While they were doing so the leading petty officer of their division, a Bo'sun's Mate 2c, came alongside and asked: "How badly was the Toledo damaged?"
"She has a scratch on the paint of her potato peeler which someone said was made by shrapnel from a round that splashed 50 yards short."
"Oh, yeah. I'll bet that's all it was."
"Well anyone who tells you there was something more than that either doesn't know what he's talking about or is deliberately lying. I've seen that scratch on her potato peeler myself. It could have been made by shrapnel. It could have been caused by one of the stumblebums they've got on board falling against it trying to find his way to the bridge."
The look on the Bo'sun's Mate's face indicated he still thought I was being secretive about whatever damage the Toledo must have suffered to "earn'! that purple heart bar which was now painted on her bridge. Which indicated in turn that some of the may have "smokestackers" on the Toledo may have been promoting the idea that the ship actually had suffered some damage but they were bound to secrecy about the nature and extent of it.
That was really of no great interest to this particular Rochester sailor, however. He said no more about it but ventured into the matter which was really on his mind. He asked if I knew Lt Barnes, who had been the helicopter pilot aboard Rochester during her previous duty in the Korean war zone. I did, of course (that being the same Lt Barnes who'd been scheduled to return ahead of myself). Next, the fellow quickly mentioned that he and Barnes had become "good buddies" during that time, that he had worked with the helicopter crew and Barnes had instructed him so he was even qualified to start the engine for warmup.
"Our plane captain will be glad to know that," I told him. "He'll be coming aboard shortly with the rest of the crew. Name's Stoddard, first class mech. We have more men in our own crew this time than we had on the first cruise. But it's always helpful to have some ship's company with experience in handling the machine, too."
The bo'sun looked at me blankly for a moment and then turned away. Which indicated he wasn't really interested in helping with the helicopter, but wanting to be "buddy-buddy" with the new pilot as he said he had been with Lt Barnes. Since he would be in charge of the berthing spaces where our men would be quartered, the fellow could bear watching for a while.
Within but a few minutes after Rochester cleared the harbor, Hollis and I were summoned to the captain's sea cabin. Capt Smith and his executive officer, Cdr Copeland, awaited us there, quite clearly for conference rather than mere formality of welcoming us aboard. The captain opened it with a somewhat surprising statement. He said in effect that he considered our helicopter unit to be the most important element of his command in terms of potential service in the combat area; particularly because of its search and rescue capability. He wanted therefore to know about our operating procedures, and our needs for cooperation and services from other departments of his ship. Having so stated, he awaited response from Hollis and myself.
It was a somewhat unexpected but most welcome invitation. Hollis, quite understandably, indicated for myself to respond. So also, he could not do otherwise than refer subsequent questions to me for reply.. Captain Smith quickly sensed the situation. He interjected as Hollis once more was indicating for me to respond, "No, Mr Hollis I want your answer to that question...."
With his usual candor, the young officer acknowledged his dependence upon myself for guidance in operational matters. Then he said, as though seeking to reassure the captain, "Chief Thorin, here, is one of the most experienced pilots in our squadron. And frankly, sir, I must say that I still don't understand why our squadron commander sent me out as an Officer-in-charge. I'm every bit as inexperienced in administrative duties as I am in the operational part of it."
"Well I understand very well why he did that, Mr Hollis," the captain responded. "He did it in order to make full use of your chief's experience, and at the same time let you benefit from it at the very start of your naval career. That's exactly the way this Navy is supposed to operate. I've no doubt that is what your squadron commander had in mind. And that is what we are going to do. Because your chief, here, is the one with the know-how, we will call for him directly when any problem or question arises regarding your operations. But we want you in on it as well; in everything that goes on. I want you to understand that we'll be calling for him directly Just in order to save time."
The captain's words seemed to greatly relieve the anxiety and uncertainty which had plagued the young officer until then. I had wondered as the captain was speaking if he may have known in advance of the somewhat unique situation in our unit (perhaps from Lt Reeves of our service unit at Oppamma). Or he may have quickly sensed it at the outset of our conversation. Not that this mattered. In such a few words he had given the young officer the very manner of assurance he needed; at the same time eliminating what had until then been something of burden to myself in our situation. It was indeed, as he had said, "the way the Navy is supposed to operate."
At once, then, both the captain and Cdr Copeland began questioning for further detail about our operational procedures, and what we needed in support from the ship; particularly for rescue operations. In initial discourse on the subject, I stressed an important difference depending if a mission was over land or at sea. If over land, we wanted before launch to have charts and, if available, photos of the areas into which we must go. If over water, we wanted to be airborne and on our way in the general direction as quickly as possible. A few seconds might make the difference as to whether or not we could get to a man in time. Even if otherwise protected by the aviator's antiexposure suit, immersed in the chill, wintertime waters a man would lose consciousness in from 5 to 10 minutes and likely be dead of exposure or beyond resuscitation in but 15 or 20.
The captain wanted to know if we would be able to get a man if he had lost consciousness by the time we reached him. Told that it was possible, though a bit complicated, he wanted to know further details. The fact that the crewman would have to go into the water after him, brought question about the hazard to the crewman. Mention of equipment and techniques devised in aftermath of the failed attempt a year earlier brought request for description of both. Next, "Have these things been tested and proven?"
So it was explained that they had been tested to my own satisfaction, and to that of crewmen who had practiced with me. There had been no actual instance to prove it. The procedures were neither approved nor disapproved officially, but our squadron commander thought well enough of my demonstration of it to himself that he had me demonstrate it also to the Vice-Air Marshall of the Royal Air Force in San Diego. He did not order that others should adopt the procedure because whether or not it could be done depended on the competence of both pilot and crewman. In response to that the captain said:
"You obviously are confident that you could do it."
"Yes, sir though always dependent upon the overall situation."
"How about Mr. Hollis...."
"That would be something only he could decide, according to the circumstances at the time."
"I am particularly concerned about the crewman," captain Smith then said. "If, as you mentioned, someone wearing an antiexposure suit will become unconscious in 5 or ten minutes, what about your crewman if he goes into the water?"
