The newness, novelty and scarcity of helicopters in 1950 were a considerable factor in that. The few of us who flew them were called upon for a wide variety of tasks. Thus was gained first-hand knowledge of many operations outside our basic aviation field, and acquaintance with the people who conducted them.
Another factor contributing to the scope of those experiences was my own unique situation as an enlisted pilot. The offer of commission upon completion of flight training in 1943 had been declined to avoid being limited for the duration of WW2 to the flying of just one type of aircraft. My desire was to fly all types, or at least as many as I might. I wanted also to know all that I could about aircraft mechanically and technically, as an essential element of my own standard for becoming a truly competent aviator. As an enlisted pilot I would continue day to day contact with top of the line mechanics and technicians. That resulted in a third benefit which I hadn't anticipated close association with some commissioned officers (Naval Aviators) on a mutually selective basis in the conduct of flight operations. Such an array of working associates would provide opportunities for learning unmatched in any other circumstance.
The first operational assignment with Scouting Squadron Fifty patrolling the north Pacific enabled development of flying proficiency in the finest aircraft of that time, the renowned SBD (or Dauntless) dive-bomber. It also brought a second offer of commission which was a bit harder to decline. I happened to be instrumental in rallying a half dozen of our men to save all but one of the squadron's aircraft and its vital records from an early morning fire which destroyed our hangar. Consequently the squadron commander, Lt Leonard, proposed to recommend "spot" promotion of myself to the rank of Lt (jg). In an era when two-stripe lieutenants could be squadron commanders, that would have been a very good start for a career in commissioned ranks. And Lt Leonard would have been an excellent officer to follow in such a career. But again it would have limited my flying to just one type of aircraft for the war's duration. The desire for variety in flying outweighed any aspirations to try to become an admiral. With some regret the offer was declined.
The next assignment as test pilot in Carrier Aircraft Service Unit One provided the variety of flying I had sought. By the time the war ended I had flown every carrier type aircraft in use at that time, plus a great many more. I had also benefited from the expertise of the "trouble shooter" mechanics on the flight test line and further tutelage in flying by an "early bird" of Naval Aviation, mustang Lieutenant Walt Deiter.
Postwar assignment in China flying transport aircraft provided acquaintance with several regions of that vast nation and with some of its great variety of peoples. It also brought beginning awareness of the political and ideological factors which would preclude long term enjoyment of "world peace" in aftermath of the war just ended which was supposed to "make the world safe for democracy." One flight operation was transport of US Embassy personnel from Chunking (where they had been relocated during Japanese occupation of northern regions) back to Nanking. A bit disturbing was to hear some of those embassy people extolling purported virtues of the communist leader, Mao Tse Tung, and bad-mouthing Chiang Kai Shek whose government the United States was then officially supporting.
Somewhat apart from other passengers on that flight was General George C. Marshall, in company with a high-ranked Embassy official named Fairbanks. I was not privy to their conversations. But a few years later Congressional Hearings would be held investigating the performance of Mr. Fairbanks and other embassy personnel during that period. Many years later I would learn that General Marshall's trip to China at that time had caused him to be "unavailable" for questioning by a Congressional Committee regarding his performance in and around Washington DC just prior to and immediately following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.)
That China duty also brought awareness of a "peril" of sorts for an enlisted pilot flying in multi-engined aircraft. He might find himself flying as co-pilot with a much less competent aviator simply because the other fellow was a commissioned officer. The tour started off well enough in that respect, teamed up with Lt Joe Schoenfeld, an ex-enlisted pilot and very good one. But shortly there was re-assignment to fly with two "mustang" officers who were outstanding exceptions to the general rule that enlisted and ex-enlisted pilots were good pilots. One of them I had only to coach through emergency landing when one engine failed during approach to Shanghai. The other I pulled out of a "graveyard spiral" during instrument approach to Tsingtao. Not gratitude but resentment was their consequent attitudes toward myself; especially when the lieutenant navigator and rest of the crew refused thereafter to fly with either of them unless myself or some other pilot they trusted was along.
