The Life & Times of a Chase
Sand Crab USN
Thinking back more than forty years ago, you remember things that happen in your life. And if it wasn’t for the fact that you were there and did it, you would think it was some kind of dream.
I remember the day fairly well. It was a hot day in May. And I was young and full of energy like any kid my age.
Early one morning, May 8th, 1956. I walk into a gray post office type building. I finally did it. I signed up in the Navy! It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. After the physical and written exams, we were ushered into a room with chairs and told to sit down. Then an officer came in. We were told to rise and raise our right hand. At which time we were sworn in.
Up to that point the recruiters were very nice. BINGO! Next thing I knew, we're stacking chairs, sweeping the floors, and listening to the commands of the recruiters. Like the sounds of barking dogs.
After a fast lunch, we boarded a bus and were sent down to San Diego.
Arriving at the Naval Base, boot camp was an exciting moment for me. Which, by the way, did not last for a very long time. The first night, we were assigned to temporary barracks. The next morning, we were issued our uniforms and blankets. Put our civilian clothes in boxes to ship home. And had another physical. I call this socialized medicine. They had all 55 of us line up, butt naked. When they told us to bend over and spread our cheeks, that’s exactly what one young man did. He put his hands on his face and pulled on his cheeks. We all had a good laugh. Getting our shots were something else. We would line up by name. And I was on of the first, which was good.
Because as we came out, we would pretend that we were in great pain. And pity the poor guy on the end. He was so nervous. Some of the bigger guys would be on the verge of fainting. That first day we put all our gear in a mattress bag. Which made it very bulky and hard to handle. I could barely pick it up, and I dragged it more than I carried it. With the drill instructor right behind me, yelling to pick it up. After we moved into our barracks, we settled down to our training. We were shown how to fold our clothes, so they would fit in a ships locker which was very small. When we washed our clothes we washed them in a bucket on a concrete table. Which was alright. But they had these little ropes that we used to tie our clothes on the line. One thing about the Navy, we were clean. There was and incident where one man didn’t take showers. Our company tied him to the mast of our cloth line. And scrubbed him down with stiff brushes. And then they threw buckets of water on him. His body was deep red. After that he stayed clean.
Going to our swimming classes was enjoyable, because we could get out of the heat. The first time there, we were divided into two groups. Swimmers and non swimmers. All non swimmers were told to jump in first, and in the deep end. Which surprised everyone. And scared the non swimmers. The instructors had long poles and when a recruit had a problem, they would hand him the pole and pull him out. There was this one guy who sank to the bottom like a rock. Then he stood up and raised his hand for the pole. Like there was no water. He had no buoyancy whatsoever. That night, I stood a post watch at the Master At Arms station. And one of the recruits from my company came in.
The Chief Petty Officer, asked what he wanted. It seemed he was afraid of swimming. And said he would drown. He was told he didn’t drown today and nothing was going to happen to him. And to return to his company. With that said, the recruit responded, “I’m only 15 years old and want to go home.” He was told he would be going home. But when he reaches 18 years, the Navy would grab him again. Like all Boot Camps, we did a lot of marching and physical drill. Also, we practice for hours with our rifles. They taught us a military routine with our rifles that looked outstanding at graduation exercise. With the sound of a bugle note, we went into our routine of sharp motions, moving our rifles over our head and to each side, for about twenty minutes. Going from one maneuver to another with no commands. No doubt about it. We looked good. And every Saturday, we would participate with the graduating class, for that week. Before going out on the parade grounds, the band would play “When The Saints Go Marching In,” which gave us a lift.
Some of our classes were pretty basic. And some were very interesting. We went to class for rowing long boats. First we were given instructions which we wrote down. And then we were assigned to a boat. Since I was a squad leader, I was the helmsman. Everything started OK, I knew the commands for striking the oars and calling the strokes. But as we approached the other side of the base, I was in danger of grounding the boat. And forgot the proper command. So a instructor came over and took command. Very embarrassing for me. Another class that was interesting was fire fighting. it’s a serious subject for the Navy, as all sailors on ships are basic fire fighters. After our instructions, we formed into groups of 6. And took turns with the fire hose. Let me tell you. To this day all fire fighters have my respect.
We had a block building set on fire. And with hot flames and blinding black smoke, we went in. You couldn’t see anything. And it was very hot. In the darkness, we were doing the best we could. Until the order came to pull out. Every morning we had inspection, before going to chow. We would march out to the parade grounds. And stand in open ranks. The inspecting officer would come down through the ranks and check each sailor. We would stand there with out hat in our hand. And with our thumb turn our T shirt collar out. The officer would be looking for any ring around the collar and dirty hat.
Being that it was a hot summer in San Diego. I received a sun burn in the shape of a V from my navy jumper. And it went from bad to worse. One morning my T shirt stuck to my sunburn. And when I opened it the skin was on the shirt. The officer made a face, but moved on. The only other incident in ranks. Was when I was asked if I had shaved this morning. I responded that I never shave. That really set the officer off. He yelled out for everyone to hear. “That every man in the Navy shaves!” For the next few weeks I cut the hell out of myself, quite a few times. Every company spends a week in the mess hall. The first day, I came down with the flu. And I was sent to the base hospital. The first two days I was very sick. So I stayed in bed and they brought a food tray to me. But on the third day, I was taking the trays around . There was this one sailor who had been in a fire. And his face was messed up. It made me feel sick. So I asked the officer in charge, if I could go back to bed. Which I did. There was this one guy who went to the beach and received one hell of a sunburn. And all the bubbles on his back came together. And formed one big bubble on his back. Never seen anything like it. When I got better, they had me mopping floors in the bathrooms. And the medic would come in and I would pull my pants down for an injection and keep mopping. Was glad to get out of there.
After a few weeks, we were allowed to go into town. And we had to wear our uniforms. Before we left the first time. An officer talked to us about what we could do and not do. Reminded us that there were ex military people out there. And others who would try to take our money. Or get us in trouble. He reminded us that we represented the U.S. NAVY. And our actions would reflect on the Navy. Good or bad, he said, if a civilian falls down drunk in the gutter. People only see him, one person. But, if a Navy man falls down drunk in the gutter, people will say, “See all the Navy is like that. A bunch of drunks.” What he said was true and we understood very well.