That called for further explanation. Quick loss of consciousness would result if a man's neck and back of his head were immersed in the cold water. In a life raft, or if he was otherwise able to keep neck and head out of the water, a man wearing the Mark IV anti-exposure suit could endure much longer. Physical activity would also extend the time he could endure, especially if he knew something of how to take care of himself in the water. It was mentioned that our flight crewmen had received "water confidence" training from UDI instructors at Coronado, and that frogmen could work in cold water for extended periods wearing suits which included covering for neck and head. In conclusion, I told them, "I have a frogman suit for the crewman who flies regularly with me, and I wear one of them myself, instead of the Mark IV."
"Why don't you have them for all your crewmen?" Captain Smith quickly asked.
"Because they are not available in aviation supply, captain.. Cdr Billet, our squadron commander, inquired if they might be made available. But the people at BuAer (Navy Bureau of Aeronautics) insist that the Mark IV should be good enough for helicopter crewmen. The two frogman suits we now have were obtained by direct order of Admiral Ewen aboard the Phil Sea last December, immediately after the incident where we were unable to p pick c k up t he unconscious man."
"I see...." The captain paused for a time, as though assimilating what he had just been told. Then, "I gather, then, that you feel you could safely let your crewman go into this cold water after a man in such a case."
"Captain I nearly lost my crewman when we tried and failed to get that man last December. He then helped design the equipment and procedures I've just described, to his satisfaction as well as my own. Having nearly lost that man, I certainly would not let another go into these waters if I did not believe he was adequately equipped and trained."
Captain Smith nodded in apparent satisfaction. With a glance, he turned further questioning to Cdr Copeland.
Copeland began by saying that he, too, was impressed by the emphasis which had been placed on the time factor when someone was down in the cold waters. "So I want you to tell us," he said, "What we on this ship can do to speed you on your way."
Those things which ship's company men had to do could normally be done well within the time it would take us to get ourselves and the helicopter ready for launch. "What we need most of all," I told him, "is the opportunity while enroute to the operating area to drill our crew in readying us for launch." By way of explanation was added, "All of our crew, when we left our squadron, were every bit as inexperienced in shipboard operations as Mr. Hollis tells of himself. The circumstances aboard the Toledo, while we've been with her, have not been conducive to the kind of practice we need. They can do the job now well within the limits of Fleet requirements. But they are far short of their potential.....'
To begin with, the men needed practice just in moving the machine about on the deck, as when preparing for launch or tiedown after landing. That we could do beginning next morning, with no need for involvement of ship's men. If there might be some rolling or pitching of the deck as we did so, so much the better. They might have to contend with considerable of that during the coming months on the Japan Sea.
"After that," I concluded, "we would welcome however many flight quarters drills you may wish to fit into your operations schedule. And no need to tell us it's a drill until we report ourselves ready for launch; not even Mr Hollis or myself. We can use the exercise just as well as the crew."
There may have been a touch of surprise in their expressions as the two ship's officers looked at each other. Request from subordinates for intensive training and drills is not an everyday occurrence. The exec awaited his skipper's reaction. It was not long in coming: "Cdr Copeland I can't think of anything better the Rochester could be doing on her way to the operating area than running as many flight quarters drills as this chief feels he and his crew can use."
Just how long that initial conference with Rochester's command had lasted was not particularly noted even at the time. But when we emerged from it I could assuredly say to my young O-in-C: "We've got a good ship now, Mr Hollis. We've got the chance now to make ours the best operating unit in the fleet. And you can begin to get acquainted with some real Navy."
A small but appreciative audience watched our preliminary exercises next morning. The crew of the aftermost gun turret was at hand to swing its rifles aside, plus a few men of the deck division who would be involved in flight quarters operations. Also at hand was the Bo'sun's Mate 2c of the deck division, who watched silently and glumly, except that he appeared to find some enjoyment whenever the helicopter crew encountered some difficulty in maneuvering of the machine.
Several drills called from the bridge that afternoon, reduced our launch preparation time from three and a half minutes to an even three. That quite good performance was maintained at an early morning call the following day. But the next drill took much longer because Seaman Grap and another non-rated man had been assigned to head-cleaning duty (cleaning of washroom and toilet compartments) by the Bo'sun's Mate. They arrived as quickly as they could manage with pant legs still rolled up and wet feet slipped sockless into their shoes. Stoddard's complaint to the Bo'sun's Mate about the assignment had been shrugged aside with the explanation that all of the non-rated men in his compartment would have to take their turns at the head cleaning detail "No exceptions!"
Certainly we sought no exception of our men from a share in compartment cleaning duties. But such assignments should not interfere with their readiness for action when the helicopter was needed. Stoddard suggested that I should talk with the Bo'sun's Mate about it. That, of course, was what the fellow wanted. His action was in vengeance for my disregard of his effort to become "buddy" with myself as he claimed to have been with Lt Barnes during Rochester's previous Korean service. Similarly to the lieutenant commander aboard the Toledo, this fellow evidently wanted to inflate an empty ego by claiming a big part for himself in the helicopter operations.
It was neither proper nor necessary to cater to that kind of behavior. It needed only to be brought to Cdr Copeland's attention. The Bo'sun's Mate came to Stoddard soon after to say that himself had decided he should check with Stoddard on assignments of our men to cleaning details. "I guess you must have set him straight," Stoddard said as he reported the fact to me.
"No," I told him, "I didn't talk to him at all. But I'm sure his Division Officer did. Which is the way such things can be handled on a good ship. And we've got us a real good one now. You're going to find that most everyone aboard here will be eager to prove that to us, and to help in any way they can to smooth our operations. It's up to us now to prove ourselves deserving of it.
By the time we reached the operating area, our launch preparation time was consistently well below three minutes, once clocked at two and a half. One could not expect better than that. Along with our thanks for conducting the training we'd requested, Cdr Copeland was invited to call further flight quarters drills, as often as he and the captain might feel were useful.
