It would be an understatement to say that the port city of Sasebo still showed signs of the bombardment it had suffered in the latter weeks of World War II. It still showed the effects of it. All around the harbor were bomb craters and burnt-out areas as yet virtually untouched in reconstruction. The harbor itself was quite functional and rapidly becoming more so, because of our own fleet now operating there.
Reconstruction of the city was also beginning to progress quite rapidly now because of our fleet's presence. Jobs for some of its citizens, in support of our fleet, and moneys spent by sailors on shore leave contributed to that, of course. But equally or more contributory was the resultant availability of building materials; which had been a scarce commodity in that region of postwar Japan. Now a considerable supply of materials was unexpectedly available, salvaged from packing crates and other discard from our ships in the harbor. All such discard was being deposited on the dock closest to the city. Japanese workmen as rapidly removed it, sorting out whatever might be in some way useful. Very little of it was not put to some good use.
The Navy Base at the northern edge of the harbor was very small of area. So packed it was with buildings, wires, and trees that there was no open spot upon it large enough to land the helicopter. On the seawall at the southern end of the Base, it was possible to get the front of the helicopter on land, leaving the tailboom extending over the water. Fortunately, the slight morning breeze was flowing off shore southward enabling that the machine was headed into it for the landing.
With my passenger expecting to be gone for about an hour on his errands, there was time for myself to stroll about the small area of the base. Alongside the quay a short way from where we had landed was a luxurious yacht flying the British flag and an admiral's pennant with three stars. As I neared the vessel, a British sailor was approaching it from the opposite direction, carrying a basket of fish and shrimp. It was the vessel's steward returning from early morning shopping for his admiral's dinner. He invited me aboard, and we shared a pot of "java" in the pleasantry of morning sunshine on the afterdeck.
He had observed my arrival with the helicopter, and was of course much interested in the machine; the more so when he learned that I was its pilot and had come from the flagship of the aircraft carrier task force.
"Well, then," he said, "perhaps you'll be back again later to bring your admiral for a visit. My admiral has already sent him an invitation, don't y' know. The old boy said in his message as how a little uprising such as this provides the chance for a bit of socializing...."
A "little uprising" indeed, I thought to myself, as the steward described some further of his admiral's observations on the situation. But there seemed no point in expressing that reaction to my host. More useful would be to listen to whatever more he might have to say about his admiral's perspective.
Shortly, the sailor would need to be getting on with his own duties. No other persons were encountered, as I continued that early morning stroll around the base. Which allowed reflections at the same time on the British viewpoints just learned, together with the sort of talk about the situation that went on in the CPO quarters aboard the carrier.
Just exactly what kind of a war was this? Was it just a "little uprising," as the British sailor said his admiral had referred to it? Might it be dealt with somewhat off-handed by sending a few adventuresome "blokes" out to battle, while their commander socialized on a yacht in Sasebo harbor?
It would be unfair to assume that his steward's remarks fully or entirely accurately represented the British admiral's philosophy. Yet it was reasonable to assume that his presence there must be as part of the British contribution to the United Nation's "peace-keeping" force which we had been hearing about in such news and commentary as reached us aboard ship while at sea. And even though Britannia some time before had ceased to "rule the waves," the yacht seemed somehow inappropriate as flagship for whatever of British naval forces might be included.
It was quite proper, of course, that the British admiral, already ensconced in Sasebo and of senior rank, should send such an invitation to Adm. Ewen. And it would probably be a welcome change of pace for the both of them. Adm Ewen deserved a break from the intensity of his responsibilities while at sea during the past month and a half. Perhaps what he might relate of Task Force 77's actions during that time would provide respite for the British admiral from whatever he may have been doing meanwhile aboard his yacht flagship. If, as his steward had indicated, the "old boy" regarded the situation as just a "little uprising," it might do him some good if Admiral Ewen would tell him about the Soviet bomber flight out of Tsingtao. For the "butterflies" in one's stomach while at general quarters in response to that, were every bit as active as during similar calls in WW2. And the risks for our few men now holding at Pusan were every bit as great as were for those on battlefronts of that "big" war.
The idea that we were ourselves now regarded as part of a "United Nations Force," was disturbing to a great many of the Chief Petty Officers aboard the Phil Sea. The fact that they were veterans of WW2, many with combat service, no doubt had considerable bearing on their attitudes. There was in any case a wide range of questions and comments to be heard in CPO quarters, sometimes cynical, often profound, but nonetheless serious. Most, quite as myself had assumed when we left San Diego, that we were going out to win the war with the Nation committed with us by Congressional Declaration of War.
It was not a question of the merit or worth of the United Nations Organization, itself. The concern was what, if any, benefits would derive from having small combat units from a dozen or more other countries entered into the conflict. No matter the quality of those separate units (they would probably be of each country's best:), problems of coordination in such a polyglot force could make it more handicap than help. Communications, especially, in several different languages, increased risk of compromise of information and misinterpretation of orders.
Some found it puzzling that the Soviets, instead of vetoing United Nations participation as they could have done, simply abstained from security council meetings about Korea. Others saw the complications and confusions which were likely to develop in such a "multi-national" combat force as reason enough for the Soviets to say to themselves. "By all means let them get as many different nationalities involved as they can the more the messier!"