Being that my buddies and I had only a few dollars, there wasn’t too much we could do. Went to the U.S.O. and played pool and ping pong. Or walked the streets or take in a movie. Through the years of my service I have run into people trying to save me. The first time was downtown Sand Diego. We were walking down the street minding our own business. And some guys says, “You know, we serve hot coffee and cookies upstairs for all service men.” Well, we went in and sat down with other people. We had our coffee and before we could finish. Some guy stood up and started to give us a sermon about hell and damnation. I looked at my friend and said its time to go. We walked over to the door. And some guy said, you can’t leave till its over. At that moment, I was thinking what the officer at the base had said. He was right. Anyway, I told the guy at the door. I’m going through the door and it would be a mistake to stop me. So, he let us out. Live and learn. When our company graduated we were all assigned to different schools or directly to the fleet. I had applied for Aviation. So I was assigned to a prep school in Norman, Oklahoma. The day we boarded the bus to leave the base. I remembered that first day and how I struggled with the mattress cover. This time I picked up my duffle bag with one hand. And with a push of my right knee, threw it on my shoulder. I guess all that training paid off. I really felt good about myself.
After spending two weeks at home, with my parents and high school friends. I took a train out of downtown L.A. On board was another shipmate from my company. The train ride was nice. Gave us a chance to relax, play cards, and see the country side. In El Paso, Texas, the train stopped. So we got off to go into the station to buy something to eat and read. When we came out. The train was on another track. And it was pulling out of the station. We had to run and jump on a moving train. That really scared us. Because we didn’t have out hats and all our gear was on the train. If we would have missed it, it would have meant big trouble. Leaving the west coast, it was cooler. And we were wearing our dress blue uniforms, which were heavy wool. Arriving in Norman we got the shock of our lives. When we stepped off the air condition train into 112º temperature. The base in Norman was located next to the University of Oklahoma. And it was out in the country. It had one jet plane and a few Navy corsairs, but no runway. We were given temporary barracks. And until we formed a class, we could do whatever we pleased. Due to the heat we were allowed to wear our T shirts without the outer shirt. And we went swimming every day for about three days. When the company was formed, we started classes.
They were giving us a little bit of everything. To see what branch of Aviation we would like to be in. And also if we qualified for certain fields. On one of my first post watches. I reported for the 12 to 4 a.m. post watch. The sailor I relieved said, “watch out I hear a snake over by the back side of the building.” No problem. I didn’t go near the backside. The training was mostly technical and some hands on experience. The only marching was going to class. There are a few things that stand out in my mind.
Regarding the training, they had us stand behind that jet plane. So we could feel the hot blast. And know how dangerous it could be. Our water safety training was more interesting this time.
They had this high long rail suspended over the pool. We climbed up to a platform, high over the water. We were fitted with a parachute harness. And then pushed out on the rail. With a thumbs up, they dropped me into the pool, harness and all. It was heavy and made it difficult to swim. I made it alright. Some guys had to be pulled out.
We had a class on starting the engine of the corsairs. After two hours of instructions, we were lined up to take our turns. When my time came, I climbed in. I started to flip a switch, when my instructor yelled, “Don’t touch that! What are you trying to do? Blow us up!” He helped me start it, which was great. He asked me what I was striking for. I told him aircraft mechanic. Which he replied, “God help us!”
Walking over to the chow hall one day. I saw a company of white hats, in formation marching to chow. They had the brim of their hats turned down over their face. On the back of their shirts they had a big P, for prison. They had guards front and back, with shotguns. They were from the stockades. One particular night, I had the duty and pulled a post watch in the stockade. As I went in with a few more guys, We saw an inmate at the sewing machine. We ask him how it was in there. He remarked, “Its OK, but they won’t let me wear my lipstick.”
That night I had the mid watch. We were told to walk around the inside courtyard. And if our foot steps stopped, we might end up staying ourselves. I didn’t stop for the whole four hours. And I was glad to get out of there.
Liberty in Norman was not much. So we took a bus up to Oklahoma City. On our first weekend off. Our Chief Petty Officer, gave us a speech. It went something like this. “Do something wrong and your ass is grass and I’m the lawn mower.” How could you forget a moving speech like that. At the time I was there, it was 1956. There were two hotels. The Black hotel and the Hudson hotel. And that’s where the Navy stayed. We stayed at the Hudson that night. I found out that the third floor was for military only. Getting off the elevator, there seemed to be mayhem on that floor. Guys running from room to room. People drunk in the hallway, passed out. There was one room that the door was open and the sailor was passed out. So we took his beer that was on the table.
I want to say one thing. I didn’t drink or fool around at this time in my life. As I was still a kid, watching what everyone else was doing. The good, bad and ugly. Six of us went into town to a strip joint. Now Oklahoma, was a dry state. In other words, no liquor. But when we went to this club, the waiter said we could have anything. As long as we kept the bottle on the floor. They had some deal with the police.
Anyway, this club went out of their way for us. After the floor show, the strippers sat on our laps. I believe that they were hoping we would go back to the base and mention their club, and say how great it was. Going back to our room, there was a lot of commotion at the end of the hall. So we walked down to see what was going on. There was three guys, one looking over the transom, one looking through the key hole, and the other waiting his turn. The door opened and out came this white hat with a woman. Everyone was asking who was going to be next. Someone indicated me. But I said no way. I asked her how old she was.
And she said, twenty four, but she looked more like forty. And I was only eighteen! Back at the base, the following morning, there was a notice on the bulletin board. All personnel who stayed at the Black Hotel, report to sick bay. How lucky could I get. I stayed at the Hudson. After completion of prep school, we received our certificate of completion. I was assigned to Aircraft Mechanic School. It was located in Memphis, Tenn. My class was specializing in jet engines.
