Added photos of ships Hermitage and Princeton 9 March 2020
added photos, some edits and posted 27 March 2020
from typed version 1 by Gary Gauer 12 March 2020
This narrative is a mix of recollections and excerpts from letters saved 60 + years.
Put this in our Nation’s history, 4 years after the Korean Conflict and before Viet Nam. Two young men from Lake Lillian Minnesota were working entry level jobs in the twin cities that summer of 1957 after graduation from Bird Island High School. We saw no future in those jobs and decided to join the Marine Corps. So, Larry Linn and Gary Gauer were sworn in to start our 3-year enlistment with guaranteed assignment to Aviation and Buddy enlistment on Sept 5, 1957.
Photo below of me on the left, my brothers and parents was taken early morning, Sept 5, on the concourse at then Wold-Chamberlaine Field (Now called terminal 2 of MSP ).
Along with about 5 other newly enlisted guys from Minnesota and Wisconsin; we flew from Minneapolis on a propeller type, 4 engine plane, DC-6B, operated by Western Airlines.
Gary to Folks .... post card 6 Sept 1958 1100
L A was fogged in so, landed at Burbank, bus to L A and a plane to San Diego. Now waiting for the Marines to pick us up.
We were picked up from the airport by truck or semi bus and brought to MCRD receiving for processing. Several days were needed to get supplies and utility uniform issue, send civilian clothes home, get a 30 second haircut, learn to stand at attention, and get out of your rack immediately at reveille, learn to loudly say: “SIR! PRIVATE GAUER REQUESTS PERMISSION TO SPEAK TO THE DRILL INSTRUCTOR. SIR!” and to accumulate 79 guys for a platoon. Marine Boot camp was scheduled to last 13 weeks.
Six squads of 13 each and a right guide were assigned to platoon #1002. Tallest guys were in squad 1 and shortest were in squad 6, I was in squad 5. Larry was in squad 3. Recruits were housed in Quonset huts, 3 huts per platoon ,2 squads in each hut.
Free time was very limited, except for Sunday morning. I did not see much of my buddy, Larry. We were worked very hard with physical training and ran in formation to everything, including classes, chow hall, obstacle course, marching practice on the grinder etc.
One time we duck walked with foot lockers over our heads because recruits were lower than whale shit and the training was not to be easy as we learned to claim the title of United States Marines, Semper Fi, Always Faithful.
My legs became swollen over several days, especially sore in early mornings and I thought I would get better with time. I was wrong and did not know that you could walk with broken fibulas. Things were getting worse and I missed the morning sick call for each of the 2 days before 1000 on 17 Sep 1957. (only 12 days since home) That morning, the platoon was running on the wet street to get a haircut. With intense pain I began to slow down as squad 5 and 6 made room for me as they kept going and I fell in a puddle on the street. My left leg was broken like an extra knee midway between knee and ankle. I learned later that the tibia break was called a stress fracture and the smaller fibula bones were also broken in both legs.
The Navy ambulance crew had me sit on the back edge of the gurney enroute to sick bay. With me holding both sides of broken leg. Simple not compound. I was not thinking clearly. Apparently, the ambulance crew was only thinking about the clean sheets on the gurney.
At the sick bay receiving dock we were met by a Navy doctor who had me lay down on the clean sheets of the gurney, gave me a shot of morphine and put a splint on the leg. The enlisted corpsmen and driver were royally chewed out by the doctor. Soon I was traveling fast across town to the USNH with siren and flashing lights on.
At the Balboa USNH an orthopedic surgeon gave me a spinal shot to set my leg. I was allowed to prop my head up and watch as he installed 2 Steinman pins through my leg. One was located several inches above the break and the other was located above the ankle. The Titanium Pins are like a ¼ drill bit with a very long shank. They use a hand cranked drill and un-chuck it after the pin goes through. Both ends of the pin are trimmed with a bolt cutter so they extend almost 1 inch on each side of the leg. Next was to make a long leg cast with 4 reinforced areas to fix and cover over the ends of the pins. The first cast was made without a rubber heel to walk on. That meant 6 weeks to get around using a wheel chair sitting on a crutch to support the leg.