Two days after arrival off Korea's east coast came a call to flight quarters with the added mention of men in the water. The mission was canceled before we had launched because another helicopter closer to the distress scene had responded. Shortly after noon came a similar call. We were airborne in less than three minutes and directed northward to report to a subcommand of Task Force 95; a half dozen small vessels operating eastward of Wonsan. Upon arrival we learned that the "men in the water" for whom we were to search had been lost overboard at 0300 that morning. Water temperature was about 40 degrees, Fahrenheit. The helicopter which had answered the previous call had searched throughout the morning then had to depart because of dwindling fuel supply. A suggestion to the commander of the fleet unit needed to be made:
"With all due respect to our lost shipmates, they cannot have survived for this long in these chill waters. I suggest it is unwise to tie up our limited rescue facilities in a search for dead bodies."
At once came response from a new voice on the radio, the captain in command of the fleet unit: "You are quite correct, angel. Return to your base at once. And thank you thank you very much...."
Within less than an hour after return to the ship there was another call; though not a dire emergency. Instead of "men in the water" this time, the call was for a "helicopter on the rocks!" One of our squadron's helicopters was down on a rocky reef close by the island call Nan-do, out of fuel and apparently with some damage. We would investigate if it might be possible to recover it before high tides or heavy seas came over the reef.
Nan-do is in fact a projection of rock jutting about 200 feet ~. out of the sea, about 3 (?) miles off Korea's east coast some 40 (?) miles south of Wonsan harbor. Jagged rocks at the base of a vertical cliff on its south side are sometimes completely submerged and other times partly above water. When we arrived at the scene, a very forlorn looking HO3S was resting on an exposed portion of the reef. Its tail rotor had been shattered on one of the rocks, the starboard wheel was down in a hole, and the main rotor blades wafted in the mild breeze flowing across the reef. There was no sign of the crew. The helicopter was abandoned.
Lowered onto the reef, Crawford inspected the machine and applied the tiedown "boots" from its baggage compartment to stop the main blades from flopping in the wind. Back aboard, he reported no apparent damage other than the shattered tail rotor. So it could be saved, if a replacement tail rotor was readily available and there might be time to install it before rising tide or heavy seas inundated the rocks on which the, helicopter now rested. Though the immediate concern was the possibility of recovering it, we could not but wonder just how and why that HO3S came to be on those rocks.
Where had it come from? Why was it at Nan-do? Who was flying it? If only low on fuel, why had the pilot not put down atop of the island, where a small US Army unit was encamped? Apparently someone from there had come by boat to remove the crew from the reef. And why had they not applied the blade boots before leaving? Any crewman should have done that, unless they assumed it would be impossible to repair or otherwise remove the helicopter from the reef and were abandoning it to the sea.
Those and other related questions were soon mostly answered following arrival from Wonsan harbor of LST 799. We were greeted upon landing aboard the 799 by a quite disgusted CPO mechanic who was plane captain of the distressed helicopter, and Chief Aviation Pilot Pennington who clearly shared the plane captain's sentiments. The helicopter had been launched from Wonsan early that morning in response to the call to search for the three men lost overboard. Instead of the usual combination of pilot and flight crewman, two lieutenant pilots had gone on the mission. Both were somewhat newcomers to helicopter flying and apparently not interested in much beyond the flying of them. Any flight crewman would have thought to "boot" and tie the rotor blades before leaving the machine on the rocks. Any pilot worthy of his wings certainly should have done so.
An experienced flight crewman might also have kept even an inexperienced pilot from making the other mistakes which led to the landing on the rocks. The two pilots had neglected to take into account the 40-plus knots of headwind which would confront them when they set out for return to Wonsan from the search area. Or they may have failed to watch carefully enough their fuel supply. Realizing they could not make it back to the harbor against that strong westerly headwind, they had flown southward to Nan-do, which was within their view. Arriving there, they had flown over the top of it, noting the encampment with plenty of open space for landing. But they didn't put down there because they didn't know if it was an encampment of our forces, or "might be one of the enemy."
On learning of that, reflecting on the incident of the cloud-circling P-51 pilots who lured us over "flak alley, Crawford and I reluctantly conceded to each other that the Air Force did not have a monopoly on knuckleheaded fly-boys. After which we joined with the helicopter crew aboard the 799 in preparations to attempt rescue of their helicopter.
The operation began at first light the following morning. Three shuttle fights were required to put the replacement tail rotor, necessary tools, the plane captain, Crawford and another crewman on the reef to begin the repair. Then the flying of our machine was entrusted to Chief Pennington to put myself on the reef. A list was ~ given to him of things needed to raise the starboard landing gear high enough that the new tail rotor would spin clear of the rock which had shattered the other one.
The plane captain chief balanced himself on that rock surrounded by water in order to replace the damaged rotor. Crawford and the other man balanced similarly on other rocks, held a sheet stretched between them in case the chief might drop either a tool or a part of the assembly. Meanwhile, with a small hydraulic jack, I began inching the starboard wheel up from the hole into which it had settled. Support was built under it with short pieces of small timbers brought from the ship.
Both operations were quite slow. Around noontime a loud "Halloo" from above drew attention to a few faces peering down at us from atop the cliff. A question floated down as to whether we could fix it so it would fly. The answer to that was a loud "Yeah!" after which all further words from above were ignored.
At 1400 hours (2 PM) Pennington hovered over the reef to deliver two cans of gasoline, plus a note. The commander of Task Force 95 had ordered that if the helicopter could not be gotten off the reef by 1600 (4 PM) it was to be abandoned and LST 799 return to its station at Wonsan. Considering how much he liked to use one for his personal pleasure and convenience, it was interesting how readily Adm Dyer seemed willing to waste a good helicopter. It appeared the machine would be ready to fly before that deadline. If not, so far as I cared, he could take his LST away to wherever he wanted providing he didn't take my helicopter with it. The one we were repairing could be flown up to the island and picked up later.
