War Stories by Lyle Hansen, Copyright 2002
Japanese commanders of Truk arrive alongside the
General Mugikura and Adm. Hara coming aboard . General Blake leading the wardroom conference. The Columbia’s photographer is in the background.
The Japanese commanders were invited out to the Columbia for a conference before the landing party went ashore. They offered to guide the ship in through the minefield so it could be at a dock. The skipper said no thanks. He saw no need to take that risk, as the Higgins boats on deck had
been brought along to transport the inspection team members. Some time was spent in trying to determine the fate of our aviators lost in the raids over Truk. The answers given were that all had perished when their planes went down. After that, an agreement over details of the inspection procedure was worked out.
The Japanese side of the conference table in the Columbia’s wardroom. Interpreters standing, Admiral Hara in white uniform.
One of the three Higgins boats bringing the landing party inside the lagoon.
The morning after the conference the Japanese came back to guide our party ashore in the Higgins boats. (Official designation of these boats is LCVP, which means landing craft, vehicle and personnel.) There were twelve marines, the two photographers, the general and members of his staff, Navy Medical personnel and the captain of the Columbia. Navy coxswains ran the boats and a Japanese navy man came along to show the way through the mines. As we entered the mined area, a sudden rain squall came up reducing visibility so that our guide couldn’t see the landmarks. He became nervous and then very agitated. At first, with the language barrier, no one understood his problem. It turned out that his chart of the mine locations was missing. The boats were ordered to orbit in a tight circle. One of the young marines had picked up the chart, not knowing what it actually was, and decided to keep it as a souvenir! It had such nice Japanese characters all over it. As we continued orbiting in that tight circle, it became obvious who the culprit was. His face turned turned a brilliant crimson, and he finally reached up under his tunic and brought out the missing chart. The rain squall passed, and we proceeded on into the lagoon. There were many sunken ships, some with masts still above water, and in places we were so close to mines that they were visible just below the surface.
After landing on one of the main islands, we toured the installations by motorcade. The soldiers and sailors were lined up in formation for the inspection. General Blake had asked that the military personnel be assembled with their shirts off so he could see if they were really undernourished. There was no doubt of it, as you can see in the pictures on the following pages. We also visited a number of the native villages. There were approximately 10,000 natives in addition to 40,000 Japanese. The native population had apparently been treated reasonably well. They grew their own food, patches of yams, alongside each hut. Coconuts and bananas seemed plentiful, and they didn’t look undernourished. Their main complaint seemed to be that since the lagoon had been mined they weren’t allowed to fish from their canoes. I spoke with one of the village chiefs who knew English. He was an elderly man, and proudly told of sailing to San Francisco on a trading schooner when he was young. I asked him what he thought of San Francisco, and he said, “too many horses, too many people!”
two Spanish priests ministering to the native population.
General Blake conversed with them at some length. He spoke fluent Spanish, having been in Nicaragua during his career in the Marine Corps.
My photo partner Grant Hayes walking past the Japanese Admiral’s staff car as the
motorcade got ready to depart the Naval headquarters.
Motorcade inspection of Japanese personnel .
Physical condition of the military personnel.
USMC General Blake
accompanied by Lt. General Mugikura, Imp. Japanese Army, and the captain of
cruiser Columbia, during
inspection of the Japanese personnel at
Truk, early October, 1945
General Blake talking with the Spanish priests.
The inhabitants of the villages lined up for inspection. They were in good health, other than a few instances of common tropical diseases such as yaws.
The women were dressed in their Sunday best.
A successful fishing trip to the reef by this couple
with their catch of an octopus. Below - The chiefs of the
villages on one of the islands were at the dock when we came in.
A successful fishing trip to the reef by this couple with their catch of an octopus.
Below - The chiefs of the villages on one of the islands were at the dock when we came in.
I can’t recall the names of all the islands we toured, two that I do remember were Dublon and Moen. We returned to the ship each night, but got very little sleep. We had to process the film and make prints, a set for each officer in the team of inspectors! The Columbia’s photographer had a small darkroom that we were able to use. Here, just above the equator, the water temperature was about 90. We were obliged to use seawater to wash the hypo from negatives and prints and then finish removing saltwater with a small amount of fresh water from the ship’s evaporators. Care had to taken to avoid reticulating the film’s emulsion by keeping all solutions at the same temperature. It was usually two or three in the morning before we could get into a bunk for a few hours rest before reveille.
