Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea,
Twenty-Six miles from Yemassee.
It was springtime in 1963. Naval aviators needed a war. We were the best trained pilots flying the most sophisticated aircraft in the history of the world and our talents were idling away as our youthful peak performance years were passing by. We worried about becoming a major or lieutenant commander with only a Slop-Shoot or Gedunk ribbon to show for our operational readiness and pent-up up courage. Such was my pondering as I shuffled papers in the administration office of Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron-451. The Warlord squadron had recently been reassigned to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. The descriptive refrain given visitors still haunts me, "Beautiful Beaufort by the sea, twenty-six miles from Yemassee." Wherever in hell that was!
The squadron had been transferred by flag only, which meant starting all over from scratch with a new commanding officer, executive officer, and all the way down the line to the brand-new gold bars nuggets. New F-8 Crusader aircraft were arriving daily from the factory and support equipment and enlisted personnel were checking in day and night. I had recently been transferred from Marine Aircraft Group-31 headquarters. I had been the Group Legal Officer prosecuting all the bad boys who were growing bored with the sedentary life in rural South Carolina. While Crusaders were coming in daily no pilots were assigned to fly them. Several Group second tour pilots were allowed to exercise the aircraft after a quick Natops ground course and a simulator check out. The first flight was an experience! Even though I had over 3000 flight hours and had accrued a lot of the time in F-9, T-33, and A4D jet aircraft, nothing prepared me for the rocket ship designated the F8U-2N. From the moment I hit the afterburner on takeoff until I passed fifteen grand, I was busier than a one-armed paper hanger. Until then, the greatest thrills were aircraft carrier catapult shots.
Over a period of three months I had accumulated nearly 100 hours and was dog-fighting all the tactical aircraft from Cheerless Point to Navy Cecil. It was pure fighter pilot heaven! At the end of each flight, I still had to return to the UCMJ and the courts martial for marines charged with drunk and disorderly conduct, fighting, insubordination, and frequent AWOL. That is, until one day in March when I came screaming into the break at .97 mach as wingman of Red Bear Ed Fullerton. After a 5 G break, I was on the downwind dropping gear, raising wing, raising speed brake, when the cockpit made noise like dice rattling through the Acey-Deucy drop box. Red flags were flickering in gages on the instrument panel. The throttle movement had no effect on the engine rpm which was stabilized at 50 percent. Suddenly realizing that I was in a world of shit, I rolled hard to the left and commenced a modified split-S to the off-duty crosswind runway. Coming down like the proverbial rock, I was in 45 degrees of bank at 400 feet approaching the extended centerline on short final to the runway when the stick froze, the aircraft rolled wings level and pitched full nose down. Realizing I was out of altitude, airspeed, ideas and hydraulic pressure, I jettisoned the aircraft at 300 feet. Thank you Martin Baker for the zero altitude and zero airspeed ejection seat. The face curtain blocked out the ground for a few seconds as the canopy went aft and the seat roared above the fray. The ejection seat peaked and I observed through my flapping legs the Crusader detonate in a fireball below and in front of me. It seemed I would land in the fire, but the parachute deployed and jerked me up short of the flame. I landed 50 feet from the broken bird after one half swing on the chute.
That got me out of the legal business. I was transferred to 451 the next week to facilitate an easier accident investigation. The luck of the Irish!
I heard a knock at the door. Without looking up, I said, "The door is open." "Lieutenant Chattin reporting as ordered, sir." A voice said to my back. I turned around and found a khaki dressed marine pilot standing at attention about five feet away. He was six feet tall and looked a muscular 190 pounds. He looked familiar. I said, "Do I know you from somewhere?"
"Did you ever have your right hand broken, Captain Marvel?" he responded with a wide grin. Captain Marvel was the name given me during the period of 1960 to 1962 by flight students in formation training in Basic Flight Training at Whiting Field, because of my magenta colored flight suit and helmet, and my rank. Then I recognized the young officer as a flight student who had shown up at a happy hour at Whiting one night about 11 PM and wanted to arm wrestle. Lee "Whale" Blankenship and I had been winning pitchers of beer from students all evening. The Whale excelled in a chug-a-lug contest with students while I arm-wrestled others. We had about 10 pitchers of beer on our table, were through with the challenges, and were busy quaffing the fruits of our victories. The student insisted on arm-wrestling. Never being one to turn down an opportunity to excel, I accepted his challenge. In the course of the physical drama, the third metacarpal in my right hand popped like a gun discharging. Yes, I remembered my broken right hand. I had kept it quiet from the squadron quack and my squadron leaders by going to my wife’s baby doctor. He showed me the x-ray of the compound fracture and fashioned me a removable cast. As a primary post maintenance test pilot, I had to fly several T-28 test hops. The pain was excruciating performing the spins and recoveries. I took a week of annual leave, flew a squadron T-28 to Barin Field and re-qualified on the aircraft carrier, USS Antietam. I had orders from Flight School back to the Fleet Marine Force and I wanted to be ready for a squadron when I checked into the Air Group. The hand healed in spite of me.
