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PATROL SQUADRON SIX VP-6
“The World Famous Blue Sharks” (1943-1993) PATRON SIX“
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A VP-6 Biography 1951-1952 by AL3 Peter J Leibert
VP-6 Biography 1951-1952
by AL3 Peter J Leibert
This is a story about my time with VP6, a navy P2V patrol squadron that at the time was stationed at Atsugi, Japan. I came to the VP6 unit via Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii after an operation by an army surgeon in an army hospital. I had been in the hospital for 42 days during which VP6 had moved from Hawaii to Japan. I had been previously assigned to FAWTUPAC - the Fleet All Weather Training Unit - Pacific which was station at Barber's Point Naval Air Station.
Upon reporting back to FAWTUPAC, I learned that my transfer to VP6 had been approved, but the squadron had already left for Japan. While the Yeoman cut some orders for me, I went to my old barracks, packed my bags, went over to the electronics shack and said good-byes to all my buddies - Scarborough, Merek, Killingsworth and a number of others. Then I picked up my orders, my seabag, my V6 bag (I had outgrown a single seabag), bid ALOHA to the Barber's Point Naval Air Station, and headed for the Pearl Harbor receiving station.
As was their usual practice, they assigned me to a bunk, as it was likely that there would be a few days delay before a flight would become available to take me to Japan. The day finally arrived and off to Hickman Air Force Base I went. Soon I boarded my airplane - a R5D (navy version of the DC-4). Passengers sat facing inboard along the sides and cargo was tied down in the center.
First stop was Johnston Island for refueling. Johnston Island was one small island, but a couple of passengers disembarked and a few new ones got on and off we flew again. Hours later - it was apparent that this would be a long flight - and we landed on the island of Kwajalein. Again this was for refueling and passenger swapping. To make a long, long story a little shorter our third stop was the Island of Guam and we were to have an 8-hour layover.
Guam was where my college buddy Frank Lopez from Riverside (California) ended up after we had finished boot camp together and he completed his radioman school. Since I had plenty of time, I headed out to spend it looking him up. It took almost an hour to finally get information about where he was actually stationed. "He's at a radio facility about 20 miles away," I was told. "But there is a bus that takes you directly there." Yes, but top speed for this bus seemed to be about 15 miles an hour and it was the only bus on that route. If you missed it, you would have to wait 2 hours or more until that same bus came back around again.
The bus finally got me to Frank's station and anxiously I headed for the duty office to inquire as to Frank's whereabouts. The immediate response was "Lopez was shipped back to the states about 2 months ago". So I dashed out front to see if I could catch that bus on its return, but no, it was already a half mile up the road. As I sat there waiting for those two hours to pass, I keep looking at my watch and thinking. "This is going to be close". But exactly two hours later, the bus arrived on schedule. We got back to the airfield with about ten minutes to spare. No Frank Lopez, but a nice tour of Guam's northwest coast.
About 48 hours after leaving Hawaii, we finally landed at Tokyo, Japan. That was one long flight. The next order of business was to find out how to get to Atsugi Naval Air Station. Surprise, surprise, they had transportation that would take me directly there. I don't remember anything about that truck ride to Atsugi. I must have slept all the way.
The Japanese began building Atsugi airfield during 1938 as a place to test experimental aircraft. As the war progressed, they moved everything into a huge underground complex that eventually reached about 12 square acres. Among other things, it included barracks, galleys, and airplane hangers. I understand that toward the end of the war, the Japanese used the base for the training and launching of Kamikaze pilots. History books have recorded that General Douglas MacArthur landed at Atsugi airfield en route to Tokyo to receive the surrender of Japanese forces.
When the Korean War broke out, the U.S. Navy Seabees reactivated the Atsugi base and were still in the process of rebuilding the above ground barracks when I arrived. Much of the underground facilities had been blasted into dust during this reactivation and a new runway built. VP-6 was the first operating unit to be based at NAS Atsugi.
At the time I arrived, I was assigned to a barracks that clearly was under Seabee reconstruction. Outside the barracks, the ground was all torn up in order to install new water lines and a new sewage system. Every doorway in the building was ripped out and eventually replaced with doorways that were much taller (seven foot tall versus five foot) and much wider.
