INTRODUCTION: This page is reserved for special personal memories of former VFP-62 crew members. Stories which are unique, interesting, funny or sad, but most of all, stories that illustrate what life was like in VFP-62, serving on carriers, and how they transformed teenagers into men.
Contributions to this page are welcome. Remember, the statute of limitations has run out! - Webmaster.
[Webmaster's Introduction: I received this story from Larry Moller, who wrote: In1957 I was a member of VFP 62 Det 37-57 which departed NAS Jacksonville on a Med cruise aboard the Roosevelt. When we returned VFP 62 had been moved to NAS Cecil field. The electronics shop had a new chief, Richard Woodson. Chief Woodson was a great gentleman and a member of what we now call the Greatest Generation.
In the Rear Seat at Midway and Santa Cruz
by ATC Richard T. Woodson, USN-Ret
Edited by Ron Russell
Born Into a Navy Family
I was born on Nov. 24, 1920 in Paterson, NJ to Russell M. and Eileen Nellie (neé Ring) Woodson. My father was a chief radioman in the U.S. Navy. We moved to Philadelphia in 1924, but my father was soon transferred to Guam in the Marianas Islands. After he found housing for us (a corrugated iron shack in Merico), my mother, older sister, and I took the train cross-country to San Francisco, got aboard the USS Gold Star and sailed to Guam. After a few months at Merico, my dad found a much nicer residence for us in Agaña.
We left Guam in February 1927 and came back on the USS Henderson through the Panama Canal. We arrived a month later in New York City where there was approximately two feet of snow at the time. We then went to Fire Island on Long Island, which had a lifeguard station with high-speed boats to get the rum runners, a lighthouse station and its crew, and a USN radio direction finder’s station where my dad was in charge. Due to the fact there was no school there, he requested a humanitarian transfer and we ended up in Amagansett, Long Island, NY. I started first grade there in 1927.
Late in 1928 my father was transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to a destroyer and we moved to Philadelphia where I attended St. Agatha’s School. My dad retired from the Navy in 1930 and we moved to Pittsburgh, then Cleveland, Ohio; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Miles City, Montana; and finally to Denver, Colorado where I finished my education in 1939 at East Denver High School.
I joined the National Guard while still in school. While in the Guard, I applied for Annapolis but was not accepted. In December 1939 I joined the Navy (without being discharged from the National Guard) and went to boot camp at San Diego. My friend Doan Watson reported at the National Guard roll call that I had joined the Navy. After boot camp I went to aviation radio school on North Island NAS, and graduated in June 1940, I believe. I went aboard the USS Manley, DD-74, for transfer to the Panama Canal Zone. I arrived at Cocosolo about one and a half weeks later and was assigned to a PBY squadron, VP-32, in Panama.
I stayed with VP-32 until August 1941 when I was assigned to the commissioning of the USS Hornet Air Group. I was posted to VS-8, a dive bomber squadron. We flew SBC4s. We had our shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, went back to Norfolk (we were there on December 7, 1941) and finally went to San Diego around March 1942 where we changed our SBC4s to used SBD3s. We went from San Diego to San Francisco where we picked up Jimmy Doolittle and his 16 B25s and sailed for Tokyo. We launched the B25s for their raid on Japan on April 18, 1942 and returned to Pearl Harbor.
Four Sorties at Midway
We went to Midway. I flew four times during the battle: the morning of June 4th with pilot Don Kirkpatrick, the evening of the 4th with Al Woods (his rear seat man was missing so I volunteered to fly), and the evening of the 5th and the morning flight of the 6th with Kirkpatrick. We made attacks at all times except the morning of June 4th, which was an abortion for Hornet air group. We never found the Japanese on that run. Torpedo Squadron 8 found the Japanese, however, but they were all shot down with one survivor, George Gay. My friend Ronnie Fisher was killed in that raid. I wrote to a girl he had been corresponding with to let her know about Ronnie. We continued writing to each other and she later became my wife.
