Dad never talked about his time in the Navy.
As a child I saw photographs of him in his uniform and on top of his dresser there was an 8 x 10 picture of him standing by an airplane, dressed in pilots gear. For the longest time I thought he was a pilot, but later found out he was a mechanic servicing the navy bombers on base and on the aircraft carrier, Enterprise. With an enlistment date of 1-13-42, Dad’s naval career was his launching pad to a better life than what his parents could have ever imagined.Dad's Boot Camp was at USNTS Newport, RI. Then he was sent to USNAS Jacksonville, FL where he had this picture taken with his younger brother Julius on August 23, 1942.
Among my dad’s papers was a faded and badly stained blue notebook, filled with class instructions, notes and diagrams. For some reason there were no dates on these papers which made it quite frustrating to keep a chronological timeline on his navy career.
On April 14, 1943, one year and three months after enlisting, Dad received a Navy Training Course Certificate having completed the Navy Training Course “Aviation Machinist’s Mate Seaman Third Class” from N.A.S. Jacksonville, FL. Five months later in September 1943, he completed another training course, achieving “Aviation Machinist’s Mate Seaman Second Class.”
During this time, Dad listen to the radio, enjoying the “wonderful dance music coming from Chicago that put him on “cloud nine.”
He wrote, “I just couldn’t get enough of the good listening. I had made a promise to myself that if time should ever arise I’ll not lose any time in getting to Chicago and get to see and dance at those big beautiful ballrooms.”Then he got his chance . . .
Dad wrote, “I was already with the Navy two years and graduated two aviation engine schools. About the time I was getting to graduate the second school, I heard there was a large far-advance school in Chicago, so I had asked the Personnel Officer in charge at school, what does it take to get to Chicago? He looked at me in an amazement way and said there was very little he could do and that made my blood run cold in my veins. I just cannot forget that moment of time. Then he approached me and said that he looked over all of my personal records from the time I enlisted into the Navy and all of the examinations I had taken to get into the Navy, and that I had the capability and could be eligible for more advance learning. Before we parted he said I would have to see my Naval Air Commander from the PBY air squadron to which I was attached to before I had gone to that second school.
After graduating I felt there could be a good chance for the advance school in Chicago, but also knew there was a Navy rule to wait six months after leaving the school. During the waiting time I kept to myself in obeying all the rules working and observing everything in flights. I was one who was in a squadron of twenty PBY planes that patrolled the Atlantic coast line all the way down to many small islands like Bahamas and Puerto Rico. The PBY stands for Patrol Bomber and Y for observation equipment plus sub-machine gun and bombs to look for German submarines.
About seven months that had gone by and the weather was too cloudy to go out on patrol, I said to myself this is a good time to see the Naval Air Commander Officer for the Chicago school. As I walked up to his large office, I stepped into the doorway and made a strong military salute like I was trained in the boot camp. He looked at me and said, “Come in Sailor. Sit down.” After sitting down he said, “What brings you here?” Holding onto my tense moment and not to show any excitement, I said, “I would like to go to the school in Chicago for more learning in aviation engines.” He gave me a strong look and said, “Didn’t you just get back from school here on the base just shortly?” I said yes I did. “Well, he said, there is a lot of sailors here that hadn’t any school at all.” I said maybe they are not trying. That’s all he had to hear and he will check in sometime soon and told me to leave. I gave him another salute and left with a big question in my mind. Was there any good of see him?
About two weeks later I got a report to go and see him, at that moment I didn’t know why. I had thought something had gone wrong on our air patrol. As I stepped in the doorway, I gave him another salute and sat down. He said, “You are going to the Chicago school,” and signed his name, Arthur J. McCoy to the request forms for transfer to Chicago Engine Aviation School. I saluted him for the last time and went down the long stairs like I had wings on. In three days I was on my way to the Chicago school.
After checking into the school and much to my astonishment, it looked like I was in some big college. What a big surprise that was. It was some two weeks later before I started the class and during that time I had time to get acquainted with the school and some of the Chicago city streets all by streetcars. My biggest desires were to check out those big beautiful Ballrooms and they were something, big and beautiful beyond my wildest imagination.
The closet one to the school was the Trianon. It would be too hard just to try to explain the beauty of the big place. I had gone dancing there at least once or twice every week. After about two months of going there I met a beautiful Italian girl, Dorothy Albano, who became my wife (3 ½ years later).
