When I got off the plane at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, Charlie Etheridge met me. He said "see that mountain over there - that's HUK mountain where the armed communist rebels hole up". My thought was “what in the world am I doing here?” Thank goodness I never met up with any HUKs. During my STRAAD tour Commander Stalzer was the STRAAD Commander.
I never saw one piece of battle damage the whole time I was there. Every damage repair I was involved in was operational damage, like the following:
An F-4 had the aft six inches of the top of the vertical tail sheared off because of not being properly positioned on the elevator.
We were looking at an RA-5C on the USS Oriskany at Cubi Point when the plane made a pronounced backward lurch. They found that the aero probe which extends forward from the nose cone was bent double. It had been hit by a rogue fork lift. The fork lift operator was never identified. The plane was hard down for three weeks while a new probe was obtained and installed.
We received a call from the P-3 squadron at Sangley NAS over at Manila Bay. They had some damage to one of their planes that they wanted us to look at. They flew one of the P-3s over to Cubi Point to pick me up. It was a nice ride. It seems that all of the lower stringers just forward of the horizontal tail were missing. Again, some sailor with a fork lift had run under the aft end of the plane with the forks up as high as they would go and took out the stringers. They wanted to know if they could make a one-time flight to STRAAD at Cubi to get it fixed. That was a no-brainer; I told them “absolutely not”!
I was called out to an Admiral's cruiser off Okinawa. It seems the helicopter crew (Kaman helicopter) was practicing landings on the ships heliport and made one landing with the gear up. That wouldn't have been so bad except that there was a centerline attach point fitting for hoisting installed at the time. The attach fitting was pushed about a half an inch up into the skin. I told them to pull the full cells so we could see what all was messed up. That took all night and I was quartered with three officers in a four-bunk room. The ship was steaming at five knots in circles because that was cheaper than paying the harbor fee at Okinawa. Anyhow, going that slowly the ship was not so stable, and all I could think was "Lord, please don't let me throw up in this man's bunk"! The helicopter keel was pretty well messed up so the Admiral headed the ship for Cubi Point so he could get his helicopter repaired. He was very disappointed that we couldn't fix it right there on the spot.
During my STRAAD tour at Cubi Point, the Grumman C-2 COD aircraft started dropping off the radar screens. I think three disappeared in a couple of months, apparently crashing into the ocean. All C-2s were immediately grounded while Grumman looked for the problem and a fix. Through the Grumman Rep there with us, we found out that about six things relative to the engine mounts were fixed. My first reaction was that they couldn't find anything so they fixed everything. Not too re-assuring.
Shortly after the C-2s were flying again, I got a call to go out to the USS Ranger to investigate some suspected corrosion problems on the Grumman S-2Fs. That was my first trap and cat shot. As we approached the carrier the crew chief said to watch the little light just above the cargo door. When it turned red we were five seconds from hitting the deck. Well, the co-pilot must have lost track of time because he turned the little light on early. Have you ever stayed puckered up for fifteen seconds? My impression of the landing was that the airplane had steel wheels which hit on a steel deck. What an awful 'clang'!
Another C-2 incident occurred when the loading crew secured a 2500 lb generator to the front of the cargo cage. Mis-secured is the right word. When the plane was catapulted, the generator broke loose, went through the aft wall of the cargo cage, wiped out eight passengers and lodged in the cargo door. Obviously there was a c.g. problem at that point. The airplane nosed up until it did a hammerhead stall and crashed straight down into the sea. Nobody survived and nothing was recovered. I was called on to give a treatise on g-forces and their effect to all the load crews in the area. I Hope it did some good.
One day a black C-130 landed at Cubi. It parked way down on one end of the strip away from everything. As soon as it stopped, a squad of Marines piled out and set up a perimeter about 150 ft from the plane. We got word that they needed some special stuff mounted and I got the job. I was escorted to the plane where a Marine Lieutenant showed me a black box and about where it needed to be installed. While the technicians were doing the work, I asked the Lieutenant what was so special about the plane. He opened the door to the cargo bay. In there was a camera with a lens about two feet in diameter and one wall of the cargo bay was lined with what looked like computers. He said they flew around over Viet Nam at night with the cargo doors open and took pictures. That was some camera! While the plane was on the ground, one of the civilians who worked in the STRAAD hanger decided he wanted a picture of the plane. He walked to within about twenty feet of one of the Marines and put the camera up to his eye. Before he could focus, he was on his back on the hot asphalt with a bayonet at his throat. The Marine called for his Lieutenant who calmly took the camera and removed the film. By that time the STRAAD Commander arrived and began shouting at the Marines to let the guy up. The Lieutenant said the guy could get up when the Lieutenant was ready for him to get up. The Commander got a thorough lecture on observing security measures.
One of the nice things about the tour at Cubi was the visa renewal trip I was "required" to take (my Philippine visa allowed me to stay in the country only sixty days at a time). I Went to Hong Kong. I believe that if you had the money you could buy a 747 there,no questions asked!
Another thing I really enjoyed was the opportunity to play softball all winter. I got to where I could pitch a softball through a wall. The DFWCP team I played on got into the playoffs but lost in the finals. I made POW (Player of the Week) once after I struck out 14 of the 15 guys who batted. They said making POW was very unusual for a civilian.
All in all, I was glad to have the opportunity to go to Cubi Point. The experience was unique. I found out what real poverty was in the Philippines. I found out how cheap a human life can be (two cartons of American cigarettes was the going price then).
Personal stories of their STRAAD tour experiences: