The Navy At Lambert Field

[Part  IV of V]

(World War Two Until 1958)

By George Everding LCDR USN (ret)

St. Louis Naval Air Station Personnel during a Captain's review, 20 Aug 1951.  [Enlarged Image]



As soon as the Peace Treaty was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay there was a great rush to get servicemen home from the war. Most servicemen had enough and couldn’t wait to get back home to wives, children and girl friends. The war was fought by citizen servicemen and women. The few career people or lifers as they were called, who had held the Japanese at bay until the rest of the country could “gear up” and take over the fighting, and were able to survive the war, operated the ships and planes that sped every one else back to the States. Some returnees had jobs to go back to, but many had come into the service right from high school. Many used the GI Bill to complete their education or learn a trade. Some even learned to fly.   Others used the things they had learned and their experience in the service to start their own business. For example, a trucking business called “The Red Ball Express” was started by GI’s who had driven large trucks through Europe hauling supplies and ammo to the front. The name came from the trucks they drove at the front which had a large red ball strategically painted on the trucks to signify the importance of their work and gave them priority on the roads of Europe.

Almost without exception these GI’s came home, went right to work, married, started families and became contributing citizens in spite of the difficulties. It took some time for the industrial might of the US to convert back to peacetime products. Until this was accomplished there was an acute shortage of things such as housing, household goods, automobiles, clothing, some foodstuffs and other peace time items that we had become so used to having. As soon as they became available, people stood in line trying to get these items. Several times, I stood in line at the downtown stores to buy nylons for my wife, bed sheets and other scarce items for our rented room.   But there was very little whining and complaining. Everyone was happy to be home and homebodies were happy to have us home. People buckled down, went to work or school, and set about getting the US back to normal. We accepted things as they were without complaint and set about making things better.

Harry Levins, Senior Writer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote an article published on December 12th, 1994 entitled, “WW2 Veterans: A Generation Apart.”. He pointed out that the number of living veterans of WW2 had slipped below the number of those who had died and that in 1992 the number of WW2 Vets, 8,150,000, had slipped below the 8,287,000 Vietnam era Vets.   He called the WW2 vets a generation of giants because he marveled at their upbeat attitude. He went on to write, “These Americans survived a crushing Depression, only to be pitched into history’s biggest war - and then, having   won that war, girded their loins to wait out a Cold war. And through it all (or so it seems to me), they did what was expected of them, without a lot of griping about their ill fortune. Today, their children and grandchildren nurse grudges and grievances about being victims of something or other. We’re a society of victims; the WW2 people were a society of people, who did their damndest, and prevailed in the end. Maybe if we suddenly faced a depression with 25% of us out of work and another 25% of us barely scraping by - well maybe we’d find depths of character we didn’t know we had.

Maybe if we went straight from high school into the Army, and then straight from three months of training right into combat against the Germans or the Japanese - well, maybe then, we’d find strength we didn’t know we had. But we’ll never know thank God. So we’re free to sulk and pout about a world that fails to appreciate us.   Of all the compliments I paid my parents before they died, I think the one they liked the best was   my remark that despite a lot of bad breaks, their generation never once felt sorry for itself. Franklin Roosevelt had it right when he said, ‘this generation has a rendezvous with destiny’. They kept it. Now they’re being called to a different kind of rendezvous. Godspeed.”

Tom Brokaw a television announcer wrote a book in 1998   entitled, “The Greatest Generation”.   In it he wrote, “They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America-- men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement and courage gave us the world we have today”.

At the end of WW2, separation dates were established, using a point system. Points were awarded according to your time in service and your medals. I had enough points to be released in Sep. 1945. Things were pretty hectic at the time and few of us knew what options were available to us. I decided to go on inactive duty to return to St. Louis and to fly with the postwar Naval Air Reserve that was forming there. I was allowed to fly SNJ type aircraft for four hours a month but there was no billet for me in any of the squadrons. Chief Yeoman Mede Rocco on active duty on the base, an old friend and shipmate, called me and said they were in need of Aviation Machinists Mates, and asked me if I would like to resign my commission and come on board at my old rating. I had married in June of 1946 and was working at a filling station for 75˘ an hour. Since this would be a considerable increase in pay, I decided to resign my commission.

