We had barely completed warmup when a sailor arrived with two packets from Flag Sec. "They're for the fleet oilers," the sailor said, "and commander Miller said to tell you they're priority."
Pri-Fly gave immediate clearance for launch, but then as quickly canceled it by saying: "Hold it a minute, Angel. We've got a couple of passengers coming up for the Valley Forge."
"Can't take them right now," I responded. "We've got priority mail to deliver."
The two passengers emerged onto the flight deck from the island structure at that moment. It was the Valley Forge pilots for whom we'd held the Phil Sea's liberty boat the night before.
"How about letting one of the passengers handle the mail drop for you. Then drop them off at the Valley on the way back save you a trip."
Ordinarily, I would not have considered doing that. Delivery to an oiler was much different from any other vessel. A veritable forest of rigging both fore and aft, for the handling of the fuel transfer hoses, made it necessary to hold position above the level of the stacks. Then the crewman had virtually to thread the handline down through that rigging for the delivery. There was hesitance, therefore, even though the idea of doing the two jobs in one trip was itself attractive.
During some further discussion of the matter with Pri-Fly, I could see one of the oilers steaming with us about a half-mile off the port beam. The speed of the fleet into a mild wind from off the starboard bow, resulted in an airflow over the oiler of perhaps as much as 40 knots, with the stackwash streaming aft to portside. That was ideal wind condition for delivery to an oiler. On the assumption the other oiler was with us also, I agreed to Pri-Fly's suggestion. As soon as the two passengers were aboard in place of the crewman, we launched and headed directly for the oiler which was close at hand.
"Hey, Angel!" Pri-Fly called, "You'd better deliver to the other one first. The one you're headed for is going with us. The other one's going into port. The speed we're moving out it may take you some time to catch up with us. if you don't deliver to the other one first."
"Where is she?" I asked.
"Directly behind you," was the reply. "We've already passed her."
The other oiler was already a couple of miles aft of the Phil Sea, and that distance would increase rapidly. After delivery, return to the task force would be against equivalent of 40 or more knots of headwind (speed of the task force plus that of the wind into which it was headed). So prompt delivery to the inbound oiler was important indeed.
But also, because she was traveling downwind, the airflow over that inbound oiler would be anything but ideal, and possibly marginal for holding position above her rigging while making the delivery. She was at the moment moving fast enough to provide the airflow necessary for that, but would soon be slowing as she neared the harbor entrance. Realizing an inexperienced man could not be expected to deliver it as quickly, the first thought was to return to Phil Sea for a crewman. But that might take as long or longer than the extra time for the passenger to effect the delivery. So the choice was to go at once for the other oiler, in order to get to her before she reached the harbor entrance. While enroute, the passenger nearest the door was instructed in the use of the handline, given one of the packets, and told to start lowering it as soon as we came alongside the vessel.
The airflow was still sufficient as we came alongside the vessel to hold altitude comfortably. The stack gases flowing directly aft left room, though with little to spare, to remain clear of it while directly above the ship's starboard rail. Ordinarily, after positioning myself in those respects, the crewman would have guided me to more precise positioning as necessary. Without that guidance, I had to see to it myself.
When I did so, the passenger had not yet begun to lower the pouch, having missed the instruction to do so earlier. When he did then begin it was hand over hand until told he must let it slide much faster. By the time the pouch was within reach of the man awaiting it, the ship was entering the harbor and slowing.
The lessening of forward speed through the air required in the HO3S an increase of the blade pitch and of engine power, as the translational lift of the rotor system reduced. The maximum of both pitch and power had been reached when finally the man on the deck reached and removed the packet. But at the same time he did so, eddying air currents (probably from the promontories at the harbor entrance) disrupted the airflow. A swirl of stack gases enveloped the helicopter as we started to move away. Without normal air on which its rotor blades could "bite," the helicopter plunged downward.
Once clear of the stack gases, the blades could "bite" air again, sufficiently to bring the machine to hover just a foot or so off the water. But to do so it was necessary to apply engine power beyond the "redline" of manifold pressure. Also, the rotor was near to the "redline" minimum of its RPM, beyond which the blades would cone upwards for lack of centrifugal force.
To regain rotor RPM in such circumstance requires a pumping action of the pitch control stick to momentarily flatten the blades, yet quickly increase pitch again before the machine settles downward. Allowing the machine to turn with the torque further reduces the load on the engine. After two complete turns in that fashion, rotor speed had increased enough to begin reducing engine power. But meanwhile, the pressure on the engine had remained well above the redlined" maximum, and somewhere within it something "blew."
There was sufficient control, as the machine settled into the water, to lay it to starboard, on which side the cabin door was closed. As the tips began striking the water, the fabric covering of the blades was stripped away. Momentum carried them through several revolutions. When finally stopped, the blade projecting forward in the air, was somehow mindful of dinosaur's skeleton.
When the blades had come to rest, my passengers quickly made their way out through the still-open door of the passenger section. I picked up the remaining packet from beside my seat and followed them. A small boat was close at hand, and its two Japanese occupants hauled us aboard. Less than a minute later, one of the harbor's pilot boats came alongside (its crew also Japanese) and we transferred to it. In but a few more minutes, the pilot boat was alongside a destroyer which had followed the oiler into the harbor.
