My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Category: USMC

Red Eye Trips

In December of 1966 I took a leave from El Toro to return home to Lyon Mt, NY. The body repairs were complete on my car from my summer visit. I would fly to New York and drive back to California. My flight out of Los Angeles was a red eye around midnight. The late night flights always had room for servicemen flying stand-by. We boarded the flight and there were only about a dozen regular passengers and three of us in uniform. The plane was deserted. The five stewardesses moved all the civilian passengers into the first class area and closed the rear curtain. They came and got myself and the other two servicemen and set us up in the area where the crew seats faced the passenger seats. They set up the beverage cart close to us and offered to fix anything we wanted to eat. We sat in a small circle as we ate, drank, and chatted with them all the way to our descent into Detroit. Even the cabin crew came back and said hello on their breaks. It was the best flight ever. They treated us like heroes and it was appreciated.

A couple weeks at home and it was time to head west. The nearly new summer tires on my car were good enough to get me back to California. The morning I left Lyon Mt was overcast, fairly warm for December, and a light snow was falling. The Thruway in Syracuse had a few inches of new snow, but driving was normal speeds. Between Buffalo and Erie, PA the wet snow was falling hard and there was a foot of snow on Interstate 90. The plows were keeping up with the slow lane, but not hitting the fast lane. Traffic was light and it was possible to pass real slow cars. From Illinois thru the midwest the roads were good, but wind blown powdery snow made for bad visibility. My second night put me on the Nebraska Wyoming border on Interstate 80. There was several inches of new powder snow.

I had slept a couple hours in a truck stop parking lot. As my car was pulling out onto the highway there was a tractor trailer just ahead of me. As we gained speed the only thing I could see was a bar of four red marker lights on the top of the trailer ahead of me. The truck driver could see over the blowing powder snow, but I was blind. For the next five hours my eyes never left that set of lights. Followed him right into a truck stop parking lot, filled up with gas, slept a couple hours and woke up to daybreak and clear sky. I really wanted to buy that trucker some breakfast, but he crawled in his sleeper and went to bed. Only twelve hours to California.

Driving across the states alone gets real boring……………..unless all you can see is four little red lights.

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Goodwill Furnished

Several of us from our crash crew unit at El Toro rented an apartment on Fairfield between Santa Ana and Huntington Beach in 1966. Only one person had a car when we first occupied the apartment. We worked twenty four hours on and twenty four hours off which allowed us to ride together. We got the apartment rented. None of us had any kitchen utensils, dishes, furniture, or essentials needed to set up a household. We did have a set of drums, shave and shower gear, and assorted stereos. For several weeks we made the rounds of all the local remote donation centers. We would rummage through the boxes for items we needed. It wasn’t long and we had enough items to get by. We couldn’t impress anybody with our worldly possessions, but we had our own place. We had to make a move after a couple weeks. To a unit where we wouldn’t be so disruptive to our neighbors. The landlord was pretty diplomatic in explaining why we should relocate. We didn’t complain.

Vern’s 1956 Ford station wagon was our sole mode of transportation. The car was generally very reliable. The valve guides were worn and one of the cylinders would bend a push rod once in a while. If the push rod got slapping real bad and causing the engine to miss we would pull over to the side and put in a new one. We could pull the rocker arm cover, back off the valve adjusting nut, change the push rod, adjust the valve clearance, and get things back together in about twenty minutes if the engine wasn’t too hot. We always had tools and push rods with us.

We had a couple skateboards, but never got real proficient with them. We would skate around the apartment complex sidewalks and driveways. We had a weird incident with a skateboard one Sunday morning. One of our apartment dwellers was skateboarding towards our apartment. As he turned the corner on to our entry sidewalk he lost control of the skateboard. When he fell off he gave the skateboard a hard forward kick. Vern happened to be standing on the door jamb of the open front door talking to everybody outside. The skateboard flew up the sidewalk like a rocket and nailed his over extended bare foot to the threshold of the door. It looked like it cut his foot off, but it was just a severe bruise. He hobbled around several days. Didn’t hurt the skateboard at all.

One of the staples at our apartment was Red Mountain Wine. You could buy a gallon for $2.49. If you touched it up with a little dry kool aid it was fairly drinkable. It really tasted good the last few days before payday. It also made the good drinks taste better right after payday.

We weren’t perfect tenants……………but they only had to put up with us every other day.

