John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: March, 2021

Interstate Maggie

Since 1984, we have owned several light trucks referred to today as Sports Utility Vehicles or SUVs. We bought our first light truck, a GMC Blazer, shortly after we purchased our vacation home in rural southern New Hampshire. At the time, we had two Golden Retrievers, Harry and Fred, and we believed a SUV was a sensible way to transport them to and from our home. The four-wheel drive also helped during the winter months. We even equipped the Blazer with an engine block heater so it would start in Arctic conditions.

Harry and Fred took to traveling, but their idea of a good trip was to get as close to us as possible with their goal, to reach our laps. Light trucks were not popular in 1984 and barriers did not yet exist to seal off the cargo area from the seats. Mary Ann took to creating self-made barriers and through trial and error, assembled useable obstructions consisting of tension rods, bungy cords and accordion gates.

Crude, but effective, they worked most of the time until Mary Ann met her match. When Fred died prematurely, we adopted Bubba. Bubba had the determination, strength and intelligence to break through these barriers. His greatest moment came one summer day when Mary Ann set off for New Hampshire with a friend. Later that evening she related her tale to me. “John, I built a strong, and thorough barricade using four heavy duty bathroom curtain rods that fit snuggly into place. Then I weaved bungee cords diagonally across the rods forming a complete barrier.”

“What happened,” I asked?

“Mary and I stopped at the Bagel Store in Port Washington to pick up our breakfast and, when we came out, there was Bubba sitting in the drivers seat. After all my hard work, he had destroyed my barricade in less than five minutes. I actually cried; I was so frustrated”

“What did you do for the rest of the trip,” I asked?

“Gave up,” Mary Ann replied. “But we have to do something as I have had it with that stubborn dog.”

It was about this time that we purchased a new Blazer and Mary Ann told the salesman, “The deal will not be finalized unless you find us a steel barrier designed for these trucks.” He did and Bubba’s adventures ended. When Jumbo arrived, all three dogs rode in the cargo area and never caused trouble.

Then came Maggie. This dog could not ride in a vehicle without becoming totally upset. Her body became rigid, and she started to sweat. Dogs sweat from their mouths and paws and Maggie quickly demonstrated just how much a dog can sweat. Vomiting often exacerbated the experience.

Mary Ann took to nurturing Maggie to get her to relax. First, she sat in the cargo area with Maggie with the back gate open and the engine turned off. She talked to Maggie, petted her and gave her treats. After doing this several times, she stepped out and petted her from the outside. Immediately, Maggie became stiff, and every time Mary Ann started the engine, the results were the same, awful.

In desperation, I purchased a large dog crate, the kind used for transporting dogs on airplanes. We calculated that part of Maggie’s problem was passing trucks that frightened her and the crate limited her view of traffic to the opening at the rear of the crate. Even if it did not work, it would limit the problem to the inside of the crate.

At times she showed improvement, but, if traffic delayed us, or there was heavy truck traffic, Maggie would lose it. She was so bad that we decided not to take her on our first long vacation after we both retired. After returning, we took delivery of our next SUV, a GMC Yukon XL. We drove it with Maggie in her crate up to New Hampshire. On arrival, I happily opened a dry crate. I proceeded to unload our belongings when I realized that, on her own, Maggie had jumped back into the truck and was lying on the back seat watching me. This was unheard of and I decided to test her by driving around the driveway. She was fine so I took her for a short ride. Again, she was fine and, when I opened a backseat window, she put her head out to enjoy the breeze.

We will never know for sure, why this happened. Was it the new truck? Did she get old enough to overcome her fears? Did she want out of the crate, or was she finally car broken? Whatever the reason, we were happy and never considered confining her to the cargo area. Instead, we purchased a cushioned seat cover to protect the back seat and that became her place.

