Lt. Daniel R. Cavalier, USNR Aviator, Lighter-Than-Air
Flying Airships 12 to 16 hours over the ocean, three or four times a week, looking for enemy ships or U-Boats, was not exciting unless we were confronted by the enemy. So much of what I wrote about in my memoir is focused on what happened to me on land rather than at sea.
1941/42, Baltimore, Maryland:
A year or so before we entered WW II, congress established a military service Draft Board and I was old enough to be in the first draft. In my second year at Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, I received notice to report to the Draft Board. After a physical exam I filled out a request to finish the semester before reporting for active duty.
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, I was having breakfast at a corner drugstore on Charles Street and heard on the radio Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was a traumatic moment, a moment of disbelief. President Roosevelt came on the radio and made his famous proclamation, “December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy”. The next day the United States declared war on Japan. A couple of days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
In June of 1942 people on the beach at the New Jersey coast, watched offshore within ~1000 yards, as a German U-Boat sank a Merchant ship coming down the coast.
Early in 1942, before the semester ended, I decided to try to get into the aviation program for the Army Air Corps and was all set to take the exam, but a friend of mine, who I met on a bus one day, told me that he had taken the exam for the Naval Aviation Cadet V5 Program. I decided to take that exam first. I passed and was sworn into the Navy V5 Naval Aviation Cadet Program two days before I was to report for the draft.
June 1942, Pre-Preflight School 1942:
While awaiting active duty, the Navy offered me a summer program called “Pre-Preflight School” on the Hyattsville Campus of the University of Maryland. I accepted and moved into the dorms. In addition to heavier than air flight training, I took a number of courses in navigation, naval history, U. S. /Enemy aircraft identification, meteorology, and ship identification. I took my final check out flight at Schram’s Airport, in Hyattsville, which consisted of confidence maneuvers (doing figure eight's, turning the nose up and flipping the plane downward, etc.). After 6 hours of dual flight training, I was sent aloft without ever having landed a plane by myself. Two unsuccessful attempts to land the Piper Cub (we called the plane “The Yellow Peril”), I was about to give up, take the plane to 4000 feet and jump out. I was wearing a parachute. However, on my third attempt, I landed sideways, did a ground loop and got safely down. My flight instructor immediately took me up again and showed me how to use the rudder to land the plane. I received my private pilots’ license on 12 August 1942.
Received orders to attend Preflight school at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.
Naval Aviation Cadet University of Georgia:
One of the first things we had to do was to have a short-arms inspection (physical examination, bending over with our pants and shorts down) and cadets who were not circumcised were encouraged to have their peckers plucked for health reasons.
The academic and athletic programs were very intense and I did quite well in both areas. The Navy’s athletic program was headed up by Commander Jack Dempsey, a former heavyweight boxing world champion. Along with a lot of physical activity, like an obstacle course, we played football, coached by former all-American football players and took boxing lessons from a former boxing pro. I was on the wrestling team and in my first bout, my opponent jammed his head into my ribs and cracked several of them. It was painful and ended my wrestling career. We also had lots of academic studies like aerodynamics, meteorology, enemy aircraft identification, naval history, US Navy aircraft ID, ship identification, and power plants, etc. On Thanksgiving Day, we were repairing a road on campus and I thought what the hell am I doing here, repairing ditches?
One day, my squadron leader, Lieutenant Dixie Howell, an all-American football player, approached me and said that five cadets had been selected to be offered Lighter-Than-Air flight training, and I was one of them. He said it was a special honor. I could turn it down if I wanted to, but he urged me to accept the offer. I had never seen a Blimp and my only recollection of a dirigible was the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. I was told I would be sent to Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
January 1943, Lakehurst Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey:
After the University of Georgia program was over, I reported to Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey for Lighter-Than-Air flight training.
Most of us had heard about Zeppelins, rigid airships, and the destruction of the Hindenburg in 1937 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station was well documented. The US Navy had a number of Zeppelins and all but one had crashed in storms. They were filled with Hydrogen, a very combustible gas. There were many differences between rigid airships and the non-rigid airships that were used by the Navy in WWII. Rigid airships had a keel and metal infrastructure supporting the envelope, and had been mostly inflated with hydrogen, while non-rigid ships had no infrastructure, they were simply a bag (envelope) supporting a gondola and the gas they used was non explosive Helium. There were two ballast bags, fore and aft, filled with air and by adjusting one or the other, the nose would be raised or lowered. Zeppelins were generally much larger than non rigid airships.
