THE RESCUE OF STREETCAR 304|
a navy pilot’s forty hours on the run in laos
by Kenny Wayne Fields
Kenny Fields with the A-7 he flew as an
attack pilot with VA-82 off USS AMERICA.
The plane is now on display at the Hickory
Aviation Museum in North Carolina.
The welcome back aboard USS
AMERICA after his two week stay
in a hospital in Thailand.
For a complete description and reviews go to
|From Bob Carroll on Streetcar 304;
Received 23 Feb 2011
Recovering from his wounds and malaria, Lt Fields (Streetcar 304) was out of action for 2½ months following his rescue from the jungles of Laos. Because of this layoff he was no longer qualified for carrier take offs and landings. Since he wanted to get back to combat, a plan was devised to get him requalifed.
The ship was going to a scheduled R&R stop at Yokosuka, Japan. There was an air base about 80 miles north of Yokosuka, Atsugi NAF, that had a land carrier simulator. He needed to make 40 Field Carrier Land Practices (FCLP’s). So it was decided he and Lt Cook, acting as LSO (Landing Signal Officer), would fly ahead to Atsugi and he would do his 40 FCLP’s and get qualified to return to combat.
For the benefit of civilians and non-aviators reading this, now would be a good time to explain that you just don’t get in a jet and turn on the “ignition key” like in the movies. It requires several ground crewmen to start an aircraft. You need someone to apply electric power, a machine called a “Huffer” to blow compressed air to spin the engine turbines, and a “Plane Captain” to coordinate these men with the pilot. The whole ground effort to keep two A7’s up and running required seven men - one man from each rate. Since the A7 was the newest aircraft in the Navy, it required A7 trained personnel.
The Squadron Commander asked for a volunteer from each rate to give up their R&R at Yokosuka and go to Atsugi to support Mr. Fields and Mr. Cook as ground crew. We were told since we had to be there for them when they landed and be there to send them off when the ship left Yokosuka, we would be sent ahead via a catapult launch, and return to the ship after it went to sea. The thought of a cat shot off a carrier and an arrested landing sealed the deal for me. Going against the old adage, “don’t ever volunteer”, I did.
The day before the ship was to arrive in Japan, the seven of us assembled on the flight deck. We each had our personal gear, tool boxes and whatever essential equipment we thought we might need. e.g. as the Electronics Technician, I brought a radio. We were only moments away from boarding the COD, a C-2 , for our launch. At the very last moment we were told the Admiral wanted the COD so he and his entourage could go on ahead. It was determined therefore that Mr. Fields and Mr. Cook could land at Atsugi without us being there. It was then decided that we would stay on board and go to Atsugi by BUS when the ship docked. What a monumental disappointment. No cat shot. The Atsugi Det started off horrible!
America docks in Yokosuka and as our shipmates are heading for fun we are boarding a bus for Atsugi. We talk the bus driver into stopping at a store and we find out that beer is spelled Asahi! in Japan. We get a case and our trip starts. We were giving up our Liberty in Yokosuka for Mr. Fields but he did go out of his way to allow us to enjoy our time in Japan. All things considered, even though it was a “working" week, I think we ended up doing better than our ship mates in port.
When the bus arrived at the base we were escorted to a barracks that had a capacity of at least 100 men, but it was empty. We were told this is where we will live while we are at Atsugi. We had lockers, bunks, and bathroom facilities. The whole place was ours to run. We unpacked and settled in.
The men of Atsugi were on a tight leash and the little liberty they had came with an early curfew, 2200, if I remember. We left the ship as a working party and traveled in dungarees. So the next stop was the Navy Exchange where we all bought civilian clothes. Now all we needed was the time to use all this.
After we settled in, an officer showed up with a present for us. "Someone" pulled some strings and we were presented with unrestricted, 24/7 liberty cards AND "Out of Bounds" passes. Who was better than us? I may be wrong but I think they were signed by the Commander of Atsugi himself. We came and went as we pleased, even stayed out all night. Every time the Shore Patrol found one of us they thought they had an arrest. We would show them our Credentials and they would be flabbergasted. We quickly became known to the Shore Patrol and they learned to look the other way as we came and went. It was great fun getting out of a cab at the main gate at 0800 hrs. Real VIP's! Did we ever thank you enough Mr. Fields? As I look back today, we were kind of like the “Dirty Dozen”.
Now our pilots stepped up for the next treat! I think it was Lt Cook that came to us and explained that Mr. Fields needed so many day FCLP's and so many night FCLP's. The two pilots decided if they started an hour before sundown they could do day runs for an hour and then it would be night and they could then do an hour of night runs. All we all had to do was be there for two hours of work a day. Pure genius! Nothing really went wrong with the aircraft and just about all we had to do each day was drive out the "Huffer", start them up, and they were good to go.
The highest rank of the seven of us was a First Class Petty Officer. He essentially became the “Officer in Charge” of the Detachment. It was then that we decided amongst ourselves we would rotate taking two days off at a time. That’s when I knew I was going to go to Tokyo! Going to town after work was a blast. Even the girls knew there was something special about us. We not only were in civvies, but we didn't have to run back to the base at curfew. The base guys were real jealous of us. "Who the hell are you guys" they would say. I would just smile and say, "Do you have 'Need to know'". After all, it WAS a SECRET base!
Now I have a confession to make. The girls asked me if I was a pilot and so to further add to my stature I said yes. Probably not a smart thing to say for my personal security but what the heck, you only go around like this once. I’m not going to sugar coat this experience. I think we are all adults and we know what sailors do on liberty after an extended time at sea.