The shower section was closed; you had to go to the barracks next door. The toilet and urinal section was in total disarray, but a few units were still operational. Two weeks later, every one assigned to our barracks had nothing but praise for our Seabees. It was another job "well done" by the U.S. Seabees.
I initially was assigned as a 2nd radioman to a crew, but since my code skills were not that great from a lack of use, I was soon assigned to a team that operated electronics countermeasures (ECM) equipment. We were referred to as a CIC team, a fancy name that probably stood for Combat Information Crew. In this role, I got to fly with most of the plane crews, as CIC teams flew in a different aircraft every time, and plane crews regularly flew in the same aircraft.
All flight crews were provided flight suits, Mae Wests, parachute harnesses, leather flying jackets and headsets. In addition, we had some cold weather gear that came in very handy on some of those long, cold flights. The basic food we ate on the flights consisted of C-rations. These C-rations came in bulk with 48 individual meals to a case. Most crews would sort through the individual cartons and pre-select certain cans to take along and other cans to throw out. Every crew would also take some additional food to supplement the meals aboard - such as eggs, sausage, etc. We had a stove aboard.
From what I understood, the key purpose for these VP-6 patrol flights was to learn as much as possible about the characteristics of the radios, search radars, and fire control radars that the Chinese, Russians or North Koreans used. Our ECM equipment would do much of the work automatically if we could detect some of their equipment operating. We had two or three receivers that would search through certain preset frequencies. When a signal was detected, its pulse width, rep rate and other parameters were quickly measured.
Another purpose apparently was to identify and photograph selected shipping. That was a little more fun and exciting. Whenever our radar operator detected a relatively large ship we would drop down to about 200 feet and head out to take its picture. Each person in the aircraft was instructed to look for or do something specific. We usually carried two cameras, but they wanted back up visual information about the type of ship, number of stacks, its markings, its name, and some other data. I read recently that one of our missions was to get proof that certain tanker type ships were changing national flags while at sea. It seems the United Nations was trying to blockade the delivery of arms or fuel to those countries.
Periodically we would get an extra flight assignment to provide anti-submarine coverage for a convoy of ships going from Japan to Korea or vice versa. I didn't personally get too many of those, but in January 1952 I drew two patrols providing cover for a big convoy going over. I was sure at the time that one of those ships included my brother John's outfit - the 40th Division. I discovered later that it could not have been John down there waving at us, as he did not go over until February or March.
But whatever our mission, we must have done a great job. After I was discharged from the Navy, the U.S. Postal Service brought me a package containing a letter with a ribbon and medal. The letter told me that the members of naval patrol squadron VP6 had been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, or a Navy Unit Commendation, or some fancy thing like that. It was for our great performance during that tour of duty. In doing research for writing about this period of my life, I learned that I am also eligible to wear the U.S. Korean Service Medal, and since August 28, 1998, I have been eligible to accept and wear the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
The airplanes that were assigned to the VP-6 squadron during the early 1950's had been designed and built by Lockheed Aircraft to be land-based patrol planes. You may have read about them doing other things, but they had the type of engines and fuel capacity to do the long-range patrol task. The airframe was designated by the United States Navy as P2V and nicknamed the "Neptune." These twin-engine long-range planes normally carried a crew of 8 or 9. The specific models in our squadron were P2V-3's and P2V-3W's. The type of radar they carried was the cause of the visible differences. From the outside, you could tell them apart by the size and location of the radar antenna. Internally, the space and layouts were quite different to allow for the differing size and types of equipment each plane carried, as well as the need to carry two additional crewmembers on the P2V-3W in order to operate that equipment.
Most of the military aircraft built during the 1940's were not capable of being pressurized so we almost always flew at "low altitudes" by today's standards. When we were in an area to be patrolled, we were normally flying at about 2,000 feet. In good weather we could see the ocean, but the radar was our real eyes.
Since I was a radioman, I was a crewmember who was there to operate specific electronic equipment. These were broadly referred to as communication, radar, or electronics-counter-measure (ECM) equipment. At one time or another, I operated them all.
The Long Patrols
Our squadron arrived in Japan with twelve P2V aircraft. Every day, seven days a week, the squadron flew a pattern of three long, all-day patrol flights. One of these was actually a two-day flight. In addition, the flight crews had a number of other flying opportunities; two or three anti-submarine patrols and an engine run-in or two seemed to be a daily occurrence. So the people flying the planes were kept quite busy, and since the aircraft were spending a lot of hours in the air, the maintenance people got their share of work, too.