Disturbing also was the performance of a couple of high-ranking Naval officers who we sometimes transported. Under the command of Adm Charles Cooke, a young sailor who happened to be a non-smoker was court-martialed, fined and reduced in rating for trading his allowed ration of cigarettes for souvenirs or Chinese currency on the streets of Shanghai. The court-martialed sailor, bereft of his Radioman rating, then returned to duties in the communications section at Shanghai. There he discovered dispatches between the admiral (in Tsingtao) and a captain (in Shanghai) regarding a new automobile shipped to Shanghai for the admiral via Navy transport. The admiral never saw the vehicle. It was off-loaded in Shanghai, sold for more than twice its cost, and the proceeds deposited in the admiral's account by the captain Details. Details of that Far East naval maneuver were publicized back in the USA by columnist Drew Pearson. The admiral resolved the problem by issuing an order that anyone under his command who owned a private vehicle could not sell it without approval of a member of the admiral's staff.
Rear Admiral George Dyer headed a task force involved in the turning over of surplus US Navy vessels and materials to China's Nationalist Government as part of US support in their ongoing war against the Soviet-backed forces of communist Mao Tse Tung. We were scheduled to fly the admiral and a few of his staff to Peking for a few days of "R&R" (Rest and Recreation). With only a few seats apparently to be used by the admiral and his party, twenty or more enlisted men who were on a waiting list to go on such flights were notified that space was available. The sailors arrived well in advance of scheduled departure. But so also did two truckloads of boxes accompanied by one of Dyer's staff officers. The staff officer boasted as the boxes were loaded aboard that their contents (surplus naval goods) should bring enough in barter to cover costs of a very fine time for their little group in Peking. There was not enough room for all the boxes in the plane, and no seats at all for any of the enlisted men. [Adm Dyer and some of his staff would damagingly interfere in several helicopter operations recounted in this work.
Those several disgusting incidents almost caused me to quit the Navy and sign up with China Air Transport (the commercial airline set up in the Orient by Gen Chenault of Flying Tiger fame). Several Naval and Marine aviators of my acquaintance had done so when their duty tours ended, and urged me to do the same. But Lt Schoenfeld and other of my officer squadron mates reminded that one could expect some self-serving types to show in post-war occupational forces and other soft billets. "Stay with us," one of them urged, "and help to keep that kind from taking over the Navy completely."
Shortly after reenlistment in late 1947 came opportunity to do something in that regard. Having abolished the Army Air Corps and set up the new US Air Force as a separate military service, a coterie of politicians and bureaucrats (both civilian and uniformed) in the Nation's capitol sought to do away with Naval Aviation. Navy would still operate aircraft carriers, but pilots would be provided by the newly formed US Air Force. "We must economize!" was the rally cry of Defense Secretary "Looie" Johnson. He seemed to enjoy being depicted in cartoons as wielding an ax to achieve that. He made clear that Naval Aviation was one of the first thins he intended to chop away.
VAdm. J. W. "Blackjack" Reeves, as commander of the Naval Air Training Command, was confronted with the task of proving that Navy could train its own pilots more economically as well as much better than could the newly formed US Air Force. He sought ways to keep costs down and possibly reduce them. Mustang Lt. George Hamilton on Reeves' staff suggested that using enlisted pilots as instructors would contribute to that. Pay and other costs for enlisted pilots would be some less than for officers with comparable hours of flight experience. And the AP's could be scheduled for nearly twice as much flying because they need not be assigned to collateral duties as the officer pilots would.
"All those dumb AP's want to do is fly airplanes...," was one of the things Hamilton reportedly told the admiral in support of his suggestion, "you can schedule them six days a week and they'll love you for it." Since he was previously one of them himself, George was fully qualified to so speak about enlisted pilots. In any case the admiral recognized the merit of the suggestion. So eighteen of us "dumb AP's" were sent to Pensacola to help Adm Reeves and Lt Hamilton save Naval Aviation from "Looie Johnson's ax."
But upon arrival there we encountered momentary obstruction. The lieutenant commander in charge of flight instructor training was one of those Naval Aviators occasionally encountered who disliked the idea that any enlisted men were allowed to be pilots. He said it would not be at all proper to have enlisted men give flying instruction to students who would be commissioned officers when they completed training and/or especially to Naval Academy graduates who were now in flight training. He told us to report back to him next morning by which time he might be able to arrange for us to be used as Link Trainer instructors since he definitely could not use us as flight instructors.