U. S. Zeppelins:
R38 1921 (crashed before delivery)
Shenandoah - 1923-25 (crashed in a storm)
Los Angeles - 1924-39 (decommissioned and dismantled)
Akron - aircraft carrier 1931-33 (lost in a storm 1933)
Macon - aircraft carrier 1933-35 (lost in bad weather)
Many people I have spoken to since the war, never knew the Navy had a fleet of Airships that did a significant job in World War II, protecting our ships and convoys against enemy submarines. (In fact, whole books have been written about the Battle of the Atlantic that don't even mention USN blimps.)
Lakehurst Academic/Flight Program:
Dock Routine and Ship Maintenance
Ground Handling and Mooring
Materials, Design and Construction
Navigation & Morse Code
Ordnance and Gunnery
Ship and Aircraft Recognition
Strategy, Tactics and Mission
Our L-Ship flight instructor was a Warrant Officer. We were also to take 3 free balloon flights in order to study aerodynamics. Our free balloons were filled with hydrogen and generally carried three trainees and an instructor. One day an accident occurred coming in for a landing. The balloon’s short line hit a telephone wire causing friction and it exploded, killing everyone on board including one of my roommates. All further balloon flights were eliminated from our program.
Landing our 250-foot-long airship was a challenging operation that required a large and strong ground crew. I remember a serviceman hanging onto a bar in the lower front of the gondola and the blimp suddenly lifted off the ground. He slipped off and was killed.
Ensign USNR - June, 1943:
In June 1943, I was in the second graduation class, received my Ensign commission and flight wings and joined Airship Patrol Squadron 12 (ZP-12) at Lakehurst. We were flying K-Ships, and were involved in antisubmarine patrol and escort duty. Our flights were long, 12 to 16 hours and we flew every other day, fanning the ocean, identifying ships and looking for enemy submarines. We had to sleep in the hangar the night before a flight. Engines were being tested all night long and the noise kept us awake. We were awakened at 12:30 AM, briefed about our flight course and other activities in the area we were to cover, such as other aircraft and ships. We usually took off by 1:30 AM. One way we could stay awake was to drink black coffee, strong enough to paint the bulkhead. Some flights were so rough that before we got to our patrolling area most of the crew had thrown up.
Click on picture above for a larger image.
One Saturday morning I was to take a K-Ship training flight. I informed my girlfriend Naomi Stevan and my mother that I could not come down to Washington that weekend. At the last minute, my flight was switched and we had to stand inspection in the hangar. When the replacement crew moved out of the hanger, they waved to us and yelled from the open windows in the blimp’s gondola, how unlucky we were to have to stand muster in our Navy Blues. About 15-25 minutes after they took off, we were told that the blimp collided with an airplane and all the crew members were killed. The crash hit the news media. I was standing inspection and could not call (no cell phones in 1943) my mother or Naomi (Naomi Stevan, was a Ballet Dancer that I met when I was a student at Peabody Institute in Baltimore), to let them know about the crew switch. I was in a state of panic. After we were dismissed, I tried calling my mother and Naomi but got no answer. I had the weekend off and decided to head right down to Washington. In order to get to Washington from Lakehurst, I had to take a bus to Philadelphia and then a train to Washington. I started out as early as I could and arrived in Washington late that afternoon. My mother was at the USO Servicemen’s Club at the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street where she volunteered. I had not been able to contact her, but I did get Naomi and we headed down to the USO immediately. In the meantime, my mother heard about the crash and was trying to reach me. When we walked in, newspaper reporters and photographers were there talking to my mother, I thought she was going to faint. It was the first time my mother met Naomi. She told me that she was the kind of girl I should marry.
December 5, 1943 Marriage: Naomi was 18 and I was 22.
Five days after we were married Naomi was in terrible pain, and I took her to the Lakehurst base hospital. They could not diagnose the problem. Finally, an ambulance took her to a hospital in Philadelphia and from there to Baltimore where her family doctor was located. Naomi was diagnosed with a malfunctioning kidney, full of puss. The surgeon who would remove the kidney said she probably had the problem for a long time and was lucky to be alive.
I don’t know why the Lakehurst doctor grounded me. And since I could not fly, I thought it was OK for me to go to Baltimore and be with Naomi at the hospital. I was so distraught, I did not think about contacting the squadron commander to get his permission to go off the base. Ensign John Vaughn, a fellow officer and friend (John was a roommate and was Best Man at our wedding), called me at the hospital and told me that he was asked to find me and that I was AWOL. If I didn’t come back to Lakehurst immediately, I would be arrested and court-martialed. I rushed back to the base and was not allowed to leave the base for a week. I was very upset. Finally, after one week, I was allowed to go see her in the hospital where she was slowly recovering from the operation. I climbed up on the bed and held her in my arms.
