By George Everding LCDR USN (ret)
Postscript: In May of 2004, George Everding emailed me inquiring if I was interested in knowing about his Naval aviation unit that once was stationed at Lambert Field. I was very honored to meet with him in his downtown St. Louis apartment. His memory was sharp and clear. His knowledge of pastimes was fascinating. It was his desire that the history about the U.S. Navy at Lambert Field, written by his own hand, be made available for future St. Louisans to learn about. To help illustrate it, I have scanned and inserted as many photos from his personal collection of the old planes and servicemen that once served here in St. Louis.
Sadly, on Dec 14, 2006, St. Louis native George Everding, the naval aviator passed away at age 86. Everding was a very patriotic and generous man. When he was not in official service, he volunteered many hours at the USO post at Lambert Field and was active in local food bank operations. According to Harry Levins of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, as a Chief Petty officer, Everding in 1961 persuaded a young sailor by the name of Mike Boorda from quitting the service (when they were members of the VA-144 attack plane squadron). He encouraged the young man to apply to the Officer Training School, which he did. By this small action of persuasion, Everding set Boorda off to become an Admiral of a carrier group and eventually Chief of Naval Operations. Boorda, declared that Everding was "as much any other person other than my wife...the reason I am here today as chief of naval operations." (source: "George Everding: Career Sailor Gave Future Admiral Helpful Push", by Harry Levins, Dec 15, 2006, St. Louis Post Dispatch.)
--Scott K. Williams, Florissant, Mo., 15 Dec, 2006.
South St. Louis native, George Everding as a young man (1939) serving as a rear gunner.
The Naval Reserve Air Base, Robertson,
Missouri was a result of the desire of several Naval Aviators to remain
proficient in the flying skills they had gained in Naval training and used
during World War 1. About 1925 they started to meet in a shed in the corner of
Lambert Field. They used rented and borrowed aircraft. Major Albert Bond Lambert
(Lambert Field was named after him) donated an airplane for their use. They held
ground school classes in their homes and in classroom spaces donated by
Washington University. In 1930 the Navy made them official by designating their
unit as a Naval Reserve Aviation Base, assigning Lt. Frank Weld as the first
Commanding Officer and providing four N2C2 Curtiss Fledging training planes and
three O2C-1 Curtiss Helldiver aircraft. The City Of St. Louis built a hangar on
the northwest corner of the airport which was Navy Air’s home until 1942 when
the Naval Air Station on the south side of the airport was built by the Navy.
This facility was turned over to the Missouri Air National Guard in 1958.
The Naval Reserve Aviation Base (NRAB) as it was known in those days was located on the northeast corner of Lambert Field. It consisted of one large hangar and a concrete ramp for parking aircraft. On both sides of the hangar were shops or offices. At the front end of the hangar above the shops was sick bay on one side and a photo lab and an officer’s wardroom on the other. Standing in the front of the hangar looking in, the shops on the first floor , right side were: the parachute and flight gear issue room, (George Heitman’s domain), the carpenter shop, (Walt Sydney), the radio shop, (Walter Gonterman) and the Ordnance shop (Ed Walters). On the left side was the administrative office, (Ted Behle and Ed Franke), the CO and XO’s offices, the officer’s and the enlisted heads, both with lockers and showers and then the classrooms. On the second floor on the left above the admin offices was sick bay.(Doc Basset and Doc Shorrock) High up in the rafters of the hangar was the parachute loft, placed there intentionally so that parachutes could be hung in the loft and drape down through a hole in the floor for airing out.
There was no barracks and no need for one in the beginning. There were only two officers and ten enlisted men on active duty in 1932. Lt. Frank E. Weld was the CO, LTjg. John E. Harlin the XO. The enlisted men were: August W. Rundquist, Chief Carpenters Mate; Virgil A. Jackson, Avia. Chief Mach. Mate (Permanent App’t); Charles W. Fremont, Avia. Chief Mach. Mate (Temporary App’t); William T. Campbell, Avia. Mach. Mate, 2nd Class; Joseph T. Arkes, Avia. Mach. Mate 2nd Class; Herbert Wieseman, Avia. Mach. Mate 2nd Class; Theo. H. Behle, Yeoman, 2nd Class; Elmer C. Edelman, Seaman 1st Class; Harold N. Scharr, Seaman 1st Class; Edward G. Franke, Seaman 1st Class; Oscar R. Sever, Seaman 2nd Class.
