The standard procedure was not to hook up these four snaps until
you are airborne so that you will be less encumbered in case
of entering the water after an aborted take-off for any of a
million reasons. My routine had been to hook just the two front
snaps, then hook up the safety belt, then unhook and lay the
parachute straps across the safety belt so that they would be
handy once I was airborne. If the safety belt was hooked first,
the straps would be somewhere below the seat and I had found
it to be irritating to be searching for these straps in the bottom
of the plane while trying to take a position with the other planes
in my flight. This procedure had worked out very well for me
except for this one occasion when I had neglected to unhook the
straps. The result of this over sight was that when I was crawling
out of the plane the parachute and raft were trailing along behind
and became lodged between the side of the plane and the wind
shield. This prevented me from being able to remove myself from
the cockpit. Upon reentering the plane and sitting down then
coming straight up and out of the cockpit, the chute and raft
followed along very nicely. It was a hard and embarrassing lesson
but not so embarrassing that I would not share the dumb experience
with the other members of the squadron in hopes that someone
else would not get caught up in a similar situation.
Once I was free of the harness I remembered seeing something
in the water while I was watching the carrier sail away. Another
look around revealed a ship's raft floating about 25 feet away
from me. The plane had knocked it off the railing as we went
over. This was a big raft that was designed for 50 men in case
of abandoning ship. No two man raft for me! I swam to the big
raft, climbed up on it and watched the Petrof Bay fade away.
In a matter of a few minutes a destroyer, the USS Lardner that
was part of the carrier screen, came slowly sliding through the
water and threw me a line. I lashed the line to the raft and
the raft swung into the side. The DD had a cargo net slung over
the side and two big burly sailors were clinging to it. As I
grabbed the net they grabbed me and the next thing I knew I was
on the deck. I was not injured or tired but they absolutely insisted
that I lie down in a first-aid basket and be carried to sick
bay which turned out to be the Captain's cabin. To resist was
absolutely futile, so I complied. I had to lie down on his bunk
and in a couple of minutes I discovered the reason for all the
attention. In came a pharmacist mate with the medicinal brandy.
Enough for everybody. There had to be at least a dozen guys in
that cabin for a two ounce bottle of brandy.
They were a considerate bunch of swabs, cleaned and oiled my
gun and washed and dried my flight suit. In about a half an hour
the destroyer was up along the starboard side of the carrier
and I was returned to the Petrof Bay in a breeches buoy suspended
between the destroyer and the fantail of the carrier. I was told
before leaving the Lardner they had bent their crane on the stern
trying to hoist the raft aboard.
Three and a half hours later I'm up on the signal bridge of the
island to watch the skipper and the rest of my flight return
to land aboard when a signalman pointed to the water on the port
side of the ship in exactly the same place I had gone over four
hours earlier. There was the biggest damned shark I have ever
seen anywhere cruising along side the ship. I don't know where
he had come from but I'm willing to bet that he wasn't very far
away while I was splashing around earlier. This shark, or at
least the thought of it will come up again before I'm through
with this story.
Since the end of the war, it has been brought to my attention
that the destroyer sailors who plucked "downed" aviators
from the sea and returned them to their carriers in exchange
for 10 to 20 gallons of ice cream, considered the value of the
aviator as about the same as the price of the ice cream, about
two-bits a quart or about ten to twenty dollars.
The aviator on the other hand may well have appreciated being
plucked from the sea by the sailors who have just saved his butt
from being shark bait. But he might have been the aviator who
had shot down a kamikaze that might well have saved the same
sailors from having their butts singed.
So the aviator considers himself as being worth his weight
in gold, thirty five dollars on the gold standard that existed
during the war or three hundred dollars an ounce on today's market.
Perhaps he was worth more as twenty gallons or 160 pounds of
yellow gold--ice cream that is! For that is one precious item
the carriers had that the destroyers did not have-ice cream!!!
It so happened that the plane I drove over the side was number
17. This one happened to have been the plane with my name printed
on the side under the cockpit. The plane numbers were assigned
according to the seniority of the fighter pilots. It was also
the photo reconn plane with all the cameras for a fighter plane
mounted in the fuselage. This is the reason I was not to fly
any photo missions. It was some kind of a coincidence that this
plane was in the right place on the deck for me to be assigned
to it. Almost without exception we were assigned to planes as
our names appeared on the flight schedule. The planes were lined
up in a random fashion.
After the crash I was taking in a little sun on the forecastle
and was having a conversation with one of the ship's navigation
officers. He informed me that the depth of the ocean in the area
of the crash was 1500 fathoms--that is 9000 feet deep. Part of
the subject under discussion was: What is the density of the
water at a 9000 foot depth and will the plane sink to the bottom
or sink to a depth where the density of the steel and the density
of the water are the same and will the plane just float until
it runs aground or continue to sink to the bottom. We didn't
come to a conclusion as to the density of the water at a great
depth but did agree that the plane would sink to the bottom.