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|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Navy Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
LTJG Richard G. Watson, Jr. U.S. Navy (Ret) (1939-1968)
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE NAVY?
I wanted to go to the Naval Academy and knew the easiest way would be by joining the Navy and getting a Presidential appointment. The journey began in 1939 as war in Europe seemed likely and didn't end until 1968, some 29 years later. That included WW II and the Korean conflict.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
My first attempt to become a naval aviator was thwarted when I received a 2.4 in physics in the Naval Academy entrance exams in June of 1940. After being called up as a Seaman 2nd Class in June of 1941 I went through recruit training and Aviation Machinist School and was placed in Patrol Squadron Forty-four (VP 44.) This was the perfect assignment as it offered a path for me to become an aviator.
My career progressed through the mechanic/gunner avenue until I became an ACMM and qualified flight engineer/plane captain in that squadron. I was lucky enough to be assigned as the Commanding Officers plane captain.
Through a combination of Naval Reserve, active Navy duty and inactive status, my 29 year naval career was punctuated by two major conflicts: WW II and the Korean conflict.
In December of 1944 I was selected for flight training. I advanced through school and finished preflight when the war ended. At the time my wife---who I married two weeks after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941---was pregnant with my second son, so I left the Navy for a job with United Airlines in their operations department.
In March of 1946 I reenlisted in the Naval Reserve and joined a patrol squadron (VPB- 907) at NAS Oakland as Leading Chief. In the meantime I took a commercial pilot's course and in February of 1951 my squadron, then VP-871 was called in to active duty for the Korean conflict. I requested to be relieved of my leading chief duties to return to flight status as flight engineer/plane captain.
Upon return to NAS Alameda I was transferred to VR-5 where I was able to receive a CAA flight engineers license and an A&E license.
I returned to inactive duty to pursue my BS degree in Aeronautical Engineering and was commissioned a LTJG. in 1957.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ACTIONS WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
My first action was June 1, 1942. We were on a patrol out of Midway (Eastern Island) when our PBY-5A was attacked by a Japanese Betty (twin engine Mitsubishi light bomber) at 0940 hours. I was manning the starboard waist gun turret when the Japanese Betty made its first pass but my .50 Caliber machinegun jammed and I was unable to clear it. The enemy made 11 passes on our starboard side or directly overhead. On the overhead passes he attempted to hit us with 100 pound bombs but with no effect. We finally managed to get the tunnel hatch .30 Cal gun out to replace my inoperative gun. On the 12th pass I was able to get some hits with that gun before we found cloud cover. Upon exiting the clouds we saw one of our other planes being attacked by another Betty. We made a passing attack from the stern firing bow and waist guns and drove the enemy off. We suffered two slightly wounded crew members and 25 hits in the aircraft structure. That day I became a man.
Two days after my first combat action another crew from Patrol Squadron Forty-four was flying a reconnaissance over the Pacific when they spotted a huge convoy of Japanese war ships sailing toward Midway. Ensign Jewell Harmon Reid, the pilot of the PBY-5A, sent a report on the sighting of the Japanese fleet as it headed toward Midway. Frequently identified as the "single most important patrol plane contribution," Ensign Reid chance discovery allowed the American fleet to attack the Japanese fleet. It became our first major victory against the Japanese and helped shift the tide in U.S. operation in the Pacific which eventually reduced Japan's ability to undertake major offensives.
Following Midway we were deployed to the South Pacific island of Espiritu Santos and operated off the USS Curtis AV-4. We flew our patrols from their up toward Nauru Island which was occupied by Japanese troops, who were bypassed by the Allied advance across the Pacific. We were attacked several more times by Betty aircraft operating out of Nauru Island.
During the Korean conflict I was a PB4Y2 crew member in the VP-871 Patrol Squadron. Among our assignments was flying night interdiction missions into North Korea by dropping flares for young Marine pilots so they could more easily identify their targets. We stayed on station dropping flares to then help guide them in attacking those targets. One night we were operating with Marine F7F's when were advised by our Marine companion that we had a bogey on our 6; he said he had night fighter gear and would get him if we remained on our course for two more minutes and when he gave us a mark we were to turn hard to starboard. We did and he got the bogey. That incident had a very sobering affect and gave me pause to reflect on the frailty of life.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My fondest memories are of my duty with VR-5 at NAS Moffett Field. We had R6D-1 aircraft and I became qualified as a flight engineer in that aircraft. During that time I and three other chiefs were asked by the skipper to write and teach classes on the various systems of the Douglas aircraft. During that time I was able to qualify for a CAA Flight Engineer's license (1953) and I believe I was the first enlisted man to get that certification.
