And well that this was so. For as we approached the Toledo there were further signs that she was not a "happy" ship. Two somber-faced men at her stern rail watched as we passed close by, without word or sign of greeting. The only friendly-looking thing in sight was the helicopter on the afterdeck. And once on board the feeling came that beyond being not a happy ship, the Toledo was downright sad.*
[ * There develops after serving on a variety of ships and stations a somewhat instinctive sensing of the atmosphere or character of a new command boarded or visited. Many factors contribute to such sensing, some apparent, others intangible, but in either case usually accurate indicators. ]
The Officer of the Deck was not at hand to return our salutes to the ship as we boarded. A sailor (Quartermaster, second class) at the quarterdeck only nodded response to my greeting as he accepted copy of our orders to log us aboard. The OD passed by carrying a sheaf of papers, giving only a glance in our direction before disappearing into a forward compartment. Not even a nod of greeting did he give to the newly arrived officer, Ensign Hollis.
"Whose pennant?" I asked the quartermaster, with a thumb signal up towards the rigging.
"Admiral Dyer," he replied without looking up from his writing in the ship's log.
That could very well be the reason for the sad feeling of the ship. It was this same Admiral Dyer and a few of his staff who four years previously had filled our transport aircraft in Tsingtao with surplus Navy supplies for "bartering" to fund their own " R & R " excursion in Peking. That had denied two dozen sailors their long-awaited "R & R" trip to Peking by taking up the seats in which they were scheduled to ride. Dyer's presence aboard Toledo would be temporary. His command base was aboard a supply ship at Sasebo. In addition to any effect his presence might have on general morale while he was on the Toledo, he and his staff could be expected to want to use our helicopter for their personal convenience.
Those problems would have to be dealt with when they arose. There were others to deal with at the moment. It was necessary to ask the quartermaster to summon an orderly to escort Hollis to officers' country. The crew would begin acceptance check of the helicopter as soon as we could drop off our luggage in our own quarters. Then Hollis should be there with the off-going O-in-C, Lt Swinburne, for the formal transfer of custody.
"You must be our new helicopter pilot," was the greeting of one of the ship's chiefs as I entered CPO quarters. "Welcome to the Toodle-dee-Doo."
Every ship in the fleet has a nick-name; sometimes several of them. Those names are used proudly or derisively, depending upon how a sailor feels about his ship. "Toodle-dee-Doo" was of course a quite natural one for the Toledo, so close to the real name. But it was one which seemed rather difficult for anyone to use proudly, and it had definitely not seemed intended so when spoken just then. I wondered briefly while shifting to proper attire for inspecting the helicopter, if the ship had any other nickname than that. It somehow seemed unlikely and by all present indications, unnecessary.
Back on deck by the helicopter, it became apparent that there must be other factors besides Adm Dyer's presence causing the sad atmosphere aboard the ship. The two men who had silently watched from the stern rail as we approached turned out to be members of the helicopter crew we were replacing. One of them was Chief Jenks, an enlisted pilot, as myself. We knew each other only by name. Even so, there would ordinarily have been some conversational exchange between us in such circumstance. But Jenks only glumly acknowledged my greeting and departed. The other crew member had already disappeared.
Stoddard and Crawford arrived on deck and reported similar behavior by the rest of the off-going crew. With little or nothing to say to the men who had arrived to replace them, they also seemed to do little talking with one another. Why would they be like that, my two men were wondering. The most likely reason was now becoming evident, but it was not proper time to discuss it. Neither Adm Dyer nor a bad command on the ship could be solely or even primarily responsible for such a demoralized state as seemed to exist in that off-going helicopter crew. That had to be an internal factor within that helicopter unit, itself. Possibly it even had something to do with the urgency of ourselves being sent out on such short notice to replace that crew. We would certainly discuss it later, to assure our men that the same would not happen with them. At the moment, however, we had to inspect the flying machine we were inheriting; the more thoroughly because of unusual behavior in the crew from which it was inherited.
About a half hour after that inspection was begun, a very befuddled-looking Ensign Hollis joined us. Swinburne and his crew had already left the ship. Hollis said, "I thought he was supposed to stay until after the inspection was done and then turn custody of it over to me. "
"He was. And so was the crew; at least the plane captain.
Swinburne had told Hollis that was only a formality; not really important, and that he and his crew had to leave at once to catch their transportation. Their transportation for the first part of their trip back to the States, was the troopship on which we had arrived. It would not be departing for Sasebo until late afternoon.
Since Swinburne was already gone, there was no reason to hurry with the inspections. But mention of that brought from Hollis:
"Well that's another thing I had to check with you, chief. Right after Lt Swinburne left a commander from Admiral Dyer's staff told me the admiral wants to go somewhere in the helicopter just as soon as we can have it ready."
"Oh, of course that figures , " was really a reaction spoken aloud to myself. It naturally generated further wonderment on Hollis' part. Development of good working relations between us required that the young officer have some understanding of reasons behind anything I did or said. He had been put in the awkward position of total dependency on me for operational decisions. It was particularly important here at the very beginning of our operations to avoid simply telling him what we must do without him having some understanding of the reasons. Especially so in this case since he would likely be called upon to justify any decision which did not fit the desires or demands of Admiral Dyer and his staff.
So we did have some discussion of that immediate situation. Hollis would have to tell the commander there would be considerable delay while the crew inspected the craft. The commander had given Hollis the impression that there was something urgent about the flight the admiral wanted to make. That provided opportunity to acquaint Hollis with an aspect of our situation he'd probably not even imagined.
