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Tag Archives: C-119

My first airplane ride . . .

Picture this:

The year was 1950, I was 17 years old, the season was autumn, the month was September and the place was Itazuke Air Base located a few miles from Fukuoka, a metropolitan Japanese city on the southern island of Kyushu. A twin engine US Air Force aircraft, one shaped vaguely on the order of a bumblebee, rumbled down the runway and lifted off on its flight to Taegue Air Base in South Korea. The C-119 was heavily loaded with spare aircraft parts, maintenance equipment, ground power equipment and a cadre of aircraft maintenance technicians that included electricians, aircraft and engine mechanics, instrument specialists, radio, sheet metal workers and hydraulic Flying Boxcarspecialists. My specialties were those of aircraft electrician and aircraft mechanic, and I was on that flight. To read about events leading up to the flight, click here. And for even more exciting events related to my 23-month vacation in the Far East, click here.

Dubbed The Flying Boxcar, the aircraft was configured for cargo, and the addition of passengers was secondary to its mission. It sported no frills such as sound proofing. Until the aircraft leveled off at its cruising altitude, the noise of the two engines at full throttle were deafening, with every rivet in its aluminum skin singing its own tune. The noise made it difficult to converse with others, but after cruising altitude was reached, the engines were throttled back and the aircraft became relatively quiet.

Prior to boarding the loadmaster called us together, briefed us on the flight and fitted us with backpack parachutes. Yes, Virginia—in the old days every person on a military flight was required to have a parachute. Passenger seating consisted of metal racks with canvas webbing, lashed to the side to provide room for cargo and dropped down to provide seating for passengers. The loadmaster told us that seating was available for everyone, but one of the seats was behind the cargo, in a crowded space that challenged one’s entry and egress. He asked for a volunteer to fill that seat—there were no volunteers so he selected one based on size—he assigned the seat to the  one that needed the least space.

Can you guess who that was? Right! It was my mother’s youngest son, and since I had no choice I accepted the assignment—I scrambled up and over the cargo and dropped down to the seat. I was isolated from all the other passengers but I had a window for light and viewing, with a good view of the #2 engine.

This was my first airplane ride—the first of many, of course, because I kept reenlisting until I retired from the Air Force after 22 years. I spent a lot of time in the air during those 22 years, but this is the flight I remember best.

A special note: I reenlisted the first time in order to get married, and I continued to reenlist in order to stay married. My actions may have involved patriotism, but if so it was a very minor factor. The reason I strove mightily to remain gainfully employed is pictured here.

My ears became plugged before we reached cruising altitude, but I could still hear the muted sound of the engines. However, when the pilot reduced engine power to cruising speed, all noise ceased. The quiet was eerie, and I began to have misgivings—misgivings, hell! I thought both engines had stopped. I looked up at #2, the starboard engine—the  props were still spinning but I decided they were simply windmilling, continuing to turn only because of our speed.

Yep, you guessed correctly again—I panicked. Filled with fear and the certainty that with both engines out we would have to ditch or bail out, I tightened the straps on my chute and scrambled up to the top of the cargo that isolated me from the other passengers. I was presented with a scene that could only be labeled serene—some of the men were sleeping, some were playing cards and some  were reading—none wore parachutes. I swallowed hard several times and my hearing returned, along with the noise of the engines, both operating quiet efficiently.

Other than my panic attack—a secret that I did not share with anyone, at least not until now—the flight was routine, and we landed at Taegue to begin, what was for me, a really long fifteen months in Korea. When the Chinese overran Taegue early in 1951 my outfit was evacuated and—but that’s fodder for another post.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2010 in foreign travel, Humor, Military, wartime

 

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Never Volunteer: Note for Incoming Military Personnel . . .

NEVER VOLUNTEER . . .

Anyone who joins the US military under any condition and no matter which branch of service, will be bombarded with suggestions and admonitions voiced by “knowledgeable” others. Any listing of such would be interminably long, so here are just a few examples:

ADVICE ON MEDICAL PRACTICES:

Don’t bend over, no matter what the doctor says.

If you do bend over and the doctor places both hands on your shoulders, be afraid—be very afraid.

Watch out for that square needle in the left testicle.

Get ready to ride the silver stallion.

