The Navy At Lambert Field

[Part  V of V]

By George Everding LCDR USN (ret)

St. Louis Naval Station personnel gathered in Hangar #1 during Admiral's Inspection (1954).

[Enlarged Image]

 

A CPO named Homer Hilton, who had no other job was put in charge of Shop Stores and Joe and I returned to the Maintenance Office. We had been keeping an eye on happenings in the office while we were in Shop Stores but we still had things to do organizing the office, insuring that all reports were made and that all maintenance requirements were met. The Christmas Holidays were
approaching and we decided to devise a system whereby everybody could have off during either Holiday period. We asked each person to submit a request for whatever time they wanted off over the Holidays. Some asked for Christmas, some for New Years, some for both and some for no time off. The time off would be charged against their leave time. Some had already taken most of their leave for the year, some had time on the books. I assigned all those who asked for the Christmas period off to the New Years duty sections, those who asked for the New Years period to the Christmas period. Those who did not ask for any leave were assigned to either section so that we had an equal number in each period. Somehow it worked out and everyone had the time off they wanted.

After we had the office and the Shop Stores operating smoothly I was allowed to transfer to the fighter line. Finally I was able to work on aircraft again. We had 24 F6F Grumman Hellcats and about the same number of men assigned to the line. I had the advantage over most of them because of my training at Hadley Vocational school and my experience as a mechanic and as a pilot. Working on the line changed my life considerably. Our work week was Wednesday through
Sunday. Friday evening was the critical time. We had to have every one of the aircraft “up” and ready for flight before we could go home. The only planes that could be “down” were the ones AOCP (Aircraft Out of Commission Parts) or for some other reason beyond our control. So quite often on Fridays we worked late. Later after I made Chief and was in charge of the line I convinced the maintenance officer that we could go home early on Fridays when we had all the planes “up” earlier.

Once a year each Reserve squadron had to go on a “cruise” away from the base so I would now be spending 4 two week periods away from home. Fighter Squadron (VF) cruises were usually made to bases on the East Coast or to New Orleans. Attack Squadrons (VA), Torpedo Squadrons (VT)   and VF squadrons usually made cruises together and operated as a Carrier Air Wing would. While I was attached to the line we made cruises to bases at Quonset Pt. Rhode Island; Charlestown, Rhode Island; Norfolk, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; Miami, Florida, Glenview, Illinois   and New Orleans. One fighter line cruise was aboard the USS Antietam, the training aircraft carrier at Pensacola, Florida. The pilots were able to requalify in carrier landings and the enlisted men experienced some sea duty. We would usually take as many as two dozen aircraft and about a dozen active duty people who were assigned to the fighter line. The rest of the
maintenance crew was made up of enlisted men in the squadron who came to the base for one weekend “drill” per month and on the cruise. Most of the fighter squadron personnel were young, very inexperienced people who joined the Naval Reserve to escape the draft. The VP (Patrol Plane) and VR (Transport) squadrons had the few experienced people who had been on active duty. They had joined these squadrons because many of them could earn Flight Pay and travel to other bases during their weekend drills as well as on their cruises. The base also had Attack Squadrons and Torpedo Squadrons which were similar to the fighter squadrons. The torpedo squadron flight crews had three enlisted men in addition to the pilot and some of the enlisted men did receive flight pay.

