Seventeen Hours to Honolulu

By Beacon Staff

It was the early spring of 1945 and we had four, 2,500-horsepower, radial engines working hard to gradually overcome the drag of San Francisco Bay. We lumbered along for what seemed like forever, until the 200-foot wingspan provided enough lift so we could leave the choppy bay south of San Francisco. Once airborne, we turned west over the coast and headed for Honolulu. The engines were making so much noise we couldn’t have a conversation without shouting at each other from less than two feet away. Aboard were 13 Navy officers, not including the crew. Without any insulation, the temperature in the airplane soon dropped and we were all freezing cold.

About an hour later the plane dipped down to about 500 feet in altitude, while the navigator came back to where we were sitting, opened a hatch in the floor and dropped a bag of yellow dye. Then he got out a surveying instrument called a theodolite and compared the direction of the yellow dye to the reciprocal compass. He did this to tell whether we were heading in the right direction. The dropping of the yellow dye happened every half hour, and it continued all the way to Honolulu.

After the second hour, I was so cold that I climbed out of my uncomfortable seat, walked to the back of the giant cabin and started doing jumping jacks to warm up. I had only done about 15 of them when a crew member burst out of the pilot’s cabin and ran back to see if the tail had fallen off the airplane. I had been doing my jumping jacks so far behind the airplane’s center of gravity, that I had been making the entire airplane lurch violently with each jump.

My next attempt at getting warmer was a lot easier on the airplane. When I was a little kid, my grandfather told me, “When you get cold, find some newspapers and wrap them around your body under your clothes.” So, I walked forward to the galley next to the pilot’s bulkhead and found some copies of the San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday Edition. They were addressed to some vice admiral in Pearl Harbor and I knew he would be mad if they arrived without the Sunday funnies and the sports section, but I was hoping he would never find out that I was the culprit.

I pulled my pants down and wrapped my legs in the sports section. Then I did the same to my upper body under my shirt – I thought maybe the colored ink in the Sunday funnies might be a bit warmer. I put my shirt back on, then my officer’s jacket and then my overcoat. Underneath it all was Mickey Mouse, Prince Valiant, Li’l Abner and Steve Canyon at their Sunday best.

After settling back down, I was jolted awake by another attempt from the navigator to drop the yellow dye, when a thought crossed my mind: What if the plane crashed and they found my body wrapped in the Sunday funnies. How dumb would that be? I didn’t really care because at least I was now getting warm.

All 13 passengers were brand new Navy officers headed for various parts of the Pacific to relieve officers who had been out there for at least two years. There was scuttlebutt that the government was gearing up for the invasion of Japan and that America would lose at least 500,000 soldiers, sailors and marines. Not a pleasant thing to be thinking about for me, since it was my potential future.

The Navy tries to makes sure you are fed every four hours when in transit, and the crew on this four-engine plane made sure we were well fed and on time. By the fourth meal, or 16 hours after we had left San Francisco, we were all wondering if we would ever get to Honolulu.

Twice during the flight, rivets that held the skin on the outside of the plane popped out near where I was sitting, and the holes started whistling until I put some of my funny paper insulation over them. The paper was immediately sucked into the hole until it stopped the whistling.

It was almost midnight when the plane began a slow turn and we could finally see lights below. We splashed down somewhere near Pearl Harbor – the journey to duty on my first ship half over. Eventually I would fly on to Guadalcanal where I got sunk in a hurricane, but that is another story in my life of lurching from one near disaster to the next.