get any photographs as our photographer was set up on the port side and the action was on our starboard as we passed the buildings. Immediately, I hurried aft to verify our position and set a course for home. It was unbelievable to think we were the fourth plane to fly down their west coast, ten minutes after the third and possibly thirty minutes after the first plane and didn't see a single airborne Japanese fighter.
The trip home was uneventful except for the fact we all became more talkative about halfway to Attu.
There was no doubt the pressure was off although, subconsciously, there was always the remaining cold water flight. However, we had become accustomed enough that it was more easily erased from our minds and could relax to some degree. I have to admit though it was never one hundred percent. That old WW 1 destroyer wasn't as much for rescue as I believed, it was for weather advisory and psychological encouragement for crews insofar as rescue was concerned. Naturally, we all thought in the back of our minds, there was that possibility.
What stuck with me through the ride home and that night was how that Jap anti-aircraft battery had continually fired two o'clock forward and high. Surely, they had to have been green or had malfunctioning equipment. Praise the Lord. Maybe a hundred miles out we got on the scuttlebutt that VPB-139 was about to leave the States to relieve us. That cleared the air of all tension and thoughts of what we had just been through. It was agreed that we all would keep our eyes and ears open for any word about VPB-139. Our last statement was superfluous since it was certain the squadron as a whole would be most anxiously seeking any word whatsoever. Our. landing arrival was anxiously awaited and once down hustled off to the debriefing room. I found myself a willing assistant to any who may have had trouble in consuming the Medics recommended survival tonic.
There were no more menacing nor arduous anxiety trips planned for us or any other members of VPB-136. After our last one we suggested to Jim, that, henceforth whenever at briefing he remain well slouched in his seat. Positively not volunteering for anything. 78 Victor and crew had more than established themselves during their first Aleutian tour. Besides VPB139 was readying itself for our replacement. Furthermore, we were now about to complete our seventh month of what we were told, when we left the States, was to be our first six month tour of duty. There would be three such Aleutian tours of duty with approximately ninety days between the first and second tours as well as ninety days between the second and third tours. None of 78V's crew ever went back to the Aleutians.
THE IDEA BEING THAT REST WAS SORELY NEEDED BECAUSE OF THE PREVIOUSLY HIGH LOSS RATIO OF PILOTS...
The idea being that rest was sorely needed because of the previously high loss ratio of pilots, crew's and planes. Just plan old nerves and tension took their toll on pilots and crews. I believe the early PBY squadrons took more losses than the later squadrons. However, two PV squadrons prior to our arrival were hit very hard. Flying and living conditions were especially hard taskmasters on flight crews. Continuous instrument flying combined with the long over water flight shattered more than a few pilots. While we lost four crews to Russia VPB-136 hadn't suffered a single life to either combat or the environment. There were several pilots who refused to fly as pilots in command plus a few more that positively refused to fly at all. It was about time for us to depart Attu. Return to TOP of page!
It was hoped Command would release us since VPB-131 had come up well equipped for the Empire Express run on October 20, 1944. They had been equipped with rockets also. By late January 1945 they made the first rocket run to Paramushiro. VPB-131 's continued efforts released 136 to sector patrols. VPB-131 was no longer an eager squadron. In those first months they had lost an entire crew during a raid on Paramushiro, a crew to Russia and several near misses.
Not long after we departed they lost their third crew in their attempt to land after a sector search.
Their pilot making his second valiant effort at landing because of high winds and exceptionally foul weather failed. There was a very severe storm producing high and gusty winds, known as 'williwaws.' As 131 's pilot approached the end of the runway his plane was flipped over at about forty feet above the cove by the howling winds blowing down the runway and the mountain slamming his plane upside down into the cove. There were no survivors. Their planes had their share of mechanical problems, too.
Finally in March 1945 VPB-139 arrived with their new PV-2 Harpoons fully equipped to take over the Empire Express using rockets in lieu of bombs. They carried considerably more gas also. With VPB-139's arrival 131 was assigned the sector patrols. VPB-136 began our preparations and packing for Ault Field in Washington State, our home base. Because 1 31 's planes were known to be considerably more weary than were ours the Brass ordered us to fly them home. The planes once stateside were to be scheduled for training squadrons.
We were scheduled to depart on the morning of March 17, 1945. Little did I know then that I would never see Attu, Alaska, again. Several days before our departure Lt. Moorehead took me out for a check ride in the PV. A more of a talk check ride than a hands on one. He had me follow through on several landings. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensely. It added to my right seat time on those trips when Pat was grounded. Pat was allowed to make a few landings. This all should have been done prior to our tour, not the end. Our PPC was difficult to understand or even to know for that matter. We were assigned to ferry 82V back to Washington. After having checked 131 's tired bird over thoroughly and found ready for the trip she was loaded with our gear. In addition, we were given the squadron's entire records to take back with us.
There were bon voyage parties, the many slaps on the back along with all the usual, "You lucky guys" and etc. It all seemed endless even though Moorehead, Tierney and I were scarce during most of the partying. Most of the officers, and I guess the enlisted men also of VPB-136, were given letters and photos to carry back to the States to mail to wives, sweethearts and family. Obviously to avoid the censor on Attu. Those several days before we left Attu a good number of both crew and pilots, once back in the States, planned on working very hard to prevent their return to A ttu.
Lieutenant Moorehead with recently promoted Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Tierney and I arrived at the briefing room early for the particulars for our first homeward leg. All was, at that hour, fine for a pleasant trip to Umnak, our first stop. Lt. Ken Sherman stopped by to listen in. Ken was the squadron's radio and radar Engineering Officer and was to fly back with us. Slight of build and an ever happy Christian who knew the Lord, Ken, like the rest of us, couldn't wait for our departure. All the time we were on Attu along with the spare time we had, I wondered, after I came to know the Lord, why didn't Ken witness to us and tell us about the Lord Jesus Christ?
I never really knew how the enlisted crew felt about flying one of 131 's weary birds home but Jim, Pat and I weren't lIS comfortable with 82V as we would have been in our own 78V. VPB-131 had completed several tours of duty with their same planes in South America on anti-submarine patrol, including a year of training flights in them also.
There's no need to go on how attached one can become to a airplane with which you've been through so much together. Indeed, there was a certain comfortableness, you fit like a pair of old shoes, a relationship of trust and respect for each other. Flying 82V was like a pair of old shoes, only one lacked its heel. Yes, you could get there although uncomfortably. While Harry Moran, Beurskens, Tierney and Jim had checked and rechecked 82V there remained that difference between her and our old friend 78 Victor. It may very well have been psychological. Albeit the die was cast. We were to fly that tired old bird home.
SAINT PATRICK'S DAY, MARCH 17, 1945 BROUGHT A PLEASANT MORNING TO THE ISLAND OF ATTU...
Saint Patrick's day, March 17, 1945 brought a pleasant morning to the island of Attu. There was a slight breeze sweeping the runway, the ceiling was generous by Aleutian standards, with scattered patches of sunlight peeking through the broken overcast as 82V now of VPB-136 lifted off the runway at 0950 hours with six happy crewmen, and a passenger, headed for home with scheduled stops at Umnak and Kodiak that day. Return to TOP of page!
Our trip to Umnak was uneventful except for all the chatter about home, family, sweethearts, wives and plans for our thirty days leave. The excitement of being homeward bound permeated 82V as we touched down just four hours and six minutes after leaving Attu. Jim was exceptionally excited as Marion, his wife, had given birth to their first child.