'Well, Mr Hollis, in that regard you need to know that Admiral Dyer's staff thinks that anything he or they want is urgent."
"You know them?"
"I became acquainted with the character of Admiral Dyer and his staff four years ago in China. Some of the personalities may have changed since then, but the basic character will be much the same. This admiral would not likely tolerate any other kind on his staff. Odds are that he just wants to go for a ride; probably with a camera to take some pictures. .. . "
Hollis looked a bit surprised but not disbelieving as he listened intently to my appraisal and explanation of the situation confronting us because of Dyer's presence aboard the ship. Dyer's headquarters was aboard a supply ship in Sasebo harbor. His Task Force 95 command included a variety of vessels operating in coastal waters off North Korea as a "Blockading and Screening Force," plus installations on several islands in those areas. Regularly, at two-month intervals, Dyer and some of his staff officers boarded whatever cruiser was available to transport them on an inspection tour of those island installations. The inspection trips usually began near the last of one month and continued several days into the following. That gained for themselves exemption from income tax on their pay for both months for having spent a few days of each one in the combat zone. Certainly someone who did consistently schedule a cruiser for their convenience, would likely regard our helicopter as similarly available.
It was appropriate that Hollis should report back to the staff commander promptly that there would be considerable delay in getting the helicopter ready. Possibly it would be his first occasion of having to assert himself firmly against someone considerably senior to him in rank. He welcomed suggestions as to how he might best do so.
No matter either his lowness of rank or lack of experience, as officer-in-charge of the helicopter unit, Hollis had both the authority and responsibility to say when it was ready to fly. The admiral, himself, could not legitimately order either of us to fly the machine until it had been properly inspected and test flown to our satisfaction. If, as well might happen, the staff commander were to tell him to have his crew hurry with the inspection, Hollis could reasonably respond that he would not take the admiral or anyone else in that helicopter until it had been properly inspected to his crew's satisfaction and test flown by his "experienced Chief Aviation Pilot."
Hollis could further assert his prerogatives as O-in-C of the unit by asking the commander for some advance information as to how much and for what purposes his admiral might want to be using the helicopter. Our squadron's orders assigning a unit to this ship stipulated that availability for "Air-Sea Rescue" was the primary purpose and mission. Other services could certainly be provided for the ship or command to which we were assigned, at the discretion of the officer-in-charge of the unit. But always while doing so in the combat theatre, one of our qualified crewmen was to be aboard the helicopter or readily available in case of distress call for our services.
Those orders from our squadron commander derived from a directive of the top Navy command in the theatre, Com 7th Fleet. Yet on basis of prior experience with Admiral Dyer it was to be expected that he and his staff would ignore that directive if they were not challenged about it. And the suspicion had developed that they had not been so challenged by the O-in-C of the previous helicopter crew. It would be helpful in dealing with that problem, might even preclude it, if Hollis could matter-of-factly let the chief of staff know in advance that he intended to comply with those orders in conduct of our operations.
We needed for our crew to get some practice at once in the handling of the helicopter on shipboard. It would have been advantageous to begin that while the ship was at rest in port. But there was little doubt that so long as the ship was in port the admiral and his staff would want to be flown around the area. In which case the helicopter should be parked alongside, rather than on deck, because of uncertainties of wind conditions. Hollis would ask the staff commander how long the ship would be remaining at Pusan.
Hollis seemed to feel quite ready, even eager, to discuss those matters with the commander. But before he went to do so there was a more personal problem to be dealt with. It was broached by saying:
"Now Mr Hollis, there's one thing in which you've not yet had much experience which you need to get accustomed to right away... ." Then after a pause to enjoy the questioning look on his face, ". . returning salutes. Your men are going to salute you on first meeting each day, unless it's at a call to flight quarters and they're busy getting the machine ready. As for myself we won't overdo it, but whenever you and I have a private discussion out in the open like this we should exchange salutes at the end of it. That's not only because it's the proper thing to do, but also because you and I are going to be watched very closely by a lot of the people on this ship; some of whom might very well benefit from a few examples of proper Navy etiquette. And when we do it, it should be as though we've been doing it for years.. Are you ready, Mr. Hollis?"
"I'm ready, chief." The smile along with it was small enough to be invisible from a distance.
So we did it; neatly yet nonchalantly, as a matter of fact.
Hollis was back before we had finished the inspection, to report on his conversation with the staff commander. There had been no suggestion that we should hurry the inspection. The ship would be remaining in port for three more days. After that it would be going to the Yellow Sea for operations off the west coast of North Korea. And yes, "the admiral and some of the staff will be wanting to use the helicopter while we are here for some reconnaissance flights over the area."
"That'll be photo reconnaissance," I said off-handedly.
"They'll all have their cameras with them to take war zone pictures to send back home."
His slight smile in response indicated that the "greenhorn" young O-in-C of our outfit was beginning to understand his chief advisor.
Since we were not within range of aircraft carrier operations, we would not need to have one of our crewmen aboard during local flights; only one at the ready in case of some emergency call. Hollis had mentioned that would be required whenever we were in the actual combat area. That had brought neither argument nor comment from the commander.
Hollis could as well do most of the flying while in port, to gain a bit more of flight experience. My time would be better spent getting acquainted with the ship; especially a "who's who and what" of its officers and chiefs. There are always some good men on even the poorest of ships. The worse a ship feels, the more important it is to identify its good men. And the best place to learn such things is in CPO quarters.