As I followed my two passengers up the Jacob's Ladder to board the destroyer, a sailor appeared at the rail above me and asked, "Are you Chief Thorin?" I acknowledged that identity, wondering how come he had my name, and he said, "The captain said to bring you to his cabin right away." He led me there, ushered me in, then closed the door, himself remaining outside.
The destroyer's captain was a lieutenant commander. As I entered his cabin, still dripping wet, his eyes fixed immediately on the also dripping packet I was carrying. There seemed to be a relaxing and beginning of a smile on his face as he, too, asked, "You're Chief Thorin?"
"Jehovah's on the line," he said with a nod toward a speaker on his desk. "He wants to talk to you."
Came next the admiral's voice from the speaker: "Chief Thorin are you okay?"
"Only wet and embarrassed, sir."
"Good." There was a slight pause, then, "What happened to the packets you were carrying?"
"One was delivered, sir. I have the other one here in my hand."
There was a somewhat longer pause, and what sounded 1ike a sigh of relief on the open circuitry of the command net. Then very deliberately the admiral said: "I authorize you now, Chief Thorin, to give that packet to the man you are with...."
The destroyer skipper had opened his safe during the brief exchange between the admiral and myself. When I handed the packet to him he quickly put it in the safe, showing no concern that it was still dripping wet, closed the safe and made certain that it had locked.
The admiral had spoken further, during that brief while, and said, "We're glad that you're okay, chief. We'll have you back with us very shortly. Jehovah out!"
"Well, now, I wonder just how he plans to do that," I said; quite as much to myself as to the destroyer skipper.
The commander had already swiveled back around in his chair, facing me. Very pleasantly he said, "We've already come about, chief. We'll catch up with "Tailend Charlie of the screening force and deliver you by high-line. Sit down in that chair, there (he indicated a cushioned one). Don't mind that you're still wet. It'll dry. I expect you could use a cup of coffee about now... ."
He arose to get coffee for me, asking as he did so how I took it, and if I'd had breakfast. As he handed the coffee to me I said: "Commander, I'm sorry to have caused this disruption for you and your men. You're just coming into port and having to turn around and go back out cutting a whole day out of your in-port time and some liberty for...."
Emphatically, he interrupted. "Hold it right there, chief! You don't owe any apologies to anyone! Not to me or to my crew or to anyone else. After what you just did...."
"What I just did, commander..." (it was perhaps interruption of something further he intended to say) ". . is lose a helicopter. And we don't have any of those to spare."
"I wasn't thinking of that," he responded. "I don't know why you crashed or if you have any reason to blame yourself for that. But that doesn't matter, chief. Those things happen. It's what you did afterwards bringing that packet with you that's what really counts."
"Well, that was just the natural thing to do," I said.
He seemed to be studying me for a few moments, or otherwise thinking deeply on something, after which he said:
"Maybe for you . Yes, for you I guess it was the natural thing to do. But there's a lot of people, I know, who'd have been so concerned about saving their own butts they wouldn't have given a thought to anything else..... Including ..(he added after pause) those two officers that were with you. I noticed that neither of them thought to bring it!"
"It wasn't their responsibility," I assured him. "They were passengers. They did exactly what they should have done got out as quickly as they could, making the way clear for me. They couldn't have reached it, anyway. I had it up front with me."
"I am very relieved to hear that, chief very relieved!" His feeling was evident in the way that he said it. "That had really been troubling me that the two officers came out ahead of you, and then you were the one brought the packet."
"Still more to their credit, commander," I said, "is the fact that neither of them panicked or froze up. It had to have scared the hell out of them when we started dropping away from the oiler. I knew that I'd be able to stop it, or at least cushion it, before we hit the water. They didn't."
With an appreciative smile and slight shaking of his head, the skipper said as he rose from his chair, "You look to be about my size ." From a drawer he withdrew khaki trousers and shirt, to be worn while my own would be sent to the ship's laundry for drying. A change in sounds of the vessel indicated the ship had cleared the harbor and was increasing speed.
"I have to go to the bridge for a few minutes," the skipper then said. "You just stay here and relax. There's more coffee in the pot if you need. I'll be back very shortly." He paused and turned at the doorway leading to the bridge to add, " and try to quit thinking about losing the helicopter. That's not all that important."
Although accepting that the commander was quite correct as to its overall importance, it was impossible right then to follow his advice to stop thinking about it. No matter that there were several valid reasons to excuse myself, the mind was still reviewing the chain of events which caused it, searching for the way that it might have been avoided. When he returned from the bridge, the skipper sensed my continued disturbance about it.
"Dammit, chief," he said, "I wish you'd quit tormenting yourself about losing the helicopter. It doesn't matter one bit why you crashed, or how much you fault yourself for it. The fact that you brought that packet out with you instead of leaving it floating around in the harbor...."
He paused, studying my face, as I sought without saying anything to let him know my appreciation for his concern. He looked away, pondering for a moment, then asked, "Do you know what's in that packet?" "Since it was for an oiler," I replied, "I assume it was refueling schedules."