We checked in at Umnak, ate, fueled 82V, got an 'iffy' weather report, and with an affirmative vote of the crew, we took off for Kodiak at 1514 hours. I was not at the weather briefing so was not privy as to how 'iffy' the weather north of us really was. Further, not being in the cockpit, I was not aware of the possible problems that might result in further deterioration of our radios. There was a problem. That questionable radio normally called for returning to the flight line for a maintenance check before proceeding to our destination. We didn't. Lt. Moorehead after conversing with co-pilot Tierney (who was doubtful) and Radioman Beurskens (who would never question Lieutenant Moorehead) seemed satisfied he could proceed safely on to Kodiak. I'm reasonably certain in my mind now that Moorehead heard Tierney but didn't take his recommendation.
In all honesty, I knew Pat Tierney wasn't at all satisfied with Moorehead's decision to go. Pat wanted a check of the radios. It was already late in the day for the flight to Kodiak. It would have involved a night landing with a difficult approach in which to land, even in daylight. Weather permitting, we could get an early start in the morning. Radioman Beurskens, being an enlisted crewman, offered no resistance about the radios after their initial conversation. In fairness to Fred Beurskens I doubt there were a half dozen enlisted men during WW 2 that would have openly contested their superior officer's decision. Moorehead, having completed 82V's run up and seeing she appeared otherwise ready to fly turned and looking aft said something like, "How about it, Fitz, what do you think?" Knowing hi,s capabilities as a pilot and trusting his decision to go after his front office check and run up answered something like this, "I'm ready if you are."
Had I attended the weather briefing and fully known the questionable state of the radio I'm certain I would have said, "No, Jim, lets get the radio checked and layover until morning." There were few who could have answered Jim with a direct "No" without repercussion. I believed I was one of those few. Not too many hours later I knew I should have said, "No." In addition, 82V was not equipped with navigational Loran. While what was to happen was not my fault, as Moorehead's navigator my negative response quite possibly would have kept us at Umnak that eventful Saint Patrick's night.
In 1987, forty-five years after the war, at Fleet Air Wings Four's Reunion I learned that Lieutenant Robert Larson 01- VPB-136 an experienced Aleutian aviator and twice a member of the elite Empire Express group suggested to Lt. Moorehead he postpone his Kodak trip that afternoon. Lt. Larson said as much toJim Moorehead qualifying his reasons. "First and foremost the weather is iffy, and it's too late in the day, you'll have a night landing at Kodiak." Those reasons alone should have been cause enough for our layover at Umnak. At this point and time what was one more day? Secondly, it was known that, at this time of the year, the Chirikof Island Radio's beam often swung as much as twenty degrees northerly. It wasn't worth the risk to a pilot in a strange area, 'iffy' weather and especially at night. Finally Lt. Larson brought in the night factor again telling Moorehead, "The field at the Kodiak Naval Air Station was considered a tough assignment for anyone's first time approach at night."
In addition I was told Lt. Larson was to have said after he learned of our fate that he thought Jim Moorehead wanted to boast he was the first one back to the States. Others expressed a similar thought, especially since his wife, not long before gave birth to their first child. Jim was too anxious to get home.
Larson's above reasons for staying at Unmak were valid indeed, had Larson known the radio situation he would have really hollered at Jim, "NO WAY, MISTER."
With my affirmative response Jim swung smoothly about facing forward with an easy movement and competent hands eased the throttles forward beginning our turn into the runway. That Jim was going to takeoff for Kodiak was a certainty. He hoped only for someone's concurrence. Pat had said something more, I don't believe he was one hundred percent in agreement. As we flew on, the weather worsened. The wind became much stronger out of the northeast, creating a severe head wind while the ceiling became lower and lower.
From our trip's inception Jim had secured me from navigation. He advised that he would fly the radio range back. However, I was to keep the sectional charts available for further information as needed. I had them spread out on my navigation table and periodically recorded our position taking bearings on other radio stations. There weren't many and at best not certain. Our plane didn't have Loran. With the overcast since leaving Umnak there was no way to take advantage of celestial navigation. It was fly the radio range or nothing. All navigating, by order, had been secured even dead reckoning. The range was soon to become of little assistance.
We crossed the Chirikof Island radio off schedule at about 500 feet, just below the' overcast. Light was fast departing, as was our radio, which finally quit abruptly somewhere in the proximity of, what I felt the following day was, Tugidak Island it was one of the Trinity Islands, about 35 miles NE of Chirikof Island Radio and maybe 28 miles from the southern tip of Kodiak Island. If this wasn't enough, 82V's electrical system started to malfunction. No navigational aids whatsoever, a malfunctioning electrical system, dark and off course Jim turned 82V to the left choosing to follow Kodiak's coastline northwestward eventually swinging around northeast and ultimately to our ditching destination.
Touch down at Kodiak wasn't all that distant, had not the range's northern leg warped as Larson mentioned as a true possibility, Kodiak was a possibility. Failing that, if our radios had not picked this day and hour to give up the ghost, or, had not the wind been blowing so persistently out of the northeast we wouldn't have found ourselves in so serious a problem. Better yet, we shouldn't have left Umnak at all that day. Especially at 1514 (3:14 PM) knowing we had at least a four and a half hour flight. Isn't it said that hind sight is 20120?
We had been flying the Chirikof Island range and as we crossed over the station we anticipated we'd intersect the northern leg of the Kodiak range in 110 miles. From there we had only to fly it northerly about 67 miles then pick up Kodiak's westbound leg into the Naval Air Station. However, many things are easier said then done. Then, too, isn't it widely known that the best plans of both mice and men oft go astray? Ours did. In the close proximity of the Trinity Islands our radio gave up the ghost. Nothing Beurskens or anyone else could do would bring it back. Beurskens was considered tops as a radioman but there was nothing to be done for it while in flight. Radio out and now the electrical system there was an additional serious problem to study, and that very carefully. Remaining gasoline aboard.
The additional fuel depletion problem caused by the strong head winds, Moorehead announced that if we didn't find the NAS at Kodiak in about forty-five minutes he'd have to locate a suitable place to set 82V down. Jim sfilted he wasn't too optimistic considering our prognosis. Calling on me once again inquiring as to whether I had any indication as to our whereabouts. For the past twenty minutes I had been at the navigation table working over the charts from our last known position using an estimated wind drift. Jim had made a good number of turns searching for a town that might afford us a location. He was grasping at straws. He wasn't the only one. It was so dark there was virtually nothing to see much less identify. It was almost impossible to identify the shoreline. The majority of the coastal mountains, ranging from 1 840 feet to 1920 feet at Karluk, were just feet below the overcast.
"Jim, I have only the Sectional Flight Charts as issued. They lack the detail we need. I have to assume it's Kodiak Island on your right. The Sectional doesn't indicate any towns of any significance. They hardly show fishing villages." I think we all knew that, but were ready to try anything.
"Come forward, Fitz, we'll use your eyes, too, while Pat and I fly further up the coastline." I was to watch mostly that we didn't get in too close to the mountains. They didn't slope backwards they were jagged rock walls, straight up and down. It was so awfully hard to see. None of us picked up on the fact that had we been on course for NAS at Kodiak, heading north, Kodiak Island would have been on our left not our right. At this point we were like the story about the man who was so busy draining the swamp he didn't see the alligators. On we flew knowing we'd have to put 82V down very soon. Little gasoline remained in our tanks.
For theˇ life of me I cannot recall whether we even discussed bailing out. Although I'm certain we must have. We could have flown up over the island then setting the plane on its automatic pilot, the seven of us could have bailed out into the black night not knowing the terrain below. Too, there was that distinct possibility we could have drifted back out over the water. Obviously, we didn't jump. It was our PPC's decision.