When we were at Admiral Hara’s headquarters he served a shot of Scotch whiskey to each of us and followed up with tea. The scotch (from Suntori Distilleries in Japan.) was good, but the tea was unlike any I had ever tasted before. It was nearly colorless, and had, I thought, a faint fishy flavor. One of the men serving tea spoke English. I don’t know his rank, but in our navy he would have been a steward’s mate. I found that he was from Vancouver B.C., where he had been a truck farmer. He had gone back to Japan to visit relatives and was drafted into the military. He had been at Truk for about four years, and was hoping to get back to Vancouver. He said, “Truk is very hot prace”. The frequent air raids from our aircraft carriers during the past two years had been destructive, and no supplies got through the blockade for eighteen months except for what a submarine brought once, a year earlier. Before we left, each officer was presented with a Ceremonial Short Sword as a souvenir. These were hari kari knives, a part of the Japanese Naval Officer’s dress uniform,. We enlisted men were given a plain type of samurai sword like the ones the police in Japan carried. Grant Hayes and I decided to catch up with the main group a bit later and went to see the Admiral after the others left. He spoke English, and graciously provided us with two of the ornate Short Swords. The handles were covered with seed pearls, and the blades were inlaid with cherry blossoms done in red gold. I’m sorry to say I sold both it and the big two-handed sword on my way home. I got $125 for the hari kiri knife, and $75 for the big sword. (The money was needed to help in construction of the home my wife and I hoped to build.)
The military installations at Truk were quite extensive, and would have been strongly defended if we had tried to invade. There were carloads of mortars of the type so well used at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Munitions were stored in large caves beyond the reach of bombs or gunfire.
One thing I noticed was the difference and apparent rivalry between their army and navy. We had interservice rivalry, but here it seemed stronger. The navy hospital had beds. The army put patients on straw mats. If one unit had a bag of rice, it didn’t appear they would share with another.
Bath time for the baby.
Some of the younger children wore grass skirts. The only real ones I ever saw.
The youngsters are in the yam patch beside one of the homes.
Cooking was done outside of the native dwellings, using pits lined with heated stones for baking or roasting. These people lived close to nature and seemed to be happy.
These folks are standing beside their outdoor cooking pit.
This home had a Singer sewing machine.
Practical solutions for the Truk climate. Food and shelter available, clothing minimal.
In general, the military were much worse off than the native population. They had been the targets of many air raids. Supplies from their homeland had been cut off for a year and a half. There were less than a half dozen bags of rice left for the whole garrison. They hadn’t been prepared for such a long siege. The smokers among them had run out of tobacco early on, some were growing and curing their own. Even so simple an item as matches were not to be had. I hadn’t realized this when we first went ashore. (I smoked cigarettes in those days.) They cost only a nickel a pack overseas where taxes didn’t apply, and while preferred a pipe I couldn’t get pipe tobacco that wasn’t moldy. At one installation I was about to light a cigarette and found I had used my last match. A young Japanese operating a switchboard was nearby, so I asked him, with sign language and bad Japanese, for a match. He tried to tell me there were none. Misunderstanding him, I thought he was trying to be smart. I reached down and touched my sidearm holster. He bolted from the switchboard and I thought I must have frightened him out of his head. After several minutes he returned with a glowing ember on the end of a charcoal stick to light my cigarette! I felt badly, but all I could say was thank you in very poor Japanese. Arigato! Later an aviation officer, a colonel as I recall, demonstrated his invention for lighting cigarettes. He had a box on his desk with a hand-cranked telephone magneto mounted on top. Turn the crank, a spark jumped between electrodes and ignited a wick in an aluminum tube that came from a bottle of gasoline inside the box.
This reinforced concrete building was the communication center for Truk. From this view it appeared to have withstood the bombing very well. Only a few pock marks. Probably due to strafing from 50 caliber guns on our aircraft.
But from the other side, not so good. Portions of the buillding were still in use. The radio plea for
help was sent from here.
Looking at the damaged Communication Building. The man with the armband was a hospital corpsman with the medical officers in the team.
Bomb crater on the runway of an airfield. I think it was on Dublon. One of the doctors was looking to see if he could find malaria mosquito larvae.
Evaporating sea water to make salt
man, a Japanese civilian, was tending a fish smoker. While the natives couldn’t fish because
of the mines, the Japanese did fish and supposedly shared the catch with the
natives. There was a cold storage
facility, only partially destroyed by bombs, where some of the large sharks
were frozen and stored. A band saw
was being used to cut steaks about two inches thick when our inspection
team was shown though. The sharks were frozen whole without gutting. I
don’t know what happened to my photos of the frozen sharks.