In the meantime, I was given orders to take my crew to South America. On the way to our new base in Fortaleza, Brazil, we were to go through anti-sub school in Key West, Florida. Naomi was out of the hospital after surgery and in eleven days was able to accompany me, weak as she was, to Key West. My copilot, Adam Koblitz, who was married four days before us, decided to bring Anita, his new wife and two friends, Sandy and Seena Leff, recently stationed at Richmond Naval Air Station, also joined us. We were able to spend a couple of days in Miami before reporting to Sub School in Key West.
March 12, 1944 - Key West Naval Sub Station:
Our training program lasted 10 days. We tracked subs, practiced dropping underwater detonators and spent a number of days in the subs, below the surface, practicing maneuvers and how to avoid detection. I found the subs cloistered, hot and uncomfortable. The only way to cool a bit was to stand directly under a vent. I felt sorry and proud of the crews, their quarters were very cramped and some of their bunks were opposite torpedos.
Flying to Fortaleza, Brazil - March 22/23, 1944:
After the sub program, Naomi returned to Washington and stayed with her mother and we left for Fortaleza, Brazil, located on the northeastern quadrant of the country.
March 22, 1944 Zandery, Dutch Guiana:
Flying down to Fortaleza in a Navy DC-3, was quite an experience, sitting in bucket seats along the bulkhead of the aircraft, we were in the air for 16 hours. Looking over the wing, I could see some very beautiful clouds, a tropical thunderstorm, very dangerous to fly through. The flight was mighty rocky and the bucket seats were very uncomfortable. The center aisle of the plane was loaded with equipment.
As I stepped off the plane, that evening in Zandery, Dutch Guiana, I saw a coral snake about two feet from where I was standing. Needless to say, I had a hell of a time sleeping that night. We left Zandery early the next morning, March 23, for our base in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Fortaleza, Brazil March 1944:
NAF Fortaleza was officially established on November 26, 1943. It supported ASW patrols in offshore waters in conjunction with the seaplane squadrons based in nearby NAS Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Northern Brazil was the closest point to North Africa. Prior to WW II, Germany had close ties with the Brazilian Government. I was told that the Germans built many of the Harbor and Port facilities and trained their Army. I did notice how similar the Brazilian Military uniforms resembled German Army uniforms. Vargas, the head of the Brazilian Government, was a dictator and apparently made a deal with the United States to get the German Military out of Brazil and provided the United States with facilities to organize its Task Forces for the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch in November 1942).
The USN Lighter-Than-Air’s primary task was to protect our convoys from U-Boat attacks. After the U. S. had a stronghold in Casablanca, French Morocco, airships would escort the ships until airplanes stationed in North Africa could take over the mission.
Fortaleza was a small seaport on the northeastern part of the country. I estimate the population in 1944 between 75,000-100,000. The 2006 cencus population was over 1.9 million people. There was a lot of poverty, many people lived in shacks without water, electricity or bathroom facilities and many of the streets were mud surfaced. However, the downtown business sector was quite nice with a beautiful small central park. Close to the equator, it was extremely hot in the summer.
Our base was dominated by Maranguape Mountain west of the city. It had no hangars and our airships were masted on the tarmac.
My Longest Flight:
Our mission was to escort a Naval Task Force eastward and to protect it against enemy submarines. If we made contact with a sub, we were to execute an immediate bombing run. Our ship was armed with two five hundred pound Torpex underwater detonators, a 45 caliber machine gun, a BAR rifle and Radar.
We met the convoy at about 1:30 AM and began our search pattern, crisscrossing the task force and searching to the north and south of the convoy’s course. We were told to stay with the ships until we were relieved and could return to our base. About 8 PM, my crew was exhausted and I decided to rotate the men so that each crew member could get some rest. We had one bunk on board and a couple of bolted deck chairs. I set up a rest rotation for the crew. My crew consisted of eight members; the captain (me), the copilot, the navigator (three officers), and five enlisted men.
Around midnight, we got a message from the base to stay with the fleet because they had information that there were enemy submarines in the area. We flew the rest of the night. My rest rotation was the last and I crawled into the bunk and immediately fell asleep.
At dawn, my copilot awakened me and said that we had been relieved and could head back to our base. I asked what our position was and no one knew where the hell we were.