 How far did she come? In January of 2001, we drove to Sanibel Island, Florida. She was great the whole way down, took advantage of rest stops and behaved in the motels. A crowning moment came on the ride home. Because of special circumstances, we had to make the drive with only one stop forcing us to travel 14 hours the first day. She behaved perfectly and became our interstate dog.

We did learn one lesson. Sometimes Maggie put her front paws on the armrest to lean out a bit further. The Yukon had those old toggle switches and, suddenly, we heard her cry out as the window caught her head. She had stepped onto the electric button that raised the window. We adjusted the window and engaged the child-window lock ending that problem for the rest of her traveling days that were all without drama.

The USS United States CVA-58 and the B-36 Peacemeker

Part Two

After Japan surrendered, conventional wisdom concluded that the last thing the US Navy needed was another aircraft carrier. By 1945 the Navy had 17 Essex class fleet aircraft carriers in commission with seven more fitting out or under construction. In addition, the three larger Midway class carriers were also fitting out and would join the fleet late in 1945.

The United States Air Force (USAF) already had a bomber under development large enough to fly round trip from the United States to Europe and deliver an atomic bomb, but the Navy didn’t want to be shut out by not having the capability to deliver nuclear weapons. However, the sizes of the two bombs dropped on Japan were so large that neither the Essex class or Midway class could accommodate or operate a navy bomber big enough to compete with the B-36.

The National Security Act of 1947 became law in July. One aspect of this act created a new cabinet post of Secretary of Defense and President Harry Truman elevated James Forrestal, then Secretary of the Navy, to this new position. Bluntly put, Truman and Forrestal didn’t like each other and had major differences on policy and political views. They especially differed on the future roles of the Navy and Marine Corps. Truman, who was pro Army, wanted to make dramatic cuts that would eliminate the Marines. He also favored the USAF being solely responsible for delivering nukes.

Forrestal ignored his President’s desires and directed Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery, an advocate for naval aviation, to prepare a top-secret memorandum setting out how the Navy could participate in a conflict with the Soviet Union. Gallery maintained that every potential target in Russia was less than 1,500 miles from the sea. What the Navy needed was an even bigger aircraft carrier, a so-called supercarrier and a new bomber that had the needed range.

Forrestal began his quest by convening a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Key West on March 14, 1948 to formulate the roles of the USAF and the Navy when it came to nuclear weapons. The resultant Key West Agreement assigned primary responsibility to the Air Force, but the Navy was not prohibited from participating. Not exactly an overwhelming endorsement for the Navy, but Forrestal used it to move the approval process forward for the super carrier, now given the moniker, USS United States, CVA 58.

Unfortunately, the concept for this ship, its reason for being and planned use were all terribly flawed. If built as planned, CVA-58 would have become a white elephant. First off, the planners had designed a flush deck ship without any structures above the flight deck. There wouldn’t be an island structure to navigate the ship and command air operations, no proper smokestack, no radar, antennas, etc. The carrier would have to depend on other ships in its group for navigation,  conducting operations and communications. What could possibly go wrong?

The rigid plans for the United States failed to consider improvements then under way that would alter the very reasons for building a ship like this in the first place. Granted, the atoms bombs available in 1947 were like the originals, but future devices were shrinking in size and weight while being made more powerful. The ship itself would have been obsolete even before completion. The British Navy were already developing the angled deck. Instead of landing aircraft down the center of the flight deck, this British innovation would angle the landing to one side. This would steer the aircraft away from the command island, the stack and all the needed instruments and communication aerials and antennas.

Deals were made between the Navy and Air Force and Congress approved the funding on June 24, 1948, Forrestal approved it on July 22nd and Truman followed the next day.

This is where the fun began. Truman was running for re-election in 1948 and Forrestal chose to support Truman’s opponent, Thomas Dewey, the Republican Governor of New York. Forrestal even met with Dewey to discuss the possibility of remaining as Secretary of Defense in Dewey’s cabinet.