Tom Chattin turned out to be a valuable morale asset. The squadron was split into three flights. As leader of Flight "C" I assigned Tom to my flight. We soon nick-named him "Torch" because of his unique ability to blow huge fireballs. With lighter fluid and a zippo lighter, he was his own Fourth of July. The squadron would go to Happy Hour on Fridays and gather tables on one side of the barroom. The attack pilots would assemble at tables across the room from us. We shouted insults at each other. In a typical exchange they would shout, "What is the boiling point of piss?" They answered their own question, "Four Fifty One!" Our favorite song was:
A Four Dees are tinker toys
they are made for little boys!
And they make a funny noise!
Eff Eight Use are rocket ships!
Flying them takes airmanship!
And they make a deafening roar!
Torch got prepared for his part of the grand finale during the song and with the words," deafening roar", he would launch a fireball that reached ten to fifteen feet out over the heads of the Scooter drivers. The fireball was just like napalm. It rolled and boiled across the room, licking at the ceiling and causing the tinkertoy drivers to duck and scramble.
The attack pukes would order pizzas from the Officers Club Dining Room to be brought to their squadron drinking tables at 6 P.M. when official happy hour was over. The drinks went from half price to normal at that time and the pussy whipped segment of revelers would leave their loved ones and drive home to their wives and children with the pizza as a peace offering. Without pizza the happy hour attendees could expect hot tongue and cold cheek for supper. One Friday night just before the witching hour of 6 P.M. we were in the midst of our favorite song and torch was fueled up, zippo ready, waiting for the words," deafening roar," when an unsuspecting steward came through the swinging bat-wing doors. He had at least six boxes of pizzas stacked on his outstretched arms. The steward had his hair slicked back with a heavy pomade. "Deafening roar!" sounded just as the bat-wings swung shut and Torch launched a huge fireball towards the A-4 pilots. The fireball engulfed the head and shoulders of the steward as it roared and boiled over the A-4 pilots. The steward’s hair flamed a bright blue. The pizzas went up and out in all directions and the screaming steward jumped backwards out the batwing doors. Several pilots raced after him and extinguished the blaze before the steward was seriously hurt. That incident resulted in a visit to see the skipper early Monday morning. I was told to cease and desist on the fireballs. T. H. Nichols and Fox Dempster put us in Hack. The steward was never seen again.
A few weeks later, after most of the happy hour crowd had staggered off to their cars, Charlie flight moved to the right side of the "L" shaped bar. A few A-4 pukes had moved to the other side of the "L". Verbiage between the two groups soon resulted in our favorite song being shouted at the Skyhawk drivers. At the end of the song Torch launched a massive fireball which rolled and licked over the dozens of bottles of booze on shelves in front of the mirror behind the bar. Many bottle labels ignited while the bartender scrambled and bar patrons on the left side of the bar ducked for cover. The bartender grabbed his ready fire extinguisher and put out the residual fires. That episode resulted in a screaming rug dance, banishment from the club, temporary grounding, and thirty days "Hack" restriction for members of Charlie Flight.
Four fifty one found a wealth of talent in the young first tour pilots we had been assigned. Norm, a football star from SMU, Toad Lawrence-a fine pilot and song leader, J.I.(fly), Jelly bean, Whitey, Batman, Turk, Torch, Raccoon, Stout, Quaker, Horrigan, No Neck, Tiny, Reach, McRoberts, P.J., et al. They were great aviators and were absolutely fearless. The sign on the door to the ready room said it best, "All tigers will be leashed." The older second tour pilots were the most capable and experienced tactical fighter pilots available. They loved to fly and imbued that love in the first tour jet jocks. My philosophy typified the attitude of the older pilots---handed down from our early squadron skippers, "If you work hard, you can play hard!" That was an easy to follow guideline. So we worked extra hard in our collateral duties and we naturally excelled as pilots, thus our punishments were lenient and our rewards were great.
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.