Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How I Began My Military Career-Roy J.

The Old and New Blue Angels - enjoy

I did ! I did ! I did !

Back in the dark ages, a sailor in the Great Lakes Electronics School held a piece of paper that stated combined battery scores were sufficient to candidate for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. He had limited private airplane experience and thought this might be a fun chance. Arriving at the Glenview Naval Airstation, north of Chicago, the first thing that caught his eye as he stepped off the bus was a flight line of Grumman Bearcats. The decision was made, that's what I want. Of the 15 or so sailors tested, only three qualified, Wagner, Anderson, and Johnsen. In less than a month, Ken Anderson had his orders to the Cadet program. A few weeks later, Wagner received his. I'm next - and excitement was building.

Excitement faded as I graduated from Electronics Tech School and was assigned to the USS Rehoboth, AGS 30, a coast and geodesic survey ship - and ship out we did - for six months of ocean floor mapping. To Iceland, To Portugal, To the Netherlands, To Spain and then home. Once back in Philadelphia, I took leave and hastened home to my folks home on Long Island and to straddle my 1944 surplus Army Harley 45. Only two miles from the house, enroute to the post office, a green 1936 Chevy four door sedan came out of no where, hit the bike and the next thing I knew I was in St Albans Naval Hospital with a few broken items and severe road rash.

The first night back aboard the ReBob, I was happily dreaming what young sailors dream about when the radioman shook me. "Wake up !! You're going to Pensacola and you have to report to the division officer first thing in the morning. Good God, I had all but forgotten the cadet program and thought that if Anderson and Wagner got their orders so swiftly and it's taken seven months for me, they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

In the morning, following quarters, I went to the division officer's compartment where, on my entry, he told me to sit down because I had an important decision to make. I thought I was in deep kimshee - one usually stood at attention before the division officer and here I was being seated. He handed me two sets of orders - one to Annapolis Prep School and the other to the Aviation Cadet Program. Telling me to think a bit, he left the compartment, saying that when he returned, he wanted my answer so appropriate orders could be cut.

If I chose Annapolis and washed out, I'd have four more years to serve as an ET. If, on the other hand, I chose Pensacola and washed out, the cadet time would count with my time already served and I'd be discharged with an honorable. I think that realization played a great part in choosing the cadet program.

What's all that have to do with Bearcats? Well, after finishing Basic in Pensacola, there were several days of leave plus travel time to Corpus Christie that allowed me to visit the assignment desk every day pleading for bearcats. "No such luck, cadet - you're going to shrimp boats" PBYs. for three days in a row that was the sword that hung over me. On the final day, nine of us were there and the news was fantastic - four slots for Hellcats, two for Bearcats, and three for ADs. Draw of the hat and one of the bearcat slots was mine. Sad to say, my delight was traded for Hellcats. Two of the cadets had progressed through Basic almost side by side and, when one got the other Bearcat slot, the pleading to give mine up began. Only when the assignment officer said that the Bearcat pipeline was clogged for the next four weeks did I agree to go Hellcats. No delays there and finishing four weeks before the Bearcat program meant four weeks seniority when commissioned.

While in Advanced training, flying a Hellcat over Arransas Pass, TX, on a bright Sunday morning, about 9, the light bulb went on. This is what I want to do the rest of my life - Fly !!! Rolls, spins, loops YES ~! we consummated the marriage. Sad note - during one of the night flight training flights in the Hellcats, a bright fireball appeared in the direction of Kingsville - the Bearcat training field. It was a mid-air between the two who had been buddies for so long.

So, what does this have to do with Bearcats? While stationed at Quonset Point, R.I., two Bearcats were made available for proficiency flights to the field operations pilots to get their mandatory 4 hours per month. They were rarely flown. Beg, plead, bargain, entertain, anything that worked and some that didn't. What worked was, ahem!, a little off the routine, but I agreed to take the wife of one of the station pilots for a ride in an AD-5 (became the AF A-1E). It was done- She was dressed in a standard flight suit, wore a helmet and when I taxied the bird behind a hangar, out of the view of the tower or my home base, Ms. X was in the right seat and away we went. The flight was a great success and soon I was completing the writtens and blind fold check to fly the Bearcat. While at Quonset, I flew 11 bartered hours in that marvelous bird - and what a wonder it was compared to the Hellcats I had trained on!!

The Sheepdog said all that.

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