Jim announced he was going to ditch 82V at the first place that appeared to have habitation. Adding, "If there is such a place along this coast. Then in the event we need first aid there would be people there to offer it." There was never a thought we wouldn't make it. I have to honestly say that was not my feeling, never the slightest thought I would fail to make dry land that night. Ken Sherman and another of the crew had said again they'd prefer to bail out. Moorehead reiterated the fact that we were going to ditch, the subject was closed. After nearly two hours of searching in almost instrument flying conditions we spotted lights ahead. The arrangement of the houses and their reflecting lights sent us almost through the top of the plane. Certainly, that was a lighted runway below. It was a sickening feeling, very sickening indeed when we realized those lights came from small houses running down the side of a hill at the base of a mountain.
It was nearly impossible to distinguish anything at all. The ceiling had dropped considerably and preceding it was mist from the lowering clouds. If it continued we'd have to drop down or fly on instruments. In an attempt to see the town, terrain and beach below, forgetting our electrical problem, Jim switched on the landing lights. To his joy, and that of the crew, they were on. However, in an attempt to adjust them the port wing light stayed in an upward position such as high beams in an automobile and the starboard wing light shot forward and down maybe twenty-five degrees. There was nothing to see above the port light and nothing to see below the angle of the starboard light. Most of that area between was like putting your automobile's high beams on in a dense fog. All of us in the front office were so busy not much thought or attention was given them. That is until Pat tried to turn them off. They simply wouldn't turn off. Obviously, an electrical short, 82V had no end of surprises. Really we didn't have a choice but to fly on.
That we were over a settlement was obvious, but what settlement, and where? Our light offered some relief since we noted the shore was too rocky and narrow on which to land. Later we believed that the old bird had it and she was ready to call it quits. Jim and Pat circled the area of the town but over water several times readying 82V's passengers and themselves for the landing of our lives. Earlier Jim ordered me to take care of the crew aft and to prepare them for ditching. I had done exactly that. Jim said openly, to P~! and I supposed to me, if I were in ear shot.
"Enough gas for a second attempt at ditching if we fail on the first try. Fitz, be ready to go aft and be sure everybody is prepared."
"Roger." I replied looking out into the black night.
LITTLE DID WE KNOW IT BUT THERE WAS A FINE MISSIONARY ON THE GROUND...
Little did we know it but there was a fine Missionary on the ground who anticipated we were in trouble and who was also preparing for our landing. Missionary Stephen Zdepsky was visiting his friend, and manager of the Alaska Packers store and radio operator, Joe Brown. Better yet I'll let Steve tell his own story as I progress, and, as he lived it and finally taped it for me June 14, 1987. Return to TOP of page!
Jim turned 82V into its final approach, knowing I could no longer assist them with an extra pair of eyes, I scrambled aft as ordered. Jim's first ever attempt at ditching felt the plane's tail slapping the crest of the waves.
Tierney, maybe it was Jim, I don't know, yelled out, "We're too far out give her the gun." Whoever, meant full power and fast.
A loud slapping sound almost reminding me of a piece of sheet metal dragged over gravel. Our tail smacked two or three waves. Reminiscent of my PBY full stall rough water landings. Jim positioned for the ditching realized in a second we had to get in closer to the shore, we were too far away from the beach. Full power to the Pratt and Whitney's and 82V responded beautifully, lifting her tail section from the sea bringing her nearer to shore positioning us closer, holding in a full stall attitude. Jim set her down in a text book landing in six, maybe seven foot seas on one of the darkest, stormiest nights ever. It was 2145 hours (9:45 PM). The fellows in the front office had their hands full completing a magnificent landing.
I had organized the crew well in advance. I had passed the word to wedge 82V's door open to assure ourselves of an exit if perchance the aircraft's fuselage was twisted locking the door shut forever. Further, all to brace themselves so that we would survive the impact with minimal injuries. We relocated luggage using our gear bags for cushioning.
"Lt. Sherman once we're down, you throw out our life raft as quickly as you can and secure yourself to it and to inflate it."
"Listen, Fitz, I don't know how to inflate the darn thing." He really didn't know.
"Ken." I said. Before I uttered the next word big Harry Moran was demonstrating to Ken how. Ken learned his expedited lesson well. Harry was set to trigger the mechanism on the door so that the raft secured within the door would eject, Glennon was to follow. We were as set as we ever would be. There was little solace in that we had two four man rafts. Grim faces, wondering minds asking each privately, "Will I survive this ditching? How about the frigid water." I was the last to get settled when Bill Glennon kind of leaned over towards me and asked, "Do you think we're going to die?"
I replied, "Not if the Lord doesn't want us to." J may have said 'God' and not 'Lord.' I'm not sure.
Bill looked awfully worried. Then again who wasn't bursting with apprehension? Bill was settled in seconds and I turned to lean into some bags of clothing and gear when the plane creased a wave. Instantly, we knew, in seconds now, there would be answers to all of our questions. We did realize that if we survived the ditching there remained an even larger and more traumatic challenge ahead. Hypothermia. Survival in the water more than fifteen minutes, the wind chill in wet clothes, would deal us another shocker.
The plane hit, skipped, stopped, nosed in, then, as though meditating momentarily her situation lowered her twin tails for possibly fifteen or twenty seconds. Her nose calmly, almost serenely, slipped forward her starboard wing awash. It all seemed simultaneous not really happening but here we were seven men who couldn't exit sinking 82V fast enough.
The door was ejected but no raft popped out of it. Shock hit us. The spare four man raft in place was booted out by Bill Glennon with Ken Sherman right behind it. Ken Sherman (a non-crew member looking for the quid: ride home), had the raft in hand and was followed by Fred Beurskens, Bill Glennon and Harry Moran almost in unison. By the time I was out the astro hatch and walking out the port wing they all were in the water. Moorehead and co-pilot Pat Tierney used the pilot's overhead escape hatches. Moorehead climbed out onto the port wing and asked me, "Where are the life rafts?" He got a quick answer, then jumped into the turbulent sea swimming for the raft.
Tierney went out the starboard overhead hatch and into the sea. In his attempt to clear the plane he went off in a direction opposite from the rest as 82V settled nose first with a starboard list.
Several crew members had the raft in tow. Sherman and Glennon, I believe. They helped Beurskens and Moorehead aboard. Believe me those four were a capacity load for the four man raft and there were three more to come. J was still on the port wing, hollering for Moran, as was the rest of the crew. For some reason, the thought raced through my mind that Moran might still be in the aircraft. J ran back, though gingerly, across the wing, pulled myself up onto the tilting fuselage so I could get to the astro hatch and yell into the aircraft for Moran to get out. By now 82V was well set in her desire to dive into the deep with a steep starboard spiral. Since he was the last in line to go out the door, no one knew whether he had made it or not. By the time I yelled down into the hatch the four in the raft shouted that they had Moran along side the raft.
By now 82V's attitude was in a steep dive with her tail visibly out of the water but sinking fast. I hastily, but carefully, retraced my steps out onto the port wing crossing over to the near level large Fowler flap and without hesitation or a look back jumped into the frigid water. Glennon, Sherman, Beurskens, Moorehead and Moran were all yelling for me to swim hard while they made an effort to maneuver the already much overloaded and water laden four man raft closer to me.
I was the last to reach the raft. So many hands reached out for me, they dragged me onto and across the raft, squeezed between legs and knees of others, face down, as there was no other way to get aboard. With the raft now full of water and five crewmen already aboard, my added weight and size didn't help. Balancing, in high seas, a four man raft full of water with six soaked men aboard created an intense situation to which we paid close attention. Our raft was actually floating beneath the surface.