Truman won. Mad as a hatter, of course he fired Forrestal on March 3, 1949 replacing him with Louis A. Johnson, a stalwart Democrat who raised $1.5 million for Truman’s campaign. Seven weeks later, construction commenced on the United States with the laying of the ships keel at Newport News Shipbuilding Co. on April 18th. Five days later, after conferring with Truman, Johnson cancelled the USS United States.

John L. Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy resigned on April 26. Forrestal committed suicide on May 12 by jumping from a window on the 16th floor of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He had been admitted  for exhaustion following his firing. Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, Chief of Naval Operations was forced to resign, and a Congressional investigation found in favor of Truman and Johnson, no doubt, along party lines.

It seemed the Air Force and the Army had run the table. But, on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded the south and Truman entered the war after the United Nations voted to stop the invasion.  It fell to the Navy and Marine Corps to respond.

Our meager Army contingent was forced to retreat to the Pusan perimeter. It was the Navy’s Pacific Fleet carriers  that first provided air cover to this beleaguered perimeter and MacArthur called on the Marines to rescue South Korea by their successful amphibious assault at Inchon.

Johnson was forced to resign on September 19, 1950. The aircraft carrier had reaffirmed its worth and before leaving office, Johnson was coerced into approving a new class of four super carriers. Ironically, or appropriately, the lead ship, CVA-59, was named the USS Forrestal.

Ultimately, the Navy also became a major player for delivering nukes once submarine launched ICBMs became a reality.     

The B-36 Peacemaker and the USS United States, CVA-58

Part One

The USS United States, CVA-58, was meant to be our navy’s first super aircraft carrier. Conceived, in controversy, and aborted soon after construction began, the ship was a victim of an amazing post World War II inter-service power play between the US Navy and the newly formed independent United States Air Force, (USAF). When the USS United States was cancelled, the Navy lost the opening round in the struggle between those two services to determine who would be responsible for implementing our nation’s strategic nuclear strike force

In retrospect, the cancellation of CVA-58 was a wise decision, although none of the players knew it at the time. Moreover, subsequent world events would ultimately give the Navy the role that they wanted.

The two atom bombs that ended World War II were carried by B-29 Superfortress bombers belonging to the Army Air Force (AAF) that were modified to deliver these massive nuclear devices nicknamed, “Little Boy and Fat Man.” The B-29 was the largest bomber in the air force’s inventory and the only airplane able of flying round trip from Tinian in the Marianas to the targeted cities in Japan.

But the B-29 was about to be dwarfed by a new bomber designed to replace it. In November of 1941, just before America’s entry into the Second World War, AAF planners asked for proposals for an airplane that could bomb Nazi Germany flying non-stop to and from America. It was designed to fly this distance if Britain was taken out of the war. Since aerial refueling didn’t yet exist, this massive bomber had to be self-contained.

The AAF awarded Consolidated Aircraft, (soon to become Convair,) a contract to build two prototypes of this new giant. The project was put on the back burner less than a month later after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Once Nazi Germany declared war on America, England’s survival ceased to be an issue. The Yanks were coming as friendly occupiers, or as the Brits noted: “Overpaid, oversexed and over here!”

Work on the B-36 remained dormant until the spring of 1943 when the AAF developed a new mission for their mythical super bomber, fly missions against Japan from Hawaii. One hundred bombers were ordered for delivery starting in the summer of 1945.

Instead, as we know, the Navy and Marines defeated both the Japanese Navy and Army and occupied the principal islands in the Marianas chain, Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Newly built air bases allowed B-29s to bomb Japanese cities at will. 

Nicknamed the Peacemaker, the first B-36 was rolled out Convair’s Fort Worth, TX factory in September of 1945. At first blush, it again seemed to be a beast without a mission. But, after the war ended, many of our military, political, diplomatic and think tank leaders hung their hats on the belief that nuclear weapons would prevail and determine the outcome of future wars.

