During July 1944, VC-66 was still enjoying a period of R and R and refresher training after its mid-Pacific ASW duty. On the 4th of July, the squadron was sent to NAS Kahului on Maui.
But even these relatively quiet times were not without their anxious moments. On 23 July – a Sunday, after attending a dinner party hosted by one of the local Maui ladies, Mamie Von Tempski, at her estate, several of the squadron’s pilots decided to sleep in the estate’s bunkhouse rather than return to the base that evening in a slightly “impaired” condition. At about 0200, they were awakened by the squadron duty officer who loaded them on a truck - “impaired” condition or not - and rushed them back to the airfield - and right to their planes on the flight line. When they got there, TBM pilot Frank Stephens remembers seeing the TBMs being loaded with torpedoes and thinking, “it would be a real challenge making a torpedo run in the pilots’ current condition.”
The pilots and aircrews were told that President Roosevelt was visiting Hawaii and that the Japanese were about to launch another sneak attack. The situation eventually got sorted out after several hours while the pilots and aircrews sat in their planes. It was true that President Roosevelt was in Hawaii. Now that the allies had landed in France and were pushing toward Germany, he was in Hawaii to meet with Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur to talk strategy about the war in the Pacific. But the information concerning another Japanese attack turned out to be wrong. The VC-66 men were not amused.
VC-66 was involved in another somewhat unusual incident during President Roosevelt’s visit. As TBM pilot Bud Clark recalls:
…The squadron participated in a mock attack on Pearl Harbor for the benefit of President Roosevelt who was visiting there. Most of the military aircraft in the area participated, including the Army Air Corps. It was supposedly coordinated, but it was wild. Many planes were making simulated bombing and strafing runs from all directions. We didn’t hear of any mid-air collisions, nor did we hear any response from President Roosevelt.
On 26 July, the squadron got some big news. They would be leaving NAS Kahului. They received orders to report aboard the USS FANSHAW BAY (CVE-70) – nicknamed “The Fighting Fannie Bee,” for their next deployment. VC-66 would be supporting another invasion. The squadron had enjoyed its time on Maui. They had received good service from the local Carrier Aircraft Service Unit - CASU-32. And the beaches and clubs were good – as were the USOs. But before joining FANSHAW BAY, they would have a few more days on Maui - and they would not be boring.
Pilot Jack Dwight had a night to remember on the 27th of July. While doing nighttime field carrier landing practice (touch and go landings), his Avenger crashed into the water. Fortunately, Dwight’s aircrew was not in the plane during the practice session and he was uninjured in the crash. Dwight vividly described his experience in a 12 February 2008:
It was a devilishly dark night – no horizon, no moon. In fact, as we circled around to approach the runway, the only way I could keep track of the plane in front of me (and avoid a collision) was by observing his purple exhaust flame. But I still had to fly the “beast” and with no horizon, I had to resort to instrument flying. This is of course a decided flying “no no.” Mixing the two usually leads to disaster. And so, in my case, it surely did. I don’t to this day know how I got so disoriented, but the next thing I was aware of (not any sort of bump) was water coming up rapidly from the deck of the plane. I was conscious enough to realize that somehow I had flown into the water of the bay. I unstrapped and tried to get out but was impeded by the steel bar that fits over the cockpit front to back. But after getting by that – and now fully immersed in water, I ran into another obstacle (presumably the folded up wing). Thank God I had enough breath left to be able to get clear of that and pop up gasping.
It was so damn dark that not then or later could I determine whether the plane was upside down or rightside up (the perfectly rounded engine cover didn’t help at all in this). In any event, I quickly swam away in case the plane should sink and carry me down with it. Interestingly enough, it stayed afloat for about an hour or so. In any event, I soon discovered that I was well offshore (about two miles), into the bay, and did not know the tide situation nor the shark one. This latter really worried me as I had no raft nor shark repellant. I soon lopped off my shoes since they really held me back. Then I decided the Mae West (life jacket) while keeping me afloat, was holding me back from swimming to shore. I was glad of my past water activities in high school and college as water did in no way disconcert me. But then I got one hell of a stomach cramp. My body turned hard as stone. Fortunately I knew what to do, so I just forced myself to relax and stretched out in the water and “willed” it away. It worked!!
Then I was “attacked” by a Portuguese Man-O-War. In a frenzy, I ripped his tentacles off my neck and in the process actually had the frenzied strength to rip off my 3 strand braided dog tag rope!
This accomplished, I proceeded to strip down for the long swim. First, however, there was a searchlight playing out over the bay so I took my t-shirt and tried to wave at them to attract attention. But to no avail. So then I buckled down to the business at hand. I was most anxious to get to land, not in fear of exhaustion, but of sharks.
I did keep my skivvies on as there were houses lining the shore and I figured to ring one of their doorbells for help. It occurred to me on the way in that one of the houses was occupied by Kay Spreckels - the heiress to the sugar fortune and future wife of Clark Gable. I could just imagine me ringing her doorbell, standing there “bare ass naked,” and hear her scream at this apparition showing up at her door in the middle of the night.
In any event, I got nearer to shore and saw a coral reef. Fortunately for me the water there was neck high so I was pretty confident going over the sharp coral. I did get over with a minimum of discomfort and reached the lagoon. Now it was easy and I got to the beach in short order. But then I encountered barbed wire meant to stop infiltrators. But I managed to get through with only a few superficial scratches. I made my way through a small copse of trees to come out at the end of the airbase runways.
In those days there was no central lighting system, so they used individual lighted sections. An enlisted man was on a motorbike making his rounds to turn out each light as air operations had secured for the night (with me on the missing list).
I scared the hell out of the guy as I emerged from the woods in the total darkness, wet and disheveled. He had no weapon (thank God!) or he might have done me in right then. I identified myself and hitched a ride with him back to the hanger where I was greeted with joy and disbelief. I got back to the BOQ, dried off, and hit the sack thankfully.
The next day I got the full medical exam treatment and they found (to their surprise) that I was OK. They grounded me for one day and then it was back to work.
Since then I’ve thought of my adventure and my destruction of about $100,000.00 of government property which (thankfully) the Navy never billed me for. I did escape sharks and Kay Spreckels (darn it).
Dwight had an extra incentive to make the long swim. He had become a new dad a just a few months earlier.