I was having difficulty getting air to breathe, lying face down across the raft, head and face and most of my shoulders submerged. As the waves rose over the raft I was a foot or two under the water, I had to hold my breath. When the wave passed, my face remained in the water. Moorehead immediately set up a system for my breathing. Lying face down in this manner, I could not see the waves and as a wave approached, Moorehead would hit my back with his fist, which meant I was to hold my breath. As the wave washed past he would hit me again, which meant I could lift my head a bit and grab a breath. It worked. Praise the Lord.
With the strong northeast wind our raft drifted steadily separating the six of us from where the plane disappeared and from where Tierney was last seen. It wouldn't be long before we'd pass Cape Karluk and head out into Shelikof Straight. Translated, honestly, it would have spelled our demise. I had lined between my arms and flight jacket sleeves all the flares we had aboard. My flashlight and the flare pistol were buttoned in my two outside flight jacket pockets. Tucked safely in my inside pocket was my AAF Flight Chart showing Kodiak Island. I was indeed the eternal optimist. It was no small accomplishment to extract those flares from my water logged sleeves and with me lying face down virtually submerged. How they managed to reach between my sweater sleeve and the my flight sleeve I'll never know. Desperate men can do many things when called upon and especially when that old adrenalin starts pumping. It was the best place I could think of, at that time, and still keep my arms free for whatever use I might be able to put them.
We had fired maybe a half dozen flares in hope that someone might see them and -affect a rescue. like us the flares were truly soaked. Harry Moran fought like a trojan in an effort to stuff what was to be our last soaked flare into the pistol's chamber. We knew the others would never fit. In readying the pistol and after the chamber wouldn't shut for firing Big Harry with about all his might and with one last gigantic effort fQrced the gun together. Thus simultaneously with his slamming the gun together and their shifting to balance the raft the flare was accidently fired. The flare's trajectory carried it beautifully through that black night coming down some forty yards from us.
The miracle flare's flight and some heroics may best be enumerated by Missionary Steve Zdepski who along with a few brave souls, without hesitation or consideration for themselves, rescued all seven of 82V's crew. It must be said that at the near end of the rescue a good number of Karluk's town people were a part .
MY NAME IS STEPHEN ZDEPSKI...
My name is Stephen Zdepski. * I arrived in Karluk, Alaska early in June of 1943 to begirt my work as a Missionary among the Aleut people. The year of the plane crash I was given the added responsibility of teaching in the elementary school in the village. This was due to the death of the school teacher who had arrived in the village a few weeks before his death. The Alaskan Bureau of Indian Affairs asked me to teach that year in Mr. Williams' place. (* Emphasis added by C.L.F). Return to TOP of page!
"On the stormy night of March 17, 1945 I crossed the river, The Karluk River, on the suspension bridge to visit Joe Brown, the Alaskan Packers' storekeeper, Postmaster, and radio operator. Shortly after 10:00 P.M. we heard this low flying plane and looking up we noticed that the plane had its landing lights on. We decided that the plane was in trouble, so Joe went into the house to try to contact the plane on the short wave radio. Since he could not get any response he came out again. By this time the plane had circled around and was heading for the cliffs near Cape Karluk.
"Later the pilot, Jim Moorehead, said the lights of the village, which is divided by the river, appeared to be runway lights, perhaps the Naval Base at Kodiak. When he saw the cliffs he sharply turned to miss the cliffs and averted a crash. He realized this was not Kodiak so he decided to crash land in the seas, since he had about ten minutes of gasoline on the plane. In the short time we watched the plane three of the Aleuts came across the river where Joe and I were standing. Alex Panamaroff, (Nicanor Melcolie, Frank Noya and Willie Rock) a teenager, and lastly I do not remember quite clearly whether he was or Alex Brown, Sr. As the plane crashed, about one mile off shore, we could see the landing lights disappearing in the sea in a matter of seconds. We knew it was time to act. (The blank above-Steve was not sure at the time of his tape of the boy's name).
"The villagers used a skiff to get the mail twice monthly, it was about twenty-six feet long and requires four men to row and one man to handle the tiller. Somehow, the five of us were able to get the skiff into the water. We rowed in the direction of the crash hoping to locate any who might have . survived. After some time we were fortunate that survivors shot a flare which had misfired and skipped along the crest of the waves. It was this flare that permitted us to see the yellow Mae West jacket of Pat Tierney, who became separated from the life raft. We immediately tumed the skiff to the left and headed for the Mae West which we could now see with our flashlights.
"When the men in the raft saw us turn they all began to yell to us to direct us to them. We picked Pat up and then proceeded to the raft and transferredred the men into our skiff. It was a great reunion in the skiff since the men had thought that Pat had been lost. By this time we had drifted westward so that we decided to land at the fishing camp across the river from the village. The whole village was ashore and seeing our flashlights were ready to help us come ashore. However, the sea was so rough that we swamped. Throwing the painter ashore we were pulled up to the beach by thirty or forty people all yelling encouraging each other in Aleut. Yelling and meaning pull and push. When ashore the men were helped and some were literally carried to the school house and there were changed into dry clothing. (The blanks-Aleut words Steve was doubtful of spelling. The two bracketed statements added by writer).
"Joe Brown went to his store and brought enough clothes for all of the men to change. I was able to provide room for five of the men and I believe Alex Brown provided the room for the other two. We were to keep the men for five days since the sea did not calm down enough for the Navy to pick up the men. In the morning Joe Brown was able to contact the Navy Base by radio telephone and reported the crash and survival of the flyers.
"After the men left Karluk by Navy boat the village slowly returned to normal. I have kept contact with several of the men over the years. However, I lost contact with Ken Sherman for over forty years. Only this past week we once again have renewed our friendship. (The writers efforts managed to reunite Ken and Steve.)
"Incidentally, the U.S. Navy never did officially send any word of llppreciation for the efforts of the people of Karluk. But the appreciation most valued comes from the men who were so close to death and were snatched from it. I count it a privilge to have had a part on that dark, stormy night at Karluk, Alaska." He signed off -"Thank you, Steve."*
*(Missionary Steve Zdepski's audio tape message to C.L.Fitzpatrick of June 14, 1987.)
TO DEVIATE HERE, THOUGH BRIEFLY, IS A MUST...
To deviate here, though briefly, is a must. Once again thanks have to be mentioned for data by Chief Archivist Betty Fitz who had located among her memorabilia in either late October or early November 1988 my small leather address book I purchased at the NAS Kodiak, Alaska, in order that I might compile and record a few addresses of my former squadron members. More importantly, logged within that little book were the names of all concerned in our rescue. Once ascertained Missionary Steve Zdepsky was advised of them. Their names appear in Steve's audio tape message which appears above. Time had left some doubt in his mind as to all of them. However, it seems he had them all correctly. Return to TOP of page!
As Steve said, that accidentally fired flare was that which saved Patrick Tierney. That flare not only illuminated Tierney and the water around him, it almost hit him. Seeing Tierney, Steve and his crew were able to rescue him. But for the flare extracted from my sleeve they would have rowed past Pat and to us. Thus Pat's life was saved. The last flare expended, someone extracted my flashlight from my sleeve and was using it as a signal. It was thought to use it intermittently thus hoping for its extended life. No chance since the salt water caused it to remain on. As I said we were six men in a flooded and partially submerged four man raft fighting six to seven foot waves. While five of the six were fortunate in that they could manage to keep their upper torso out of the water I remained in it. More so with each wave flooding over me.
In desperation, an effort to make a noticeable gain for shore, a paddle was broken. Now down to one paddle, the raft submerged, and with the cold embracing us, we heard the greatest thing ever -unfamiliar voices calling to us out of the dark. On their way to us our flashlight quit. They called for us to yell more so they could be guided by our voices. It was Missionary Steve Zdepsky, Joe Brown and three Aleutian boys from the tiny village of Karluk, whose lights we had seen from the air. With Steve at the tiller and the four tired boys rowing they maneuvered along side our raft somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five minutes after our ditching. We were unceremoniously hauled aboard their skiff. Truly a blessing. Time was of the essence.