Kids First

Uncle Bob’s and Aunt Ida’s house in Oroville, Ca was a popular destination for myself and several friends while stationed at MCAS El Toro near Santa Ana. We would spend time riding motorcycles, lake fishing, and traveling the local areas. Bob and Ida’s was my home away from home. Their four children had been close family to me most of my adolescent years. Their home was always a feel good place to me. Bob was working on a large project called Oroville Dam. His old working friend and partner Howard Fowler and his family were on the same project in Oroville.

Bob had an old Chevy Cameo pick-up truck with a camper shell on it. Howard and Bob both enjoyed fishing and everybody would load up in the morning and head to one of the good trout fishing lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We would spend the day picnicking, cooking, and enjoying the outdoors. The campgrounds and picnic areas always had a lot of people when the weather was nice. If the fishing was good it was hard to find an open spot to fish. Bob and Howard had figured out how to get the best fishing spots when they were ready to fish.

Bob and Howard would let the kids play around the picnic site. When fishing time stared getting close the two of them would decide exactly where they wanted to fish. They would give all nine of the kids a small fish pole and some bait. They would send the kids fishing in the place they picked. Off the kids would go hollering, yelling, and having a ball. The kids would crowd in between the people all ready fishing and start fishing too. It didn’t take long before the kids had the whole area all to themselves.

When Bob and Howard were ready to fish the kids were sent away and Bob and Howard had the best area to fish. They would laugh and joke about what a good job the kids had done clearing the area. Of  course, the kids never realized they were the tool used to clear the area for Bob and Howard.

We always had fresh trout at the lake…………thanks to the kids fishing first.

 

Narrows Bridge

In the summer of 1966 I went to Felix Chevrolet in Los Angeles to buy a new Corvette for cash. As we walked across the huge sales lot to look at the Corvettes we passed through rows of new 1966 Chevelle SS 396’s. A black convertible with a white top and white bench seat interior caught my eye. We passed a few more rows of cars when I called the salesman back to the SS Chevelle. So much for the Corvette of my dreams. The new Chevelle cost me $3400 out the door when picking it up the next day.

My July leave arrived and the airlines were on strike. There were 35,000 machinists on strike with sixty percent of the airline industry not flying. I visited my Uncle Bob and Aunt Ida in Oroville, Ca. The strike looked bad so my only choice was to drive home to Lyon Mountain, NY. The only thing showing the new car was mine was a temporary paper plate wired to the back bumper. A thunderstorm between Laramie and Cheyenne, WY tore the temporary plate off. Only one Pennsylvania State Policeman stopped me to ask about ownership.

Two weeks after arriving home myself and Kenny Thompson were out cruising around just before dark. We had a cooler of beer in the back seat and headed for lower Chateaugay Lake. We were driving probably 45 or 50 with the headlights on as we passed the Hollywood. The roads were wet from light rains. We came up behind a slow car just before the narrows bridge. I clicked my headlights on bright and back to dim as we started passing the slow car. This was a habit used by a lot of drivers to signal passing of another vehicle. We never changed speed, just proceeded around the slow car. We were about two feet behind the other car in the left lane when he turned left. No one was hurt, but my heart was broken over the crumpled fender of my Chevelle. The other driver never knew we were there until we hit him. They were teenage counselors from Camp Chateaugay. Kenny and I carried the cooler into the brush along side the narrows road while waiting for the trooper. The trooper gave me a ticket for improper display of registration because I didn’t have plates or a registration. He turned his back to the other car and asked if we knew those idiots. Definitely not. The wrecker dropped us off at my mothers house a mile up the road.

The Justice of the Peace in Ellenburg greeted me at his door. He listened to my explanation of the registration and being home on leave. He stood up, tore the ticket in half, threw it in his wastebasket, and told me he was tired of the troopers messing with the men home on leave. He shook my hand and thanked me for being a Marine.

My Chevelle was at Santa Chevrolet when my leave ended…………………and the machinists were back to work so I could fly to California.

Berkeley Beatniks

While stationed at MCAS El Toro in 1966 I had a couple assignments on riot duty for anti war demonstrations at the main gate. Surprising, a lot of effort was put into these demonstrations by the organizers from California State University at Berkeley near San Francisco. On our end, the USMC and other organizations were well prepared for any circumstances the demonstrators might confront us with.