The following morning, we boarded buses which took us across Oklahoma, Arkansas, into Memphis, Tenn. Along the way we stopped on the outskirts of Little Rock at a ranch. I believe the people who ran it had a contract with the Navy to feed us when we came through. When we got off the bus these civilians were yelling at us to hurry up. We all had to take a pee. But there was only one toilet for about sixty or seventy five men. So three or four guys would crowd around at one time. When it came my turn, I was too self conscious and couldn’t go. So I ran behind the building and went on the wall. Coming into Memphis, we cross over the Mississippi River. I saw it for the first time, and it was big. This was going to be my home for the next three months…
When people hear the name Memphis, Tenn. They each have their own vision of what its like. When I think back about Memphis, in the year 1956, I come up with a vision of depression. Maybe you’ll understand why after you read this. Our base was located outside of the town in the boon docks. It was called Millington, Tenn. The base itself I liked. It was big and our barracks were newer, compared to what we had before. After our class was formed and we had our indoctrination about the base, we started classes right away. There was a lot of white hats. But we also had Marines, and some servicemen from other countries.
The Navy and Marines would make fun of one another. But I can say that every sailor, always gave credit and respect to the Marines. We just never told them. When the Navy marched to class. Sometimes you couldn’t tell if we were marching or shuffling. And when we reached class, we would be ordered to fall out. But when the Marines, came to class we took notice. They were sharp and stood inspection every morning. We did socialize and talk to them. And heard some stories about Marine life compared to ours. I know I joined the right service. There are two stories that stand out in my mind. There was this Marine, who had a dirty rifle. So the D.I. held a funeral for the rifle. Had the young man dig a six foot hole and bury the rifle. And then dig it up and clean it. And sleep with it for a week. The other Marine, who had a spot on his belt buckle, was restricted to the base. Going to school here was more interesting. We had a chance to get hands on experience and tear down and rebuild jet engines. We still had classes on survival.
One morning we were instructed to get our swimming gear and were marched over to the other side of the base. Where they had this large pool. As we went in, the first thing I looked for, was the high diving board. As I hate jumping off high places. Lucky me, no diving board. We were ordered to form a single file line and we walked around to the other side. There we were, ordered to climb a ladder into the rafters. Which was like two stories up. And we had to jump into the pool from there. That did not make my day. While I was stationed there. Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. While he was singing “Your Nothing but a Hound Dog,” a few white hats were dancing around. One time we were watching Victory at Sea. And when the battle of Midway came up, the Japanese students got up to leave. We asked, “Where are you going?” To which they replied, “We want to leave while we’re still winning.”
I think one of my loneliest times was in November, on Thanksgiving. It was a cold dark day. And I stood in a long line to receive my turkey dinner. But it passed. We were given just about every weekend off. And on my first visit to Memphis, I saw segregation and racism for the first time. I remember it mostly on the bus. I got on and paid my fare. But when I sat down, I made the mistake of sitting next to a black person. The bus driver stopped the bus and ordered me out of my seat. The white people didn’t like it. But what surprised me, was that a few black people didn’t like it either. In town, I discovered the theaters, restaurants, and businesses that had one place or door for blacks only. Being from California, and going to school with black kids, it made me feel very uncomfortable. The water front by the river reminded me of Wilmington, Calif. Just a dirty industrial type working area. That had no redeeming character. The downtown streets were dirty. And people were very unfriendly. Of course this was only my own opinion at that time. I’m sure there are nice people and places there. One time when my friend and I were on the corner, a man came up to us and asked us if we were looking for girls. Who could say no. So we went to this place where they were having a social, or so we thought. It turned out to be some kind of revival meeting at church. They wanted us to sign a paper giving them permission to take so much money out of our checks. So they could buy advertising on bus benches. They all looked like a bunch of hoods. And they had mostly old people there. I believe under false pretenses. So we just got up and left. As we walk past the front of the church, I read a billboard for coming events. And appearing next week was Victor Borge. We jumped a bus and headed back toward the base. On the way, we saw a small carnival. So we decided to get off.
Big mistake! As we were walking thru the carnival, this guy called us over. Wanted to show us how to double our money. To this day, I think we must have had stupid written on our faces. So we continued down the fairway, and came across some girls who were having a strip show. And we were broke. Not only that, but we had to walk back to the base. Stupid. Stupid.
Being from California, I wasn’t used to cold weather. Sometimes we had hard rains and cold winds. And I wore my wool sweater and pea coat. And I still froze. On our last day of class and graduation, we all thought we had a chance to be stationed in California, because the previous classes were being sent there. The way it worked, the man with the highest score had first choice. Being that most of us were from California, we were shocked to find out that there were no openings for California. We were offered Pensacola, Fla., Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Corpus Christi, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and Beeville, Texas. Well, I didn’t like Memphis. And Florida and Cuba were too far from California. And Corpus Christi, was a large Navy installation with a Admiral. I could see al the inspections. So I chose Beeville, Texas. The only trouble was that it was a long way from the ocean and sea duty.
After taking two weeks leave, I headed toward Texas, on a bus. After leaving San Antonio, it was late at night. And I couldn’t make out anything in the dark. When we pulled into town, the bus stopped on a gravel lot. Next to a small white building. That seemed to be vacant. That was the bus station. Looking in both directions, the town seemed empty. There was one hotel at one end of town. And a restaurant at the other end of town. Two traffic signals, with no traffic. A one horse town with no horse, but probably near by. Welcome to Beeville, Texas, and my Navy career.
Transportation to my base, was a shuttle bus. (Volkswagen Van) The base was five miles out of town. As I saw the base for the first time, I notice the big sign N.A.A.S. Chase Field. After showing my papers to security, I was instructed to report to the officer of the day. In the dark I made my way to a temporary sleeping quarters assignedto me. All the barracks and buildings were pre world war 2. The following morning a few new white hats and myself, walked over to the chow hall. In the day light, I could make out the layout of the base. Walking up the road, I saw a armadillo. I felt a million miles from the ocean. After chow we were given a indoctrination of the base. And then assigned to our unit.The primary function of the base was to train pilots. There were two units, C.T.U. 203 and C.T.U. 213. C.T.U. stood for cadet training unit. I was assigned to 203. Being out of school, I had limited knowledge. But the crew I was assigned to, had a second class in charge. There were five of us. Lucky for me he was a good teacher. He taught me all about the tools we had. Got to the point, I knew the size of the wrenches, without needingto pick it up and read it. The crew leader also cut hair for some of the sailors for a dollar. A lot of career service men had part time jobs in town. Or sold insurance, stocks, or anything that could help them make ends meet.