The TF 95 officers who flew with Hollis did an excellent job of confirming to him that my appraisal of their real reasons for flying was accurate. Except for the admiral, himself; he didn't carry a camera. He chose instead to have the ship's photographer take some pictures for him, on the last day in port. That was a useful mission for myself to fly. Along with his perspective of the scenery in and around Pusan, there was acquired indirectly that sailor-photographer's feelings about his ship and it's present command.* His offer to print a set of the pictures for myself, along with those he would be doing for the admiral and his staff, was appreciatively declined. Landed aboard after that, there was still a short period of daylight in which the crew could get their first bit of practice in maneuvering the machine within the limited space of the cruiser's afterdeck.
[ * During the Korean action, as is quite customary in peacetime naval operations, there were frequent changes of command on many of the vessels. Men who serve aboard a vessel through those changes naturally draw comparisons of the different commands. Toledo's sailor photographer was virtually apologetic of the atmosphere aboard his ship under its current command. ]
Underway the following morning practice began in earnest of the deckhandling of the helicopter. After a brief but thorough description of the several special problems and hazards when maneuvering the machine on deck with the ship underway, the main task was turned over to Stoddard and Crawford to deal with. They must develop a system whereby the crew could come from wherever else they might be to quickly ready the helicopter for launch from its normal condition of being tied down securely and its vital parts covered for protection from wind and salt water spray. Fleet orders were that this should be done within ten minutes after the call to flight quarters. Squadron policy based on prior experience was that any crew that couldn't do it in three and a half minutes or less ought to be ashamed of themselves.
"You're the guys that have to do it. So you're the ones can work out the details of how you can best do it. Meanwhile, I'll be doing what us chiefs are best at, drinkin' coffee and shootin' the bull down in the CPO mess. When you've got things going well enough that you want me to, I'll come and have a look."
A sneak preview revealed a serious flaw in the procedure they were practicing. But it would serve well to let them run with it for a while, after which it would be easily corrected. At mid-morning they proudly demonstrated their ability to ready the machine for launch in but a few seconds more than three minutes. Which well earned for them a below decks break. After that they would be called up for another demonstration with Hollis on hand as observer. Almost as important as the development of that inexperienced crew's ability to do their job well, was for their equally inexperienced young officer-in-charge to learn something of how that was done.
Hollis sat with me alongside the hatch through which the men would emerge onto the deck. As the last man came up the ladder I caught him by the arm and said, "Sit down here with us and enjoy the show.. You just broke a leg coming up the ladder." The puzzled look on the young man's face disappeared in a moment, as he realized my purpose. The rest of the crew, of course, were at once busy at their assigned tasks. Stoddard, while doing some things assigned to himself was also checking the progress of the others. Suddenly noticing that something wasn't being done he began looking around and called out "Where the hell is... !"
The sight of the man he was looking for seated with Hollis and myself stopped Stoddard's exclamation short. A sheepish grin and shaking of his head indicated immediate recognition of the flaw in their procedure. The rest of the crew had stopped in their work and similarly grasped the situation. They all gathered with us for the brief discussion which ensued.
It wasn't necessary to tell them the problem. That they all recognized. Stoddard and Crawford, and probably most or all the others, also at once knew the answer. They would figure out which tasks should be done first, the sequence in which all of them should be done. The first man on deck would begin at once on the first task. Each successive arrival could see what was already being done and take up the next job. "Which means, " I emphasized to the younger men, "that everyone of you will know how to do everything that's necessary to get this machine ready for flight. If for some reason only one of you was able to make it on deck, you'd still be able to get Mr. Hollis or myself in the air."
The crew returned to the machine. Hollis at once asked the logical question, "Why didn't you just tell them that in the first place, instead of letting them spend all that time working at it the wrong way?"
"For several reasons, Mr. Hollis ..." Acquainting the young officer with those reasons was the real purposes of inviting him to observe the incident. There are times in military service when it is necessary simply to tell men what to do and how to do it, and for them unquestioningly to comply with the orders. But to draw upon and develop their full potential, it is essential that they understand what they are doing, instead of just knowing.
Take note, Mr. Hollis I didn't have to tell them what changes they needed to make. When you just tell men what to do and how to do it, they have to remember what you told them. When you give them the chance to figure it out for themselves it becomes part of their own mentality; their own basis for action. . .
Neither was that time wasted which they had spent practicing with the wrong procedure. For every man was then applying his own self to doing whatever tasks he'd been assigned as quickly as he could. What he had learned from that experience would now be shared with the others, as they all sought to help one another become proficient in all the tasks.
Another reason I didn't tell them at the outset exactly how to do it, is because I don't myself know that. The basic procedure they should follow that I knew, of course. But I didn't know and still don't, the proper sequence in which all the things need to be done. That's for the crew to figure out and work out, because they're the one's who have to do it. And after they've done so, Mr. Hollis, then you and I will both be a lot smarter because we will know it, too. . .."
Our crew was by then so engrossed with their own discussion as to be oblivious to our continued presence. If they needed advice from me, they would know where to find me. Hollis said he would return during the afternoon, ". . to observe, not to supervise. I feel so inadequate because I know so little; even less than the youngest of our crew."
"You will learn with them, sir and from them. So also will I." Hollis returned immediately after lunch, but for a different purpose. With him was one of the ship's officers, a lieutenant commander and head of one of the ship's departments. Hollis signaled for me to join them away from the helicopter.
After introductions, the ship's officer simply announced that he was taking charge of our helicopter operations. The impulse to laugh in the fellow's face at such a preposterous idea had to be restrained. Not that he could really have done anything to me for doing so. It was necessary to consider Hollis' situation. He would have some personal problems in the wardroom simply because he was the most junior officer aboard. That might be worse than usual if the impression gained in chief's quarters was correct, that several of the ship's officers were of somewhat deficient quality. Certainly this lieutenant commander substantiated that appraisal. It was important to handle the matter in such a way that the fellow could not readily bother Hollis about it later.
