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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
P: This is Julian Pleasants and I am in Tampa, Florida. It's February 28, 2005. I'm
with Mr. Sam Davis. Tell me when and where you were born.
D: I was born about 3:14 p.m. in Farmdale, Florida, which is about twenty miles up
east of Panama City.
P: Were your parents Floridians? Had they lived in the state for some time?
P: How many generations of Floridians are there in the Davis family?
D: Several. My Grandfather Davis, he may have been born somewhere else in
Florida. My father was born in Florida.
P: What did your father do?
D: He was a cattleman and a timberman. [He had a] turpentine business.
P: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the turpentine business. That was fairly
lucrative business at one time in the state of Florida. A lot of people were in that
business, isn't that correct?
D: That's correct. I believe in every county there was some kind of turpentining.
P: Explain the process to me a little bit. Once you cut the notch in the trees and let
them drain out, what do you do with the product, the gum?
D: We have two species-both of them are common in Florida-the long-leaf pine and
the slash pine. They are the best species in the United States that runs enough
gum to make it worthwhile to tap those trees.
P: You'd make the slash and then hang a bucket?
D: Yes. All the other pine species will run some gum, but not run it in commercial
P: Once you filled up the bucket, somebody had to come by and collect all the
D: Yes, that's right. You select the trees-they have to be more than nine inches in
diameter, preferably they would be about twelve inches. We call that diameter at
breast height. You can select those trees and start the phase. You put a cup on it
and you make a hash mark chipping for the first time with a hack that makes a
curved cut gash in the tree, a fish-boned shape like coming down the backbone
down into the cup. That will run gum for about two weeks. Then it's a wound on
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the tree, so it heals itself naturally. So you come along and cut another streak
just a little higher and shave it off so that you get back up to wood so the pores
that run the sap will begin to heal up. So you cut a new stretch. That will run for
two more weeks. Then you make this chip again.
P: How much can you get from one tree?
D: One tree will run a cupful [in three weeks]. You have a cup that will roughly hold
about three quarters of a quart of gum in that cup. In the springtime of the year
and in the summer, in the warm months, is when it runs.
P: When you get the gum, then you take it and you have to boil it?
D: Yes, you have to boil it and catch the spirits that evaporates up off of it. This has
to be a closed tank that you're cooking it in. The steam, we would call it steam,
the vapor that comes up off of it, goes into a pipe and through a worm that is a
series of pipes in a circular fashion in a big tank of water, which is a condenser.
It cools it down to condense it. At the bottom of the worm, this spirits of turpentine
and water solution that was steam and gas has been solidified and runs out into
a barrel. This barrel is designed so that you have a bung-hole in the bottom of
the barrel, and you have a pole that's sharpened off, like a stopper, that goes
down and closes that hole. This is the outfall barrel that catches the water and
the spirits. The water you let out of the barrel, because the spirits will float up on
top of the water, and it floats up over the spillway of that barrel, which is the
spillway below the top of it, goes over into another barrel. So you let the spirits of
turpentine, it's a liquid now, on top of this outfall barrel, runs over into the new
barrel, just spirits. When water gets into it, and you can see the difference in the
two because it's a clear liquid, you can see the water below the spirits in the
barrel. You have to let this water out of the barrel, so it's always below where
your spillway is, where you continue to fill the spirit barrel.
P: This is a lot harder than making moonshine, isn't it?
D: Well, now you could make moonshine, only in this particular thing [it] would have
a gummy taste. [laughter.]
P: You use a similar procedure.
D: It is quite similar. Rum still existed back in those days.
P: The final product, where would you take it and who would you sell it to?
D: We would sell it to a processing plant. There were process plants in Pensacola
and in Mobile over in my section of the country. That's all I knew to send them to,
Pensacola and Mobile.
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P: It would be used in paint and paint thinner?
D: Yes. In that process of cooking, let's get back to when you chipped the trees and
get the gum running. When the cup fills up, the dippers come along with a bucket
and they dip that gum out of that cup and put that cup back up on the tree, and
when they get that bucketful, they go put it in the barrel. Sometimes you'll have
that barrel in a wagon and you'll have an ox or a mule pulling the wagon. When
you get the barrels full, then you fill up another barrel, of course, and haul them
to the still. Then this cooking arrangement is a copper kettle with a spout-like
cover for the top that runs into the pipe at the top, and that's where your spirits of
turpentine will fill up. You have the still built so that you've got a fire area below,
and then you've got the fire box, and then up above the fire box, the copper kettle
sits there on that. Then you have an upper deck. It's like from the lower deck of
the still where the fire is built to the upper deck, the upper deck is where you
have the top of the kettle down on the edge of the floor. You have to roll your
barrels of raw gum up on this upper floor to dump them over in the top of your
P: They'd be pretty heavy, wouldn't they?
D: What you would do, you would run a charge, and yes, they're pretty heavy, those
barrels that you put the gum in from the woods. The raw gum is a fifty-gallon
barrel. It's a big barrel; it's a heavy barrel. The crew manager, you would have to,
out of poles, build a rail-like ramp to roll that barrel of gum up to this upper deck.
It's like the second story floor of a house. This pot holds about six barrels of this
raw gum. The raw gum has a lot of moisture, just water mixed in with it. You put
six barrels of this gum in that pot, and start your fire and start it cooking and put
the lid on it, cap it, and run it over into the worm that is the condenser. It runs
down through the barrel of water-a big tank, several thousand gallons this tank
P: How many people worked for you, or worked for your family in this turpentine
D: The turpentine still is put up in Farmdale, and we had those turpentine stills all
along the bay. There was our still at Farmdale, and a man had come in there
from Mobile and had set this still up. Then another man by the name of Joe
Taylor had come from the north, I think he came from southern Illinois, and he
started a lumber business. Then he went in business with this man from Mobile
and eventually bought the man from Mobile out, then Joe Taylor ran this. My
daddy's brother had the presence of mind to marry Joe Taylor's daughter. When
Joe Taylor got assigned to the postmastership in Panama City, downtown, that
was twenty miles from Farmdale, then my uncle, Mood Davis, he became the
head man of the Taylor-Davis Turpentine Company. My daddy was sort of a
partner in there with Uncle Mood in that turpentine business, but mostly my
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daddy was a producer of the gum. He produced the gum on his own land, and
also leased land from the big land companies and leased the turpentine rights.
Then there was another three miles on down the bay towards Panama City; here
was Bell Isle, another little settlement on the bay.
P: How many people would work the turpentine?
D: The turpentine outfit, to run one still, would have a little settlement built we called
the quarters. That was for the people to live in; generally the turpentiner would
build this settlement, build the shacks for people to live in, just like a mill town
where the mill owns everything. They had a commissary for the people to buy
food from. There would be about fifteen to eighteen families of working people,
black people and white people.
P: I understand it was hard work, particularly in the summer.
D: It is hard work. In the winter months, when it's cold, we don't chip the trees
because it's cold weather and then the sap is down and there's no activity and it
warms up in the springtime. It warms up in the springtime and the trees begin life
again. They're taking in water and nutrients from the soil through their roots.
They're putting on new growth and making new gum. We're tapping the bottom
of them every two weeks and getting the gum to run out.
P: I've heard other turpentiners tell me that one of the problems was that sometimes
turpentiners would come in and steal the workers. Did you ever have that
D: Oh, that was quite a common occurrence. Every still was about the same. You
would have a section of people, black families and white families, that would stay
in one place and work in one place and just stay there all their lives. Then you
had the transient group that would come and go. It was quite normal that, when a
man needs some workers, he's got to go and interview workers wherever they
are. If a strange fellow came in and got to talking over in the quarters to your
hands, well then, you did something about it. You went over and asked him to
leave. Generally, if you're a sane person, you ask him to leave, but the second
time, you demand that he leaves. Then the third time, I don't know how they did
it, but they had a way of doing it.
P: Then's when you bring a shotgun out. That's a little more persuasive.
D: Then, another thing, they begin to have a way of doing that you would have to
put out some money to hire you a new laborer and his family to come work for
you. Then it was normal that, when you paid him at the end of the week for his
week's worth, or if he's being paid by the piece or what he produces, then you
pay when he produces it, but whatever it is, then you make this person pay off
WWll-16 Davis Page 5
the charges that you've put out on him. If you have this instance where
somebody just gets disgruntled with you or you get disgruntled with him and he
takes off and he owes a big grocery bill at the commissary, then the person that
takes him in and hires him kind of foots the bill to pay off his debt when he takes
him. Then, of course, he charges his worker.
P: Were they pretty good about paying off the debt?