The Reserve squadron VN-12RD9 consisted of 18 officers and 17 enlisted men. LTjg John W. Geppert was the CO . Among the officers was Ensign N.O Anderson, XO of the Air Station in the late 1940’s. [Photo: John Geppert, CDR (ret), man on left in picture taken at a 1990's reunion. Right, Joe Lee, Chief Petty officer (ret)]
The first aircraft assigned were three N2C-2 Fledgling Trainers followed a year later by three O2C-2 Curtiss Helldivers. In 1935, three FF-2 Grumman biplanes were assigned. The FF-2’s had retractable landing gear operated by a hand crank. As soon as the plane was off of the ground you would see the pilot’s head going up and down as he frantically cranked the gear up. Later the base received Curtiss SBC-4’s which were also biplanes with retractable gear but the gear operated hydraulically.
One of the duties assigned to the base early on (and continued until the base closed in 1958) was to recruit candidates for Naval Aviator training. Officers would go out to nearby colleges and universities and recruit candidates for flight training. Those who passed a very thorough flight physical and a comprehensive written exam were sent to Pensacola for flight training. The written exam was designed to determine their psychological fitness for flying. In 1935 the base was designated an “E” (for elimination) base and the recruited Naval Aviation Cadets were given flight training (maximum of 10 hours). If they were able to solo they were considered to be qualified for further flight training and were sent to Pensacola. Six to ten Cadets were sent to Pensacola each
month. Until just before WWII, Aviation Cadets did not receive a commission upon completing training at Pensacola. They were sent to the fleet and after four years were commissioned as Ensigns and released to inactive duty. When war was imminent, I suppose the politicians were afraid the public would object to paying Aviation Cadets $75.00 a month to fly in combat. Until 1947 there was a law that 20% of all pilots trained were to be enlisted men. After Pearl Harbor an enlisted pilot by the name of Mason flying an SBD “Dauntless” dive bomber sank a Japanese submarine and sent a radio message back to the carrier saying,”Sighted sub, sank same.” They brought him back to the States to help sell War Bonds, but first they gave him a commission. I guess they wanted people to think that all pilots were officers.
Due to the increased workload more officers and enlisted men were added to the
active duty roles. Some came from the Reserve Squadron, others were civilians
who had regular Navy service and were reenlisted in the Reserves. Ed Walters,
Pappy Zernicke and Ted Boss came from the squadron. Other names added were
Heckwolf, Kuhhirte, Gonterman, Amrein and the Sidney brothers, Walter and Ed. H.
P. “Doc” Shorrock, Chief Pharmacist Mate came on board to assist Doctor Sam
Bassett with Physicals and health care. Doctor Sam’s two brothers, Bob and
Bill were to come on active duty later. In his book, “City of Flight, The
History of Aviation in St. Louis”, James J. Horgan completely ignored the United
States Navy and its contribution and support of aviation at Lambert Field. He
did mention Doctor Sam Bassett however. In the chapter on “The Saint Louis Air
Races and International Aerobatics Competition, 1937”, He describes a
“spectacular crash” and notes that “the pilot, stunned from a slight brain
concussion and bleeding freely from sever scalp and facial wounds, was taken to
the nearby Naval Reserve dispensary, where Dr. Samuel Bassett quickly treated
his injuries.” His only other mention of the Navy in the book was “---, ten
Naval Reserve planes got ready to take to the air.” [Above photo: Gray plane is
N2C-2 Trainer; White planes are O2C-2 Curtis Helldivers. Early 1930's at gas pit
Doc Shorrock, the Chief Pharmacist Mate, was a very colorful character. He came to the base as a Pharmacist Mate 1st Class and made Chief there .He had been in the Navy since before World War 1 and as a Pharmacist Mate 1st Class in that war he was in charge of a train load of wounded on the Orient Express from Istanbul to Paris. He ruled the roost in sick bay. If he thought you were not suitable material for enlistment in the U.S. Navy you would be eliminated even before you would see the doctor. He had a very large syringe that was designed for giving horses injections. When the crew would line up for their annual shots, he would bring out the “horse” syringe whenever a green scared looking recruit appeared in the line. When one of the sailors mistakenly let it be known that he would be married in a few weeks, he received a very official document from Doc Shorrock directing him to report for the required “Pre marital physical”. When he reported for his “physical” Doc painted his [ txstxclxs and pxnxs (private parts) ] with different colored medicines that could not be washed off. Later he was heard in the shower cussing and scrubbing. After WW2 Doc worked as a civilian in the Shop Stores in Hangar #2. He worked in a small office in the back of Shop Stores keeping records. Each year at Christmas he would scrounge a small bottle of sick bay alcohol and serve Coke hi-balls for old times sake. I was the petty officer in charge of Shop Stores and often thought about the day, March 3rd, 1939 when Doc had given me my first physical in the Navy and now Doc was working for me.