Lambert field, 1947 [Enlargement 559 KB]

In September of 1946 when all the red tape was completed and I had received my uniforms I was ready to go to work. One day I was aboard the station wearing an officer’s uniform and a few days later I reported to the Aircraft Maintenance Office wearing dungarees and a white hat. Some people made snide remarks behind my back but most of the sailors and chiefs welcomed me and seemed to like having me aboard again as a white hat. Several stated their admiration for my courage in accepting the demotion to stay in the Navy. I knew many of the sailors and CPO’s from earlier times. LT Hunt Benoist was the Aircraft Maintenance Officer and LT. Herb Wieseman who had been a CPO at the base was the Asst. Maintenance Officer. I wanted to work on airraft, get my hands greasy again and see how much of my former mechanical skills I had retained. This was not to be. Upon reading this, certain people like Buzz Ambersley, Don DuVall, Tom Grafton and other fighter line people will tell you they taught me all I know. They did teach me many things but most of the things they taught me, I cannot mention here and had nothing to do with aircraft
The current command had been established only two months before and was still in the organizational stage. Offices, policies, procedure etc. were still being established. I was assigned to Chief Joe Arkes who like LT Wieseman had been at the base when I left. Both of them had been my mentors during my early career and I admired and respected them for their knowledge and leadership ability. Chief Arkes was the Leading CPO of the Aircraft Maintenance Department and wanted me to work for him in getting the department office organized. Chief Arkes was a hard worker who knew his stuff so we pitched in together establishing a Watch, Quarters and Station Bill, setting up office procedures,   muster lists, work assignments and procuring all the supplies, office furniture and other necessary equipment. Chief Arkes also said that I was to get the Technical Library straightened out whenever I had spare time. Most of the publications were for aircraft no longer assigned to the base and I had to procure all the Tech Pubs necessary to maintain the planes we now had assigned. When I was assigned to Chief Arkes I knew I would be doing hard and steady work but also work I enjoyed doing. I also knew that any work I did with Joe would be educational and interesting.

At the end of the war officers were not discharged but were retained in a reserve status for an indefinite period. Enlisted men who wanted to leave the Navy were discharged but many reenlisted in the reserve and became known as weekend warriors or O-2 reserves. They were assigned to a squadron according to their experience and were expected to report aboard one weekend a month and for a two week period usually in the summer. They received four days pay for each weekend and for the two week “cruise” they received regular active duty pay and allowances. For example, a sailor whose active duty pay would be $300.00 per month would receive $10.00 per day or $40.00 for each weekend.

NAS St. Louis Fast-Pitch Softball Team, 1953. [Enlarged Photo]

Our job as full time active duty TARS (Training & Administration, Reserves), was to provide well maintained aircraft, support equipment, training and an operating base for these squadron personnel. In addition to the hangars and aircraft ramps, we had barracks, a BOQ with “O” Club, Rec Hall, Navy Exchange, Galley, Olympic size swimming pool, gymnasium, bowling alleys, training buildings, Supply Dept. and warehouses, sick bay, all left from WW2. The original plans for the base in 1941 included only that part on the north side of Natural Bridge Rd. After Pearl Harbor, a large area of land on the south side of the road was purchased from the Behle Family and other farmers in the area. The one barracks building on the north side became the Personnel office and squadron offices. The original CPO Club and adjacent Power Plant were replaced by a large Supply Warehouse and a large garage and shop for the Transportation Department. The entrance and exit to the south side of the base were separate roads with a small guard shack between them. An OOD Office and a four or six cell brig was to the right of the entrance road. A large   firehouse was built on the other side of the road just inside the gate for the Structural Fire Department. Next to it was a power plant for the buildings on the south side of the road. The Air National Guard NCO Club was on that site in 1958 when the Guard took over.

On the south side of the base a complete Technical Training complex was established in the buildings that had been used during WW2 for Aviation Cadet classrooms and barracks. Some of the TARS were sent to Memphis to complete the Navy Instructor Course. Tech Training was equipped for, and had personnel qualified for, providing squadron personnel training in all of the aviation maintenance ratings. During the summer months a "Boot Camp" was established and new "Weekend Warrior" Reservists were taught how to be "Salty Sailors".   Preparation for taking advancement in rating, GED and other tests to increase the education level of Weekend Warriors and TARS was provided. Officer training was provided by the Training Department situated near the squadron offices on the north side of the base. Most of this was pilot and squadron organizational training designed to make the squadrons operationally ready to go to war and/or to supplement regular Navy squadrons. A few years later when the Korean war erupted, many reserve squadron and individuals were called to active duty and did extremely well. Two of the squadrons from NAS St. Louis were among them. The book and movie, “Bridges of Toko Ri” told the story of how well they did.