The military had infiltrators on every bus load of demonstrators that rolled out of the bay area. They attended meetings, rally’s, and strategy sessions with the protest groups. It was a constant cat and mouse game to get the protestors to do something stupid at the demonstrations. The organizers out of Berkeley were well educated, very well versed in the laws, and knew the physical boundaries of the areas where they demonstrated. The property limits of the base at El Toro were a good example.

The Main gate at El Toro was physically located several hundred feet inside the actual government property boundary. The Marine Corps intentionally painted a wide line across the road about 100′ from the gate for the protests. Any protestor who approached this line would be well within the government property lines. Most people noting the line would consider it to be the border of the government property. If we could get the protestors inside the actual property lines they would be trespassing by law. If they were trespassing we could kick ass and take names. That’s exactly what we wanted to do. Our orders were to suck as many of them onto government property as we could. We would cut off their retreat to the buses, then teach them a little bit about Marine Corps protesting.

The bulk of the demonstrators were right out of the Haight Ashbury sub culture in San Francisco. Many of them probably didn’t even realize it was 1966. They were like a bus load of psychedelic hobos. They were just along for the ride. It was a good party trip and a break from hanging out on the city streets. These Beatniks were well handled by their mentors from Cal State Berkeley. When the buses parked for the demonstrations everybody knew where the real property line was. They never crossed it. They never gave us the chance to unload on them.

The Berkeley beatniks were a sorry bunch of people……………..but they weren’t idiots.

New Guys and 360’s

My assignment in Okinawa ended in February of 1966 after two years outside of the continental United States. The travels and duties had been a great experience for a young man. I would miss the crew in Okinawa, but had some memories to recall the rest of my life.

With Vietnam going wide open the bases in Okinawa were maxed out on personnel and support activities. We frequently received new people right out of basic training stateside. Most of the new guys were teenagers just out of high school. They would arrive on base, go through a part day indoctrination, and be transported to their units by the base shuttle bus. Being in a small world, we always knew when they were coming. We gave them an unforgettable greeting upon arrival at the crash crew. There was about a hundred feet from where the new guys got off the shuttle bus to the door of the crash crew building. When we knew they were on the bus, five or six of us would hide behind the end of the building. When they covered half the distance carrying everything they owned, we would run at them and grab them. We screamed “He’s Mine, He’s Mine” as we tugged them back and forth between us. “You’re my replacement, You’re my replacement” we chanted at the new guys we yanked back and forth. Needless to say, the poor new guys had no idea what to hell was going on with these screaming idiots. They always ended up laughing it off as we introduced ourselves and welcomed them aboard.

I considered myself a pretty good driver. A city boy from Los Angeles who couldn’t even drive taught me a great trick with a car. Okinawa was full of little Datsun cars called skoshi cabs. They were everywhere. They were cheap. They were pretty fast if you could find an open road to wind them up. The drivers always hurried so they could deliver you and find another fare. We would catch a skoshi cab late in the evening when the traffic was light. We’d coax the driver to go fast. We would hit a stretch of road going fast with no oncoming traffic. The person in the front passenger seat would reach down between the little seats and yank the emergency brake on. The little skoshi cab would do several three hundred and sixty degree circles with the rear wheels locked before stopping. The driver would throw us out, we would pay him, and flag down the next skoshi cab to come down the road. We never hurt anyone, but we sure terrified some cab drivers.

My journey stateside took me to Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, to Yokota Air Force Base, forty five miles north of Tokyo, to March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. I reported to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Santa Ana, California. After my thirty days home leave I reported back to the crash crew at El Toro.

The Marine Corps was serious business…………….but there was always time for a little fun.

Clangs and Bangs

Tropical storms and typhoons are very common during the rainy season in Okinawa. The rains are very warm compared to what we get in most of the United States. The storms always have very heavy rains over extended periods of time. The military cancelled all liberty, shut down everything not deemed essential, and restricted most personnel to their barracks for these storms. For large storms the restrictions might last several days. As soon as it got dark on the first night of storm restrictions we would go on a booze run into the local towns. The base perimeter was patrolled by guards with dogs. When the time was right there were many places to get over or under the perimeter fences. We stayed off main roads and preferred the small off limits villages not normally patrolled by military police. Four of us could pack in enough booze for a pretty good party.