Reserve squadron personnel would report two weekends a month for drill. An old Chief Boatswain Mate named Thomas ran a “Boot Camp” for new squadron personnel. Chief Thomas had been in the Navy for many years and had served in China for several years so he had many “Sea Stories” to tell the “boots” as he put them through their paces. He taught knots and splices, close order drill, care of uniform and clothing and other good things out of the “Bluejackets Manual” that every Apprentice Seaman needed to know to advance to Sea2c. I still have the 1940 Tenth Edition of the Bluejackets Manual. He taught us Naval History and the “Articles For The Government Of The United States Navy”. They were always posted on ships and stations bulletin boards and were read at quarters once a month. The first job for non rated men upon reporting in on Saturday morning was to sweep and swab the hangar deck. It was painted a dark maroon color and like the rest of the place was always kept spotless and shipshape. There were two large work benches running the length of the main aircraft and engine repair shop. They were wide enough so that people could work on both sides at the same time. Cabinets and drawers were underneath the bench for tool and parts storage. The tops of the benches were made of shellacked or varnished maple, highly polished. When you worked on an engine or aircraft part, you placed a large piece of thick “battleship” linoleum on the bench. Oil, parts or tools never touched the bench top. Prior to inspections or visits from senior officers, the pads and any other loose gear would be loaded aboard the old 1927 model Federal truck which was then parked in someone’s garage far from the scene. Once, during an inspection, when a senior officer saw the shiny benches he said, “Now show me where you do your work.”
Billets, even in the Reserve Squadron were usually filled and to enlist you had to know someone. Attendance at Hadley Vocational in the Aeromechanics course was helpful because Lts. John Geppert and Norbert O. Anderson were teachers there. Lt. Geppert used his position there to review the students over a period of time and then he would pick out the ones he wanted in the Reserves. I first went there for a physical in the fall of 1938 but I had had malaria the summer before and was underweight. Even Lt Geppert’s authority could not get me past Doc Shorrock. Finally in March of 1939 I passed the physical. John Mazar, John Sanguinett and another classmate from Hadley went out there at the same time. The two Johns and I made it but our other classmate failed the physical. I believe we drilled two weekends a month, receiving credit for four drill days each month. After WW2, Reserves received credit for two drills each day they were there so they only had to drill one weekend a month.
After we had completed several drills in Chief Thomas’ Boot Camp we were finally allowed to work out on the line near the aircraft. By 1939 the base had N3N’s (Yellow Perils) for elimination training. Although some of us had aircraft maintenance training at Hadley we were not allowed to do any mechanical work on the planes at first. We could help with the refueling and pushing the planes around ( we had no tow tractors or tugs) and we were expected to watch and learn. It was probably a good idea because we had some outstanding teachers. Men like Joe Arkes, Herb Wieseman, and others taught the basics and good conscientious work habits.