Now would be a good time to mention Mr. Fields didn’t participate in any of the drinking or carousing. He readily states that he was very dedicated to this mission. After all, that is what we were ALL there for. He had to get himself in shape, physically and mentally. He was the ultimate professional. Being a single young man I don’t think I really got it then but after reading his book it is all very clear now. He was being faithful to his beloved wife, Shirley. He couldn’t have been a bigger man!
I was a couple of years older than the others and came from New York. I had been around and was used to spending money on nice things. I always brought plenty of cash on liberty. I intended on spending it! My best time of all is when it was my turn for two days off. I asked the prettiest girl there to take me to Tokyo. I insisted on a four star hotel, no flop house. I also made sure we ate at classy restaurants. The ship's "port of call" pamphlet said to make sure we have "Kobe Beef" especially if we thought we may never get to Japan again. I made sure I had it, most expensive thing on the menu, and wasn't disappointed. (little did I know that years later Kobe Beef would find it's way to the U.S. and become popular). This turned out to be a whirlwind trip. Like something out of the movies. I had the time of my life.
Just being on the base was an experience. The mess hall was kind of fancy and all the workers were civilians. Not sailors. This was the first time we saw anything like that.
The wildest thing I remember about being at the air base was one evening when we were on the tarmac waiting for Mr. Fields to come in. We spot this big black plane on the glide path coming in for a landing. It didn't have ANY markings, completely black. It had more antennae than you could possibly imagine. Curious, we started walking out to meet it as it taxied toward us. At this time the doors of the hangar to our left slide open and two jeeps come tearing out. They both had 50 caliber machine guns mounted on them. One jeep heads right toward us. The gunner points his weapon at us and racked the bolt and chambered a round. I can't remember exactly what he said but it was something like, you don't have any business here or get back to your hangar. Whatever it was he said, we were gone! It was obvious it was a spy plane and we later found out it was the U2 spy plane. The jeeps proceeded to escort the aircraft into its hangar. An experience I'll never forget.
The EM (enlisted men’s) club was the fanciest we ever saw. There was a duty free shop that sold everything. The liquor store was unbelievable. The most expensive liquor like JW Black was only a couple of dollars a quart. We all decided the opportunity couldn’t be passed up. Although it was strictly forbidden to bring alcohol aboard ship we were going to land in a C-2 and we were “special”. So we all bought bottles and put them in our tool boxes.
Disappointment strikes again! For whatever reason, the Navy decides they aren’t going to let us stay behind and fly us on board the ship. Someone figured out that since there was an F8 squadron at Atsugi and the A7 being based on the F8 was close enough, the F8 guys could get our A7’s off the ground. We weren’t deemed necessary for their take off anymore. So we started the mission getting our cat shot cancelled, now our arrested landing is scrubbed too. We are going back to the ship the same way we came -by BUS! So disappointing. We decide that even though we are going to go aboard the ship on foot now we could keep the liquor in our tool boxes. After all, we are traveling as a work party in dungarees .Who is going to challenge us?
Not being in contact with anyone back in Yokosuka, little did we know that because there was duty free liquor there also, the guys were trying to bring alcohol on board by the hundreds like never before and security was intensified to an unprecedented level. Everyone coming aboard was searched and patted down. We arrive at the ship and ascend the gangplank. We get to the top and the OD is confused and wants to know how we are coming aboard in dungarees. We explain we are a work party and request permission to come aboard. This “junior” officer tells us to stand aside and all our equipment and gear has to be searched. Holy Crap! We’re all going to end up in the brig!
Now the Quarterdeck is congested with men and equipment and there is a bottleneck of sailors trying to come aboard. A Commander comes along and is infuriated at the jam up. He asks the OD what the heck is going on? He tells the Cmdr we all have to be searched before coming aboard and the Cmdr tells the OD he is an idiot and is holding up the whole system. He tells us to pick up our gear and get on board. Whew! Thank God for that Commander. The Atsugi Det is over and there are seven bottles of scotch on the America. Well, it’s back to the Tonkin Gulf and we take up our position on Yankee Station.
Let us remember that Lt Fields was shot down on his very first combat mission. So, on the first combat mission he flies since returning, he gets shot in the radome. Two sorties, two hits for the enemy. He is afraid the other pilots now think he is a jinx. Lt Kenny Wayne Fields, “Streetcar 304”, survived to fly 139 successful combat missions in the A7. When he left the service he was a full Commander. God Bless you Sir! Robert Carroll ATN3 VA-82
I have been in touch with Kenny. When he returned from his injuries he was away from flight deck operations so long he wasn't qualified for carrier take off and landing anymore. The ship was going to Yokosuka for R&R so they devised a plan for Kenny to go to Atsugi air base with an A7 to practice carrier take offs and landings on their simulator. They needed a tech from each rate to go with him. I was the volunteer from the Electronics shop. So 2 pilots, and 7 petty officers went on the now "infamous" "Atsugi Det". Kenny was so thrilled with my recollections of that mission that he told me he wants to write a sequel to Streetcar. He has asked me for more stories so our communications continue.
I found a hard cover edition of Streetcar on Amazon and sent it to him to autograph.
Well, you cannot believe the incredible gracious inscription he wrote dedicating the
book to me. It is now sealed in plastic and I will cherish it always.
And to continue, after further communication with Rod Sawyer about more on the Atsugi Patch, he sent the following;
Page updated 11/29/2013