At the same time, our leaders rightly sought to reduce the size of the vast armed forces that we had assembled to achieve victory in our European and Pacific campaigns. Army and Marine divisions were de-mobilized, surplus bombers and fighters were scrapped and two out of three naval ships were mothballed or scrapped. Our new goal was to establish peace and prosperity for returning veterans including the creation of  educational and employment opportunities and housing for their newly married spouses and their baby boomer offspring. President Harry Truman took this effort one step further by de-segregating our armed forces once and for all.

The law also created a new and separate service, the United States Air Force. Besides going from brown shoes and army green uniforms to black shoes and blue uniforms, the USAF divided itself into two parts, a tactical force to fight regional conflicts while supporting the army and the Strategic Air Command (SAC) to deliver nukes in the next world war.

General Curtis LeMay became SAC’s Commander allowing this demanding general to create this force to his own image and liking. Le May needed new bombers to fulfill his mission and the Boeing company received two orders, one to build a medium range bomber, the B-47 Stratojet, and an intercontinental bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress. However, the B-47 would not be ready to go into service until June of 1951 and the B-52 wouldn’t be ready until February of 1955.

To fill these gaps, LeMay chose the B-50, an advanced version of the B-29, to be the interim medium range bomber and the B-36 as the intercontinental bomber. By 1947 the Iron Curtain had descended across Europe and it became obvious that World War Three would likely be between the USA and the USSR. The Peacemaker was somewhat obsolete by then being powered by six propeller engines and four jet engines, but it had a range of 10,000 miles, enough to fly round trip non-stop between the state of Maine and Leningrad. When the last B-36 was retired in 1959, its epitaph read: “The B-36 flew from the death of one air age into the birth of a new age without dropping a single bomb in anger.”

Le May wanted to extend the range of SAC’s bombers and the solution was aerial refueling. He asked Boeing to improve on the British system and Boeing developed the flying boom system that has continued to evolve to this day. After its introduction, the actual range of an airplane became irrelevant so long as tankers were available to re-fuel it.

LeMay also fought off attempts by other commanders within and outside the USAF to involve SAC in Korean Wat missions always maintaining that it existed purely for strategic missions.

SAC would remain in operation until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992.

To be continued.       .

Men Say the Darndest Things

Many men, especially those younger than me, are cognizant of the expected and acceptable boundaries when dealing with women associates. I’ve been retired going on 21 years (I got lucky) having already become a dinosaur in the office setting. Transitioning from my old school (men only) environment to a diverse office led me to suffer through several self-inflicted awkward incidents in my later working life. Who wants to relive embarrassing experiences? Certainly not New York’s governor.

I believe most times, my foibles resulted from laziness on my part. Instead of thinking about what I was saying, I reverted to stereotypical assumptions that I falsely transferred to the woman with whom I was talking. Even simple things like: “What’s your husband’s name?” are the result of  chauvinistic presumptions. Most embarrassing: “Oh, are you pregnant?”

Of course: “How’s your sex life?” at best deserves a verbal slap in the face. ”F**k off,” would be appropriate, but would a woman be so bold? That’s why men in positions of power must get the message: Out of bounds.

I was recently reminded of my gender’s fatal flaws in a conversation with a female friend. Let me call her E. We were speaking on the phone when the subject of COVID-19 Virus vaccinations came up. E, mentioned that she had received a call from the VA offering her a special slot reserved for Korean War veterans like herself. “I jumped at it and made a reservation to be vaccinated at the VA center in Northport, Long Island.”

“On arrival, I realized that the patrons lined up for their vaccinations consisted of elderly men and me. Making small talk while we shuffled along, the chap in front of me asked: ‘Were you a nurse?”

“No,” I replied, “I was a sergeant in the Marine Corp!”

“Good come back,” I commented to E, but in my heart and head, I thought back to my own “were you a nurse” moments.

