Boy Howdy and Love

Boy Howdy and Love

By Garland Davis

Love was very difficult for Boy Howdy to talk about. And yes his name is Boy Jenkins. He is from one of those southern states that only use the vowel A. His mother died shortly after his twin sister and he were born. Without a name, the county clerk entered the names ‘Girl’ Jenkins and ‘Boy’ Jenkins on their birth certificates. He had picked up the nickname Boy Howdy from the Chief on his first ship

Boy believed that love was difficult for normal men to talk about. In fact, all the months’ Boy had been shacked up with Rosalita in Olongapo, he cannot recall opening up his heart on the subject of love, except for the afternoons he spent with Carmen at the Marmont Hotel in the Barrio.

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Fresh Water Carriers

Fresh Water Carriers

 

ALTHOUGH THE UNITED STATES commissioned a staggering 151 aircraft carriers during World War Two, it’s safe to say that none were quite like the USS Wolverine and her sister ship the USS Sable.

Not only were the two flattops the only American wartime carriers powered by coal (most naval vessels of the era ran on fuel oil), both served their entire military careers on Lake Michigan – a landlocked Great Lake in the middle of North America.

And while these freshwater fighting ships faced no enemy and fired not a single shot in anger, both were invaluable to the American war effort. Together, the vessels prepared thousands of naval aviators for the dangerous job of landing planes on pitching and rolling flight decks at sea. And it was squadrons of these same naval aviators that helped turn the tide against the Axis.

Yet despite their importance, the Wolverine and Sable have become little more than two curious footnotes to the larger history of the Second World War. That is, until now! Here’s their story.

Before it was converted to an aircraft carrier, the USS Wolverine, was a Lake Erie luxury liner, the SS Seeandbee. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Before it was converted to an aircraft carrier, the USS Wolverine was the Lake Erie luxury liner the Seeandbee. (Image source: WikiCommons)

From Passenger Liners to Carriers

Commissioned in 1942 as a training ship for naval aviators, the Wolverine began its life in 1913 as the paddle-wheel steamer Seeandbee, a Lake Erie luxury cruise liner capable of carrying 1,500 passengers. The 500-foot-long vessel featured 500 private cabins, a saloon and a great formal dining hall, complete with an orchestra.

For years, the Seeandbee’s berths were filled with upscale travelers looking to get from Buffalo to Cleveland overnight in style. But as ticket sales slumped during the Great Depression, the ship’s future seemed uncertain. It wasn’t until 1942 that she won a new and entirely unexpected lease on life.

Within weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Washington bought the aging steamship and began converting her for military use. The navy was desperate for training aircraft carriers for an onslaught of rookie pilots and deck crew and the admirals couldn’t spare a single serving flattop for the role. But ships like the Seeandbee might fit the bill.

In just four months, work crews cut away the vessel’s superstructure and fitted her hull with a 500-foot wooden flight deck and arrester cables. A small bridge along the starboard side was also added.

Re-christened the USS Wolverine (IX-64) and commissioned in August of 1942, the vessel, which lacked the hangar decks and defensive weaponry of a conventional aircraft carrier, would be little more than a floating runway. Yet despite her shortcomings, the Wolverine was a handy platform for pilots to practice takeoffs and landing, thus freeing up frontline carriers for combat duty. By early 1943, the vessel was sailing daily from Chicago’s Navy Pier into Lake Michigan where she’d conduct flight training operations.

The USS Wolverine, one of two U.S. Navy paddle-wheel steamer aircraft carriers. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The USS Wolverine was about 250 feet shorter than a frontline Yorktown-class carrier. (Image source: WikiCommons)

“The Cornbelt Fleet”

By 1943, the navy needed even more carrier pilots trained, so in May the Wolverine was joined by another flattop, the newly refurbished USS Sable.

This newer carrier had been converted from the 518-foot-long paddle-wheel liner Greater Buffalo, the former pride of the Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company’s Lake Erie fleet.

In her prime, the Greater Buffalo treated passengers to luxury staterooms, a vast dining hall, an onboard movie theatre, and even its own radio station. But by 1941, the GB sat idle. The following year, she too was acquired by the navy and retrofitted with a flight deck — this one made of steel. Eight rows of arresting cables were also added and a bridge. Down below were pilot briefing rooms, living quarters, mess halls and even laundry facilities for both aviators and crew.

The Cornbelt Fleet at anchor at Chicago's Navy Pier. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The Cornbelt Fleet at anchor at Chicago’s Navy Pier. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Together, the two unlikely vessels became known affectionately as “the Cornbelt Fleet” — a nod to the ships’ landlocked Midwestern cruising grounds.