About 20:00 as I was recovering in bed that first night in the hospital, I realized that I was tight as a drum over my bladder area. The effects of the morning spinal shot had not yet subsided. A catheter was then inserted and 2 stainless steel “ducks” were soon filled.
A Marine officer interviewed me in my second week in the hospital to ask if I wanted a medical discharge. I said no as I had no money or job to go back home to.
Orthopedic wards were on third floor of a relatively new building, 26. It had 6 floors and 3 wings each with some private rooms and many beds close together in very large ward rooms. The campus was on hilly land and building 26 was in a low spot. There was a skyway on third floor over the street to get to the 2nd floor of the older Spanish colonial buildings and another skyway to get to higher ground level and through beautiful courtyards with tropical palm trees, bushes and flowers. From there on wheel chairs it was possible to continue downhill most of the way on the street to the movie theater. Cost was one dime for current movies and several of us wheelies would make the trip often. After the movie we took a different downhill route on the street back to ground level of building 26 and took the elevator back up to level 3. Easy trip both ways.
About a dozen guys in our ward had staph infection boils on arms and or bodies that were treated with saline drips. I was one of those. They were running out of saline so if you had a boil on a hand or arm you could sit on a stool in the bathroom and immerse your hand or lower arm in a sink with running warm water. One guy, not me, burned himself over time in too hot water. I had a series of boils over several months. Some had to be lanced.
The first cast and pins were removed about Nov 1. After the cast was cut away, the far ends of the pins were deburred using a file. The pins were removed with a pull and slight twist using a vise grip plier on the near end. No blood, the hole was open clear through. For the next 6 weeks, I could walk without a wheel chair using a new long leg cast with a rubber heel. Soon I was assigned to rehab status on work crews 5.5 hours a day to clean wards and learned to use a floor buffer and maintain balance with one stiff leg. Hilarious at first.
Larry to Gary -------20 Oct 1957
I’m at Camp Matthews now. We got here yesterday afternoon and got to see a movie last night…….
Larry to Gary ------16 Nov 1957
I qualified expert at the range with 223
Big Surprise, 17 Nov 1957, My buddy, Larry, shows up at the USNH with a dislocated shoulder. He was treated with a screw to hold it together and an upper body cast to immobilize his arm on his chest with the hand exposed by his neck. So, we visited often.
Back home, The Lake Lillian Crier Weekly Newspaper published the addresses of servicemen. So, we got lots of cards and letters. Our mothers wrote many letters and shared information as it was received from us. Travel money was hard to come by for small farm town people and we did not expect nor receive visits from family.
In mid-December, I was rewarded with a short leg walking cast with heel and allowed to go home on a bus for free convalescence leave. My knee was very stiff and I could bend it about half way by the time I got home after 48 hours on the bus.
Larry, still in his body cast, had to stay back at the Hospital but received a 10 day liberty to go by bus to LA and visit Ed and Blanche Erickson and their 3 young girls. Ed and family had left Lake Lillian in 1952 for Ed’s new Banking job in LA.
My short leg cast was removed in mid-January and Larry’s body cast and screw was also removed.
Now, we had to regain strength in the special sections of RTC before joining a platoon and making progress again to graduation. One of those was physical conditioning for those who needed to pass physical tests. One was for those needing more motivation and one was for more casual rehab time. Larry needed only a few weeks to regain pull up strength and then about 3 more weeks’ time before graduation with a regular platoon. I was scheduled for 6 weeks casual rehab before joining a brand-new platoon.
Gary to home ---- post card 11 Feb 1958
I’m fine. Casual is easier, by far, than a regular platoon…. I’ve seen Larry in platoon 1017
Gary to Larry ---- 12 Feb 1958 from RTC casual co. at MCRD
Can't run yet. In charge of 9 men cleaning rec rooms and hallways in 1st bn. H.Q. and rooms in DI qtrs. in bldg. 28 where commanding Gen Bowser has office. It’s like working at the hospital except everything has to be cleaner.