I was injured at Midway, but not seriously. After we landed I mentioned to a friend that it really hurts when you wear your helmet for a long time. He asked, “what’s all that blood?” I took my helmet off and he got some pliers and pulled a half-inch piece of shrapnel from under my left ear. I didn’t know about Purple Hearts and knew there was another flight that day that I didn’t want to miss, so I never reported that injury.
Visiting the Cannibals
We returned to Pearl Harbor and then left for the South Pacific and the Coral Sea. We were to be joined by the Saratoga approximately the end of August, but it was hit by a torpedo. My pilot, Kirkpatrick, and I saw the oil slick while on the lookout for Japanese submarines. The Saratoga had a 20 by 26 foot hole in its starboard bow and was returned to the states.
The Wasp then joined us and on September 15th was hit by torpedoes and caught fire. Ten of our planes took off from the Hornet and flew to Espiritu Santo so the Wasp’s planes could land aboard. Five dive bombers were sent ahead of the ship on a search mission for Japanese subs and were then to go on to Espiritu Santo. Five of us in SBDs ran out of fuel and ditched near Pentecost Island in the New Hebrides. One pilot, Tipas, didn’t have a radioman since he had about five cases of liquor in his back seat to possibly sell on the island. He took a different route and crashed on another island in the area.
We spent about four days on the island and were finally rescued by PBYs. All of the islands were inhabited by cannibals—friendly, we hoped. We got back aboard the Hornet and our next mission was on October 5th when we (four fighters and 12 to 14 dive bombers) attacked Rekata Bay in the morning and Guadalcanal later that day. Rekata Bay was a seaplane base that we helped destroy.
Life and Death in the Santa Cruz Islands
On October 15, 1942 we hit Bougainville in an early morning raid, and on October 26th we fought at the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in the Solomons campaign. As Kirkpatrick and I pulled out of our dive after dropping our bomb, we found we were joined by four Japanese Zeros, two starboard and one to port several hundred yards away, plus one behind and below only about 25 yards away. We were 50 feet above the water and making evasive moves, but we were shot in the tip of the wing and rudder. The Zero behind and below us shot me with a 20 mm. cannon shell that came up between my feet and destroyed my radio transmitter and another that went through my left knee and left side, taking out part of my cockpit. That shot slewed me around which put my guns toward the port side of our plane. I shot his wing off and watched him crash. We were so close that, if he had lived, I could have recognized him if I saw him on the street. He was my third unconfirmed kill that day.
We made it back aboard the Enterprise since the Hornet had been sunk. We were the next to last plane able to land on the Enterprise. A crewmember was heard to say, “look, that plane’s bleeding!” It was from my wounds. Our plane was so damaged that it was shoved over the side.
I had surgery two days later. When we pulled into Noumea, New Caledonia, I was transferred to the Solace, a hospital ship. The Solace had to go back to Guadalcanal so the injured were transferred to the Lurline, a passenger ship, and I ended up in San Diego in December at Balboa Naval Hospital. I was finally allowed to go on liberty in February and met my future wife for the first time.
Into the Atlantic
I spent five months in the hospital at Balboa and was released in April 1943. I had orders to CASU 5 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit) which I didn’t want and reported instead to Commander, Fleet Air West Coast for an assignment. I finally found a dive bomber squadron (SBD-4s or -5s) that I was qualified for and went to VC-58, then forming at Sand Point Naval Air Station in Washington. We changed to TBF-1s and after training we went to San Diego, were fitted with rocket rails, went across country to Quonset Point, and finally down to Norfolk where we got aboard the CVE USS Block Island. We made one trip with four destroyer escorts to Casablanca and back which took about six weeks. We dropped sonic buoys after German submarines submerged but didn’t make any attacks.
My pilot, LCDR McCroskey, died in a night field carrier landing practice accident at East Field. I started flying with LT Helmuth E. Horner on the USS Guadalcanal on the next trip. In the middle of April 1944 we contacted a submarine on radar, made an attack and hit it with two depth charges that destroyed the ballast tanks. It couldn’t submerge and they abandoned ship. All 58 or so crewmembers survived and were brought aboard ship.