This man, a Japanese civilian, was tending a fish smoker. While the natives couldn’t fish because of the mines, the Japanese did fish and supposedly shared the catch with the natives. There was a cold storage facility, only partially destroyed by bombs, where some of the large sharks were frozen and stored. A band saw was being used to cut steaks about two inches thick when our inspection team was shown though. The sharks were frozen whole without gutting. I don’t know what happened to my photos of the frozen sharks.
Cook in a Japanese navy kitchen at Truk. Tobaco is drying over the stove.
Patient in the naval hospital and a hospital corpsman. Someone gave the corpsman a U.S. cigarette.
The medical team examining a patient at the naval hospital.
These men were patients in the army hospital. Our shoes were sprayed with carbolic acid before we entered. There was a case of ameobic disentery here, and a skin grafting operatioon was being performed. From the way the poor patient was screaming, I think they were out of anesthetic. Some of the more seriously ill patients are shown on the next page.
Patients in the Japanese army hospital.
General Mugikura’s office and quarters were near the army hospital, as I recall. The general was a small man, about five feet tall. His headquarters had aparently been built to his scale. I failed to notice how low the door frame was and banged my head on it. It got a good laugh from the Japanese inside. The taller ones must have been used to ducking down.
At the airfield with all its destruction, one of the Japanese officers was telling a Marine colonel how bad the air raids had been. There was wreckage all around, the runway was full of bomb craters, a real shambles. The young colonel had fought the island hopping battles from the Solomons up to and including Iwo Jima, and he had little compassion. He said, “You think this was bad? Wait until you see Japan! I was just there, and it is really bombed out. This is nothing.” The Japanese officer looked like he had been hit on the side of his head. The marine followed up by giving his version of how the Truk airfield would be rebuilt. “We’ll bring seabees with bulldozers down and fill these holes. I think put in another runway over there, need to make this one longer. We’ll have P-51s taking off that way, B-29s over on that one!” His audience’s head went from side to side, watching the imaginary takeoffs. I felt sorry for the Japanese officer. He must have been longing to get out of that hot hell-hole for years, dreaming of home and peace. Now he’s told everything is destroyed.
There were three aircraft said to be in flyable condition. They had been pieced together by canabalizing parts from the wreckage.
The main airfield.
Looks like what was left of a Betty. Floats for seaplanes in foreground.
One of the flyable aircraft.
The inspection team at a cave where munitions were stored.
Anti-aircraft gun emplacement.
These were the guns that gave our new pilots their first baptism of fire when new carriers joined the fleet.
This anti-aircraft gun had been mounted in a cave to serve as a coastal gun in the event of
After three days of inspecting all the major Truk installations, the team had finished its work and was ready to report back to CINCPAC. While they were writing their reports, we still had film to process and prints to deliver. It was one more night of work for us. I spent the return trip to Guam trying to catch up on my sleep. The Columbia was my only experince with cruiser duty. It seemed to me that it had the friendliness and comaraderie of a destroyer, but with some protective armor! Sea duty at its best, so far as I could see.
Back at CINCPAC things were winding down. The combat photo units were disbanding. Having been on assignment, I was one of few who still had camera equipment. It was time to turn in all five of my cameras and the sidearm. A bit like saying goodbye to old friends. I had even grown to like the .45 Colt even though I had never fired it. The men who had enough points to be discharged were moving to another location to wait for transportation home. Mr. Rogers had been working to get all the men in CPU #6 home as soon as possible. Those with points, not many in this unit, were leaving. The others he tried to place at installations near their homes. During the later part of October he told me he had tried to get a billet for me at Sandpoint Naval Air Station in Seattle, but found there were no openings. The best he could do, he said, was to send me to Oakland Naval Air Station in California. Of course I would have liked to be in Seattle, but Oakland was on the west coast, and hopefully I would be able to get home on leave. I was very pleased.
My orders came through in November and I moved to a barracks down near the harbor to wait for transportation. Being on orders, I now had a priority to leave ahead of those men with all the points!
While I was waiting to leave Guam, I met a man who was trying desperately to get home. His mother was dying of cancer, and was not expected to live more than a week or two. He had tried every possible way to get transportation to no avail. Just a week or two before there had been newspaper articles about the Red Cross getting a soldier in Europe flown home under the exact same circumstances. So he contacted the local office at Guam. They told him they were sorry, but it wasn’t possible for them to help. When he asked why they did it for this soldier in Europe he was told, “Well you see, that was during our fund raising drive, there’s just no way we can do that for everyone who needs to see his mother!” This left a lot of bitter feelings toward the Red Cross among all who heard the story.
The escort carrier Bogue.