The raft set adrift the four rowers immediately set to their task pulling for shore. Progress, I was told, was only a bit more th.\10 a draw. More manpower was desperately required and at that exact moment. Before more is said, let me stress that without the organized rescue efforts of Missionary Steve Zdepsky and his friends we never would have made it. Some of the rescue rowers needed a rest from their herculean task. Soaking wet, chilled to the bone and shivering uncontrollably, Harry Moran, the ever quiet and unassuming large man, was that added manpower. His pitching in, utilizing his size and strength, when he took over two of the four oars, in those high seas, the skiff's pulling ahead against all the forces of the wind and sea was felt. Certainly, God's grace had prevailed ..
On the way in to the beach Steve and the young men kept repeating for us to beat our legs and arms.
"Keep up your circulation. Shake your arms and legs, beat them, rub your hands and arms, too." I thought I was doi.!1g a job of it when a young fellow told me to hit my legs harder. Don't stop. 1 recall that I said, "I was." He said I wasn't. Briefly someone else did it for me, I don't know who. Like a few of the others I didn't have it in me to move enough to do any good for myself at all. Other then speak a . little i absolutely could do nothing for myself. After those brief words with that young fellow I didn't recall much else except for a crowd at the beach ..
There was considerable difficulty in beaching the twenty-six foot skiff. Fortunately, many of the town's people had come down to the beach to see the activity. For them this was a most exciting evening. When it was all over I suspect it was exciting for us, too. The painter (the rope or line) having been thrown toward shore,ˇ failing to reach the beach, the men on the beach, walked into the extremely cold and severe surf without hesitation. Maybe six or seven, possibly more fought their way out into the icy water and breakers to above their waists, grabbed the painter and pulled the skiff to shore. Trouble. persisted that St. Patrick's night as the skiff swamped before it was beached. Praise the Lord there were many brave and willing rescuers there. Without whom, along with myself and some of the others our names, ranks and serial numbers would have been filed among the statistics of World War Two.
There wasn't much 'go' left in me and Harry Moran was the better part of my reaching Steve's schoolhouse. Harry was assisted by an ever helpful Aleut. In the excitement of trying to bring the seven of us back to some point of normalcy I was never told who that wonderful little man was. That humble and fine soul gladly did for me what he would have done for anyone. He never stepped forward to tell me, the shame is mine as I do not recall who the wonderful little man was. There is no doubt he and big Harry Moran made a pair. Harry was six one, or two, and a solid two-twenty. For the most part the Aleuts were small of stature. Chatter the next day seemed to indicate Pat and I received considerable assistance negotiating that long distance of exceptionally rocky shoreline. Others did too, however, I seem to recall a little good nature kidding about our condition. Without Harry I might still be on the beach.
Once within the walls of Steve's schoolhouse I recall we were in a comfortably sized room with a small kitchen nearby, maybe even adjacent. At any rate the small room adjacent with stove or heater of sorts is where Steve, and I guess Joe Brown heated the water to make 'hot toddies' for us. Yes, the water was very hot, lemon juice added along with a generous portion of Schenely's Black Label whiskey. It must have been Joe Brown who furnished the whiskey for the 'hot toddies' since I'm most certain it wasn't inventoried with Steve's larder. There wasn't one of us who hesitated to drink it. I believe I would have consumed anything hot.
As a matter of fact our teeth were chattering so hard it was difficult to speak. We shivered so violently, our arms, hands and in turn our glasses shook hard enough we had help in steadying them to keep from spilling our drinks .. Assistance in holding the 'hot toddies' as well as removing some of our clothes was afforded, especially in unbuttoning shirts. Dry clothes appeared exceptionally fast. We didn't care from where. Much of it from The Alaskan Packers Store courtesy Joe Brown manager, the balance was Steve's.
I recall also we had a gallery of some Aleuts sitting around the room's perimeter observing these near drowned, still dripping wet, shivering, teeth rattling flyers change. Their presence failed to deter the seven from changing into dryer clothes. I'm not certain but that there were a few young ones present who were told by their parents to leave. Their Chief, Anton Charliago, was most gracious. He reflected the attitude and feelings of his people so very well. Chief Charliago would have given us the moon were it his to give. It was the attitude of all the folks we met during our stay with them.
I was somewhat comparable to the distant out of state radio station, listening to a desired program.
One to which you've tuned and have no control as its volume fades in and out. It especially fades out at the time when the narrative has reached the most interesting point. That was me. I was in and out of consciousness, but moving about nevertheless. However, by the time our rescuers had warmed us up and the shivers quelled somewhat and the first hot toddy began working I was nervously alert, as were the rest of the survivors and ready to talk. Standing was preferred over sitting, the shock and anxiety was still with us. I'd guess it was at least midnight when the Chief and his constituents left. About 2430 we began to think a little sack time would be nice.
Pat and I were assigned an old double bed. Once stretched out that old sack felt like a bit of heaven. I believe we chatted for maybe another fifteen or twenty minutes when I began to notice considerable discomfort in my right shoulder. Nevertheless, I slept through the night. I woke up with a very uncomfortable upper arm and shoulder. Whatever the aliment it was a beauty. The best medicine for it were a couple of aspirin. Somebody looked at it advising he didn't think it was broken, possibly a sprain or at the worst dislocated. It sure hurt and by the time we finished Steve's delightful breakfast the old shoulder was really humming.
About that time Joe Brown came over to Steve's mentioning he had contacted the Navy advising them that there were no casualties, all seven men had been rescued. It was welcomed news and some unknown Naval person thanked Joe Brown for his and the town's efforts on our behalf. That was Sunday morning 18 March, 1945. Enplaning at Attu we thought what a St. Patrick's Day celebration we'd have when we reached the Naval Air Station at Kodiak that night. It would have been a plus since it was also Saturday night and we were on the way home. We never made it.
The Navy advised that as soon as the seas calmed down they would send a boat for us and that they would contact Joe by radio telephone upon the boat's departure. It was obvious we would remain at Karluk from the sea's appearance and because of the stormy weather. There were only scattered sprinkles, however, for several days the sky looked as though it was about to rain sufficiently hard enough to wash away the island. The sun eventually broke through but the sea was something to behold. Notwithstanding our accident, I was glad I flew over the sea and not sailing upon it.
For the first several mornings the crew and Jim walked the beach searching for anything that might have washed up. What their efforts produced was one shoe, nothing more. It was interesting how I seemed to be a special attraction to one little Aleut boy. My little fellow became my shadow. An unobtrusive and shy very small boy, though ever inquisitive. He was at my side whenever I shaved, cleaned my teeth, sat around the house and even the few times I ventured a little distance from the schoolhouse he was right at my side. Simply put I'd have to classify him as a neat little guy.
There was a hitch to his always watching me shave and clean my teeth. Missionary Zdepsky had been teaching everyone, and especially his students, the value of good health habits. Teeth were of primary importance. The majority of the natives had very bad teeth and there was no encouragement for the children to attend to their own. Steve had made a dent in this regard and was most anxious that nothing disturb the progress he had made. Noticing there was a gold fixture of some sort in my mouth Steve asked what it was. It was explained that it was a brace holding in a replacement tooth. A partial brace supporting the suitable replacement tooth required by the Navy so that I might fill the medical requirements to become an aviation cadet.