The long-range patrol flights took off at regular hours every morning. The members of the first flight crew were awakened at 1 a.m., would take a shower, have breakfast, load and checkout the plane, and depart at about 3 a.m. They would head out toward the Yellow Sea that is on the west side of Korea. This flight took them over South Korea and then they would make a right turn and follow the North Korean coast about 30 to 50 miles out to sea, then turn left and follow the coast of China. When they had completed that route they would cut across the Yellow Sea and land at an Australian air base in the city of Iwakuni, Japan. Time for this hop was about 15 hours. The crew would refuel the plane, eat dinner, and spend the night. The next morning they would fly back to Atsugi. You often would then get the afternoon off
About the time the early flight was leaving, another crew was being awakened for "The Able Hop". Same preparation pattern and they departed at 5 a.m. heading north across the Sea of Japan toward Vladivostok, Russia. As they neared the Russian coast, they would loop to the left and come down off the east coast of Korea and return. Time of flight was about 12 hours.
The third patrol flight crew of each morning would arise at 5 a.m. and depart Atsugi about 7 a.m. They covered the eastern half of the Sea of Japan. This flight plan also took about 12 hours. It was referred to as "The Love Hop". (I don't remember what they called the China loop). These were long flights. The shortest one of these patrol flights I ever had was about 8 hours long. This occurred on Christmas Day and the squadron Commanding Officer was our First Pilot. We made it back in time for Christmas dinner.
During the period of time when I was a crewman on these planes, I seldom gave much thought to one of the biggest concerns that the crew should have had "Where in the heck are we and where are we going?" The problem of knowing exactly where you were up there in the air was most always left to the two pilots and the navigator. When in a car, the driver is the one that is supposed to always know where he is and where he's going. If the route is not committed to memory, you use a map that shows various points you might be able to see along the way. This is fine for ground travel, but up in the air, over the ocean, a long way from anything, in good or bad weather, our "driver" saw very little that might be used to check his planned route. In fact, the driver team needed all the help they could get.
No one onboard had anything like today's neat little handheld GPS systems; they weren't invented yet. The navigation task was not automatic. The following is a description of my understanding about how the nav methods were used in those days by the "airplane driving team."
Their primary navigation method was called "Dead Reckoning." The "theory" was based on having an accurate map, a healthy compass, and a precise speedometer, in other words you figured out where you would be at a certain time if you held the speed, time and course you planned to travel. It was a system, which worked quite well on the ground, but off the ground you soon discovered that the air was also moving the airplane - sometimes the same way you were trying to go (a tailwind), sometimes the opposite way (a headwind), but most often in some random direction, and with changing velocity. The result, without help, was that you might not be where you thought you should be.
Before you took off, you got help from the weather people. Their knowledge came from reports from various land stations, ships-at-sea, and the aircraft flying near the area. Some of this information was current; some was not. These weather experts would then look at all this input and make a projection about what the weather might be over the parts of the ocean where you planned to fly. For some reason, this weather input was referred to as guesstimates.
The navigator then plotted a projected "ideal" track and an initial heading. This heading would be the direction we would start with when we took off. During the early part of the flight the navigator's plan was relatively easy to check up on as we often could see key landmarks, and we could make other visual or electronic checks using land-based navaids that were within range of our course. As we left the coast and started flying over the great-unknown ocean we would lose the help of those ground-sourced navaid signals, and soon we would be on our own. This physically occurred about 100 miles out to sea, and by then, even the land-type targets being received from our reliable radar system would begin to fade.
That is when dead reckoning really came into play as we then had to rely on our aircraft's indicated airspeed and its magnetic heading, while compensating for the winds. The navigator was also responsible for constantly recording this information and updating his projections of where we were, how long it would take to get where we wanted to go, and how this compared to the original track plan. Informally, a good navigator also had a list of WHAT IFs he was working on.
There were a number of methods for checking the so-called dead reckoning navigation. In daylight with good clear weather, we could check the wind direction by using a driftsight. The navigator would use this device to measure the plane's "crab angle." This would show the difference between the direction the plane was apparently heading and the actual true physical surface track. Using our aircraft's indicated airspeed, the winds at that location could then be calculated.
