Thank You, America!

Autobiography of a Naval Career

Excerpt from Chapter 3

Don't Sleep On My Watch

As a young Aviation Electronics Technician (Radar) Third Class Petty Officer (ATR3), I was part of a flight crew which flew the highly modified Lockheed Super Constellation designated the WV-2 and nicknamed the Willy Victor. My job on Crew Seventeen (the Thunderbirds) was to assist in getting as much of the onboard electronics operational as quickly as possible. You have to remember that this was a time of vacuum tubes; transistors and solid state devices were just a figment in the mind of some MIT engineers.

 In addition to performing maintenance tasks, as a junior member of the crew, my duties also included operating the Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) equipment. This consisted primarily of pushing a toggle switch up and down, while an electronic tuner scanned a band of frequencies. The objective was to find the broadcast from a transmitter of a non-friendly source and then sending the direction information to the Combat Information Officer so he could plot the location of the transmission.

 Now, one of the important things to know about our mission was that we performed surveillance of any object on the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean from Argentia to Lajes, Azores, an atoll in the middle of the Atlantic. Ninety-nine percent of what we found were friendly surface ships; freighters, cruise liners, and an occasional friendly military vessel. By the very nature of the times, the vast majority of our missions were very quiet and frankly quite boring. Our flights typically lasted twelve hours, flying a huge rectangle over the ocean. The ECM watch was for three hours at a time and shared with the other junior technicians on the crew.

 I was sitting the second watch on the ECM about two or three in the morning. As usual, things were very quiet, except for the roar of the four huge radial engines of the aircraft. I sat there operating the toggle switch and watching the dials as my eyes began to get heavier and heavier. The next thing I knew, the Crew Chief was tapping my shoulder and telling me that the Plane Commander wanted to see me in the rear of the aircraft. Oh my, Commander Long wanted to talk to me. I was petrified. I walked to the aft of the aircraft between all of the Radar consoles and operators. They kept their eyes glued to the huge round scopes.

 Commander Long was a stately looking man with graying temples and eyes that could melt an iceberg. Although I am over six feet tall, I had to look up to him. At the time, he seemed ten feet tall. He said, “Rotruck, were you asleep on the ECM watch?” I felt the tremendous heat build up inside of my olive drab flight suit. “Yes sir, I may have dozed off for just a second!” Wrong answer! He said, “I stood next to you for a couple of minutes and you didn’t know I was there.” I knew within seconds that I was about to die. He said, “If you ever fall asleep on watch on my crew again, I will personally throw you off of my airplane, regardless of the altitude!” In twenty years of Naval Service, I never fell asleep on watch again!

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