By the late spring of 1943, the Sable and Wolverine were launching and recovering single-engine warplanes flown by aviators from Chicago’s Glenview Naval Air Station. The training ran seven days a week. When operations were in full swing, 100 fliers a day were earning their carrier qualifications on the two ships’ decks.

A Texan touches down on the Sable, somewhere off Chicago. (Image source: WikiCommons)

A Navy trainer touches down on the USS Sable somewhere off Chicago. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Earning Wings

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Cornbelt Fleet. Despite steaming off the so-called Windy City, the air on Lake Michigan was often too calm to allow for safe carrier flying. The wind over deck (WOD) speeds necessary for aircraft launch and recovery were a far cry from those found on the world’s oceans. The often still air also kept heavy frontline combat planes like Hellcats, Corsairs, and Avengers from getting stiff enough tailwinds for safe touchdowns. Takeoffs were also a challenge. Even SNJ Texan trainers, Navy variants of the lightweight AT-6, often had trouble operating from the Sable and Wolverine. In fact, wind conditions were sometimes so calm, flight operations had to be suspended altogether for days at a time.

Yet despite these limitations, the carrier pilot training program was a resounding success. Nearly 18,000 fliers conducted more than 116,000 landings and take-offs on the two vessels between 1943 and 1945. During that period, fewer than 300 planes were lost.

A Hellcat cracks up on the deck of the USS Sable. (Image source: WikiCommons)

A Grumman Wildcat cracks up on the deck of the USS Sable. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Sailing Into the Sunset

With the war won, the need for carrier pilots ended virtually overnight. Both ships were decommissioned within weeks of Japan’s surrender. While the Wolverine was sold off for scrap, the Great Lakes Historical Society offered to convert the Sable into a floating museum at Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Sadly, the plans fell through and in 1947 the carrier was sent to a shipyard in Hamilton, Ontario to be broken up.

All that remains of the Wolverine and Sable now are photos and some newsreel footage.

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Standin’ in the Moonlight

Standin’ in the Moonlight

By Gerald Donohue

Standin’ in the moonlight

peein’ on the grass

my dog right beside me

scratchin’ his own ass

 

neighbors all around me

separated by tall fence

suddenly I realize

chain-link ain’t that dense.

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The Gunline

The Gunline

By: Garland Davis

It was an unwritten code of the sailor: never stand when you can sit; never sit when you can lie down, and never stay awake when you can sleep. This was never truer than when providing gunfire support to Army and Marine troops engaged with Viet Cong insurgents or North Viet Army regulars.

Between watch standing, General Quarters, refueling, re-arming, stores unreps, and added bullshit from topside, there was little time to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Add water hours and the seeming monotony of the meals, powdered fucking milk, the same shitty movies, and the ship store out of every cigarette brand except outdated, unfiltered Luckies it was amazing that morale did not go completely to shit.

The clammy incessant heat drove everyone to seek whatever cooling comfort that was available. A-gang machinist mates frequently needed to get into the reefers to check the internal temperatures. Everyone was begging the cooks for a little ice. Giving in to them would have meant no ice for the bug juice at the meals. The bug juice sucked, but it made the fuel oil flavored water drinkable. The fucking galley serving ice cream and all the fucking bowls were hot from the scullery and melted it before you could reach the table.

Meet your closest shipmate in a passageway and greet him, he either returns the greeting, tells you to fuck off, or completely ignores you. Tempers were on edge. Added to the mix were the racial tensions and anti-war sentiments of the country seeping into the fleet. Real and imagined remarks, slurs, and treatment were causing problems. Capable CPO’s, able LPO’s and knowledgeable Officers were often busy diffusing situations. Situations very often, caused by some of my fellow CPO’s and some dumbshit Junior Officers.

Even with morale in the shitter, with black and white sailors distrusting each other, hippies and dope smokers trying to drop out, there was still a sense of camaraderie in the crew.

The ship suffered a casualty in Mount 51 and the something to do with breechblock needed replacement (I don’t remember the exact details). This was categorized as a two to three-day yard job. While the officers were busy sending messages to whomever and re-planning firing missions, the GM1 with assistance from the BM1 and the A-Gang MMC set about changing the breechblock assembly. The Gunnery Officer, upon discovering this told them to stop, that they couldn’t do it. It was a yard job. GM1 went to the Weapon’s boss and told him that he thought it could be done at sea if the rigging was right and that the BMC and BM1 were available to handle that. The MMC would provide tools and the HT’s would weld fittings needed for the riggers. He and the Weps Boss went to the CO. The Old Man listened and told them to give it their best shot.