Webster defines cruise as, “1. To sail about touching at a series of ports.   2. To be on one’s way.   3. To search for a sexual partner.   4. To travel for the sake of traveling.” None of these definitions accurately describes what the word “cruise” meant during the heyday of NAS St. Louis. Well, number 3. may have applied to some of the NAS St. Louis “Cruisers.” Then it meant two weeks away from home to places as described previously. As mentioned before, fighter and attack squadron enlisted personnel consisted mostly of “boots” with little or no experience. So for stationkeepers (active duty personnel), a cruise meant only long hours of work with little help from squadron personnel and precious little time for liberty. We spent as much time as we could in training squadron personnel and after a few days on the cruise they were able to pre-flight and refuel the planes and to remove and replace cowling. It was not unusual to find 15 stationkeepers maintaining 24 to 28 fighters on a cruise. In order to lighten the load on fighter line personnel, cruises were sometimes augmented with qualified people from shops, Tech Training or other departments on the base. The CPO’s in charge of the lines seldom went on cruises so the senior enlisted man was usually in charge of the fighter line on cruises. In order to get other people to
volunteer to accompany us on cruises we told tall tales about the fabulous liberties and fun times we had on cruises. We exaggerated a lot but some of the most interesting tales were true.

Washington University in St. Louis was doing some research with highly classified electronic and navigational equipment under a grant from the US Navy. NAS St. Louis received a directive to cooperate with them in this work. They were developing equipment which would be installed on a mountain at an altitude of 12,500 ft. above sea level. They wanted to test this equipment at that
altitude to insure it’s performance before they went to the trouble of hauling it several thousand miles away and up the mountain. They asked us to provide an aircraft to take them and their equipment up to 12,500 feet and maintain that altitude for several hours. We used an R4D for the flight.   Lt. Benoist was the plane commander, I was the copilot and Charles Sheary, an Aviation Electronics Technician First Class, flew with us to help the scientist adapt their equipment to our aircraft. We stayed up almost seven hours staying as close as we could to the required altitude. Our Commanding Officer received a letter from Washington University expressing their gratitude for our work and stating how much money and time that had been saved by our cooperation.

Recruiting booth being visited by champion boxer Joe Lewis.

One   of the responsibilities of the Reserve Naval Air Stations was to recruit candidates for the Navy’s flight training programs. Initially we recruited for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. During WW2 the requirements were reduced and college students with two years of college were eligible for the program. Later in the war, high school graduates were accepted (like me) but that
program ceased at the end of the war. A few years after the war only college graduates were accepted in the Aviation Officer Candidate (AOC) Program. High School grads were given three months additional academic training at the beginning of the program ostensibly to bring us up to the academic level of the two year college cadets. AOC’s attended a ninety day Officer Candidate course and were commissioned Ensigns on completion of the course. Consequently only officers
went through flight training. In all programs,   candidates had to pass an aviation aptitude test and a very stringent physical examination before being considered for Naval Flight Training.

As an enticement to joining up, we would fly candidates from their college to NAS on a weekend to take the physical and aviation aptitude exams. We would pick them up very early on Saturday morning, administer the tests upon arrival at NAS and they would be free to party Saturday night in St. Louis and be flown back home on Sunday evening. Of course we would “buzz” the campus so they would have something to brag about when they returned. These actions were a great recruiting tool. Also, since I   had arranged for the flights with the students and made up the schedule, I usually flew co-pilot on the trips.

GCA was an instrument landing system whereby a crew of enlisted technicians operated from a mobile van or trailer near to the end of the runway and, using radar, guided pilots into a safe landing by voice messages. They would pick you up on their radar when you were in the vicinity of the airport, guide you to the proper position and altitude in line with the runway and then guide you
down the landing slope onto the runway. When you were on final approach to the runway the technicians would keep up a continuous voice transmission and the pilot would be told to listen only and not acknowledge the transmissions. If the pilot did not hear the continuous voice transmission for a period of five seconds he was required to take a waveoff and go around for another try. This rule was in effect to forestall any problems caused by radio failure.   It was a
system built on faith. Faith in the accuracy of the radar and faith in the expertise of the radar technicians. And the GCA techs were good. A similar program was also in use on Aircraft carriers, called CCA of course, Carrier Controlled Approach.