I was destined to ride an escort carrier once more to Pearl Harbor, but this time coming from the west, and with the war over there was no reason to zig-zag. It was the Bogue, the first anti-submarine carrier built. Her air squadron had sunk Nazi subs in the Atlantic but was now a personnel carrier in the Pacific. I sold my Japanese swords to two souvenir-hungry sailors on this ship. The picture of the Bogue came from a Time-Life book, “The Carrier War”, and was credited to the courtesy of Vice Adm. A. B. Vosseller, USN, (Ret.).
It took the better part of a week to get to Pearl. We went ashore from the Bogue, lined up and were inspected to make sure no one was bringing weapons or government property with them. Every third man had to empty his seabag for the inspecton. Then we, and a lot of other people boarded the old Saratoga. She had been fitted out to transport returning Navy personnel from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco, I think seven thousand per trip. The hangar deck was packed with pipe frame berths, stacked five high! Having been built before the war, this ship was constructed differently than the carriers I was familiar with. They were all steel and paint. Here there were lots of bronze fittings. It was really solidly built. Steaming at flank speed, the trip took just three days and two nights. We stopped at the Faralon Islands to take on a pilot to enter the Golden Gate. A schooner brought the pilot out from the island, and what a beautiful sight it was to see it come up under full sail. Some fine yachts were comandeered by the government during the war, and I assume this was one of them. The schooner hove to on the lee side of ship and the crew dropped their tender into the water. Four oarsmen rowed the pilot to the ladder that was lowered for him.
With the pilot aboard the Saratoga, the schooner took its tender onboard and sailed back toward the island as we got underway. The entrance to San Francisco Bay was soon visible under a bank of fog. As we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, the tops of the towers were in the fog, but what a wonderful sight. Home at last! Then on to Alameda, where the big carrier docked. I expected to be at Oakland NAS soon, since my orders were to report there. But no, a burly bosun’s mate ordered me into a truck loaded with men bound for Treasure Island. I tried to tell him I was supposed to go to Oakland, but he shouted in his Brooklyn accent, “Youse are going to Treasure Island!” So out on the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island I went. When I got there, and tried again to find out how to get to Oakland, I found my orders had gone directly there as I should have, but there was no more transportation in that direction until the next day. Treasure Island was so crowded with returning personnel, there wasn’t space in the barracks. Finally I was given a folding cot and blanket and allowed to sleep in the furnace room of one of the buildings. One bright spot was seeing pitchers of fresh milk in the mess hall. The next morning I boarded a Navy bus for Oakland and received a fine welcome as soon as my orders were processed. Oakland NAS was the world headquarters for the Naval Air Transport Service. NATS had been put together from a nucleus of Pan American Airways personnel and operated more like a civilian airline than a unit of the military. I was immediately given two weeks leave and put on a flight to Sand Point Naval Air Station in Seattle. It was Thanksgiving Eve, and I may have been the most thankful person in the whole world. Marie and our 17month-old son Steve met me at the Sand Point gate, having been brought there by her father and mother for our very happy reunion.
Two weeks of leave were over all too soon. While Naval Air Transport had flown me to Seattle, there was no return flight available, so I took a Greyhound bus back to Oakland NAS. It turned out that I and another ex-combat photographer acquaintance, Bill Susoeff, were jointly in charge of the photo lab, and we had one seaman striker to work with. The photo officer called us to his office and explained that he was also the station's operations officer as well as the legal officer for COMNATS. He said that unless we got into trouble, we probably wouldn't be seeing him as he was quite busy. If we needed any supplies he would make sure the requisitions were signed and sent on. We were to make sure that one of us was always at the station, but that we could keep our liberty cards and go to San Francisco or wherever we wanted so long as we didn't both go at the same time! We stayed out of trouble and never saw him again. The photographer I had worked for between high school and college was now in business in San Francisco, so I visited him when I could. Bill Susoeff was given a weeks leave at Christmas and I drew a week at New Year's. My old boss had me come to his home near Golden Gate Park for Christmas dinner.
The photo work at Oakland Naval Air Station was mostly routine. Each week several large status boards depicting the NATS activities and the location and status of all aircraft in the system were photographed and reproduced for the Commodore and his staff. (My understanding was that NATS had the only Commodore in the navy at that time.) These were quite a challenge, since the data posted on the boards was in form of movable plastic letters and numbers that curved so that they produced reflections from any lighting that tended to obliterate the information. A plane load of parapelagic patients was brought in from the Pacific and I was called on to picture their arrival and unloading from the plane. Reporters and photographers from the wire services and the San Francisco papers were on hand as well. I recall being elbowed rather ruthlessly by one of SF Chronicle photogs in his efforts to get close to the patients. Whenever there was an accident of any kind it was photographed for record purposes. Once I went to Redwood City at the south end of San Francisco Bay because of an accident with a Navy pickup truck and a civilian vehicle there. A new system of landing airplanes in bad weather by GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) was being used at the often fog-bound Oakland NAS field. I was asked to photograph a four engined transport coming in from Hawaii using GCA. The fog was very dense. Visibility must have been near zero. I could hear the plane's engines as it circled the field, but nothing was visible. Then as the engine noise grew closer, the engines were throttled back and there was very little sound until the screeching of the tires sounded on the runway directly in front of me. I not only couldn't get a picture of it, I couldn't even see it!