"Quite so." He hesitated a moment, then continued, "Only this one's a bit different from any you may have delivered to them before." There was another, longer and contemplative pause, followed by an intense look at me as he said: "Chief I don't dare tell anyone else on my ship what I now have there in my safe. Because we'll be going back into port after we drop you off. But I'm going to tell you, because you damn' well deserve to know. You'd know it anyway, as soon as you're back with the task force. And you and I are going to be together until we deliver you there...."
"It's a refueling schedule, right enough," he continued. "But this time not just for your task force. It's the schedule for an amphibious assault force that's going to hit the west coast of Korea next week. ..."
He was watching my face intently for reaction. Almost certainly he saw some, though he might have misjudged somewhat its meaning. He followed up that revelation by asking: "Now does that make you feel at least a little bit better knowing that what you saved for the fleet today was more important than what you're blaming yourself for losing?"
I wanted him then to think it made me feel a great deal better, because of his concern and considerate treatment. Certainly it helped in a way to know that my action after the crash, saving the packet, was so well regarded; and I told him so. Otherwise, however, what he had just told me was all the more reason to 'feel badly about loss of the helicopter. For here now at hand was the event Col Krulak had told me would likely happen, when I had spoken with him in Hawaii. And because I had lost my helicopter, I would be bystander instead of participant. Those thoughts were kept to myself. Perhaps the destroyer skipper would interpret my grim amusement at the irony of the situation as an easing of my sad feelings. He neatly changed the subject:
"Ever been aboard a destroyer before, chief?"
"Not underway, sir"
"It's time I made my morning rounds. Would you care to join me?"
"I'd be more than delighted, cap'n."
Our first stop was on the bridge. Spread before us in broad panorama was the rear half of Task Force 77. "Tailend Charlie" of the screening force, about 6 miles directly ahead of us, seemed almost within hailing distance. But her afterdeck was hidden from view beyond the large sternwave churned up by her propellers. Arcing away to the horizon on either side of her, were the ten or 12 destroyers which made up the rear half of the screen. Of diminishing sizes with their distance, the farthest two appeared as little more than slivers on the horizon. Yet the frothy wakes of all of them were quite visible; perhaps partly due to the angle of the still early morning sunlight, and the fact that they were traveling at near top speed. Directly ahead on the horizon was the broad bulk of the battleship, Com 7th's flagship, evenly bracketed by the two aircraft carriers standing in tall silhouette.
"Like the view, chief?" the skipper asked, after tending matters with some of his men on the bridge.
"Very much, cap'n. Not as complete, as from the helicopter when we circle the force with the mail. But otherwise even more spectacular, or more impressive; probably because of the different angle of view. There's more feeling from here of the power. But I suppose you get accustomed to this...."
"As a matter of fact," he said, "this is the first time I've seen the fleet from this angle, myself. We usually meet it head on or angling in from the side. This is the first time we've had to chase it, and I agree it is spectacular...."
He went on then to explain that although we were but 6 miles behind Tailend Charlie, it would take another 4 hours to catch her. The fleet was itself moving so fast that we were closing at only a knot and a half. "She can do a knot or two more," he said of his ship, "but she'd likely shake some plates loose. We're not in that much of a hurry.
We proceeded, then, on the round of the rest of his ship. In the beginning he may still have been trying to take my mind off my early morning calamity. But he shortly either realized he need make no special effort to do that, or was so pleased having an interested someone to whom he could show his own pride and joy, that he forgot about my troubles soon after I did.
Thus we spent an entirely pleasurable, and for me very educational 4 hours. It provided, among other things, further understanding of the long-noted something special about destroyer sailors. It's more than the fact that they roll in their walk some longer than most others, when first ashore after a long stint at sea. There seems to be closer brotherhood among them; not merely those from the same ship, but amongst all destroyer men. The relative smallness of vessel and numbers of men aboard of course would result in closer personal acquaintance between all hands. It also makes for more complete acquaintance of every man with the ship and (if the situation on that particular destroyer was typical) with their commanding officer.
It had been noted at the beginning of that unique "guided tour," that the sailors on the bridge were completely at ease in their duties during their captain's presence. But that could have been due to the frequency of their close contact with him. More significant was the fact the men at work elsewhere on the ship remained similarly at ease in his presence.
Most impressive of all and mindful of my first helicopter ride with Air Force Lt Parkins at Waco that destroyer captain didn't merely show me his ship; he introduced me to it. In a sense, that lieutenant commander might have regarded that destroyer as a "stepping stone" to bigger and higher commands. But while he was on it, such higher aspirations as he probably had seemed in no way distracting from his duties of the moment.
The pace and scope of events were such that his name is not remembered. Similarly, it might well be he would not remember mine. But somehow seems certain that the more important aspects of our several hours together that morning would remain equally with the both of us. We returned to his cabin for me to change back to my own clothes, as we drew near to Tailend Charlie. We stood together on the bridge as his helmsman smoothly positioned his ship alongside the other.