D: There's some laws against that-making a person pay off a debt. It's against the
law to make them pay off a debt. They call that peonage.
P: There must have been quite a bit of that.
D: I have known of instances where the turpentiners used to rent labor from the
prisons and work the prisoners as part of their upkeep. I don't know just how they
did that except for the fact that you paid the prison system for this man's work.
Then it would come time for his time to be up, or maybe he gets parole, and he
has to have a job to go to. You [would] give him a job and you pay for whatever it
costs to get him through his legal parole and get him to work, and you can't
physically make him work that money out and pay you that debt. You just have to
assume that he's an honorable fellow-and he's just come out of jail, you know-
and he's going to do that.
P: What would you pay the average worker? How much would you pay them if they
were on a salary?
D: In the early Depression, whenever I was getting to be about grammar school,
graduating out of eighth grade and going off to high school, we had people that
were working in labor for a dollar a day. People would work in the turpentining-
some of them would be day laborers and you would pay them a dollar a day.
That was just enough that you could feed your family on a dollar a day, because
you could go to the cafe and get a steak dinner for eighty-five cents. I don't know
whether you could find a steak dinner this day and age.
P: You'd be lucky to find something for $8.50, wouldn't you?
D: You worked a lot of them, like [if] you had a good black family there and the man
was good at the chipping and getting the dipping done, he would rent a crop of
trees from the turpentiner company. He would get the chipping and the dipping
done, and the gum hauled to the turpentiner to still, and he would make what he
could make of it. You would pay him so many dollars for so many barrels of gum
he produces up on your upper deck.
P: You mentioned the Depression. How would you characterize your economic
circumstances during most of the Depression. Did you feel poor or deprived?
WWll-16 Davis Page 6
D: Let me put it this way. Let me tell you what my father said; my father said, one
time, we were talking about before the Depression and after the Depression-then
we were back when people were making good money and a guy could do this
day labor and get twenty to thirty dollars a week. If a guy had a twenty-dollars-a-
week job, and we had that after the paper mill came into Panama City, he had a
good job. My daddy said that he never had any money before the Depression.
He never had any money after the Depression. So he says, I don't even know
when the Depression was. I've always been in the Depression. That was about
the way with the poor people. Generally the poor people, when they were making
twenty dollars a week, they weren't eating any better than they were when they
were back down there two or three years back as a day laborer. After you're
making twenty dollars a week now, his groceries are costing more, whatever he's
buying is costing more, the gasoline went from fifteen cents a gallon up to
twenty-five cents a gallon. A kid in this day and time says, twenty-five cents a
gallon for gasoline? You mean you could buy gasoline [for twenty-five cents a
gallon]? Sure we could.
P: One of the things that you mentioned in your book, or somebody mentioned to
me, was that you were aware of what the Civilian Conservation Corps [CCC-a
Depression-era program providing jobs to improve state and federal parks and
roads] did during the Depression. A lot of people thought that that was one of the
best federal programs ever because of not only preserving the forest, but also
historic sites and fighting fires. Comment on the importance of the CCC during
D: That CCC camp was something I was more related to than anything else
because I was interested in forestry. We had made our living out of the pine trees
that were growing in the Farmdale area. We just based everything on that, and in
a lot of areas there were people-now I took one example and put it in the front of
my book about this one person that I hired to work as a helper when I was a
forest ranger for the state, before I ever left to go to school in Gainesville and get
a bachelor's degree in forestry. This boy was from a sharecropper family in
Alabama. His father was a sharecropper. Then he came along, and when this
man's boy grew up, he got to about the seventh grade and then he went to work.
His father had a mule and he plowed a farm. One man could do about an eighty
acre farm with a mule and do the planting and harvesting for the farmer. This
boy, he had a mule, and so he did eighty acres while his father did eighty acres.
At a time there, he was out of work. So when Roosevelt was elected, he put in
the CCC's. That was a deal to get these people with no jobs, to get them to go to
work. They would join a CCC camp, and they would take them in just like you
would go to a military camp. You get the crew there, get the lumber, build a
dining room and a dormitory and house them in it and run it just like you run a
military camp. You have cooks and bakers to cook. Then they would use these
people to do all the work and they paid them twenty-five dollars a month and
room and board is what they got. They took this twenty-five dollars a month and
WWII-16 Davis Page 7
sent it home to their parents. They had another five or six dollars a month that
they could keep for their incidental expenses like a Coke from the store or go to
the picture show for fifteen to twenty cents. I know this particular person, his
twenty-five dollars went home. His father had been killed and his mother was
trying to live, and she could live in south Alabama on this twenty-five dollars a
month, and she could exist.
P: I've talked to a lot of CCC people. They really felt like that was an opportunity to
get confidence in themselves. Some of them got to travel quite a bit. They all felt
like they made a great contribution and they weren't just taking money.
D: That's it. His contribution was that he learned how to do carpentry work. He could
lay out a house and build it. He was taught conservation, because they went in
and took over forestry for some companies and planted the trees and plowed the
fire lines for the fire control and one thing or another like that. So when I came
along and got my first job as a helper on a forest ranger truck, one thing the CCC
camps did, it got the whole world and the United States knowing that
conservation was good and that planting trees was good. Because the sawmills
in earlier days had come along and cut out the land and sawed the logs up into
lumber and then went somewhere else to do it again in another place and left this
land in Florida, where I was, with no seed trees on it. It couldn't reproduce itself.
It wasn't reproducing any forestry products until somebody like the CCC's came
along and got people interested in planting trees on it and protecting it from daily
or weekly wildfires and starting them back into conservation. Until the DuPont
Company, which had bought up about half of the outlying land over in my section
of west Florida, they went pretty heavily into forest management. They hired
them a woods crew of foresters and conservationists. They started this work that
the CCC camps had started for them.
P: Tell me why you decided to go to the University of Florida in 1940.
D: Two reasons got me to the University of Florida. One I would have to say was my
mother. My mother was a schoolteacher. My grandfather Russell, her daddy, was
one of the old-time school professors in the area. So she had become a
schoolteacher, and my daddy, he lived in a place where every year they'd get
mad with the teacher and the little boys would beat him up and run him off. They
thought that was fun. My daddy grew up knowing that he was missing something,
and then he married my momma and she being a schoolteacher, he was
interested in school. What he told us when we were children, and I had two other
brothers and a sister-I'm the youngest-but he told us, now you all are going to
get yourselves an education; I missed mine, but you're going to get yours
because I'm going to see to it that you get it and your momma's going to see to it
that you get it. He says, if you do something in school, you don't need to come
back here and tell me, oh, the old teacher was so mean and the teacher did so
and so. He said, I did that kind of thing, my people listened to it, and they ran the
WWII-16 Davis Page 8
teacher off. He says, that ain't going to happen in my family. He said, if you get
yourself a whippin' in school you know, the schoolmarm could whip you just as
well as your momma and daddy could in them days and if we got a whippin' in
school, we didn't dare let daddy know about it. We'd have to get all the children
[together] and say, don't tell daddy that Mrs. Viole whipped me today because
he'll tear me up. And he would have. So you see, we got our education [even
though] he didn't get his.
P: Your mom wanted you to go to the University of Florida. That's one reason. What
was the other reason?
D: Children didn't normally get a high school education-she [my momma] didn't get
a high school education-but she was a good enough teacher from her father
being a teacher that she could take other courses. What she did do is she taught,
and then she married my father, and then there were several years that she
brought up her four children, and then she went back to teaching. By the time
she goes back to teaching, then they already had a system in where you had to
have a high school education or you had to have a general education
development of some kind. You had to have a teacher's certificate in the county if
you wanted to teach, and you could upgrade yourself by taking courses from the
University of Florida's system; the extension service of the university. You'd take
courses, and then you could go to summer school and take courses right at the
university. My momma went to summer school and she got what we call her
second-year college degree; reading and writing and arithmetic. Then she finally
kept on with her teaching and doing summer school and taking correspondence
courses until she practically got her bachelor's degree. I came along then-and
we thought that there was no way that you could go to school unless you had a
lot of money, and we didn't have that kind of money. St. Joe's Paper Company [a
Florida forestry and transportation conglomerate that owns nearly one million
acres, mainly in northwestern Florida]-the DuPont Company that later became
the St. Joe Paper Company when they put a paper mill at Port St. Joe they put
their land under forest fire control by paying three cents an acre to the state for
the forest service of the state of Florida to perform fire control on their lands.
They hired people that knew how to do forestry. They took out Old Man George
Hardy, who was the turpentiner-that was his son. They hired him to be a ranger
and had the firefighting truck and look out for fires on that land. It got to be winter
P: Excuse me, we're trying to get you to the University of Florida.