In the shops there was usually at least one aircraft undergoing complete
overhaul. The engine would be removed and completely disassembled down to the
smallest nut and bolt. All painted parts were stripped of paint and thoroughly
examined for cracks or other defects. Aircraft fabric was completely removed and
the interior structures examined as well. Landing gears, controls and control
surfaces were removed. Soon the entire aircraft was disassembled down to its
basic parts. Most of the aircraft parts were made of wood, usually spruce.
Almost all parts requiring replacement would be made in the wood shop or machine
shop. When the wings and fuselage were considered ready the fabric would be
applied. The material used for the fabric was unbleached linen. This material
was so strong that you could not tear it with bare hands. Sleeves were sown on
industrial sewing machines and pulled over the wing from wingtip to wing root. A
thick tape like bias tape was laid over the wing fore and aft where each wing
rib was located. Next came the rib stitching operation. A half a dozen or so
sailors stood around the wing and with long needles ran waxed string through the
wing and over each rib. A special knot was used on the top and bottom of the
wing. Years later I saw a group of old ladies quilting and gossiping around a
quilting frame and it brought back fond memories of we sailors rib stitching and
gossiping as we worked. Of course, the conversations were probably about
My first Navy airplane ride was in an N3N with Lt. N.O. Anderson who was a very conservative and cautious person. He flew the same way so the ride wasn’t as thrilling as I would have liked it to be. But on the Fourth of July, 1939 as an old salt with four months in the Navy, I rode in the back seat of an FF-2 with John Geppert as the pilot. We were part of an airshow doing dive bombing, formation and acrobatic demonstrations right in front of the Airport Terminal Building. What a thrill for a young boot. To make it even better, I had brought out a group of my friends from the neighborhood to see the show. Among them was the girl from across the street who was my first love. 4th of July air shows in front of the Arch are not quite as thrilling to me after that.
Information for this history (as I call it) has been derived from various sources. Much of it is from my own memory, others from various pamphlets, training manuals, Tech Orders, letters and other publications I still have in my files. I will be quoting from Wayne Heiser’s book, “US Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Aviation - 1916-1942 Chronology” and will give credit when I do. Wayne is
a retired AVCM who was stationed at NAS St. Louis, MO after WW2.
An issue of Air & Space Magazine from the Smithsonian states:
“Part of a truly outstanding historian’s training is a scrupulous regard for evidence. Whereas a great deal of aviation lore has come down to us in anecdotal (mine, for example) form, good scholarship distinguishes between fanciful tales and events that can be thoroughly documented. In the process, for better or worse, many colorful incidents are found never to have taken place-though they would have been fun if they had. (You bet). More seriously, pieces of evidence supporting long cherished views may be found to be ambiguous, spurious, or non-existent” and so on. Some of you may think I research it, using the rare old Naval Aviator technique called “Making things up”. If you have trouble believing some of the “anecdotes” I present, I have but one thing to say, “Vas you Dere Charlie?”
In 1935, Naval Aviation Cadet training was inaugurated at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base (NRAB), Robertson, Mo. These young men were recruited from the area colleges by the active duty officers from the base. Initially the Navy wasn’ t sure just what to call them but they received 2nd class petty officer’s pay, $75.00 per month. Soon however they were given the title of Naval Aviation Cadet but the pay remained the same. (The 1994 AVCAD/NAVCAD Reunion took place
in Pensacola, Nov. 10th to the 13th.) Upon completion of flight training in Pensacola, they received their wings but retained the same title and pay. They were obligated for four years active duty at the end of which they were commissioned as Ensigns in the US Naval Reserve. So after flight training for the remainder of their obligated service they were assigned to the fleet as as Naval Aviation Cadets at the magnificent sum of $75.00 per month. As the world started falling apart and it became apparent that these NavCads could be flying Naval aircraft in combat. The powers that were, decided to commission all NavCads with wings and in the future, to commission NavCads as Ensign upon graduation from flight training.