During this period nearly every one wanted to leave the military as quickly as possible. The Navy seemed to be unable to keep the number of experienced pilots that were needed.
This cartoon was reproduced in the photo lab and posted on the appropriate station bulletin boards in a humorous effort to keep pilots from becoming civilians. I too was anxious to go back to civilian life. When I first returned from overseas it appeared that I would probably be in the Navy for another year in order to earn enough points for discharge. However, almost every month there was a reduction in the number of points required, and by February of 1946 I had enough. I was anxious to get back to Seattle. My wife and I had bought a small acreage north of the city before I went into the service, and I wanted to begin building a home for our little family. The schedule called for me to go by ship from San Francisco to a receiving barracks in Bremerton, Washington to be processed for discharge. It looked to me as though this would take up at least a week longer than if I took my discharge in California. I was able to arrange for that and went to the receiving barracks at Camp Shumacher. The pilots were not the only ones being encouraged to stay in the Navy. A Wave officer in the NATS personnel office tried to assure me that if I stayed I would likely be promoted to CPO within 18 months and stay with NATS. When I arrived at Shumacher (with a few hundred others from installations around the Bay area.) the first order of business was a lecture from a grizzled CPO on the merits of staying in. At the end of his talk he asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to sign over. There were no takers. We were called back to the auditorium later, this time for a lecture by a junior officer. He had no better luck than the chief. Finally, we got a third lecture, this time from a commander. He was apparently more persuasive, as he did get a couple of men to sign over. There was plenty of paperwork, and I was told that because of the injury to my leg, I probably was elligible for some disability payment. I was also informed that processing a claim would take some additional days before discharge. I elected to sign a waiver to get out a little faster! As it was, three days elapsed before I was able to get my discharge papers. Then I went back to Oakland NAS. Through some sort of miracle there was a plane due to depart for Seattle and there was room enough for me to come along. The next time I saw Oakland NAS, was about four years later. It had become the Oakland Municipal Airport, and what had been surrounding farmland was covered with homes and apartment houses. I sometimes wondered what might have happened if I had decided to stay in the Navy. It seems doubtful that I would have advanced to CPO so swiftly or that I would have been able to stay with COMNATS. Eighteen years later, when I could have retired had I stayed in, I sometimes wished I didn't have to keep commuting to my job every day.
Once back in Seattle, I concentrated on getting a small home erected on our 2 1/2 acres several miles north of the city. My father was a carpenter and shipwright and he was of great help. I began by clearing out the small trees that grew on the building site by hand with an axe and a mattock. I had an aversion about paying rent, and Marie's parents let us stay with them until we could move into our new home. The plan was to put up a double garage and live in that until we could afford to add a house adjacent to it. In about six weeks time, with only tar paper covering the exterior and the newly poured concrete floor not yet fully cured, we were able to move in. Not all of the plumbing was finished, but the tiny bathroom with shower was operable. We didn't have a car, as the auto companies were still converting from war production, and new cars were unavailable, even if we had the money to buy one. My dad loaned me the use of his 1929 Pontiac on occasion, and Marie's father helped with his 1939 Ford. There was a busline within a couple of blocks from our building site. One day I had gone downtown to pick up some plumbing fittings and I ran across a man I had worked with at Boeing during the first part of the war. He asked what I was doing and I told him about my home-building project and that I had been too busy to think about what I might do in the way of a job. He said aren't you coming back to Boeing? I was aware that all contracts had been cancelled at the war's end and all employees were laid off. I had assumed the whole place had remained locked up, but now I found this wasn't the case. I told my friend I wasn't quite ready to go back to work and wasn't sure I wanted to be at Boeing again anyway. He explained that there were a couple of new commercial models on the drafting tables, that the Engineering Photo Template Unit was busy and that I could likely get my old job back. I wasn't convinced, but he did persuade me to at least stop by for a visit.
Our home north of Seattle at N.180th and Fremont Ave., as it looked when completed.
