Leaving the Hawaiian Paradise to save a far off city

9 August 1948

 (Hickam Field Territory of Hawaii)

Memories collected by C.J. Vaughn


The Pear Harbor attack of December 1941 was still fresh in the memory of those who had witnessed the devastation to Navy ships lying before anchor in Honolulu's Bay.  World War Two's D-Day lay a mear three years in the past. And now in 1948, the news had reported for some time that the Soviet Union was trying to force the defeated West Berliners into starvation and submission to Communistic rule by blockading all supply routs into and out of their city.  In addition, it was Josef Stalin's hope that "perhaps, we can kick the Western Powers out of the divided city." At that time I took little interest in the news, having no inkling that I would somehow become involved in helping our country in providing life's necessities to the 2 1/2 million Berlin citizens who, only a short time ago, had been our enemy!

By June 26, 1948, the only way in and out of Berlin with its city zones, occupied by the Western Allies, was through three 20-mile wide air corridors that made possible the Berlin Airlift, as it would become known.  US President Harry Truman's response to Stalin's "perhaps-we-can-kick-them-out" attitude was to establish an organized full-scale airlift with every available aircraft pressed into service.  We, at Hickam Field, heard the call and were soon ready to go help "Save A City."  Upon receiving these orders, some of the men understandably decided not to leave thier families behind to go to Germany. However, most of us were rather excited about the new adventure. I, for one, liked to travel and was anxious to see other parts of the world. also, it interested me to see how war-torn Germany would look. Our orders read that we would only be gone for a period of 90 days. After that ,we would be rotated back to our "Island Paradise." This sounded great to me, and it didn't take me long to start packing my duffle bag - I was ready to go. A hearty good-bye to my buddies...and I headed for the departing station.

Our group left Hickam Field around noon on Monday, August 9, 1948, on the first leg of our 7,000-mile journey for duty with the First Air Transport Squadron, 1420th Air Transport Group (prov), located at Wiesbaden, Germany.  Capt. Leon Tannebaum and 1LT. Franklin Newitt were at the flight controls, while Sgt. Donald Fetterman was the flt. engineer and Capt. Jack Gabus served as navigator.  In addition there were two other relief crews on board -- ready to take over, if needed. After a 13-hour flight, our first stop around midnight was at Fairfield-Suisun AFB, California, Now Travis Air Force Base. After a good stretch of arms and legs, we got something to eat, while our aircraft was being refueled.  When this was completed, we all climbed back on board for the next leg of our flight.

It was still dark when we took off from Fairfield-Suisun during the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 10, 1948.  I had once before crossed the Pacific Ocean by air, and this would be my first time flying across the US mainland.  From the flight deck, cruising over Utah at an altitude of 8,000 ft. with an air speed of about 180 m/h, I remember watching a radiant sunrise.  Later on, over Rawlins, Wyoming, I was able to point out the old Lincoln Highway (now US I-30) and the Central Pacific Railroad line that ran alongside the road.  Off in the distance, moutains and green forests framed the panoramic landscape - everything was breathtaking to behold. This was America The Beautiful! And we would be seeing a lot more of it before reaching Westover Field, Massachusetts (Chicopee Falls) - our final East Coast destination, before heading for overseas. However, long before reaching the East Coast, we would make one more stop, and that was at Kearney Field, Nebraska - then, home of the 27th Fighter Wing.

A little before noon, we set down at Kearney where we ate "noon chow" at the base mess hall, while the aircraft was being refueled.  Soon, we were back on board our big bird to continue on our way to Westover Field.  When we arrieved there, our plane was due for a 25-hour inspection, a task that was accomplished during the night. Next morning - Wednesday, August 11th - we completed our final processing and cleared Customs Inspection. Shortly thereafter, we departed for overseas.

Following our Westover AFB refueling stop, we took on fuel at Goose Bay, Labrador; Lajes Field, Azores (crossroad point in the Atlantic Ocean), and our last stop at Orly Field in Paris, France, before arriving in Frankfurt, Germany.  We landed at Rhein-Main AFB in the late evening hours on August 12, 1948. Next day, we continued on to our final destination: Wiesbaden Air Force Base.  After we arrived at Wiesbaden AFB, it didn't take us long to realize that there was a real shortage of billeting space due to the recent influx of Airlift personnel.  All the ex-German army barracks were fully occupied, except for a few basement quarters. Well, that's where my two room buddies and I ended up - in one of the basements. And to make our quarters livable, we first had to remove the plywood covering the outside of our windows to let some daylight in.  Then, we fumigated the area with DDT to get rid of roaches, spiders, and other insects that had taken up residence there.  In addition to all this preparatory cleanup, we gave the room a thorough scrubbing with GI soap and water.  Now we were finally ready to move in, make up our bunks, and call it "home" -at least, for the time being.  Rumors were floating around that we might be moving up to the Brithsh Zone at Fassberg, Germany.

In the meantime, I was quite impressed with how the Wiesbaden AFB Mess Hall was being managed:  For the first time in my short military career, I ate at a table with a white tablecloth.  Instead of eating my chow from a six-compartment metal tray, I ate from real china.  Food was placed on the table in large bowls and served by lovely young waitresses.  Boy -- was I ever impressed! What a deal! I even wanted to be doing KP here... For a short time we were stationed in Wiesbaden, we were kept very busy.  Our flight crews were on duty around the clock, seven days a week, flying needed supplies into Berlin.  Our ground-crew mechanics were kept busy on the flight line and in the shops assisting other workers around the clock, staying involved in maintenance tasks that kept the big birds flying. 

