|Born - 9-10-37; VP2 - 1958-1959
Attended; St. Gabriel’s Grammar School
St. Louis University High School
Sports participated in; Football, baseball, track, cross country, boxing and judo
In my senior year of high school, at age seventeen, I was made aware that it was possible, with the consent of my parents, to join the Naval Air Reserve which operated out of Lambert Field at NAS St. Louis. So, in February of that year I joined up as the proverbial “Weekend Warrior”. One of my first experiences was the honor of being inspected by one of the famous WW2 Admirals, Arleigh, ”31 knot” Burke. He was so called, I’m told, because, ships in his battle group had to go 31 knots to keep up with him.
After graduation, that May, The Navy offered, at NAS St. Louis, an accelerated training program that would last the duration of the summer and upon completion, we’d receive our second stripe (airman apprentice) and then return to civilian life, with only our once monthly meetings to attend. I would be free to attend college and planned to do so. Fate, however, had other plans for me and so by the time September approached I was hooked on the Navy and so “shipped over” for a three year obligation. That summer program served as “boot camp” and to this very day I have the distinction of being able to say that I “took my boot” at NAS St. Louis.
Two of my shipmates and I boarded the train at Union station in downtown St. Louis while my parents stood on the platform waving goodbye. Mom had a hanky to her nose and was sniffling. Raising my glance up I noticed that three Green Berets were standing behind Mom and also waving goodbye to us with all-knowing grins on their faces. I’ve never forgotten that.
Next stop, Philadelphia receiving station, then, after processing, on to Norman Oklahoma for apprentice school. One of my mates described apprentice school as “where you are taught which end of a hammer to hold”. He was right! After 8 weeks of “ trade school”, during which I took and passed the test for “Nav Cad” school in Pensacola, I was bussed to Millington Tenn. For commencement of AV. Electronics “A” School. It was Christmas time and I just had time to check in before going on Christmas leave. After returning in Jan. I was summoned to sick bay to take my flight physical before departing for Pensacola. There I ran up against a second class corpsman who, glancing at my posture, declared me disqualified for the program due to a curvature of the spine. I never had a problem before or since with my back but, you know, when you're just a kid, fresh out of school, you don’t question those in authority. So I “deep sixed” my dreams of becoming a pilot and went on to become an electronics technician.
Upon graduation I was assigned to Air Matron 2, at Barbers Point, T. H. ( that’s territory of Hawaii, because in 1956, Hawaii wasn’t a state yet).
Our squadron, was a maintainance outfit for the big “super connies”, you know, the “WV’s”. It was there I learned all about APS20 radar after being sent to radar school in Biloxi Miss.. Oh boy, that’s a time I’ll never forget. Got my third class crow while there. They gave us a rating party at the NCO club and after, got into a fist fight with an air force sergeant. I won the fight, but lost my dress blue, tailor-made jumper, with the brand new crow sewn on the sleeve. Just torn to shreds.
Back to Hawaii I went. Worked the graveyard shift out of the electronics shop and on weekends, the long bus ride into Honolulu to spend our paycheck and get manhandled by either the Shore Patrol, the Hawaiian Armed Service Police, or the many “local boy” hoodlums that lurked about in dark alleys. That drill got tiresome pretty quickly and so one sunny afternoon, while in Waikiki, a shipmate of mine and I wandered over to the Ala-Wai Yacht Basin. There, tied up in a slip on the pier, was the answer to our dreams. It was a 26 ft. harbor tug and it was for sale. We bought it and it was ready to go, I mean seaworthy. It was a thing of beauty, to us, anyway. She had a 20 horse Fairbanks and Morse Diesel and with 2to1 reductions gear turned a 24” diameter screw which made her capable of 10 knots in a dead calm or a hurricane.
From that day on we never had a problem and always a great adventure awaited us, on our weekends. Yep, we’d crank her up and it was off to Molokai or Maui. It would take about 10 hours to go from Oahu to Kannakakai, Molokai and then another 4 hours to Lahaina, Maui. We’d encounter flying fish which would surface and skitter on past us. We’d have dolphins (porpoise) surround us and surf under our bow wave. The best of all were the wonderful whales. The Humpbacks. They were enormous and, in May, They’d give birth and their calves would frolic about near the boat with mama keeping a careful eye on her offspring. They would never bother you and at times, we’d be so close that their huge tails would literally “blot out the sun” when they sounded. Their strange mournful calls would be heard at night and seemed to penetrate the hull of our wooden boat. I’ll tell you this, though, The spray that they send through their blow holes, and can be seen for miles away on a calm day, well when you're close enough, it smells TERRIBLE!
Does anyone remember the TV show, back in the late fifties, Adventures in Paradise, with Gardner McKay? Well, it was filmed in Hawaii and the boat that was used, and called the “Tiki” was moored in the harbor near us. One Friday night while all were sleeping a number of airforce brats stole a power boat and towed the Tiki out to sea with the idea of sailing her away to the South Pacific. A poorly thought out plan and doomed for failure. Sure enough, the power boat conked out just beyond the harbor channel and the Tiki washed back onto the barrier reef and sunk. It made the front page headlines the following morning and there was much activity about the harbor as salvage efforts were underway. By Sunday many attempts had failed, but still they toiled away. The harbor master came to us and asked if we could help with our little harbor tug. We immediately got underway and at this point they had been successful enough to get the Tiki off the reef and into the channel where she again sunk due to the bursting of flotation devices in her hull (innertubes). We heaved a tow line to the divers aboard and with movie and TV cameras cranking, hauled that sunken ship into water so shallow that our screw was throwing mud into the air. The Lucky Lager tasted especially good that afternoon, and it was free.