A quick check had to be made to see which one of us dumb AP's was senior of rank and therefor obligated to deal with the problem. It turned out to be me. So the problem was dealt with simply by informing Lt Hamilton about it. When we reported to him next morning the lieutenant commander told us (without looking up from papers he was shuffling) that he had decided it would be all right after all to use us as flight instructors. It would have been unseemly of course for the AP's to make an overt display of emotion over the Lcdr's change of mind. But two senior lieutenants and a lieutenant commander who would be going through instructor training with us seemed to find it quite amusing.
Subsequently, when seven of us after completion of instructor training reported for duty at Basic Training Unit Two we discovered that the Lt Commander in charge of it also disliked enlisted pilots. He didn't try to avoid using us as instructors. But he at once ordered the sign which said "Instructors Ready Room" changed to "Officers Ready Room." That resulted in the seven of us having a separate ready room of our own, far less crowded and noisy than the one used by the officer instructors.
Next he ordered obliteration of the "INSTRUCTOR" markings on reserved parking spaces near the flight hangar and repainting of them to read "OFFICER." When I requested assignment of just two reserved spaces for the seven enlisted instructors to share, he lectured me on the "proprieties" of an enlisted man's attitude towards officers and ordered me out of his office with clearly implied threat of some disciplinary action if I said anything more on the matter. The flight scheduling officers (a Lcdr and senior Lt) overheard that exchange. They stopped me as I departed the O-in-C's office and one of them said: "If that sunuvabitch tries to give you any real trouble about this, we want you to call us as witnesses."
Apparently unaware that enlisted pilots really enjoyed flying airplanes, the O-in-C ordered that one of us must come in an hour early every day to fly the "weather hop." That led to considerable embarrassment for him. On an otherwise crystal clear morning while checking conditions of outlying practice fields a thunderstorm was noted a-brewing and moving toward the home field. Circumstances of temperature and humidity were such that a low overcast would develop covering the entire area after the storm had passed. The order to &hold all flights" was called in and the situation explained as myself hurried to get back to the base ahead of the storm.
Looking at the still mostly clear sky from the vantage of his office window, the O-in-C decided and said to the tower operator, "That dumb AP doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Send them out!" About two dozen planes launched before the storm struck the field. Some thirty or more in line behind them had to wait until the storm abated before they could taxi back to the parking area. Those who were airborne - mostly solo students - were trapped above the quickly formed, low overcast. Throughout the morning others waited anxiously in the hangar to learn if one and another of them had found an opening in the overcast through which they could safely descend and land.
Fortunately all of them did, with the help of a Lcdr flight instructor who had also gotten airborne ahead of the storm. Some of the solo students found a practice field or pasture in which to land. Others, including the Lcdr and his student, had to put down in cultivated fields from which the planes would have to be hoisted and trucked out. Some unable to make radio contact walked to farmhouses to phone in their locations so cars could be sent to pick them up. Last to return, at mid-afternoon, was the Lcdr flight instructor with his student. As he entered the hangar he called out: "Where is that stupid sunuvabitch?" One of the scheduling officers indicated that the O-in-C was in his office. The angry instructor barged in and with no lowering of his voice demanded: "How many did we lose?"
The O-in-C's response was inaudible but the other officer's subsequent words resounded for all in the hangar to hear. "You're just goddam lucky!...," It began. Then was described with appropriate emphasis the ordeal above the overcast. First he had helped solo students find holes in the overcast through which they could see the ground, and coached them to descend not certain afterwards if they had made it safely. Then he found a thin spot for himself to dive through, beneath which the only clear area was a plowed field where he had to put down with wheels retracted.
The instructor's tirade included: "...I heard that chief call in and say to hold 'em! And what he said was to happen is exactly what did happen! Goddammit! If you're gonna order a man out to fly a weather hop you damn well ought to pay attention to what he tells you!" There followed the strongly expressed opinion that the O-in-C deserved to lose his wings along with his job and a few stripes.
The O-in-C did take some immediate corrective action on that. He sent a note to myself via his yeoman later that day, instructing that the AP's would no longer fly the weather hops. He would do them himself. Which was really about the most vindictive thing he ever did to us. For any "dumb AP" who only wants to fly airplanes would especially enjoy a solitary excursion over the Florida panhandle in the crystal clear air of early morning.
