End of war brought peace on paper, not in practice

By John Pierre | Jan 08, 2014

Several readers have asked me to write more about Navy Air on a carrier deck.  I don't know precisely why, but I'll take a shot at it.

As we left San Diego on the USS Kearsarge, CVA-33 (the "A" stood for attack ... later to become a naughty word), we headed for Hawaii for what was known as Operations Readiness Inspection (ORI.)  They were a very tough four or five days.  We had "inspectors" all over the ship, apparently to make sure we were capable of handling our part of the Korean War.

We were loading "hops," basically 24 hours a day.  My squadron was VA-115 (notice, the "A" still stood for attack), which included 15 AD-1 prop-driven attack planes.  They carried the largest "pay load" of any single engine plane at the time.

When we passed ORI, we proceeded to our station in the Formosa Straits.   By the time we arrived, the Korean War was officially concluded, but we kept loading our planes with ordnance, and we launched them day and night.

On one occasion, a hung rocket jarred loose from a landing plane and slithered across the deck toward where we ordnancemen were loading bombs and rockets on the planes parked forward on the straight deck (not the "canted" deck of modern times).  We ran like a flock of deer to drop over the edge of the deck to the catwalks.  No damage was done.

We all knew that the peace talks had "succeeded," but our planes kept delivering their loads, and way off in the distance we could see the flash and hear the rumble of distant explosions.  We heard rumors of continued fighting in neighboring countries, but I wouldn't care to verify that.

In addition to our AD-1s, there was a whole flock of F9F jets (Panthers and Cougars) aboard, and they were similarly being loaded by their squadron red shirts and catapulted off the ship.  I watched a few go into the drink while unsuccessfully attempting to land.  I watched one young pilot go down with his jet right next to the ship.  Nothing could be done ... it went down like a rock.

The jet pilots were primarily in their mid-20s.  Our AD-1 pilots were pretty much WWII re-treads.  They flew our planes like cowboys.  When they approached the ship, they hung close to the water to absorb the sound of their approach and, at the last moment, roared over the bow.  That was quite different from the jets that usually came in at five or more thousand feet and approached from a distance to land at the direction of the landing signal officer who, in those days, used flags to guide the pilots rather than the computerized signals of today.

A final note ... during one of these cruises, our daughter Connie was born while we were tied up at a pier in Hawaii.  I fell down every ladder of the ship to the radio shack on a lower deck to pick up my message.

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