I also got my A&E license and started back to the university to get my Aeronautical Engineering Degree. In this photo, I am second from the left knelling in the first row.
I don't think that I have any unpleasant memories of my Navy experience.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
My return to the United States after being in the South Pacific for over 15 months was aboard the USS Curtis. The ship had a homeward bound pennant almost a mile long, held up by weather balloons and as we came under the Golden Gate there was not a dry eye on board. Some of the crew had been in the Asiatic fleet before the war; one chief had been out of the states for almost 20 years. Every ship in the harbor saluted us, as well as the fire ships.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
The Distinguished Flying Cross was given to me after my 20th mission: a night interdiction mission over Kavieng, New Britain. Japanese forces occupied Kavieng since January 1942. Over the next two years, almost all of the Europeans who had remained on the island were killed by the Japanese. By the time the Allies retook the island in 1945, Kavieng had been almost completely destroyed.
My first through five Air Medals were achieved for combat air patrols during the periods May 1942 through November 1944. The sixth and seventh Air medals were awarded for operations against enemy forces in Korea from December 1951 through June 1952.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The Distinguished Flying Cross is my most meaningful medal as it was the culmination of one our best missions.
Another honor I value greatly is being elected to the Enlisted Combat Aircrew Roll of Honor in 2007.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Captain Frank R.McCrary had the most impact on my career. He was the father of one of my best friends and when I went to NAS Alameda for Aviation Machinist School he advised me to join VP-44 when I graduated and that squadron provided me with all the opportunities necessary for my career.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
In November of 1942 we were flying patrols out of NAS Kaneohe Bay and on this particular day we had a young photographers mate flying with us to get his flight time in. It was time to go down close to the water so the navigator could get his sun line, the PPC had gotten into one of the bunks and the Chief NAP was flying the plane. He was a real character who got onto the intercom and said, "Throw all loose gear and the navigator over the side and stand by for a loop." I had just been relieved from the tower (flight engineers station) when I felt a rush of air from the after station; I hurried back there to find that the photographers mate had the blister open and was trying to pull the .50 Cal out of its mount. I stopped him immediately then decided to have fun with the Chief flying the plane. I got on the intercom and asked him if his pay account was in good shape and he replied that it was, so I told him that the photographers mate had thrown the .50 Cal over the side. He rushed back to the after station and we all gave him a big cheer. He was pretty mad for a few minutes but soon saw the humor and swore he'd get even with me. The PPC was still asleep in one of the bunks and didn't hear about the prank until much later.
That is me on the far left in the back row in this photo.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
I went back to college following my return from Korea in 1952 and earned a Bachelors Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. I was able get a summer job at the NACA at Moffett Field and after the summer I was invited by my manager to head up a swing shift which would allowed me to go to school in the day time.
Following my graduation I was promoted to an Assistant Project Engineer on a research project. I went on the graduate school at Stanford and in 1958 Lockheed Missiles and Space Company hired me as a rocket test engineer at their Santa Cruz test base. We did the qualification testing on the Agena Spacecraft restart able liquid rocket engine. I progressed through the test phase, became section supervisor of the Plans and Analysis section. When we got the Gemini program contract for the docking vehicle I was put in charge of the qualification program of the Bell multistate rocket engine. In 1966 I was transferred to the main plant in Sunnyvale, CA and had a number of jobs in various programs. In 1983 I was transferred to England for a Mission Controller on a NATO project. I stayed in England 5 years and retired with 30 years service.
I was fortunate to work on programs where we were doing things nobody had ever done before. I loved every minute of my time with Lockheed and feel privileged to have worked with some of the finest engineers in this country.
I am retired and enjoy work with several nonprofit organizations as well as seeing my ever expanding family.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I am a life time Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a member of the American Legion, Military Order of the World Wars, Military Officers Association, Naval Institute, Naval Memorial Association, and Naval Air Museum in Pensacola.
I am able to meet many interesting people and share experiences along with community service.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
It gave me a profession to fall back on and the ability to form good work habits and to get along with people.
The discipline and structure of the military also gave me a good fundamental approach to life.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE NAVY?
To choose a good career path, one that you are interested in, and develop a plan to achieve your goals. It is good to set sights on an achievable goal.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
It has made me reach back and gather some memories that I had not thought about in a long time and put them in perspective.
It also refreshed my memory of some very interesting people I had forgotten about.
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