Actually, I could not blame the crew. We were flying all over the place, and we were not given the Fleet's course. We were not allowed to use any radio aids to determine our location. Well, we didn't have to be too smart to know that the sun rises in the east and we were somewhere east of the landfall. We made landfall three hours later, determined that we were north of Sao Luiz. We landed, refueled and took off for Fortaleza.
Transfer to Salvador (Ipitanga Naval Air Station), Bahia, Brazil 1944:
Salvador had an upper and lower city. The way you could get from one level to the other was by an elevator that jutted out over the two parts of the city. It was roughly 4 to 6 stories high. The upper city, where most of the city was located, was a very beautiful colonial city. The Cathedral, was called the “Gold Cathedral”, because of its gold tiled dome and gold mantle pieces. It was built in the 1530’s and it still had the original hand pumped organ on the upper choir loft. One of the monks played it for me. Most interesting in Salvador were the Bahianas, descendants of Portuguese slaves, who wore unusual clothing and many still practiced voodoo.
Tenente Manero was in charge of the Brazilian army base in Salvador. I don’t remember how I met him, he was a calvary officer and on days off I would meet him and we’d ride beautiful Argentine military stallions.
The base was also a camp for interned Germans who may have had connections with the Third Reich. A few of them, wearing only underwear, would approach me, spoke very good English, claimed they were innocent of any spying for the Nazis, said they were teachers and wanted to know what I could do to help them.
What made Tenente Menero famous was the capture of a former Brazilian Officer by the name of Lampion. Lampion was considered a kind of Robin Hood by the jungle Indians. He decided to become a militant activist for the suppressed and ill-treated Indian Tribes. Lampion went into the jungle and joined up with the Indians. He and a group of Indians would raid a plantation, kill its owners and take everything they could carry, including food, back to their hideouts deep in the jungle. These raids and killings went on for several years and the government was frustrated with its inability to track down Lampion and his desperadoes. Finally the government chose Tenente Menero to lead a small group of military men into the jungle to track down these outlaws and bring them to justice.
The men (Manero and me) who caught Lampion
The jungle was so dense that it took Menero over a month to travel ten miles into the area where they believed Lampion was operating. Tracking Lampion was a difficult task, since he continually moved his base of operations. Finally, one night Menero was able to surround Lampion’s camp. He was inside the tent with his mistress and Menero ordered all of the criminals to surrender. They did surrender, but Menero was afraid that it would be impossible to safely bring the captives physically back through the jungle to his military base. He decided to shoot all of them, decapitate them and bring only their heads back as proof of the capture of Lampion and his cohorts. I saw the heads lined up in a glass showcase in Menero’s office. About ten years after the war, Life Magazine did a spread on Lampion, the Robin Hood of Brazil.
Letter from Adam Koblitz, my copilot 1998:
In 1995, I was able to find Adam, who lived in Cleveland, Ohio, through the Lighter-Than-Air Association. Naomi and I arranged to meet him and Anita for lunch in Pittsburgh. It had been over 50 years; we hardly recognized each other, but schmoozing, especially each of our memories of our longest flight, was fun. Our stories in some areas didn't match. Adam recalled sitting at a table playing cards when someone came up and emptied a pillowcase containing a huge snake (a 9 foot Boa Constrictor) on the table. Then there was the time when someone’s pet monkey bounced over the wall (walls didn’t reach the ceiling) from the bed in one room to the bed in the next room down the length of the building. Another time, Adam and I had to see a dentist, and when we got there, there was a foot pedal drill, state of the art! It was a nightmare to drill and fill a tooth. He also recalled eating at a nice restaurant in Salvador right on the edge of the cliff of the upper city, overlooking the ocean. As we ate dinner someone would deliver bloody sides of beef, hanging over the carrier’s bloody shirt, through the dining room. A lovely sight to see while having a steak dinner.
Flying down to Rio de Janeiro end of 1944:
In the late fall of 1944, I flew a ship for major overhaul down the South Atlantic coast of Brazil to Santa Cruz Naval Station, 30 miles south of Rio. The commanding officer in charge of maintenance estimated that the repairs would take three to four weeks. I decided that the crew should go up to Rio for some R. & R. I arranged to come to the base once a week and check on maintenance progress. I had each man in my crew check in with me twice a day so that we could leave as soon as the ship repairs were completed. The trip to Rio from Santa Cruz, by train, loaded with peasants, chickens, ducks, pigs and personal belongings, on a narrow (O track) gauge, Victorian vintage railroad took eight hours to cover the thirty miles to Rio. My crew and I stayed in Rio until the ship was ready to be flown back to our base in Salvador. I had an aircraft camera on board the ship and took some pictures along the way.