Into the silence borne of my surprise at his announcement and wonderment as to how it should be dealt with, the fellow added some explanation of his actions. Apparently Hollis, with his usual candor about himself and the situation, had talked in the wardroom about his feelings of inadequacy and his dependence on me. So this lieutenant commander had decided that because of Hollis' "total lack of operational experience" it was "imperative that one of the ship's officers should take charge." He regarded himself as the best qualified to do it, perhaps even the only one truly qualified, because he had himself been a Naval Aviator during World War II. He had "gone blackshoe" (given up his aviator status in the cutback after WW2 in order to remain on active duty as a general line officer.
Those bits of additional information provided some further indication of the manner of officer I had to deal with. More importantly, they suggested that asking the fellow some questions would be an effective way to either make him realize his services were not needed or to expose his lack of both the qualifications and authority to take charge of our operations.
What kind of flying had he done in WW2? "P-boats" (seaplane patrol aircraft). But he professed to know a great deal about aircraft carrier operations from association with other pilots, and study, and so on.
What did he know about helicopter operations? He had observed them here aboard the Toledo, and talked a great deal with Lt Swinburne, the officer in charge of the previous unit.
Was he taking charge right at this moment the training of our crew in deck-handling of the machine? "Oh, no!" He wasn't taking charge of that part at all. "That's your job, chief...." He wanted to make that very clear supervising the crew in the maintenance and handling of the helicopter was still entirely my job. In fact he made that a specific order. He was only taking charge of flight operations; directing launchings and landings with the signal flags.
In response to mention that we had several crewmen qualified to do that he said that was one of the things he noticed in the operations of the previous unit of which he definitely did not approve. Enlisted men should not be assigned to that kind of job, it was too important, too much responsibility to put on an enlisted man. It should be an officer doing that, which was another of the reasons he decided to take charge. Landing signal officers on aircraft carriers were always commissioned officers, and experienced pilots themselves; never enlisted men. It should be the same on a cruiser, on any ship. To all that he added that there was one more thing he'd observed in the previous crew's operations which he was changing. "When I bring you in for a landing," he said emphatically, "and give the 'cut' signal, that is mandatory! When I give the 'cut' signal you have to cut power and land at once, the same as on a carrier!"
That was sufficient justification to become equally emphatic in response: "Commander, that is utterly ridiculous! There is no one can determine exactly when that machine can be safely put down on this deck except whoever is flying it. I happen to be considerably more experienced than Mr. Hollis in the flying of this machine. When he is flying it I would not presume to tell him when things were right to set it down, even if I was riding in the back seat, let alone from on deck. The purpose of our signalman is simply to let us know when circumstances on deck are clear for either launching or landing. Our crewmen are well qualified to do that. So the services you are offering are not needed. And your description of how you intend to conduct our operations clearly shows that you do not know enough about helicopters to provide that service if we did need it."
Amazingly, the fellow still persisted, "Well I didn't come here to discuss or argue about it with you, chief. I came here to tell you I'm taking charge! I'm putting myself in charge of the helicopter operations aboard this ship as of now!"
"Has your commanding officer authorized you to do this?"
To that the ship's officer responded that he had not yet told the ship's captain of it, but was "fully confident that the skipper" would approve him doing so when he explained the circumstances to him. There being no point in further discussion with him, attention was turned to my young O-in-C:
"I presume you would like my recommendations as to what we need to do about this, Mr. Hollis?
"Yes I would, chief."
"Well, sir, since this fellow is one of the ship's officers and outranks you considerably, I can see it would be difficult and probably unavailing for you just to tell him to stay clear of our flight deck area during our operations. If he shows up there and interferes with our operations, we can if necessary notify the bridge, it being a violation of Fleet orders if he refuses to get clear of the area of our operations.
"If, as he claims, the commanding officer of this ship backs him up in the idea of him taking charge of our operations, then I will myself refuse to fly for this ship and recommend you do the same until we have been able to communicate with our own commanding officer about it. Except for actual emergency, of course, a distress call; in which case we would still rely on our own crewman or each other for signals and if this fellow wants to stand back there waving his own flags, just ignore him.
"I expect you will in any case promptly report this incident to Cdr Billett. I frankly doubt that the CO of this ship would back the commander here on this, as he claims. If he did so, you will recall that Cdr Billett told us if we encountered any difficulties because of our operational procedures to let him know and he would transfer our unit to a more hospitable command. Do you think that covers everything, Mr Hollis?"
"I believe it does, chief. Thank you."
"Will you be coming back again a little later, sir? The men will be quite eager to show you what they can do."
"I certainly will."
"By your leave, then, sir."
There was special pleasure in that bit of formality. Ensign Hollis returned my salute quite as though he'd been doing it for years. The lieutenant commander was quite slow in responding as I held my own salute for his response. He had stared, mouth agape, throughout the conversation between Hollis and myself. He avoided looking at me directly when he finally returned the salute. He never appeared thereafter in the helicopter operating area and said nothing further on the matter to Hollis.
Any lingering feelings of disgust about that particular lieutenant commander as I rejoined the crew were dispelled by the arrival a few minutes later of the one in charge of the Deck Division. He had with him one of his leading petty officers, a Boatswains Mate 2c. "Any assistance your crew might need," he said, "this man will deliver. He's in charge of the deck hands at flight quarters station."
Whatever the problems in her foreparts, the "Toodle-dee-Doo" was beginning to feel quite good on her afterdeck.