D: I'm kind of getting you off-topic, so I'll hush. [I wanted two years of college to
qualify for the naval aviation program and made more money as a forester.]
P: Did you earn enough money to go to school?
D: I earned enough money to keep me about a half a year in there and I went down
WVllI-16 Davis Page 9
there and found out I could borrow money and stay. You know, it cost me-a
freshman at the university-I stayed over there in the CLO House, which was my
room and board.
P: What was CLO?
D: Cooperative Living Organization. It was formed by four boys that had apartments
together off-campus from west Florida. Then the next year they had two or three
other guys join them until after a while they had two or three apartments. Then
somebody like Dean Beaty [Robert Colder Beaty; the University of Florida's
second Dean of Students] and the dean of the graduate service, he thought it
was a good idea, and so then they made an organization out of it and called it the
Cooperative Living Organization, kind of supervised by the college. If people
didn't have money enough to go and pay the whole amount of money that it cost
in the dormitories, they could apply for CLO and get in it. I got in that. So the total
amount of money that I spent, including my tuition, about fifty dollars, and books
about fifty more dollars, and my room and board, which was about eighteen
dollars a month over at CLO. The total amount of money that I spent in the nine
month course that year was $315.
P: That's a pretty good bargain.
D: That's what it cost to keep one little country boy in college for a full two
P: What was the university like in 1940?
D: Probably there wasn't more than about 4,000 or 5,000 students in the whole
university. As far as I was concerned, it was just a little bigger than high school
and the kids were just away from home living on their own.
P: At that point it was all-male, too.
D: It was all-male, yes. There used to be a mass exodus of hitch-hikers headed
toward Tallahassee, because the women's college was in Tallahassee.
P: Did you wear your rat cap your first year?
D: Oh, you had to wear your rat cap, that was your mark of identification. They'd
know you were a college student and they'd stop and pick you up.
P: So it was good for hitchhiking.
D: Yeah, it was good for hitchhiking. That's a good bus ticket.
P: After Pearl Harbor, you decided you wanted to go into the Navy. Why did you
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decide that you wanted to go into the service?
D: I hadn't made my mind up yet, but Pearl Harbor hastened military decisions. I
was over in west Florida in Panama City, one hundred miles east of Pensacola
was the Naval Air Station. We used to see the airplanes. They had a routine that
they would fly out of Pensacola, go up around Cape Sandblast down toward
Apalachicola and circle around there and then come back. Well, we lived two
miles in there on the bay from the Gulf. We could see those birds fly up, and then
after a while we'd hear them come in and they were flying back. We'd run and
climb up a sapling or get up on the gatepost so we could get above the
timberline, so we could see the airplanes. Then I had been through Pensacola a
time or two and saw them landing seaplanes out in the bay, and somehow got
interested in them.
P: Those were PBY's [Navy fighter planes, also known as the Black Cats]?
D: They were the forerunners of the PBY's, they first started with a smaller aircraft.
Back in those days, you could hear about Hitler's ranting and raving and what
was happening in Europe. They were beginning to go to war over there-that was
before Pearl Harbor. The Navy was requiring for cadets to have two years of
college. That was one of the things. Plus the fact that I was working for sixty
dollars a month and I got a raise to sixty-five dollars as a ranger for the forest
service. Some kids would come out with a bachelor's degree, get them a job with
the Florida forest service, they'd put them down here on the ranger's truck for
about two weeks so they could see what the forest was like...
[End of Tape A. Side 1.]
D: These graduates would come out and they would start them off at $135 a month.
P: That was good money.
D: Yes, that was good money then. That was extra money. It wasn't for sixty to
sixty-five dollars a month, I could have fed a family if I had one then; I was still
living at home then. I was able to save some of that sixty dollars a month so that I
could enter college. Three years later, I quit and started off to college. During that
college year, it came down to December 7, 1941, the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.
Me and another bunch of kids from college were taking a CPT course flying Cubs
at Stengel Field [owned by Carl Stengel, who operated Stengel's Flying School
from the late 1930s in Gainesville, Florida, from Gainesville Municipal Airport,
until the Alachua Army Airbase took over in 1941, making it a training school for
pilots during World War II] for the university system. We had gone to Jacksonville
with the professors to see how they controlled aircraft at the control center in
Jacksonville, on instrument-flying. That was Sunday we went over there to view
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that. We came back to the university. The professor says, you all come on in and
we'll go in my house. He said, my wife will fix us up some sandwiches. So were
eating sandwiches and drinking beer and listening to the radio, and the news
came on with the Japs hitting Pearl Harbor. This is about 5:00 or 6:00 Sunday
evening. Over there it was early Sunday morning they were bombing Pearl
Harbor. So we got into the war, and then they had started a draft to build a power
service up, and my draft number came up. I had registered for the next semester,
the 1941 semester.
P: Let me jump ahead a little bit. In June of 1942, you go to pre-flight school in
Athens. You trained there, and then you go to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station.
D: Yes, that's right. My draft number came up and I got deferred on it for six months.
During that six months, I was taking the CPT course, and the pilots were flying in
Jacksonville then-instructors were flying in cadets. They'd land at the Gainesville
Airport to get a Coke, and we'd talk with them. One of them told us that, if any of
us were about to get drafted and we hadn't gotten our time in, but we could get it
for the two years, he says, if your dean was to write a letter to recruitment in
Jacksonville, they'd send a recruiter over here and they've got some good deals
for you. They got a program that if you go ahead and sign up, they'll let you finish
a year out to go into the cadets and you wouldn't get drafted doing that. We just
got Dean Beaty to write them a letter and they sent a lieutenant over and he gave
us this flowery deal about how special we were, we were Florida Fighting Gators.
He said, if you guys get about thirty-five or forty kids to come by and sign up, he
says you can just go in to pre-flight school, go through that in a group, go to the
e-base [elimination base], get through that, go to the advance base, get your
wings, form your own squadron, you could call it the Florida Fighting Gators
Squadron. You could name your squadron and go to the Pacific. Well, we just ate
that up. Part of it happened.
P: You got your wings, but you never got your squadron. Let me jump ahead a little
bit to the time you get into flying PBY's. Talk about flying a PBY, because they're
a little trickier than flying regular aircraft.
D: The Navy had a system to where they would train you as a carrier-based pilot or
a multi-engine patrol type deal. More people always were asking for fighters that
couldn't get them. When I came through, I went ahead and asked for the patrol to
start with, and of course I got patrol. That was in your advanced training. The
way you did the training then, you went to a pre-flight school and got a little bit of
ground school in for a couple of weeks, then went to an elimination-base
somewhere and flew little by-planes, the yellow perils. You soloed and did the
acrobatics that fighters have to do. Then we went to Pensacola and got into a
bigger aircraft, intermediate. We flew a low-wing model plane with a bigger
engine. Then you pass all that and you get assigned to the advanced-either
carrier-based or fly an SNJ, a little fighter trainer, or go into the PBY's and learn
WWII-16 Davis Page 12
multi-engine and do transport search.
P: Mainly search and rescue?
D: Search-and-patrol, really; hunting the enemy. In the search-and-patrol, you
carried torpedoes and bombs to bomb the big stuff when you found it.
P: Describe the PBY. How many people were on board? I understand that because
of the configuration, you actually had a galley. It was quite a bit different when
you have a sea-plane than you have others.
D: The PBY was a big airplane. It had two engines on it. It had a boat hull. It landed
on the water.
P: So it's open in the center.
D: It was a high-wing plane. The wings were extended up above the hull, the
fuselage, of the shell. The engines were up on the wings, and they were in the
neighborhood of about a hundred feet wide from wingtip to wingtip. It wouldn't be
quite that long, it would only be about seventy feet long from the tip of the nose to
the tail, but these two engines were about nine hundred horsepower] engines,
each one of them. It would carry a crew of ten, eleven, or twelve people
sometimes. Generally on a patrol hop you'd have three pilots. You'd have a
plane commander, which was a more savvy pilot with more flight time. Then
[you'd have] a couple of ensigns as co-pilots, and then one of those ensigns
would have to do the navigation. Normally both ensigns wouldn't be navigators.
Every Navy pilot had to be a navigator. While I was in the Air Force, pilots didn't
have to have navigation experience like Navy pilots did. Then we went on trips.
You'd have twelve-hour flights. They could carry enough gasoline for a twelve-
hour flight. That would mean you were out over lunch, so you'd carry a snack
with you-a bunch of hamburgers-and cook them up on the stove down in the
P: You had bunks where you could rest as well, could you not?