About two nights later (we flew five nights out of six, launching at 2330 and recovering at 0400) we caught another submarine on the surface. It submerged while we were making a run on it and we dropped a sonic mine, a “hot dog,” which went off and destroyed the submarine. We recovered seven or eight survivors.
Patrol Bomber Aircrew
The Guadalcanal returned to the states and Horner and I went out next time on the USS Wake Island. We didn’t see anything on that trip. We returned to Norfolk where I got orders to flight school at Pre-Flight Training in Iowa City, Iowa. Before reporting for pre-flight training, I married Betty Lou Mathes in Long Beach, CA. I then went to the University of Iowa for pre-flight school. I got out of there in June 1945 and went to Memphis, TN for primary training. I was in primary training when the war ended and we stopped flying for several weeks while the authorities figured out what to do with us enlisted pilots. They basically ended up purging us from the program.
I went from there to electronics school at Dearborn, Michigan at the Ford Factory. Mr. Ford wanted his property back since the war was over so the school was transferred to Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I left there and went to Annapolis. While there, I got my private pilot’s license. I spent a year at Annapolis and then was transferred to VPMS-1 in Bermuda. When I reported to Norfolk, I found out that VPMS-1 was being decommissioned and I ended up in VPML-8, the first P2V squadron formed at Quonset Point. I went there in July 1947.
I took a discharge from service in October 1947 in order to get on the west coast where my wife and newborn daughter were living at the time. I reenlisted a month later in VP-42 at San Diego, a PBM squadron. In September 1948 we left San Diego and went to Tsingtao China. We spent seven and a half months in Tsingtao, came back from there and were decommissioned. From there I went to VA-195 at Alameda Naval Air Station. I spent about four months there, then requested a transfer to VC-5 at Moffett Field. I got the transfer around September 1949 and stayed in VC-5 until June 1954.
Around April 1950, while with VC-5, I was in one of three crews that flew a P2V off the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Navy wanted to get into the atom bomb race. This was a test run to see if a P2V could possibly carry an atom bomb for a long distance. I flew with Fillmore B. Gilkeson non-stop for 24.5 hours. We had to maintain a true air speed of 200 knots and climb to 10,000 feet in order to drop the bomb. In that trip we passed over Cuba, bombed (simulated) the Panama Canal, and returned to Moffett Field non-stop, a trip of approximately 5,000 miles.
Down to Earth At Last
I left VC-5 in 1954 and took orders for shore duty at Pt. Mugu, CA. I stayed at Pt. Mugu for two years and in July 1956 received orders to the Naval Air Technical Training Center ATV School. After finishing there I went to Jacksonville, FL to VFP-62. I retired from active duty in August 1959 and returned to California where my wife and I had bought a house. I completed my service with a Silver Star, three Air Medals, two Letters of Commendation and one Purple Heart.
I went to work for Naval Air Missile Test Center at Pt. Mugu in November 1959. I worked there on several different projects, Gorgon Five and so on, until 1976 at which time I retired with a total of about 37 years of federal service. I had a TV shop in the meantime and ran it until 1983 when my wholesaler closed down. Without a source of parts I decided to give up that work. I played golf with a group of friends most of the time, did crossword puzzles, etc. My wife and I had four children. They are now all married and live in California. I have one grandson, three granddaughters and two step-granddaughters.
My wife passed away on June 4, 2001 from ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease). I’ve been living by myself with my two cats since that time in the same house we bought in 1954. And that’s about all I have to say.
General Quarters...This is Not a Drill USS Enterprise Feb 63 fire/Crash
[Webmaster's Note: The following exchange of memories, is between John Sees and vfp62.com co-sponsor, Pete Wallace, was motivated by the recent History Channel Program, "Shockwave", presenting memories and events of the 1967 USS Forrestal fire.]