It was certain in any case, that the Soviets would have vetoed United Nations participation against their puppet North Korean forces if they thought it would be to their disadvantage.
Such were some of the thoughts and wonderments during that early morning stroll around the Naval Operating Base in Sasebo harbor. There were many more of questions than there were of answers. Especially yet to be learned, and not entirely for certain until after the armistice three years later, was the Soviet's most important reason for not using their veto power at the United Nations.
The breeze was still flowing offshore when we flew to the Navy Base that afternoon. So again the front of the helicopter was tucked under overhanging branches of a large tree near the seawall, with the tailboom left projecting over water. As he left the helicopter, the admiral said he would return in two hours, leaving me free to go into the city if there was nothing of interest to do on the base.
The CPO Club on the base was interesting enough. A dozen or so patrons were in the place, CPO's from the several destroyers which had accompanied the Phil Sea into port. One of them called out to the others as I entered, "Hey ! Here's the guy that brings us our mail!"
Such recognition was not at all surprising. Deliveries to destroyers in those days always drew an audience of off-duty sailors, in addition to those on hand to receive the delivery. The several immediate offers to buy a drink for me were all accepted with the stipulation that it be coffee.
The camaraderie of the destroyer sailors was pleasurable at once. And a very good rapport had already been established between them and the Japanese waiters and bartender. When one of the chiefs beckoned a waiter and told him to bring me some coffee, he also told him I was a helicopter pilot. The waiter called the last bit of information to his fellows, in Japanese. All of them, including the bartender, quickly gathered to ask questions about my flying machine. Very intelligent questions they were, about the mechanical and flight characteristics of the machine, and what all could be done with it. The waiters were all former officers of Japan's Navy; most of them naval aviators.
The resultant conversation seemed to be as interesting to most of the destroyer chiefs as it was to the waiters. After a few minutes the first waiter, formerly a navy captain, remembered and hurried off to bring the coffee that had been ordered. He served it apologetically, adding regret that their "number one" waiter was not present at the moment because "he was our admiral and also a flyer, and would very much enjoy talking with you."
When Admiral Ewen and his chief of staff, returned to the helicopter, the flush of their faces indicated their host had served something stronger than tea. Also by then, the airflow had shifted from offshore to onshore. So a slight breeze was coming from directly astern the helicopter. The circumstance prompted explanation to the admiral as follows:
"According to the instruction book that came with this machine, it should always be headed into the wind for takeoff. The three of us could manhandle it around to that position, with room enough under this tree for the tailrotor to clear taking off in that way. However, in this slight breeze, I happen to know we can as safely take off from this position. What we would do in this case is what we call a 'jump takeoff' a quick pickup to clear the wheels from the ground moving backward and letting her weathercock with the torque, pivoting starboard into the wind as we do so."
"Let's do it," the admiral responded. The glint of his eyes and smile on his face indicated much more than mere acceptance of the idea. So we did it. And though I could not see his reaction there was sensing of his enjoyment. It was confirmed after we set down aboard the carrier a few minutes later. He paused for a moment in departure, placed a hand on my shoulder and paid the highest compliment one pilot can give to another by saying: "You make it look so damned easy."
From Itazuki, the officers we took there flew on to Tokyo via conventional aircraft, for conferences at MacArthur's HQ. No doubt they dealt there with other matters, as well; but judging by conversations overheard during the shuttle flights, USAF's interference with effective Naval Air support of our forces at Pusan was one of the main reasons for those trips to Tokyo. "Stratemeyer is telling MacArthur our complaints are just interservice rivalry; and apparently MacArthur believes him," was the report of one of my passengers to the other during the flight back to Sasebo after returning from Tokyo.
It was from Itazuki that the Air Force F-80's were being launched f or what someone had dubbed their "popgun" attacks at Pusan. Their intervalled departures and returns were the main AF activity at the base. On 25 August, while I was there awaiting return of VAdm Struble (7th Fleet commander:) from Tokyo, one of the returning F-80's ran out of fuel. The pilot had ejected, and parachuted down to a spot some 12-15 miles from the base, not accessible by roads. The Base Operations Officer (a non-aviator, AF captain:) asked if I had time to pick up the pilot.
There was plenty of time before Struble would return, so it was agreed. An airman sergeant happily volunteered to go along as crewman. He was instructed in operation of the hoist, while the operations officer sought a chart of the area where the F-80 pilot was stranded. The airman would also serve as line crewman for startup of the helicopter engine and rotors.
The operations officer arrived with the chart, shortly after the engine had been started. He had marked the downed pilot's location. He remained standing alongside the helicopter as I signaled the airman for start of the rotors and received the thumb up clear signal in return. A crashing sound from astern as the main rotor began to move compelled immediate cutback of the engine. The sound was from the tail rotor.