Half an hour before that deadline a small boat driven by an outboard motor brought the two lieutenants back to the reef. They stood apart watching as tools were gathered, the gasoline poured into the tank and other preparations made for departure. They seemed to be discussing something. The chief joined with them briefly then came to report:
"They were having a big discussion as to which one of them should fly the thing off of here."
"What'd they decide?"
"They didn't. I decided it for them. I told 'em neither one of 'em was going to fly it off, because you were. After all the work we've done to fix it I'm not about to give either of those clowns a chance to bust it up again. You don't mind flying it off of here for me, do you?"
"Of course not," I assured him. "I wouldn't want to take the chance of my work on it being wasted, either. But how did they take it when you told them that?"
"Hey!" he said with a chuckle, "They both acted right glad to hear it. I don't think either one of them wanted to fly it off. I think they were each trying to get the other to do it."
Very probably the two lieutenants had until then been unaware that the fellow they'd seen jacking up the landing gear was also a pilot. Both of them were likely still a bit shaken from their "rocky" landing and realization of their own several goof-ups which brought it about. Also, perched as it was midst a cluster of jagged rocks, the machine would not itself look very inviting to them. The new tail rotor was but a few inches clear of the rock which had shattered the old one. The wind, though mild, was now coming from dead astern of the machine. Their readiness to let someone else fly the helicopter off of the rocks was perhaps their wisest decisions of the day. Perhaps they had learned at least a little from their experience.
There was no reason to have a crewman in the machine. A slight over-rev for a jump takeoff brought the machine quickly clear of the rocks as it weathercocked into the wind. Holding there momentarily to feel if there might be excess vibration in the controls, the thought flashed that an HO3S not only looked like a dragonfly, it sometimes acted like one.
Though there was no indication of anything now wrong with the machine, it was proper that it be given thorough inspection before going on another mission. So it was flown directly to the LST and shut down. Pennington shuttled the five men from the reef in our helicopter, after which Crawford and I could depart at once for the Rochester. Profuse expressions of gratitude by Pennington and the crew chief for saving their helicopter were cut short by saying to them, "Wait till you get our bill !"
It had in fact been a pleasant and gratifying incident. But where are the photographers when you really could use them? A picture of those three men standing on water-encircled rocks to replace the tail rotor would have looked so well on the wall of the ready room back at the home squadron. Now the best that could be provided was a partially tongue-in-cheek "rescue" report titled, "Helicopter on the Rocks."
As Crawford and I prepared for a courier flight on 3 December, we were shown a message from KMAG (US Army advisory group based at the eastern end of the battle line). Six "bandits" (infiltrators from N Korea) had come ashore by small boat during the previous night. Four had been captured. KMAG was requesting of Rochester that if the helicopter happened to be operating along shore that day, they wished for us to be on the alert possibly to spot the two who were still on the loose.
On the way back from the courier mission we did in fact spot them. Wearing dresses over other clothing, they were moving southward on the beach less than a half mile from KMAG's encampment. A mine field adjacent to the beach (of which they were no doubt aware:) forbid them from moving inland. Simply by putting the helicopter down on the beach some distance ahead of them, they were effectively trapped.
Since they might be carrying weapons beneath the camouflage dresses, it would have been foolish to attempt ourselves to take them into custody. There was need to contact the Army. That was not possible with radio equipment aboard the helicopter. Having already radioed to the Rochester our estimated time of return, contact was again made reporting discovery of the infiltrators, that there would be a consequent delay in return to the ship, and requesting the ship to contact KMAG so they would send someone to take custody of the enemy infiltrators.
To that report the ship responded first with just a "Wait," followed shortly with a curt order to "return to the ship at once!" Thinking that must represent the decision of some other of the ship's officers, request was made that the captain be informed of the situation I had described so I might remain holding the infiltrators entrapped until Army could send someone to the scene. To that came the reply that the captain had been informed and that was his orders "Return to the ship at once!"
Puzzlement and frustration developed into anger during the brief flight to the ship. Immediately after touchdown, the afterdeck phone "talker" came alongside to say that the captain wanted to see me in his sea cabin. So great was the emotion by then as to cause a slight breach of propriety. I blurted, "It's a damn good thing he does because I sure as hell want to see him!"
Captain Smith swiveled his chair towards me as I entered his cabin and said, it seemed condescendingly: "Now what's all this stuff about 'bandits' or 'infiltrators' on the beach?"
"I had two of them trapped there, captain on the beach about a half mile south of KMAG."
"Well now, how do you know that's what they were? You saw a couple of people on the beach south of KMAG. So you assume they're enemy infiltrators. What made you so certain that's what they were?"
His tone and manner still seemed condescending, and therefor irritating. He had been so very considerate and apparently respectful of my qualifications during our first meeting. Now he had shown himself distrustful of my judgment and disregarding of my experience in the area. He even seemed at the moment to display doubts as to my intelligence and motives. The resultant feeling of anger on my part had of course to be controlled. But there was no need otherwise to conceal it. If he was the manner of officer I had first judged him to be, he would eventually recognize that such feeling on my part was well justified. If he turned out to be of markedly lesser caliber, then he would be deserving of my disrespect as well as my anger. Either way, he needed and deserved to know that by ordering me to return, rather than allowing me to remain until KMAG could be notified, two more of enemy soldiers would almost certainly be joining the thousands already operating behind our forces as saboteurs, snipers, et cetera. Curtly and forcefully, then, I responded to his question:
"Because of where they were, the way they were dressed and the way they acted when I approached them! There is no doubt whatsoever, captain, that they were enemy soldiers!"
He studied my face then, for a moment. There was no sign of resentment of the manner in which I had spoken. Perhaps rather there was appreciation that it was borne of certainty. With a marked change in his own manner he asked for descriptive details of the things which I had mentioned, and showed keen interest as those were given:
The two infiltrators were in an area from which civilians were totally banned, wearing dresses to give appearance that they were women, but carrying nothing on their heads. Women did sometimes travel to and from the KMAG camp to pick up and deliver laundry, but always on the roadway between the mine fields and always with baskets or bundles on their heads. The dresses worn by the men were oversize to cover their other clothing and possibly weapons. Of the considerable number of Korean women previously seen in that region, there had never been a fat one. When we approached the two in the helicopter they turned their backs and walked in a small circle to keep their faces averted. Their shoes visible beneath the skirts were of the type usually worn by Korean men, not the slippers worn by Korean women....