During my six months of school and going too many places of interest, we got well acquainted and took a liking for each other. Just before I had graduated I said if I survive the war and be in good excellent health, I’ll come to Chicago, which I did.
After he graduated and went back to Jacksonville, FL, Dorothy wrote to Dad 17 letters, dated 1-16-1945 to 6-1-1945. When I found this stack of letters, the old string tightly binding them together was very endearing, I could feel how precious these old letters were to my Dad. I wish there were more.
After graduating the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Chicago with good marks I got rated as AMM3/C (Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd Class) the school, I was sent back to the big Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, and attached to the large P.B.Y. (US Navy medium to heavy twin amphibious aircraft used for maritime patrol, water bomber, and search & rescue) sea planes squadron. There, my job was to check in some of the planes that came in and some others to check or just good looking over before they went out. After being with the large squadron for about two months, I put in for engine school there on the base. First I had to pass an examination on some math and English which was quite easy all because I had plenty of before enlisting into the navy. About a month later I went to the engine school for four months.
After graduating and was sent back to the same PBY seaplane squadron. This time I was assigned to one plane and had to fly every time it went out. Every month I would log anywhere from 50 to 120 hours of just flying, patrolling all east coast of Florida from Jacksonville all the way down to Cuba, South East Islands, some like Puerto Rico, Dominion Republic, Bahamas. Sometimes we would land there and come back the next day. After nearly three years of duty with the PBY Squadron of just flying, I had logged over 2,000 hours of flying time.
One of the most difficult things about writing someone’s story taken from an at-random scribbling’s and writings, is piecing the story together in a cohesive manner. Such as when Dad wrote,
“It was the second week of February 1946 when I was discharged from the Navy. Believe me I was more than happy that I came out with good excellent health and not a cripple. Although there was one time I had a very close call . . .
Early one morning on the 20th of March, 1945 at about 5:30 a.m. there was three separate waves of Japanese suicide planes called Kamikaze. I was on that mighty big aircraft carrier called USS Enterprise, somewhere out near south east of Philippine Islands when we were attacked. The very last wave got us. A Kamikaze hit us down about 50 feet below the top of the flight deck in the middle of the ship. At that very time I was stationed way down, to the back end of the hanger were the air plane engine room was. Right after the hit there was a great big explosion. The impact was so great, whatever was not secured properly was thrown around and then a lot of smoke kind of dark yellow color.
The electric lights went out, I could not breathe, burning of the eyes. I somehow made it up to the other part of the ship where there was lot of air and no smoke. After when most of the very hot fire was put out by the fire fighters, we were called out to start cleaning the big mess. Anything that was loose, overboard it went. The fire was so hot. It’s hard to imagine how hot a fire can get. That Japanese pilot who hit us, there was no part of him found, he just burn up in his suicide plane. The damage was very big. The reports made said nearly over 100 hundred airplanes and over 500 sailors killed, some burn up alive. Ship was out of commission.
We made it back to San Francisco in about one week or there about on our own power. There the ship builders put the big ship in dry dock and went to work to fix it. All of us sailors were put up at Alameda Naval Air Station, those who were hurt went to the hospital. After about a month & half we were put back aboard with new replacements and went out again. It was something like 11 months later the war with Japan was over. Boy oh boy, was I glad I couldn’t wait until we got back to San Francisco.
By this time it was the month of January 1946 already. It was the first week of February that I had arrived in New York at a Navy discharge center to be released from service. It took five days to complete all the process that we had to get through and a complete physical examination before I left for home.”
That was it. Nothing more. Never heard any of this story until I found his writings.
Just before Dad was discharged from the Navy, he received a letter from his sister-in-law Peggy Yuknavich, living in Spangler, PA.
Peggy had not heard from Dad in a while until she found his address had changed and Dad’s mother gave her his new one. She wrote about his brother Julius and his wife and baby girl, and how much she missed her husband (my dad’s brother Jack) who was stationed in Seattle and couldn’t get home. Peggy wrote how she felt terrible after getting her daughter Peggy Joan excited that her daddy was coming home. Peggy also asked how Dorothy was, being that Dad never mentioned her anymore.
(There were several gaps in those 17 letters dated Jan 1945 to June 1945 from Dorothy to Dad. None from him to her. Maybe because Dad was on the Battleship Enterprise which was attacked.)
Peggy goes on to ask if Dad will settle back in Bakerton, PA after his discharge. She also sent this picture and one of her daughter, and thanked him for the book “Kitty” he sent to Peggy Joan.
Next Post: My Dad * His Story - Part III