There were quite a few of the old hands who were stationed at Lambert before the war who returned. Many had been promoted during the war and now were senior to me. It did not take long for me to make first class petty officer. I had the time in even before the war and only needed to pass the test again and have a billet open up for me to advance. Fortunately we needed people to fill our billets because most rated sailors who came home were glad to be home and wanted nothing to do with the military. So we did have some openings in the higher ratings such as first class.The first time a test was given for advancement in rating I was able to get a high enough score to be advanced to Aviation Machinists Mate First Class.

We had a ready issue storeroom called “Shop Stores”, in the Overhaul and Repair Hangar (O&R). It carried most of the spare parts and supplies that the mechanics would routinely need in maintaining the aircraft assigned to the base. Mechanics could get consumables like gaskets, strainers, etc. merely by stating the aircraft number and signing for the supply or part. A tool issue room (Tool Crib) was part of Shop Stores where mechanics could check out special and infrequently used tools not normally carried in their toolboxes. Over the years the storeroom and tool room had become a collection of parts and supplies strowed helter skelter about the place. There was no organization and some of the shelves were littered with parts of aircraft no longer at the Air Station and special tools no longer required. Joe Arkes, Herb Wieseman and other supervisors knew that something had to be done about cleaning out the place and storing the parts in some order so they could be found easily. Lt. Benoist asked Joe Arkes to do the job. He said he could do it if I were assigned to help him. The maintenance office was now operating in an efficient manner and most functions were organized and carried out routinely. We also had several clerical rates (yeomen and personnel men) assigned to do the routine administrative work. I had completed the overhaul of the Technical Library and a clerical person was assigned to see that manuals and instructions were updated and changes
entered routinely.

Joe felt that we could leave the office to organize the Shop Stores and still monitor the maintenance operations, We started out by cleaning out one end of the room and   rebuilding and realigning the shelving. Using the Parts Manuals, we assigned and marked a space for each part andconsumable in part number order. An office space was set up in the back room with files and office equipment. An inventory and usage system was established so that an adequate amount of supplies and parts would always be available. “Doc” Shorrock, the retired pharmacist mate chief who had been at the old base was hired as a civilian employee to maintain these records. Now the person who had given me and many others their physical exams and medical care was now working for me. He was a very conscientious and dependable worker who kept the records in fine order and assured that parts and equipment were ordered as required.

Parts catalogs and Erection and Maintenance manuals were made available on a table outside and adjacent to Shop Stores so mechanics could become familiar and learn from them. Shop Stores and the Tool Crib were open for business whenever any crew was working on aircraft. I selected Aviation Machinists Mate (AMM2C) Jim Souris to run the Tool Crib. Jim was very good at this. He was always busy, cleaning, repairing tools and the Tool Crib area. To my knowledge we never lost a tool while he was in charge. Unfortunately he was only there during daylight hours. I taught Jim how to fly. He was the flight student who had never driven a car, rode   a bike or did anything that developed his coordination. He was a rather peculiar person and some sailors made fun of him and played tricks on him but myself and several others protected him from them as well as we could. When the base closed, Jim was transferred to NAS Minneapolis and it is rumored that he walked all the way there. This story started because Jim was seen many times walking and refusing rides. Jim had purchased an L2 Army surplus observation plane and probably flew it to Minneapolis. I saw him many years after the base had closed on one of his visits to St. Louis and he told me he still had the plane and flew it regularly in Minneapolis.

Chief Arkes and I started by cleaning off the shelves at one end of Shop Stores and by getting rid of all parts for aircraft no longer assigned to NAS St. Louis. Using Supply Manuals, Aircraft Erection & Maintenance Manuals, other publications and our knowledge of most used parts, we set aside spaces in part number order on these shelves and stocked them accordingly. Working steadily through the day and often late at night, we began to make headway and eventually had a neat and orderly storeroom which measured up to Navy Supply Department standards. Mechanics and Bob “Dusty” Rhodes and Bob Dorr who worked in the storeroom soon learned parts by their stock number because we required them to look up the number in the stock number books provided for them and to ask for the parts by stock number. At the next Administration/Material Inspection by our headquarters command from Glenview, IL, Shop Stores received an outstanding grade.

Part I      Part II      Part III      Part IV      Part V


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