During the next forty-eight hours, the whole crew came together to offer help and support any way possible. All the animosity and slights seemed to drop away. We were all shipmates. To shorten a long story, we went back on the gunline two days later with mount 51 in battery.

Finally arriving in Subic, a few days liberty and many of the slights and disagreements forgotten, we were ready to go out and do it again. We were young and did things we were not supposed to be able to do. We did them because we did not know we couldn’t.

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Legacies

Legacies

By: Garland Davis

 

 

Definition of legacy

plural leg·a·cies

  1. 1: a gift by will especially of money or other personal property: bequest
  2. 2: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past<the legacy of the ancient philosophers

I learned of an event yesterday that has me thinking about legacies. Not the monetary or property legacy in the definition but the historical legacy that a person leaves in the minds and memories of those left behind. Was the person a good or bad person, etc.

We often hear the word legacy in connection with presidential terms and libraries. Lincoln set the bar pretty high by freeing the slaves and preserving the United States. If the pundits and newscasters are to be believed, the thing foremost on a president’s mind is the legacy he will leave.

Barrack H. Obama’s legacy is:

  • Two autobiographies that contradict each other.
  • Friends with a domestic terrorist from the ’60s.
  • A questionable education, of which, he keeps the particulars of hidden.
  • A questionable place of birth that leaves many unanswered questions.
  • A historical national debt and a failing economy.
  • An unwanted health care program that is flawed.
  • Mishandling of the wars in the Middle East.
  • A “beer’ summit
  • And too many more for this missive.

 

His predecessor, G.W. Bush’s legacy is as follows:

  • Hanging Chads.
  • World Trade Center attacks.
  • Poor response to Katrina and ineffective follow-up.
  • Strong response to Trade Center attacks by taking the war to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Needlessly involving the country in the Iraq war.
  • No more caring president when it involves the active duty and veteran service men and women.

 

I’ll leave Bill Clinton’s legacy with a single line. Although I could write much more, this will be what he is most remembered for:

  • Monica and a blue dress.

 

George H.W. Bush’s legacy is pretty much:

  • A broken promise involving a tax raise.
  • Failed to continue the successful economic programs of his predecessor

 

Those of us who served in the military under Reagan remember:

  • A military second to none.
  • A six hundred ship Navy with four Battleships and thirteen Carriers.
  • F114’s and Libya.
  • “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
  • The Iran hostages released the first day of his presidency.
  • And so much more…..

 

Jimmy Carter brings to mind a number of things:

  • Foremost is the Iranian hostage crisis.
  • Peanuts
  • Billy Beer.
  • Gas lines and rising gas prices.
  • Wage and price controls that didn’t work
  • That’s all I got.

 

I could continue going back president by president, but I think that is enough to emphasize the point I am trying to make. I am sure there are those who would dispute my points, but this is my opinion.

A lady I knew died in her sleep two years ago. It caused me to think about legacies that us common people leave behind.

Her father was a sailor who promised the pregnant Japanese girl that he would return for her and her baby and then abandoned her. Her stepfather, another sailor, barely tolerated her and when her brother was born, he and her mother pretty much ignored her. She was often neglected and left with relatives for weeks at a time. She did poorly in school and was passed through the system with a very poor education.

She discovered alcohol at an early age and then drugs. She did straighten herself up long enough to marry and have a child. But it was short-lived. A Navy wife, alone, her husband deployed and her with a predilection for mind-altering substances, and a willingness to do whatever it took to get them was a ticking time bomb. Her husband was granted a humanitarian transfer to shore duty to care for his daughter. He eventually divorced her, left the Navy and moved, with the daughter, to the mainland. She hadn’t seen the daughter since the girl was a child.

She moved from shack up to shack up. She went where the drugs were. When the men kicked her out, she would go begging to her mother and stepfather for a bed to sleep and food to eat. They always took her in. She would stay for a time and then the urge and need for drugs would send her looking.

I don’t know how long she had been home. One morning, her sister-in-law went to wake her and found her dead.

I guess her legacy will be, poor abandoned and neglected girl who lived her life believing and acting as if she had no value.

 

I have never considered a personal legacy. I hope I am remembered as a good husband and provider. I also hope I am remembered as a good sailor, a crazy son-of-a-bitch, and a good shipmate. And, I hope that from time to time someone finds the crap I write out there in the ether, reads it and thinks, “I would like to have known him.”

 

A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.

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