Rigging of the lines was nearly complete when we reached the afterdeck. My "host" excused himself to speak briefly with the two pilots from the Valley Forge. When he returned, he said, "I almost forgot my manners there, chief. It had sort of slipped my mind that there were a couple of others who came aboard with you. "
We chatted some further while the two officers were being highlined to the other destroyer. "I sort of envy you, chief," he said, (referring to the pending amphibious operation without naming it) " you're heading back out for some very exciting times."
"Well I'll tell you now, cap'n," I responded, "that's a big part of what was bothering me so much earlier this morning especially after you told me what it was all about. Here's something coming up that I've been expecting and looking forward to, and now I'll end up being mostly a bystander because I lost my helicopter."
There was a quick look of realization, after which he said, "Chief, I'm not at all a gambler. But I'll wager a month of my pay against a day of yours that Jehovah will have another helicopter for you before you get back aboard your ship."
I didn't take that bet. He was obviously correct. The admiral needed a helicopter aboard the flagship, more than one was needed on any other vessel. Both he and his Flag Sec would want it flown by the pilots and crew with whom they were already acquainted. And the fact that I'd dunked one machine wasn't likely to cause them to regard me as unsuited to fly another.
When the highline harness returned, the skipper joined with his deckhand, fitting me into it and checking that it was right. Then he asked, "Ever been high-lined before?"
"It's not nearly so hazardous as it looks."
"Well, captain it can't be any more hazardous than riding with me in a helicopter."
With a big, hearty smile, he slapped my shoulder and signaled the hands on the other ship to haul me away.
There are times, in military service, when an enlisted man salutes an officer for no other reason than that regulations require for him to do so. There are also times when regulations do not so require, that a man will do it simply because he wants to. There was special pleasure in "slinging" a salute to that destroyer captain, while myself was "slung" between his ship and the other. From his reaction, he seemed to enjoy it quite as well.
Had I accepted the bet that was offered, it would have been lost within minutes after arrival aboard the other destroyer. A helicopter arrived overhead before my "ship of the morning" had completed its turn back toward Sasebo. Quite conspicuous in the pilot's seat was Lt Sundberg. Chief Hill, leaning out as he lowered the hoisting sling, pointed to me as the one they wished first to take away.
As I entered the cabin, beginning to extricate myself from the sling, Hill greeted me by saying, "You sunuvabitch! You knew this was going to happen before we left Hawaii, didn't you?"
My look of puzzlement, not quickly grasping to what he was referring, prompted him to say further, "I don't mean about you dunking the damn' helicopter! I mean the landings! You knew they were being planned before we left Pearl, didn't you?"
"I knew someone was planning it. Didn't know for sure it would happen, or where, or when."
"Yeah knew it! But you didn't tell me, even when I asked you!
"Should I have?" I knew he was actually pleased that I hadn't.
"Of course not." Then with sudden change of tone he said as he grasped my shoulders, "Oh, God, it's good you weren't hurt. You had us some kinda worried for a while this morning."
* It is customary in Naval Aviation, and in fact a regulation, that after a serious accident a pilot should be examined by a flight surgeon before flying again. When he and Chief Hill deposited me on the deck of the Phil Sea after lifting me from the destroyer, Lt Sundberg didn't mention that, nor even ask how I felt. He simply said we would continue our regular schedule. Which meant he would do the flying for the rest of that day, and it was my turn again in the morning.
It wasn't likely that Sundberg had forgotten about that usual procedure. Was he perhaps deliberately disregarding it because he judged from my looks and actions that it wasn't at all necessary? Certainly I did not myself feel need for any physical or psychiatric examination. There remained some wonder if the flight surgeon himself might insist upon it. But meanwhile, since my 0-in-C hadn't mentioned it, there was no reason for me to do so.
Another, usual requirement after an incident such as that is for the pilot involved to write up an "accident report." Later that afternoon, when I began describing to him the situation leading to the crash, Sundberg interrupted:
"I'll not accept that you were in any measure at fault. I was in Pri-Fly when they sent you off this morning, and they handed you a can of worms. If you had known that oiler was headed the other way, you wouldn't have gone along with their idea to let one of the passengers handle the drop. I didn't know that situation either until after you were airborne, or I'd have nixed the idea to begin with. I don't think they'll be making any more such suggestions to either of us. They'll tell us the situation so we can decide the best way to do it...."
Also during our conversation that afternoon, it was realized that Sundberg had substantial reason, other than his own feelings on the matter, to disregard the usual procedure of sending me to the flight surgeon. He had been called to the admiral's cabin at once when report of the helicopter's crash came from the destroyer. After the admiral closed off his communication with myself aboard the destroyer, he had turned to my O-in-C and said: "Sundberg get yourself another helicopter from whatever ship in this fleet needs one the least, and put that chief of yours in the driver's seat as soon as he wants to be there."
Before my own arrival aboard the destroyer, it's skipper had described the helicopter's crash, as he saw it. From his description of the machine spinning around before settling into the water, Sundberg said he realized I must have been trying to pump up the RPM and "probably blew a jug." It was his turn to fly that afternoon, in keeping with our regular schedule, so he told me to be ready to go as usual in the morning. With regard to the accident report, Sundberg concluded, "You don't need to waste any time on that. It's already been taken care of."
