ON THE HOME FRONT

It took a couple of days to get the official City of San Francisco welcoming ceremonies behind us. A few days later the ship's aviation personnel were assigned to the Alameda Naval Air Station just across the bay. By the next day, the ship was making it's way to the Mare Island Navy Yard at Vallejo, where she was to undergo a major rebuilding.

There was only one thing on my mind during that victory cruise back to San Francisco, I wanted desperately to get back to Van Horne, Iowa to see Betty, and to be there when my son arrived into this world. According to the best medical advice, the magical date was to be the latter part of January. At Alameda, an understanding Senior Aviator signed off on a four weeks leave for me and I was on my way to Betty. How I got to Van Horne, I just don't remember. My leave evaporated before I knew it and young Richard had not yet arrived. My request for an additional few days of leave was granted, but to no avail. Time ran out before my son could arrive and I had to return to California. That was a very difficult thing to do.

Back on duty at Alameda Naval Air Station, I found my friends busy reestablishing the ship's aviation division with four new scout planes and new personnel. It was about two week's after my return to duty, the date was February 19, that I received a telegram announcing my new son and that both he and Betty were doing fine.

There was a good deal of lobbying on my part, for my transfer to the local Fleet Air Wing 8 Squadron based there at Alameda during the next several weeks. It paid off with my transfer in late February. That meant that I probably would have a few months ashore there at Oakland and that the good ole' USS San Francisco, for me at least, would now be just a memory.

FAIRWING 8 was in the business of starting new squadrons of PBYs and the new Lockheed PV-1s for service in the Pacific along with the training of flight crews. In addition, they were busy organizing landbased aircraft maintenance units for carrier aircraft.

When I was transferred to FAIRWING 8, I was still a "white hat" first class aviation radioman. I knew that I had been recommended for promotion to Warrant Radio Electrician during the previous fall and I continued to hope. I was still on flight pay which increased my monthly salary by 50%, which helped. To draw flight pay, one had to log at least four hours flight time each month. My total pay at that point in my career including flight pay amounted to $105 per month. It was fun again to be able to fly in other kinds of aircraft, under "noncombat" conditions.

It was about this time that I began to scout around for living quarters for my new family which I fully expected to join me shortly. I found that we would be able to stay for a few weeks at the Piedmont Hotel there in Oakland for a tidy sum. To get a more permanent apartment I had to do some digging. I found a service organization of dedicated, mature, women that were helping find housing for servicemen. In our negotiations, they were showered with sweet talk, candy and bouquets of roses and it did paid off. I was able to obtain a new small apartment at 408 Hawthorne near the Peralta Hospital in Oakland, which was to be finished in the very near future.

Between flights I spent my spare time in the squadron radio shop getting acquainted with the radio personnel. One day, while in discussion with the Squadron Radio Officer, he concluded that we needed a more formal approach to the training of sailors for air crew duty with the new squadrons. Before long I found myself assigned the task of creating a squadron radio school.

It fell to me to originate the curriculum, document it, train instructor personnel and to teach the code, procedures, and a little technical know-how to the future aircrew operators. With the location of a suitable building, classroom space and with the assignment of a couple of helpers, we were on our way. I enjoyed every minute of it. I knew what I was doing and was practically my own boss. Beyond that, we were accomplishing our goal of training aircrews to fighting level.

It was just six weeks from our son's birth date that my new family arrived in Oakland. Betty stepped off the train, the City of San Francisco that morning, considerably outdoing the brilliant California sunshine, with Dick nestled neatly in his baby basket. That picture is as vivid today as the day it happened. It all made the pain of the past year very much worth the price.

We promptly established our family headquarters at the Piedmont Hotel where we met the Everett Bousfields of IBM who became lifelong friends. After what seemed like months but really only weeks we moved to the new apartment. It was great. There was a kitchen, a living room that also served as our bedroom, a bath, and a big closet that held a crib for Dick. Not a very big apartment but adequate. That apartment is still there today. There were a number of Navy Officer families moving in, many of whom turned out to be friends to this day. I rode the trolley to and from Alameda right down Telegraph Avenue. It wasn't long until we had purchased our first car, a year old 1942 Plymouth club coupe.

Life on the home front during WW II, was one of ration stamps for every commodity of any value, meats, sugar, canned goods, gasoline, tires, to name a few. Somehow Betty was able to do a fantastic job of getting our share of food, including a few bananas now and then. I managed to get enough gasoline to get back and forth to the air base and even have enough left over for an occasional Sunday picnic in one of the parks along Skyline Boulevard above Oakland. It was some time during this period that I was abruptly reminded that the war was not over yet. It was good-byes and good luck to my old shipboard aviation division friends as they joined the USS San Francisco and headed out again for the Pacific with their refurbished ship and new aircraft.

The school was shaping up great. I had put together curricula consisting of code practice, radio theory, radio equipment operation and communication procedures. We had some twenty students in the first class which lasted about two months. Part of the task was that of training the several instructors as we went along. One instructor, a prewar lingerie salesman, was particularly eager to do it right to insure himself a continuing job there in the school. He did a good job. He was married to an Italian gal that lived in south part of San Francisco. Betty and I were entertained by them in a royal manner in the best Italian taste, very formal. Some time later, after I had left the school staff, he was sent out with one of the new PV-1 squadrons. I learned later on, that he was among the first of the crews to be shot down in enemy action.

On August 7th, coincidental to Betty's birthday, a special assembly of all the Fleet Air Wing 8 personnel was called. It turned out to be a decorating ceremony in which I had a special invitation. There were six pilots and three enlisted men scheduled to receive decorations that morning. I was one of the enlisted men. Betty was invited to have a ringside seat. The pilots were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the aircrewmen received the Air Medal. My citation read "For meritorious achievement as Aviation Radioman during aerial combat against Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area from October 11 to November 15, 1942.". Lt. Thomas, my pilot, was awarded the DFC posthumously. That was indeed a proud day for both of us.


Decoration ceremonies at Alemeda Naval Air Station
Note Betty in the big hat


Full assembly for the decoration ceremonies


The summer seemed to evaporate into thin air leaving a wisp wonderful memories. During the summer, the radio school graduated a good many new radio operators for the new squadrons leaving for Pacific duty. I was advanced to Chief Aviation Radioman requiring new uniforms. I had just adjusted myself to wearing the Chief Petty Officer's uniform when my appointment to Warrant Radio Electrician came through. That meant replacing the red stripes with gold bars and a new hat. I remember well the icy reception that I received from the old senior Chiefs in the squadron radio shack when they saw what the Navy had done to that 24 year old upstart. It had taken most of them half of their long Navy careers to get to Chief Petty Officer. Couldn't blame them, but I had no apologies.

In September of that year, after having made Warrant, I was eligible to perform routine officer duties such as Officer of the Day, Aircraft Maintenance Officer and the like. My school teaching days were over, the school now in good hands with the instructors. My duties included a stint as night Maintenance Officer servicing the PBYs and PV-1s. The white hat mechanics were good at their job and I learned a lot about the inside of an airframe and aircraft engines.

There was one practice that had to be followed to the letter and that offered a real challenge. When an aircraft was moved into the hangar for service, the fuel tanks had to be drained and empty as a safety measure. The fuel, sometimes three or four hundred gallons of it, was dumped in the sand. With gasoline as dear as it was, any one of those sailors would have given their eye teeth to be able to confiscate a few gallons for their cars. Some did, but it was a practice that could get out of hand if ever permitted, so it was not.

Betty and I spent a few evenings at the officer's club there on the base at Alameda. On a couple of occasions I remember Betty sitting down at the piano and stirring up a rousing good audience. On days off, we managed to get up to the Sacramento River at Rio Vista for bass fishing, even caught a big sea bass on one trip. We tried to serve it to friends but it was too oily to be good. The trips to the parks around Oakland with Betty and our son Dick, were the greatest.