After that brief description, the captain conceded that my judgment was probably correct. But then surprisingly he began dismissal of the matter by saying that he didn't think the Army would be much concerned about just a couple of enemy footsoldiers wandering around on the loose in South Korea. My curt interruption caused him some surprise in turn:
"Quite to the contrary, captain! That is one of the Army's main concern's now!" Somewhat amazed that he would be unaware of that aspect of the military situation on the peninsula, I started to tell him what I knew of the extensive enemy guerrilla activity behind our forces. Then came realization of what must be the root of his misunderstanding, so I asked: "Captain, did you not see the message from KMAG this morning about the infiltrators?"
Again surprised, he responded: "We had a message from KMAG this morning?"
"Yes sir! Asking us expressly to be on the lookout for two infiltrators known to have landed south of our lines last night."
"No, I didn't see that." There was brief pause, then, "Well, I guess the best that we can do about it now is to inform Army of what you saw. You go to communications to give them the details. I'll alert them that you're coming and to give it top priority."
"Aye-aye, sir," served as acceptance of both his order and the unspoken and otherwise unnecessary apology now evident in his manner.
My next duty self-imposed was to curb the scuttlebutt which I knew would have begun regarding my session with the captain. In addition to my careless outburst heard by the sailor at the afterdeck phone station, Crawford was well aware of my irritation during conversations with the ship from the beach.
The first step was to contact Crawford and tell him just enough of what had transpired with the captain that he would understand my instructions as to the sorts of things he should say if anyone asked him about it. Next was to just bide some time in the CPO quarters until someone would ask me about it. That didn't happen until during the evening meal. No matter their high level of curiosity and interest, good men usually wait for a while to see if a fellow wants to talk about something without being asked. When the question came it was circumspect, from the Quartermaster Chief:
"Saw you hurrying up to the captain's sea cabin when you got back from your flight today. What th' hell happened?"
An appropriate answer was at the ready: "Oh, we noticed a couple of guys on the beach acting a little suspicious and thought the Army people over there ought to be told about it. When I told the skipper what we'd seen he agreed and sent a dispatch to Army to let them know...." Just a few minor details of what we had actually seen, plus a dissertation on the way the natives usually acted when a helicopter passed by, then satisfied the curiosity of the others. It also brought a pleasant nod of approval from the Chief Radioman who had relayed the captain's order for me to "return at once" to the ship and subsequently sent the dispatch to Army.
Yet one more thing needed to be done with regard to that incident find a way to get it out of my mind so I might get some sleep that night. There was only one man with whom I could freely discuss the things which continued greatly to disturb. A call to the Exec brought immediate invitation to his quarters.
It was evident at the outset that Cdr Copeland had already been informed of at least some aspects of the incident. Though there was still some measure of resentment that he had so summarily rejected my initial report and ordered return to the ship, my continued disturbance was in fact not at Captain Smith. In that regard, it was more important that the captain might learn my feelings towards himself were at least greatly ameliorated from what they were when I first reported to his sea cabin. The Exec's reaction on hearing that was assurance some such messages would be relayed.
There was wonder that the captain had been unaware of the extent and therefor importance to Army of infiltrator and guerrilla activities behind the lines, apart from the fact he had not seen the message from KMAG. Had he not been briefed before reaching the combat theater about the situation of our forces on the peninsula? Apparently he had not. Copeland said he had until now been equally unaware of that, himself. He wondered in turn how I had become knowledgeable of it.
Though there had been other sources of knowledge, as well, the several days and nights spent ashore with KMAG were the major reason for that awareness. Not any of their vehicles were without one or more bullet holes from nighttime snipers. When we stayed overnight, the helicopter was put in sheltered area and special guards posted. And the stories told about it by Army men at KMAG during those visits had several times been "punctuated" by the zing and splat of sniper rounds.
Therein lay the real cause of my continued disturbance. Because I was not allowed to hold the infiltrators entrapped on the beach, they might that very night be sniping at the men at KMAG. Beyond that, their interrogation after capture might have led the Army to others with whom they intended to join. The fact that I knew some of the Army men at KMAG, in the sense of having shared some time with them, made it something of a personal issue. There was the feeling of having failed a responsibility to them. In conclusion on the matter, I said to Copeland:
"If I had even suspected that I would not be allowed to stay there and hold them until Army could come pick them up, I would have developed trouble with my radio receiver when I heard that first order to return to the ship at once."
He studied that for several moments, then said, "I think I now understand your feelings. I'm quite sure the captain will, also. And I'm very grateful that you came to me to let them out, instead of either holding them in or telling them to somebody else.
Having gained the emotional release that was needed, I thanked the Exec for his time and rose to depart. "Unless you have something else to do, chief," he said, "I'd be delighted if you'd stay and chat a while about other things....
Which we did about a great variety of other things, until nearly 0300 in the morning. It was no longer an "official" conversation. Yet neither was it merely a socializing sort of thing. It was rather a unique sort of communion borne of professional interest and regard for one another. And it was therefor a stimulating and energizing discourse, not at all tiring; beneficial it seemed to the both of us.
Certainly it was so to myself. Some resentment did remain that the captain had so summarily ordered me back to the ship. No matter his unawareness of the message from KMAG. He had shown disregard of my experience and mistrust of my judgment, as though he thought I was a young "eager beaver flyboy" looking for a medal or something dramatic to write home about. But now in consequence of the prolonged session with Cdr Copeland, that wasn't likely to happen again. A good Exec, which Copeland certainly was, would quickly pass on to the captain what he needed to know from our discussion. That's another part of the way things are done in the real Navy.