Bottom left photograph: Monastery; Right photo: Grave Yard
There was no gasoline available for civilian automobiles. When I got to Rio, I was astounded to see charcoal fires burning in the trunk of cabs all over town. I don’t know how it was done, but the charcoal was converted to fuel that powered the engines. I wouldn’t even pretend to guess the number of cars that caught on fire. If I had to ride in one, I certainly would have carried a fire extinguisher.
In about three weeks, I received a call from the maintenance squadron commander that our ship was ready to return to our base. I took the train down to Santa Cruz the next morning and inspected the Blimp repair manifest. Everything checked out and I signed for the release of the ship. I called my crew and had them return to Santa Cruz immediately. We took off early the next morning and arrived in Salvador that evening.
Rio de Janeiro:
Several months, after returning from Rio, I was ordered to Maceo, Brazil.
Maceo Naval Air Station, November 1944:
Shore Patrol Officer, 1944:
A REPORT I MADE TO THE COMMANDING OFFICER, NAVAL AIR FACILITY, MACEO, BRAZIL
25 November 1944, Commanding Officer Squadron 42
At 15:44, Saturday, 25 November 1944, while Shore Patrol Officer, I was summoned to the beach by an enlisted man, who said that a Brazilian girl had drowned and in an attempt to save her, he himself was nearly overcome by the heavy surf and undertow. Several navy personnel, who were swimming in the vicinity, immediately swam to the girl, who by this time had lost consciousness and was floating head down in the water. The three men brought the girl to the beach in spite of the heavy undertow which had dragged her quite a distance from the shore. When I arrived, after running a distance of approximately 300 yards from the USO to where the incident occurred, the men had just brought the girl out of the surf, laid her on the beach, and begun respiration. I immediately examined the girl and there was no indication of life. I organized my shore patrol men in a circle, kept the Brazilians back, and proceeded to apply a rhythmical method of respiration. The girl had swallowed a great deal of water and after 20 to 30 minutes of respiration she began to take great gasps. The breathing was still not normal and she took one breath to every five or six normal breaths. We all alternated giving her the prone pressure method of respiration, and I placed the girl’s head on the back of one hand and stationed a man at her head to watch her tongue. After 45 minutes of respiration without interruption, the girl began to breath without assistance. We continued the process until we were sure she was all right. In the meantime, I sent to the USO for blankets and asked for a doctor who had been sent for immediately after she was brought to the beach, but the doctor had not arrived. We finally carried the girl 50 yards up the beach to higher ground, laid her down, head downhill to help stimulate the circulation of blood. We then rolled her into a blanket and moved her to the USO. She was breathing normally although she was still unconscious and was suffering from shock. The Brazilian doctor arrived just as we got her to the USO and I turned the patient over to him. He stretched her out on the floor and gave her an injection of medication for shock. After the stimulant took effect he drove her to the hospital in a cab. We never saw her again.
A few weeks later, our squadron was called to muster and the skipper presented us with a commendation for saving her life. When I returned to my squad, the enlisted men were quietly chuckling and when I asked them why, they told me she was one of the town’s favorite prostitutes.
Venereal disease was rampant in these small towns and the Navy decided to put the ‘houses of ill repute’ off limits. If a sailor was caught in one of the houses and developed a venereal disease, he would be court-martialed. So, as shore patrol officer, it was my responsibility to patrol the area and keep the enlisted men out of the houses, a task worthy of a platoon. When on night duty, I would stand in a darkened doorway under an overhang across the street from a row of houses and watch the action as sailors jumped out of cabs and ran into the houses. It was a game of touch and go. I’d wait about 20 minutes and then proceed to visit each of the ‘paradise parlors’. I’d go from bedroom door to door bang on the door with my night stick and announce that the shore patrol would be coming through in ten minutes. Then I would go out, cross the street and watch the flurry. Sailors came running out in under shorts, shirt and pants in hand. I never did put a guy on report.
Caravelles was a small auxiliary base south of Maceo. The base was about ten miles from the town, if one could call it that. While stationed there, two events happened that may or may not be worth writing about. The first incident involved some of our men who were target practicing in the jungle that surrounded the mat. Apparently, one of the bullets ricocheted, struck an old woman and killed her. There was a large (for the area in which she lived) public disturbance around her house. We were very alarmed and thought our base was going to be attacked by a bunch of Brazilian peasants. Our skipper met with with the woman’s family and I don’t know what actually happened, but things quieted down.