NRAB’s such as St. Louis were called “E” for elimination, bases because those cadets who were not considered safe for solo after 10 hours of dual instruction were eliminated. The first cadets were given a small per diem and had to find their own lodging and food. Soon however the Navy rented a building across Lindbergh Blvd. which had been a chicken house. The active duty sailors and the weekend warriors cleaned the place out, patched a few holes in the roof and walls, installed a coal burning pot bellied stove in the center of the building, and installed bunks, lockers, showers and a washroom. I don’t think many of the Cadets knew that their “Dorm” had been a chicken house but they must have wondered what that peculiar odor was that permeated the building. One of the jobs of the duty section each morning was to fire up the stove and hold
reveille on the students.
Sometimes the first flight was enough to convince a student that the life of a Naval Aviator was not for him, because it was on this flight that the instructor would “wring it out”. But most (even the ones who got sick) would stick it out and eventually get over their airsickness. During ground training and the preflight, the importance of fastening the safety belt was strongly emphasized. After all they were flying in open cockpit airplanes. Communication was one way, from the instructor to the student. The instructor had a piece of canvas strapped over his mouth and his voice was carried through a tube to the student’s helmet. On one occasion, during a first flight, as the instructor
recovered from a maneuver in which the aircraft had been upside down for a time, he noticed a parachute floating down to earth. Into his mouthpiece he said, “Look there, someone made a parachute jump.” Imagine how he felt when he looked into the rearview mirror in the upper wing and saw that the cockpit was empty and he was looking at his own student in the parachute. I imagine he was very glad that he had briefed his student so well about how to use his parachute. The
instructor was Lt. Bruce Weber and the student was a member of a prominent St. Louis family, the Orthweins.
Wil Griese, who went through elimination training there during the summer of 1941, remembered, “the N3N’s, the cardboard barracks across the railroad tracks and the base mascot, a big hairy dog, named Feets”. Feets, of indeterminate origin was a BIG dog, so big in fact that it took all the spare cash of the line crew to keep him in dog food. They taught him to beware of propellers by
cranking up the inertia starters and pulling the starting toggle whenever Feets came near. He learned to walk around the props whether they were turning or still. Feets could pick up the heavy wooden wheel chocks in his mouth, but refused to do the line crews work for them.
Bob Hoss and I remembered the saloon on Lindbergh, north of the hangar and across the railroad tracks. One night a marine and 2 or 3 sailors (Bob and I?) went there or a few beers. They had money only for 2 or 3 beers. There was no jukebox but there was a piano along side the bar. The marine was a very good piano player and started to play. The customers applauded the music and the proprietor was happy because customers were staying and people were coming in
off of the street. When the sailors and marine’s money ran out they started to leave. The proprietor told the marine, “Stick around and play, I’ll buy your beer.” The marine said, “I’m with my buddies, I’ll stay if you buy their beer too.” Now you know why sailors like marines.
As the situation in Europe worsened the Navy training program was expanded. On 8 September 1939 President Roosevelt declared a state of limited national emergency. This allowed him to recall members of the Fleet Reserve to active duty and to call other members of the Naval Reserve to active duty on a voluntary basis. (From Wayne Heiser’s book)
About a month after my return to St. Louis all reservists were called to active duty “For the Duration” but not less than one year”. There were no barracks or other sleeping quarters and no mess hall so we were paid “per diem”, an amount of money which was supposed to help us find our own accommodations and feed ourselves. I believe the “per diem” was about 50 or 60 dollars per month. I had made Seaman First Class ($54.00 per month) so this, added to my “per diem” and amounted to over $100.00 per month. This really helped out at home and couldn’t have come at a better time. Three nights out of four I would go home and eat breakfast and supper there. The fourth night was duty night and I had to stay at the base. We slept on cots up in the parachute loft when we were not on watch and ate at the restaurant across the road from the base. Instead of 4 drills per month we were now full time sailors. When Lcdr. James K. Averill, USN came on board in June of 1940 to take command, there were 4 officers, 9 flight students and 18 enlisted men on active duty. The squadron had about 10 officers, 3 Chiefs and 50 sailors. But the draft had been reinstated in 1940 and applications for enlistment in the reserves suddenly increased
dramatically. By Dec. 1941, there were over 100 enlisted men on active duty at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Lambert Field. During the month of June, 1940 there were 276 Navy flights at Lambert Field. By September of 1942 when Capt. Averill was transferred this had increased to 6,288 flights.
