We Were Sailors

1958-59 Far East Cruise By Terry G. Fritz. Ed’s Note: This is the third part of a multi-part piece written by Terry G. Fritz covering his experiences on the 1958 – 1959 WESTPAC.

We went back to Pearl Harbor to get rid of the O.R.I. team and have a little celebration. This was on a Friday. Monday we got underway for the Far East. Yokosuka would be our next stop. On the way there, we had to cross the 180th Meridian or halfway around the world. I think we moved up a day doing this, I can’t remember. All I know is we made many time changes during the cruise, both forward and backward.

Approaching Japan, I remember sitting on a port side divot near the metal shop off of Hangar Bay 3. I was just enjoying a smoke; the air was cool and damp and had that normal ocean fragrance. All of a sudden the shop’s atmosphere changed. The prevailing winds were coming off shore and the air now felt warm and had a fragrance only Japan has. I think it was the rice, which was not only grown everywhere but used for everything.

During our flight deck quarters for entering port, we went past the USS Ranger which was anchored out. There were also a couple of destroyed ships sticking out of the water that were sunk during WW II. We were in Yokosuka.

The first order of business for most of us in V-6 Division was to get over to the base motor pool and attend a twohour class on driving in Japan. This was critical because without the Japanese stamp on our military license, we couldn’t drive. The main point of the training was to get us up to speed on driving on the left side of the road, especially in a car with the steering wheel on the right. Also in those days, especially in Japan, most vehicles were standard shift.

Try getting used to driving on the left, steering from the right and shifting with your left hand. Not to mention everywhere in Japan, the roads were overcrowded with every type of wheeled vehicles known to man. In Japan they would cut you off and smile and wave while they were doing it.

After getting my license, I checked out a sedan to be used for the Captain. I believe it was a Plymouth. I used this as a temporary vehicle until our regular captain’s car could be unloaded from the ship. The next day I took the Captain and two other officers on a shopping trip in one area known as “Thieves Alley.”

We’d spot a store we wanted and would just stop right there in front of it. The officers were in uniform so they were really treated with respect by the people, who would bow down to them. Everyone was nice.

After a week in port, it was time to get underway. Besides, we were all broke. Some of the guys would stay on board to standby for those who fell in love ashore, if you know what I mean. Others ran slush funds loaning $5.00 for $7.00, etc.

Also, while we were at the pay lines on ship, the medics were the first ones you would encounter at the table. They would be conducting an inspection of V.D. If you didn’t participate, you didn’t get paid and you wouldn’t be crossed off the medic’s list.

In early December, 1957 we were in Buckner Bay, Okinawa. On shore at the landing was some kind of a club where you waited for a ride in a 2 ½ ton truck into Naha. Roads were muddy, and housing was pretty primitive.

What we needed was a good time and I got one. One trip into town was all I needed for by the time I got back to the ship, I was drunk, dirty and broke. We had on whites and they weren’t very white from all the mud. Besides all the dirt, we were soaked by the salt water spray we received on the boat back to the ship.

Most liberties during the cruise were port and starboard liberty or two section. The norm was four sections. In my case I had a watch stander liberty card and it was at the discretion of the Captain whether or not I got liberty. At Okinawa I wasn’t needed to drive so I was free and enjoyed an open gangway.

In Kobe I drove the Captain and other officers to a golf course. The grass was brown. Probably a cut rice field, I don’t know.

The other memory of Kobe is how they turned the ship. It was similar to the maneuver in the movie, Bridges at Toko Ri. Planes tied down on the starboards bow pushing the ship to port, and planes tied down on the aft section of the flight deck pushing the ship to starboard while the ship’s engines were backed slowly.

Before Christmas, we were in Sasebo, Japan. In Sasebo I bought a Kalo 35mm camera. It cost about $10.00 and lasted for years after the Navy.

Again at sea, we responded to the call for help at the island of Amami Oshima where a wildland fire devastated the island. Yorktown provided building materials, medicine, food, and blankets.

Amami Oshima is today a vacation destination for the people of Okinawa and Japan.

During a stop in Subic Bay, I made liberty for one night at the EM Club. There I had too many Singapore Slings. Easy to do at 10 cents each. Coming out of the air conditioned club into the heat, I really felt the effects of the alcohol. I stumbled the mile or so back to the ship. The next thing I remember was waking up in Sick Bay with four stitches above my left eye. I was told that after getting on board, instead of going to my rack, I went to the metal shop where the V-6 guys hung out. Apparently I decided to take a nap on one of the work benches in the ship. Well, of course, I rolled off and landed on the deck and wound up with the stitches.

