Chapter 3: Frozen in Long Island: Dec 12 1941. Overseas!
The 57th group is now billeted in a hangar at Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York; having moved there from the Windsor Locks Connecticut Air force Base the night Pearl Harbor was attacked. While there we sent 75 enlisted men ground crew, to the Philippines in three DC-3 two engine transports.
When calling out the names of those who would go, they started with the letter “A”. Fortunately for me, my family name starts with an “S” so they never got to me. I don’t have to tell you what happened to those American military personnel who were captured by the Japanese when the Philippines fell! Several weeks later the 66th Squadron was transferred by truck to Farmingdale, Long Island, N.Y., to do anti-submarine patrol and to protect the aircraft factories in that area. There we were billeted in the Golf Club building of the Beth Page Golf Course situated on top of a hill.
Bethpage Golf Course, Long Island
There was no heat in the one-storied building, other than a Fireplace, and there the 200 Enlisted men lived for 2 months. Those near the Fireplace roasted, and all others froze... With a quarter inch of frost on the inside of the windows, most of us had to sleep fully clothed, in our leather fur lined flying clothing. I had to do three days of guard duty at the airfield, and on the 3rd day I had a bad cold but was unable to be excused from duty .This took place on a Friday, and I asked for a weekend pass, and my parents came by automobile and picked me up. They took me to a doctor Saturday morning, who diagnosed me with Pneumonia, and gave me an injection and medicine.. Sunday night they drove me back to Camp.
I had developed the cold, while lying on the snowy ground, changing the hydraulic cylinder for the wing flaps on my P-40 airplane. You see, we were operating from an empty field, alongside the Republic Aviation factory, which had been used by them to flight-test their planes prior to delivery to the buyers. There were no buildings and all work on the planes was done in the open and exposed to the winter weather. Our planes made training flights from that field, and servicing and maintenance suffered from the extreme cold at that time, with the ground alternating between mud, slush, and ice.
After a month, to our relief, we loaded on a train and were sent to Langley Field, Virginia, where we were billeted in 2-story wooden barracks of World War I vintage, and again found ourselves doing coastal work.
Our flight line contained a few P-40(A) and some P-36s, and we had to take turns working on the planes as we did not have the required amount of planes for a fighter squadron (25) It was there that I was raised from my pre-war grade of Private First Class to that of Corporal,“ and thereby hangs a tale”. Five of us mechanics were given KP (Kitchen Police) for a week. We were all PFC‘s (Private First Class), who because of our absence at a 6 month aeronautical school, were passed over for advancement.
We resented that, however, when the Mess Sergeant explained our duties we listened carefully and made a counter-suggestion. He explained that we would start at 5 AM and not be finished until everything was “ship-shape” after dinner. (Like 18 hours) of preparing food, serving it, cleaning the entire mess-hall, the dishes, and pots and pans.
We suggested that he allow us to stay in our barracks (across the street from the mess-hall) at such times as we were not actually needed to be present there, in his opinion. He said that he was a veteran of 20 years as a mess sergeant, and he never heard anything like that, but, he was willing to let us try.
My job, other than general clean-up, etc, was to wash the pots and pans (some were 30 gallon pots). We peeled the potatoes, served the meals, did everything required of us for 7 days, while the Mess Sergeant sat there watching us, with a cigar in his mouth, tilted up in the air. We cleaned up after each meal and returned to our barracks for rest, not having to return until needed for the next meal.
At the end of that week, we returned to the flying line, and lo and behold, upon the bulletin board at the hangar we found the following announcement. “Upon the recommendation of the Mess Sergeant, the following 5 enlisted men are raised to the rank of Corporal, Gerald Schwartz, etc. etc after having completed 7 days of K.P Duty to the complete satisfaction of the Mess Sergeant“! In my 5 years of military service I have never heard of anybody advancing in grade because of his serving on K.P.!
The city of Newport News, Virginia was nearby and when we were able to obtain a pass we went there to break the monotony. Unfortunately, the town has for a long time, been a major hub for the U.S.Navy as well as the U.S.Army Air Corps, and the residents had developed what could be described as a bad attitude toward the military !