Captain Averill graduated from the Naval Academy in 1927, was a surface warfare officer until 1930 when he earned his wings at Pensacola. As a VP plane commander he set several records. In October, 1933, he made a one stop flight from Panama to San Diego which marked the first time the flight was made without stopping overnight. On January 9, 1934 he was part of a squadron of six P2Y-1 Consolidated Patrol Bombers which took off from San Diego for Honolulu. This
was the longest overwater flight in history and was hailed as a milestone in America’s control of the Pacific. On October 9, 1934, he took off from Norfolk in an XPBY-1 and landed in Coco Solo, Canal Zone, seventeen hours later for a new speed record. Five days later he established two international distance records when he left Christobal, C.Z. , and flew non stop to San Francisco in
34 hours and 24 minutes.
Captain Averill was admired and respected by all of us. He was not very tall but he always stood ramrod straight. Again one of my bosses was short like Pop. Later in my career I was to take under my wing a short person (Mike Boorda) and encourage him to stay in the Navy and apply for a commission. Years later he became Chief Of Naval Operations.
We had one SNJ-2 assigned early in 1941. Shortly after we were all ordered to active duty, I was assigned as plane captain to the SNJ which was considered to be the captains airplane. That summer we received orders to transfer the plane to NAS Corpus Christi for overhaul. Capt. Averill decided to fly the airplane there himself and asked me if I wanted to go along. He said all I would
need would be bus fare for the trip back to St. Louis. I managed to scrape up enough money for the ticket and early one morning we took off for Corpus. I don’t remember where we stopped to refuel but it happened only once. When we arrived at Corpus late in the day, the first thing Capt. Averill did was to make sure I was taken care of. He told the Chief behind the desk in operations, “See that my plane captain gets a bunk tonight and has a ride to the bus station in the morning. Show him where the mess hall is and see that he gets fed.” Then he handed me a ten dollar bill and said’” Have fun on the way home.” Being very young and unsure of myself, this made quite an impression on me. I swore to myself that, if I ever got to be a Naval Aviator or any kind of leader, I
would always take care of those in my charge first, just like Capt. Averill. Later I was to learn that he was killed while being catapulted from the hangar deck of a carrier. Apparently some of the early carriers had a catapult similar to those on Battleships and Cruisers at the hangar deck level.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred we had been on active duty for about a year.The numbers of cadets being put through the program had increased dramatically and new aircraft were being received as fast as they rolled off the assembly line at the Stearman factory in Wichita, Kansas. Lt. Herb Wieseman, the original NRAB/NAS historian made many movies and photographs of the bases and activities there. Recently his son Don found several hand written pages that appear to be information Lt. Wieseman had prepared for the “St. Louis Blues”
the base paper in 1942. It is dated 18 September, 1942 and lists aircraft and commanding officers from 1930 to 1942. Under the heading A&R he states:
“For the benefit of the statisticians on the station, an average of 700
flight hours per day would require slightly more than one engine overhaul
per day, approximately two or three planes needing repairs (more than wingtip
or aileron changes) and approximately ten or twelve ground loop repairs. On top
of this one plane must be coming out of major overhaul every six days as soon
as the overhaul program on N2S airplanes has gotten underway.”
Sometime during the period before we moved to the new base there was a plane crash during the night. The Navy provided all the crash, fire fighting, rescue emergency medical services on the airport. The crash button in the tower sounded an alarm in our hangar. I had the duty so we were sleeping in the parachute loft in the old hangar. When the crash alarm sounded we all got dressed,
rushed down to the hangar floor and went to our assigned positions. Mine was to drive a pickup truck with a crew and tools and proceed to the crash. An American Airlines Sleeper plane had crashed in a farmyard near to St. Mary’s Church in Bridgeton. We arrived a few minutes after the crash and the people were still in the plane or nearby where they ended up after the crash. Having been in their bunks aboard the plane saved most of them. The pilot and co-pilot were killed instantly because the front cockpit was completely smashed. Our priority was the survivors so we attended to those we found alive just as we had been trained to do. Some of the passengers were outside the plane, wandering around in a daze so we led them to a nearby house. The more seriously injured we carried out to the Navy ambulance, an almost new black Packard. Ed Franke, a yeoman was the driver and took some of the most seriously injured to the hospital in the city on his first run. Meanwhile we took the rest of the people to the farmhouse nearby. The stewardess on the plane told us there had been 12 people on the plane. We had only accounted for 11, so we went back to the crash and found the last person. He had been sitting midway back in the
airplane and probably would have lived but a utility pole had broken off and fell across the fuselage right on top of him.