D: Yes, they had a bunk room with two or three bunks [for] if you had an all-night
[flight]. Then too, you could prolong that flight if you flew trans-Pac [across the
Pacific] from California to Hawaii, a couple thousand miles. You had to put a
bomb-bay tank in to have extra gasoline to extend your flight. It would take about
fourteen hours, or even a little longer, to make that trip in the PBY.
P: What kind of airspeed did they make?
D: The PBY would cruise along at about 130 [miles per hour].
P: It needed to be pretty slow.
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D: The stalling speed-we used to laugh because we used to climb and glide and
cruise at about ninety knots. At about eight-five or ninety miles you're coming up
off the water, and they'd get on up to about one hundred [knots] and then climb
P: You would have had at least three fifty-caliber machine guns for protection?
D: Yes, the PBY's, to start off with, had a thirty-caliber machine gun in the nose, and
I don't know if we ever put more then thirty caliber in the nose. I think we did
have, I'm sure we did, in the PBY-5's, the later models of them, would have a
turret in the nose.
P: Then would you have two side-gunners as well?
D: We'd have fifty-caliber, twin fifties.
P: How much armor did you have?
D: They had some little pieces of armor at the backs of the seats and in two or three
places at times. The PBM [Mariner Patrol Bomber; designed for patrol on land
and water] came out and they had an armor plate in the backs of the seat, mostly
for protecting the engineer's station and the pilot's stations.
P: The PBM was a bigger plane?
D: When I went into the fleet in PBM's doing rescue work, we got rid of some of our
armament. We left in the PBM, we had three turrets, our twin fifty machine guns.
One in the nose and one on the upper deck just behind the wings, and one in the
tail. We had twin fifties. Three twin fifty turrets. Then what we called the waist, or
the after-station of the ship, we had open doors on each side we could open. We
had what we called a free gun set up. We could set up a free gun, one fifty
caliber machine gun and shoot out that back door, one guy on one side and one
guy on the other. In rescue work, we did away with those two guns because we
were going to be hauling passengers in them at the station. We're going to be
landing in the ocean, so we wanted to be at the least weight we can, and we
pulled out all the armor. The only armor that we had for rescue work were those
P: Talk a little bit about your rescue work. What procedure would you go through?
They would indicate to you that a pilot was down somewhere, and then you
would begin your search.
D: We who were doing the rescue would get a message in that there was a pilot
down at such-and-such a position. They got these positions from the pilot that
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was going down or from this-and-that-and-the-other. One of the best things that
we had for positions of a rescue was, we had radar, so we had the radar system
where you're at the ship where they're manning the radar scope, where they're
looking out for everything, they could pick up your airplane even if you weren't
transmitting anything. But if you've got a radar set and you're transmitting, then
they could pick up what you're putting on the set. Well, on the set they had an
emergency setting, and if a guy was fixing to go down and he knew it, he flipped
that button up on the emergency [setting]. Then the controller back at the ship or
the station at home looking at his scope, he could see that particular signal, and
he knew that you were going down and he got the position right down on his
scope that shows him the longitude and latitude of where you're going down. In
those days, that's good within a mile or two. That's pretty good location for
somebody a thousand miles from you.
P: But on your way [to the rescue,] it takes you a while, so the tide and the waves
might change that location.
D: That's it, but sometimes that's all you would have. You wouldn't know whether
that guy went down and survived, unless he had a buddy that saw him go in and
get in his little one-man boat and say, hey, here I am; so long pal. For instance,
when we went into the inland sea that day to find out if we had the capability,
really, of doing it ...
P: Landing on the ocean to go out and get him?
D: We had gotten along with flying around the edge of the seacoast in Japan, but
now, you see, our fighter aircraft and our bomber aircraft had already been going
all in there and scouting and doing bombing and doing raids.
P: Let me stop and set the stage a little bit. You were stationed in Okinawa [a
Japanese island and battle in the Pacific during World War II]. This is in July
1945. These are the bombing raids on the main islands of Japan, right?
D: Yes. Our carriers had flown in and gotten into about three hundred miles
offshore, and that was a fairly safe distance then to be out of bombing range.
They'd come to stay, and they would send their patrols in. This particular bunch
that I picked up, there were only two aircraft in that patrol. They went in there
scouting out the, I forgot the name of it, but Japan's Navy base, and we get the
word that there were two, this is all we knew, that there were two people down.
[They knew this because] they got two emergency blips; two people were down.
We flew in there and we found one of them, but we didn't find the other one. The
one we picked up told us what happened. He said, he came down and dropped
all three of his last rockets. He dropped one rocket and he said it didn't look like it
did any damage, so he decided he'd get him one, so he went around and
dropped all three of them and came up over the ship, and he exploded when he
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came up over it. He didn't know he was hit, but he felt the explosion. He was
climbing out at about 2,500 feet, and his engine froze up and quit. Evidently he
shot an oil-line out or something and the engine burned up and quit. He went
down. When that engine quit, he flipped on his IFF. But he was at 2,500 feet, and
it travels on the straight-it doesn't follow the curvature of the earth. So the
chances were they couldn't see it at the ship. Then his buddy, he told me, that he
didn't expect that there were just the two. [He said], but I don't know of anybody
else that was up here with us. He says, I don't know what my buddy did, but I've
got this suspicion, because he climbed up to altitude, he flew right up over me,
and then he headed east toward the carriers. He said it's possible he turned on
his IFF way up over me so they'd see it, and that's why they had two blips
instead of one that were down. We didn't know this till the next day.
P: The first guy you rescued, this was Yoder?
P: You had to go in. Did you do a grid search? How did you actually locate him?
D: We flew right up into the spot like it's right there. We drew up into that spot and
went over it and made a turn and came back down, and we didn't see him either
time. We went right over it. The reason we went in over him was we wanted to be
sure we got there. We could look down and sort of determine [where he might
be]-we didn't know what the current was going to be, but we knew what the wind
was; it would have blown him. So we came back down and come over and went
downwind, figuring that he'd be down here somewhere. After just a little bit of
that-and we didn't see nothing-then we turned around and we headed back up
here where his position was. Then we were going to start our square search.
This wasn't expanding, this was a ladder search. Starting down here below him,
and we're going to catch him. Well, he sat there in that rubber boat, and he saw
that seaplane come over him, go out, make a turn, come back down, come pretty
close to him, and then they get down away from him and make a turn. Then he
sees them again during our ladder search. He says, I got to thinking, I'd better do
something. What he was doing when we first came over, he was shooting a little
thing about the size of a twelve-gauge shotgun shell. He was shooting up a flare.
Well, it was sunshiny day; we couldn't see a flare in the middle of the day. He did
that and he said, the last time I saw you all go down there, the next time I seen
you, you were coming across me like that. He says, he got that dye marker out of
his Mae West jacket, opened it up, tossed them chemicals out there in the water.
We readily saw that. It was quite obvious that if he had done that when we first
came up there, we would have seen him, because we went right over him.
P: So, now you've got him spotted.
D: Then we saw him and we ran down there and picked him up. Of course, it was
inside waters, so it was just like landing in the bay.
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P: You would have had two people who were specially trained to get him into the
D: Yes. We had a guy that was a washed-out pilot. He played football for one of the
colleges; he'd had two years of college. He got washed-out and then he went in
as a gunner. So our two gunners, when there wasn't anything to shoot at, we had
them doing this kind of work. So that was Willy. Willy threw the life preserver at
this guy. Let me get that seaplane down and I'll show you how it's done. We'd
take this scale-model of a PBY, run down there and stop so we could attach it
right up to him. These things are sitting down in the water where these props
would hit him. We'd have to cut the engine and stop that prop.
P: The props on the left engine.
D: When you land a seaplane into the wind, you see all this surface back here,
sitting on the water it just cocks around into the wind. That's normal for it to do.
We landed in the wind, taxied right up there pretty close to this guy so that we
were stopped in the water before we get to him. We taxied right on up, cut this
engine and stopped it. When we do that then, this engine [the right engine] would
pull us around in a curve like this. We'd bring him in on this side, and the guy
standing here in the after station would throw him a life preserver with a line tied
to it out beyond here. Then they'd pull him right in to this back door. They'd pull
him into the airplane, shut the door, and get ready for take-off.
P: Taking off in high seas is very, very difficult. Explain how you go through that
process. You obviously take off into the wind?
D: Yes, it depends on lots of things. One of the things it depends on, if you have a
brisk wind that's lower than fifteen knots, it pretty well behooves you to take off
into the wind. If you're less than that, your waves will be coming right towards
you. You've got wind swells. You'll have wind swells, as well as a big sea roller.