One January afternoon in the mid-1990s found me at the United Counter at LaGuardia Airport checking in for what accurately could be described as an insurance boondoggle. I was one of several New York insurance brokers invited to a so called: “Round table discussion of the status and future of energy needs,” sponsored by the Geneva Insurance Monopoly (GIM.). Held in Aspen, the conference would last three days, but the actual meetings were limited to one hour each day.

The rest of our time was dedicated to winter sports and activities. GIM gave us alternatives to down-hill skiing which was fine with me as skiing was not on my list of things to do, EVER. As I recall, I selected snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling as my activities. Most of the American brokers picked similar venues. We noticed that all the staff from GIM went skiing every day. Of course, the entire rationale for the conference was for these Swiss skiers to test their prowess on Colorado powder.

But who was I to complain? They picked up everything. The goggles I brought with me broke so I bought a new pair in the hotel’s ski shop. When I went to pay and offered a credit card, the clerk explained, “The charge has been automatically billed to your room,” a bill I never saw.

But I digress. At LaGuardia, I boarded the United 757 that was about half full and found a row in coach completely empty. “Perfect,” I said to myself. I sat down in the aisle seat and scattered the stuff I wanted to look at on the middle seat. An important part of my stuff was that Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. By coincidence, their Sunday’s magazine was devoted to airline travel.  

Just before the door was closed and secured, there was a bustle of activity and several individuals in airline uniforms passed by my seat. One woman stopped at my row and asked, “Would you mind if I sit here?”

“Not at all,” I replied.

With that, she took the window seat. The door closed and we began to taxi for takeoff as the flight attendants began the litany of pre-flight safety procedures. When they reached the part about fastening seatbelts, I could not resist telling my new seatmate one of the anecdotes I had just read in the NYT Magazine.

“I just read about this clever method a particular flight attendant uses to deal with this announcement. She says: ‘Now for those of you who haven’t been in an automobile since 1955, here is how you fasten a seatbelt.”

She laughed and said, “That’s great.”

Bravely, and stupidly, I continued, ”You should try that one day.”

She replied: “I’m a pilot.”

I replied: “Damn, I just stereotyped you, didn’t I, and I am embarrassed!”

I dreaded what was to come, but she was both polite and nice. Otherwise, this would have been an awfully long flight to Denver.

The Saga of the USS Oklahoma

Pearl Harbor, Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, 7:48 am. Church services on board the large ships of the Pacific Fleet were about to begin. Being a Sunday, reveille was relaxed being scheduled for 8 am. Those sailors on duty had already maned their stations. The crew assigned to raise the colors had already assembled by their ship’s flagstaff. The buglers wetted their lips in preparation for the call to duty. The crews’ Sunday routine was about to commence when all hell broke loose.

One of the dreadnaughts moored along battleship row was the USS Oklahoma, manned by over 1,300 officers and crew. As was the navy’s custom, the battle ships were paired along concrete mooring fixtures just off Ford Island. Oklahoma was moored outside of the USS Tennessee. 

The first wave of enemy aircraft struck literally ‘out of the blue. Three hundred and fifty-three Japanese warplanes approached Pearl Harbor in two waves from the southeast. The torpedo bombers attacked battleship row at the most favorable point to give their deadly fish the best chance of scoring a hit. They had two advantages that tilted the odds even more in their favor. Their torpedoes were the most powerful of any nation and they had learned the art of launching them into shallow water by using extra fins, a technique they acquired from the British who used fins to destroy the Italian fleet at anchor in the port of Taranto in November of 1940.

Using these same tactics, the Japanese pilots went after the American battleships lined up,  immobile across the harbor. Unfortunately for the crew of the Oklahoma, their ship happened to become a magnet for these attacking pilots.

“Holes as wide as 40 feet were torn into the hull in the first ten minutes of the fight. Eight torpedoes smashed into the port side, each striking higher on the hull as the battleship began to roll.”

Counter-flooding would not have saved the ship but could have allowed it to sink upright on the bottom thirty-feet below. But this wasn’t possible as the torpedoes struck in rapid succession.  “Oklahoma rolled over and died even as a ninth torpedo slammed home.”