During nighttime and when we were above the clouds (didn't happen very often during winter over the Sea of Japan), the navigator could use a sextant. The P2V's had a glass dome in the top of the aircraft where star sightings could be made. (This dome was removable, and every new member of a crew at least once had to slowly stick his head through that hole during flight, but that is another story.) This dome is where we visually checked our actual position by sighting with a sextant on two or more stars and using almanac type drawings to triangulate where we were at that moment of time. Neither the driftsight nor the sextant was easy to use while in an unstable aircraft, or during cloudy weather. A lot of things did not seem to compute correctly, but a good navigator always knew what was right and what was wrong, then he would try something else as a cross check.
We also carried a "new technology" electronics unit - the LORAN receiver. This unit locked onto signals transmitted from different land stations, if we were close enough. The LORAN unit would then compute a line showing the bearing from each station, and by triangulation would show us where we probably were. Problem: The frequencies used by LORAN were in the High Frequency (HF) range, about half way between the AM and FM bands. This frequency range is very susceptible to interference from the static caused by nearby electrical storms. During the winter months over the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, we were not able to use LORAN very much. The units always seemed to work extremely well back in the Atsugi repair lab.
We also had unplanned interruptions to "navigate" around. One of the sideline purposes for our long-range patrol planes being out there was to check up on the shipping traffic on the ocean below us. Certain types of ships were to be identified and photographed. This meant that the drivers of the airplane and the crew had to divert their attention to that task. Any ship of interest seemed to always be a long way off our planned flight track, and the normal photo run was to be made at 200 feet above the water, so the navigator had a lot of notes to take and guesses to make in order to be able to tell the pilot where we now were and how to get back on track.
Even without a GPS unit, our navigators and pilots seemed to get us back to our base, usually on time, and without too much wandering around up there in the sky. In fact, my personal experience was that we got back every time. But that was not the case with every flight. We lost three planes during the six months of this specific 1951-52 tour of duty in Japan. Two crashed because one of their engines failed, and the third was shot down. I will talk more about the one that was shot down, but first let me tell you about our other losses.
When I first caught up with Patrol Squadron SIX, my early assignments seemed to be a lot of engine run-ins. These occurred after a maintenance crew had replaced an engine or performed major work on the engine. Before the aircraft was sent out on a long patrol, a flight crew would be put together to take the plane up and make sure everything worked right. It was generally a relatively short flight, three or four hours in length. As an electronicsman, I would check the radios, radars, and other electronics equipment.
Sone, Japan Emergency
After I had been there a while, one of our planes lost its number twelve starboard jug (the bottom cylinder of the left engine) and crashed-landed on the island of Kyushu, Japan. This was southwest of the main island of Honshu where the Atsugi Naval Air Station was located. The next thing I knew, I had been assigned to be part of an 18-man team to salvage the plane's equipment. We flew down there on a C-47 (first time I had ever been in one) and were bunked at a small out of-the-way US Air Force facility. Daily, we commuted on a 6 by 6 army truck about five or ten miles to an emergency strip next to a town named SONE. This was where the plane had attempted its one engine landing and ended up nose-down in a rice paddy off the end of the runway.
The commute between the AF facility and the plane was an experience by itself. There were very few roads in the area. Once we got away from the paved roads near the AF facility, our truck followed the dirt dikes that separated the various rice paddies. There was traffic on those "dike roads", but most of it was people walking, riding bicycles, or a three-wheeled motorbike which were always overloaded with some sort of goods. One day on our way home, we saw this smaller truck, fully loaded with cartons, coming towards us.
I forgot to tell you. The dirt path on the top of the dike was not wide enough for two cars to pass one another, much less two trucks. But seeing no other alternative, the respective drivers decided to try it anyway. The smaller truck pulled off to the side as far as he could. Our larger truck shifted into four-wheel drive and slowly started around. Everything was fine and we were actually making it by. Then the smaller truck started to move and down she slid into the rice paddy. Being the gentlemen we were, we all got down and assisted the guys in the small truck by unloading their cartons and pulling the small truck out of the muck and then reloading the vehicle. Our reward - one carton containing 12 bottles of sake. I think that was the first time I had ever tasted sake.