A few days later I went down to visit to my former workmates at Plant 2. The factory where more than 5000 B-17s had been produced was silent, but the engineers were indeed busy. Arriving at the administration building I told the receptionist I wanted to visit Mr. Pirogoff who was still in charge of Engineering Reproduction. When she called him he immediately came out and took me to his office. He spent some time asking about my military service, and almost before I realized what was happening, he sent me to the personnel office and I was rehired back at my old position of Photo Template technician. This was fortunate, as our meager savings had been nearly expended on home-building materials.
After seven months without a car, I was finally able to buy a war surplus jeep, My brother, who had returned home ahead of me after the end of the European war, had applied for the right as a veteran to purchase surplus government equipment, but by the time his permit came through, he had managed to get a used Plymouth, so no longer needed a surplus vehicle. He drove me down to Fort Lewis on the day of the sale and helped me select the jeep in October of 1946. It cost $359. I had a lot of sinus trouble that winter until my Dad helped me build an enclosure for it! Our second child was born shortly after we acquired the jeep. I had driven Marie to visit her parents and went on to the Renton plant where I was working second shift at the Photo Template Unit there. I recall just begining work when I was called by the receptionist who informed me that Marie had gone to the hospital and was in labor. The jeep made a very fast trip from Renton to the old Seattle General Hospital, and I did arrive before our son Perry was born.
I was transfered to the Photo Unit after several months of Photo Template work, and put to work microfilming drawings from the engineering vault for preservation purposes. One day when the scheduler had more assigments than photographers, she asked if I knew how to use a camera. There were only about four cameramen in the unit at that time. I said yes and was sent out with an 8x10 view camera to photograph testing of mounts for a fifty-caliber machine gun at a firing range operated by Pacific Car and Foundry in Renton. From then on I no longer did microfilm. The work was interesting, assignments included recording everything that the Boeing Co. was involved with, including a new experimental jet bomber, the B-47, as well as the Stratocruiser commercial airliner. However, the pay was low, so when I learned a photographer was needed to join a Boeing guided missile field test crew then at Alamogordo, New Mexico, I applied and was transferred there. (A so-called "Swamp Pay" bonus was added to the salary of personnel working there. This was a great help in paying off some debts we had accumulated. Also, our eldest son, Steve, had developed asthma, and the climate change was expected to be beneficial.)
In December of 1947, just before going to Alamogordo, I photographed the first flight of the XB-47 from Boeing Field.
My jeep and I beside a camera station used to photograph the first flight of the first US Air Force jet-powered bomber, the XB-47, Dec. 1947.
At Alamogordo, I and two other photographers recorded test data on experimental guided missiles being developed for an Air Force contract. Missiles were flown down from Seattle and fired on the test range near White Sands. Werner Von Braun's group of German rocket scientists worked nearby at the Army's White Sands Proving Ground. Each time there was a firing of a Boeing GAPA, (Ground-to-Air-Pilotless-Aircraft) we set up and operated 21 separate data stations. Some automatically recorded oscilloscope traces on rolls of photo paper, some recorded telemetry data, some radar boresites and some were manned stations using tracking cameras. My station was one mile downrange from the launch pad so that I could film the separation of the booster rockets from the second stage missile with a long telephoto lens. There were sandbags around my camera station and I wore a steel helmet. In those early days it was not uncommon for rocket boosters to explode and rain down parts and fire on the desert. There were no tape recorders then, so everything was recorded photographically. After a year and a half at Alamogordo, I was reassigned to Seattle and was promoted to Assistant Photo Unit Chief. The company was expanding with production of the Stratocruiser commercial airliner, B-47, B-50, and beginning work on the B-52 along with a system of in-flight-refueling for military aircraft.
Our family returned to our little home which we had rented out while we were in Alamogordo, and got busy building a new home adjoining it. We were able to move in about eighteen months later, in time for our third son, David, to join us there.
Our home in October, 1956
It was an exciting time to be at Boeing while so many inovations in aerospace technology were being developed. The Photo Unit grew with the company, until we had about 100 people. In addition to covering events as mundane as award ceremonies and executive portraits, we recorded engineering tests, including wind tunnel work, provided slides and other materials to personnel making presentations, did general record phototgraphy and occasionally went along on flight tests to get pictrures of aircraft in flight. When motion pictures were needed we did those. In the 1940's and early 1950's the company did not have a complete motion picture production facility. We did the camera work and rough editing and then carried the film to Hollywood for final editing and sound work. I performed that duty once in 1951 with a highly classifiied progress report film on the B-47. While there I ran across a man who wanted to sell his Auricon single-system sound camera at a very attractive price. I bought it and had it shipped home via air express. For a period of time over the next couple of years I did a few television commercials in my spare time and made one feature length film for the volunteer firemen in the Richmond Beach community where I lived. They used it for several years showing it at local schools during fire prevention week. I had visions of going full-time in the television market, but without the necessary capital and having by then a fourth son, Brian, I decided there were not enough hours in the day to continue with such a demanding sideline, and consequently sold the camera.