Gary to Larry ---- 27 Feb 1958, Thurs., from ward 10-1 at USNH
with bronco pneumonia. Was at MCRD sick bay ward 12 from Monday aft to Wednesday noon before being sent here. Don't go there. Swabbie corpsmen do not treat recruits well.
Larry to Gary ---- 6 Mar 1958
We took the physical test again today, I got 195 points but still can’t do pull ups, so I’ll be here at least another week.
Gary to Larry ---- 26 March 1958 from quiet room at 10-2 again.
Laugh! I got the Measles. Discovered yesterday. Was supposed to go back to duty a week ago but had 2 boils on my thighs. They had to lance them and I have been applying hot soaks for 3 hours a day since.
I heard you got a boil on your temple that had to be lanced. You have my sympathy.
Larry, you are still writing to Rose Marie, I hope. Always did think she was pretty nice girl.
Larry at MCB, Camp Pendleton, California
Larry to Gary ---- 2 Apr 1958 ------ postcard change of address
Gary to Larry ---- 14 April 1958 Monday
Hope you are fine. I am not.
I would have gone back to duty a month ago, but I got some staph infection boils and the measles. Had 3 boils lanced. Had to go to the eye clinic for a stye on Friday and could not go to Ed Erickson’s for weekend.
Finally, back to MCRD processing 19 April 1958
(After 7 months and 10 different wards at USNH, San Diego and no progress in boot camp. )
Gary to Larry ---- 27 April 1958
Tomorrow is a big day, T-1 day. We had it easy in processing. We ran around the grinder once. I had to fall back and walk awhile but there were other guys worse off than I. My leg is better than I thought it was. I had to go to sick bay Friday and Saturday for a boil on my rear, but it is going away now. I pray that I don't get any more. I sympathize with you and the one on your neck.
I left the hospital 19 April 1958 and missed out on a weekend liberty. ….
I just barely passed swimming to make 2nd class swimmer. Someone in a different platoon literally got the shit scared out of him in the pool. So, they had to secure it for 15 minutes.
I am in Bravo Company, platoon 133. I guess we graduate July 9 and will have mess up at Matthews.
I think I will be able to stay in the platoon with no trouble.
Gary to Larry ---- post card 17 May 1958
…. The platoon is on mess duty now here at MCRD and not at the range; But about 6 of us are on a detail at a supply building instead…
Gary to home ---- post card 24 May 1958
The platoon has 2 wks of mess so we have 1 week to go yet. We are assembling steel shelving etc at supply. I dusted and swept out Brig Gen Bowsers office this morning.
At the Range
Gary to Larry ---- 8 June 1958 Sunday
Just finished 1st week here at (rifle range) Camp Matthews. We pulled camp guard twice already. Had only 4 hrs. sleep last night.
Talked to Sam Sundin a few times. I have a buddy here who is a good friend of his named Kittleson. The 3 of us went to church together last Sunday.
Did you talk Galen into joining the Marine Air Reserve or was that entirely his idea?
I fired 223 at the range. That's the same as you fired isn't it?
We hiked back from the range yesterday. The ocean sure was pretty coming up the winding road from the beach town. What a hill!
Gary to Larry ---- 26 June 1958 Thurs.
Our 8th week inspection was poor. So, we had to have our billet inspection over again Wednesday. I was battalion runner today which was OK because we got to read magazines between walks.
Tomorrow we march in our first parade. That squad left and right can be fun if it's done right.
I don't expect any trouble on the physical test coming up. We run the mile every day now. …. Only 17 days left now.
Gary to Larry 13 July 1958 Sunday
I will graduate Wednesday July 16. I'm going to Jacksonville also and as far as I know I will not go to Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton….
Gary to Larry ---- 5 Aug 1958 Tuesday
I am now back at MCRD in H & S casual waiting to go to Jax. There must be about 50 of us here. I got back from leave on the 2nd. I finally stopped at Ed's and had supper on the way back. ….. I got paid $360 yesterday so I sent $290 home to put in the bank. That gives me a total of $540 to my name. …. Civvies?