Compared to today’s pay schedule, service men in the 50s were paid very little. Base housing consisted of plywood prefab homes. And at night, you could see light thru the corners and seams of the house. The first plane I worked on, was a Panther F9F 2 which was used in Korea. The first time I was out on the flight line, I was next to a aircraft, that was throttling up to a high rpm. And then bringing the throttle back to idle. When you do that in rapid succession, it sends a shock wave or vibration across the tarmac.
When I first felt that, it scared me being that close. But I would improve thru the years. One day while cleaning up the mechanics shop we came across a baby rattle snake, about the size of a pencil. It had made its way in behind a cabinet. Everyone was poking at it, to make it strike out. I’m just glad the mama wasn’t around. My time in 203 was cut short. Every sailor must serve at lease three months in the chow hall. What they do is take all new men and if they have not worked in the chow hall at other bases, They would be picked this time. I had made it thru school and didn’t get picked. But once you serve your time, they put it on your record and they won’t use you again for that. Just when I was getting adjusted to working and finding my way around. I ended up in the chow hall. That’s a story in itself. The first thing we had to do was go down to the base hospital and have a short arm inspection. At lease I had a few friends with me. We walked in and told the medic what we were there for. I guess he didn’t want to look at our peckers. So he said, “I will sign the paper work and just tell them I checked you.” Fine with us. Working in the mess hall was something else. We were up at five AM and would stand inspection first thing. We wore white pants, T shirts, white hat and a white apron. Then the Warrant Officer, would walk thru the ranks looking at our hands and nails. We would work serving, wiping tables, helping the cooks, cleaning pots and pans or washing the dishes. After breakfast, we cleaned the grills, drain the steam tables and shined the copper pipes with ketchup and mop the floors. After it was inspected and passed, we were allowed to return to our barracks. And we changed into clean uniforms for lunch. And repeat it all over again. And the same for dinner. We usually finished our day around seven PM.
I remember one particular evening, I was dead tired. And everyone had left for the base movie. I just dropped in my bunk and went to sleep. The next thing I know, my friend wakes me up . And tells me I’m late for formation and they are calling my name. So I jumped up and grabbed a clean uniform. I ran across the street and discovered the mess hall was closed. It was only eight PM and I had slept for one hour. My friend had pulled a joke on me, which I didn’t really care for. One day we had a guy who was smarting off and making a ass of himself. So the cooks who were twenty year men, picked him up and put him in a revolving oven. I never saw a kid so scared. One time, there was five or six of us sitting around this tub. We were cracking eggs for the morning breakfast. And we had painters scraping the ceiling. So you can guess what happen. Some of the ceiling went in the eggs. But we didn’t say anything and served the eggs just that way. Sometimes we would run out of potatoes. In that case we would add a lot of flour and water. Sometimes it would have too much flour. And it was like glue and you had a hard time getting it off the spoon onto the tray. If we had too much water, we could pour it on the tray. These things didn’t happen all the time. In fact we served very good meals. The Navy ate well. One day we were returning to the barracks and there was a heavy storm. As we got ready to cross the road, lightening struck a telephone pole in front of us. The noise was deafening and the pole was a mass of flames. We just froze, and the man in charge couldn’t get us to move. He was yelling, cursing and threatening to put us on report. We couldn’t care less. We waited awhile till we calmed down. And then went across the road to our barracks.
Some of the Navy cooks were very good, but they would come and go. The food could be very good to very bad. We had one cook who specialized in bread and rolls. They were the best. Our Warrant Officer was something else. He wore white shorts when he could. And being a heavy man, he didn’t look very dignified. We didn’t like him at all. He was not a person you looked up to with respect, officer or no officer. There was this time when we were standing in formation. And we had civilian painters working on ladders around us. So our leader came out. And for some reason, wanted to criticize us on profanity. And began by telling us, he didn’t like to be called a Mother Fucker or a Son of a Bitch. Because he does not fuck his mother and his mother is not a bitch. Well let me tell you, it took everything we had to keep from laughing. A few were smiling and they were put on report. The civilians were shaking there heads.
When your young, you have the energy to go on forever. And can be real tired from running around and working all day. And a hour later, shake it off and go into town. Sometimes coming back to the base at two in the morning. And get up at five, work all day and repeat it all over again. While I was assigned to the mess hall. I had my first experience going down to Laredo, Mexico. Four or five guys wanted to go, and make what you call a speed run. And it was, as we had to be back at the base in the morning. Except for a few small towns, it was wide open desert all the way. Anyway this particular time was my first. I didn’t drink, so I was the designated driver. We went thru downtown Laredo, Texas and crossed the bridge. And drove to a neighborhood we called boys town.
I would describe it as a western town from the past. Having dirt roads and pot holes five feet wide. Most of the bars had swinging doors and loud music. This particular area was prostitution big time. On some streets little rooms, all in a row on both sides. With women sitting in chairs half naked. They were young girls to old ladies. They were called the clap shacks. And we stayed away from them. Every bar had apartments or rooms for the girls and their tricks. When you parked your car, someone would come out of the shadows to collect a fee to watch your car. It seemed like everywhere you turned someone had a police uniform. So they could intimidate people for money. We always paid the guy a dollar or your car would not be there when you returned. Going into the bar it was smoky and the music was loud, mostly Mexican, sometimes rock and roll. You no sooner sit down and a girl is there. Well my friends wanted me to experience drinking. So they ordered me a gin with ginger ale. Not bad! So after a few drinks, this older sailor wanted to go for a walk. So I joined him. By this time I was feeling pretty good. The drink did its job. As we were walking, a Mexican police patrol stopped us. They frisked us for weapons or a bottle. So I made a smart ass remark to the officer in charge. Referring to the officer, I told my friend, “Look at the soldier boy and his shining metals. “ With that my friend kicked me in the leg. The officer told my friend to keep a eye on me. As I could get both of us in trouble. After they left, my friend said, we could have got arrested at the drop of a hat. I was very lucky that night. Mexican jails have hot and cold running bugs, and you never get out. The first time there, I got drunk and a major headache. And someone else drove.