During a big typhoon we were assigned three men to a crash truck and put inside the hangers to provide fire watch. The huge old metal framed hangers didn’t have any leakage problems, but as the winds increased in intensity the noise was deafening. The hanger creaked, rattled, and clanged until we thought it was going to blow away. We spent two nights and two days in the hanger with sustained wind speeds of over one hundred miles an hour and gusts to one hundred and forty miles an hour. We slept on the deck of our crash truck between the clangs and bangs. We thought the huge sliding doors would be blown away or fall off from self destruction. The two cases of beer which happened to find their way into the water tank of our truck were used to wash down our C rations at meal times.

A short time after the big typhoon we had an incident with a C-130 Hercules cargo plane. The C-130 is a four engine turbo-prop with reversible thrust capability when landing. The empty plane weighs around 76,000 pounds and maximum take off weight is under 155,000 pounds. An incoming C-130 made a normal touchdown on the runway. The planes roll out was a little faster than normal, but not dangerous. The pilot will reverse thrust on two engines to assist slowing down while applying the brakes. We observed the landing from mid field position in our crash truck. Suddenly the C-130 veered sharply to the right. The pilot locked up the brakes and immediately blew several tires. The plane was almost ninety degrees to the runway when the brakes released and sent the plane hurtling onto the grass. The landing gear cut ruts as the plane slid to a stop on it’s belly in a large bog of grass and water. We were rolling before the plane stopped and realized chances of fire were slim. Mud engulfed the whole bottom of the plane. The pilot had reversed two engines on the same side of the plane. The mud from the recent typhoon saved the plane and the crew.

It took two weeks to extricate the C-130 from the mud………….the pilot was never seen again.

Typhoon Fifths

When our convoy was twelve days out of Pearl Harbor we received orders directing the USS Seminole to White Beach, Okinawa. Myself and the four Marines with me would receive further orders when we off loaded at White Beach. Thirty three days later we tied up at White Beach. If there was a beach, we missed it. We stayed with our assigned equipment as it was off loaded and assigned to a group going to Marine Corps Air Facility, Futema, Okinawa. Our chopper squadron HMM-161 was mobilizing off the Iwo Jima to Futema also. Futema was a single runway support base for Asia flights, primarily a refuel stop for USMC cargo aircraft. Our crash crew mustered with HMM-161 and our equipment was based at their hanger. A week after we arrived the Base Commander realized we were on base when he saw our crash truck on the taxiway. He immediately cut orders for all five of us and our equipment. He made us permanent base personnel. The base had a small crash crew, but they were completely understaffed to handle the air traffic associated with the Vietnam mobilization. HMM-161 just received new HU1E helicopters to replace their old UH-34’s. We wanted to stay with the squadron when they mobilized to Vietnam.

We hounded the HMM-161 Operations Officer for a familiarization flight on the new HU1E helicopter. He finally relented. Two of us from crash crew buckled into the back seats and off we went. The new chopper was pretty impressive as we flew out over the small Ryuku Islands in the China Sea. We came back over base at a high altitude. The pilot told us to make sure our belts were tight. He flipped the engine off and we dropped like a rock, auto-rotating in a controlled fall. Our knees were even with our noses and it felt like the belts were going to cut us in half. It seemed like we dropped forever before the pilot restarted the engine. We climbed rapidly to a high elevation twice more and auto-rotated down again. Finally the pilot asked us if we thought we were familiar with his bird. We had seen all we wanted to see.

We recovered from the disappointment of not going to Vietnam. The structural fireman on base were all local Okinawans and we shared the same building with them. All of the crash crew were Marines. Futema was a very busy place. We worked twenty four hours on and twenty four hours off. All base liberty terminated at midnight. If you respected the local people and their customs Okinawa wasn’t bad duty. You could buy a Typhoon Fifth (2 liter) of saki for about eighty cents. We would sprinkle dry kool aid in it for flavor. When we got low on money towards the end of the pay period we drank saki. Right after payday we drank Crown Royal. We worked hard and played hard.

We learned a lot about raw fish and local food………….there’s nothing that can’t be washed down with a glass full of whiskey

Fantail Kites

There is not much exciting about spending forty five days crossing the Pacific Ocean on a Navy AKA cargo ship. The USS Seminole had a great crew and our contingent of five marines were welcomed into their daily activities. We didn’t have any specific duty assigned on the Seminole. Our bunks were among those of the permanent sailors on board. We took any of the vacant bunks within their living quarters. We shared all of the activities of the Seminole crew, even participating in the daily work crews. It gave us something to pass the time.