TF 95 did not challenge the Fleet order that we have a crewman aboard during all flights in the operating area. Even so, Admiral Dyer deprived Ensign Hollis of his first chance to make a rescue. With the ship holding position off the Chinanmpo estuary, the admiral decided he needed to fly over the island called Cho Do, which he and his staff were planning to inspect on the following day. While over the island, Hollis received a distress call from a pilot readying to bail out of his stricken Corsair about three miles south of the island.
Seventh Fleet orders directed that in such a situation the passenger in the helicopter should be let off at the nearest safe haven so pilot and crewman could proceed to the scene of distress as quickly as possible. But the admiral refused Hollis' offer to put him down at the island base directly beneath them, and ordered that he be brought back to the ship instead. Thus, instead of the few minutes it would otherwise have taken, more than half an hour elapsed before Hollis could reach the distressed pilot. By then, unable to collapse his parachute after coming down because of a very strong wind, the man had been dragged by the chute to the enemy shore and lay there dead of drowning when Hollis arrived.
With the dead man's squadron-mates covering overhead, Hollis and his crewman put down on the enemy shore and dragged the body into the machine. When they arrived back aboard the Toledo some twenty minutes later, both were suffering considerably from the trauma. Crawford and I at once took over flying duties.
Hollis sought advice that evening as to how he should write his report of the incident to send back to the squadron. To suggest that he should "sleep on it," perhaps waiting a day or so to write it, would have been worse than useless. For he would be kept sleepless by the haunting vision of the dead pilot's face and the burning resentment that the admiral's refusal to be put down on the island had denied him the chance to reach the man in time to collapse the parachute with rotorwash and keep him from being drowned. Troubling him also was the realization that a straightforward factual report would be displeasing to Admiral Dyer, if he saw it, and to his staff even if the admiral didn't see it. Because it was asked for, opinion on that was given along the following lines:
To deliberately omit any of those facts, or play them down in deference to Admiral Dyer would be in dereliction of responsibility to our own squadron and to all other pilots and men of the fleet for whom we were supposed to be on hand to respond in any such emergency. This incident was prime example of the propriety and importance of the Seventh Fleet order which Dyer had ordered Hollis to disregard. If the vice admiral in command of 7th Fleet might chastise the rear admiral in command of Task Force 95 for violating his order, the latter full well deserved it. Nothing could undo the tragedy which had happened that day. But a prompt and full-factual report of it might keep such from happening again. No need for inclusion of opinion or speculation of what might otherwise have been. Just the facts would speak clearly enough to recipients of the report.
Hollis needed in any case to put those facts down in writing that evening. For one reason, to do it while the most significant details of times and distances were freshly in mind. At the same time, he needed to get the matter to some extent off his mind. Even having done so, he would likely have difficulty getting to sleep that night. And it was not likely he would have an observant shipmate to note his sleeplessness and do something about it, as the chief pharmacists mate had done for me aboard the Phil Sea nearly a year before.
So the summary of advice to the young officer was to do a rough draft of his report that evening, just setting down the facts. In a day or so he could review and refine it as he thought best. Then in conclusion: "Now Mr. Hollis, you just might have some difficulty getting to sleep tonight. It may be you don't like the idea of sleeping pills any more than I do. But you may need one tonight, so I 'd suggest you let the doc know about it in advance just in case you do."
The shuttle of TF-95 staff officers to Cho Do next day for "inspection" of facilities there was delayed because the tire on the helicopter's nose wheel had gone flat. The machine was of course quite flyable, but unwieldy for the crew to maneuver on deck and would feel uncomfortable for takeoff's and landings. Besides which there was not much enthusiasm in the helicopter unit to provide such services to TF 95, even if they had been of some importance.
The bruise on the tire's sidewall which caused the leak appeared very possibly to have been made by a glancing or nearspent bullet. The fact that Hollis had seen no enemy troops and heard no shots did not at all negate that possibility. But in order not to further complicate his situation in writing the report, it seemed best not to mention that possibility to anyone.
Quite surprisingly, the deck officer at once informed us that there was a spare nose wheel and tire for the helicopter on board. Additionally surprising the wheel and tire which had been brought aboard by the previous crew, along with other spare parts, turned out to be a tailwheel for the home squadron's, "JRB" aircraft which Crawford had previously crewed, instead of a nose wheel for the helicopter. To Crawford's considerable surprise I commented:
"Better check those spare parts, Ernie. Maybe the parts are there that you needed to fix the brakes on the Beechcraft."
"You know about that deal?"
"Of course, Ernie. You can't keep any secrets from me. "
"How'd you know about it ?"
"Lt Hamilton told me."
The deck division officer and several of his sailors were an appreciative audience as we devised a way to make the flat tire round. After splitting the casing several turns of scrapped fire hose were drawn tightly around the wheel, followed by a few pieces of heavy line to shape the center. With the casing laced back together by stranded copper wire it was ready to lower off the jacks to see how well it would roll; but not until the ship's bo'sun had in jest inspected it to see that the wire wouldn't scratch his deck.
An altogether pleasant interlude was that makeshift repair of the flat tire. Seated on her afterdeck in the morning sun as she lay at anchor on a calm sea, it now didn't matter quite so much that the "Toodle-dee-Doo" was for some reason at the moment not a good ship. We were now fully accepted by some of the good men in her crew who would make her so if and whenever they got the chance to do it. And such difficulties as had already been and might yet be encountered with the ship's command or TF 95 would be the easier to endure because there were others to share them with us.
