This is an excerpt an interview done by phone in June of 2011. It is largely unedited to preserve Gerry’s original voice.
The Navy Years 1942-1946
I went to college in the fall of 1941, in September. Well, then of course in December… there was Pearl Harbor.
In 1942 I volunteered to go into the Navy. Sparky Adams signed up about a month before I did, so we didn’t go off together. I went to Fort Snelling, in St. Paul. That’s where all the draftees went to, but I wasn’t a draftee. One of the doctors said “you’re not going into the Navy, your eyes don’t pass.” Then the Navy doctor said that my eyes were OK. I had a checkup in Virginia, in the pre-test, and they were okay. My left eye had something wrong with it, even though I didn’t have glasses. I didn’t have glasses until I was 35, married and everything before I got glasses…
This is good for me to remember all this, and if you have any ideas or suggestions, that would be OK…
One thing I want to mention is that I have always been interested in model airplanes. From kits. We had a model airplane club at school. My good friends Bill Marsh and Harold Wilcox were building models. And Roman Kupta. Bill, of course, was lost in the war, he was a pilot. And Harold Wilcox was on a B-17 over Germany and they got shot down. He didn’t make it. I guess if I had become a pilot, everything might have turned out different, too. There was this one guy, an oldster. He had a Stinson Reliant. Noel Wein. He started Alaskan Airways (ed note: actually Wein Air Alaska). But he had one plane in Virginia. The plane had a fancy seating area. He was from Cook, Minnesota. And I think Alaskan Airways is still flying. He started that. But no one ever took us up for a ride when we were in Virginia. Never got in a plane there.
But back to the model airplanes. I had a Navy biplane fighter. A balsa wood framed kit, I think I got it for Christmas from my brother. Now I had a cousin, Philip Ruud – I was talking about the Irish and his mom was Aunt Clara – he was a carver and a good one. He carved a model and oh, how I wish I had that one yet! He got wounded in the war, and he really was an artist even though his arm was messed up, he got wounded. But he could still carve with that one arm. When he got back he took flying lessons in a Taylor Cub airplane.
So I went to boot camp in Minneapolis, like I said before, and then to Camp Farragut, Idaho. I knew that area a little bit, because I had been at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle. First there was Farragut and then there was Aviation machinist school in Norman, Oklahoma. That’s where Oklahoma State University is. I got to know people in Oklahoma very well. There was a church and next door was a serviceman’s club for Lutherans. Those Okies are real fine people, the best people. They had me out to their house for dinner and everything. I got to know a girl there real well. I mean, well, I wouldn’t have gotten married anyway…
That was a specialty school we worked on the FM-2 fighter plane, the F4F. They added a bigger engine on that airplane.
So a group of eight of us go to Seattle to get on an aircraft carrier. They had UF 50 aircraft and we were at Clatsop, Astoria, Oregon. We flew out 150 miles over the continental limit, we were out on scout duty. Technically we were overseas, so letters I sent home had to be censored. We flew up to the Straits of Mackinac. There was a morning, noontime and evening patrol, out scouting. That’s where the winter camp of Lewis and Clark was, Fort Clatsop. When I took the family out there in 1970, we looked at that. We went to Fort Clatsop.
So I became acquainted with Portland, Oregon. There were lots of Finnish people there, oh that was a great Finn town. They had a sauna [said the Scandinavian way, ‘sah-oonah’]. So I asked them about coming to the sauna, and they jumped up and said “hey, where’d you learn about a sauna!?” It was a public sauna and we had those in Virginia. It was 15 cents for the sauna. They had private rooms and all. Yes, Astoria was a pretty good Finn town.
The first plane I went up in was a OS2U Kingfisher. Then there was a SOC 3 incline Ranger. Another aircraft was the SBT 2. That’s the plane I flew the most in. Now I was not a qualified aerial gunner, I hadn’t been to gunnery school, but I got flight pay. I had not been to flight school. So that was my first hop. I got there and they said, “You want to go for a hop?” and I said, “Sure! I’ll go!” Boy, I can remember that, I had only been up in a Ford Trimotor before that. Once in a while we would go up over 10,000 feet, and have to use oxygen. We each had our own masks. One flight was a dive bomb practice, and that was something. When we pulled up out of the dive, and the pilot called back “Where did we drop the egg?” We flew around Willapa Bay, they have the oysters there, and down to the California border. Three flights as spotters. Morning, noon and night.
Now I flew the second plane. It was always a 2 plane mission. I was not a qualified radioman. One time we were out there over the Pacific. I got a radio call – a Morse Code message – from the first plane. The radioman said that his radio had gone out. That scared the hell out of me. It was very foggy – it was like that a lot – and we had to turn back. The weather saved me. I would have caught hell. I was not a qualified radioman, I had not been to school. That’s the last time I attempted to fly like that. We had the code, the NKE beam and all that. It was all in code. I was fortunate in Oregon, and was there until 1945. And by then we had gotten a bigger plane, a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver.
Most of my work was as an aviation machinist’s mate. You would be an airplane captain, you see, you would be in charge of one plane, or maybe two planes, and you were taking care of everything on that plane. It was your plane. I had an engineering crew. We would change out engines on the plane after a certain number of hours. We didn’t do the rebuilding, we sent it out, off-base.
You know something? I was scheduled to go to flight school, but then the War ended. I was cleared to go, but the war ended. I got shipped off to Guam.
In Guam I was assigned to a Welfare and Recreation Squadron. So I ended up running the enlisted men’s beer garden. That was rough, I’ll tell you why. Everybody wanted beer all night! So they would come and find me and wake me up. You were always on edge. But I did get to know all the Minnesota beers [named a few]. I also had to set up the ice cream machine and I was making the ice cream. Now that was on Guam, and I came back on April 3, 1946. Yes, I knew guys in the squadron on Guam. There was a guy from Evansburg, Pennsylvania. I meant to get over to see him when I visited Caroline in Cleveland. There was a guy from Illinois, his name was Bruce Cruikshank. He came up to Virginia to visit. I organized the VS 50 Scouting group reunions. I still have that group, still have that paperwork. There are yearly letters and I pay my dues to the yearly Scouting Squadron reunion Group. Verlie and I went to quite a few. I think there are about four left, and three of the pilots. They were officers, of course, so we didn’t mingle that much. Back then, now it doesn’t matter and we are OK. The guy in charge just died last fall from the Scouting Group.
You know, I went up in the plane one time. The Japanese were trying to send missiles, so we were dropping a couple. The nearest big Navy base was in Seattle. That’s where they built the cheap aircraft carriers. Pretty damn unsafe. The Kaiser Company – Kaiser Jeeps, you know- built them and they were called Kaiser Koffins. You can imagine getting on one of them. They were very dangerous. Near the end of the War I got tested again – my eyes, you know- and was passed on to learn how to fly. They said my eyes were OK. But then later a doctor told me that “they never would have let you through.” [Gerry never got to train or pilot planes].
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