During our two and a half week duty on the Sone Assignment, we periodically drew overnight guard duty with the plane. This amounted to having two of us spend the night sleeping in one of the tents set up near the plane. One evening, we were surprised to see what looked like a couple hundred army soldiers doing close order drills at the other end of the runway. Just as it was getting dark, a few of them ventured down to our tent area probably to find out what we were all about. They told us that they were trainees for what was to become Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force. They were not soldiers, they assured us. They were going to be national self-defense policemen.
After a couple of weeks of this duty, we received an invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Fukuoka Air Force Base - about 50 miles away. So we donned our cleanest dungarees and climbed aboard our trusty 6 by 6 and the bunch of us headed for Fukuoka. After an hour or so we arrived in the city of Fukuoka, probably the biggest town on the island of Kyushu. As we approached the main gate of the Air Force Base, some guy in a jeep behind us started hooking his horn and yelling something. Meanwhile the guards at the main gate were waving our truck driver to come on through and he did.
The next thing we knew the guy in the jeep raced around our truck and stopped in the middle of the road blocking our way. He jumped out of his jeep yelling and screaming. About that time, I noticed that he was wearing a MP banner on his arm. He and our driver got into a shouting match as the rest of us looked on with some degree of interest. After a few minutes of this, our driver stood up and yelled. "You want this truck? You've got it!" And he climbed down and started walking toward the mess hall that was nearby. It was only a few moments before the dozen of us in the back of the truck decided to jump down and follow his leadership. He was a first class petty officer, you know.
We all did the natural thing, got into the chow line and loaded our tray with the great looking food that was before us, the best meal we had seen in weeks. About the time I had filled my tray and had found a seat, I suddenly noticed that there were a half dozen MPs standing at each entrance to the mess hall. I got a couple of bites down before a few of them got over to the table where I was sitting. They took all of us sailors out of there and drove us to their brig, or whatever they call an Air Force jail. It was a couple of hours before our OIC (Officer in Charge) showed up and quietly said "Come on fellows. Let's go." We had a different driver on the way home.
Runaway Prop - Losing Altitude
It was not always peaches and cream on those flights. On the day after Christmas, our Squadron's Executive officer was the first pilot on the Able Hop. This was the same flight route that I had taken the day before. Their radioman sent the following as his last message "Runaway prop, losing altitude going to land at sea". We also got word that they went down off the east coast of Korea. (They actually went down at 39-05N, 130-11E.)
We were told later that everyone was apparently getting out of the plane in good shape. The pilot, Commander Robert Jelene Perkinson, and the copilot, Lt. Cmdr. Lee Anthony Garland, had opened their overhead hatches and another crew member thought they looked like they were starting to climb out. Most of the other crew members were already outside the plane getting the life rafts deployed.
We also heard a story credited to Co-pilot Garland. "Perkinson stuck his head back inside, probably to make sure everyone was out, and he must have spotted that the first radioman, Kermit Keith Hathorn needed help, so he probably did what we all believe we would personally do - go back in and help him." But the bottom line was that when "everyone" was in the life raft and they started counting noses, Perkinson and Hathorn were missing. By that time the plane was going under.
Three U.S. Destroyers that had been dispatched to the area immediately after the emergency message had been received, picked up the remaining crew members.
That was the second plane that VP-6 lost during those few months, that had experienced a runaway prop. Six months later, when I was a radio/radar instructor at FASRON 112 on Whidbey Island, Washington, I was briefed about potential engine failures on the aircraft we were flying. It certainly was no surprised to me to hear that the type of engines on the P2V-3 series had a long history of their number 12 jugs breaking loose and taking their prop governor with it.
We were told following the December 26th crash, that the apparent cause for their engine failure was "that ground crews were not following the official directives which required that props be manually rotated for three complete rotations" any time the engine had been idle for some period of time. I personally had never seen such an official directive for a P2V, but I have no doubt that such a directive existed.
Before I was assigned to VP6, I had spent 18 months in FAWTU-Pac that had seven or eight types of planes. For our daily checkout of their electronics, I often would start the aircraft's engine in order to use its own electrical power. The procedure we used at FAWTU-Pac was to rotate the engine "a few times" using the plane's electric starter before we switched on the ignition. Of course these were mostly smaller engines and we certainly were located in a warmer climate. These fighter planes did have a separate starter switch from the ignition switch. I do not know anything about the P2V engine starter configuration since "electronic-types" were never allowed to start the P2V engines.