Aviation Chief Radioman McKinley

During the fall of 1943 I found that the Navy Base had a local training session in process on a new kind of radar that was about to hit the fleet. All radars that we were familiar with were the very early ones that presented the target returns on a scope as vertical pulses along a horizontal trace line. The presence of a pulse would indicate some target out there but show only the general direction by where the antenna was pointed. The distance to target could be determined by how far the pulse occurred from the starting point of the horizontal trace. Very crude for a pilot to use. The new radar called ASD presented a map like picture which not only showed distance to the target but the exact direction bearing as well. It was a major breakthrough for pilots. I did get into the week long session and ate it up.

It was in the shops here at FARWING 8 that I got a look at the new Collins Radio Transmitter call the 'Autotune'. It was capable of changing to any one of 10 preset channels. Again, it was a real breakthrough because in Navy aircraft to date, one had to remove and replace bulky boxes of coils and capacitors to change frequencies. Now it could be done with a simple switch on a control box. Needless to say, the name of Collins Radio left an indelible impression with me after seeing that equipment.

FAIRWING 8 maintained a remote practice field at Vernalis near Patterson. I caught a couple of weeks duty out there to tidy up the radio maintenance facilities. With that behind me and back in Oakland, it was getting near Christmas and I had increasing concern that my days in Alameda were drawing to a close. We spent our first Christmas together and then celebrated the New Year with friends in a cabin on the Russian River out of Santa Rosa.


Son Richard and Warrant Radio Electrician McKinley

It was January of 1944 when my name ominously appeared on a list as Radio-Radar Officer for a newly forming CASU-43 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit). The entire unit was to be made up of 430 officers and men. 125 men were to be assigned to me for aircraft radio, radar, and electrical maintenance, including a couple of Warrant Officers and a half a dozen Chief Petty Officers. We had no idea where we were headed but we were certain it was to be some forward area in the Pacific. The war was increasingly going our way with the battles of Coral Sea and Midway behind us. It was evident that numerous invasions had to take place to win back our islands before we could get to Japan.

Rumors flew wild for the next several weeks. It took until February to make arrangements for families to return home and close off local matters. Betty took it all like a veteran and prepared to drive back to Iowa in the middle of the winter with Dick and a friend of her mothers, Stella Thorpe, who lived in Berkeley. Somehow gasoline stamps were available.

Finally the new Carrier Aircraft Service Unit, CASU-43 was transferred down to Pt. Mugu from where we were to stage our operation. We were issued carbines, tents, mess kits, camouflaged clothing and field boots. We picked out a big, open field near the Pt. Mugu Naval Base and all hands pitched tents and began to live like the Army.

In the meanwhile, Betty was traveling along through icy Donner Pass with a car equipped only with a lightweight California heater in the middle of the winter. Problems even developed with the windshield wiper. In the Donner Pass area, she unavoidably struck a big clump of ice that wiped out one of the front shock absorbers. A quick inspection by the locals indicated no parts available and a "proceed at your own risk" kind of advice. She, with true grit, drove a bouncing Plymouth all the way to Van Horne, Iowa, and had it repaired there in her Dad's garage.

After getting settled in our new tent town, we started doing things like renewing our marksmanship on the rifle range, long all night marches, routine inspections and reviewing personnel resumes. We had no maintenance equipment nor anything to maintain except our Jeeps which we used to get to and from motels and restaurants and for an occasional trip to Los Angeles. It was obvious that we were not going anywhere for a while.

A call to Betty back in Iowa brought her driving back to Ventura with baby Dick and my sister Hazel who had just volunteered as an Army Nurse to join up at Phoenix. Her entire trip took three and one half days on recap tires and many more gas coupons. Where there is a will there is a way. After spending a couple of days in Ventura with Betty and I, Hazel made her way back to Phoenix and signed up for a tour of duty as an Army Nurse.

We spent a good deal of time with the other officers and their wives in a motel near Oxnard and ate our dinners at the Wagon Wheel Inn. We even had dinner parties a couple of times at the old Mir-a-Mar in Santa Barbara. Dick was the hit of the show. Those few short weeks had to come to an end. Finally, last good-byes were said, and my little family departed again for Iowa and our detachment headed west bound for Pearl Harbor, aboard a transport ship.

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