Larry to Gary ---- 10 Aug 1958
You should be in Jacksonville by now … I’ve finished 2 weeks in A aviation T technician school and have only 20 weeks left.
From San Diego to Jacksonville Florida
Gary to Larry ---- 19 Aug 1958
Tuesday 1400 arrived in Memphis by train at 0600. Tried to call you and waited for call back at YMCA until 1240. Now waiting in our pullman at the depot. …. We left San Diego at 1800 on Saturday. I called Ed's when we stopped in LA and I also called my cousin, Darlene, Bud Schmoll’s wife when we stopped at Tucson, Ariz. There are 41 of us travelling by pullman and we stay in the same cars all the way. …. Ed's daughter, Nancy ….
I bought me an Argus C3 at the PX and also a watch and a GE travel iron.
Larry to Gary ---- 20 Aug 1958 Wednesday
I never did hear anything about anyone calling….. I know Nancy pretty well .. from when I spent 10 days there over Christmas & New years last year and also a week end when I was at Pendleton…..She’s a pretty nice girl.
I’m glad to hear that you finally got to Jacksonville. You will be there for 6 weeks of school. …I’m in my 4th week of AT “A” school and it’s got me snowed. We are studying vacuum tube theory.
Gary to Larry ---- 1 Sept 1958 Labor Day NAS MAD NATTC Jacksonville 13 Florida
Yes, I am on mess duty. It is for the birds, Reveille is 0400, work until 1930 or 2000. and maybe we get 2 half hour breaks. ….
I haven’t even walked around this base yet. I went to the flick once.
Liane starts nurse school next week.
I would like to take a PFC test or something. This mess duty isn't helping me on that either.
Larry to Gary ---- 6 Sept 1958
The hurricane warnings must be over down there because all morning there have been planes leaving here. …. planes up here from Key West, Jax, and the trainers from Pensacola.
Last week end, a buddy of mine from Red Wing and I rode up home with another kid. We went quite a way out of bounds. I got home Saturday after noon and left Sunday about 1400. We had car trouble about 2000 in the middle of Iowa and about 0700 Monday we left the other guy and started hitchhiking … We got to St Louis at 2100 …. called the O.D. and told him we had to take the train and would be late returning. We didn’t have to go before the Company commander and just had our liberty cards pulled for a week. They did not know we were out of bounds or we would be privates.
Happy Anniversary. You old salt!! 1 year in the corps
Larry to Gary ---- 20 Sept 1958
…What did you do on your 1-year anniversary in the corps? …I don’t know if I asked about you and Liane when you were home. I suppose it was pretty hard to leave after getting all the bad breaks through boot camp and all, but don’t let it get you down. There are lots of guys who are worse off. I think God has a purpose in all these things, even though it seems rather ridiculous at times.
My buddy and I bought a hair clipper and give trims for 25 cents. It won’t take long to pay for it.
… They close down the schools about 20 Dec here So , maybe we can get Christmas leave
Gary to Larry ---- 3 Oct 1958 Fri
Monday was last of 39 days on mess duty. just had field day at school.
On the first day of classes, we gathered around several planes on display and talked about safety and fire extinguishers. Some were jets and some were older prop planes.
Invariably someone, not me, would walk through the arc of a prop. He had to run around the class several times waving his arms and loudly repeating: “I am an angel. I am an angel. I walked through the arc of the prop”
Larry to Gary ---- 14 Oct 1958 from Memphis
,, I’m in my 12th week of school and its pretty hard. I have mandatory night school again. … We get back from school at 1610, get mail and go to early chow, then drum and bugle corps practice… then night school until 2030.
…pretty nice trips coming up: Oct 24-26 – Montgomery, Ala; Nov 1- Houston Tex;
Nov 22- Texarkana Ark; Dec 6 - Palm Beach Fla.