After leisurely accepting compliments from our audience for the excellent repair of the nose wheel, Crawford and I agreed that it really should be "test flown." So we informed the bridge that our flying machine was back in service. Several officers of TF 95 came aft to be shuttled to and from Cho Do to make their inspections. The admiral himself did not then visit the island.
On the following day, Sept 30, came another refreshing break from the generally depressive atmosphere aboard Toledo. One of the ship's officers needed transport to a conference aboard the "jeep" aircraft carrier, Rendova. As we shut down to await our passenger's return, one of the deck hands called me by name and said, "Captain Thach said to tell you that if you've nothing else to do, he'd like for you to join him in his sea cabin for some coffee and conversation."
That would be "Jimmy" Thach, naval aviator of some renown as originator of a maneuver of aircraft in combat known as the "Thach weave." If some might even yet dispute that he was the actual originator of the maneuver which bore his name, it was clearly evident from the very beginning of our conversation that he was the manner of naval officer ever alert to improvements in equipment and techniques. His first question, of course, was how I wanted the coffee he was pouring for me as I entered his cabin. Next he wanted to know if I had any former shipmates aboard his vessel, whom I might wish to see. After my negative answer to that he said:
"Well then, chief, I want you to tell me all you can about that contraption you're flying. It intrigues me."
"It intrigues me, too, captain. So I'll be glad to tell you everything I know about it, and also some of the things that I don't."
For more than two hours, then, we talked about the helicopter. First about its mechanics and aerodynamics. Then about what it could do; only a little of things it had already done, mostly of its potential. There was a brief interruption while a few aircraft were launched from the carrier, and a similar number returning were landed aboard. "Hey we've got us an angel ! " was the surprised exclamation of the returning strike leader at sight of the helicopter flying alongside the ship as they approached for landing. (Only the big carriers were as yet provided a helicopter for plane guard.) Unfortunately the circumstances forbid that captain Thach could himself go in the helicopter for that flight.
Near the end of our discussion Thach asked with regard to the Corsair pilot who'd been lost just two days before: "If you'd been close enough to get to him right after he hit the water, could you have collapsed his chute with the rotorwash?" Informed that was an established procedure, he sadly said, "What a pity you weren't close enough to reach him in time."
It was appropriate then to tell the captain that the pilot, Hollis, who was flying at the time believed that he was near enough to make it, if Admiral Dyer had let himself be off-loaded on the island. Impassively, Thach listened to my account of what Hollis had reported. His response when it was finished was just a glance and a nod of understanding. The silence continued as we walked together to the helicopter, and seemed to bespeak a depth of feeling beyond that which words could express. He watched closely the procedure of starting the helicopter and engaging its rotors. Then he said in parting, "This has been the most informative session I've had in a very long time, chief. Thank you very much."
It wasn't likely he was referring only to what he had learned about helicopters.
After dropping off the TF 95 group at Sasebo in early October, the Toledo moved on to Yokosuka harbor in Tokyo Bay. Our squadron had set up a service unit at nearby Oppamma. The officer in charge of it, Lt Reeves, was one of "early-birds" of helicoptering the fiftieth naval aviator so qualified. Reeves had arranged for the men of our sea-going units to be billetted ashore while their ships were in port. This enhanced opportunities for shore leave, as well as providing better facilities for service and repair of our equipment.
A quick visit with former shipmate Hobbs in Tokyo during that port call revealed that I'd done reasonably well as "cupid" during the previous visit. Norm Schwartz and the blonde Carol had found themselves to be quite compatible. The brunette, Elaine, was apparently elsewhere and hadn't left the ten dollars she owed me with either Bill or Norm. Carol said she would remind her of it. Along with other needed services, Lt Reeves' crew had replaced our repaired nose wheel with a new one. By mid-October Toledo was with Task Force 77 in the Japan Sea, minus the handicap of Admiral Dyer and his TF 95 staff.
Three pleasurable days were spent aboard the aircraft carrier Essex, serving as plane guard while their own helicopter was undergoing major maintenance work Service to the Essex included the spotting of a floating mine and the carrying of a Marine marksman back to sink it.
A couple of days were spent with an Army unit ashore, while Toledo exercised her main batteries against enemy forces confronting that unit. Crawford and I earned our keep by doing some reconnaissance flights for the "ground pounders." We also practiced some simulated emergencies in which Ernie learned to handle flight controls well enough to possibly get himself or both of us back to friendly territory if perchance I became disabled. The extra confidence a flight crewman gains from such experience serves him in other ways as well.
On November 8, nearly 3 hours was spent aloft serving as "spotter" while Toledo exercised her 8-inch rifles against some targets ashore in the vicinity of Hungnam. This included a brief exchange of fire with a shore battery. There was a bustle of activity forward on the ship when we returned aboard. A "purple heart" bar was being painted on the outer shield of the bridge, alongside the splash of campaign bars already there. One round from the shore battery had splashed and exploded about 50 yards short of the ship.
So where was the "wound" which justified awarding the "Toodle-dee-Doo" a Purple Heart decoration? A bystander at the impromptu award ceremony pointed to a scratch on the potato peeler, which was situated on deck immediately afore the bridge structure. He said the scratch was made by shrapnel from the exploding round. "For cripes sake!" was the unspoken thought, "Even the ship itself is medal-happy!" One wondered what manner of war stories some of the "smokestackers" amongst her officers and crew would now concoct to send to the folks back home.
On November 9, Toledo was in Wonsan harbor. A distress call came for an Air Force P-51 pilot who had bailed out in the mountainous region west of there. A flight of Marine Corsairs was sent to escort us. Going in at high altitude would allow an Air Force radar station south of the battle line to guide us to the scene, at the same time putting us beyond reach of most of the anti-aircraft weaponry around Wonsan.