In my opinion, what that meant was these arm-chair naval evaluators had concluded that the hundreds of crews before us (and us too) had been clearly instructed to physically rotate the P2V engines for three rotations EVERY MORNING in order to remove the oil from its lowest cylinder - number 12. They must have all been lawyers.
I never did see any of those so-called experts out on the flight line at 5 to 6 o'clock in the morning offering to help us manually rotate any engines. That directive may have worked for a week or two, but after pushing the prop around on 6 to 10 aircraft each and every morning, and receiving no help, well, - need I say more.
The supposed rationale for this manual rotation requirement was that all the engine oil would slowly drain down to the lowest part of the engine - into piston number 12. If you used power (electrical starters) to then start the engine, the lower cylinders would be full of that oil and the force of the piston coming into that oil would put excessive pressure on those cylinder casings.
The Mystery of Missing Crew Twelve
As I mentioned earlier, VP6 lost three planes during the 1951-52 Atsugi assignment. On November 6, 1951, the Able Hop took off at 5:26 in the morning and headed northwest for a routine patrol of the Sea of Japan. They never returned. A number of search flights went out from our Atsugi-based squadron over the next few days, but they each reported that they had found no signs of the aircraft. A few weeks later, this aircraft was classified as missing in the Sea of Japan and Crew Twelve was formally reported to be Missing-In-Action. To us, ten people were gone and four of them were from our electronics group. As a matter of course, one year and a day later, the ten members of Crew Twelve were administratively declared dead at their Presumptive Finding of Death hearing. In other words, they had been considered to be Killed-In-Action.
I don't remember hearing or reading much in the way of real facts about this situation during that time period. We all "understood" that the plane had been shot down off the coast of Vladivostok and that there were no survivors. But we went on - doing our duty.
Many years after I was discharged from the navy, I read with a lot of interest an article about the ten "Cold War" incidences that came close to starting World War III. Our P2V shoot down was on that list of ten. I am very sure that I read this article in a magazine during the 1970 to 1980 period. It was most likely a copy of US News and World Report, which I subscribed to for a number of years, or Time Magazine, which I would read whenever I got a chance. Because of the nature of the article, I would now guess that it was Time, but no matter which one, I have never been able to re-identify the article or to locate it.
During more recent years, I have gathered some additional insight about the loss of our missing P2V and its crew. This has been gained after I had become interested in writing this family-edition of my life's adventures. During the past year, in searching for information about the history of Patrol Squadron SIX, I read an Internet item that said the "last known position" for this aircraft had been 42-20N 138-30E. I went to my reference books to find out where this was and was quite surprised.
I was (and still am) under the impression that our plane was shot down because it got too near or over Vladivostok, Siberia. I was (and still am) under the impression that the Able Hop would have been flying a course of about 340 degrees directly from Atsugi toward the Vladivostok area. According to my Atlas charts, the coordinates for the city of Vladivostok are approximately 43N and 132E, which is almost 300 miles west and a little bit north of the so-called "last known position" for this aircraft. Hmm!
This by itself is quite interesting. But, perhaps it was a typo or a decoding error. For example, if the correct position was actually 42-20N 132-30E, the plane would have been about 50 miles south of Vladivostok, which is where I would have expected our plane to be making its left turn to fly over the very large Peter-The-Great Bay and away from Vladivostok. Did our search and rescue aircraft get information that resulted in their searching the wrong area?
From a relative of one of those Crew Twelve "missing", I became aware that during 1992, the status for these 10 crewmembers was changed from Killed-In-Action to Missing-In-Action/Prisoner-Of -War. Hmmm! Additional inquiries have brought to light that there have been reports which indicate that the crew had bailed out. A former Russian serviceman testified a few years back that he had personally seen four live Americans in a hospital near Novosysoyevka, Siberia during that period. The grandson of a prison camp guard near Khabarovsk has stated that his grandfather told him about five American flyers arriving at the camp some time in 1952. Hmmm! Hmmm! Maybe I will have to do some more research and add some more to this section later.