So I'd lost a helicopter. And the only one faulting me at all for that was me. To everyone else involved it seemed I was something of a hero, instead for bringing along out of the wreckage one large manila envelope. Which I would have done no matter what it might have contained because Flag Sec had sent it up as "priority."
My own crew conveyed their pleasure that I had survived the incident unscathed by reminding repeatedly during the next several days that it was "not a good idea" for me to fly without one of them along to "look after me." To their (and my) considerable amusement, a few days after the incident the visor collapsed on the "ball cap" which I wore when flying. It had been saturated, along with the rest of my clothing and myself, during the brief time in the water after the crash. The cardboard stiffener in the visor had been weakened. It collapsed during one of our typical "bull" sessions between flights, causing me to say in not entirely feigned disgust:
"Oh cripes! Now I've got to go all the way down to the bilge's to turn this thing in and get a new one from Aviation Stores."
"You don't t have to do that, Duey!" Chester offered, "I can fix that one for you!"
On the pocket of his shirt, Chester was wearing a very small, red-white-and-blue ribbon, affixed by a similarly small, brass-plated, safety pin. With that, he pinned the tip of the now flexible visor to the forepeak of the cap. As he did so, I inquired:
"Now where th' heck did you get that, Chester?"
"Off of a kewpie doll I picked up in Sasebo," he replied.
"Oh, really? You better hope that's the only thing you got off that kewpie doll you picked up in Sasebo."
"Naw I mean a real kewpie doll. I bought it in a gift shop in Sasebo to take home with me."
"Oh yeah ? I want to see that kewpie doll."
"No way!" he said as he finished the pinning of the visor. "I saved you a trip down to Aviation Stores. I'm not goin' all the way to my locker just to show you my kewpie doll. Here ." He handed back the cap.
Reaction of the rest of the crew compelled that I should thereafter wear that repaired ball cap, rather than exchanging it for a new one. If it might appear to some a bit foolish to do so, it would have been in fact foolish not to. It was symbol of an incident which had touched them deeply. Their insistence that I should wear it was expression of regard for me. Wearing it was therefor the best way to show my appreciation. Shortly, the green underside of that rolled-up cap visor had become something of a "trademark" to the destroyer men who received and observed our mail deliveries. *
[ * It apparently was noted also by a professional writer (James Michener) who was aboard the Phil Sea at the time, in conjunction with the "public relations" campaign to let the folks back home know there was a "little" war going on in Korea. In a subsequent novel on the subject, Michener depicted an enlisted helicopter pilot as wearing a green top hat while flying. (Which was among the less gross of several exaggerations and over-dramatizations to be seen in his and other writers' works on that subject.) ]
We were kept busy enough, of course. A third aircraft carrier, USS Leyte, had joined TF 77. Additional destroyers with her enlarged the screening force to thirty and more vessels. That increased considerably the amount of flying for courier deliveries and personnel transfers between the ships of the task force. It also brought opportunity for what may have been the first major cargo transfer via helicopter with the payload carried externally.
One of our Able Dog's returned from a strike mission with its horizontal stabilizer too badly damaged for repair. Only a few hours would be required to replace the entire assembly, but there was none aboard the Phil Sea. One was available from the Leyte. Transferring it to the Phil Sea appeared to require high-lining it from the Leyte to one of the destroyers, and then from the destroyer to the Phil Sea.
Such transfer could not be completed until the following day. The crew chief from the Able Dog squadron wanted very much to make that aircraft available for next morning's air strike.* He sought me out in CPO quarters to inquire if it might be possible to transport it with the helicopter. We determined that it would be light enough of weight to be carried. Leyte sailors had it on the flight deck and uncrated by the time we arrived. Slung beneath the hoist boom, steadied by the squadron chief, a spectacle of sorts it was as we returned carrying alongside an article longer than the helicopter itself. The entire operation from the moment of first inquiry took less than thirty minutes. The Able Dog was over Korea next morning, supporting the Marines moving inward from Inchon.
[ * Maintenance crews in carrier-based squadrons take special pride in their "availability" record, including, as in this case, prompt restoration of damaged aircraft to flyable condition. ]
Chester complained (jokingly) about being cut out of that "performance" by the chief from the Able Dog squadron. He got his chance for star performance the very next day. We were sent to recover a mail pouch which had dropped into the sea during high-line transfer from one of our destroyers to a British frigate. Both vessels were lying to near the packet when we arrived.
With Chester suspended on the hoist cable, I hovered slowly toward the packet, taking special care not to drag him in the water. He decided to drop out of the sling and swim to the packet. Then instead of getting into the sling he just grabbed it with one hand and, holding the mail pouch in the other, signaled himself ready for pickup. Dozens of sailors lining the rails of both ships cheered as he swung himself and the pouch into the cabin when he reached the top of the hoist.
Report that the pouch had been retrieved brought instructions from Pri Fly to bring it back to the Phil Sea. As we started to depart, Chester drew my attention to blinker signals at us from the British vessel. The first three letters had been missed, but it was easy enough to grasp the entire message from the remainder of them.