I was assigned to the flight line working the four-to-midnight shift with TSgt. Ray Robbins, with Lewis Harlow doing turn-around maintenance.  We replaced spark plugs, bled brake systems, charged accumulators, inflated tires, and shock struts; we also helped in the performance of the other needed tasks, whenever it was necessary.  While I worked at Wiesbaden AFB, a call came in that experienced mechanics were needed at the Air Force Depots at Oberpfaffenhofen and Erding, towns located in Bavaria.  Some of our team including MSgt. Leon Kidd, SSgt. Edwin Krawse, Sgt. Samuel Grupe, and Cpl. James Kiedrowski, answered the call and were issued new orders that sent them on their way. It was the last time I would see any of them again, except for Jim Kiedrowski.

One morning, my friend MSgt. Elwin Underwood and I took the shuttle into town and got off at the Eagles Club that was accomodated in a requisitioned mansion, located in downtown Wiesbaden; it had been converted into a servicemen's bar and entertainment center. Queen Victoria had used it as her residence whenever she came here to enjoy the area's mineral baths.  For a short time in 1945, the mansion had served as General Eisenhower's Headquarters. "Woodie" and I also visited the famous "Schwarzer Bock"  Hotel, said to be the oldest hotel in Germany.  Here were located the quarters of Major Genearl William H. Tunner, Commander of the Berlin Airlift.  His quarters consisted of a walk-up to a single room located on the third floor overlooking a block of destroyed buildings.  However, we did not meet the General.  We continued on to nearby Wilhelmstrase where we visited some of the shops whose owners seemed quite pleasant during our conversation with them; they obviously harbored no resentment toward the Americans who were stationed here.

A week later,on Friday, August 20, 1948 - we (of the 1st ATS) were moved up to the British Zone in Northern Germany at RAF Station Fassberg.  We were to assist in the primary mission of hauling coal to Berlin.  Upon our arrival at Fassberg, we were provided billiting in a two-story brick barracks, formerly used by Hermann Goering's Luftwaffe troops.  Presently, these quarters were being vacated by British airmen (the RAF were reloacating to Lubeck), leaving behind their bedding in some of the rooms.  I shared my quarters at the west end of the second-floor hall with two of my Hickam Field/Hawaii buddies:  Vicent Ronaldo and Bernard Wincentsen.  We occupied one of the rooms that had seemingly been left in a hurry by the British airmen who left behind their bedding.  From our window we could see the nearby British Sergeant's Mess Hall where, for a short time, we would be sharing our meals with the Brits.  We could also see a pathway leading past our barracks, past the Sergeants' Mess; the trail then led through a grove of pine trees, before reaching the base cinema.  After we got pretty well situated in our new living quarters, 1st/Sgt. Louis Mazick had us fall out in front of our barracks for roll call and orientation.  One of the things he explained to us was that we were now considered "honored guests" of the Royal Air Force, and he expected of us to be, both, respecful and courteous to our hosts - and that he didn't want to hear any complaints about our temporary living conditions:  Our American supplies would be in place within a few days.

1LT. Walter Geller, our squadron Adjutant, read off the list of names and places where we would report for duty the next morning.  I was scheduled to report to the 1st ATS line shack for flight line duty.  Off in the distance we could hear the roar of aircraft taking off and landing.  While the Royal Air Force's C-47 Dakotas were moving out of Fassberg, our C-54 Skymasters were moving in, with some of our advanced crews already busy flying coal into Berlin.  This would continue around the clock, seven days a week.

Later in the evening, SSgt. Harry Egolf from the Orderly Room (located on the first floor) was in charge of a weapons carrier and he wanted to know if any of us wanted a ride into the nearby town of Celle.  About five of us climbed aboard - and off we trucked over the cobblestone road to Celle.  While riding up and down a couple of streets, whistling and wheedling at all the girls, we saw, Cpl. Frank Murphy suddenly shouted out, "Let's stop someplace for a drink!"  this was the magic word for our driver to return to the base.  Cpl. Murphy was one of our Orderly Room's clerk typists who had a drinking problem -- and SSgt. Egolf didn't want any trouble with him this night.  By the way, Cpl. Murphy was a skilled typist and could type with lightening speed - when he was sober....

After a good night's sleep, I enjoyed a bowl of breakfast porridge and a cup of hot tea at the Sergeants' Mess.  At 0600 hours, I reported to my supervisor, MSgt. John "Johnny" W. Phillips for my first day of duty on the flight line as a ground crew chief, in charge of one of the big birds.  This was my job for the next few months. Later on, I was assigned to the 47th TCS ... but that's another story.

EPILOGUE

 

Special Order #58, dated 9 August 1948

Headquarters 531st Air Transport Group

Hickam, T.H. (Hawaii)

 

This was the special order transplanting 275 officers and enlisted men, including nine C-54 Skymasters, tools, equipment, and spare parts from Hickam Field to Germany to assist in the

 

 

BERLIN AIRLIFT of 1948-1949

"Operation Vittles"

 

Including the flight crew, I was one of the 30 passengers on board Plane #6 that left that day.  Most of us were aircraft mechanics of one specialty or another who had been relieved from the 121st Air Transport Squadron to participate in this mission.

I was a 20-year-old farm boy from North Judson, Indiana.  My aircraft experience included an 80-day primary airplane & engine mechanic course and a 7-week C-54 aircraft familiarization course, both completed at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, back in early 1947.

After a 10-month Base Flight assignment at Fiarfield-Suisun AFB in California, I was trasferred to Hickam AFB in January 1948 where I worked at the C-54 maintenance docks until receiving orders for Germany on 9 August 1948 to participate in the Berlin Airlift.

While working at the maintenance docks, I received a valuable hands-on experience working with skilled mechanics.

The Dock Chief, MSgt. Bob Twohill, apparently thought I was doing a good enough job to be promoted to Sergeant, and I sewed on my third stripe on 1 April 1948.

 

 

C.J. Vaughn, MSgt, USAF Retired

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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