Steve asked me to be careful when I cleaned my teeth in order that my little friend, or possibly others, might not know that I had a false tooth. All went well except for the fact that when I shaved my little friend being so small had to look up to observe me shaving. Thus positioned he was naturally looking up and quite easily observed my upper teeth. He was most curious, more inquisitive than the proverbial cat. I never would have believed one tooth could cause so many questions. Well, it did, and they all had to be answered truthfully so as not to set Steve's teachings back and to keep my little friend's trust. The cat was out of the bag and nothing could be done. Our conversation went something like this.
"Young man when I finish shaving I'll tell you all about that tooth." "Tell me now. You talk while you shave, tell me."
"In a minute." I was hoping Steve would show up so he could assist me. "Mr. Charlie, why is the gold so shiny?"
"Young man, in a minute, when I finish shaving I'll tell you all about the tooth and why gold is shiny." His questioning went on and on. I didn't have a technical reason why gold was so bright other then God had made it that way. He didn't question that so I went on with all the other answers. Finally, he asked if he cO.!lJd hold it. I didn't see any reason why not so extracted it to let him see and feel it. He tumed it over and over then without further ado handed it back to me. He must have mentioned it to several of his buddies since later that day they, too, asked to .see it and examine it. I held it and that was as close as they got to my 'suitable replacement.' That ended that.
The next few days were pleasant but interrupted with a few scattered sprinkles. The sea hadn't eased off one bit. The fellows searched the beach several more times but always failing to turn up anything. The sea kept 82V and all her contents. We were very fortunate she relinquished us. My shoulder caused me to be more inactive than active. There were several days when I wore a homemade sling which afforded me some relief. The gang was escorted around the hills by the Aleuts, probably more the boys than the others. They were shown where some of the boys had killed a Kodiak Bear. I'll have to remember to check that story with Steve. I don't recall the accuracy of it at that time.
A bear was supposedly agitated enough by the boys to come out of hibernating having been stung by several shots from an old .22 caliber rifle. When the bear came out he was killed with some spears of sorts, rocks and more of the old .22 caliber rifle. I'm prone to believe their story since it sounds like something I would have tried at least once when I was a boy. Vintage Buddy Fitzpatrick. Our days at Karluk were comfortable. Without an exception the people were grand, friendly and exceptionally hospitable.
Wednesday, 21 March 1945 the Navy's ship ATR68 was spotted first by the boys at 1100 hours as she rounded the point at Cape Karluk. She anchored about twelve hundred feet off Karluk. Unofficially the ATR68 might have been classified as a 'sea going tug.' It was a good size boat. Our boys were to row us out. To refuse their offer would have been an insult to them, our friends were weaned on the sea and their livelihood was fishing and boats.
We, our rescuers, and some of the townspeople proceeded to the beach, watching the ship all the way.
After many thank-yous, handshakes and hugs, and those heartfelt eye gazes, one to another and some with tears, knowing in your heart how grateful and appreciative you were for the heroics of those few and the heartwarming reception and openness of the town to each of us, we parted. A final look back with a wave or two as we were rowed out to Captain Heddy's ship seemed so inadequate. But then, so do words -- you rest with the hope that the hearts of others know, too, how you feel. Captain Heddy was underway by 1230 hours.
CAPTAIN HEDDY AND HIS EXECUTIVE OFFICER...
Captain Heddy and his executive officer, Tommy Lydon, were true men of the sea who loved the sea. Return to TOP of page!
Further, they both were superb hosts. Both, I found, were the opposite in the sense they'd rather sail on it than fly over it. Tommy Lydon took me throughout ATR68 showing and explaining about all there was to know of his beloved ship. It was a delightful day aboard including supper.
We arrived at Kodiak that night at about 2140 hours, just five minutes short of our ditching hour five days before. A layover at Kodiak was necessary for a hearing and a few checkups. I was to undergo a complete physical. Upon entering the Flight Surgeon's outer office I recognized at once the picture of a pretty girl known to me from my Sunday School days and through Forest Park High School. It was Betty Pennock. I waited only a minutes before Corpsman Skeeter Jenkins strolled in and nearly fell over seeing me. He also was from Forest Park and a close friend of Billy Dunn and Marlowe MacGreevy. He was the proud possessor of Betty's photo. Her brother Charles, in those way back days, was a good friend.
I recall the Flight Surgeon who attended me wasn't too impressed with the greeting between Skeeter and me. No matter we were high school friends. It was obvious he felt a strong officer enlisted man separation should be maintained at all times. Had the Flight Surgeon known me he would have known he was dealing with Mr. Naval Decorum himself. At all times, especially when on duty and in the company of senior officers, proper protocol prevailed. Exception, old friends from home.
I passed the physical flying high. I was given a little slip of paper which said, in brief, something like, "physically fit10r duty involving flying." However, I was also directed to report to the medics at Seattle upon arrival. The shoulder was better, though not totally healed, I didn't feel I'd like trusting it in a tight situation as yet. As for the official hearing I was omitted except for verifying the time we passed over the high cone (radio station) at Chirikof Island Radio Range.
THERE WAS A CUSTOM THAT WHEN A FLYER WAS LOST...
There was a custom that when a flyer was lost, no matter the cause, a fifth of good liquor would be set aside on the bar for the officers present. Thursday, the night before we departed the NAS at Kodiak a number of the officers after supper demanded, good naturedly of course, repayment for the bourbon they had purchased and consumed in our honor. Being the sole survivor who from the beginning had the presence of mind to carry money on his person, I was hustled to the bar to set up a fresh fifth of bourbon. Their added excuse was that they now had to celebrate the returo of the heretofore alleged lost VPB-136 crew. They made short work of the replacement. Return to TOP of page!
The money I carried with me was spread thin at Kodiak simply because the crew's money had gone down with the plane. Each was given a small advance on the Friday prior to our leaving for Anchorage. Most of my loans were repaid on the way to Anchorage making me near flush once again. Disbursements at Kodiak advised they could only payout a small advancement to each crew member and that we'd have to wait until Seattle for Disbursements to settle each of our back pay accounts. Friday was a relaxing day. I enjoyed a late wake-up and breakfast. Then over to supply to pick up a new Navy green officer's bag and other clothes readying myself for the trip to Seattle.
About our ditching 82V I received thoughts on it from Lt. Ken Sherman who had after he had written Lt. Bob Larson in July 1987 about the time of the forty-fifth anniversary reunion of those who had served on Attu. Ken, in turn, sent me Larson's as well as his own story in February 1989. I had mentioned to Ken I was writing my autobiography and what did he recall of St. Patrick's night '45.
Ken Sherman mentioned that Moran, "Was the first man in the raft besides me."(Ken) The question I have is why then did the fellows question Moran's whereabouts if he were already in the raft? That issue was what sent me back across the 82V's diving, angled, and sinking port wing to climb up on the fuselage and call for Moran through the astro hatch. Sure as green apples come before red ones I never would have jeopardized a spot in, or on, the raft if there weren't voices from the dark water hollering, "where's Harry." The only answer might be that those still in the water calling for Harry didn't know he was already aboard the raft. '
A RECOLLECTION CAME TO MY MIND...
A recollection came to my mind. "It was that Glennon could not get the flare into the chamber so Harry Moran took the flare pistol and forced, or jammed it shut and in doing so the flare went off. No matter now, the results turned out to be a near perfect shot at Pat thereby saving his life." Again. let me say, "praise the Lord; He saved us all." So here are their interesting letters I thought apropos to quote even though there is a time lapse. like mine they both were written long after the ditching of 82 Victor but, nevertheless, interesting. Return to TOP of page!
Ken Sherman's version of the Aleutian crash 3 March 45. Written to me 2 January 1989.