"What did they say?" Chester asked when the signal was ended.
"They said 'Jolly good show, old boy'," I told him. "And it's obviously you they were talking to. So take a bow, you damn' showoff!"
The helicopter was positioned alongside the frigate's bridge, so the men there could see its doorway clearly. But the usually quite outgoing Chester turned suddenly shy and refused, despite some urging, to do it. There was no choice then but to make the helicopter do it for him. Turned directly toward the bridge, and dipped forward two or three times, it seemed to please the audience even more.
On the way back to the Phil Sea, I asked Chester why he did such a "dang' fool" thing, instead of staying in the sling until we reached the pouch.
"Well," he said, "you went for a swim the other day and came back a big hero, so I thought I might as well give it a try."
And, as a matter of fact (in a joking sense), it worked. As soon as we were on deck, Chester went below to change into dry clothes. While he was gone a messenger from the bridge delivered copy of a dispatch from "CTF 77" (Commander Task Force 77) to the USS Philippine Sea CV 47. When Chester returned I handed it to him, and enjoyed the unbelieving look on his face as he read:
"TO PILOT OF WINDMILL AND ESPECIALLY HIS CREWMAN X WELL DONE FOR EXCELLENT RECOVERY OF IMPORTANT GUARD MAIL DURING MORNING OPERATION X SUCH ALERTNESS AND PROMPT ACTION UNDER EMERGENCY CONDITIONS CONSIDERED TO BE AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE FOR ENTIRE TASK.FORCE X EWEN"
Chester looked at me, and re-read it. Looked at me again, and examined the paper carefully. Finally he said:
"How in the devil did you manage a thing like this?"
It took a while to convince him that it was real. After which I said, "So that makes it official, Chester. We are both now 'bonafide' heroes. At least if the admiral says so, ain't nobody likely to argue right? Swimmin' is obviously the way to make it!"
We discussed the matter seriously for a while after that. What we each had done was in fact nothing heroic. Nor did the admiral by his commendations intend so to depict. But we had in fact done our job well, and the dispatch message let us know his appreciation of it. Sincerely given for valid reason, a Navy commander's "well done" is as high an award as can ever be given for an otherwise self-satisfying achievement. It is also the most inspiring to continued best effort.
Whether that success was due mainly to surprise of the enemy, or to superiority either of our forces or their tactics, could hardly be judged from the limited amount of information available at sea. Nor would there have been time for the men of TF 77 to really analyze more information if it had been available. In the combat theater, including in the supporting elements, full attention must be given to one's s particular duties of the moment in contribution to the overall effort. For it is the aggregate performance of many men in a myriad of tasks which make for success in battle. Only after a combat campaign, might those who were actively part of it have the time and necessary information to determine reasons for success or failure.
It was for the moment gratifying enough to hear from our returning pilots and our task force commander that things were going well for our forces on the peninsula. The object of war, for the men called upon actually to fight it, is to get it won and done with as quickly as possible.
[ Similarly, only after a battle (or a war) might those who actually fought it have the time and other essential resources to assess the performance and the purposes of those who sent them into it. Thus, 50 years in aftermath, it is sometimes difficult to be certain how much of what was subsequently learned or realized was not known then. ]
There was available, while at sea, a daily summary of news and commentary gleaned from media sources back home and Armed Forces Radio broadcasts. That had of course to be selected by someone aboard ship out of whatever came in from those sources, quite as someone selects from wire service reports the highlights and tidbits for modern day newscasts on radio and TV. Therefore, though perhaps more select as to pertinence and interest of its audience, it was inadequate of substance for formulation of well-founded opinion or knowing for certain what was really happening or why.
In the absence of full and accurate knowledge there will ever be rumor and speculation. The Navy term for that is "scuttlebutt." Sometimes humorous, sometimes preposterous, yet also sometimes quite accurate; scuttlebutt is dangerous or damaging only when it interferes with performance of duty. That didn't happen aboard Phil Sea during her protracted operations at sea in conjunction with Inchon and afterward. For all hands are usually quite busy aboard an aircraft carrier with a full operating schedule. And when their efforts appear to be paying off, as reports of progress on the peninsula indicated, any scuttlebutt that does get into circulation is likely to be actually humorous or else treated as such by most of the men.
Yet about two weeks after the initial landings there came aboard from somewhere, the disturbing rumor that South Korean troops were causing a bit of a problem. Encountering practically no resistance in their sector, they were said to be moving northward so fast as to risk becoming isolated from our own and other of the "United Nations" forces. Really to blame, according to the initial versions of the story, was South Korean President Sygman Rhee. He was said to be disregarding advice and requests from the UN command (MacArthur) to hold his troops back. That was said to be necessary in order to establish and maintain a well connected and coordinated line of advance forces. (As had been predicted by several "observers" in Phil Sea's CPO quarters, arrival of small troop contingents from several other countries had also caused problems in communication and coordination.)
At the same time, there were reports that our own (U.S) troops were losing contact with the retreating North Korean forces. Which caused some of those same "observers" in CPO quarters to wonder if our troops shouldn't be speeded up, instead of telling the ROK's to slow down. For it is basic to military tactics if you once get the enemy in rout, to still maintain contact if possible and not allow them time to regroup.