We fly in a R4D or C47 at Navy expense on all the trips.
Larry to Gary ---- 1 Nov 1958. post card from Paris Texas
We had one parade today and play at the half time of a Jr College football game tonight. We are having a good time
Gary to Larry ---- Nov 14 1958 from co. 5840 Bks 574 MAD NATTC Jacksonville 13 Florida
Graduated from Aviation Fundamentals School
Next go to 12 week “A” school in Structural Mechanics at Memphis, Tenn. Class 58-48
I Did about 4 weeks in school and went home for Christmas leave.
Larry to Gary ---- 15 Feb 1959 H&MS(Elec) MAG 26 MCAF New River, Jax. N.C.
I’m finally pretty well settled and things are running smooth again. You and George must be pretty close to graduation. Remember, let me know right away what billet you get. Are you still top man in your class?
I graduated on 6 March 1959 and received a wooden shield plaque:
NAS Memphis, MAD, Marine Air Detachment Aviation Structural Mechanic Structural class “A“ School, HONOR MAN grade 92.63 class 58-48 Gary W Gauer NATTC.
Late March 1959 Traveled by bus to Cherry Point. Almost lost my sea bag. At a stop along the way I spotted it on a cart destined for Nashville and I was able to retrieve it. The baggage guy at Chicago wrote Nashville and not Asheville where I needed to transfer for the last leg to Cherry Point.
It was a memorable trip in the dark late night coming fast downhill on a winding road from the Appalachian Mountains into North Carolina. A car came up behind with flashing lights and horn blowing because our bus was on fire! A rear inside dual tire had gone flat and rubbed against the air bag suspension. We stopped on the road about 300 yards beyond a farm place and everyone got off the bus. The flames were over window height and the driver used up 2 fire extinguishers. About 4 of us Marines ran back to the farm place and found a wishing well with a windless and 3 buckets. I found a shovel and we all ran back to the bus with the water. The water was very effective to douse the fire. Road gravel from my shovel was not. We waited in the bus until dawn for a replacement to arrive.
Larry to Gary ---- 2 Apr 1959 H&MS(Elec) MAG 26 MCAF New River, Jax. N.C
Guess what … I’ve got mess duty for the month of April! New Bern is a fairly nice town….. I’ve been up there 3 or 4 times. … I’ve completed 11 lessons on my course so far.
Sorry to hear about Dean quitting school. What happened between you & Liane? I hear Galen is having a pretty good time down in Mpls. Did you see him when you were home?
Sometime in April ---- Larry came up from New River
and George Schulenberg and I went to New Bern, NC one day.
Early May 1959 ----- Liane sent my BIHS class ring back to me. We had been going steady for more than 2 years. I lost the ring soon after, on the day our detachment was ready to go to Norfolk.
at Norfolk USO, I sent a card for my mother, Jeanette, for Mother's Day, May 10
Gary : 14 May 1959 is our scheduled departure from Norfolk is on a LSD 34, USS Hermitage.
Tentative plan was to go to Europe to deal with cold war tensions on ship with the half of the squadron that was less experienced. We could be spared from the more critical needs of caring for the planes that were to follow somehow, probably by carrier. The plan was cancelled before our planes were sent.
So, we sailed on the Atlantic and eventually stopped at Guantanamo for Liberty. I served 30 days mess duty on board for the Navy. Being on mess duty was better than being confined below in small sleeping quarters with bunks 4 high when general quarters drills were called. One time there was atomic washdown practice or simulated battle and we made sandwiches and put them in lunch bags for the ship’s crew that had to stay at their battle stations.
The LSD, Landing Ship Dock , has a well deck and a flat stern with an end gate like the back of a pick up truck. The ship has ballast tanks that can be filled or emptied as needed to lower or raise the back end so water can come in and float the landing craft to get in or out.
Later, for fun, we learned what a sea bat was when the ship crossed the equator.