I had the duty one night when our chief reported that one of our weapons carriers had disappeared. We searched the base and the perimeter and the vehicle was gone. We did a head count and found that one of the enlisted men was missing. Obviously, he had stolen the carrier. I decided to take a jeep and search the town for the man and the missing vehicle. The only way to get to the town was through a narrow trail in the jungle, hardly wide enough for the jeep. I took an enlisted man with me to help clear any debris in our way and to help with the search. We arrived in the town around four a.m. Caravelles was a jungle nightmare with a row of shacks facing a river. I was told that its claim to fame was that an Italian pilot landed his pontoon plane on the river and it was the first airplane to land in Brazil. It was really a dreary site with a mist coming off the river enveloping the dawn. The first place we searched was on a small railroad platform. Bodies were sleeping all over the platform and we’d awaken a person and ask if they saw an American. One fellow told us to look in the row of houses along the river. When we got to the area the weapons carrier was parked on the mud street. We began knocking on each door and shouting “esta Americana aqui”. Finally we got a ”si” answer and we had our man. I handcuffed him and attached him to the side of the jeep and drove back to the base. The man we caught did develop a venereal disease and was court martialed and sent back to the states.
We lived a sordid life in addition to our flight duties. The year 1944 seemed to fly by, and I don’t mean that as a pun. The holidays were approaching and the skipper wanted to have a New Years’ celebration at the base BOQ. The captain asked me, (I was the BOQ duty officer) to put together a party and he would invite some of his Brazilian friends to join us. A short distance from the base there was a large ranch owned by some very wealthy Brazilians who raised the most beautiful orchids I had ever seen. To prepare for the event, I flew up to Balem in a navy plane and filled the bombay with lots of libation and goodies for our party. Needless to say, we very quickly forgot our loneliness and the good folks at home.
Shortly after New Years, the skipper told me that he had selected me to go to Lakehurst to attend an advanced Navigation School and I would return to Maceo when the program ended.
Returning to the United States, January 1945:
I left Maceo, Brazil in a Navy DC-3, stopped in Belem and overnighted in Trinidad. The next morning, a Navy plane flew to Miami. Just as I was leaving Maceo the Brazilian orchid growers gave me a box with a dozen orchids in a variety of colors and four caged parakeets to take to my wife. By the time I arrived in Miami the orchids had shriveled and the parakeets were taken away from me by the customs health inspectors. The first thing I did when I landed was to have a glass of milk. It tasted better than a Scotch and Soda. Powdered milk was the stuff we had in S. A. and it was like drinking milk of magnesia. I’ve never had a glass of milk that tasted like nectar and I relished each mouthful.
I caught a late afternoon domestic flight to Washington. When I arrived, there was a large snow storm and it took me until midnight to get to my parents house. I only had my summer khakis and damn near froze to death. The minute I arrived, I called Naomi. She was in College Park, Maryland, normally a 25 minute drive from Washington, staying with her mother while I was overseas. I borrowed my father’s car and drove through the driving snowstorm to pick up Naomi and bring her back to my parents’ house. It was around four in the morning by the time we got back.
I don’t remember how I got an automobile, but Naomi had saved enough money for us to buy a used Dodge sedan. When I went overseas, I sent Naomi my flight pay and just took the 20% flight and overseas pay for living expenses. We were subject to gasoline rationing. It was difficult to get fuel to drive up to Lakehurst when it was time for me to report to the navigation school.
We found a furnished apartment in Lakewood, New Jersey. The apartment was across the lake from the town. Lakewood was a small resort town and lots of New Yorkers would come down on the weekends. I don’t recall the family’s name that owned the Lakewood Hotel, but whenever we went there for dinner, they always picked up the check. They were extremely generous to men in the military.
The navigation program would last two months and then I would have to go back to Brazil. The program was intensive and we were in class eight hours each day, five days a week. We also had to fly on some of the weekends.
We focused eight hours a day on the navigation program, including dead reckoning, radio aids, Link trainer and celestial navigation. We also studied a brand new navigational device called Loran. The instructor mentioned that there was a possibility that we would fly a ship to North Africa. Our final exam was to use a variety of navigational aids to fly from Lakehurst to Hawaii. We were to return to our squadrons, set up a navigation retraining program for all pilots who were required to attend the sessions.
At the end of the project, fortunately, instead of going back to Brazil, I received orders to report to Richmond Naval Air Station, south of Miami.