Sometimes your big sea roller will be a big wave, and there will be several wind
swells on the sides and top of that booger that will be going in the same direction
it's in. Sometimes they won't be going in the same direction because a little
squall may come up over here, and the wind at that particular area might be this
way. Your big swell going this way and your wind coming that way. You might
want to line up and ride right down this swell and try to stay on it.
P: You would ride the swell?
D: Yeah. But you know, this swell is traveling at fifty knots or more-just the ordinary
swell-is traveling. You've got to keep up with that booger and still kind of go into
the wind, and it's difficult to do. Sometimes if you've got less than five knots of
wind, then you don't worry about the wind at all. What you worry about is you've
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got to keep this mohawk [his pet name for the plane] up on the crest of that
wave, so you've got to ease along with it.
P: If a big wave hit you, it could do quite a bit of damage, could it not?
D: Yes. In our instance, that night, possibly we had about fifteen or eighteen [knots].
We were really at calm sea. The waves were about ten feet high. As far as I
knew, that night, we only had one set of waves in one direction.
P: We should point out, you were taking off at night, which is pretty unusual.
D: They were wind swells. Of course, the first thing to do is to go up over the first
swell, go up on it, ride on down it; you haven't got enough airspeed to do
anything with yet. You're going up on it, that slows you down, you're going into
the wind, that slows you down. So you ride down this one and you pick up
enough speed that, when you're getting to the next one, you can try to get
enough airspeed, you can get off of that booger and go on up. One of the things
that swells will do, they're coming along, and that water is coming from the trough
to the top. That water is coming up and moving this way, and you're down here in
it, and you're coming up and it's moving you backwards and you're trying to go
forward. That thing will give you a flip and flip you up in the air even if you ain't
got airspeed, and if you don't have it, you'll fall back in it. If you bounced up too
high, you're going to fall down and go 'choog'. You're going to 'choog' right into
the bottom of the next swell and that's the end of it. Whether you've got airspeed
or not, when you get thrown up in the air, I'm up here and I haven't got airspeed
enough to do anything but hold back what I've got on my controls, and
sometimes that's as hard as you can hold it back. You're wanting the engines to
pull you forward, you can't let off any at all, because you haven't got altitude
enough to let the thing down to where you can start picking up speed.
P: Once you're in the air, you've got wind resistance.
D: You've got to hold it on there until you hit the next [swell], and you've got to hope
that you're not dropping enough like this. We were dropping enough it was
scaring me to think, I'm up here looking, I'm up here sitting in this seat, and I'm
looking at this swell coming. It's like looking at that black thing; that black thing is
coming to me, the moon is shining. There's water up on the surface. The Lord
was cooperating that night, because the waves were coming from the east, the
wind was coming from the east, the moon was rising in the east. So we had us a
good runway, except for the fact that I'm sitting here, we bounced up out of the
one swell. We ain't got airspeed and I'm falling down into the next one, and I
don't see nothing but black under there. I can't tell how high this little rim of glare
is at the top, but I'm thinking it's the glare at the top of the wave. I'm looking at it
and I'm holding that thing, just hoping that I'm going to get there and hit it. We
did. I think we hit it about mid-ship like that. That bounced us up in the air so high
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that the second bounce I could just let her down just a little bit and I could gain a
little airspeed and then let her down a little more and gain a little more. I let her
down to where I could gain airspeed and I just felt this wave just brushed [the
P: Could you use your jet-assisted take-off for that?
D: I could have, if I hadn't already wasted it.
P: What'd you do with it?
D: In the first place, when we got close to Japan where we might have gotten run
over by fighters, we took the JATO [Jet Assisted Take-Off, a unit that serves as
the complete auxiliary power system used for assisted take-off] and mounted it
on the outside on the mountings to use. Mainly we mounted it there then in case
they fired on us, we wouldn't have somebody shooting a bomb inside our
airplane. It would be to the outside, and if we needed to, we could jettison it. So,
it's out there. When we landed and picked the guy up, it's outside here on our
outside door hanging to it. Whenever we started home out there after our last bit
of the search, it was getting dark and we decided we didn't need it anymore-it's
out there and it's causing a drag; it weighs three hundred pounds apiece, and
there were four of them. We just dropped them overboard right there and into the
sea. Now then, it took us about two hours to get up into the ocean where these
guys were going down at our checkpoint where the submarine was. We've got to
land and pick them up. Now then we're taking off without the JATO. With the
JATO, we could have started up on the first wave. I could have got right there
and popped those JATO bottles and they would have given me airspeed right up
on out of there.
P: I was interested to learn the [reference point you used for location] was called
"Slippery Sal." Why did you call it that?
D: A Japanese person couldn't pronounce the word. They can't roll their tongue
around and get the "Slippery Sal" out. It would sound like something else.
P: Your next problem now is getting back to base and you don't have a lot of fuel.
How did you manage to conserve fuel on the trip home?
D: There's a way that you do it. The scientific way that you do it is, you can take a
fully loaded airplane, and they've got this all figured out, and they've got to get it
by flying on an airplane to get it. We had the new PBM-5's [PBM-5 Mariner patrol
plane], and we had the new engines in them. They hadn't yet got that information
down to us. I had an engine there that had learned what they call the maximum
longevity in the air. That's a setting that you can do the whole flight with.
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P: You regulated the fuel mixture?
D: Yes. When we took off and got up to altitude, the first thing I wanted to do was I
wanted to get away from Japan. I'd been using too much radio that they could
hone in on me. When I took off, without doing navigation or anything, I just turned
out to a heading about forty-five degrees off of my course to go back home. To
go right straight south from where I was would be just hugging the coastline of
Kyushu, [Japan], for the next hundred and fifty miles. I thought I'd head about
forty-five degrees off course, to make a turn then and go to Okinawa. I'm getting
away from Japan.
P: Because the shore batteries could have picked you up.
D: I was out of shore battery range where we landed to pick them up, where the
submarine would have been. I was just twenty miles offshore from the inlet to the
Inland Sea-that was the inlet between the islands of Kyushu, the most southern
island, and the next island, Shikoko. That was just a narrow passageway of water
up into the Inland Sea. That's what we did. I told my engineer when we were
flying out, I said, when we get to cruise now, you and I have got to run an
experiment and see what we can get on a good cruise setting for airspeed and
gas flow, because we've got to save all the gasoline we can get going back.
What we had done, when we left the Inland Sea at dark, we thought we were
headed home. That's why we got rid of the JATO; I didn't need the JATO. I'm in
the dark, nobody's going to fly after me at dark. [I said], we got gasoline enough
to fly on back to Okinawa. Then I find out, now that I'm getting out of here, I've
got to land and pick these birds up. I'm going to put it in rich and I'm going to
burn up several hundred gallons of gas on each engine, and then we get back in
the air, and we ain't got enough gasoline to get back to Okinawa. [There were]
two things we could have done. One is, if we could have contacted the
submarine, they could have landed beside him and let him aboard.
P: They could have picked him up?
D: I come tooling out of the Inland Sea, and I hear this radio conversation going. [I]
hear "Red Little One to Red Little Two" [call signs]. What this was, was Red Little
One to Lifeguard, [the call sign for the] submarines. I listened to that and said,
hey, that's the fighters that were with us. I give them a call and found out that
they had run into a front that they didn't know had moved in, and the wind was
against them. They couldn't get back to the carrier. They turned around then and
came back to Slippery Sal, to where this submarine was. They were calling him
to set down beside him. I'm coming out of there, and I got better radio gear than
they've got, so I give them a call and say, I'll try to pick up Lifeguard [on the
radio] for you. We were still some few minutes away. I couldn't get Lifeguard. We
were getting pretty close to the time I'm getting Slippery Sal. This guy asks me,
he says, if we can't get Lifeguard, can you land and pick us up out here? I said, I
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possibly could, but I'd rather not because we've just barely got gasoline enough
to get back to Okinawa. I said, I'll use so much gas landing and taking off that we
won't have enough to get back, but we'll give you an answer when we get there,
let's try to get Lifeguard. By that time, the navigator knew where I was. He said,
we've got about seven minutes until Slippery Sal. I thought to myself, we've got
seven minutes, I'll [get to] Slippery Sal and we'll make a decision then.