The pilot flying the plane would be doing so strictly by instruments and would not look outside the aircraft.   The final approach required complete concentration, a tender, sensitive hand on the controls and precise airmanship. It was very similar to a carrier landing. You would be “slow flying”   the aircraft. You maintained an airspeed just a few knots above stalling speed, controlling your speed with the elevators and your angle of attack with the throttles. The pilot not flying the aircraft would be straining his eyes trying to get a glimpse of the runway. As soon as   the plane reached the point where he could see the runway he would notify the pilot who would change from instruments to visual (looking outside the aircraft). Ordinarily this would be 50 or 100 feet or more, whatever the ceiling was at the time. I believe the minimums for GCA landings at the time were 50 feet ceiling and 1/4 mile visibility. At this point the controller would say, “You have the runway in sight you are ten feet to the right of the centerline.” Or whatever your position was. And they were
always right on.

NAS St. Louis continued to provide all the crash, fire and rescue services for the airport and the surrounding area. We provided snow removal services for the airport but now we had more modern snow removal equipment. The NAS Public Works department had several of the most modern and largest snow blowers and plows available, and could remove more snow in less time, thereby enabling Lambert Field to remain open in the most inclement weather. The NAS Medical
Department had a small hospital and provided emergency medical care for the area. When President Truman visited the area, Air Force One would park on the NAS VIP Aircraft parking ramp and most of the NAS miltary personnel formed a large security force protecting the President and his aircraft from the time he embarked from the plane until he left NAS to go into the city and on his return, until his plane took off.

The Physical Training Department, utilizing the large olympic size swimming pool, gymnasium, ball diamonds and picnic area provided recreation and helped to keep military personnel in good physical shape. Sports teams were formed and competed in city and surrounding area leagues and tournaments. NAS teams competed in Ninth Naval District tournaments at Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, IL.  

The base had a large Bachelor Officer’s Quarters with an Officer’s Club, a recreation building containing a movie theater, bowling alley, a Chief Petty Officer’s Club, a White Hat’s (enlisted) Club, a filing station and a Navy Exchange Store. There were several barracks for enlisted Sailors and Marines who lived on the base. A large mess hall served three meals a day.

Our Public Affairs Department provided tours of the base for various organizations such as Boy and Girl Scouts, school classes and civic organizations. By getting prior permission from the Navy Department, we were able to take Scout Organizations for airplane rides over the city. We provided groups of sailors for parades and sailors to provide military ceremonies at the National
Cemetery and other burial grounds. When the Fox Theater showed the Aircraft Carrier movie, “The Fighting Lady”, we hung a parachute from the ceiling of the lobby and set up a display of aircraft engines, aircraft parts and Naval Aviation memorabilia. We would set up recruiting displays at County Fairs and at Kiel Auditorium and the Arena When Sports and other similar shows were there. Several times NAS aircraft flew emergency medicines and other medical supplies to
smaller cities in the surrounding area.

The Naval Air Station, St. Louis was an integral part of St. Louis City, County and the surrounding area.   Whenever there was a need that no one else seemed to be able to fill, the Navy at the Naval Air Station was asked for help and usually was able to meet the need.

In 1957 dark clouds gathered. The Air National Guard was outgrowing it’s small space on the southwest corner of the airport and was looking for a larger home. When the Navy started to use jet aircraft, some people complained about the noise even though commercial aircraft and the Air Guard also flew jets. After WW2 no Navy aircraft took off from Lambert Field with bombs, rockets or ammunition aboard. We had a detachment at the Vichy, MO Airport where we loaded bombs, rockets and ammo for live fire exercises at the Fort Leonard Wood range. But the pressure was too great. On Friday the 13th of September, 1957, the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. caved in and NAS St. Louis received de-commissioning orders.  

Rumors had started earlier in 1957 about the closure of NAS St. Louis. A Public Relations campaign was started trying to convince the politicians and citizens of the surounding area that they needed the Navy, it’s jobs, the money that it pumped into the economy of the area and the suuport that we provided to the airport itself. We were paid in cash so the Disbursing Officer paid us in $2.00 bills.The tremendous impact that the flood of $2.00 bills had in the community as they passed from hand to hand, had little or no effect on those who wanted our base and it’s real estate.