Richmond Naval Air Station 1945:
I reported for duty at Richmond in the early spring of 1945. In addition to my flight duties, I was to set up a navigation program for all the officers on the base. In addition to the officers’ program, I set up a volunteer class for enlisted men who were interested in learning the rudiments of navigation. Lieutenant Commander Nahigian was the Squadron Commander.
In addition to anti-sub, rescue and escort missions, we took a lot of flights to the Nassau area with a group of scientists on board. They were involved in developing magnetic torpedo devices. The ship was equipped with special tracking equipment and cameras and we’d work with cruisers and submarines. For example, a cruiser would launch a torpedo and the scientists would track and photograph its course towards the submarine. It would circle around until it was in line with the subs propellor and then run straight for the sub.
An exercise that scared the hell out of my entire crew was an A/S Rescue Operation. I’m sure it was thought up by a genius that a Blimp could perform like a Helicopter. We would lower a huge ballast bag, attached by a long rope to the aft end of the gondola, into the water to slow down the ship, and gradually lower it so that we could hover over the target and drop a rope ladder to rescue someone in the water.
Back To Lakehurst, April 1945:
Late April of that year, I received orders to report to Lakehurst for temporary flight duty. Naomi and I headed north and again rented a small furnished apartment in Lakewood.
Apparently, our decoders picked up a German message directly from Hitler to the German U-Boats, to attack New York City. Our Navy set up a barrier patrol around New York Harbor, placing radar picket boats around Barnegat Light at the entrance to New York’s Harbor. We were to maintain air patrols twenty-four hours a day. If one of our ships picked up a radar contact, we were to immediately make an under water detonator run. A flight I will never forget was the night of May 5th, 1945, we patrolled over the New York Harbor area with a Navy captain on board. He was head of North Atlantic meteorology. The night was black as coal and thunder storms were racing through the area. We were supposed to operate at 500 feet above sea level. The altimeter we had on board was a barometric pressure unit. With air pressure changing dramatically and zero visibility, we were never sure how high we were flying or whether our Blimp would crash into the sea. The storm caused our Blimp to rock and roll and bounce all over the place. Of course, we were all sick as dogs and the crew had thrown up several times. On the way back to the base we heard rumors that Germany had capitulated. Many years later I read a book, “The Third Reich” by Hitler’s official architect, Albert Spear and he mentioned the New York U-Boat incident.
The morning after Germany capitulated we picked up seven U-Boats operating between Boston Harbor and Cape May, New Jersey. However, the morning after Germany gave up we lost a ship, sunk by a U-Boat between Montauk Point and Fire Island. When the Navy raised and captured the U-Boat, the captain of the sub claimed that he did not receive the surrender order. He told the Navy that he had been operating for three months with our New England based training submarines. He would follow them into Long Island Sound in the evening, surface after dark in order to charge his batteries. Very early in the morning he would submerge and follow our subs out of the sound after the below water barrier between Montauk Point and Fire Island was lowered, and sink ships as they passed through the area. The Navy had wondered why we lost so many merchant ships in the area.
I recall rumors during the war, that German U-boats were landing men on U. S. southern beaches. The men would visit stores and buy groceries and take them back to their subs.
A friend recently sent me an e-mail with the following information:
A new documentary has revealed that at the height of WWII, German U-boats had dropped eight saboteurs in the United States on a secret mission to destroy targets across the country.
According to the German documentary, "Attack on America" Hitler`s 9/11", the first group of four men carrying armfuls of weapons, explosives and primers came ashore near New York on June 13, 1942, with another four landing from another U-boat off Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida four days later.
They were supposed to stage attacks on economic targets such as New York`s Penn Station, hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls and aluminum factories in Illinois and Tennessee. Code named Operation Pastorius, the mission was the brainchild of Admiral Wilhelm Donitz.
Back to Richmond Naval Air Station 1945:
Around July of 1945, I returned to the Richmond Naval Air Station. The Flagler Hotel, on Miami’s inland bay, was taken over by the Navy. They had a two-story group of one bedroom apartments facing south on the grounds of the hotel. Naomi and I were able to get a first floor apartment.
Our Squadron flew patrols around the Miami area and flew into San Julian, an American base near Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We flew a number of flights to the Nassau area with a number of scientist and cameras on board. We’d meet several U. S. Subs and Destroyers and track underwater magnetic torpedoes launched by the boats. Then the scientists would observe and photograph the torpedoes as they circled and headed for the tail end of the subs.