[End of Side B]
D: So, we're not getting the submarine. That's when I decided I'd better let the crew
in on what we were going to do. Earlier I had just volunteered them and took off
for Japan. But this time I called Brownie, my engineer, and I said, get the crew
gathered around a station in the ship, I want to talk to them. I told them, we've
got two pilots in the air that are fixing to ditch, they can't get the submarine, and
we're over the submarine. We're looking at the water down there and we pilots
know that we can land and land fairly safely. I said, we don't know whether we
can take off or not, but if we do take off, we're going to have to land on the east
side of an island going south towards Okinawa later on. [I said], we pilots want to
go down and get them; what do you all say? Them birds, every one of them,
said, we'll do whatever you say, that's what we're here for. We'll do it. So we
squared away and went down and landed. I gave them a call and said, we've
decided we're going to land and pick you up. I said, we don't know whether we'll
be able to get off or not, but at least we might go aboard the submarine, or if we
can take off, we'll fly partway back to Okinawa and get in touch with somebody
down there and probably land. Anyway, we'll come get you off. [I said], I'm going
to slow down and turn my landing lights on and do a 360 [degree turn]. Can you
all see me? I said], take a look. I got about halfway around the circle and they
said, we've got you in sight. So I told them to come on. I got them and I said,
we're going to fly right toward the moon and we're going to land in that moon
glitter on that water. I said, it's going to take me a little time to get this PBM
stopped in the water. You all fly along behind or with me, and when you see me
stopped in the water, then you all go on and land up ahead of me. If they had
landed up ahead of me, they're up yonder where I can see them. I'm back here
where my aircraft is going to stay pointed that way because that's where the wind
is coming from. I can just taxi up there and pick you up.
P: Do they ditch the planes? Did they try to land it? What did they do?
D: They have a system of flying along and flat-stall it right at the water and go into
P: Then they eject?
D: [It's] almost like landing a seaplane in it. What happened is, when they saw me
hitting the tops of the swells and gliding across them, they went ahead and
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ditched. Well, I wasn't stopped in the water, I went another mile before I ever got
stuck in the water. Now they're in back of me. I took this dadgum airplane and
turned it around. I could see everything up yonder in the moonlight. I looked back
there and I couldn't see a damn thing; there wasn't nothing I could see. I
shuddered to think, what in the name of heaven have we done now? I'm having
to taxi downwind, the wind blowing about fifteen knots, I've got to taxi hard
enough to keep the plane going straight, [and] they're a mile or two behind me. I
don't know if I'll ever see these birds tonight or not.
P: Did they not have flares?
D: After a little bit, one of my crew members said, I see a light. After a while then, I
said, guide me to it, so we headed toward that light. And, after a little bit, they
saw another light. These birds had these one-cell flashlight pinned on their Mae
West jackets, and they could hold that dang thing up. That's what really saved
them that night, because we found them readily with that light and went to them
and picked them up. Then we swung around. We had bounced pretty good. We
had the aerial run from here over to here and into the cockpit; we knocked that
aerial down. We didn't have the big transmitter anymore.
P: You were out of radio contact?
D: Yeah, I had been out of radio contact all afternoon. We went on radio silence
when we first went into Japan.
P: Could you still contact home base when you got closer?
D: I broke radio silence coming out of there talking to these two airplanes, I was
doing it on VHF [range] that don't go very far. Still, I tooled up on the big
transmitter to try to get the submarine, so I had a little bit of time that the Japs
could have honed on us if they had defense to do it-I don't know whether they
did or didn't. Now then, we find out after we knocked this aerial down, we can't
get the ATC transmitter to work. Now I'm off and running, got the people picked
up and I'm headed to Okinawa, and I can't get the base. I've got to wait until I get
within thirty miles of it for VHF range to talk with the base.
P: The problem would be that you're not coming in at the right time; they might not
know who you are and they could shoot you down.
D: I wasted more time now by that extra pickup, then slowing down to go on this
maximum-range power-setting. The only thing they had, well, they were looking
at me on the radar scope. The whole dang time they were looking at an aircraft
coming south out of Japan and they didn't know who it was. We had one guy,
Muddy Waters, Lieutenant Commander Waters, a non-flying aviation officer, he
went to the radio shack on Pine Island, we were on Vista border [Pine Island's
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codename], seaplane tender, and he watched that blip. He said, I'll bet you that's
the guy. They said, no, it's been so long, it couldn't possibly be him because he
wouldn't have gasoline enough to be in the air even. He said, I'll bet you we find
out that's it. He stayed there and watched it until finally I got within VHF range
and they finally answered me. Then Lieutenant Commander Waters, he said,
that's our little country boy; I could tell that [voice] if I had heard it in hell. I know
it's him, so we don't need to worry about it. The Marines said, we do need to
worry about it because them Japs could have come and stolen our airplane out
there, you know? So, they asked me for identification, and I came back and told
them who I was. We had a system-we called it the code sheet-we got the day's
code that would give us everything we would need to know. We knew where the
ships were on our sector, our area where we were going. It had the frequencies
and our name and number. We were due back in at ten o' clock that night. This
code sheet only goes for one twenty-four hour period, which goes to midnight,
and then the next day you've got another code sheet.
P: Which you didn't have.
D: This particular time, they changed the name of all the units and the frequencies.
We had no way of knowing what we would be, a VH-3 aircraft. Because when we
took off, we were "Rebel Yell," and our code was "Confederate." Confederate
One and Confederate Two was our headquarter's name, and my unit name that
day for the flight was "Rebel Yell." That's what I was telling them who I was, but I
said, the code sheet was over at twelve o' clock, and we don't have the code
sheet for today. They said, send information by the-we had a code where you
used plain language, which it had odd names for things like, the PBM would be
grandma's washpot or something. Anyway, they said, send me a shackle code;
send in a shackle code. So I grabbed the thing out and ran up the shackle code
wording and I gave them a shackle code, and then they jigged me again. By the
time they jigged me again, I had got up to where I could look up over the bow of
this thing and I could see lea Shima down there. I reckon I could see the
phosphorous all the way around the little island of lea Shima. The Marines took it
and a Marine pilot got killed on it [as was Ernie Pyle, the famed war
correspondent]. They were using that for the headquarters, and they weren't
letting anything coming toward Okinawa get by lea Shima, or else the security
force would knock it down. They finally recalled and wanted me to give them
some more identification. Then I got mad. I grabbed the phone and I told them
who I was. I said, by God, I'm Sam Davis in VH-3 and we're coming in and
requesting clearance to Chimu Wam. We don't have the code sheet for today, we
just knew who we were yesterday; we were Confederate and Rebel Yell. So, they
opened up and the base said, you're cleared for landing. We were cleared for a
P: How much gas did you have left?
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D: We didn't know at that time, but we were still running. We had pumped all of the
gas out of the hull tanks, three hull tanks, got them up here in the wing tanks.
The wing tanks fed each engine. So to come in straight in-he cleared me for a
straight-in-the normal straight-in would have been right over Sugarloaf Mountain
and down in to Chimu Wan to the seaplane runway. Instead of that, I'm out here
and I had in mind that I may run out of gas, so I'm going to stay over the ocean.
I'm going to come around on this east side and come in the ship's channel. I'll be
coming in over water all the way into Chimu Wan to our landing area. When I
called that back when he cleared me to come straight in, there wasn't no way I
was going to put that airplane over a mountain; it's got to be over water. I called
back and said, know that I can't come in [over land]-l'm low on gas and I'm
coming in through the ship's channel. So, they cleared me to come in through the
P: When you landed, you must not have had much gas left.
D: When I told them, no, I wasn't going to come in [over land], I'm coming in over
the ship's channel, my co-pilot, he said, God, now we're going to get intercepted
for sure. [laughing.]
P: But you did okay?
D: We expected it, but we didn't get it. They cleared us in.
P: Shortly after that, and I don't know how much you were aware of, but the atomic
bombs were dropped, first on Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, and then the war ends.
What was your reaction then, when you heard about the atomic bombs, and what
is your reaction now?
D: My reaction was, it was a total surprise. This was July 25, , and then that
bomb was on August 6, . I had no idea that we were anywhere about. We
used to call it "cracking the atom." You know, one of these birds that I picked up,
the leader of that fighter group that went in there with us and finally wound up
picking him and his buddy up, Warren Smith, he was from Berkeley [University of
California at Berkeley]; he went to school in Berkeley. We were just standing
around talking on the Pine Island-they were living there because they didn't have
transportation to go back to their unit or anything. We were just talking and he
said, I believe something is going to happen. By this time we had found out that
the Japs were not showing much in the way of opposing us too much flying
around all over the country in their territory. It looked like they had kind of slowed
down and shut down. This Lieutenant Smith, he says, you know, I believe they're
doing something. [He said], I'm not going to be surprised if they don't "crack the
atom" before this thing is over. He said, before I left Berkeley, they were doing
something that was just hush-hush. He said, we never knew what they were
doing, but our people was working on something. Now, I don't know what he
WWll-16 Davis Page 24
knew, or whether he was guessing off the top of his head, but three or four days
later, that atom bomb went off. We heard about it on the news from the radio.