I saw some stores with a sign reading “No Dogs or Soldiers Allowed”. Foster Carman and I went roller skating a couple of times, as we used to do in Connecticut. We had our own skates and we were always able to find nice ladies with whom to dance, as we were expert in the various dance steps, like Waltz, etc. (quite similar to dancing on Ice Skates actually).
Soon, the entire squadron loaded on DC-3s and flew to the newly built naval air station at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. This was a first, because no entire squadron had ever been moved solely via Air transport it was an eerie experience flying over New York City at night, and having the lights find us. They were so strong that they blinded us. We landed at Quonset Point around midnight, and were brought to the mess hall, where to our surprise we were seated at black marble tables, and the Navy cooks had prepared sandwiches, fruit, and beverages as soldiers, we were not accustomed to such amenities.
We were at Quonset Point because there were no facilities large enough for all three squadrons of the 57th Group to operate. One squadron was stationed at Chicopee Falls, Mass, another at Groton, Conn, and the closest field the Army could find for the 66th was at Quonset Point Naval Air Station. (I note sadly here, that in 2002 this Air Station was closed, as result of some kind of austerity program! We now had our full complement of airplanes, as required by the “Table of Basic Allowances” of the Air Corps.
Here, the Army Air Corps worked together with the Naval Air Services, for the first time! The food was good, the quarters were marble barracks, and the squadron did coastal patrol as well as trained new pilots who would shortly find themselves fighting against the German Luftwaffe.
Quonset Point was interesting for us in that we found ourselves to be the deciding factor in the unending battle between the Navy and the Marines. Prior to our arrival the Marines regularly thrashed the Navy personnel wherever they came together (such as in the Ship’s store (the equivalent of the Army’s Post Exchange), or in Bars, etc. ... Immediately after arriving we realized that the Marines were nothing more than 18 year old juvenile delinquents, we aligned ourselves with the Navy against them. Side by side with the Navy, we pummeled those Marines whenever we came together. If you think I am exaggerating you are sadly mistaken! It got so bad, that the Marine Colonel at the base went to our squadron commander demanding that we not function as allies of the Navy!
On June I, 1942 the squadron moved to Hillsgrove State Airport, which was 10 miles closer to Providence .Rhode, Island... Here with daily missions, experiments were made carrying 500 lb bombs.
During our stay here I spent one week as “Corporal of the Guard. I was required to see that the guards made their designated rounds. One afternoon while I was away from the guard shack, some of the men were shooting their Colt 45’s out of the guardhouse window, aiming at a row of empty Coke bottles. However the bullets were ricocheting down a ravine in back of the shack, and bouncing up to break windows in the “BOQ” (Bachelor Officers Quarters).
I was not aware of it, but in the past several thousand rounds of small arms ammunition had been used up by guards practicing in the airplane revetments. When I returned to the flying line I found a notice on the wall saying that I had been reduced to the grade of Private. It seems I was blamed for the missing ammunition also!
One day, 25 brand new P-40 (F) arrived, and our old planes departed. The new planes sat on the grass, and contrasted greatly with the green grass because their tops were painted pink and the bottoms pale blue! We thought that the Army had gone “out of its gourd”!
The next thing we knew, flags were placed on the edge of the runway every so often, and instead of the pilots starting the take-offs from “scratch”, they sat there with brakes locked and raced the engines at full throttle, and then started down the field. We were perplexed, to say the least.
On June 30th, 42 of our key personnel left for overseas shipment. We then attended to the loading of our 25 planes on board the carrier Ranger at Quonset Point. The 64th and 65th squadrons did likewise, thus loading a total of 75 planes aboard. The next morning a list of
Additional personnel were posted, for immediate overseas shipment.
We shortly thereafter were transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey in preparation for overseas shipment. On July 16, 1942 the squadron entrained for New York Harbor, where it loaded aboard the HMS Pasteur, for shipment to points unknown. We were dressed in “Olive Drab” (Woolen Winter uniforms) in the middle of the summer, presumably to be shipped to some frigid zone. We no doubt fooled our enemies by this, since we wound up in one of the hottest places in the world: the Suez Canal!
So ends Chapter 3 of my wartime memoirs.