Still that action did not end the O-in-C's self-made tribulations because of the enlisted pilots in his unit. Orders arrived from BuPers in Washington for myself and Chief Bledsoe to go to NAS Memphis, Tennessee, for four weeks temporary duty in an instructor training course which was being developed for senior petty officers. The yeoman, when he told us of it, thought the orders must be something of a mistake, and that they would be canceled if we let the scheduling officers know about them. Bledsoe and I agreed that the yeoman's appraisal was correct. Then we swore him to secrecy, told no one but the other AP's about it, dutifully flew our scheduled flights for the rest of the week, and on Friday picked up the orders. They had of course been signed by the O-in-C, probably without him even reading them.
At 0800 the following Monday, Bledsoe and I were in a classroom at NATTC, Memphis, awaiting introduction into the newly devised Instructor Training Program. At 0900 a yeoman came to tell us that Lt Miller, the officer in charge of the new program, wanted to see us in his office at once. The yeoman did not know what it was about, but thought from his boss's appearance that it was something serious. Bledsoe and I knew full well what it would be about and made certain to conceal our amusement as we entered Lt. Miller's office. He had a paper in his hand as he stood to greet us. His expression was indeed serious but his greeting properly congenial. After which he said:
"You guys are flight instructors from Pensacola, right?"
He flicked the paper he was holding and said, "I just received this dispatch about you from CNATRA. It's the hottest message I've ever received from an admiral and I hope I never get another one like it..." The essence of the message as he described it was: "What the hell's the idea of taking two of my flight instructors up there for your damn' technical instructor training project: Send them back at once! Reeves."
Lt Miller's project was designed to acquaint senior petty officers with instructional techniques to enhance their ability to pass their own technical expertise on to their subordinates. It had not been his intention to bring enlisted pilots into the project. Nor was he aware he had done so until that dispatch arrived. He wondered if Bledsoe and I could help him figure out how it happened.
We could, and did. A questionnaire prepared by Miller's own group was used to make a survey of "instructor aptitude" amongst all senior petty officers with aviation ratings in the Naval Air Training Command. Because our records classified us basically as aviation mechanics and only parenthetically as pilots "AMC (AP)" enlisted pilots were included in the survey. Whatever the scoring system may have been, Bledsoe and I were among those selected for the first group and apparently no one even noticed that we were pilots.
Having clarified that point for him, we at once forthrightly acknowledged our own responsibility in the matter. We knew when they arrived the orders were some manner of mistake. We also knew they would have been canceled if we had told the flight scheduling officers at BTU-2 about them. We expected there would be disturbance there when it was discovered that we were gone, including that someone would want us sent right back. Nor would it bother us is in fact we were sent right back. We did not mind but actually enjoyed the heavy flight schedule, because of the character of the other instructors and students with whom we worked. But because the Officer-in-Charge of BTU-2 was so petty-minded and prejudiced as to deny his seven enlisted flight instructors even one reserved parking space, we felt he deserved a lesson in manners and common sense. And finally, since the O-in-C had himself signed the orders sending us to Memphis, he may have received a harsher message from Adm Reeves than the one Lt Miller had in his hand.
Miller's reaction to all that was a pleasure to behold a marvelous display of equanimity. During his several moments of wordless contemplation one sensed that he appreciated both the humor and objective purpose in what we had done; and probably regarded our actions as justified. When next he spoke it was in thoughtful regard to actions he should himself now take.
"Well, I could just send you back to Pensacola," he said, "because that's what this dispatch tells me to do. But dammit, you're just the kind of guys we need to help us get this program started...." He felt our input and appraisal would be of benefit to himself. He asked if we had found the introduction of the program interesting enough that we would as soon stay through the course if he could arrange it. If so, he would request of CNATRA that we be allowed to stay. He was not at all certain Adm Reeves would go along with it. But if we were willing he would give it a try.
We were and he did, successfully. That afternoon he informed us that Adm Reeves had allowed for us to stay. After which Bledsoe and I privately agreed that a lieutenant with enough "moxey" to swing that kind of deal with a 3-star admiral would likely one day have a couple of stars on his own shoulders in place of his present two bars. (Which G. "Jerry" Miller eventually did, plus a third star before retiring after an illustrious career.) Just how much Lt Miller's instructor training program may have benefited from my attendance at its first session would be impossible to know. But it would be my good fortune not so many months later to be at hand as "just the kind of guy" Lcdr Miller felt that he needed for another and more important task.