It was necessary in order to look back at the tail rotor, to unstrap from the pilot's seat and lean out the cabin door. The sight when I did so was almost unbelievable. Instead of walking the 40 or so yards from his office with the chart, the operations officer had driven out in his covered jeep and parked it out of my sight beneath the tail rotor. Only because none of the three blades happened to be pointed straight downward at the time, had he failed to hit it with the top of the jeep when he did so.
There being nothing to be gained by expressing my first thoughts to him, I just looked at the AF captain and said, "I assume you have some kind of communications system here at the base so I can get word back to my ship in Sasebo that I need a new tail rotor."
They did so, of course. After that matter had been taken care of, the snack bar in the operations building was the most convenient place to await arrival of the replacement, and meditate further on the contribution our recently established United States Air Force was making to the war effort in Korea. In addition to the rather gross stupidity of the operations officer for parking it there, the airman who gave me the clear signal to engage the rotors had been quite remiss, as well. His basic job was the signaling in, servicing, and sending out of aircraft from the area where the helicopter was parked.
The fact that neither of them said anything by way of apology was not at all disturbing, or even unusual. Their embarrassment was obvious enough as expression of their regrets. After a time, the captain came to say that he had a jeep available for me, if I might wish to go into the nearby city of Fukuoka. There being plenty of time for such a trip, the offer was accepted.
A young soldier waiting at a bus stop on base, was pleased to accept a ride to the city. Within a minute or so, we passed an "Able Dog" parked near the roadway. He pointed to it and said, "See that airplane there, sir? That to me is the best airplane in the world...."
He continued then to explain that he had been a forward observer with our forces at Pusan. Wounded there, he had been brought to Japan for recuperation, and would soon be returning to Korea. Enthusiastically, he detailed the Able Dog's capability, the pay load it could carry ("more than the old 4-engine, B-17 bomber"), the variety of ordnance it often brought to the strike zone and (it seemed almost boastfully) the accuracy with which those pilots could put it where he asked for it.
We were nearly to the city by the time he had finished with his dissertation about his favorite aircraft. Not until then had he taken much note of myself. Dressed as I was in khaki pants, summer flight jacket and ball cap, with no insignia, there was no way for him to judge my rank or rating, or even branch of service. So he asked, and was some embarrassed by the answer.
"Oh gosh," he said. "Here I've been runnin' my mouth tellin' you about an airplane that you know better than I do." "Not really, soldier," I said. "I've never flown that one, myself." Realizing that he was actually feeling a bit foolish about it, I added, "I'm acquainted with it, of course. It's good to know how well a man in your position knows it. Our pilots who fly them depend on you fellows to make their effort worthwhile."
"How many you got now?" one of them asked, beginning their conversation.
"Twenty-three," was the response.
"Oh well, then just two more and you've got your first DFC. Got any of your Air Medals yet,"
"Naw . I don't know what takes 'em so long."
There followed some chatting about what they might do that evening. Then back on the subject of the flight just completed one of them said, quite happily:
"Did you hear them Navy guys bitchin' when old (name not remembered) wouldn't clear 'em in...?"
"Yeah ," the other chuckled in return.
Followed, then, more talk and more chuckling about what a good time the air strike controllers seemed to have, "telling those Navy guys to hold off while they clear us in."
That was another reminder of Air Force Lt. Winegar's remarks at Connally AF base about the inability of the "wild blue yonder boys" to provide support for ground troops, and their lack of interest in doing so. There was wonder as to what Winegar might have said to those two young jet jockeys, had he been there to hear it; and a fast growing compulsion to myself say something to them. Fortunately at that moment, the helicopter arrived bearing the replacement tailrotor and two of my crewmen.
We located a workstand to do the repair, since none of the Air Force flight line crew bothered to inquire as to our needs. The captain, operations officer had gone off duty by then. The airman who had signaled that all was clear for starting the rotors, hadn't been seen since the incident. The helicopter which brought the replacement rotor was at hand when the admiral returned from Tokyo, to take him on to Sasebo. Replacement of the rotor was completed quickly enough that we made it back to the Phil Sea at Sasebo before dark.
That was a tape recording made by a strike leader of aircraft from the Phil Sea, of his conversations with the air strike controller. Having given the controller detailed account of the various ordnance his flight of 25 or more aircraft was ready to deliver, he was told repeatedly to "wait," because of planes (the F-80's) coming in from Japan. Finally the Navy flight commander told the controller to send his buddies from Japan elsewhere with their "popguns", and also to get himself out of the way. There was time for the Navy aircraft to make but one pass, before returning to their carrier. This time he intended to dump the ordnance on the enemy, instead of into the sea as they had sometimes previously had to do.
From conversation of his passengers during the return flight, Sundberg deduced that after hearing that recording, Gen MacArthur had made some quite profound remarks to his Air Force chief of staff, Gen Stratemeyer. It did in any case result in changes in the air strike control at Pusan; though very shortly they would become irrelevant.
The officers were from the Valley Forge, rather than the Phil Sea. Having missed the last launch to their own ship, they were thankful for having caught ours. The coxswain passed their expressions of gratitude to myself for having called to his attention that they were trying to catch his boat. They vowed to remember me for holding the boat for them. We were destined on the following morning to take an even more memorable ride together.
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©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.