Six months later I received my orders to report to Patrol Squadron 2 on Whidbey Island. I bid my wonderful little boat goodbye, but did not sell her, vowing to return after my hitch was up. Later, as we transpac'ed on deployment to Iwakuni, I revisited my boat, whose name was “Bianca”, by the way, (that means White, I’m told, but she was painted black as night). Anyway, our shipmates Mike O’Gara, and Arley Hamilton came aboard for an afternoon’s cruise before departing the following day for Kwajalein .
My days and nights with Patrol Squadron 2 were wonderful and I carry only good memories with me. From the long “Oscar” patrols including the “Mig “interceptions, the “rigging” exercises, the one exciting rescue of a Scandanavian freighter that had lost power and was adrift off the Japanese coast in a typhoon. Yep, we found her and vectored an ocean going tug to her before leaving station. LtCdr. Black said, “there might be a commendation waiting for me when we got back” there wasn’t, who cares, I’d of settled for a cold beer. That was waiting.
Worst Christmas of my life, so far, was during our deployment to Iwakuni. We were on “Oscar” patrol and had descended to “rig” a Chinese fishing fleet. It was said that they were known to resupply subs and so we went for a look-see. As we got to, Oh about 500ft. the port engine shot craps, as it packed up, Cdr Black got it feathered and quick as a wink, Gus Jones, copilot, got the jets cranked up. There was no time to spare. The crew went to ditching stations and I remember as I was looking up, through the little window on the port side, I could see the masts of the fishing boats zoom by. Brother, that was low!
We got back to altitude and the other radial was feathered so we headed for Naha Okinawa. There we stayed for close to a week while waiting for a replacement engine. Broke. Living in the same clothes we arrived in, and it seemed to rain every day, all day. Merry Christmas!!
The day we returned to the states and landed at Whidbey was February 10th, 1959. I remember the day well, for two reasons #1 the base was “socked in” with fog. There is one thing I can say with certainty about Pete Black’s ability as a pilot and that is, in the worst of conditions, he’d grease that landing, every time. This was no exception, I was in the nose, oh, I know, That’s a no-no. but I was trying to see the runway to help out. Well, I’ll tell you, at the same instant that I saw the tire skid marks on the runway, our wheels touched down, and I mean TOUCHED, no bounce. Nice going, Pete! #2, As I arrived at our barracks and passed through the TV room, there was a news report that a devastating tornado had struck St. Louis in the wee hours of that morning and there were some areas in south and mid town that were severely damaged. I’m from South St. Louis. My parents live there. A quick telephone call dispelled my fears, all was well.
Summer at Whidbey was fun. By now I was a “short timer” and alas, no longer on flight status. My shipmates and I would spend our weekends scuba-diving, trout fishing and camping, or water-skiing. Until our last reunion, in Sept. of 06’ at Whidbey, I’d forgotten how beautiful that country is.
September 59’ and I’m “outa-here”. Got my discharge papers and I’m making the rounds to various departments, checking out. Check in with our Exec. Cdr. Bill Foster. He says, “Ryan, it says here that you didn’t turn in your flight jacket, is that true?” “Yes sir, that’s right, I lost It” I said. In reality, I wanted it for a souvenir. Cdr. Bill said, “Well, that’ll cost you 25 bucks.” (a big number in 1959). I replied, “ I think I just remembered where that jacket is, sir!” We laughed about it at the San Antonio reunion, but I have often wished that I would have paid the 25 bucks and kept the jacket. I did keep my squadron and crew patches, however, and my family, a few years ago presented me with an authentic replacement jacket that I proudly wore, with patches, to the Whidbey memorial dedication.
After discharge from the Navy I returned to St. Louis and entered St. Louis University, school of commerce and finance, eventually transferring to Southern Ill. University, in East St. Louis Ill.
I also went back to the Naval Air Reserve and rejoined my original squadron at NAS St. Louis, VP921. They no longer held their weekend drills there at Lambert, but were now operating out of Millington Tenn. So on the next drill weekend I flew, by R4D to Millington for processing. Remember that 2nd class corpsman that flunked me out of NavCad. Well, he was still there and damn, if he didn’t flunk me again for the same reason. It was only then that I realized that I had taken the same physical at Whidbey, and passed and had flown with the squadron for 2years. I confronted him with those facts but he wouldn’t reconsider. I now know that I could have requalified with a different person, but that it was too late to start allover again.
I met my wife, Joyce, a year later we were married and I switched to night school at S.I.U. and went to work for Anheuser Busch in the accounting dept. Several years, and three children later I realized that accounting was not the life for an old sea dog, and so got into sales, on the industrial level, specifically, steel. I worked for a large steel distributor for a number of years and enjoyed travel to Mexico where I handled the government owned petroleum and electric power accounts. Eventually, I opened my own steel brokerage business from which I retired in 1986.
We lived most of our married lives in a suburb of St. Louis, but as our children became of age and moved out, we decided to move to the Ozark Mtns., about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. My love of hunting, especially Whitetail Deer, has provided me with great sport and excitement for the past 21 years but next month, we’ll be moving to a small lake community in eastern Illinois.