The ship sailed a few days later. Our next port was Hong Kong. This was my favorite port and I considered myself lucky to have visited it on three cruises. When ashore in Hong Kong, the first thing to do was exchange our MPC into Hong Kong currency. This was done at the fleet landing.

The next order of business was to get a custom-made white Cashmere suit coat. We also got custom-made bell bottom trousers, which were not regulations.

After the tailor shop, it was a rickshaw ride to the top of the mountain. We took some nice pictures of the ship anchored out amongst our destroyers. What a View! Then it was on to the bar scene and girls. We went into the first bar we saw, called the New York Bar. We were immediately attacked by half a dozen girls. You sailors can guess the rest.

Back at sea we were at flight quarters around the clock. We were working 12 to 15 hours a day. Our division had many jobs to do. One of my many jobs was driving the starter jeep. Besides my regular job, I would relieve our guys who ran the SPN 12 antenna and also in what we call the SPN-12 Gear Room. The Gear Room was also a good place to play pinochle while we worked.

The antenna was located high up in the after end of the island. It resembled what today is a TV dish. This was a very critical piece of equipment used for landing aircraft. I would aim the antenna at the approaching aircraft in the final landing pattern. All I had to do was keep the target sight on the nose of the pane and hold the button down. Movable pens on a strip of paper would record air speed, altitude in relation to the ship and the planes relation to the center line of the landing area.

After the plane landed, the operator in the Gear Room would record on the paper the aircraft number, the time and which arresting cable it caught. If the plane missed and bolstered, or was waved off, it was also recorded.

One night we lost one of our F2H Banshee jet fighter aircraft. We heard his tail hook had lost hydraulic pressure and when it would hit the deck to catch a wire, it would bounce up and miss. Three attempts were made to no avail. So with fuel running low, he was told to climb to a certain altitude and eject. We don’t know if he tried a water landing or ran out of fuel, but the plane disintegrated on impact and the pilot was never found.

Next were stops in Buckner Bay (probably to sort out the details of the lost plane and pilot), Kobe, Japan (survived an Anti-Yankee protest), and Beppu, Japan. We were the first carrier to visit that city since the end of World War II. Here I was involved in the “borrowing” of a local taxi cab.

At a port visit to Yokosuka, I bought a very large cuckoo clock. After a haggle, I paid about $27 US dollars for it. Later in Long Beach, I shipped it home, COD. Cost the folks around $50 dollars to receive it.

Back at sea, we are involved in around the clock air ops. In anti-submarine activities we lost an S2F and the four man crew.

After a stop in Subic Bay, we were back at sea operating with British and Australian carriers. Then on we went to Singapore.

There I went aboard a British carrier. Things were very different from the Yorktown. While their ship was not as big as our ship, they did have rum and cheese.

When we left Singapore, we headed for the equator and the Shell Back initiation. After the initiation, we ran low on fresh water and had to take salt water showers.

Next stop was the Philippines again and a division party on the beach near Cubi Point NAS. Burgers, salad, cold beer, and a bus load of girls. Hard to beat.

Back to sea, we proceeded to Guam. Here a number of preserved aircraft were barged out and loaded aboard ship. Some of the planes were Furys similar to the F-86. The planes were first placed in Hangar Bay 1. After getting under way for Hawaii the next day, it was decided to move the Furys up to the flight deck using No. 3 elevator. I was standing in front of the metal shop watching as V-3 Division plane pushers pushed the first of these Furys in to position to be put on the elevator. I don’ know why a tractor wasn’t used because there was no brake rider in the plane because the canopy was sealed shut.

Just as they started the plane moving towards the elevator, the ship started a mild turn to port. Just enough heel to get the jet rolling. I can still see the two chock men trying to get the chocks in front of the wheels to stop the plane. At least three times they tried throwing them into position but kept missing. It was actually luck that no one got run over. The plane rolled over the edge of the elevator and flipped onto its back.

The ship continued in its turn and the Marine gun mount was called to take action. As the ship came around and got lined up, the order was given to open fire. The plane was destroyed and sunk with only two rounds. All this Guam and Hawaii activity happened around my one-year anniversary of being on the Yorktown. Wow! What a year.