Subsequent information would reveal that contact was lost in some sectors because the enemy forces disintegrated, rather than because they were moving back rapidly to regroup. Subsequent information also would indicate that the complaints about Sygman Rhee and the rapid northward movement of R0K troops were coming from Washington, DC and New York City (United Nations HQ) rather than from MacArthur. In fact, MacArthur would later be accused (at least in the rumor category) of encouraging Rhee to keep his troops moving northward. Whether or not MacArthur wanted to cross that line, Rhee certainly did with good reason:
The communists had invaded South Korea with intent to take it over in the name of "unification;" under their own rule, of course. Now with the tide of battle so dramatically reversed, there was opportunity to unify the whole of Korea under South Korea's government; at the same time eliminating the lingering threat of another invasion from the North if that regime were left in power. So Rhee ordered the R0K troops to continue northward across the 38th parallel.
Then became apparent in the somewhat disadvantaged vantage * of CPO quarters on the Phil Sea, the real reason for the complaints from Washington and New York. In approving MacArthur's proposal of the three-pronged counter-offensive in South Korea, officials in Washington and at the UN had stipulated that he must stop at the 38th parallel. Crossing of that line by ROK troops virtually compelled that U.S. and UN forces do so also in order to maintain integrity of the total battleline. Those of officialdom in Washington and New York who would have preferred otherwise could then not prevent the continued northward movement of the entire force.
[ * "Disadvantaged" in the sense of incomplete information. The fact that MacArthur had been ordered by US and UN officialdom to stop at the 38th parallel after Inchon, was undoubtedly known to top commanders in the combat zone, including Adm Ewen. It may even have been public knowledge back home. But that and other such information, even if available to all hands, might pass unnoticed by some due to the press of shipboard duties. It was in any case not realized by this interested "observer" until after ROK troops crossed the line in early October. ]
Realization that officialdom in Washington and New York wanted to hold the counter-offensive back from North Korean territory generated a very simple but profound question: "WHY?"
The United Nations Organization had been formed, according to its founders, to preserve "peace" and eliminate threats to it. Now here at hand, while engaged in what was being called a "police action" to restore peace, was the opportunity to quickly eliminate the dictatorial regime which had unprovokedly violated it and which, if allowed to remain intact, would unquestionably continue to be a threat to it. The rapid progress of our troops and virtual disintegration of the enemy forces in aftermath of Inchon, indicated it would be a comparatively simple task to thus complete the job. The advance restriction of the counteroffensive to the 38th parallel suggested that some among the policy makers in New York and Washington must prefer for some reason to preserve the communist regime in North Korea. There were more than a few in Phil Sea's CPO quarters, and no doubt throughout our forces in the area, who therefore wondered, "Why?"
Explanations were being offered, of course, which filtered out to us in the news briefs from back home. But many of the WW2 veterans amongst us had learned that explanations or excuses offered by officialdom do not necessarily coincide with their actual reasons. In addition, some of the explanations did not stand up well against logical appraisal.
One such was the purported danger that if we crossed the 38th parallel, the Soviet Union might decide to get involved and this "little war" or "police action" would "escalate" into a third world war. It was self-evident to begin with that the Soviet Union was involved at the very outset, to the extent they wanted or even dared to be. Additionally, having been unable to sustain themselves against Hitler in World War 2, without extensive help from the US, they would hardly have become able in less than five years to themselves launch a global offensive. Unless, as someone sarcastically suggested, "those fools back in Washington might set up a new lend-lease program for the Soviets so they can now fight us."
More worthy of concern were the rumblings from communist China in early October, claiming that movement of our forces into North Korea were a threat to their territory in Manchuria. The appearance at the same time (in air reconnaissance photos) of Chicom troop and supply buildup on the north bank of the Yalu river added emphasis to those rumblings. But at the same time, the openness of that build-up, and its very evident vulnerability to aerial attack, were reason to view it as display of bluff or bluster rather than as intent to enter Korean territory. So open and concentrated was the supply build-up that just one well-coordinated air strike could wipe out much of it. To experienced military men (quite evidently including Gen Douglas MacArthur) it was beyond reason that if the Chicom's sent troops into Korea we would be forbidden by our own Commander-in-Chief to so strike their supply bases in the immediate area. Additionally, to counter the propaganda effect of their professed concern that we planned to invade Manchuria, much emphasis was given in public pronouncements that US and UN troops would stop in their northward movement 20 miles short of the Manchurian border.* Only South Korean troops would be involved in mop-up operations in the rest of North Korea.
[ * Historian, John Toland, would learn from Chicom military officials in 1989, that they moved supplies and tens of thousands of troops into underground hiding within that 20-mile buffer zone while awaiting assurance that UN policy would forbid air strikes against their supplies and other support installations north of the Manchurian border.]