My former boss, Glenn Jones, was placed in charge of a new Motion Picture Unit separating that segment of the work from still photography and I became the Photo Unit Chief. We made dye transfer color prints prior to the availability of simpler processes. Our lab was one of the first industrial photo labs to use color negative materials for in-house color processing and printing. It was one of our goals to use the capabilities of photography as an industrial tool wherever practical. For example, one of our photographers, Neil Hare, was assigned to photograph structural testing of the B-52. The tests gradually loaded the structure to the point of failure. Once this occurred, the engineers often spent hours attempting to determine which part failed first and triggered a split-second breakdown of the airframe structure. Neil suggested to the engineers that it might be better to photograph the first part to fail at the instant of failure instead of doing post mortem photos of broken wreckage. Determining which part broke first invariably became a guessing game after the fact. He was asked to try, so with a few small strobe lights and a special inertia switch he made from a telephone relay and a lead weight, he was able to demonstrate that an unobserved rivet failure in the skin of a wing panel caused a major breakdown. Our chief engineer was intrigued with the idea and wanted to be sure we devised the best system possible to cover the entire structure during major testing not yet done. As a consequence, I was sent on a whirwind tour to Rochester, Boston and New York where to meet with experts at Eastman Kodak, Wollensak Optical, and Graflex in Rochester. At Boston I talked with Dr. Edgerton at MIT and personnel at the Edgerton, Germeshausen &Grier company. In New York I met with Ascor Co. representatives, builders of large strobe lighting equipment used to light nightime sporting events, and with Schneider Optical. The experts didn't come up with anything better than Neil's homemade inertia switch for triggering the cameras, but they did have good suggestions for large-scale electronic flash lighting and were generally helpful. This system was used successfully in testing where the full sized structural model of theB-52 was ultimately loaded to 118% above design load before failure.
Boeing became involved with space after the Russian Sputnik was launched. The Seattle Division became the Aerospace Division, with responsibilty for such programs as the Lunar Orbiter, Bomarc missile defense system the Minuteman ICBM and development of the huge rocket engines used for the manned landings on the moon. John Pennell, who had been my assistant chief, went to the new Transport Division to head up another Photo Unit there.
When the Boeing Lunar Orbiter program was mapping the moon to survey possible landing sites, the images were transmitted by radio back to earth and recorded on rolls of 35mm film. NASA had released some copies to the news media showing a picture of the earth taken from the lunar orbit with part of the moon in the foreground. The reproduction was poor and the newsprint reproduction made it worse.. The result was that politicians began screaming that Boeing (Eastman Kodak had responsibility for the actual camera system.) had done a lousy job and NASA was threatening to take away the company's incentive award. (Government contracts negotiated at a fixed fee included an incentive award for schedule and cost underruns.) One evening as I was getting ready to leave for home after the end of regular working hours, the Aerospace Division Manager, George Stoner, burst into my office with a NASA Phd. in tow. They had the original film strips of the published picture fixed to a sheet of plexiglass, and George was telling me to look at all the detail in the film strips. He asked if we could make a copy that might capture that detail. Our night shift was at work so I asked one of the men, Robert Winans, to put it in a vacuum frame and expose a print with a point source light. I carried the wet and still unwashed print to the pair waiting in the office. They were overjoyed and told me we had probably saved the company a million dollar incentive award!
Our photo lab later reproduced the lunar orbiter photos for NASA. It appeared that either the engineers had varied the strength of the radio signals during transmission, or some other reason had caused wide density variations in the film during transmission from the orbier to earth. We devised a roll printer using a point source lamp with a variable intensity and won a NASA contract to reproduce the moon photos.