When Chief Aviation Machinists Mate Robert E. Hoss died his family gave me most of the file of Naval Aviation photos, clippings and letters he had saved. Bob had gone to Hadley Vocational School like I did, and Lt. John Geppert recruited him for the Naval Air Reserve Base at Lambert Field. Bob joined in 1937 and I joined in 1939. We became close friends and after we both retired from the Navy, we started the “Drip Pan” organization of people who had been stationed at NAS St. Louis. We started to meet on the second Wednesday of every month and some of our members continue to meet. We have a Reunion on the Saturday after   Labor Day every year at   the City of Edmundson Park, near Lambert Field.

The following is from one of the newsletters that Bob had saved. It was published in 1957 but unfortunately, there is nothing on it to identify who published the newsletter.

From January, 1943 until primary flight training was terminated in August, 1944, a total of 2,501 Naval Aviation Cadeis were processed. In addition, the St. Louis Naval Air Station trained 732 British Royal Navy and. Royal Air Force cadets during the summer of 1944.

With the termination of primary flight training, the facilities of the Naval Air Station were utilized by several Navy activities. The famed Nava,l Air Transport Service established a terminal at St. Louis, and Ferry Service Unit Five moved aboard from Little Rock, Arkansas in August, 1944. In November the Advanced Base Aviation Training Unit and the Naval Aviation Mobile Training
Detachments previously located at the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, were transferred to St. Louis. At the close of WW II, the Naval Air Station became a Separation Center and assisted in processing thousands of Naval personnel eligible for release.

In July, 1946, the St. Louis Naval Air Station became one of the original units of the Naval Air Reserve Training Command, with the mission of support and training of the Naval and Marine Air Reserve. Designed to maintain the wartime proficiency, combat skills, and Fleet experience of returning veterans, the St. Louis Naval Air Station supported 21 Organized Reserve Squadrons. A total allowance of 1,463 Naval Reserve enlisted and 566 officers comprised the complement for an Air Wing Staff, three Navy and one Marine fighter squadrons, three attack squadrons, two patrol squadrons, three transport squadrons, two Fleet aircraft service Squadrons, one Air Intelligence unit, one Bureau of Aeronautics Representative Training unit and four aviation auxiliary units located at Springfield, Illinois; Cape Giradeau, Missouri; Terre Haute, Indiana, and Evansville, Indiana. To support these "Weekend Warriors" required 37 Navy and 4 Marine officers and an enlisted strength of 402 Navy and 45 Marines on continuous active duty.

     Early in January, 1947, a committee of the Airport Commission deplored the encroachment of Federal agencies upon the Lambert - St. Louis Municipal Airport. The City of St. Louis asserted that Naval flights were a hazard to growing commercial operations, although most of the complaints revolved around the war-time Curtiss-Wright plant on the north side of the field occupied by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. A proposal to inactivate the St. Louis Naval Air
Station in July, 1947 was deferred when no suitable alternate site in the area was available and the City of St. Louis agreed to continued tenure by the Navy. This agreement called for priority for commercial traffic at all times, payment by the Navy of an equitable share of maintenance and operational cost of the airport, snow removal, crash and fire fighting equipment to be provided by
the Navy, and installation of a Navy Ground Control Approach Unit to be available to all activities. GCA Unit #32 was established at St. Louis in 1948, and completed more than 31,000 precision controlled approaches by all types of military and civilian aircraft before the Unit was moved from the area in January, 1957. During its eight years of operation, GCA Unit #32 was creditedwith 124
"Saves" of aircraft otherwise hopelessly lost.