The O-in-C of BTU-2 showed no interest when Bledsoe and I returned as to what we may have learned at the instructor training course in Memphis to which he had sent us. Nor did he ever express any appreciation for what we and the other AP's had done as instructors in his training unit. But that didn't bother us at all because Adm Reeves let us all know that he appreciated it, and in a couple of very nice ways. When time neared that we would be receiving new assignments, Reeves sent word the BuPers in Washington that he wanted an enlisted pilot replacement for every one of us that would be leaving, and more of the same if he could have them. He also told BuPers he would like to see that we were offered some good choices for our next assignments as reward for the excellent services we had rendered as flight instructors while in his command.
So there came to Pensacola a chief AP from BuPers with a sizable list of new duty assignments to offer. For Dick Brownfield, Hank Cardoza and myself he didn't have to go past the first one. Helicopters, he said, looked to him to be made to order for enlisted pilots. A new and interesting type of flying in a machine which he thought had great potential (though there were many who felt otherwise on that score.) And with only one "driver's seat" (in the helicopters then in existence) an experienced enlisted pilot wouldn't have to fly co-pilot with some "junior birdman" just because the other guy was a commissioned officer.
There was a small problem. Navy's helicopter training facility at Lakehurst, N.J. was full up, and with a backlog of pilots waiting to be sent there. We were all due for reassignment within a few weeks. But that problem was resolved for us (no doubt inadvertently) by the top brass of the newly formed US Air Force. Among the many other things they had inherited from the deceased US Army Air Corps were several helicopters and a few pilots who knew how to fly them. They didn't see any particular value in them, perhaps didn't really want them. But they kept them, put them in a remote corner of an Air Base in Texas and labeled them "USAF Helicopter Training Unit." But then they generally neglected to send any pilots there to be trained. Despairing after a time that their own service would send enough trainees to keep them at all busy, those enterprising, ex-Army Air Corps helicopter pilots invited Navy to send some. In early October, 1949, Dick Brownfield and myself were on our way to Texas.
The USAF Helicopter Training Unit at Connally Air Force Base was not easy to find. The airman who first greeted me in an office at the main gate turned to others in the room and asked, "Do we have a helicopter training unit here on the base?" After a few moments a sergeant looked up from his comic book and said, "Yeah, we got one."
"Well where it is?" the airman then asked him. "This guy wants to know." When I had managed to elicit from those several idling airmen enough information to make my way to the helicopter training unit, I felt confident that Navy should be able to do most anything more economically than could the newly established US Air Force.
The helicopter training unit itself, however, was quite something else. One felt at once the enthusiasm of that small group of pilots and mechanics. "Pioneering spirit," it might rightly be called; the quiet enthusiasm of men joined in a new and challenging venture. After but a few minutes of getting acquainted conversation, Major Gaffney (O-in-C of the unit) asked if we would like to go for a ride. We assured him that's what we'd come to Texas for, and were at once on our way to the flight line with two of the instructors.
Though I had previously seen a couple of experimental models from a distance, to that moment I had never been close to a helicopter. The first sight of Igor Sikorsky's S-51 (called H-5 by the Air Force and HO3S by Navy) caused an amused reaction at the time which would be recalled two and half years later in circumstances where it was useful as well as amusing. The long tail boom extending from its drooping main rotor blades, plus the glint of sunlight on the curved Plexiglas of its cabin it looked like a dragonfly.
The impulse to mention the thought to the instructor, Lt Parkins, was suppressed by the fact that he had already begun to talk about the machine. It was obvious from its smoothness he had made such a presentation many times before. Yet it wasn't just a practiced spiel telling me about the helicopter. He was "introducing" me to it. He spoke of its frailties and limitations. The flimsy blades hadn't enough strength within themselves to support much of anything. Centrifugal force would provide them with strength when they were spinning at proper speed. That same force could actually rip them off at excessive speed. Its engine had little more than enough power to lift itself and a couple of people off the ground to a hover. (Unlike modern, jet-powered machines, those early helicopters could not hold over a spot by lifting thrust of their rotors alone, but only a few feet off the ground on a "cushion" of denser air created by downwash from the rotor.) Once it was in forward motion, beginning at about 15 knots air speed, additional (translational) lift would develop from the "flying saucer" or "frisbee" effect of the spinning rotor.