Larry to Gary ---- 4 Jun 1959 from MCAS El Toro
I suppose you know that Galen is working at home. …I left Mpls. At noon on 25 May, Got into Kansas City on the train about 2130. Barb and her parents were there to meet me. … I forgot my camera on the train… We are scheduled to sail from San Diego on Sunday 21 June… for Japan .. approximately 14 days. I think I will be going up to Ed’s this weekend.
Larry to Gary ----11 July 1959 from NAF Oppama, Japan
I went into Oppama tonight and looked through some of the shops. I bought Lolly a pair of wooden shoes… I got my rifle soaked with salt water on the last day on ship and it really raised heck with it. I spent about five hours on it since … to really clean it up for inspection tomorrow.
Larry to Gary ---- 1 Aug 1959 from NAF Oppama, Japan
the greatest news is that Jim Henley (a kid that George and I knew at Memphis) and I bought a motorcycle together. It is a “Honda Dream” about the largest Japanese made bike. It’s a 1956 model, black and chrome. It’s in good shape and we are really going to see Japan with it
….. I received a letter from Galen. I wish we were home working in the cities. If the next 13 months pass as quickly as this one did, I’ll be satisfied.
Larry to Gary ---- 25 Sept 1959
Hey we’re getting short! Only 344 days to go…I’m on security duty … have been for 17 days now … Every morning we have rifle inspection and guard school. … It’s horseshit duty.
MAG 16 is the same as MAG 26 - helicopters. In H&MS we have HOK’s and HUS’s. … most of MAG 16 is on maneuvers in Okinawa. We can’t ride our motorcycle until we get some papers squared away. Mel is home and in his first year at Augsburg College. Jim and I pull almost all of our liberty together and he is married. (So that is respected) …
What’s this “Linda” bit? Have you been holding out on a buddy? I finally made 20 years old.
Larry to Gary ---- 19 Oct 1959
Congratulations on the promotion to E3, Lance Corporal, 1 each.
.. Last week, a couple of us went up to Tokyo Tower and took some pictures, went to the American Embassy and then went downtown which is like any other large city except that it is full of Japanese.
I went to a funeral a few weeks after I had gotten to Cherry Point. One of our pilots crashed in a Cougar near the base. I still wonder if he was going too slow and turned too sharply in a plane design that used spoilers on each top surface of the wings and did not have normal ailerons for better roll control.
Our squadron of 24 planes transitioned from F9F-8, Cougars to A4D-2 Skyhawks. The Skyhawks came directly from the factory in June, July and August 1959. Our shop had to paint out the Navy and paint on the Marine characters. I also installed the landing lights to the main gear doors. On the old Cougars we had to paint over the custom orange Day Glow design on the wings, first with black and then the gray before they were flown away.
AUG 19, 1959: The Nighthawks were re-equipped with the Douglas A4D-2 Skyhawk. Commanding Officer Major E. B. Sumerlin Jr., flew the first Skyhawk acceptance flight this day.
Two of our new Skyhawks landed at different times with wheels up. One had drop tanks on the wing weapons racks. The empty tanks ended up only with the top half remaining and no damage to the plane. The other plane did not have tanks and our shop repaired the extensive damage with new racks, wheel well fairings, flaps etc. The pilots had to pull non flying status as Officer of the Day for some time after these embarrassing incidents.
I Had liberty at Washington D C, New York City and Colonial Williamsburg. In DC I met Larry’s Army brother, Ron, and we visited Mount Vernon. 1959?
Alan R Hall, my best friend in the squadron, was about 2 years older than I.
He was from New Jersey and had worked in a lace mill until it closed. He had a very nice car, 1957 Ford convertible, and would take himself and 3 guys on liberty trips to Atlantic Beach etc.
In Oct 1959, we went to Greensboro and visited his cousin, Toots, a student at Women’s College. She brought some girlfriends and we all went for a picnic at a park on a beautiful, colorful, fall day.
Larry to Gary ---- 22 Nov 1959
Jim and I have our motorcycle back. … we went to Tokyo and Mt Fuji .... in the mountains we can go almost any trail you can walk on. We ride double but still have to wait for the others on smaller bikes.