It would be the beginning of a new experience for me. After serving three months in the chow hall. I was transferred to C.T.U. 213. I would call this home for the remainder of my time at Chase Field. Before I go on with my story. I first want to say, that I remember the officers and sailors, were hard working, responsible and very dedicated to doing their job. There were a few dead heads, but on a scale of one to ten, I give them a nine plus. There was a genuine respect for the officers in our unit. As they were all pilots, and we knew the dangers and responsibilities they had. Also, our job as mechanics, electricians, hydraulics, etc., were important. We knew a mistake on our part, could be fatal, on the ground or in the air. So it didn’t matter how stupid or wild we were in town. We were all very professional at our jobs. The first assignment I had, was as a plane captain. It was my job to see that the aircraft had fuel. Checked and inspected the tires, the skin and control surfaces. When the pilot came out, he would do the same thing. Then I would help the pilot buckle up. I would signal for a NC 5 (mobile generator). They would plug it into the aircraft and the pilot would start his engine. After checking the controls, I would taxi the plane out of his parking spot. We used hand signals and at night we had special lights we used. When the planes have left, we could sit back and watch planes come and go. That was something I never got tired of. To see a flight return and peel off in formation, one at a time, to come in for a landing. After an hour or two they would return. And when I spotted my plane, I would direct it back to its space. In the time I spent on the line as a plane captain. Three incidents stand out in my mind.
On one particular day, which I believe was on a Saturday. A pilot took off to go on a cross country flight. After he left the base, his plane had a flame out. And he made a wheels up landing in a cow pasture. I was in the line shack, getting some paper work on a aircraft. I was telling a friend about what happen and I heard the pilot was going up again. I remarked that he had a lot of guts. What I didn’t know, was that the pilot was standing next to me. He turned to me and said, “that’s me, you know if I went home to think about it. I would scare myself. So I’m going up to get over it.” The white hats in my unit always said, The Air force has great planes. But the Navy has great pilots! Another time that stuck in my mind, was on the flight line. My plane had taken off. And I figured he would be gone for at least an hour. So I went over to the Navy Exchange to buy something. Well, when I returned to the flight line. My aircraft was sitting on the ramp, not parked. And the pilot had the sailors in my division, marching back and forth. I thought, “man, I’m in deep shit”. He had the white hats push my aircraft back into its spot. Then he came over to me. I’m thinking Captains Mast. He ask me where I went? I explained that I didn’t think he was going to be back so soon, and what I did. This had to be one of my lucky days. He said, “don’t do it again” and left. My shipmates thought I was really in trouble. The pilot was mad for two reasons. First, was because they ignored him when he landed, because it was my aircraft. Then when he got out of the plane. He walked over to see what they were doing. He caught them shooting dice. That pilot, later became my unit commander. And years later, a very famous and courageous prisoner of war. Lt. Commander Stratton. Another time a pilot came out and wanted to check the gas in the wings. It was a very hot day. And I told him not to do it, because gas expands from the heat. Well, he open it anyway. And the gas shot out all over him. So he went back and took a shower and when he came out a second time. He did it again and had to go back in for another shower and flight suit.
I had been to tech. School and wanted to be in the power plant division, working on jet engines. But I couldn’t get a transfer. I knew if I didn’t do something. I would be on the line forever. As a kid, my mother took me to a clinic for a hearing test. And I knew I had a small hearing loss. Which had no effect on me, one way or the other. So I went to the base hospital. And told the doctor, I was having trouble with my hearing. So he gave me a hearing test, which I honestly failed and I knew I would. The doctor told me it was from the loud noise of planes. So I asked to be transferred to the power plant division. As I would be inside the hanger away from the noise, which the doctor got for me. What the doctor didn’t know, being a mechanic and working on the engines. You take the plane out on the flight line and start it up. And check for oil leaks and hydraulic leaks. We also check out the pressure gages, rpm and everything in general. In the process, you are exposed to extreme noise levels. Much more then I was ever before. I was a very happy sailor. I was now a aircraft mechanic doing what I like. As I think back about myself and all the young men, just kids, but also men. We did our job very well. And today I wonder, if the people of this country, realize that our country is being protected and taken care of by our younger generation. Some not old enough to shave. Trust me, they are doing a damn good job. One weekend I went down to the hanger. I was picking up our liberty cards for our section, so we could go into town. The hanger was empty and as I was crossing the hanger deck, I was looking thru the cards for mine. I wasn’t paying attention. And there was a tail assembly that was lowered on the deck. As I was walking with my head down, my head hit the tail. The cards went flying everywhere and down I went. I had knocked myself out.
When I got up, I looked around and thought, how embarrassing. Glad no one saw me do that. One time we were cleaning up the hanger. And I was sweeping under a plane that had its wings folded. Well I raised up and hit my head on the corner, where the sheet metal comes to a point. I didn’t hurt my head, but I took a swipe at the wing with my hand. I guess it was a reflex. As a result, I tore my hand wide open. It didn’t really bleed, But I could see white strings (nerves) inside the hand. So I walked over to sick bay to get it sewed up. The medic on duty, was someone whom I met the day before in town. So while he sewed it up, we talked about his family and what he was going to do in the future. At that time in my life, I was more macho. Today I would probably faint twice. First when I hurt myself and second when they sewed it up. Kind of chicken with old age. Beeville was a small town. I remember the population, because it equaled one mile, 5,280 people. They had a American Legion Hall on the right side of the highway, when going into town. And Saturday nights, it was the place to go. They had a three piece band. Well three cowboys, one violin and two guitars. Now being from California, I was not into country western music, but it grows on you. By the time I left the service and Beeville. I knew the names of all the country singers and most of the words to the songs. A enjoyable evening could be had, sitting in a car out on the highway. Having a beer and picking up the Louisiana Hay Ride, from Shreveport, Louisiana. Or as we drove to San Antonio, we would all sing along… In 1814 we took a little trip. Along with General Jackson, down to mighty Missisip. I still remember the words. One time a friend and I went down to Corpus Christi, to see a Johnny Cash concert. And that’s before anybody in California knew who he was.