“Riding the silver stallion” is how GIs describe a procedure which requires one, while hanging upside down (a more accurate description would be while hanging “downside up”), to allow the rectal insertion of a long round shiny item similar to a giant ring-sizer. The purpose of this barbaric procedure is, ostensibly, to examine the lower third of the colon to determine if any polyps exist. I believe the procedure may have been replaced by one even more barbaric—it’s called a sigmoidoscopy—one lies on one’s side and allows compressed air to be blown into the colon through the rectal insertion of a flexible tube, again ostensibly to examine the colon for polyps.

ADVICE ON PERSONAL HYGIENE:

Don’t drop the soap in the shower.

If you do drop the soap, don’t pick it up—leave it.

ADVICE ON HOW TO POLICE (CLEAN UP) AN AREA:

If it’s not moving, pick it up.

If you can’t pick it up, paint it.

If you can’t paint it, salute it.

If you can’t salute it, frigate (at least two alternate spellings are available).

ADVICE ON JOINING FORMATIONS FOR DETAIL SELECTION:

To avoid being selected, huddle in the center of the group—stay away from the edges.

To avoid being selected, stay on the edges—do not huddle in the center.

HINT FOR FUTURE SELECTION FORMATIONS:

Any selector worth his salt will alternate his selection methods.

AND THE ADVICE MOST GIVEN TO INCOMING MILITARY PERSONNEL IS:

Never volunteer!

I failed to heed this advice on two memorable occasions early in my military career. The first was in 1949 while I was in a casual status at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois, awaiting starting dates for technical training courses. We casuals fell out (assembled) early each morning to present ourselves for various details, many of which were designed to keep us busy, off the streets and out of trouble while in a casual status. In my first assembly I was the only one who foolishly raised a hand when we were asked if anyone could type—I figured my typing skills would guarantee a cushy day-job in a climate-controlled office.

I was wrong—I spent a very long day at the base motor pool, breaking down vehicle wheels, very large wheels with very large tires, all very worn, very flat or blown out, and then reassembling them with new inner-tubes. (Yes, Virginia—long, long ago in ancient times, vehicle tires were equipped with rubber tubes that had to be inflated with compressed air—said tubes were very susceptible to punctures and blowouts).

In those ancient times, apparently there were no hydraulic helpers available—they either had not been invented, or the United States Air Force motor pools could not afford them, or they simply did not want to use them (with slave labor available, they didn’t really need them).

At times I was tempted, but I managed to avoid volunteering for anything else until June 25, 1950, a day which is so far in the past that an explanation is necessary—on that date units of the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. On that same day the aircraft maintenance personnel of the Eighth Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at Yokota Air Base, Japan were asked to volunteer to staff a forward aircraft maintenance unit at Taegu Air Base, near the city of Taegu in the southern part of South Korea.

All personnel in Japan, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by family, earned one point per month of the 36 rotation points acquired for rotation back to the states. The carrot extended to us, if we volunteered for duty in Korea, was the promise to award three rotation points for each month spent in the combat zone, effectively limiting our tours to a maximum of one year before rotating back the United States.

Not one member of our squadron maintenance unit who was accompanied by a family member or members volunteered—most unaccompanied members unhesitatingly volunteered (I was in that gullible group). Using our real names, we signed a document to support our action.

Soon after the request for volunteers to participate in the Korean conflict on-site, my squadron relocated to Itazuke AB near Fukuoka, a metropolitan city on the southern island of Kyushu. A pleasant three months passed before our volunteer statements took away the pleasantries—on October 1, 1950 we volunteers, along with our toolboxes, were airlifted to Taegu in a C-119 cargo plane (said flight is the subject of a future posting—watch for it).

So far, so good—at this point we were pleased with our decision to volunteer, but the pleasure was short-lived. Somewhere in the upper echelons of command a decision was made to make Taegu the headquarters for the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, with a cadre of maintenance personnel remaining in Japan to perform certain aircraft inspections and accomplish complicated technical modifications to our aircraft. In answer to your question, “Yes—most of those remaining in Japan were the same non-volunteers who were accompanied by a family member or family members.”

The most significant result of this move (at least to us volunteers) was that, because our headquarters was in the combat zone, the people who did not volunteer—those non-volunteering, accompanied-by-family-members people—those who stayed behind to face the rigors of duty in Japan—would also earn three points per month to apply to the 36 points required for stateside rotation.

I had numerous other opportunities to volunteer during the following 20 years before I retired from the military (for length of service with 22 years plus). I must admit, but not without a certain amount of chagrin, that I volunteered for some of them, but only after considering a long list of pros and cons. A few times I lost the opportunity to volunteer because I spend so much time evaluating those pros and cons—some of the lost opportunities were welcomed—some others were monumental disappointments.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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