We always started our day on the fantail of the ship doing calisthenics and other physical exercises before breakfast. Many of the permanent crew worked rotating hours and would sleep during the day at random hours. After breakfast we would make a round to see what the crew was working on for the day. Often we would fall in with them and help clean and maintain the ship. My favorite place to help was the ships shop area. It was small, but the sailors usually had something to repair or were making something. The little shop had a good assortment of materials and tools to work with. Somebody came up with the idea of making some home made kites so we could fly them off the fantail. Four of us gathered up the brown paper bags, wood dowel stock, glue, and string for the kites. We fabricated several different size wood frames and glued them together. We cut and fitted the skins from brown shopping bags stored in the shop. We carefully folded and glued all the paper lap joints to our wood frames. Every time a joint or lap of paper was glued it would take about twelve hours to set. It was a slow process, but we had all the time in the world. We lost the first two we made as they launched a very short distance and then plunged into the ocean. Once the kite was wet we just cut the string and let it go. The turbulence of air behind the ship required large kites with long tails.

We refined the designs and gradually were able to get the kites out further and much higher in the turbulent air. Everything went fine until one evening when conditions were perfect for kite flying off the fantail. We were in the middle of our best flight yet. The kite was up and down a lot, but responded well to corrections of the string tension. We had been at it for about an hour when the captain came screaming around the corner of the fantail and told us to cut it loose immediately. He was very agitated about the kite. He had been called to the bridge because the radar was picking up random low flying blips, but they couldn’t identify the source of the blips. He just happened to be looking out of the bridge towards the fantail when our kite popped up, followed by the holler from the radar operator. That resulted in our last kite flight.

We were the talk of the convoy for a couple days……………..even the captain had to laugh about our kite experience.

Dockside Bunks

Five Marines from Kaneohe Crash Crew, myself included, were transferred to helicopter squadron HMM-161 in Feb of 1965. Our assignment was to provide aircraft fire fighting capability for the squadron for upcoming military manuevers for the 1st Marine Brigade. We reported to Pearl Harbor for deployment. We would be transported by ship and make an amphibious landing on San Clemente Island off of Camp Pendleton. We had our own crash fire truck and all the supplies to support squadron activities. All of the helicopters and personnel of HMM-161 were assigned to the helicopter carrier USS Iwo Jima. Our crew of five Marines were assigned to a cargo ship AKA-104 USS Seminole with our crash truck, the CO’s jeep, and all of the cargo not essential to launch the helicopters off the Iwo Jima. We were the only Marines on the Seminole. We were also the only people not permanently assigned to the Seminole. While the ship was being loaded we lived on cots in the open warehouse adjacent to the docks. Everything we owned was with us.

We sailed out of Pearl Harbor for several days training while the rest of our convoy formed. We sailed in huge circles firing the 34mm guns at floating balloons and doing drills. After several days we were called back into Pearl Harbor. We went directly to the West Lock area which were the ammunition docks. All non essential cargo for our maneuvers was off loaded and replaced with ammuntion, grave markers, caskets, and emergency medical supplies. Our crew of five was delegated to the open warehouse quarters while loading the ship.

Two Australian ships were on R&R at Pearl Harbor. We became acquainted with the Aussies and visited their ships. We raced electric fork lifts at our dock at night. They thought it was funny that the Navy made us live in an open warehouse on the dock. The Aussies liked Marines and Seabees. They also liked raising hell, drinking, and fighting with sailors. It didn’t take long for us to wear out our welcome at the Enlisted Mens Club at Pearl Harbor. The Executive Officer of the Seminole warned us not to get his attention again. We listened.

Just before we left Pearl Harbor our ship had a ships party at a recreation area. It was a good time. Several ships had parties in different areas of the park. The mike boats used the admirals dock to get people to shore at the park. While taking the left overs back to ship, a bunch of sailors on shore started throwing food at sailors on the dock. Of course the sailors on the dock returned fire. The Captain of the Seminole and several others were summoned to the admirals office next morning. The dock got cleaned and a lot of people got shit details for a long time.

Our escapades with the Aussies and Seabees got us a stern warning………….enough to keep us out of the food fight and dock cleaning.