We also went up to San Antonio, to see Jerry Lee Lewis. But in the afternoon, we took in a movie. While we were sitting there, a kid the same age as us was raising hell and making noise and showing off thru the whole movie. Then we discovered he was the one and only Jerry Lee Lewis. After what we saw, we didn’t want to go to his show. When I was in the Navy, I did very little drinking. As I would just get sick, a very bad feeling. But there was one of those times, when I made a complete ass of myself. On Saturday morning, they had a formation at the hanger. As we had to replace some fittings on all the flaps of every aircraft. And we were going to work the whole weekend. And I had gone out on Friday night and had one too many. Now if you can picture a military formation of men, standing at attention. And in front of us, our division officers. All facing the unit commander. Now the unit commander was getting ready to issue our orders and explain what he expected of us. About that time I had a strong urge to throw up. So as military as I could look, I marched out in front of the division and between the division officers. And threw up in front of my unit commander. But that’s where the trash can was, so I had no choice. Afterwards I turned around and marched right back into formation. Not a word was said, but most of my shipmates were laughing. But the main thing, I didn’t get in trouble. That same morning after breaking formation. I climbed up on a wooden crate and curled up like a cat. Our Chief Petty Officer came over and asked, “Who wants to volunteer to work today?” I spoke up and said, “I volunteer to work tomorrow.” Which got a big laugh. I have always wanted to fly in a jet plane. But to fly, you had to qualify in a pressure chamber and ejection seat training. One Chief told me no because of my ears, which he heard about. So I got permission from another Chief.
So I was sent down to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station with other men taking the same training. We were issued oxygen mask. Sitting in the chamber, I saw this rubber glove hanging by a string. And as they took the air out of the tank, the glove inflated. We went up to 35,000 feet. We were instructed to take our mask off and give our name, rank and serial number. After we finished, they started to let the air back into the chamber. We had to stop for a moment, as one of the men couldn’t clear his ears of pressure. So they took a air hose up his nose to relieve it. As we came down the rubber glove which was like a balloon deflated. And so did our stomachs. As a results, we were all passing gas. So when we all took off our mask to leave, surprise, surprise. What a disgusting smell, thirty or more men all at once. After that we were strapped into a ejection seat. When you pulled the trigger, you are shot in the air on a rail. Afterwards we were given a card to verify that we were qualified. They told us that we were the last to receive them. From now on they were just going to put it in our service record. It has a picture of a pilot. With the seat of his pants burned off. Across the face of the card, it has O.M.I.A.S. and dated December 18, 1957. I still carry it in my wallet. After I returned to my base. There was a plane captain who knew a pilot and he got me my ride. It was in a TV 2, which was the same as a Air force T 33 trainer, made by Lockheed Aircraft. After we took off and gained altitude. The pilot let me take the controls and make a few turns. Then he made a barrel roll. I thought that was great. Then he flipped the plane upside down and we were in a free fall for about 5,000 feet. As I watched the altimeter unwind, I was having a great time. Unfortunately my stomach did not like it. And military aircraft don’t have bags for the occasion.
So I did the next best thing. I used my helmet, hoping he wouldn’t flip the plane again. We approached the field and made three or four touch and go landings, which I really liked. Afterwards I hid my helmet and cleaned it later. I have stood post watches on aircraft that have crashed. it’s a very haunting and sobering experience. You can smell the burning magnesium and if the pilot was in the plane when it went down. You can smell the burnt flesh. One Saturday when I had to stand a post watch at the hanger. We had a pilot go down somewhere out of state. The parking lot was empty, except for his small sports car. The whole unit truly mourns and feels for the officer and his family. Our base was out in the boondocks. And we would run across different kinds of wild life. At night time we would keep an eye on the ramp, when walking our post. Because you could be looking at a rope or it could be a snake. Also we had desert rats, that were as big as a small dog. They also had a bad smell. For the time I was there, only twice did I have a problem. Some guys coming back to the base, ran over a rattle snake. And it was very large. They had brought it into the barracks to show everyone. I hated that, but I tried to be cool. But I told myself to remember the snake would be around somewhere, and to watch out. The next morning after breakfast, I walked back to the parking lot. As I opened the door on the passenger side. I looked down and the snake was at my feet, where they had left it. Well! Without hesitating, I jump up on the roof of the car. The guy on the drivers side thought I was crazy, saying “Whats the hell with you?” Another time coming back to the barracks. We discovered a skunk had gotten inside. And instead of trying to get it out easy. Some guy chased it with a broom. And it sprayed all over the place. We slept with the windows open for quite a few days.
Outside of town there was a small café. A woman who worked there was very popular with a lot of the white hats. She was known as M.B. Mary. M B stood for mattress back. One time our base had a USO show at the enlisted men's club. So this sailor comes in with this girl. And everyone knew who she was except him. When someone told him, he got mad as hell and walked out. Now my idea of a good time, was going to San Antonio. We especially liked Fort Sam Houston. They had a school for Army women. And a lot of them were always at the enlisted men's club. And they liked the Navy, how lucky can you get. One time my friend and I didn’t have much money for a room. So we went into the Army barracks. And found two empty bunks. So we slept among the soldiers. At 5AM, this Army sergeant came around and woke everyone up to go to work. When we told him we were Navy, he had a few choice words for us. And we left in a hurry. One time when we were broke. I told my buddy, lets go to this Science Christian place. Because they give out free coffee and doughnuts. But I warned him, do what I do and say what I say. As we sat down, a young man came over to our table and took out his bible. And ask me if I had been saved? And without hesitation said, “yes, three years ago and what a feeling.” He turned to my friend and asked him the same question. My friend said, what? And with that, the bible guy starts quoting things from the bible. And had my friend reading from the bible. Meanwhile, I had seconds and had all the coffee and doughnuts I wanted. Then I said, we got to go now. When we got outside, my friend said, “don’t ever take me to a place like that again.” And he complained he didn’t get a chance to have his coffee and doughnut. I told him, you didn’t do what I told you to do. Anyway, down the road we got picked up by two girls who gave us a ride back to the base.