Parkins lifted us off, did a few twists and turns on the "ground cushion", then moved into forward flight. The surge of additional power was clearly felt as it gained the translational lift, and seemed almost to catapult us up in a sweeping climb. After acquainting me with the three basic elements of its flight controls one at a time, Parkins turned complete control of the machine over to myself for a while.
Love at first flight! It was a definite case. The vibrations of the machine flowing back through the controls, and its sensitivity to the gentlest of pressures on the controls, made one feel as though hisself was a part of it. No longer need I feel those twinges of envy (as I always had) towards the "early birds" of conventional aviation. If anything, if they could know about it, they might now envy me. "By the seats of their pants" they spoke of piloting their "flying jitneys." This "flying eggbeater" could five a man that and much more.
As we waited for the rotor to idle to a stop after he had put us back down on the ground, Parkins asked if I liked it. To the reply that I did so was added the observation that he seemed to like the machine quite well himself.
"I don't just like her," he said. "I love her!"
"Well I hope you're not the jealous type," I said in turn, "because I'm afraid that I do too."
We then agreed as we left "her" that morning that "she" was probably tricky enough to provide plenty of thrills for the both of us.
My enthusiasm for the machine was no doubt the main reason that I breezed through the training course quite easily; more easily than most others, according to the instructors. Yet the enthusiasm of those instructors had a great deal to do with it, too. Perhaps they were additionally inspired to give the best they could to me because they realized I was every bit as enthused as they were about that "new-fangled flying machine."
If any amongst the men in that Air Force unit had a larger share of enthusiasm than the others, it was First Lieutenant Russell Winegar. After I had finished the course and was just waiting for completion of the paper work to send me on my way, he suggested we go for a ride "just for the heck of it." As we shared the pleasures of the ride, we also shared feelings about other things. We talked about the potentials of our new flying machine; perhaps sort of dreaming together of what we might be able to contribute to its development.
"I really envy you Navy guys," he said. "You've got people in Washington who recognize the potential of this machine, or are at least willing to give it a chance. The top brass of this outfit aren't interested in anything but big bombers and flying blow torches. But it's not just their attitude towards helicopters that bothers me. What bothers me most if we get into another war, what's the Army going to do for close support? These wild blue yonder boys not only can't provide it the way things are now. They're not even interested in it."
There was advantage in being that much latecomers into helicoptering. Much could be learned from the "old timers" which could otherwise be learned only from experimentation. Yet there wee no "know-it-alls" among them. There were still plenty of unknowns about the machine, its potentials and foibles, to provide challenge and opportunity for a newcomer's contribution. Part of the pleasure was the sharing of ideas, successes and failures with like-spirited venturers.
In January, 1950, I accompanied one of the "old timers" aboard the ice-breaker Burton Island during an experimental exercise in the Bering Sea. "CAP" Kembro was the fifth Navy flyer qualified to fly helicopters, and the first of enlisted pilots to have done so. I flew not one bit during that cruise, and Kembro flew very little because it was quickly learned some modifications were necessary before the helicopter could be safely flown in the weather conditions which were encountered. But just discussing helicopters with Kembro was well worth the while. He was totally dedicated to the new machine and its further development.
Much was learned during that cruise of other things; knowledge that would one day save some lives. As Kembro prepared for one of the few flights he made, a "frogman" chief noticed the flimsy anti-exposure suit he was wearing and said: "Chief I wouldn't be caught dead in that thing you're wearing! But you sure as hell will be if you go in this water with it on!"
There followed, as the frogman fitted Kembro into one of his own cold water swimming suits, a dissertation on the absolute necessity of having one's head and neck covered while immersed in chill water. Kembro thanked the fellow at once for his concern and for the use of his equipment. My gratitude would be the greater some two years later when that bit of knowledge would save a man from death in chill waters off the Korean coast.
A very high proportion of Navy's helicopter pilots in early 1950 were enlisted or ex-enlisted pilots. The smallness of rotor wing aviation at that time, and uncertainties of its future, made it unattractive to career-minded Naval Aviators because there seemed to be limited prospects of promotions. Those same things made helicopters the more appealing to the venturesome spirit which characterized most enlisted pilots. Nor was that characteristic likely to change when an AP accepted a commission. Mustang Lt. George Hamilton, whose suggestion to Adm Reeves had brought us to instructor duty in Pensacola, followed Brownfield, Cardoza and myself through the Air Force unit's training and added his own to the already enthusiastic spirit of HU-1.