As we were climbing over the city, a call from someone in the ship's command center wanted to know our present altitude. The perhaps slightly sarcastic response that I didn't care to discuss such matters at the moment caused the fellow to realize it was a foolish thing to ask for while we were within reach of the AA batteries. The fact that he had asked for it did nothing to enhance my opinion of the Toledo's current command structure.
At 14,000 feet, we were out of effective AA range, above a layer of broken clouds and had been positively identified on the AF radar screen which was to direct us. The Marine corsairs sashaying overhead were further assurance. After about 30 minutes on the heading first given, the radar controllers directed a five degree change of heading. Perhaps the winds aloft had shifted us off course. Thirty minutes later there was another five degree change, and shortly after that a third; which caused beginning wonderment if something was awry with the radar. Then came instructions to begin letting down, "You're getting quite close now and should be able to spot the four 51's that are circling over him."
A surprising sight lay beneath us when we had descended through the clouds. Instead of mountains, where the man was supposed to be, we were over a broad valley. Moments later a splattering of 20 mm rounds passed by US, tracers glowing above, below, in front and behind. A quick look for their source caught the flashes of ten barrels, as another burst was fired. Almost certainly the battery was radar controlled. The helicopter was the only one of the aircraft which had been holding a steady course. The first burst had bracketed us well, only dispersion had caused all of them to miss us. By the time that second burst had traveled the two miles upwards to where we otherwise would have been, the helicopter was headed back towards where it came from.
A call to the CAP leader to tell him from whence the firing had come turned out to be unnecessary. His Corsair crossed in front of me as he answered, slashing downward toward the site. The two rockets he fired appeared to strike it precisely, causing an eruption far greater than their own explosives would likely create. The second burst from the site had passed harmlessly through vacant space. Several 88mm bursts flashed around us, widely scattered, probably by disruption of their radar tracking when the helicopter suddenly reversed course.
"Got a bit warm there for a while, didn't it angel?" said my own guardian Corsair pilot when the action had subsided.
"Yeah, verily," seemed the sort of thing a bonafide angel should say in such circumstance. (That consequently became a favored expression of some of my crew who were listening in aboard the Toledo.) There followed some conversation with the CAP leader as to where we were, how we got there, and where from there we should go.
We were over the very heart of "Flak Alley," the enemy's highest concentration of anti-aircraft firepower, protecting one of their most important supply routes southwest of Wonsan. We had arrived there because the four AF P-51's with whom the radar controllers had directed us to rendezvous were circling a cloud instead of the mountain on which their squadron mate was stranded. They had drifted with that cloud some fifty miles from the place where they had first started circling it. Two other of their squadron mates were still circling the downed pilot, at lower altitude and therefore unseen on the radar.
Why those other four pilots circled a cloud instead of the mountaintop is perhaps in a sense self-evident. Why the radar controllers failed to note their eastward movement considerably faster than a man might run was cause for some wonder. But it was hardly the time to wonder about it, let alone discuss it with anyone. Though its batteries all ceased firing after the two well-placed rockets struck, we were still right over "Flak Alley" and for no good reason at all.
There was now insufficient both of daylight and of fuel remaining in the helicopter to go on further to pick the man up. While the Marine Corsairs escorted us back to Wonsan, arrangements were made with the Air Force radar controllers to provide information to us there so we could go after their pilot the following morning. Toledo was scheduled to do some bombardment elsewhere the following day. So we spent the night with a small Navy unit on the island called Yo Do. The lieutenant in charge admired the frogman suits Crawford and I were wearing. He would try to get some for himself and his men. They frequently sneaked into Wonsan at night on intelligence-gathering missions.
Air Force provided very specific information of the downed pilot's location. The charts showed the peak of the mountain on which he had landed to be only 3000 feet; low enough for a hovering pickup if necessary. Photos showed the surrounding area to be mostly barren of foliage or habitation. Two of the Air Force planes would return there in the morning. Two shore-based Navy fighters would come to Wonsan to escort us.
We reached the prescribed location at midmorning. The area was indeed quite as barren as the charts and photographs had indicated. Including that there was no downed pilot there, nor the two P-51's which the Air Force controllers said were already circling over him. One of our escort fighters climbed high enough to register on the controllers' radar screen. They confirmed that we were precisely at the designated location. One of the Air Force pilots circling the man climbed high enough to register. He was twenty miles west of our location, which he had himself designated as the place where the man was down.
That second frustration, on the heels of yesterday's cloudcircling episode, elicited from myself a slight breach of communications etiquette "Can't you guys even read a map?" Then with the frustrations at least partially vented, and direct communication established with the F-51 pilot at the scene arrangements were made for a third try that afternoon:
"If you think you could find him one more time, and could lead me to him, meet me over Wonsan at 1300 hours and I'll come back in and get him."
"Okay meet you over Wonsan at 1 o'clock. . . " There was no indication of resentment of the sarcasm. More likely he felt it was fully deserved. "Anything else?"
"Right now, drop down and make a pass close by your man, then come back up and tell me your pressure altitude reading where he's located."
The mountains in that region would be higher. The charts showed one peak at about 5000 feet. In a few minutes the Air Force pilot was back to report: "The altitude where he is on the slope of one of the mountains is 4000 feet, right on. Can you get him that high?"
"We'll get him, if he's still there. Just meet me over Wonsan and lead me to him."
"Over Wonsan at one. We'll be there.... And thanks, angel. Awfully sorry about all the goof-ups."