On Ed’s second trip to the hospital with the remainder of the passengers, he had room for Gus Kennel and I so we rode with him and stopped for breakfast on the way back. By the time we returned to the crash site other Navy people had arrived and had taken over the job of security. I believe the crash occurred in the spring but I am not sure if it was in 1941 or 1942. I have searched
through some of the newspaper microfilm in the local libraries but have been unable to find any articles about the crash.
From the day the first Navy aircraft was assigned, crash, fire fighting and rescue equipment and personnel had to be on duty at the base. More equipment and more training was provided as time went on and the number of aircraft and the frequency of flight operations increased. This resulted in a tremendous monetary saving for the airport and later for the City Of St. Louis for they did not bother to provide their own equipment or personnel. As the airlines became more organized and sophisticated, they also depended on the Navy. Whenever the airlines started operating new equipment they provided the Navy with blueprints, drawings and instructions for rescuing passengers in case of a crash. In addition the Navy provided snow removal and structural fire fighting services. When the City forced the Navy to close the base in February of 1958 it suddenly occurred to officials that the city had none of the specialized equipment or the specially trained personnel to operate it. The airlines however were well aware of this fact and threatened to stop operating out of Lambert Field. As a solution to the problem the Navy left their equipment and the trained crew on site until the city was able to supply its own equipment and the Navy could train a crew..
I remember many times taking a crew out on the field to get an airliner or other aircraft including Missouri Air National Guard or visiting military aircraft back onto the runway or taxiway after it had run off into the mud. Whenever the crash alarm sounded our crash truck and ambulance would rush out onto the field or to wherever we were directed by the tower. “City of Flight” a history of the early days of aviation in St. Louis mentioned that the Navy rescued a pilot from a crash in an early Air Show. As the Navy and air transport operations expanded our equipment was updated. We received two way radio equipment so we could communicate with the tower, asbestos suits for rescue personnel and other equipment as it became available. Most of this expansion occurred
after we moved to the new base on the southeast corner of the airport.
Our first snow removing equipment was a road grader with a blade and it had to be towed because it was not self propelled. We towed it behind our gas and oil truck. This was a very heavy (when loaded) International truck with dual rear wheels and the most powerful engine available at the time. The blade was athwartships midway between the front and rear wheels. The operator rode on a farm equipment type seat above and a little aft of the blade. He could adjust the angle of the blade and raise it up or let it down. The trick was to set it just above the surface of the runway and at an angle which would scrape the snow off to the side of the runway. We would start in the middle of the runway and work our way to each side. The best angle of the blade varied according to the speed we were traveling. The driver of the truck usually traveled as fast as the truck would go. We had no communications with each other until we stopped so the driver would stop at the end of each swipe at the runway, hop out of the truck and come back to discuss the situation with the blade operator. Usually we would tell him that he was going too fast but he seldom slowed down. Bud Lauer, a driver from the transportation and myself had the record for the most snow removed in the shortest time. Several times, after we cleared a runway enough so an airliner could land we would get off of the runway just as airliners who had been circling above the field came in to land.
The blade operator wore an aviators fleece lined flight suit, gloves, boots, helmet and goggles. Because the blade operator was sitting above and just aft of the blade, after a few minutes of operation, the front of his outfit would be covered with ice and frozen snow. By the time we returned from WW2 in 1945, the Navy had acquired several large snow blowers and other more modern
equipment with heated cabs. The base had a large Public Works department which included a Transportation Division so we had equipment operators to take over these tasks. When there was a crash or a plane ran off of the runway or taxiway we would be called out to supervise the operation so that the damage to the aircraft was minimal.
