Remembering
World War II

A swabbie enjoys his first plane ride

... destroyer's gunners mate takes to the sky

by Len Dalton

Back when the Korean War was starting up I was on the Destroyer U.S.S. Livermore on a training mission way out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The experience was a lot of fun. I was a gunners mate striker; that is I was in training to be a gunners mate. During the day we stood out on the after deck and fired small arms at balloons until we ran out of those and then we threw crates from the galley over the side and fired at them. The best fun was firing the Thompson machine guns!

My bunk was one of seven or eight stacked one on the other in the crew's after quarters. One night I woke up as the ship rolled from side to side. My body rolled with it and I remember saying to myself, "This is great!" The propeller shaft was right overhead! On the 'I' beam on the hull side of my bunk I had stored an orange, peanut butter snacks and what not. I was happy as a clam.

Later we tied up in Bermuda. The first night I ventured to the 'American Legion' post there and somehow managed to catch a ride on a boat back to the ship. Next morning I was not on duty and saw six Martin anti submarine amphibians warming up and got permission to go ashore and go for a ride. After trying two planes I got the OK to board the third. The crew set me into the topside gunner's turret and slammed the floor up under me. I didn't know how the get out even if I had to!

Gradually, they slid the aircraft down the ramp into the water and taxied to the area for take off. As I sat, the view was to the rear and the tail of the plane. After check outs, they pushed the throttles forward and we hurtled away over the bay and into the air. It was terrific! I had the best view to be had! We flew to the southwest at about ten thousand feet. The turret had small slides to allow fresh air in and I used them. The sound of the air rushing by was reassuring but after half an hour I noticed the tone changed! What's going on? Turning, I saw the port engine was feathered and the starboard was barely turning! I thought, "Wow! They're gonna stall, this sucka!" Sure enough, as stall speed arrived, the plane shook and the bow went straight down with me hanging on for dear life! They recovered and then did the same thing several more times. By then I was enjoying the entire thing!

When they had satisfied whatever they were trying to do, they flew back to the Island and we made eight 'touch and go' landings. The last one ended the flight! The starboard engine quit! I wasn't so dumb as not to notice! As the plane cleared the island, we were dropping and there was nothing to land on other than those huge coral heads which would have ripped the hull apart! To my profound gratification, the engine started and with no further ado, we landed! Even as they got me out of the turret, they explained it was a close call. Happy to have survived, I retreated to the sanctity of my destroyer!


December 3, 2010


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