Then, of course, the Navy gave us the word too. But it was a total surprise to us.
Knowing what it had done, we figured that would be the end of the war, which the
Japs still held on until the August 9, , [when] they dropped one [again]. The
one on [August] 9, , I had a flight that day. They were to drop it-the primary
target for that day was over on the east side of Japan. My flight went up to this
spot in the ocean just offshore on the east side [of Kokura] but that's where we
was supposed to drop it. We got up there, we're flying around, we don't hear our
communication, we don't hear nobody say boo-noy turkey [one of Mr. Davis's pet
expressions] or nothing. We just keep looking off over there in the direction of the
target. We don't see nothing but cloud cover; we're up above it. When it got time
for us to go back home, we just turned around and went back home. We didn't
know anything about it until we got back and found out that they had flown out
over there and weather prevented them from dropping it, so they dropped it on
Nagasaki over there on the west side.
P: In retrospect, because there were a lot of civilians killed and a lot of damage, do
you think that was the right decision by President Truman to drop both bombs?
D: Yes. I never have thought much about this deal about these people worrying
about how many people were killed up there. You know, the history of this thing
is they killed a number of our guys-wasn't it about 3,000 killed at Pearl Harbor?
P: A little less, about 2,000.
D: Yeah, something like that. Well, that was a little on the upside of the whole city of
Hiroshima out of 80,000 people. Everywhere where we took an island, we were
consistently getting closer to Japan. We got up there and we've got the big
bombers, the B-29s. We've got the bases in the Marshall [Islands] and the
Mariana [Islands]. We're flying into Tokyo and we're bombing the whole thing.
We've got to take Okinawa. Every one of these Japanese islands that we took, it
got more difficult; we had to put more into it, we had to get more people killed, we
killed more of their people. We secured this Iwo Jima, and then there was
Okinawa, it was the same thing. It took more to get Okinawa, we lost more
getting it, they lost more losing it. The next thing that we were going to do, and
our squadrons were going to do it, because we had orders sometime from the
Navy to take VH-3 and go back down to Saipan and form up [with the invasion
forces and train] to go in and invade the southern part of the homeland of Japan.
That would have been done in about November or December. You see, when
our time was up for us to go, me and two others were headed to Saipan to take
the squadron down there the day that the Japs threw the towel in after the
Nagasaki bomb. I had already been set up to train to go in this push. You know
what we could have expected? We could have expected the men, the women,
the children, and the whole bit of them, to have been our enemy going in. We
WWll-16 Davis Page 25
would have had to kill millions of them Japs, and while we were doing, it we
would have gotten a thousand or so of ours killed. I don't think we had much
choice. I think we ended the war. I think we saved a lot of lives by ending it.
P: Did you ever hear Tokyo Rose [Japanese American Ikuko Togari; broadcaster of
anti-U.S. propaganda for a Tokyo radio station]?
P: Tokyo Rose, the Japanese woman?
D: Yes, I've heard her a time or two.
P: What did she talk about and was it in any way influential?
D: The only time that I heard her-all the rest of it was what I read or heard other
people say-but we picked her up one night. The second typhoon I stayed aboard
ship; I had a flight that day. I came in and they were ready just to gas up my
airplane and another crew came in to get out of the typhoon. I went aboard ship.
We had one PBM that had a jug out on a cylinder, and we had it tied to the buoy.
We got something to move the buoy anchor with, moved another buoy anchor up
and made two buoys. We tied that airplane to two buoys, got on the ship, and all
the ships put out to sea to weather out this typhoon. That night, Tokyo Rose
came on and somebody had the radio getting news, and it had that on it. She
was talking and she was using this seductive voice saying, oh now, you poor
troops down on Okinawa in the mud and in the water. What are you doing
tonight, when you could be warm and comfortable back in your own homes? Why
are you here? You've already lost the war. We have airplanes that are just killing
and bombing you all down in Okinawa. We've won the war, you've lost it, and
you ought to be home. She just kind of talked like that. Then she went on in detail
on how nice your wife was staying back home. Oh, she probably had somebody
in the bed with her, you know? It was incredible. We get back to Okinawa and
[one day] we went ashore, and the 40th CB [detachment] had a station there, and
we were just off [our anchor area nearby] on Pine Island in the PBM's. The
Marines out there had a rock machine working up on the mountain. It was a small
mountain right close to shore. They sent two Japanese aircrafts-they were
kamikazes-went down into Okinawa, and circled around the bay. Evidently they
looked down and there were no ships, and they wondered what to do. He said,
they went on there down over Buckner Bay and they came back around, and he
said, by that time, the guy thought they were gone and he turned the lights on
and gone back to work and had the thing picking up rocks and dropping them to
bust them to make rock road with. He turned the lights on. One of them headed
toward that light and hit the mountain before he got there. They ran out there to
this aircraft burning; they ran out there and stole all the souvenirs off of him they
WWII-16 Davis Page 26
P: What happened to the other kamikaze?
D: The other one, we didn't know where he went. But one of them went in right
P: That Bushido code [the warrior code for Japanese samurai] follows up your other
point; they would have fought to the death. If they were willing to get in a plane
and commit suicide, imagine how hard they would have fought to protect their
D: The thing of it was with the guys in Iwo Jima-now you know we had already
surrounded Iwo Jima, they couldn't get a ship in there to get anybody out, and
they didn't have any way to go. Those that were left there, they had to just give
up or die. Well, by God, they didn't give up; they fought until they died. We did
manage to get a few prisoners, but we only got very, very few, according to the
number of people that were on Iwo Jima.
P: There were 21,000 of them and I don't think we got more than one hundred
D: We lost more people; every place we would take, we would learn more about
how to do it, develop better bombardment and so forth to get it, put in more
firepower, but it was always more costly with men and more costly with materials.
It would have been deadly. I don't know what would have happened if we'd have
had to taken the Japanese. I suppose they would have done what they did on
Okinawa and Iwo Jima. They would have tried to fight to the last guy.
P: You were awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism. What was your
reaction when you received that reward?
D: You'd have to say that you were pleased with it. But still, on the other hand,
you're there with a bunch of other guys, and there were some other people that
had done more than I had, and they hadn't been recognized. But if the old man
says you got it, then you're happy that you got it. As far as how you get along
with the other people, it was the fact that I think some of them should have gotten
more credit than what they got. I thought that, since my crew was with me, and
I'm the only guy that gets anything, I thought that was wrong.
P: Because it took everybody to achieve what you achieved.
D: I'm the commanding officer of this trip and I get the Navy Cross, [but] my guys
don't get anything. In some instances, they did recognize the crew and give the
crew an Air Medal or something. Now, my crew got an Air Medal, but they got the
Air Medal for having flown four other hops, too. For five combat hops you get an
Air Medal. Since their plane commander got a Navy Cross, they should have
gotten an Air Medal.
P: Once you finished your service, you go back to the University of Florida. What
was the campus like when you went back? You went back in 1946?
WWll-16 Davis Page 27
D: Oh, yeah. The campus had changed. It had turned into a World War II
thingamajig. It had just turned into a camp.
P: They were training military?
D: They had set up all kinds of things, this, that, and the other to house [veterans].
They got old buildings from Camp Blanding [military installation near
Jacksonville, Florida] to set up at the university and made apartments to house
married students-the Flavet Villages, [called Flavet] One, Two, and Three. Prior
to that, you know, we had not more than five thousand students on the campus;
now you've got about fifteen thousand students, and they're a bunch of dang
G.l.'s that won World War II.
P: It's a very different campus.
D: You think any one of them bought an apple out of them apple boxes? They stole
them out of the apple boxes.
P: Talk about the Flavets. What was it like living there, and how much did it cost
you? Were you in Flavet One?
D: Yeah, that was right in there close to the engineering area. It was just a nice little
apartment in an old barracks building. It had two bedrooms and a kitchen and
dining area. I think maybe the rent was not more than about eight or ten dollars a
week. It beats me; I've forgotten now what it was.
P: Did you socialize much with the other people that lived in Flavet?
D: Yeah, we pretty well knew everybody.
P: What did you do? Play bridge?
D: Well, somewhat; mostly you didn't have much time for doing that. You had to get
all your work done. Us old dumb students, it took a little doing to do that.
P: Plus these are G.l.'s.
D: We kind of met together and did civic things for the people living there. In fact, we
had a little Quonset-hut set up out there and it had a grocery store in it. It was the
Association of Veterans Village People that ran the store. They hired a guy to run
P: Did you have a local government?