An enlisted pilot named Pat Nagle, was ferrying an F2A Brewster Buffalo cross country and landed on his father’s farm near Taylorville, Illinois to show the folks “his” airplane. All went well until he started to take off. He had landed in a relatively smooth pasture, but he did not “walk” the takeoff area to see if there were any obstacles. About halfway down the field his left landing gear hit a hole or depression. The left landing gear, propeller, aileron and wing tip were damaged when the airplane came to a stop with the left landing gear collapsed and the left wing on the ground. NRAB St. Louis received a message directing the base to provide two mechanics with tools who were to meet a Navy transport plane at Springfield Airport to pick up parts and additional help to repair the airplane. The message arrived in the middle of the night and we had to meet the plane early the next morning so Frank Kennel and I were selected from the duty section. We departed as soon as we had the truck loaded.
We met the plane as it arrived from Washington, DC, loaded the truck and proceeded to the crash site. When we arrived there was a large crowd of people there but Pat Nagle and his father had roped off the area near the plane. Most of the people were neighbors and friends of the Nagle family and were worried that Pat was in trouble with the Navy for landing there. The Lieutenant who flew the transport plane bringing the parts and who would be making a report indicated that the landing was an emergency landing because of problems with the plane. They seemed to be relieved after that. They brought coffee, soft drinks and sandwiches to us as we worked.
The propeller was a Curtiss Electric Constant Speed model and came in three pieces with no instructions. It was a new type of propeller so I had no experience with the type but I had read quite a bit about it and its mechanism. One of the mechanics from Washington knew a little about it also so we started to assemble it. The hub and its mechanism was attached to one of the blades so we
had to install the other two blades into the hub. All the blades had to be at the same pitch and we wondered if we would be able to figure the system out and install the blades properly. After a little bit of work we found that the gears in the hub and the ones on the blades were marked so we installed them that way and then installed the whole assembly on the engine shaft. It looked
good to us and we knew that if we did it wrong we would have a lot of vibration when we started the engine.
We did not have a hoist of any kind so we had to use manpower instead. We had plenty of help because all of Pat’s friends were eager to help. We had to lift the wing of the plane so we could install the new parts on the landing gear. Using as many strong farmers as would fit under the wing we had them raise it and we backed the truck under it, laying the wing on the flat bed of the
truck. The truck was a 1927 Federal flat bed with removable stake sides and tailgate.
The landing gear was right out of the Supply Department so some assembly was required. As we started to put it together we found that some of the holes where the bolts fit had not been reamed out to size. We had not brought reamers with us so we asked the locals if there was a machine shop nearby. There was no machine shop but they suggested an auto repair shop that had a lot of tools. We took the gear into town, borrowed the reamers sized the holes and returned. We worked until it was too dark to see and promised Pat and his friends that the plane would be able to fly the next day.
There were no accommodations in Taylorville or Morrisonville, another nearby town, so we headed for Springfield. Besides we were looking for a saloon or similar place where there would be some beer and night life. We registered at the largest hotel in town and went out to eat and cruise around. Our fame had preceded us for every where we went people seemed to know what we were doing in town. We were welcomed everywhere we went, people bought us drinks and we
were treated like heroes because we were there to help one of their friends and neighbors get out of trouble. This was very fortunate because neither of us had much money.
We did not stay out very late because we knew we had a hard day’s work ahead of us. We returned to the hotel with two local females in tow. Frank and his “date” went up to his room but my “date” and I sat in the lobby talking. Maybe I was too naive or perhaps my religious upbringing got in the way. I took her home in the truck, returned to the hotel and went to bed. We had adjoining
rooms with a bath in between. Sometime later I was awakened by noise at my entrance to the bath. Frank and a strange male were standing there, he's all alone. They left, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Either I was too tired to find out what was going on or I was not that curious.
History's Time Portal to Old St. Louis