Around the clock rescue efforts began almost immediately, the divers’ goal, to find as many of the members of the crew trapped in the overturned hull.

“ Tapping could be heard as holes were drilled to rescue those trapped inside. Thirty-two souls were delivered from certain death, but most lost their battle in the days and weeks to come. Bulkhead markings would later reveal that, at least some of the doomed survived for as long as seventeen days in the black, upside-down hulk of that ship. The last mark was drawn on Christmas Eve.”

Six of the eight battleships damaged or sunk that day would return to service. Arizona and Oklahoma were the exceptions. Rightfully, the navy made the broken Arizona a memorial to the 1,102 crewmen entombed there. That count doesn’t include the ship’s survivors who included a wish in their last will and testament that their remains be entombed in the wreck after being cremated to spend eternity with their fallen brothers.

Oklahoma was also written off as a total loss and work on removing the ship didn’t begin until March 1943. “Twenty-one giant wooden A-frames were fixed onto the lower part of the exposed hull. Three-inch cables were strung from these A-Frames to 21 towers erected on Ford Island, each equipped with an electric motor capable of pulling 429 tons. Two pull configurations were used over 74 days, the first using the A-frames. Once the listing hull reached 70 degrees, the A-frames were removed, and the cables were attached directly to the ship’s hull and the barbettes.”

Finally, level, the wreck’s main deck was barely above the surface. Large wooden and concrete patches, also known as cofferdams, were constructed to temporarily patch the nine holes in the hull blown away by the torpedoes. In addition, hull plates had taken a beating due to the stresses of rolling over and being salvaged. Divers closed these gaps by stuffing them with kapok as the water was pumped out. The enormity of this work bordered on being insane. Divers spent 2 to 3 years making 1,848 dives that consumed 10,279-man hours. But removing the hulk of the Oklahoma was a priority to clear the harbor.  

“Salvage workers entered the pressurized hull through airlocks wearing masks and protective suits. Bodies were in an advanced stage of decomposition and oil and the chemical -soaked interior was toxic to life. Most victims would never be identified.” One can only imagine how painful, odious, disgusting and revolting this work was to the body, mind and spirit of the sailors who endured this assignment. God bless them for their service.

Oklahoma was dry docked early in 1944 to remove the concrete plugs and wooden cofferdams and seal all remaining leaks to make it seaworthy. When the war ended, any reason for retaining this salvaged wreck disappeared. On December 5, 1946, two days short of the fifth anniversary of its loss, the Moore Drydock Company of Oakland purchased the hulk for scrap.

The buyer had a backlog of work and it wasn’t until the following spring before two ocean-going tugs, the Monarch and the Hercules became available to tow the hull from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco Bay.

I can only imagine the concerns and trepidations of the masters of the two tugs contracted to tow the hulk back to the West Coast. Remember, the last time this compromised hulk had been at sea was 1941 and what was left was truly beaten up.

Aware that their charge was not in the best of health, Captain George Anderson of the Monarch and Kelly Sprague, commanding the Hercules, had both loosened their 1,400-foot tow line so they would release in an emergency.

Late in the evening on the first day out from Pearl, a spotlight from Hercules revealed that the hulk of the former battleship was listing heavily. May day calls were transmitted. The operators in Pearl recommended they return post haste.

The Oklahoma had other plans. Both tugs had turned their charge and were steaming slowly enough in hope of preventing the Oklahoma from sinking. Suddenly, although their engine telegraphs registered, slow ahead: Both tugs stopped dead in the water!

Monarch and Hercules found themselves being dragged astern at 17 knots. Oklahoma was heading for the bottom of the Pacific taking the tugs with it. Monarch’s tow rope broke first, but Hercules’ rope held, and the tug’s death ride continued until the last possible moment when the weight of the sinking battleship broke the rope.

Good ending: Both tugs survived and the USS Oklahoma, died an honorable death.