St. Louis Marine Reserve Fighter Squadron 221 was called to active duty in July, 1950 at the outbreak of Korean hostilities. VMF 221, "The Fighting Falcons" Squadron, which gained fame in the defense of Midway and campaigns in the Pacific through the invasion of Okinawa, amply demonstrated its high state of combat readiness and earned new laurels in Korea. Naval Air Reserve Attack Squadron 923, "The Spirit of St. Louis" Squadron soon followed VMF221 to active
duty. VA 923 established an enviable record while aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard with Task Force 77 of the Seventh Fleet. VA 923 pilots shared in the destruction of 400 bridges, 1500 enemy buildings, 1800 trucks, and 3100 North Korean freight cars during their combat tour, earning 13 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 20 Letters of Commenidation, and 58 Air Medals.

Navy jets over the St. Louis Riverfront (before the Gateway Arch was built). Date: 4 May 1951. Flying jet numbered 102 was Lt. Gerell and 104, LCDR Griese. These planes operated out of the St. Louis Naval Station, located at Lambert Field. Photo contributed by George Everding, LCDR USN (ret). [Enlargement]

St. Louis Naval Reserve Fighter Squadron 921 and some fifty individual pilots recalled to active duty from other NAS St. Louis Organized Reserve Squadrons shared equal honors, flying Skyraider dive bombers from the USS Essex, also with Task Force 77. Upon returning from combat operations, the squadrons reactivated their Reserve units and resumed training at NAS St. Louis.

In 1957, 47 aircraft were assigned at NAS St. Louis, including 24 FJ-2 fighters, 5 P2V patrol planes, 2 R5D transports, and 16 SNB, TV-2, SNJ, and T34 trainers. During fiscal year 1957, these aircraft logged a total of 15,839 flying hours, 2,338 by active duty station personnel, and 13,501 by pilots of the Organized Reserve Squadrons.

In September, 1957, the crash of a visiting Navy F3H - 2N Demon into a nearby residential area touched off renewed efforts to remove military flying from Lambert Field. In announcing the closing of the St. Louis Naval Air Station, the Navy Department pointed out that it had hoped to construct new facilities, but that such a project was precluded by the necessity of conserving funds for
more urgent requirements.

The date of closing the St. Louis Naval Air Station is to be February 1, 1958. Aircraft, personnel, and equipment will be dispersed among other naval activities in a four month phasing-out program already underway. The Organized Reserve Squadrons are being decommissioned during the first month, the aircraft will be relocated during the second month, and the equipment and personnel will be reassigned during the third and fourth months. Reservists affected by the closing will be given every opportunity to continue participation in the Naval Reserve. Pilots and air crewmen who desire to remain in a flying status may associate with units drilling at other locations as billets are available. (End)

When the order came to decommission NAS St. Louis, all flight operations and training was terminated and the closing process began. The Training Department contacted the other Naval Air Reserve bases in order to find openings for our drilling Reserves. The NAS St. Louis Personnel Office did the same for the active duty personnel (TARS). Many of the   TARS did not want to move from St. Louis. A few were able to find active duty billets in the Air National Guard, some transferred to the Air Force. Enough billets were available for the rest of the TARS for those who were willing to accept transfers. A list of the available active duty billets was published and each TAR submitted his 1st, 2nd and third choices. Assignments were made by seniority. Most received one of their choices.

I was the Jet Fighter Line CPO. All the Fighter aircraft were transferred to NAS Niagara Falls, NY so myself and three of my Aviation Machinists Mate 1st Class Petty Officers, Buzz Ambersley, Spotswood Winfrey and Travis (Blackie) Talent,   had no choice. Niagara Falls had no one experienced in these aircraft. We were transferred there.

