She was a ship - not a boat! There existed no other ship that could
carry her. That's why 12 tug boats were necessary to guide the mighty
carrier, the USS Saratoga, CVA-60, into Newport, Rhode Island on August 8, 1998,
from Philadelphia Naval Yard. The sight of the mighty ship going under the
Claiborne Pell bridge brought a wave of nostalgia over me and brought back many
exciting memories of thrilling moments operating from one of America's finest
ships. I can close my eyes and feel the screaming, electrifying,
accelerating boot of the catapult launch. And then relive the harsh slam
and chest crushing deceleration upon catching a wire on arrested landing.
The many hours between the two moments of intense excitement during a
sortie from the carrier have faded from memory. But, not the exhilarating
seconds at the beginning and at the end of each launch. Many nights I
relive the pure joys I experienced with Sara.
It was boring for pilots between launches or when not scheduled. We
watched the PLAT televisions while lounging or playing acey-deucey in the
squadron ready room. Some pilots griped about how the clearing turns were
practically non-existent or shallow wing dips. I decided to liven up the
TV viewing by exaggerating my cat shots and clearing turns. On my next
launch from the waist cat, after saluting the catapult officer, I raised the
gear handle and pushed the stick over against my left thigh. The screaming
boom of the catapult sent me from inert to 200 mph in two seconds. At the
end of the stroke the crusader snapped into a 45-60 degree left bank while the
landing gear thumped into the wheel wells chased by the rapidly slamming gear
doors. The F-8 shot out of the left side of the television screen so fast
it startled everyone, including the Admiral who was letting the Marine PFC play
with the little wheel while he sleepily watched the PLAT. Surprisingly, no
one could remember which plane had made the erratic clearing turn and, of
course, the pilots weren't volunteering information. Clearing turns really
became noteworthy after that demo. A couple of days later, Animal
Marshall, monster man from SMU, launched with a sidewinder for a live drone
shoot. Animal followed the routine described above on his cat shot.
We know this, because during the catapult stroke from the waist cat, and
before the high-G clearing turn, the missile fired. Apparently the
jettison switch had been left on. The sidewinder went smoking by the poor
Navy jocks launching off the bow catapults. Wow! That was an
exciting day! Clearing turns became less violent after that incident.
Sara loved Rum Goodies! That was why she kept a huge juice machine
going all night in the wardroom. We carried large quantities of spirits
aboard after each liberty run. The empty liquor bottles were accumulated
until we had a 30 gallon garbage bag full then we would find a gold bar, low on
the pecking order, and assign him the dangerous mission of launching the bottles
off the fantail. Our "grunt" ordnance officer was given the job
one night about midnight. He was called "Turk" because of his
closely cropped black hair and his handle bar mustache. Turk was briefed
precisely how to make his way up to the flight deck, aft to the fantail and told
exactly how to launch the bag into the ocean. We hit our racks. Next
morning there was hell to pay! It seems the aft elevator was down and Turk
went to the edge of the elevator barrier and launched his 30 gallon bag of empty
rum bottles onto the deck of the elevator 60 feet below. The Officer of
the Day was supervising movement of ordnance and support equipment topside.
The crashing, breaking bottles put a stop to that operation for a while.
Next day, all CO's, CMFIC's, SMF's and the Chaplain were doing rug-dances.
No finger prints were taken from the glass fragments and no one confessed
to the dastardly deed. The bug-juice machine was still operating the next
night and the rum-goodies flowed as if nothing had happened.
Sara was great--and I miss her!
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.