"When it became obvious that we were going to ditch (I'm guessing about 9:00 P.M.) Fitzpatrick put me in charge of the lone packaged raft which was strapped to a bulkhead close to the cabin door. The decision was made to take it loose and I was to hang onto it. I insisted on being checked out several times on its operation. We propped the cabin door open with the 'handy dandy' step ladder provided for the plane. Of course the airstream kept the door closed before impact with the water.
"After this I resigned myself to the crash while I lay down on a pile of luggage in the cabin near the door.
"Upon impactl rolled off the luggage pile and lost control of the raft. When 1 got to my feet I saw
Glennon kicking something away from him and whatever it was fell out the door. It hit me! "Oh, my Lord, that's the raft". I immediately jumped out after it. I could see it to my left about fifty feet, Silhouetted dimly against the sky. I inflated my Mae West and swam to it. I'm sure the good Lord was with us because I found the tab, pulled it and the raft began to inflate. I didn't know how to get into it, so I just threw myself over it until it raised me out of the water. (Later I learned that was what one was supposed to do.)
"During my swim to it I looked back once and the plane was vertical preparing for the final dive. It was gone when I reached the raft.
"The plane captain. Moran, was the first man in the raft besides me. I don't recall the order in which we all came aboard other than six of us got into a four-man raft. "Fitz" was the last and we only had room just to haul him across the entire raft. The whole thing was just level with the water.
"Glennon began firing flares frantically until Moorehead suggested that w~ save them since we might need them later. Glennon shoved a cartridge into the barrel just to be ready and it fired accidentally travelling crazily about ten feet above the water and just fizzled out over Pat Tierney who was trying to swim ashore and was just on his last breath of air - or so it seemed. At any rate, the men in a boat coming out for us from the village of Karluk saw him by the light of the flare and hauled him in. They then came on out to where we were guided by the light from Fitzpatrick's flashlight. Had it not been for that flare gone awry, I don't think Tierney would have survived.
"Steve Zdepski, a missionary in the village, the proprietor of a store and two or three native Aleuts manned the boat. They put us up a couple of days in the school house until a Navy ocean going tug arrived and took us to Kodiak Naval Air Base. Believe me, I have thought about that experience many times."
.... Signed, Ken.
BOB LARSON'S ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF KEN SHERMAN'S LETTER OF JULY 1987...
Bob Larson's acknowledgement of Ken Sherman's letter of July 1987 letter was on August 4, 1987 and which reads as follows: Return to TOP of page!
"You might be interested in what some of the rest of us were doing at the time of your ditching. I had stopped at Umnak for the night, and when Jim Moorehead landed I advised him to do the same. It would have been dark by the time we reached Kodiak, and although I had as much Aleutian time as anybody (and a whole lot more than Jim) I was not that well acquainted with Kodiak to want to fly around there at night. There are a lot of close in mountains in the area, and I was just not certain of my recognition of land marks in the vicinity. Anyhow, Jim thought I was being overly cautious, and he probably wanted to be the first to get back to Whidbey Island. I went to the operations shack to monitor Jim's flight, and some of his messages were relayed to us. By the time we realized Jim was in trouble, we considered making a rescue flight, but we were not at all certain where he was. We also found out that there was no ground based direction finding equipment at Umnak, so I went out to my PV and turned on the direction finder to see if we could pick up any distress signals. By coincidence, we were able to receive a series of "MO's" on 500 kcs (kilocycles), which was the emergency low frequency in use up there. I got some strange bearing pointing in a direction south of Umnak. It didn't make sense, because we didn't think that Jim would get that far away from his intended course. About midnight, the signals stopped broadcasting, which was about the absolute maximum that we thought Jim's PV could possibly be airborne. It was a gloomy bunch that secured the airplane and went back to our sleeping quarters. Next morning, we checked the operations shack early, and were we glad to hear that you fellows were rescued. When the gravity of the situation was over, someone mentioned that the good thing that happened was that Jim lost his "Greens", generally conceded to be the most hideous shade of green uniform in the US Navy.
"Later on, I found that the signal that we had received that night was a radio-beacon from Midway Island. It was apParently on the same frequency that we used for emergency use. Sometimes .atmospheric conditions favored some long distance transmissions, and I suspect that was the case that night.
Sincerely, Bob Larson"
"(P.S. See you at the reunion.)"
ALL I EVER GOT OUT OF PAT TIERNEY...
All I ever got out of Pat Tierney, and that was forty-six years later, actually it was March 17, 1991 when Pat said, "It was a long night. We were around there a long time." (meaning flying round Karluk). He said, "Jim and I agreed to go back to the lights, (Karluk) there must be people there." Pat never flew after that night, that is as a Naval Aviator. If so it must have been but for a very few short hours. The Navy had grounded him. Pat worked in a Naval supply depot afterwards.
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FINALLY, WE WERE SEATTLE BOUND...
Finally, we were Seattle bound: Leaving Kodiak seven days after our ditching 82V St. Patrick's night. Return to TOP of page!
Departing Kodiak on 23 March 1945 for Anchorage via NATS (Naval Air Transport Service) was 1752 hours and right on the button. From my tiny window I viewed the N.A.S. Kodiak airport briefly as we headed for Anchorage, Alaska. We touched down at Anchorage about an hour and thirty-three minutes later at approximately 1925 hours. (About 7:25 PM) We had a bit more than a day's layover there giving us a chance to see the base as well as a bit of the town. In the Ship's Service I saw for the first time a self-winding watch. Knowing Dad would love to sport a self winding-watch I purchased a really neat one for him. Strange how really proud I felt that I was able to acquire one for him.
Sunday was to be a long day. We were scheduled to depart Anchorage at 0800, actually liftoff was at 0809 for Seattle via Yakutat, Annette and finally Seattle, Washington via ATC (Army Transport Command). Our ETA (estimated time of arrival) at Seattle was about 2200 hours.
However, before the ATC would accept us as passengers we had to be certified by undergoing another physical that would clearly show we all were free of "infectious and parasitic diseases, free from vermin infestation, and immunized in accordance with existing directives." Further, the doctor had to state that there were no significant, such as were named above, prevalent in this area. Thus on 25 March 1945 at 0700 hours, an hour before our departure Doctor G. A. Epps, Captain, USA cleared us for the A TC flight. It was a nice ride albeit the Army had to take us to Seattle since there wasn't a NA TS scheduled for another day.
Our schedule for Seattle:
25 March, Anchorage to Yakutat 0809 -- 1135.
25 March, Yakutat to Annette 1205 -- 1455.
25 March, Annette to Seattle 1619 -- 2200.
Thirteen hours fifty-one minutes passed since we had left Anchorage, Alaska. The A TC left us at the Seattle airport. From there we had Navy transportation to the NAS at Sand Point, Washington. Moorehead, Tierney, Sherman and I checked into the BOQ (Bachelors Officer's Quarters) a little after 2330. Immediately after each headed for the nearest telephone. Shortly before midnight Pacific Coast time, which was just before 0300 hours, three A.M. Eastern time the phone was ringing in Baltimore at 2609 Chelsea Terrace. I was very excited hoping Betty would pick up the phone, I knew she would be every bit as excited to hear my voice. Bets was living with sister Peggy so it was natural for Peg to answer the phone. However, Betty was at the phone in less than a minute.
Oh! My, how_..exciting to actually hear her voice. I must have told her "I love you" many times over.
It was just nice to talk with her and to actually hear her voice. I didn't go into detail about our ditching but only to tell her all of us were fine and anxious for our thirty days leave to commence. Once we were married I had my pay, except for my necessary expenses, sent to our bank in Baltimore. I didn't like to leave it in a Navy account. Having done this I was always certain Bets had money at her finger tips. I arrived at Seattle virtually broke. That morning Betty wired me all the needed cash to complete my stay at the base and to return home.