Each Department cleaned out their files. Aircraft Maintenance Logs and records went with the aircraft, personnel records went with the personnel, files and photos of historical importance were sent to Washington and the rest were destroyed. With the aircraft gone the hangar was empty. All the removable equpment, tools, furniture and surplus supplies and equipment was moved to the hangar and displayed like a super store. Other Naval activities were invited to come and take anythng they could use. They were responsible for shipment of their selections. Many Naval Air Transport planes were put to work hauling this material. Our transport planes made trips to the stations we were being transferred to, so that we could investigate housing and learn about our new homes. Early one morning we boarded a plane which went to Glenview, IL, Detroit, MI,
Niagara Falls, Ny and several other east cost Naval Air Stations, dropping off personnel at each stop. Later that evening they retraced their route, picked us up and returned us to St. Louis. I was able to find a nice apartment for my family and I to move into upon our arrival in New York.

My aircraft were gone so I had no job. I was assigned to close the White Hat   (enlisted men’s) and the Chief Petty Officer’s Clubs. Ordinarily, when a base closed, the assets of the Clubs and the Welfare Fund are sent to Washington. I wanted to make sure that there would be only a few dollars sent to Washington. I met with the Welfare Officer to make sure he would cooperate wth me. I
told him my plan, we met with the CO and got his approval for what we planned to do.

I closed the White Hat’s Club and moved it’s drinks and other supplies to the CPO Club. The CPO Club became an “All Hands Club” and everything there was free to TARS and their families. I turned over the White Hat and Officer Club funds to the Welfare Officer. During the last month before the base closed, with the cooperation of the Welfare Officer, we had a magnificant “Celebration Of The Lives Of The Clubs” type party. A dinner was prepared and served in the
Mess Hall. The menu was planned by Italians like Amedeo Rocco, Joseph Diliberto and several other TARS of Italian descent. All the work of preparing and serving the dinner was done by hired help. The tables were covered with red checkered cloth tablecloths and each table had a lit candle in an empty Chianti wine bottle. Chianta wine was served with the meal. Strolling musicians played
Italian style dinner music and accepted requests. After the dinner the mess was cleaned up by the hired help and the diners went to the Recreation Hall for a Dance Party. A name band from the St. Louis area provided the music. We managed to spend almost all the remaining Welfare Funds. On Friday, 31 January, 1958 the last Sailor and Officer left the base, Lcdr. Leo Smith made the last
entry in the “Ship’s Log” and the keys were turned over to the Missouri Air National Guard. Suddenly the City and Airport officials realized that they had no trained personnel and no crash, fire and rescue equipment. This was brought to their attention when the airlines threatened to stop serving St. Louis. The Navy kept our eqipment and crew there until the city could train personnel and purchase the necessary equipment.

Today a Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center is located on the site of the old Recreation Hall and the expansion of Lambert St. Louis Airport will take over all of the real estate of what once the finest Naval Air Station in the country. Sayanaro!!!  
 


George Everding LCDR USN (ret)

 

Letters of Thanks to the St. Louis Naval Station:

Cub Pack 90 University City, Mo.

March 10, 1954

Dear Mr. Everding:

   In February our Cub Pack enjoyed a trip thru the Naval Air Station.  While I personally could not take advantage of this tour, I understand from others that it was very interesting and that all of the Cubs (including the fathers) enjoyed it very much.

The Pack Committee wishes to thank you for your part in that outing.  We believe that we present an excellent Cub program, but we realize that this would be impossible without the assistance and co-operation of men like yourself.

We hope that in a few years the "new" Cubs will have an opportunity to visit the Naval Air Station, because we feel that such an experience is worth while.

Thank you,

Cub Pack 90 Committee

John E. Howe,

Secretary

Letters from 2nd Grade Student, Ladue School, May 10, 1954.

Dear Mr. Ding,
I enjoyed the Navy plane and the pilots seat and co-pilots seat and enjoyed the parachutes--to see them.  Lots of things that you had were nice, but I named just a few.  ---Carol Depew, Grade 2
Dear Mr. Ding,
 Thank you for showing us around. It was fun. --Buzzy Eckardt, Grade 2

Part I      Part II      Part III      Part IV      Part V

 

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