By Lou Grab
The final weeks of training at NAS Corpus Christi were filled with great expectations. Graduation day and winning those wings of gold was just around the corner. Officer uniforms (Greens, Whites, Blues, and Khakis) had to be ordered. Orders to transfer to our next base were being prepared, and we wondered about getting the duty location each of us had requested. All of our final check flights and ground school had to be successful. Then on June 9, 1943, I became an Ensign, and received orders to operational training at Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale and Flight #44 with Instructor Tex Ellison, lasted about two months. The transformation from cadet life to officer for a young 20-year old was probably like going from the minor leagues to the majors. Eating meals in a B.O.Q. (Bachelor Officer Quarters), returning salutes, learning to fly a new operational torpedo bomber, being responsible for crew men, and knowing how lucky it was being a Naval Aviator was a real high.
Tex Ellison was great. He took us from flying SNJs at Corpus Christi to flying TBFs. After being checked out in the cockpit-- Ensign in the seat and Ellison standing on the wing and having had relevant ground school information, the Ensign flew his first TBF flight solo.
A tragedy occurred, which shocked all of us in Flight 44. We had all gone through the ground school pressure chamber to experience high altitude air and the necessary use of oxygen. Flights to 20,000 feet were a required follow-up to learn much about the different ways the Avenger flew at higher altitudes. We lost a crewman from lack of oxygen...
Ground school included instruction in navigation. This was extensive and paid off in the Pacific. Survival skill training was also emphasized. All of the things we worked on at Corpus were repeated and were related to the TBF Avenger. Navigation in a TBF-- survival as it related to the TBF, focused on carrier based operations.
The beach at Fort Lauderdale was great swimming. Water six feet deep was long ways from shore. Two months in Flight 44 went by real fast. We had to leave NASFL. From Ft. Lauderdale we had an all night train trip to Chicago and the Great Lakes Naval Air Station. First, we had field carrier landing practice. Then, we flew out to the USS Sable to make five landings in daylight. The final experience was two night landings on the Sable. After my first landing, deck crew rolled the TBF back to the stern. Then I got signals to hold brakes and go to full throttle for a take off. I attempted to take off, but found myself stopped at the bow at full throttle. The tailhook had fallen out and latched onto an arresting cable. I was lucky again. I redid the take off, made landing number two, and flew back to the NAS at Glenview.
After Glenview, one great experience after another took place. I got a leave of about two weeks, which allowed time to go home to Sacramento prior to reporting in to NAS Norfolk. At Norfolk, Air Group 51 was formed, and we learned we would be on the USS San Jacinto. The Torpedo Squadron 51 training location became NAS Chincotegue. While at Chincotegue, the squadron made trips to the Commissioning of the USS San Jacinto, and to Hyannis to drop torpedoes. Eventually, we went aboard the ship at Norfolk and sailed to Trinidad and back to Norfolk on a shake down cruise.
From Norfolk, it was a ready ship and air group which sailed through the Canal, up to San Diego, and on out to Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Theatre. So many people invested themselves in the war effort, in hundreds of meaningful ways. I was lucky to do it my way.