Rochester was in Yokosuka Harbor at Christmastime. So also were several other ships on which helicopter units were deployed. Assembly of those several other crews at our service unit at Oppamma was rare opportunity to share directly our experiences and ideas or problems.
George Hamilton wanted to know how things were going for myself and Ensign Hollis. Some wonder remained with him and several others as to why the skipper had not assigned one of the new lieutenants as officer-in-charge for me to accompany on my second cruise, instead of a totally inexperienced ensign. Assured that Hollis and myself were getting along fine, with no problems, he asked if Hollis had ever said anything to me about medals. He hadn't, but the question aroused curiosity as to why George had asked it. He explained he did so because that seemed to be the main interest of most of the new pilots in the squadron. He had even been asked by one or more of them how to "apply" for medals.
George had even more reason for disturbance in that regard. The new pilot assigned with him had nearly lost their helicopter, a good crewman, and himself; due at least in part to such a "glory-seeking" attitude. Responding to a distress call, the fellow had flown into enemy territory without fighter escort, guided by an Air Force radar control unit. The course he flew was over one of the enemy's supply routes, well equipped with anti-aircraft weaponry. An explosive round took out a portion of one of his rotorblades, causing considerable roughness and vibration.
In panic (according to the flight crewman) the pilot put the machine in autorotation, descending into the area from which the damaging fire had come. In response to the crewman's insistence that the machine was still flyable, he reapplied power but still remained over the area until the crewman yelled for him to turn away over a ridgeline to get away from the enemys' guns. A southward course after that brought them over the site of the armistice negotiations at Panmunjom. There he put the damaged helicopter down. The machine had subsequently to be hauled away on a truck. The incident provided the enemy with yet another otherwise minor thing to make a big fuss about in negotiations.
Adding further to Hamilton's chagrin was a phone call from the Air Force radar unit which had directed the unescorted flight into enemy territory asking for the name, rank and service number of the pilot who had flown it. To his question as to why they wanted it, the Air Force caller replied they wanted to recommend the pilot for a medal. George was himself right then pondering instead if he should be recommending courts martial of his junior pilot for such a grossly foolish act. This response to the Air Force caller was partly unprintable.
"All some of these new guys seem to think about is medals," Hamilton included in the telling of that experience, "It doesn't seem to occur to them that we're out here to do a job." We agreed, that publicity about real achievements during the first few months of the conflict had drawn some gloryseeking types into helicoptering. It took but very few of those to be too many.
Thus gained from that Christmastime meeting with Hamilton, was fuller appreciation of Cdr Billett's reasons for putting Ens Hollis in charge of a unit with myself. He would have recognized the likelihood that a more senior of the new pilots might be envious or even resentful of my established reputation and notoriety; especially if the fellow was one of the publicity-seeking types. That, alone, would have been reason enough for Billett's decision. He may also have recognized in Hollis some qualities not readily seen at the time by others; some of which were evident in conversations he had with Hamilton before the latter talked with myself.
To Lt Hamilton he revealed that he had received a letter from Lt Swinburne back at the squadron, criticizing him severely for the straightforward report he had sent regarding Adm Dyer's delay of his response to distress call over Cho-do. Hollis had felt it might be improper to tell me about it. And yet another thing which he felt he should not tell me about, he shared with Hamilton: During their brief conversation on the day we first reported aboard the Toledo, Hollis had asked Swinburne for advice on how he should deal with the ship's officers. Swinburne instead had spent that time telling him how he should handle "that Chief AP" (myself) who he said would otherwise try to take over the running of the unit.
So it was at Christmastime of 1951 that I realized Cdr Billett was wise indeed in assigning Ens Hollis as officer-in-charge of our unit. And also then was more fully realized that Hollis was well worthy of that assignment and of whatever I might be able to help him gain from the experience.
On the way back to the operating area, in January, 1952, Rochester again visited Sasebo harbor to take aboard Adm Dyer and his TF-95 staff. Their expected move to use the helicopter for their personal purposes was not long in coming. Enroute to the Yellow Sea, the Chief of Staff called me aside to discuss a special mission which he said the admiral had "ot;decided" to order.
The commander was somewhat perturbed that Hollis had referred him to myself to discuss it. He felt that the Officer-in-Charge of the helicopter unit should himself deal with such an important matter, "rather than turning it over to his second pilot." Explanation that the Officer-in-Charge did so in this case because of his second pilot's considerable operational experience may not have pleased the commander. But neither did it leave him any basis for argument about it.
The mission he then outlined had the very impressive title of "Operation Junk!" The enemy was known to be using small boats (sometimes called "junks") to set floating mines adrift in the waters where our ship's patrolled off both coasts of Korea. The objective was to capture one of them. After informing me of that quite enthusiastically, the commander paused awaiting my reaction. He seemed somewhat taken aback when I simply asked, "Why?"
The actual reason, it seemed quite certain, was for publicity. The question was posed to learn what he might be using as the excuse. It generated a brief, placidly amusing exchange with the Chief of Staff. Momentarily, after overcoming his surprise, the commander said:
"So we can learn how they operate; how they handle the mines and put them in the water."
"Well, commander, I reckon I could tell you that."
"You could? Have, you seen them do it?"
"Haven't seen them actually putting out mines. But I've seen coolies loading and unloading cargo from junks out here in the Orient, and I've no doubt they'd handle the mines in the same way."
"How? How do you think they would do it?"
"With a jenny pole . Hoist the ball off the deck and hold it while they screw on the horns, then swing it over the side and lower it into the water."
There was a pause, then; probably not so much thinking of what I had just said, but of something for himself to say in response. When it came: "But that would be dangerous! That would be a very hazardous way of doing it ! "
"Mine-laying is hazardous any way you do it, commander. They've got a real good supply of coolies, and probably quite a few junks."