Such were some of wonders and opinions about the situation sometimes shared aboard the Phil Sea in early October, 1950. No doubt sentiments were similar throughout most of the U.S. military forces in the combat theater. But little time really was spent in such discussions because all hands had more important things to do. "You'll be home by Christmas!" was the message MacArthur had sent to all forces in the combat theater (on the assumption, of course, that the Chicoms would not really enter the conflict because of their vulnerability to our virtually unopposed air power). Which was further inspiration in Task Force 77 to give all we could in support of the troops on the peninsula, as they moved northward to finish the job.
And move northward they did, more rapidly than most might have expected, because of lack of enemy resistance. They moved into Pyongyang on October ?, greeted joyfully and spontaneously as liberators by the people of that city. The communist regime and its Soviet "advisors" had of course fled the capitol city some time in advance of our troops' arrival.
During the third week of October, air strike launches from Task Force 77 diminished considerably. The troops moving northward no longer needed much in the way of close air support. On October 24, Phil Sea was again in Sasebo harbor and Adm Ewen shuttled to Itazuki via his favorite helicopter. My own birthday was celebrated two days later with another flight to Itazuki to bring the admiral back to Sasebo. He had meanwhile flown over North Korea with several other top military commanders on what his Flag Secretary (Lcdr Miller) would subsequently refer to as a "Victory Flight." They had looked down upon the gratifying sight of our troops encamped along the designated line 20 miles short of the Manchurian border. All that appeared remaining to complete liberation of North Korea was "mop-up" operations north of that line, to be done by ROK troops.
Lcdr Miller, decided that our "boss" deserved a "day off." He sought the help of myself and my flying machine to provide the manner of break he knew Adm Ewen would much enjoy. He had learned of a mountainside resort village about 40 miles from Sasebo which had a golf course among its recreational facilities. Though he knew its name, Obama, he had been unable to find the exact location of the village on any charts available aboard the ship. He knew its altitude on the mountainside, however, so if necessary we could fly around the small mountain to find it.
The admiral was reluctant, when Miller first suggested it, because he felt he should not use the helicopter for a "personal" trip. When Miller told me of that during our planning of the excursion, memory flashed to those two admirals encountered in China just after WW2. They had seemed not at all reluctant to use anything and anyone they could for personal purposes. Here in marked contrast, after four months of unremitting commitment of self to command responsibilities in the largest naval task force ever to that time assembled, Admiral Ewen was reluctant to give himself a break even after the "task" had been fulfilled. No other man of the thousands who served in TF 77 had put in as much time "on duty" as did its commander. The rest of us all had some time off, in one way or another. For Adm Eddie Ewen, every wakeful moment included consciousness and concern for the myriad responsibilities of his command. Yes, indeed, our "boss" then deserved a "day off."
Exactly how Lcdr Miller convinced the admiral is not known. A "reconnaissance mission" we had somewhat jokingly decided it should be called. Seriously, we both realized that there would be some of petty minds back in Washington, and possibly even a few such in the fleet, who might try to make a big fuss about it if they knew. So why bother to tell anyone about it? We would just do it.
Enroute to Abeam we passed over the thought-provoking ruins of Nagasaki. What little discussion there was about it between my two passengers indicated that each was keeping his deeper thoughts about it to himself. Which would probably be the reaction to that sight of most whose thoughts were influenced by experience and reason, rather than borne merely of emotion.
Purely by luck, our chosen flight course took us directly to the resort. But several rather sizable groups of people on the golf course looked forbidding of my passengers' prospects for playing a round. Assuming that a tournament was in progress, the admiral commented with an appropriate (not at all unseemly) expletive regarding the kind of luck that amounted to. Still, he assured me, the flight was pleasurable enough to be quite worthy just for itself; and would be even more so if we could put the machine down somewhere near the clubhouse where it might be possible to get some refreshments.
As it turned out, more than merely refreshments were available. The groups on the golf course were not spectators at a tournament. It was Japanese schoolchildren hiking up the mountainside on outings with their teachers. Admiral Ewen and Lcdr Miller had that golf course all to themselves, so far as players were concerned. They had also a large following of spectators; schoolchildren whose teachers allowed that following the American admiral around the golf course was as good or better for their wards than hiking on up the mountainside.
It was evident as we returned to Sasebo, that our "boss's" day off had been a tremendous success. There was no mention by either of my passengers of their scores in the game. More important, it seemed, was the behavior of the large crowd of "fans" which had followed them through the course; "shushing" one another during lineup for a putt, then applauding or sympathetically sighing according to the outcome. Whatever of sobering thoughts might have been engendered in viewing the ruins of Nagasaki were apparently overwhelmed by the signing of dozens of autographs for the Japanese schoolchildren at Obama.
"Where'd you go this time, Duey,?" Chester asked, as usual, back aboard the Phil Sea.
"Nagasaki and Obama," I replied; then adding to forestall questions about it, "...a sort of reconnaissance flight. The admiral wanted to see those for himself."
There was some discussion then about Nagasaki, of which Chester of course had heard and seen pictures. He wondered, too, about the other place mentioned of which he'd never heard. His curiosity was satisfied by my report that, "apparently due to the terrain between it and Nagasaki, Obama now showed no damage at all from the blast."
So had ended the first war in Korea.
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©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.