One time when there was about five of us at Fort Sam Houston. There was a call, for any enlisted men from Chase Field, to come to the phone. A pilot from our base was calling from Randolph Air force Base. He was there for a air show, and the plane wouldn’t start. And since we were mechanics, he wanted us to check the plane over. So he sent a Air force driver with a limo to pick us up. And we were driven over to Randolph Field. When we got there, we were all half drunk and we were wearing civilian suits. After everyone gave there opinion, I took the officer off to one side. And apologize for our behavior. And told him to call our base and give them the serial number of the starter. And they would fly one out. He took down all our names and told the driver to take us anywhere we wanted to go. We had him drop us off at a bar. We met this girl who was in the Army. She was from Hawaii, and had dark skin. She said, when she was stationed in Georgia. The civilians thought she was black and gave her a hard time. And when she was crossing the border into Texas, they thought she was illegal and gave her a hard time. When we got back to our base the following Monday. My friends were shooting off there mouths about going to the Air force Base. So I didn’t say anything. A week later the Chief came over to me and said that the officer had turned in our names. And had especially mentioned my name. The Chief ask me why I didn’t say something? I told him, with the others shooting off there mouth, I didn’t want to join in. After that the Chief had a better opinion of me. One year when we had a Admiral’s inspection, and they can be on the spur of the moment without any warning. And it was just my luck. A Chief from the Admiral’s staff, came into our division. And out of everyone picked me. He ask me simple questions at first. Like, do you like the Navy? Then he ask me, “where would you look, if a pilot complained that he had a high tailpipe temperature reading?
I told him that I would check the turbine section and the fuel pumps. He said, he didn’t mean on the aircraft. But what manual for maintenance information. I told him, I didn’t know the name of the book. But I knew where it was. So he told me to get it and look up the answer. Lucky for me, the manual had it listed word for word. Every year a Aircraft Carrier comes over to the Gulf of Mexico from Florida. Then our new cadet pilots, have the chance to qualify for carrier landings. They always have our own mechanics go with the planes. This time they sent me and another guy. We drove to Corpus Christi Naval Base. Then we boarded a helicopter. Now the sun was setting when we were approaching the carrier. Seeing the carrier off in the distance was a great sight. The carrier had its running lights on as we came in. I thought, at lease I’ll be a sailor on a ship for a few days. And you can’t say I didn’t serve aboard ship. The carrier was the Antietam, which was a world war two carrier. It was probably the oldest carrier in the fleet. After we landed, we were assigned quarters. My bunk was near the anchor chain, on the starboard side. Just below the flight deck. The first night, I explored the ship from one end to the other. We had a Destroyer Escort along side. And seeing the destroyer bobbing up and down in the water like a cork. I was glad to be aboard a large ship. When I was having chow in the mess hall. Which was about four decks down. The carrier was making a turn into the wind. And the ship listed to one side. There I was, eating with one hand and hanging on with the other. Going up on the flight deck was fast. The elevators that raise the planes from the hanger deck, move very fast. Being on the flight deck during flight operations is a heads up experience. There were four incidents of living on the edge. The first occurred when this plane was shot off the deck.
As he left the deck, the throttle was thrown back to idle. As the pilot didn’t secure it. Losing power, the aircraft dropped down in front of the carrier. His wheels were touching the water. But he recovered and made it ok. If he had gone in, we would have ran right over him. Another plane was coming in on the angle deck. When he touched down, his tail hook caught the wire to stop him. But somehow it disconnected and he only slowed down. There was no time to recover his power and speed, so he went over the side of the carrier. But the pilot got out ok. Another plane took off and his tailpipe hit the end of the deck. As a result, his aircraft couldn’t retain enough power. So he went in the water about a mile from the ship, but he was picked up ok. There was some aircraft from another outfit. But they were Sky raiders, which are propeller powered planes. As this pilot increase his rpm too fast, the plane started to nose over. At that point, everyone ran for cover. Because if the propeller had cut into the deck, it would break up and send pieces flying. Which could kill you. He came within a few inches of the deck, so he was lucky that day. That night I was doing some shopping at the ships store and overheard one of the sailors. He was saying, I bet that guy is a sand crab. The morning we were leaving the ship, we were in heavy fog. And the helicopters couldn’t fly out to pick us up. We were told, if the copters were not here within an hour, the ship was leaving. And we would become part of the crew, and go back to Florida with them. Sure was glad to see our ride show up on time. Back at my base, we were having problems with the engine compressors. So they formed a group of mechanics, including myself. We were sent down to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. Once there we set up a assembly line, which was located in the civilian O&R (overhaul and repair). Our engines would be taken apart and the new compressor installed. And then reassembled.