There may have been an element of exasperation in his look, as the commander again pondered for a few moments. "Well no matter," he said. "The admiral wants to capture one of those junks, so that's what we're going to do...." He proceeded then to outline an action plan for "Operation Junk" ridiculous enough to be well suited to such a foolish objective:
All ships and aircraft operating in the area would be ordered to be on lookout for a mine-laying junk. When one was spotted, Rochester would be informed and would proceed at once to the near vicinity of it. The ship's boat would be launched, carrying a volunteer party of marines and sailors to board and capture the enemy vessel. More than enough men had already volunteered, according to the commander, including a Marine officer to lead them. The helicopter would be launched to fly beyond the "junk" to draw the fire of any weapons it might have aboard, while the boarding party approached from the other side to capture it ( ! ! ).
The fact that the operations plan was ridiculous was in this case the more convincing that TF-95 command and staff would actually want to do such a thing. The impulse to suggest it was foolish to risk loss of a helicopter for a "little Junk" had to be restrained. Question was posed instead if the ship's command had been consulted. In response, the Chief of Staff said it had not been as yet because the mission was still in the planning stage. "And that's your responsibility now chief," he added," to work up a detailed plan for the helicopter part of the operation..." . . " He wanted to know how quickly I could provide it.
In very proper language, he was assured that it would be completed by 0800 next morning. If there may have been some inflections of tone or manner which were to his dislike, there wasn't much of anything he could do about it.
There was no point in contacting Cdr Copeland on the matter. If he may have already heard some scuttlebutt about "Operation Junk," there was nothing he or the captain really could do until it was officially presented to them. Even then, all they could do was recommend against it. A publicity seeking type of admiral was not likely to let that dissuade him from such a dramatic venture. So the need was for an operations plan to minimize risk to the helicopter in event we were actually ordered on such a foolish mission. The fact that a pilot and crewman would also be at risk added impetus to the desire to make it a good one.
Some ideas had begun to develop from the moment the commander first mentioned using the helicopter to "draw fire." The helicopter's presence would not likely keep the junk's crew from noticing a boat approaching from their other side, as the TF-95 officer seemed to think; especially since the Rochester would itself be within their view. Neither in that case would they likely start shooting at the helicopter, if in fact they had any weapons aboard to do it with. More likely they would quickly cast out nets and lines to back up the claim when approached by the boat that they were only fishermen.
If the junk did carry weapons, it would likely be only small arms such as rifles, burp guns and possibly a 30 caliber machine gun. But a hit in a vital region by any of those could knock down an HO3S. Flying close enough at low level to "draw fire," as the chief of staff said he wanted, would therefore be at considerable risk. Far less risky would be to fly directly above it; high enough (2500-3000 feet) that bullets from the shortrange burp gun would have reached their apex or lack velocity for much damage. Single rounds from a rifle had far less chance of hitting a vital spot, and a 30-caliber machine gun could not easily be fired directly upward.
Distraction of the junk's crew from attention to the approaching boat would be the proper role of the helicopter. Small arms fire coming at them from above would probably be some effective for that. It might completely discourage the junk's crew from resistance to the boarding party.
So my first consultant in CPO quarters in preparation for "Operation Junk" was the Marine Gunnery Sergeant. He had heard some talk of such an operation being considered. A "shavetail" Marine lieutenant had volunteered to lead a group of young marine and sailor volunteers as the boarding party. The sergeant's feelings about such a mission were much the same as my own. But he could readily provide the weapons I asked for.
Next consulted was the chief in charge of the ship's damage control section. He could fit steel plates on the cabin floor to protect both pilot and crewman from rifle fire directly below. No more consultants were needed. The sergeant and the chief could provide the arms and armor needed to transform my otherwise very vulnerable flying machine into a comparatively formidable, potential "junk killer." So detailed plan for the helicopter's part in "Operation Junk" was completed before taps that evening. But its presentation to the Chief of Staff could still wait until morning.
The commander's look was of rapt interest at beginning of the presentation, as I described the way the helicopter would be armed and armored for the mission. It changed to something more like surprise, shock and possibly alarm as I succinctly outlined how the helicopter's part in the operation would be conducted:
We would position ourselves directly above the target vessel at altitude of 2000 feet or more. From that vantage we would be able to clearly observe the reactions of its crew to the approach of the ship's boat. If there were signs of preparation aboard the junk to fire at the boarding party, my crewman would fire a warning burst down at the junk with a BAR (automatic rifle). The steel plates would protect both crewman and pilot if the junk fired at the helicopter. In addition to the BAR, we would carry several mortar rounds which the crewman could drop if necessary to convince the junk crew not to resist the boarding party.
It was at that point the commander's expression seemed to change to one of alarm. "But if you hit it with one of those it would sink it!" he exclaimed. "We want to capture it, so we can find out how they operate!"
"The chance that we would actually hit it with one, are very remote," I responded. "And even if we did it wouldn't sink because those junks are built of wood."
Quite clearly, the commander was stymied by that. He seemed to be searching for a way of rebuttal against something which could not be logically rebutted. He stammered a bit when he finally spoke again: "Well, yes but well I don't think we can do it that way. As I understand it, you are very limited as to how much weight you can carry in the helicopter. So I don't think you could carry all that because I'm going along on the mission, myself."
So that was it! Perhaps I should have realized, even though he hadn't mentioned it before. TF-95's Chief of Staff wanted a medal for himself; which might also help him get a fourth stripe on his sleeve. It was not something which could be mentioned in counter argument without generating into openness the personal clash which already existed sub rosa. Nor was it necessary to do so. No matter the seniority of his rank and position, circumstances were such that I could with assurance simply say:
"No, commander, you are not. I will not take you or anyone else along on a mission such as this, except one of our qualified crewman...
There were indications of rising hostility in his attitude. He may have been about to assert prerogatives of rank and position. That would have led to more direct personal conflict which should if possible be avoided. So before he could speak I added:
"...I recognize and accept that you that is to say, Admiral Dyer can order us out on such a mission. I have no objection whatsoever to that; or to the mission itself. But once we're off the deck it's the pilot who's in command of the aircraft of how it will be flown and how the mission will be conducted. It is also our prerogative in this case to decide how best to equip for the mission, and who to take with us."
