AVIATION RADIOMAN

by Seb Shahlamian

 

During World War II people got around a bit more than in peacetime. These were the author's adventures.....

After graduating from high school in January, 1941, I enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Service radio school at Gallups Island in Boston harbor for five months, but I didn't make it, so I enlisted in the USCG at Boston on 3 December 1941, serial number 239-530. We arrived at boot camp in Algiers, La. on Saturday, 6 December 1941. The next day Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Our company had 100 men and boys, all apprentice seamen. One week later the first 50 were sent to New York; the next 25 went to Norfolk, and the last 25 of us were sent to Miami, Fla. I eventually wound up at the USCG Air Station St Petersburg where I was put to work cutting grass, painting and chipping buoys.

CRM Roy Bonam would go fishing at our seawall early each evening; I watched him for several days, and when he asked me if I was new at the station, I told him I had arrived last week and knew Morse code. That was the magic word--he informed me to see him the next morning at 0800 in the radio room. A few days later I was a radio striker and a month later took the test and became RM3c.

As junior operator I stood the mid-watch (0000-0800) for 18 months. When the air station received three new Vought OS2U-3 Kingfishers, I began to fly. Until mid-1942, we had no guns or depth charges on the aircraft; the pilot carried a .45.

As a student, I attended the first aviation radioman class at CG Air Station San Diego in the summer of 1943. The air station is next to Lindbergh Field on the bay, and across the water is Naval Air Station North Island. We got our first radar installed on aircraft hull PH-3. Later another was installed on a Kingfisher.

Within a few months I was transferred to the CG Air Station at South San Francisco and became an ARM2c. Many times returning from patrol the fog would be so heavy we couldn't see the Golden Gate Bridge. On one flight the pilot asked me to watch the port side while he watched the starboard side (we were unable to see our wings.) All of a sudden, we both saw a black and white cow about 15 feet below us. The pilot pulled up, and the next thing I saw was a large red barn, but we missed it. I've never seen such fog; but once inside San Francisco Bay area, there was plenty of sunshine.

The crew chief at our ramp would ask us on more than one occasion if we were in the "tree trimming business." Our plane's undercarriage would be loaded with branches.

Once we were a long way offshore, again in clouds and fog with no sunlight, when the pilot asked for a DF bearing. I said OK. He called again and wanted to know when we were going to start DF boxing, and I told him to stop turning the plane as both our compasses were rotating. The aircraft was put out of commission after landing . . . something about magnetism.

I flew with Aviation Pilots (enlisted men), Ensigns, Lieutenants, and Commanders. One pilot I will never forget was an AP about my size, not much older, who could do things with a Kingfisher that was impossible and not to be tried. He begged me to let him put the OS2U-3 in a power dive and make a complete back-loop without putting him on report.

Finally, I said OK. He acted like a kid, happy and yelling with joy. The first time he tried it, we didn't make it. Through the intercom he shouted, "I can do it!" We climbed and dove, then pulled up into a beautiful back-loop that was smooth as silk.

A week later, while I was on watch, he asked, "Why haven't you told anyone?"

"I promised you I wouldn't tell."

Walking out of the radio room, he shouted, "TELL! TELL!" Some weeks later he shook my hand and said, "Thank you, I've just got my transfer into the Air Force."

During all of my flights in the Gulf, Atlantic, and Pacific, I never saw a submarine or dropped a depth charge. At every air station there were accidents, lost lives and aircraft.

After some 470 hours or more flight time, I left aviation and went to the Coast Guard direction finding radio school. First, we met at USCG Dam Neck, Virginia. We never got started and were then sent to USN HF/DF radio school at Casco Bay, Maine for training on DAK and DAQ model direction finder units. We took many bearings and messages from U-boats that Intelligence was glad to receive. In June 1944, we arrived at the USCG Morton Hotel, Atlantic City, and started class #1 on DAB Collins equipment.

Thirty Huff-Duff operators left Atlantic City on a troop train for San Francisco via Chicago. About 75 miles south of Chicago, the second engine blew up in the early morning. I received a large bump on my head. The gang got to the 14th Naval District before me, and when I arrived I was temporarily detached from the Coast Guard and assigned to Army Airways Communications System (AACS) at Army installations throughout the Pacific. I was issued a carbine rifle with ammunition belt, helmet, gas mask, and combat boots. My first assignment was at Kipapa Tunnel on Oahu, taking bearings on Japanese submarines, lost aircraft, Japanese balloon bombs, and so forth.

We Coasties wore Army khaki clothes and sewed the crow on our sleeve's left arm. Our DF equipment had five antennae about 25 feet tall, located in acres of growing pineapple fields. Normally, we would calibrate the system once every month, however, errors became so great that we had to calibrate twice a week. Reason: We found that as plants grew, ground conditions changed.

Later, I was sent to Ie Shima, Okinawa and was the C.O. at a DF station that had four Army radio men standing 24-hour guard. We ate C and K rations. At our Detachment Headquarters we could get hot meals, but it took 12 minutes by jeep to get there, and sometimes we did, but a round-trip was impossible time wise--the food would be gone in half an hour, and if late . . . no chow!

We had a basketball court at Ie Shima, located just north of the mess hall. The first ten men on the court played--late arrivals just watched. Ie Shima got bombed on a regular schedule. On one pictorial day around 5:15, I was on the court alone when a sudden very loud sound of a Japanese Kamikaze flew over, about 30 feet high and about 20 feet to my left. For a brief instant the pilot and I looked at each other. He had sneaked in from the north, flew over the mess hall, climbed straight up over the bay area where many ships were anchored, and dove straight into an LST.

In September 1945, after the war, I went back to the CG 14th Naval District at Honolulu, located in the Federal Building. The Coast Guard was on the second floor, and there I made RM1c.

Later on I went to Johnston Island. From there I went back to the CG Radio Station at Wahilupe, NMO, and finally on the USS MOBERLY to stateside where I was discharged at Alameda on 28 June 1946 and went to Syracuse, NY, back home at last from where I had left five long years previously.

 

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