WWll-16 Davis Page 28
D: We had a little organization, because we met and had to pass on what we did.
Then, for the work of doing the maintenance on the village-you know the
university always had a work force that did maintenance-but then we also had a
work force. Like [if] something happened and a drain gets stopped up, somebody
at the Village that knew how to use something to unstop your drain would go
ahead and help you do it.
P: Did you have any movies or any other social activities that you did with any other
members of the community?
D: No, I don't think we got that.
P: Most G.l.'s, from what I understand, were so intent on making up for the lost time
that they wanted to get out and get their degree as soon as possible.
D: That was kind of the way it was. They had to get out and go, because if you
didn't have a little more money, than you could get on the G.I. Bill, then you
couldn't make it real good. I don't know. I think they left it up to the intramural
sports for the recreational part of the thing.
P: How important was the G.I. Bill?
D: I think the G.I. Bill was about as good for giving some education to a bunch of
people that normally [wouldn't have gotten it]. I imagine that over half of the guys
that went on the G.I. Bill and got a college education would never have gotten a
P: Could you have made it through without the money from the G.I. Bill?
D: It would have been hard to do, but you could do it. But then, I was working, too.
I've always been treated pretty nicely by some people. I got along real good with
a forestry professor named Jimmy Miller [James W. Miller, Jr., B.S.F., Assistant
Professor of Forestry]. Jimmy Miller came from a sawmilling family and had a
forestry degree, and he was one of our professors in sawmilling. I think when he
was going to school, he did some flying. He learned to be a Navy Air, but I think
there was something about his set-up that he didn't make the military. What he
did do-of course, I knew him up there before I went off to the Navy, and then I
knew him when I came back. I found out that during the war years, he stayed
there teaching, but he did a lot of running around because he had become a pilot
and he did a lot of flying airplanes. delivering them to Europe and around. It was
civilian flying that delivered. He's a civilian. So you see, if you were a pilot, you
still did pretty good with Jimmy Miller.
P: Let me go back to Flavet for a minute. Were there any rules or regulation about
where you parked, noise, or anything like that? Was there anything that you had
WWII-16 Davis Page 29
to adhere to?
P: Were there ever any problems that you knew about?
D: I don't know that there were any problems. There were many things that one
could do, but Jimmy Miller, he hired me and another fellow-and the other fellow
couldn't do the work-he wanted to do something else. He hired me to do
carpentry work and some others. He saw us working at the summer camp where
we built a shed to the smallest little sawmill he had when he first started. He saw
we could do carpentry work, so he hired us, and that was through the school's
working system. I got hired as a carpenter, not just a worker. That got me fifty
cents and hour instead of thirty cents an hour, so I made a little money working at
the school. Me and another fellow, we built that shed, and that shed is still there
over at the sawmill that we built. We cut trees on the school's forest over on
Waldo Road, sawed them on the sawmill, dried them, and used that lumber to
build the sawmill shed.
P: When you got back, by now, the campus was co-ed. So that changed things a
little bit, didn't it? People didn't have to go all the way to Tallahassee [for dates].
D: Things were getting better, and the girls would come on campus. It was kind of a
P: Living in Flavet, was that a positive experience for you? Some of the people that
we've talked to have said that housing was so difficult to get that, if they had not
gotten that cheap housing, it would have been hard for them to complete their
D: They just wouldn't have had the money to go to school. They would have had to
do some other kind of work. Some of them went to school, and some kept on and
went and got a doctor's degree. One ole' country boy got a doctor's degree in
pathology and wound up with a good career working out at LSU in Louisiana.
[End of Side C]
P: Is there anything that we haven't covered that you'd like to talk about?
D: Beats me. I don't know. Do you want any more experiences? Come to think of it,
after I came back and finished up my degree in 1950, and just because I was
getting the G.I. Bill too now, I worked on a master's degree. I got into a reserve
squadron in Jacksonville because when the Korean deal first came up, I wasn't
doing anything with the reserve, I was going to school. But then they called in a
reserve squadron out of Jacksonville into active duty. Then, in a few months,
they decided to organize another squadron in Jacksonville. Well, I got in that one,
WWll-16 Davis Page 30
and of course, that gave me a little extra money. That got me recalled to active
duty in 1952. I got back and I stayed as long as I could, which was three years. I
went out to Kwajalein [In the Republic of Indonesia], and they needed some PBM
pilots to fly the weather people that were doing the atom bomb testing. They
were stationed on Kwajalein to test the hydrogen bomb up at Eniwetok [an atoll
in the Marshall Islands], six hundred miles to the northwest. They had converted
some of these old PBY's to put retractable wheels on them, so they had some
PBM-5A's that we flew. Then I stayed in and got in a transport squadron at
Hickam Field [U.S. Air Force base] in Honolulu and got my family sent over to
Hawaii. We lived from 1952 to 1954 in Hawaii. My family was there with me in
Hawaii; that was like a government-paid vacation.
P: What did you do there? What was your job?
D: I was flying from Suison Air Force Base in California [now named Travis Air
Force Base] and stationed in Honolulu, Hickam Field, flying from Air Field Suison
to Tokyo and back.
P: For what purpose?
D: Just regular military air transport. We carried supplies, personnel, families, and
so forth. It was overseas duty.
P: In the beginning, did it have anything to do with supplying troops in Korea?
D: Yes, some of it had to do [with that], except for this particular run I was on. The
closest I got to Korea was just flying into Japan a time or two.
P: Because sometimes the supplies went from Japan to Korea.
D: We would fly whatever supplies needed to go out there that we could fly.
P: What were you flying then?
D: We started out with C-54's.
P: Which were big transport planes?
D: That's a four-engine transport. Then we were buying the Super Constellation
[Lockheed planes] that they were just starting. Actually, the first pressurized
cabin was in the B-29s for the military, but they had it in that Super [Constellation
too]. That Super Connie was a real nice ship to fly.
P: I understand those C-54's were really good, reliable planes, too.
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D: They were good. They were a workhorse. They carried a lot of cargo back and
P: When you were on Kwajalein, did you see any of the hydrogen bomb tests?
D: I knew a little bit about it. The only thing I saw was there was a sister ship on the
Pine Island. The Pine Island is the seaplane tender I was on, and that's the
biggest of the seaplane tenders. There was another seaplane tender just like it
that brought that hydrogen bomb out to Kwajalein. They had to get it off of the
Keuangan dock that brought it right up by the living quarters and down the
roadway to the other end of the island where the airplane hangers were to get it
on the airplane. It was for size or something. They had a crude way of getting
that thing out of that ship and getting it down there to the taxi way to get it on the
airplane. They didn't have a good enough truck to haul it. They had to get these
truck-like things that they pull over the tractor right around the hanger and set
that thing on it. It was about the size of that buffet behind you there. It was inside
this box and this box was on this cart. I think it was a little wider, but about as
long as that.
P: So six feet by three feet, something like that? What kind of plane did they use?
D: They used a B-29. Yeah, it was the B-29's that carried the atom bomb. I think the
hydrogen bomb was about the size... those things did just fit in the bomb bay of
the B-29. There was no room to spare. That's a pretty good size.
P: That's all they had. I think they had stripped everything else out.
D: It weighed ten thousand pounds. If we'd put a bunch of weight in it...
P: I don't know if I'd want to be flying that.
D: That's the only thing I know about that other than what they've printed; the size
and everything. I knew about what they were going to do. From Kwaj[alein] we'd
fly up, back and forth to Eniwetok. And that atoll is a circular area with islands in
between each other and maybe a mile or so apart. They picked out one of these
little islands to drop that hydrogen bomb on. I'd seen the atoll and knew the
island they were going to drop it on, and then, after it was dropped, I've flown
back there, and I've seen the crater where that island used to be. I'll tell you, out
there, you've got these little islands scattered around. The shallow water is
green and the deep water is blue. Well, this island didn't stick up much more than
three, four, or five feet from sea level, but it was about a mile long, and then there
was a distance between it on one island on this side and one island on that side.
I've been there and seen it since, and instead of that little island that's there,
there ain't nothing but a crater of water there that's blue, so it's deep. It blew out
WWll-16 Davis Page 32
a hole where there was an island; it just blew the whole island clear up out there
where there ain't nothing but a big hole there.
P: It's a pretty powerful bomb.
D: I don't know where they dropped that bomb. They may have fired it off
somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand feet before it hit. I don't know
where they broke it.
P: I think that's a good point to end on. We'll end on the hydrogen bomb. I want to
thank you very much for your time, I really do appreciate it.
[End of Interview]