to flight school and that we couldn’t because we were
“The requests come in through me and I’m the one
who signs the orders,” he said. “Take the exam, see if
you pass it.”
Anyway, we passed it so we sent our request over
and Adm. Calhoun gave us orders, we had them in
the middle of November. We’d made reservations on
the [troopship SS] Lurline, but then Capt. [Frank] Van
Valkenburgh called us down and said “I’m not going to
waste Navy money having you go back on the Lurline,
we’re going back on Dec. 19 to Long Beach, so you can
In those days you said, “Yes, sir,” and that’s it,
so we canceled the reservations. We lost the [flight
school] orders on the Arizona. They assigned B.J.
Johnston to a destroyer and I was in base force with
the diving team and going aboard the Arizona after the
fires were put out and it cooled down.
The first liberty I got was in January. I was at my
girlfriend’s house for dinner … and Adm. Calhoun
walked in and said, “I thought I sent you to flight
school.” I told him we’d lost the orders on the Arizona,
and it wasn’t three days later that Johnston was pulled
off the destroyer, I was pulled off of base force and we
were on the Lurline back to San Francisco.
I went through Denver on the way to Pensacola, so
I was home for about three days and my mother says
“Well, where are you going now?”
“I’m going to flight school to become a Navy pilot.”
And she said, “Well, now you’re really going to get
On Nov. 15, ’ 42, Johnny and I got our wings. I was
assigned to San Diego, to VP- 11, Patrol Squadron 11,
PBYs. We were the first Black Cat Squadron; they
painted us all black. We left Feb. 1 for Kaneohe Bay. I
was there for the rest of ’ 43 and ’ 44.
We got shot down in September ’ 43. We carried
these parachute flares, about 250,000 candlepower,
and we’d go in over the Japanese lines about 2 in the
morning and every 30 minutes we’d drop a couple of
flares and keep them awake all night.
Off the New Guinea coast, we took a shell through
the hoist hatch one night and it exploded one of those
parachute flares. We carried about 12-14 of them, and
two thousand pounders [bombs] and two 500 pounders as well, so everyone came forward and closed the
hatches because everything was on fire and we thought
they were going to explode.
We were at 700 feet and it was just before dark, so
we landed at sea and got everyone out the pilot’s escape
hatch. We had no lifeboats or lifejackets and were about
7 miles out in 15-foot swells, so I said, “Stay together,
hold hands and tread water lightly, don’t use up your
strength. If one guy next to you gets tired, hold him up.”
We were in the water about 45 minutes and they did
a good job. We had sharks all around us. Another PBY
came over and circled and saw we had no lifeboats and
dropped one of their lifeboats to us. We got onto New
Guinea about 3 in the morning and hid in the jungle.
The next night a PT boat came in and picked us up.
We went back to the ship, debriefed, had breakfast
that morning, dinner that night and the next night at
5: 30 our crew went out on another PBY for a 13-and-
a-half-hour all-night mission. We got shot down again
in December ’ 43, but we did all right, we made it out.
That December, four of our crews rescued 219
Australian Coastwatchers in northern New Guinea. It
was the biggest rescue behind Japanese lines in World
War II, but it was very highly classified and not made
public until years later.
The Australian Coastwatchers were like our Navy
SEALs or Green Berets. They were working behind the
lines to send information back, intelligence. They got
surrounded by the Japanese about 100 miles up the
Sepik River from Wewak, and in three days we brought
them out and landed them at Port Moresby without
any casualties. It was really something.
I went to USC in ’ 46 and ’ 47 and to intelligence
school in ’ 48 in Washington, then went to international
relations school in San Francisco. When Korea started in
June 1950, I was assigned as intelligence officer of Carrier
Air Group 102 in San Diego. I flew 27 missions over Korea
off of Bonhomme Richard, but they grounded us after a
couple months because they decided intelligence officers
knew too much and didn’t want to get us captured.
I went to Norfolk, Va., as an intelligence officer for
Fleet Air Wing 5, but as soon as I got there the admiral
said, “Lou, we’re sending you down to Fort Bragg, N.C.,
for special operations training with the Army.” I was the
only Navy man there, I was a full lieutenant then, and
went through the first class of special forces there in ’ 53.
I went through survival training there and I was
made the first SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and
Escape] officer in the Navy. My job from then until I
retired in ’ 67 was to set up schools for pilots and air
crewmen to teach them survival and evasion safety.
I think that kind of on-site, hard training is the
biggest thing for these guys to do because then they
know what to do, they know how to live, they know
how to exist in the wild and they don’t give up. They
ought to go back to three months of boot training
because that makes a good military man out of them,
and that’s what saves their lives later on. n