After some thought, the commander tried still to argue the point, contending that if the admiral ordered himself to go on the mission, I would have to take him along. In a subtle way he was trying to "pull his rank," evading fact and logic of the situation. That was irritating enough to provoke from myself in response:
"Commander, I'm quite ready to go to the mat with you on that with both you and your admiral. In fact, I would welcome the opportunity to present this issue to Seventh Fleet, perhaps together with some other matters."
In the more prolonged silence which followed it was not at all certain if the chief of staff was searching for further argument or for a face-saving way out. I broke the silence in manner to help him find the latter:
"Now, sir, I believe the helicopter operations plan I've submitted to you is as good as could be devised in support of your operation. It reduces the risk that would be involved to both equipment and personnel if we were to just fly alongside as decoy to draw fire. And it enables us to contribute to suppression or possibly discouragement of enemy fire against the boarding party....
"I have discussed it with Mr. Hollis. We are either of us quite willing to fly such a mission, and our crewmen also. The ordnance we need is readily available on short notice. The steel plates need to be cut and fitted for quick installation. We have held off doing that pending your decision and order."
The commander seemed about to say something at one, but paused a few moments as though pondering. He then said quite calmly, "Very well, chief. As it happens, the admiral has not yet fully decided if he wants to go with the operation. So hold off on the armor plates. I'll let you know."
We parted on that ostensibly amiable note. But he never did let me know. The gunnery sergeant did, after the second lieutenant told him the operation had been canceled.
Which was a bit disappointing, really. It could have been an interesting venture; and likely not very hazardous to anyone. Even if they had weapons aboard, the crew of one of those mine-laying junks were not apt to bring them out in the looming presence of a warship which could blast them out of the water with just one well-placed round. They would have hastened instead to cast out the nets and lines they carried to back up the pretense they were only fishermen.
Besides which most of the men who manned those junks did not do so out of dedication to Chairman Mao or Kim Il Sung. They did it because they had to, if they wanted a ration of rice for themselves and perhaps for families. Bachelors among them might even want to be captured, in hopes of getting a bigger ration of rice.
But the idea was abandoned, the grand plan canceled, without further word from its author to either Hollis or myself. And one suspects the reason it was canceled was because I told the chief of staff he couldn't ride along.
So ended TF-95's "Operation Junk" not with a Bang or even an audible whimper.
We were privileged still to fly some other missions for TF-95. There were several islands in the Yellow Sea to which most or all of the staff officers had to be flown for inspections of the facilities there. It may have been mere coincidence that neither the admiral nor his chief of staff ever went while I was doing the flying. Or perhaps it was just more appropriate that the Officer-in-Charge of the helicopter unit should air-chauffeur the upper ranks, and his "second pilot" shuttle the junior officers. Cho-do and Sokto, just outside the Chinanmpo estuary, took one full day of flying. Paengyang Do, a much larger island on the 38th parallel, required two. And it included an amusing exchange with one of the passengers which served to break the monotony of the task.
Paengyang Do had sufficient of real estate that part of it was used as training grounds for S Korean army recruits. The first officer to be shuttled there for the inspections was a lieutenant commander. He arrived a few minutes after scheduled time, so we were waiting with rotors already turning. He paused at the door of the passenger cabin to ask:
"Have you made radio contact with the people on the island?"
"No, sir. We can't communicate with them directly. We have to do it through the ship."
"What?! That's no good! That won't do at all! We should have direct communications before we go flying over that island!"
"Well, we don't have it, and can't, because they have no equipment matching ours. It's no problem, really, relaying through the ship."
"Well it is so a problem a very serious problem! Perhaps you aren't aware! It's not just Americans on this island! There's a lot of Koreans over there! It's a training area for South Korean soldiers! And flying over them without direct communications could be dangerous!"
"Well, now, commander, if we had direct communications it wouldn't be with those South Korean troops. And I really don't think any of them are likely to mistake us for a MiG or a Russian helicopter. [The Soviets had no helicopters at that time.] But if you feel it's too dangerous and don't want to go, that's quite all right with me. I would ask you in that case to please send our next passenger aft so we can get started with this shuttle service."
Carefully cradling his camera, the fellow clambered aboard wordlessly. He remained so throughout the flight as he used the camera to create his stock of private "war" pictures.
Those many shuttle flights added up to a great deal of flying time on the helicopter. The more so because, being in the combat area, we were required to have a crewman along at all times and could therefor haul but one passenger at a time. When the shuttles at Paengyang Do were finished we had but 2 or 3 hours remaining until the machine would be due for a major check. So much disassembly was necessary to perform that check that the craft would be unflyable for six or more daylight hours.
There was very little flying for the next six days, as Rochester moved around to the Japan Sea onto the "bomb line" off the east coast of N Korea. Then in late afternoon of January 21, the ship departed the "bomb line," hurrying northeastward along the coast. Hollis came aft shortly thereafter to discuss a flight schedule for the following day which had been given to him only a few minutes earlier. Drawn up by TF-95 Chief of Staff, without consulting either Hollis or myself, it was a full day of flying to shuttle the entire task force staff for inspection of another island base. Because that island was remote from the operating area of TF-77's aircraft, the chief of staff had decided carrying a crewman would not be required. So two passengers were scheduled for each flight. Even so, by midmorning the demands of that schedule would bring flying time on our machine to the point where the major check was due. Completing the schedule would require that we exceed the officially allowed time overrun before doing that check.
It was not likely that Rochester's command could dissuade the admiral from so misusing our services. But we needed for our own protection to make our objections a matter of record. So Hollis and I expressed them to Cdr Copeland. To help him understand the intensity of our feelings, we told the Exec about Adm Dyer's delaying of Hollis' response to the Marine pilot's distress call back in September. Copeland assured us that our objection would be recorded and also presented to TF-95's Chief of Staff. It would be understandable if he did not relay all of my comments on the matter to TF-95.
Not Heroes, Just Good Soldiers
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©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.