Changes in company structure eventually placed all photography in a new Services Division instead of being a part of the Engineering organizations in the separate divisions. I did a study and published an internal report recommending greater use of microfilm as opposed to blueprint copies of engineering drawings. Digitizing the drawings was not practical at the time. The scope of the company's operations with multiple commercial models in production along with military contracts made it difficult and expensive to keep production areas up to date with drawing changes. Distribution of multiple paper copies to manufacturing shop files sometimes took up to thirty days. It was not uncommon to have parts and assemblies scrapped or reworked because they were built from outdated drawings. By distributing microfilm aperture cards to the files we were able to reduce the flow time to three days or less. Drawings and data had to be delivered to the company's customers as well. Most government contractual work had used microfilm for many years, but with the exception of the 747, and certain maintainance manuals, most airlines and Boeing's manufacturing areas had not made active use of film. I was given the job of making the system work companywide. It was a good example of using photography as an industrial tool. Boeing computers were mostly kept at central locations under control of special computer service personnel. We had to convince upper management that we needed a designated computer to keep track of the drawings and their changes. It was called a "mini-computer", but with its peripheral equipment it filled a large room. The greatest problem involved in making the microfilm system work was convincing people in other departments and airline customers to use it. There were about a hundred thousand people employed at Boeing then, and at times I felt most of them resisted the idea. For more than a year I was involved in making presentations to other departments and occasionally to airline customers. I had a slide film presentation with a sound track made to show how the system worked and its cost benefits. The conversion was finally completed, and I was assigned a new job with responsibility for the company's records management and storage operations, the company's historical unit and did special assignments trouble-shooting compaints recieved by our upper manager's office. I spent much of my time driving between the various company locations and plants in the whole Puget Sound area, from Auburn to Everett. I had a desk at the Historical Unit in Plant II, another at the Transport Division in Renton and one more at the Records Facility in a large warehouse at Kent.
There were times when on special assignment that I needed to write a memo quickly. Fortunately there was a very capable lady at the records center who had been the secretary for the vice president of engineering at the Transport Division, Maynard Pennell, until his retirement. (He was considered the "father of the 707".) Margory Radke took dictation over the phone and typed faster than I could talk. The memo with corrected grammar was always ready for my signature before I could get back to the office. It was her responsibility to maintain the records of company stockholders and to send copies of the company's annual report and form 10k's to requesters.
My position with the company had changed considerably over the more than thirty years I had been there, and I no longer enjoyed it as much as when I had been involved with photography. My wife and I had moved our family to Vashon Island in 1959, where we had purchased a small waterfront lot and built a new home. I began building a boat in my spare time and longed to get it finished. I decided to take early retirement from Boeing as soon as I could see my way clear financially. Our four sons were all grown, married and moved away, and we had no mortgage. I left the company, July 1, 1979. I felt flattered when the grandaughter of William E. Boeing (founder of the Boeing Company) and the director of the new Seattle Museum of Flight took me to lunch when they heard I was leaving. Since I had been managing the company's historical records unit they wanted me to help with the museum, and I would have liked that, except for wanting to finish my boat, and I did not want to continue commuting to Seattle.
I spent the next three years enjoying retirement and completing the boat on the bulkhead at the beachfront below our home. I had owned other smaller sailboats and had been commodore of the local yacht club in 1964. One of the yacht club members, Dave Sweeney, who was a small craft designer and had worked for Ed Monk in Seattle, designed the boat for me. He did a great job. Originally it was planned to be of wood construction, but at his suggestion I changed to ferro-cement. Under power its maximum speed was a bit over seven knots, but on a reach with a good wind it was clocked above ten.
Marie and I are standing under the stern of the steel and wire mesh frame work of the boat shortly before the cement was applied.
Begun in 1968, it took three years of spare time to get the construction to this point. The cement was added in 1971. It was not ready to launch for another ten years.
Launching of the forty-foot ferro-cement ketch, Starfire, from our home on the Burton Peninsula in Quartermaster Harbor on Vashon Island, in June, 1981. The boat in its cradle, all 15 tons of it including 10 tons of lead and iron ballast, was moved from the bulkhead on rollers over heavy timbers. Then the cribbing supporting the timbers under each end were removed and the process repeated until the boat was positioned where the tide could float it out of the cradle. I
obtained a license from the U.S.Coast Guard to skipper passenger-carrying vessels of up to fifty tons and conducted cruises in the San Juan Islands and Canada for several years. I continued using the boat for pleasure after retiring from the charter business and finally sold it in 1995. The effort and expense of maintainting it eventually overcame the pleasure. The boat was sold to a young Canadian and his wife who lived aboard it on the Fraser River near Vancouver, and has since been sold again. It is, so far as I know, still in Canadian waters.
Cruising the San Juan Islands in Washington State..
The Starfire at anchor beside our Vashon home, 1986.
In 1994 we purchased a condominium in north San Diego and now spend our winters there but return to Vashon Island in summer. By early 1998 I realized photographic technology was passing me by, and invested in a computer and a good quality film scanner. Since that time I have gone back to photography for my own pleasure. I enjoy using the computer to restore deteriorating old photos for relatives and friends and to preserve my collection of wartime photos. I am a member of the Rancho Bernardo Camera Club and regularly enter their competitions. I now use a digital camera, and no longer have to buy film or wait for photos to be processed!
On our San Diego patio.