Telegram For AL3 Peter Leibert
One day a couple of us crewmembers were putting our gear back into the lockers after returning from a flight of some sort when the chief petty officer from the electronics shop came up to me and said "Leibert, the skipper wants you in his office right away." I had spent three years and a half in the navy and I had never before been requested to talk to "the Skipper", much less get called into his office. At least in VP6, I would see the Skipper up close once a week and by that time had even flown with him and his crew a time or two.
Thoughts in my mind were really racing around as I hurried to the office area. What could this be about? "Leibert reporting, sir. You wanted to see me?" He raised his head slowly, looked me over, and then asked. "Why would I be getting a telegram about you from the Red Cross?" I had no idea why and I told him so. "Who do you know in Gifu?" "No one, Sir," I responded. "What is Gifu?"
I did have a fleeting thought that maybe it was my brother, John. The Skipper looked at the telegram for a moment and then said "This wire, from the head of the Red Cross in Gifu, Japan, is requesting that I have you report to Division Headquarters of the 40th Infantry in Yokohama at 10 a.m. Saturday." "That must be related to my brother, sir," I informed him, and so we talked about John for a while.
A few minutes later I left the Skipper's office with a signed 72-hour liberty pass. I quickly returned to where the guys were still sorting out our gear. I excitedly showed them my 72-hour pass. That did not go over very well. In that period of time we were flying almost every day and very few people even got liberty for 24-hours, much less for three whole days. At that time, I had only been in the squadron for two months at the most.
Nevertheless, on Saturday morning, I was in my dress blues carrying a bag with my camera and toiletries going out the front gate - with a 72-hour liberty pass. I caught the Yokohama train and found that it was crowded to the hilt. I had heard that trains on that route were always overcrowded with standing room only. We stopped at every station along the way and had to be alert to keep from being pushed out the door or into a corner.
About 30 minutes later, we pulled into the Yokohama train station. And the morning nature call was starting to sound off by that time. Where could the restrooms be? Just think about it. You look around and everything is written in Japanese script. The people are all Japanese. I didn't know any Japanese. As I continued to follow the crowds exiting the train area, I spotted a sign that might be just what I was looking for and I cautiously followed the men - and women, who were turning into that doorway.
Yes, it was the restroom, but as I entered I had to stop, look, and think for a moment or two. The room I entered was very large with 75 to 100 people in it. The men headed to the right side of the room, and the women to the left. The right side turned out to be one very long urinal for the men. The left side was one long urinal for the women. They faced the wall and that was it. Well, you do what you have to do, but it was the first time I had ever used a coed restroom in order to do it.
It was much easier to find the 40th Division's Headquarters. The headquarters was a very predominate building not too far from the train station. I went up to the duty desk just before the appointed hour and informed the duty Sergeant that I was there to see Master Sergeant John Leibert. And a minute or so later my brother John was before me. We had a lot of catching up to do, as we had not seen one another for two years or more. I don't recall all that we did, went to, or talked about, but there are a few things that I do remember.
We went to a beer bar where we drank some Kirin Beer together - my first. This place was full of GI's. We then went shopping at a place where military personnel could purchase things to send home. I bought two sets of table linens, one for my buddy Vern Scarborough, and his wife Betty back in Hawaii, who had just got married and a second set for my mother. What else did we do? I don't remember. We did a lot of sightseeing. I did purchase a Japanese phrase book so I could ask questions about toilets and other important things. Benjo wa doka des ka? Yes, that means, "where is the toilet" Ohio gacimus. That is not spelled correctly, but it sounds like the greeting "Good evening, Sir," (I think). Another thing I remember about Yokohama was that their sewer was a flume with a wooden cover. Whenever the sewage got stuck, a guy with a large barrel mounted on a cart would take the cover off and shovel out the material that was blocking the urine stream.
The Red Cross telegram to my commanding officer turned out to be an easy and cheap way for John to communicate with me. He had just graduated from the Gifu nuclear warfare school down south in the southern part of Honshu, and he was on his way back to his regular duty station up in the far northern part of Honshu. John had earlier been stationed in Yokohama so he knew his way around the region. The telegram method worked, and I don't think that a letter to me personally would have gotten the job done.
I got back to Atsugi early Monday evening and noted that I was scheduled for a 3 a.m. flight the next morning. Oh, it was good to be home. Nobody asked me a thing about what I did or where I went. It was back to business as usual.
Peter Leibert and son James 1956