Lt Winegar had been quite correct in his observation that Navy had a lot of people who recognized the potential value of the helicopter. This included many other than in Naval Aviation. Ship and fleet commanders quickly saw ways in which it could be useful to them. With less than twenty machines available, fleet requests for services usually exceeded our ability to provide.
That resulted in a great variety of assignments; sometimes exciting, some amusing, never boring, and always educational. By far the most interesting and educational of mine was an assignment in mid-April, 1950, at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. There I reported to Col Victor Krulak.
In physical stature, Col Krulak was the smallest marine ever I knew. In every important measure of manhood and "marine-hood" he stood with the largest. The men in his command called him "Mighty Mouse" (outside of his hearing, of course). But as the sergeant in charge of the mess hall explained: "They don't mean it at all disrespectfully. Most of 'em like him. The few who don't it's because he insists we should act like marines, and keep ourselves in shape. Like me get rid of this potbelly I've been getting in this job. That's the kind of officer we need." (Marine sergeants, of course, are far better qualified to judge Marine colonels than are most junior officers.)
Col Krulak's task, which he was working on when I arrived, was to plan and direct the setting up of an amphibious warfare demonstration called DEMON III. My task was to be on hand to quickly transport him to anywhere he needed or wanted to go. Our first flight together (which was apparently his first in a helicopter) was a 40-minute excursion over the demonstration area so he could check on progress of the setup and when necessary talk with his men who were doing it. As he got out of the helicopter at the end of that ride he patted it and said: "Chief, you've got one helluva machine here. What we just did in less than an hour would have taken two and a half to three days if I'd had to do it with a jeep."
On subsequent flights, as we traveled between the places which he wanted to inspect, Krulak questioned me extensively about the helicopter. How much weight could it carry? How far could it go and how high? How long could it remain in the air? What other things could it do? Were their bigger ones? Or would there be...?
Perhaps it was to sort of repay me for answering his questions about the helicopter that the colonel began soon to explain to me the purposes and functions of the installations to which I flew him. Then because I began asking questions to gain further understanding of what he was telling me about, he seemed to realize that my interest in his work was as sincere as his interest in my helicopter (even though I could not be expected to put to as much use the knowledge I gained from him as he would that which he gained from me).
There was at once between us the kind of rapport which is unique to the military services, sometimes difficult to achieve, but tremendously beneficial whenever it exists to both the individuals involved and to their service. It enables men who are quite far apart in terms of rank or position to be completely at ease with each other when working or talking together, without breaking down the separateness in other respects which are essential to good military order and discipline. That rapport seemed just naturally to exist as we flew together looking down upon the demonstration he was setting up. It may have solidified when I flew him to the Amphibious Base at Coronado where he was to give a briefing about the forthcoming demonstration to an assembly which would include high ranking officers of allied forces as well as our own. The presentation would take at least three hours, he told me, so I should feel free to go elsewhere for that time, and be at hand then to take him back to Pendleton. I asked if it might be permissible for myself to sit in on the briefing. He smiled quickly and beckoned for me to come with him to the auditorium.
It was impossible for Victor Krulak not be some self-conscious about his shortness of height. It was the first thing many of his audience noticed and talked about with one another. But any except fools among them would forget that once he began to speak. "Mighty Mouse," indeed! His physical shortness had almost kept him out of the Naval Academy. Professionally he stood head and shoulders above most of his audience, and amongst the biggest and best in grasp of the subject of his talk. Also, there was subtle fervor in his presentation which bespoke innovative ability, rather than merely great knowledge of established tactics. One sensed in this very short man a venturesome Spirit which could soar as high as any and still with both feet on the ground.
His preview of the demonstration they would be watching the next week was for myself mostly a review of what I had learned while flying him over the area. The reactions of his audience were the more interesting for me to observe. Their attentiveness bespoke a mastery of them as well as of his subject. Probably none even imagined that part of the demonstration he was talking about would turn out to be preview of an actual operation which would involve some of us five months later.
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.