I hope you make it home for Christmas. If so, you won’t have missed any because of the corps. That weekend in Greensboro sounded like fun….
Larry to Gary ---- 7 Feb 1960.
Boy, you are really slow at letter writing… We short timers will have to talk over what we are going to do when the corps is finished with us and we have to face the hazards of that cruel civilian life.
We had a motorcycle accident about a month ago.... coming back from Yokohama… We slipped on the wet trolley tracks. I was driving and when we fell .. with my right leg under the bike. I feel fine now except for my elbow still being stiff and sore. Jim got a bump on his rear and tore his trousers. I got banged up pretty bad, but no broken bones. .... smashed watch, ruined trousers, tore jacket and shirt and a hole in my boot. If I wouldn’t have been wearing a helmet, I would probably be in a wooden box now.
Larry to Gary ---- 21 March 1960 Sukiran Okinawa
This time I have a valid excuse for not writing. With the MAG moving down here and the maneuver “Blue Star” every thing is in sort of a mess. We didn’t receive mail for 17 days. I am taking a review High school English class. The honchos in my shop are pretty good which helps a lot. I won’t have but around $600 when I get home. I don’t know what to do. I have been thinking about elementary education.
There isn’t anything to do here off base. I keep busy with night school, movies, pistol shooting, and we’ll soon have the motorcycle registered and ready to go.
Gary: Alan and I went to Greensboro on a day with snow on the ground that winter. Toots and I corresponded by letter about 6 times from 10 Feb to 20 April when she got engaged.
Once a week on Monday at 0800 we would all stand in formation near our hangar on the flight line at Cherry Point and be briefed by the XO or CO with news of arrivals, departures and promotions and whatever else of interest. One time we knew that something was up because the base General officer and all the other squadron CO’s were present. We were told that we were going immediately on deployment and were allowed one hour to get our sea bags and gear, leave civilian clothes behind and get back to help load the cargo planes. Personnel from other squadrons on base came to pack our shop tools and maintenance fixtures. Soon about a dozen R4Q or C119 planes began arriving from various guard and reserve units around the country. We were seated onboard by 11:30 with our backs along the sides and our feet at loaded pallets down the center. It was already a warm day; the plane was heavily loaded. The engines revved up as we started to roll, and when we were about half way down the runway the take-off was aborted because we were not going fast enough. The pilot reversed the prop pitch and used the brakes and needed every inch of the remaining runway until we could turn to the taxiway, go back and try again. No problem the second time.
We arrived early evening at the newer Leeward Point airfield which was across the Guantanamo Bay from the original main side Navy Base with its smaller air strip. Leeward Point had a large hangar complete with maintenance shops.
There were concrete barracks, a mess hall, outdoor movies and a tent for a bar club. Otherwise, if we had a free day, we could use a landing craft ferry for travel to main side and visit the PX and more.
There were many Cuban workers employed on the main side base. They came and went through the gates morning and evening. We military were not allowed to leave the base.
For about 4 months we were very busy to show Castro that we did not want to give up this large and beautiful Harbor and Base near the east end of Cuba, isolated and far from Havana. We had a 100-year lease that started in 1898 at the time of the Spanish American War.
The squadron was budgeted to fly 4 times our normal allotment of hours. 4 planes were on the hot line with pilots prepared to get in and immediately take off. Others were practicing low altitude bombing techniques etc. There were lots of buzzards at low altitudes and 3 planes hit them.
One bird hit on the leading edge of the wing in front of the wheel well. I trimmed out the damage, made a wooden pattern for making a former and a flush patch with a doubler for installation with flush rivets.
One plane hit its bird on the side of the nose cone. The remains of the bird came on through the thin bulkhead and inside the insulation into the cockpit. The pilot was able to land OK. We ordered a replacement nose cone and insulation and I repaired the damaged bulkhead.