This reminded me of the fire on the flight deck of the Enterprise (not as bad as the Forrestal), if I recall it correctly, on the 1st few days out headed for the Med (2nd cruise) sometime in Feb 1963.
It was during night operations and I happened to be in the ships library and heard this very loud crash much different than the normal landing sounds you get use to. I left the library to see what was going on and headed out to the cat walk just forward of the LSO. The flight deck appeared to be totally on fire --an A-5 Vigilante had hit the ramp killing both the pilot and navigator.
My 1st thought was my life is over; we will never make it out of this. They started dumping burning aircraft over the side and called GQ. My GQ station was the line shack on the forward cat walk on the other side of the ship which I headed for, where I stayed and prayed until the all clear was sounded. What a mess! Do you recall this accident?
Pete [former ADJ2 VFP-62]
Yes I do. I remember how dramatic that night time fire was. I also remember it because it was one of the few times I heard the words "This is not a drill.." There were several other fires with J Birds when the fuel
tanks up the middle between the engines would break loose on a cat shot and fall out the back. When the leaking tanks hit the hot Catapult tracks they burst into flames. Got to the point where everybody cleared out when they were going to shoot one. The yellow shirts took the brunt of those fires.
Also, do you remember when we went to battle stations on Enterprise again prefaced with the dreaded "This is not a drill" and they forced a Russian Sub to surface about a thousand yards of the starboard quarter?
I was on deck and saw it -first time I actually saw a sub surface live.
John [Sees, former PH2 VFP-62]
They say exercising the mind as you get older helps from becoming senile! I guess this exchange is good for the mind. I do not recall the Sub surface but do remember the Russian trawlers and Bears snooping around all the time. Especially with the Enterprise and its 1st few cruises as it was our newest and best man of war at the time.
Did Photo Jets fly under the Jacksonville Bridge? Probably!!
[Webmaster's Note: This exchange of emails between Jim Brumm and Ken Kelly, and John Sees and me, relates to a note I added to Cmdr. Norman Youngblood's (our OinC of the Shangri La detachment) biography in "VFP-62 Skippers" pages. When confronted with the question: "Is it true you flew under a bridge while taking pictures?", we only got a shrewd smile.]
To Ken: [Kelly]:
From Jim [Brumm former JO2 VFP-62]
Do you remember Mr. Youngblood's bridge episode and what aircraft he supposedly used on that flight?
From: Ken [Kelly former YN2 VFP-62]
...as for Youngblood - wasn't he the pilot that took the "mystery photo sequence" ... later determined to be footage of the underside of the Jax. bridge, as he flew inverted under the span with his cameras activated?? One of the pilots did.. I think Youngblood.
To Ken [Jack] :
From: John [Sees former PH2 VFP-62]
Was looking at the picture of Lt. Taylor and was trying to remember if he was the one that got tagged for flying under the Johns River Bridge [Webmaster: He wasn't]. If he is the same one I remember having a brief conversation with him and a couple of other guys in the Photo Line Shack wherein he stated his desire to fly through our hangar.
He was a wild man at the stick. Again not sure but I think it was him that came in the line shack and announced he had won the bet again this month. When questioned he informed us that every month the Navy bet him he would not live to the end of the month. So this particular month he announces he had won the bet.
We were then advised that most pilots called the bet merely FLIGHT PAY.
Too bad I can't confirm it for sure. Although during my working career I was with a retired Admiral working for American President Container Lines who at one time was the CO of NAS Jax and we got on the subject
of underflying the Bridge. It appears it was an unwritten right of passage for Navy Pilots in and around JAX. Many did it anyway despite the consequences.
Jeff D'Amico (son of John D'Amico, now deceased) writes: "I did get a chance to check out some updates on the site the other day and read the interview about the flight under the JAX bridge. Now I understand that this happened probably 15 years before I was even thought of but, it actually made me chuckle a little because I remember my Dad telling my brother and I about this. I remember him telling us that they developed the film and couldn't figure out what it was until they blew up the photos more and saw that it was the bottoms of cars through the grated bridge.