On the day of the Hurricane, September 1945; My own recollection:
On September 14, 1945, I was on duty at the Richmond NAS when we received word that a hurricane was heading towards the coast of Florida. The center of the storm was to cross the south end of the state. Our three hangars were supposed to be hurricane proof. Planes (approximately 400) flew up from Boca Chica and Boca Raton and were battened down in the three enormous hangars. We also had three Blimps moored in each hangar. The commanding officer on duty decided that married men could go home and single men would standby as the hurricane approached. He gave us permission to pull the cars we would not need for transportation into the hangars, so there were approximately 50 cars in the hangers as well as the aircraft. A co-officer, who lived in the same complex, suggested I drive my car into the hangar and he would drive us home. We took off for Miami as the winds and rain began picking up. My friend, Sandy Leff, a Lieutenant Commander in the maintenance (HEDRON) squadron, had the duty and remained on the base. Because the base would have been shorthanded, several of the married officers had to remain on duty as well.
Upon arriving home, we had a leisurely dinner, and listened to the news on our radio. The storm was moving fast and gaining momentum. Suddenly the winds changed and the eye of the storm was heading straight through our base. Winds increased up to 150 miles an hour. We were concerned, but not terribly worried since the hangars were hurricane proof. A Navy requirement was that all the aircraft had to be fully fueled and crews had to stand by the ships in order to fly them out to safety in case of an emergency.
After dinner, Naomi and I gathered the wives in our apartment. As the storm approached and the news became more intense, the wives became very anxious about the safety of their husbands who were still on the base. Around ten o’clock we heard over the radio that there had been a fire on the base but no details were given as to what had happened. Around 11:30 pm word came over the radio that one of the hangers was in flames. Needless to say, we were all very agitated and went up to the second floor balcony of the building to look in the direction of the base. Even in the raging storm we could see the fire twenty miles away to the south of us.
The situation with the wives became extremely tense. I had tried a number of times to get through to the base to talk to anyone who would answer the phone. But all telephone connections were down. My co-officer (can’t remember his name), and I decided to drive to the base and call the men’s wives as soon as we knew what happened. We tried to assure them that their husbands were safe. We left about midnight and drove through the storm all night, dodging trees that were down and all kinds of debris flying across the road in front of the car. When we finally arrived at the base, about six o’clock in the morning, it looked like an atomic bomb was dropped on top of it. All three hangers had disappeared. The place was in shambles. The only building standing, was the BOQ and a large number of people were huddled inside. The base was completely destroyed.
Photo from the collection of Ford Ross
What had happened? Here’s what we were told:
One of the men, standing by a ship in one of the hangars, saw the roof start to peel off. He immediately notified the duty officer (my friend Sandy) and all the personnel were immediately ordered out of the hangers. A number of the men were stretched prone on the mat, or holding on to the trunk of Palm trees, as the wind blew the fire and debris over their heads. It was a miracle that not one man was lost. When the ceiling beams fell and struck the aircraft, the planes, loaded with high octane fuel, blew up and nearly all of the cars were lost by fire and falling beams.
Photo from the collection of Ford Ross
Tucked in the corner of hanger number one were five automobiles, one of which was my car. A beam had flattened the roof, but miraculously the tires were still inflated. My greatest loss was all of my flight gear and more important, my Navy Flight Log, which listed all of my flight records. I estimate that I had over 3600 hours in the air, but no longer had the data.
The Navy had established an ALNAV that pilots would earn flight points for every year they flew, and if they reached 49 points, they could not be transferred to another base. I had earned 49 points, so I could not be transferred. Around the end of the week of the storm, the Navy got the pilots together and offered us assignments in the regular Navy. I was told I would go to Corpus Cristi for dual engine flight training. In other words, we could build a career as Naval Officers in the regular Navy. It really was an exceptional offer, considering that most Naval Officers spent four years at the Naval Academy in order to receive commissions. If we did not choose to do so, we would be released to Inactive Duty Status, awaiting Active Duty. I decided that I did not want a career in the regular Navy, so within 30 days, November 1945, I was out of the service. Since I was an early volunteer for the aviation program, the Navy paid me an annual bonus of $500.
I had my car towed into a repair garage in Miami. They jacked up the roof and riveted a piece of plexiglass for a windshield and Naomi and I took off for Washington. The catch 22 was that because I was on inactive duty status waiting for reassignment, I could be called back to duty at any time. I kept my fingers crossed when the Korean war broke out. I finally received my Honorable Discharge from the Navy 17 December 1957.
One nice thing that happened when I was discharged was the $1500 bonus I received for every year I flew on Naval active duty. I had three years and seven months. We felt like we were rich. Naomi and I left Miami and headed north with a nice little nest egg. So, we had plenty of money to head home and take care of us until I got a job.