I was at the end of the line for final assembly and inspection. We were there for about three months. I really liked it, because we didn’t stand inspections. And could go into town every night and had every weekend off. I wore my Navy working uniform during the day. After that civilian clothes. One morning I stopped off at the Master at Arms to get a cup of coffee. A CPO at his desk, said good morning. As I was pouring my coffee, I responded, good morning chief. Well!, I heard him yell “Chief Shit”. As I turned around, this big mean looking officer is standing there, with his thumbs under his rank. Pushing out his collar to show me he was a Warrant Officer. Saying that it took him twenty years to get these and you knocked me down in a matter of seconds. Well he was a Warrant Officer breathing fire. I was the most apologetic ass kisser you ever saw. I was told he was a mean S.O.B. I got out of there and never went back. One time we were short on special nuts and bolts. And to get any, we had to put in paper work and that meant delays. So to keep from shutting down and losing time. My buddy and I, went to work an hour earlier. And went over to the civilian work area. We found all the nuts and bolts we needed. The civilians were overhauling a P2V Neptune . And they had a sign that had the starting date and the estimated finishing date. And they were about two months behind schedule. They were all sitting around not working. When asked why, they said they were waiting on parts. A few weeks later, the government notified everyone that they were closing down the O&R and sending the work to Florida. After seeing the wasted time and their attitude. There was no one to blame but themselves. One night I went over to the base library. And I ran across a number of books, which were like high school annuals.
They had pictures and information about the base during world war two. At that time they had women mechanics. And the story and history of the base intrigued me. After we finished our job. We were being transferred back to Beeville. I had a chance to meet some good people and had some great times. But it was good to be going home to my own base. I had missed Beeville and San Antonio. And hanging out with my friends. One weekend, I had duty as barracks Petty Officer. That night, I had a call from the hanger duty section leader. He said, that a sailor didn’t show up for his post watch. And asked me to check the barracks for him. Sure enough, he was watching T V. He remarked, “They can go fuck themselves” Well, I just called back and said he didn’t want to stand his post watch. The following week he was in the brig. And I had a visit from his Navy lawyer. A month later, I was attending his court marshal. It was just like you see in the movies. You sit in a chair in the middle of the room. Officers and defense on the left side. And the prosecution on the right side. And the Captain and four line officer at the front. Very intimidating. His lawyer ask me what uniform he was wearing at the time? And I said his work uniform. The lawyer said, that wasn’t what I said when he questioned me before. I told him anything I said to him at that time, would be correct. Because its been awhile and I forgot some details. With that the Captain warned me not to discuss anything at the court marshal and dismissed me. Was glad to get out of there. It was nearing Christmas and some guys were making a speed run to Mexico. And I wanted to do some shopping and see a bull fight. It didn’t go as planned. I had a room for the night. But a couple of guys slept in the car with the windows down. The next morning I hear this loud knocking on the door and someone calling my name.
They said they were in the car. And while they were sleeping, some kids were trying to steal their clothes. And they lost a pair of pants. The thing was, they had caught one of the kids. Which they turned over to the police. Big mistake! Down there they like our money, but don’t like us for hitting on their women. So I went with these guys to the city jail. The place looked like something out of Poncho Villa’s time. There was machine guns on the wall and a couple of desks in the middle of the floor. The place was bare and dirty. The police had the kid laying on the floor under the desk. One officer told us,” How dare you accuse a Mexican child of stealing”. And he reminded us that we were not in our country. At that point, I started getting worried. I saw this old prisoner with a long beard sweeping the floor. And you could smell the urine running thru a gutter near by. Finally someone from the American Embassy came in. And we were told to get out of town. As we walked outside down the steps. They had some kids lined up on both sides. And they threw rotten eggs at us. You know! I never went back after that. The following week our base paper had a article about the sailor, who lost his pants in Laredo, Mexico. Going into town from the base, you come to a fork in the road. At this point where it divides, they have a bar called The Little Brown Jug. I remember a sign on the wall. It said, in case of atomic attack, put a chair close to the wall. Sit in the chair with your feet on the wall. And bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. My crew leader was working there part time as a bartender One night, a bunch of sailors were there. They were loud and kept playing this song over and over on the jute box. I forgot the name of the song. But it was about a guy called, Little Jimmy Brown. Anyway my crew chief got tired of hearing the same song being played over and over. So he told them to leave.
So they jumped into their car. And decided to make a speed run to Mexico. Well they didn’t get very far. Just outside of town they were going too fast. The car overturned on a curve. And one of my friends was ejected from the car and it rolled over him. He was in a coma at the Naval Hospital in Corpus Christi. He died about eight months later. My crew chief felt guilty. He said, if he would have let them stay. The young man would be alive today. Who knows? That’s fate. One day I was getting ready to check the fuel filter on a TV 2 aircraft. The filter was located in the wheel well of the plane. The plane was on jacks off the ground. There was a sailor from the hydraulics division in the cockpit. I knew him and I told him to get out of the cockpit, until I was finished. He told me not to worry as he wouldn’t touch anything. Just as I pulled out the filter, the horn went off for the landing gear to come up. I dropped everything and dropped to the deck. The gear didn’t come up. I guess the hydraulic system was empty. Anyway I got up, scared as hell. And the guy in the cockpit was shaking. I really got pissed off. One time we had a sailor checking out the ejection system. And he accidently triggered something. The little drag chute that pulls out the main chute, shot out into the hanger overhead. And the seat was armed. The guy just froze and didn’t move. Till they put back the safety pins in the seat. He was lucky, he could have been killed. When I first arrived at Chase Field, I would get cold very easy in the winter months. After three years, I became adjusted to the weather. I had to laugh at myself, as I would go out on the flight line with the wind blowing cold. And I had only my T shirt on. No jacket or sweater. The very last job I had was changing a fuel cell on a F9F 8 cougar. Now all the planes I worked on, are scrap metal or in museums.
Every now and then, I see one at a air show. When I see one, I try to see if I still remember how to pull the tail. Or where certain parts are on the aircraft. But mostly I think of the people that were around them. The day I was discharged. I looked at my base as I left, knowing I wouldn’t be back. The last I heard was that President Bush would land there to go quail hunting. And now I have read it has been closed down. And turned over to the city for commercial purposes. Chase Field and Beeville, Texas isn’t known by very many people. And not given a minute of thought. And I guess that’s true for a lot of places. But to the Officers and enlisted men who served there and to the civilians of Beeville. It will be in our memory. In the future, if anyone drives thru Beeville. You can’t help but notice, the Navy plane on the front lawn of the city hall. And you’ll know where it came from. For me and others, 1956 to 1959 were good years. I guess Chase Field was my ship.