Herb Gold PH1 VC-62 1951-1955: Did anyone fly under the Main Street Bridge, yes there was talk about it then and when the photos were developed and printed photo interpretation tried to figure out how the shots were made without flying under the bridge. We never did get a clear answer from the pilot.
Ken - As a followup to the daredevil flights under the Jacksonville bridges, I was so fascinated that I consulted my nautical charts and found the following: the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville has horizonal clearance of 173 feet and vertical clearance of 44 feet in the down position. A more tempting and less suicidal bridge to fly under would have been the Mathews Street Bridge which sits by itself on Commodore's Point in Jax and has vertical clearance of 141 feet and horizonal clearance of 960 feet. It would have been nearly impossible to fly under the Main St. bridge, especially in an inverted position, and come out without hitting another bridge or a building on the side of the St. Johns River, even back then, but who knows. I think it's a great story and must be a fond memory for all who participated.
Added 4/21/12: I was stationed at Pensacola when a fellow NAP flew under it [bridge]. They were a flight of 3 or 4 and they never flew as pilots again.
A Commisaryman "mole"; Gedunks for VFP-62
To all those Commissarymen out there, thanks for all the chow!
In our VFP-62 photo detachment on USS Intrepid, F8U-1P Crusaders, our Commissaryman was sometimes up on the flight deck with us. What a guy! God Bless You, CS3 Houlne, "Mister Houlne"! He made sure we had "extra" goodies, from who knows where...
"Mr. Houlne" was our Det contribution to the ship's crew. Like we had to supply a mess cook or a coop cleaner. We would sneak him up to the flight deck, give him a little well-supervised training and see how us boys on the roof did things. He would help the plane captains and watch the launches well away from the action. We did NOT want anything happening to our source of gedunks! He was a real salt; a treat to know him. I believe he was from NY or NJ, gutsy wise guy voice, a good shipmate.
Before we returned from the Med in Feb 1961, we had his fellow CS buddies make a cake for him. That cake is all firebrick, with mashed potato "frosting"!
Ed Houlne, CS3
"John Wayne Departing": The "Duke" Visits the Enterprise
What about this? On the 1st or 2nd cruise John Wayne came on board it seems to me it was one of the Spanish isles and was not a port we had liberty.
It was the second cruise when John Wayne came aboard. Here is the story and I am copying Ken for whatever he might want to do with it. One of the guys from the photo lab was on the Boat boom sponson and John Wayne tooled up in a cabin cruiser. He hollered up to the guy if he could come aboard. So the guy said sure. John Wayne moored the boat to the boat boom and climbed up the ladder and came aboard.
They went down to the photo lab had coffee and took a group photo. Lcdr. Dutch the photo officer came back from somewhere and walked in on the proceeding. His first question was "Did anybody notify the captain?" Of course they didn't so he calls up to the OOD to notify the Captain who came down to the photo lab to collect John Wayne. The captain wanted to know how he was able to get aboard without anyone knowing. John explained what transpired and left with the Captain.
Later the Captain had John's boat brought around to the Officers Gang way and they announced "John Wayne departing" over the 1MC. I was in the photo lab at the time by just dumb luck. I was not allowed to be in the group photo because I didn't work there. I saw the picture but never got a copy. I seem to recall it was published somewhere perhaps the Cruise Book; I will have to look.
[Webmaster's Note: Marion Swinford remembers this incident:]
I saw the sea story you had added to the web site about John Wayne and remember the event well. I was aboard the Enterprise (with VA 76) when he came aboard and I remember the story much the same as you do. (July 1964) The exception was that when he said "Can I come aboard?", he was told "No!" and his reply was "Like hell I can't" and climbed the ladder anyway. I did see the cabin cruiser he came alongside in while tied onto the port boat boom. Our berthing compartment was on the port side 03 level above those booms I believe I have a video of the boat and if I can find it will bring it to the reunion. We were in Palma Mallorca at the time.
The story was told that he owned a villa there.
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