One plane hit its bird on the right corner of the windshield. It came through and damaged the instrument panel and radio. The pilot could not contact anyone and decided to go back and attempt to land on the runway. The problem was with no instruments and a windy cockpit the touchdown was too fast and only half the runway remained. The tail hook was down and made a straight furrow in the sod at the end of the runway until the end of the land over the bluff at the coastline. He was still going fast enough to plop into the coral in the water about 100 yards out and avoid tumbling down the 100-foot-high bluff. He was soon rescued, with a few scratches and bruises, by helicopter. A very large boom vehicle (we called it a Cherry Picker) backed out into the coral and water to retrieve the totaled plane. I helped man stabilizing ropes to keep the plane from swinging as we walked along slowly up a switch back road to level land.
145051 C/N 12297
The remains were on view in front of the hangar for a month before it was taken to the plane grave yard, which was hidden in the woods at the edge of the base. Other remains out there included a F4F, Wildcat and a PBY, Catalina from WWII.
Another plane on final landing approach lost a turbine blade that went through the after-engine shroud, bounced off the wing center section and out through the side of the fuselage. The resulting fire stopped when the engine shut down on the runway. We had to replace control lines, and electrical cables and re seal the wet wing fuel tank as well as patch the side of the fuselage.
Normal plane maintenance is based on flying hours logged. With easier routines at 30-hour intervals and major over hauls with more complete disassembly and inspections scheduled at longer intervals.
One time We had weekend liberty at Kingston Jamaica.
For a few weeks at a time some of our planes rotated to a military air field in Puerto Rico called Roosevelt Roads.
Operations were setup out at a remote runway with fuel bladders on the ground and 6-man pyramid tents for sheltering ordinance and ground crews during the day. The gray trailler bus was our transportation from and to barracks overnight.
The Flying Boxcars, R4Q, were our link back to Leeward Point and eventually back to Cherry Point.
Alan Hall and I went to his home in Flemington, New Jersey and I met his parents. I traveled by train from Trenton up to NYC to see some sights and returned to Trenton on Sunday so we could drive back to Cherry Point.
One guy, Peter Nick, in our shop drove regularly out of bounds on weekends 600 miles each way home to NYC.
We were deployed to NAS Oceana near Norfolk for 2 weeks and had liberty at Virginia Beach.
Larry to Gary ---- 28 May 1960 Futema, Okinawa
Sounds as though you have been moving around a bit the last few weeks. I have been moving around Myself. We left Oppama the end of Feb, spent March at Sukiran, April at Camp Mercy and now up at our new base Futema. Each move was permanent with all our personal gear.
About 9 June I am going aboard the carrier USS Princeton for a 2 or 3 week maneuver in Korea. Our copters will airlift the “grunts” in on the beaches.
Larry to Gary ----- 19 August 1960 Futema, Okinawa
I leave Kadena Air Force Base on 25 August… 30 hours flying time is much better than 17 days aboard ship.
Now back to Gary's story with one month before discharge. Our A4D squadron V'MA 533, deployed to NAS Pensacola Florida for carrier qualification on the USS Antietam
Above photo of the carrier was about 8 months after my time on board.
My job on the flight deck was to look for problems with tires, control surface positions etc. as the just landed planes taxied to the forward catapults. My instructions were to walk along near the plane and give thumbs up if OK and thumbs down otherwise before the plane got to the forward elevator. Thumbs down was not needed over the days of this training for the pilots. The ship came to port every evening and we used barracks on land. This short deployment, very near the end of my enlistment, was a very interesting highlight and at the peak of my experience as an aviation Marine. We did not see combat but we were ready if needed.
I picked up my discharge papers from the gate guard on Sunday morning Sept 4 1960 and took a bus home.
Two weeks later I was enrolled and attending classes at the University of Minnesota. There was little time then to recall what has been written above now 60 years later. This story was possible because of letters saved by myself and Larry.
Now some 60 years later, I think about some things:
The Flying Fueler photo event happened after my time in the service and shows 2 of the A4D planes from VMA 533, ED. After 58 years, later models of the C130 Hercules are still in use with the Minnesota Air National Guard at MSP.