Four thousand feet was the maximum altitude at which an HO3S could hover with pilot, crewman, and normal fuel load aboard. It could not then pick up the weight of another man. So it was necessary to do it without a crewman. Crawford's disappointment over that was clearly evident as he signaled me off from Yo Do that afternoon.
Winds aloft, though characteristically strong, were modest enough to allow flying in above anti-aircraft reach. At 14,000 feet over the western outskirts of Wonsan, a few 20mm rounds glinted below as they reached their peek and began to tumble down. Thirty knots of direct headwind slowed progress on the way in, but balanced out to zero effect as tailwind on the way out. More than an hour was required to get in to the man, and but half an hour to bring him out, with a few interesting minutes spent in between to find him and pick him up.
As we neared the site, the leader of the two-plane escort made a low pass over the spot where they'd seen their man that morning and reported that he thought he saw him near there just then. There was indeed someone there as I approached. But the fact he was pointing a rifle at me indicated it wasn't the man we were looking for. There was the popping sounds of several bullets passing close by as I turned away, and the distinctive ping of a hit somewhere beneath and behind me before I could get beyond range of the rifles.
Since the riflemen were scattered on the mountainside, they had evidently not found our man but were searching for him. It would not do to call for strafing of the search party until we ourselves knew where our man was. Discussion of the situation with the others was shortly interrupted by the appearance of a trickle of smoke rising from the other side of the mountain's peak. There in a small clearing on the mountainside was the man we were after. He was well clear of the search party. They would have to climb some distance from where they were before they could even see the area.
Only a trifling breeze wafted across the small clearing. The altitude of it was nearly 4500 feet, making hovering capability marginal even without a crewman aboard. The cleared area was sloped, but probably no more than the carrier flight deck on which I'd made an "upslope" landing just for practice a year before. Using that practiced technique I put the machine down as gently as anywhere a few yards from where the pilot still stood beside his tiny signal fire. Quickly, yet unhurriedly, he came to the helicopter and stood beside the open door of the pilot's compartment looking soberly as though awaiting instructions. There was really no need to hurry, the search patrol was on the other side of the mountain peak.
"Got everything you want to take with you?" I asked.
He looked at himself, and back at the still smoldering signal fire. "Can't think of anything else I need to take."
"No luggage? No suitcase? There's no extra charge for carry-on." There was a bit of a smile then, and he responded to my motion that he should go to the other side and get in through the passenger door. He strapped himself into the seat automatically. His smile became bigger when I looked back and asked, "Are you ready?" And bigger still when the strange spell he'd been under broke and he very enthusiastically said, "Yes, sir! I'm ready!"
A little over-rev of the rotor assured a clear jumpoff from the mountainside out over a canyon and soon well clear of any possible small arms fire. Once established on the way outbound, there was time for self introductions and to let the fellow vent some of the tensions still within him by talking about his experience.
Capt Waid was the leader of the flight of P-51's, until he had to bail out. (It would have been unkindly to tell him right then of the evident lack of competent leadership in the flight thereafter.) It was two hours or more before the enemy troops arrived to look for him. (Time enough to have been there and gone if we had been guided directly to the scene.) They searched for him until nightfall, then built a fire and camped for the night. He meanwhile was hidden so close by in the rocks he could hear plainly their low conversations.
He dared not move for fear of making noise that they would hear. He had nothing but a few charts in his pockets with which to cover himself for warmth. His parachute had been abandoned because of its high visibility when he first saw the troop approaching. They had found the chute, but never saw him. He managed even so to get a little sleep, after the troops were all apparently doing the same.
At daybreak, the troops awakened and immediately departed back down the mountainside, making no further search for him. When his two squadron mates arrived back at the scene he used his second (and last) smoke flare to let them know where he was, expecting a helicopter would arrive shortly. (Had his squadron mates accurately reported his location we would have been there.) When his two squadron mates made a low pass over him and departed soon thereafter, he assumed from the way they had waved and waggled their wings that someone would be returning later.
The search patrol did not return that morning until after his two squadron mates had departed. (Hence the pilot who made the pass over the area to lead me in thought the soldier that he saw was Capt Waid.) It was a larger search party than had been there the evening before. Since they would probably search for him throughout the rest of the day, Waid decided he should move to the other side of the mountain peak if he could, both to evade being found by the searchers and to be in a safer position for pickup if someone did come back for him.
There was considerable of satisfaction and some measure of reassurance in hearing Capt Waid's account of his thoughts and actions during his 24 hours on the mountain. The debacles of the first two attempts to get him the cloud-circlers and undiscerning radar controllers on the first one; the gross error as to his location for the second had caused one to wonder if there was anyone in the U.S. Air Force with even a smattering of knowhow or common sense. Now here in this pilot I had just picked up was a man who'd shown far more than just a smattering of both. He had kept his wits and used them well in a most trying situation. That made even more satisfying than usual the fact of having finally been able to get him out of that situation.
Back on Yo Do that afternoon, Crawford and I looked for the hole or mark on the helicopter where that one pinging bullet must have struck. Next day, back aboard Toledo, the entire crew searched but found none such. We decided it must have glanced off a wheel strut or oleo, in a manner leaving no appreciable mark.
Two days later Toledo departed the Japan Sea, bound first for Yokosuka and after that for home. Our helicopter unit would transfer to the replacement cruiser, USS Rochester. While the ship was still underway in Tokyo Bay, Crawford and I lifted off and flew to Oppamma. It was truly a relief to say "toodle-oo" to the "Toodle-dee-Doo."
The Real Navy
Second Cruise Sendoff
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.