There were still a number of routine matters to be cleared up concerning our ditching, and since nothing seemed to move fast in the Navy, while we were processed through the mill it was noticeable that most of VPB-136's personnel had left for their thirty days leave. However, it worked to my benefit since, while there, on 4 April I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade) effective 1 April 1945.
Notification from Edward F. Hayes, my Commanding Officer, VPB-136 read in part "Notification of Appointment;
"1. All stipulated conditions having been fulfilled, your appointment to the rank of Lieutenant Gunior grade) for temporary service, made by the President on 1 April 1945, to rank from 1 April 1945, is delivered.
"2. You are mentally, morally and professionally qualified for promotion. Your BuPers file number is 346988."
Rest assured it didn't take but maybe a minute to call the uniform store for an appointment to add my J.G's stripes to my brand new uniform sleeves. After that a stop at the Ship's Service was my second priority to acquire the appropriate accouterments. Bet's call would have to wait until after supper since she was at work.
With the promotion came a pay raise. The Ensign's base pay was $2000.00 PA, plus flight pay of $75.00 a month. However, with a dependant as a Junior Grade Lieutenant I was allowed $504 for subsistence, the same as an Ensign, but $180 more towards rental making it $900 thus I was up to $3404.00 PA. Counting my extra hazardous duty pay (flight pay) of $75.00 a month brought my yearly pay to $4304.00 or $358.67 each month. With just the two of us we made money on both subsistence and the rental allowance. We were financially comfortable and very happy.
IT WAS LT. COMMANDER ED HAYES FROM OUR ALEUTIAN DAYS...
It was Lt. Commander Ed Hayes from our Aleutian days, of VPB-136, who gave me the finest fitness report during my stay in the Navy. The fitness report was my exit report departing VPB-136. He of course, because of the size of our unit, got to know me better that any other Commanding Officer. Lt. Commander Hayes stated I was "Above average in the performance of his duties as a navigator and as assistant navigation officer. He is a capable pilot. His personal integrity is beyond reproach. His military character is good. He has shown initiative and interest in his work. I consider him suitable material for eventual appointment to a permanent commission in the Regular Navy. He is recommended for promotion when due." Return to TOP of page!
Commander Ed Hayes had me in to discuss said fitness report, then I read and signed my fitness report. He said then that he would miss me with the return of VPB-136 to the Aleutians. I thanked him for the confidence in me and the fitness report. As we stood and shook hands I remarked, "Skipper, anywhere but the Aleutians and I'm with you." That was the last salute I gave him, 5 April 1945.
I had grown to like Commander Hayes rather much during our last days on Attu and truly pleased he thought enough of me as a junior officer recommending in my fitness report, "I consider him suitable material for eventual appointment to a permanent commission in the Regular Navy." I thought that rather nice sincel would have preferred an education at the Naval Academy. That would have made me 'regular Navy.' Meaning after my rank and name the letters U.S.N. would have appeared in lieu of U.S.N.R. The 'R' being the designation for Reserve as compared to the Regular Navy. It meant something then and I'm certain it does today. No matter though, since by the time I returned from Attu I knew the Navy life would require much traveling and that wasn't for me.
Subsequently, I was subject to an additional physical, which I passed. I was to visit a small board, I believe consisting of maybe two officers, and who advised me that because of our accident (ditching) I didn't have to return to the same theater of war. If not the Aleutians, what theater would I like for my next tour of flight duty? Since there was nothing to be had on the east coast I chose "the west coast or anywhere in the south Pacific."
On 5 April 1945 my request was fulfilled. I got what I asked for, it was back to the PBYs. Better yet, I would be at Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, Washington. That made my day and then some. I received orders from the United States Pacific Fleet, Air Force, dated Seattle Naval Air Station, Seattle, Washington which read in part:
"From: Commander Fleet Air, Seattle.
"To: Lieutenant, J.G. Charles L. Fitzpatrick, (A 1 ), U.S.N.R. "Reference:'
(a) BuPers despatch 271808 March 1945.
"1. In accordance with reference (a) which cannot be quoted herein, you are hereby detached from your present duty and from such other duties as may have been assigned; you will proceed to the port in which Patrol Bombing Squadron NINETY-ONE may be, upon arrival reporting to the Commanding Officer, Patrol Bombing Squadron NINETY-ONE for temporary duty involving flying under instruction and upon completion for further assignment to duty involving flying by Commander Fleet Air, West Coast.
"2. You are hereby authorized to delay for a period of THIRTY (30) DAYS in reporting in obedience to these orders. This delay will count as leave. Keep the Bureau of Naval Personnel and your new station advised of your leave address."
Then there were paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6. Each being standard boiler plate and lastly paragraph 7, which said "Delivered and detached this date."
JIM MOOREHEAD LIVED NOT FAR FROM THE SAND POINT NAVAL AIR STATION...
Jim Moorehead lived not far from the Sand Point Naval Air Station in the proximity of the big Seattle Boeing Aircraft plant. Jim remained scarce since he and Marion were celebrating the birth of their first child. In my opinion Jim was truly remiss in not having his co-pilot and navigator along with Sherman at the BOQ for a farewell dinner. We really should have had a get together, a farewell, maybe as a lunch, dinner or even splitting a beer and sandwich one afternoon. I would have. In any event Jim and I had a brief informal goodbye several days earlier. I honestly do not know what happened to Pat and Ken, or when they left the NAS, Sand Point, Seattle. I assume I was the last to leave Seattle for leave. Return to TOP of page!
Our orders surely did split us up. Moorehead was reassigned to VPB-136 to fly the new PV2, and if the war hadn't ended, he was destined for the Aleutians. Where Ken went I don't know. Patrick was sent to a PV training base in the Carolinas I supposed to qualify for his PPC rating in PVs. Because of his nerves he never flew again as a Naval Aviator. I probably was the most satisfied in that I was coming back to Whidbey Island, Washington, to train in the proposed new PBY outfit for a refresher in PBYs. That would qualify me again by a refresher course as PPC (Patrol Plane Commander) with my own plane and crew. I did run into Jim Moorehead at Ault Field on my return to NAS Whidbey Island after my thirty days leave.
As for our enlisted crew I haven't any idea of where Fred Beurskens, radioman, or Bill Glennon our gunner were ordered. As for Harry Moran, our plane captain, the man who should have been cited in some way for his heroics received orders to a PV training unit in the Carolinas. He was killed several months after reporting for duty. I was told that his pilot flew into a smooth sea during a practice strafing run. Nothing more as to the accident. It was assumed all hands died in that crash.
Skipper Ed Hayes issued me an official class 4 "Priority For Air Transportation on any Commercial Airline within the continental United States." A handshake and receipt of said form, adding with a smile, "Good luck, Fitz." Thereafter explaining from experience and current hearsay that I'd probably make better time hitchhiking except as an officer it was forbidden. In other words luck was what I would need and plenty of it. Further he gave me a "To Whom It May Concern" note from the squadron suggesting any consideration or courtesies that can be accorded lieutenant (jg) Fitzpatrick, who has just returned from duty outside the continental limits ofˇ the United States, will be appreciated." The last words he spoke to me were, "Use the office phone next door, Fitz, call all the air lines. Look me up when you come back." It was known those papers and five cents would get me a five cent coke anywhere. However, they were sort of standard bill of fare for all departing the squadron on leave.
NEWS ARTICLES, SQUADRON, CREWS, AND PHOTOGRAPHS...
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Crew that saved my life!
When a wave came they banged on my back to keep me from drowning...
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Latest Family Pictures...
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"VPB-136 History Summary Page"